France's Art Zoyd are a fearlessly experimental ensemble who have always operated in a sphere entirely their own. Heroes of the Rock In Opposition movement, they've been around for so long and seen so many changes that even just a few years into their career they weren't the same band as when they started out.
The band's first iteration began in Valenciennes in Northern France in 1969. At that time, though they were already operating far outside of the mainstream, they were at least nominally a rock band, making progressive music influenced by the likes of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.
But both their personnel and their style began shifting quickly, as they would do for the rest of the band's lifetime. In 1971 a major turnaround in membership saw charter members depart while violinist/keyboardist Gerard Hourbette and bassist cellist Thierry Zaboitzeff come aboard. By 1975, Hourbette and Zaboitzeff were leading the charge towards a new approach.
The first version of Art Zoyd that resembled the group we know today jettisoned the trappings of rock, eschewing guitars, drums, and conventional rock-oriented song structures, in favor of an uncompromisingly forward-looking agenda and a lineup based around violins, trumpet, and bass for a sort of avant-chamber feel, still bearing traces of inspiration from the most experimental end of progressive rock, a la King Crimson and Magma, but much more influenced by modern classical composers and sui generis sound artists.
In 1976 the first Art Zoyd album, Symphonie Pour Le Jour Ou Bruleront Les Cites, was released by the label AZ Production Michel Besset, and soon the band was performing across France, opening up for their countrymen Magma. By the time they put out their second LP, 1979's Musique Pour L'Odyssee, Art Zoyd had become participants in the Rock In Opposition (RIO) movement alongside England's Henry Cow, Italy's Stormy Six, fellow Frenchmen Etron Fou Leloublan, Belgium's Univers Zero, and Swedes Zamlas Mammas Manna. Founded the previous year, RIO was a cooperative whose members were linked by a fierce commitment to making left-of-center music and subverting the traditional methods of operation within the music business. By design it would remain staunchly underground, but would become a hugely respected and globally influential movement.
In the '80s, Art Zoyd performed all over Europe, increasing its reputation as one of the premier progressive ensembles. In 1983 a turning point arrived when they were tapped to provide music for choreographer Roland Petit's ballet Le marriage du ciel et de l'enfer at Milan's La Scala Festival and Paris's Theatre des Champs-Elysees. It was the group's introduction to multimedia art events, which would become a significant part of Art Zoyd's work for the rest of their career as they scored silent films, theater pieces, dance performances and more, all across Europe, gaining new audiences all the while.
While the group's lineup continued its constant state of flux in the following years, Art Zoyd also expanded its reach, performing everywhere from Hong Kong and Japan to Australia and America. They became renowned for their film music, providing scores for silent films such as Nosferatu, Faust, and Haxan (Witchcraft Through the Ages).
Thierry Zaboitzeff's departure in 1997 marked the end of an era for the group, but scarcely diminished their momentum. A major development came when Art Zoyd opened up their studio and their creative process to outside artists. This resulted in a flood of new collaborations and directions. One of the first was Dangereuses Visions, created in partnership with the Orchestre National de Lille and incorpating music, video, and more. Performed everywhere from Maubeuge to Mexico, the piece was seen by more than 20,000.
In the new millennium, collaborations of this kind continued to dominate Art Zoyd activity, including Experiences de Vol (Flight Experiences). The project with Belgium's Musiques Nouvelles precipitated the creation of the Cross-Border Center for the Production and Creation of New Music, creating artist residency opportunities and birthing dozens upon dozens of works. 2001 saw the premiere of Art Zoyd's music for Fritz Lang's legendary film Metropolis, as well as Gerard Hourbette's score for Schrodinger's Cat, U.S. choreographer Karole Armitage's project with the Ballet National de Nancy.
All the while, Art Zoyd's discography has grown, with their film soundtracks becoming some of their most celebrated recordings. But in 2005, the group ventured into unknown territory even for them with Armageddon. Testing the boundaries of technology as well as art, the project involved not only Musiques Nouvelles but Louse-Philippe Demers, a robotics technician who aided Art Zoyd in the creation of the first-ever robot operetta.
Subsequent years saw the group premiering their music for the film The Fall of the House of Usher at the Louvre Museum, creating the "spoken opera" Kairo based on Kiyoshi Kurosawa's novel, and even mounting a performance for young audiences with A demi endormi déjà, based on a story by Celia Houdart and illustrations by Francois Olislaeger.
Things came full circle with Art Zoyd's 44 1/2 Birthday Concert at 2015's Rock In Opposition Festival in Carmaux, France. That landmark event, the festival’s multi-night headliner, brought together a multitude of musicians from Art Zoyd’s many lineups to perform, over a series of three nights, an ambitious program of musical highlights from throughout the band’s 44 1/2 year career. It also brought Art Zoyd together with the American record label, Cuneiform Records. The RIO Festival, organized by Festival Director Michel Besset (whose former label released Art Zoyd’s first album), provided an ideal setting for Art Zoyd and Cuneiform’s Steve Feigenbaum to discuss in person releasing a permanent tribute to Art Zoyd’s stellar run: a box set assembling ALL of the band’s live and previously unreleased material, the band’s rarest gems.
44 1/2: LIVE AND UNRELEASED WORKS
Cuneiform Records and Art Zoyd present Art Zoyd's 44 1/2 : Live and Unreleased Works
A 14-disc Box Set of All Previously Unreleased Recordings
“Art Zoyd is a quartet, but their instrumental arsenal produces the sound of a mighty orchestra.”
The New York Times
“...the uncompromising classic 1982 opus Phase IV is justifiably considered one of the group's peak accomplishments. The Rock in Opposition co-founders marry dark, unsettling atmospherics à la Univers Zero to precise minimalist constructs with hints of Philip Glass or Steve Reich.”
“Art Zoyd...is one of the most important collectives in the world - dangerous and challenging.”
The Absolute Sound
“...a description of Art Zoyd can not be contained in a single adjective.”
New York Post
Originally founded as a psychedelic / progressive rock band in France in 1969, with the arrival of soon-to-be co-leaders Gerard Hourbette and Thierry Zaboitzeff in 1971 and then with the departure of the band’s founder, the group radically changed direction. By 1975 they were no longer a ‘rock’ band with guitars and drums, the band were now a based around the unique sounds of violins, electric bass and cello and trumpet, with additional instrumentation.
In 1976, Art Zoyd released their first album, toured with Magma and within a few years were invited to become one of only eight members of the Rock In Opposition Movement, a musician-led organization of some of the most cutting edge bands from Europe who banded together to increase their opportunities for work.
By the early 1980s, they were touring internationally and were a figurehead of ‘new music’ or ‘avant rock’. Beginning in the mid 80s into the mid 90s, they were at their peak renown, collaborating with choreographer Roland Petit, who commissioned them to work with him on a full ballet: Le Marriage Du Ciel et De L’Enfer (The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell) as well as performing live, self-penned soundtracks to classic silent films such as Nosferatu, Faust and Haxan. Concurrent with this period and their work in ballet and with films, the music shifts towards a more electronic, stripped-down and modern sound during this era.
In 2014, after a period of inactivity, Gerard and Thierry began to speak to each other about the idea of performing some retrospective concerts to celebrate their many achievements and performing as much music from the past as was practical in a concert with as many old collaborators as could be included. The first of these events was held in September 2015 at the Rock In Opposition Festival in Carmaux, France.
This 14-disc set is an outgrowth of the celebration of the decades of Art Zoyd’s far-sighted musical work.
Every CD is filled to the bursting with nearly 80' of music. There are basically eight CDs of live recordings stretching from the years 1972-2004 and four CDs of studio recordings, sketches and outtakes from 1980-2005.
Of the two DVDs, one is comprised of historical television appearances from the late 70s into the end of the 80s and the other being the entire performance of their celebration at the RIO Festival.
Here's a small excerpt of the reunion concert DVD:
This is what is included in the box set...
12 CDs featuring:
• Live in Berlin, The Loft (April 1986)
• Häxan, Live in Copenhagen parts 1 & 2, European Capital of Culture (February 1996)
• u•B•I•Q•U•e, Live in Maubeuge, La Luna (January 2000)
• Le mariage du ciel et de l’enfer, Live in Paris parts 1 & 2, with the Ballet National de Marseille (Roland Petit), Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (March 1985)
• Theatre & Live
• LIVE brigades spéciales théâtre de la renaissance Paris (1976)
• LIVE Mons Danses Mécaniques (2000)
• “La Nuit du Jabberwock,” with members of Musiques Nouvelles, Live in Armentières, Le Vivat (2002)
• Live in Grenoble, 38èmes Rugissants Festival (1990)
• LIVE GRENOBLE NOSFERATU (1990)
• Live in Maubeuge, Art Zoyd with the Orchestre National de Lille (2000)
• Symphonie pour le jour où brûleront les cités (1975/orch. 2000)
• Live in Mexico, Art Zoyd with the Orquesta Sinfónica del Estado de México (1999)
• Armageddon, actes 2 & 3, Live in Lille (2004)
• Unreleased works
• Globe Arena (1989)
• Musique pour le Six-Centenaire du Beffroi de Bethune (1988)
• Bethune 1789 (1989)
• Les Inattendus de Maubeuge “Spoutnik” (1993)
• Les Trois Mousquetaires
• Flixecourt Tisserands
• La Guerre de Marguerite
• Au nom du Père (1991)
• Malbodium (1987)
• L'étrangleur est derrière vous (1983)
• Terra Terra! (1986)
• Live in Nancy (1975)
• Live in Reims, Maison de la Culture (1980)
• Live performance (excerpt) for Radio Tonkraft, Stockholm (October 3, 1979)
• Marco Polo (1984)
2 DVDs featuring:
• 44 1/2, the birthday concert, Live at Maison de la Musique, Cap’Découverte, Le Garric, France, Rock In Opposition Festival 2015 (September 19, 2015)
• Live in Berlin, Centre Culturel Français de Berlin (April 1415, 1986)
• Live on Phase IV / FR3 TV, Hôtel de Ville de Maubeuge (December 1982)
• Nosferatu - Teaser (1988)
• Musique pour l'Odyssée / FR3 Nord Picardie TV excerpt (1979)
• Le mariage du ciel et de l'enfer (excerpts) / Antenne 2 TV (1985)
BOXING THE UNBOXABLE: THE OBJET D'ART THAT IS ART ZOYD'S 44 1/2
Conventional music is presented through conventional methods. But when it came to the career chronicle that is Art Zoyd's 44 1/2 box set, the band's iconoclastic approach required an equally forward-looking approach that brings a new meaning to the term "thinking outside the box."
Even beyond the boundary-smashing work that's presented on the set's staggering 12 CDs and two DVDs, the physical package of 44 1/2 in and of itself is an impressive enough achievement to be an objet d'art. A tour de force of graphic design, it was hatched by the expansive mind of the London-based designer Max Franosch.
Franosch is a man who wears many hatshe's a font creator, photographer, and painter as well as a graphic design artist, and he brought his gifts in all of these disciplines to bear in packaging this deep dive into Art Zoyd's heavy-duty history. Franosch's paintings have been seen at galleries all over London; he has published five photo books; his photographs have been featured on album covers for ECM Records, a label renowned for its uncompromising design aesthetic.
In approaching the project, Franosch took as idiosyncratic an approach to his work as the band does to their music. He conceived an ambitious package that incorporates more than fifty pieces of custom-made artwork and utilizes two information-packed booklets to tell Art Zoyd's long, eternally twisting and turning tale. And in case that wasn't enough, he made sure the box for 44 1/2 hosted two eye-catching posters as well.
In keeping with the spirit of the music, the color components Franosch chose for the box alternate between dark and brooding on one end of the visual mood spectrum and fiery and explosive on the other. And while there are photos of the group, 44 1/2 isn't the kind of box set that uses the traditional pictorial paths to get its point across. Instead, Franosch has created his own meta-universe of original graphic elements that strike just the right balance between echoing the spirit of Art Zoyd and providing a potent contrast. And if ever a band crafted a musical universe of their own it's Art Zoyd, so the marriage between band and designer couldn't have been more sympathetically conceived.
Gorgeously designed and conscientiously compiled, Art Zoyd’s 44 1/2 is a treasure chest of rare gems that dazzles the senses with both contents and container. As a Boxed/Special Limited Edition Package, it is worthy of widespread recognition, equal in quality and vision to today’s best-designed box sets, including Grammy winners. Art Zoyd fans will assuredly cherish this treasure box. But even those with the most conventional music and design sensibilities may be inspired to think "outside the box" and embrace this visionary Art Zoyd artifact, the multi-media objet d’art known simply as 44 1/2.
44 1/2: Live And Unreleased Works press release