In a 60-year career, America’s ‘freak-folk’ outsider has gone from coffee-house obscurity to festival crowdpleaser. He talks about inspiring the likes of Cat Power – and making a beautiful new album in the pines of Oregon

Sub Rosa recently issued recordings of Arkham’s concerts and rehearsals. Arkham played eclectic jazz and rock mixtures in the “Canterbury” vein, inspired by Soft Machine and Egg. Never released before on LP, the recordings reproduced on this album come from magnetic tapes of some of Arkham’s concerts and rehearsals, recorded at various times. Featuring keyboard player Jean-Luc Manderlier who would later join Magma, drummer Daniel Denis who would also move on to Magma as well as Univers Zéro, and drummer Patrick Cogneaux. Arkham aren’t nearly as dark as Magma or Univers Zéro, their jazzy overtones placing them a little closer to Soft Machine. The three musicians, who show some maturity, are obviously pouring their hearts out throughout the album, which exudes an intensity that can’t be ignored.

What were your first musical involvements? [Pre-Arkham]

Daniel Denis: At the age of 15 I replaced my brother who had to perform his military service. It was a group that performed dances and this served me as my first experience with musicians and also the opportunity to buy my first drums with the money I had earned. From 1968 to 1969 I was part of two groups, one amateur and the other semi-professional. Guys who played Hendrix, Cream, Yardbirds repertoire, and others, that was pretty unusual in the area at the time. School was becoming a burden and being part of a band made me quit school for good in order to devote myself to music. I was barely 16 years old. I had very understanding parents, it didn’t take me long to convince them. They could clearly see that I was totally “contaminated” by the music but still so naive about the route that still had to be climbed.

Arkham had a very unique sound. You were inspired by Soft Machine and Egg. What do you recall attracted you the most after hearing their music?

In August 1969, I saw a Soft Machine trio concert at the Festival de Billez in Belgium. Indeed, it blew my mind. The sound and the atmosphere of their music was quite extraordinary. I understood and felt that I wanted to move towards this musical form. The odd beats they used fascinated me and also the organ and bass with the overdrive, it was quite new to me. I also liked the formula of the trio: bass, keyboards, drums. Besides, I was also a big fan of the Mothers of Invention.


Alvin Lucier is one of the giant figures in experimental, electronic and electro-acoustic music, known for “making the inaudible…audible.” 

Last week, he turned 90, and the celebration included a 27 hour marathon of his most famous piece, “I Am Sitting In A Room.” The piece, first recorded in 1969, is very simple in concept but deceptively complex. It consists of a short passage of text, read aloud in a room. That sound is recorded and then played back into that same room, picked up by the same microphone, over and over, until the room resonancerenders the speech otherworldly and unintelligible. In fact, the instructions are the text itself:

“I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but, more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.”

Lucier’s speech has long been defined by a stutter, which you hear in early recordings. Today, his voice has grown weak from more than a decade of Parkinson’s disease.