|Associated acts||Henry Cow, Slapp Happy, News from Babel|
Art Bears were an English avant-rock group formed during the disassembly of Henry Cow in 1978 by three of its members, Chris Cutler (percussion, texts), Fred Frith (guitar, bass guitar, violin, keyboards) and Dagmar Krause (vocals; previously of Slapp Happy). The group released three studio albums between 1978 and 1981, and toured Europe in 1979.
In 2008 Cutler, Frith and others formed Art Bears Songbook, an Art Bears "review" project that performed at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in Quebec, Canada.
Art Bears were formed during the recording of Henry Cow's fifth album in January 1978. Disagreements had arisen over the album's content: Frith, Cutler and Krause favoured song-oriented material, while the rest of the band preferred instrumental compositions. As a compromise, Frith, Cutler and Krause agreed to release the songs already recorded on their own album, Hopes and Fears, under the name Art Bears, with the rest of Henry Cow credited as guests. The instrumental material appeared later on the final Henry Cow album, Western Culture (1979).
Hopes and Fears (1978) thus consisted of Henry Cow songs with the addition of new Art Bears material recorded later by Frith, Cutler and Krause. Towards the end of 1978, Art Bears returned to the studio to record their first "true" album, Winter Songs (1979). It comprised fourteen short songs composed by Frith around texts by Cutler inspired by carvings on the stylobate of Amiens Cathedral.
In December 1978, Art Bears joined Rock in Opposition (RIO), and toured Europe in April and May 1979. For the tour, they were joined by Peter Blegvad (ex-Slapp Happy, guitar, bass guitar, voice) and Marc Hollander (of Aksak Maboul, keyboards, clarinet). They rehearsed at the Cold Storage Recording Studios in Brixton, before leaving for Italy in late April. They performed in Italy, France, Belgium and Czechoslovakia, including an RIO festival on 1 May in Milan. Some of the songs recorded during the tour were later added to the CD release of Hopes and Fears and The Art Box (2004), a box set of Art Bears material.
The band returned to the studio in 1980 to make one final album, The World as It Is Today (1981), before splitting up. In October 1983 Frith, Cutler and Krause reunited again when they joined Duck and Cover, a commission from the Berlin Jazz Festival, for a performance of the "Berlin Programme" in West Berlin, followed by another in February 1984 in East Berlin, and one at the ICA in London the following August. The "Berlin Programme" included fragments of three Art Bears songs.
In 1993 Frith, Cutler and Krause worked together again on a song project, Domestic Stories (1993) by Chris Cutler and Lutz Glandien, with saxophonist Alfred Harth. While similar to Art Bears, the addition of Glandien's electronic music made Domestic Stories a distinctly different album.
Art Bears Songbook
An Art Bears "review" took place in May 2008 at the world premiere of the Art Bears Songbook at the 25th Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in Quebec. It was performed by Cutler (drums), Frith (guitar, bass guitar, violin, piano), Jewlia Eisenberg (voice), Carla Kihlstedt (violin, voice), Zeena Parkins (keyboards, accordion), Kristin Slipp (voice) and The Norman Conquest (sound manipulation). Krause was unable to participate, so Frith and Cutler decided to rework the trio's repertoire for an expanded group, with the voices of Eisenberg, Slipp and Kihlstedt replacing Krause's "eccentric and idiomatic delivery". The project was so-named because Frith and Cutler did not want it to be seen as an Art Bears reunion. According to All About Jazz the Art Bears Songbook was "not just a highlight, but the highlight of the [five-day] festival."
Another performance of the Art Bears Songbook took place at the third edition of the French Rock in Opposition event in Carmaux in September 2010. The line-up was the same as before, except that Krause, who had agreed to come out of retirement, replaced Eisenberg, who was ill.
Art Bears's music was often deeply political in content (reflecting the band's socialist leanings) and frequently avant-garde and experimental. They were more "song oriented" than Henry Cow, although much of the material on their debut album was actually written with the intention of being performed by the latter band.
Their music was "very dark in concept and in atmosphere". Reviewing The Art Box, BBC Music described it as: "Carefully wrought dissonances, angular folk tunes, sudden shifts in dynamics, dense layers of spectral drones, slabs of noise, topped off with Dagmar's strange, elastic Sprechstimme."
Krause's voice contributed significantly to the mood and character of the songs. Cutler said:
I don't write simple or obvious words, [...] they are not easy to sing. Dagmar had the amazing ability to make them make sense, to make them sound obvious. She sings from the inside and her accent helps to lift words out of their slots and give them a slightly resonant displacement. No one else could have done what Dagmar did on those LPs. I'm still amazed by her.
In "progressive" circles, the Art Bears were generally well received. AllMusic wrote: "Their life was fleeting, but the Art Bears wrote and recorded bold, challenging, idiosyncratic music that, despite its occasional difficulty, is ultimately very rewarding."
Art Bears took their name from a sentence in Jane Ellen Harrison's book Ancient Art and Ritual (1913): "Even to-day, when individualism is rampant, art bears traces of its collective, social origin". Chris Cutler explains that it was a deliberate out-of-context quote, but that "not too much should be read into this; it just sounds intriguing, has an animal in it, plays with ambiguity and is mildly ridiculous".
- The Art Box, 2004 (6-CD box-set of all Art Bears releases, with live and unreleased tracks, plus remixes by other musicians)
- Art Bears Revisited, 2004 (2-CD of Art Bears tracks, remixed by other musicians – discs 4 and 5 of The Art Box)
7" Singles and EPs
- "Rats & Monkeys" / "Collapse", 1979
- "Coda to Man and Boy", 1981 (single-sided screened 7") – given free to subscribers of The World as It Is Today (1981)
- "All Hail", 1982 (flexi-7")
- "Chris Cutler interview". Chris Cutler. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
- "25th Festival de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, 2008 Edition (May 15–19, 2008)". Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
- "Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville: Day 5 – May 19, 2008". All About Jazz. Archived from the original on 30 May 2008. Retrieved 23 May 2008.
- "Rock In Opposition 2010 – France Event". Progression Magazine. Archived from the original on 8 September 2014. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Dagmar to sing with Art Bears at RIO". Yahoo Groups. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
- Ohman, Mike. "Art Bears". New Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock. Archived from the original on 29 January 2008. Retrieved 5 February 2008.
- Marsh, Peter (27 January 2004). "Art Bears, The Art Box". BBC Music. Archived from the original on 14 January 2009. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
- Wu, Brandon. "Art Bears". Ground and Sky. Archived from the original on 14 November 2006. Retrieved 28 December 2006.
- Dougan, John. "The Art Bears". AllMusic. Retrieved 28 December 2006.
- Harrison, Jane. "Ancient Art and Ritual, Chapter VII: Ritual, Art and Life". The Internet Sacred Text Archive. Retrieved 21 December 2006.
- Colli, Beppe. "An interview with Chris Cutler, February 8, 2004". Clouds and Clocks. Archived from the original on 4 February 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2006.