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Gravity (Fred Frith album)

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The album cover is an abstract painting of people dancing on a blue background. In the top center of the cover in small white text are the words: "Gravity" and "Fred Frith".
Studio album by Fred Frith
Released 1980 (1980)
Recorded August 1979, Sweden and Switzerland
November 1979, United States
January 1980, Switzerland
Length 46:24
Label Ralph (US)
Producer Fred Frith and Etienne Conod
Fred Frith chronology
Guitar Solos
Singles from Gravity
  1. "Dancing in the Street"
    b/w "What a Dilemma"

    Released: 1980
FredFrith SingleCover DancingStreet.jpg

Gravity is a 1980 solo album by English guitarist, composer and improviser Fred Frith from Henry Cow and Art Bears. It was Frith's second solo album and his first since the demise of Henry Cow in 1978. It was originally released in the United States on LP record on The Residents's Ralph record label and was the first of three solo albums Frith made for the label.

Gravity was recorded in Sweden, the United States and Switzerland and featured Frith with Swedish Rock in Opposition group Samla Mammas Manna on one side of the LP, and Frith with United States progressive rock group The Muffins on the other side. Additional musicians included Marc Hollander from Aksak Maboul and Chris Cutler from Henry Cow.

Gravity has been described as an avant-garde "dance" record that draws on rhythm and dance from folk music across the world. AllMusic called it one of the most important experimental guitar titles from Fred Frith.


Fred Frith was a classically-trained violinist who turned to playing blues guitar while at school.[1] In 1967 he went to Cambridge University where he and fellow student, Tim Hodgkinson formed the English avant-rock group Henry Cow. Frith and Hodgkinson remained with the band until its demise in 1978.[2] After the release of Henry Cow's second album in May 1974, Frith recorded his debut solo album, Guitar Solos (1974), which featured unaccompanied and improvised experimental rock music played on prepared guitars by Frith without any overdubbing. Guitar Solos was well received by music critics,[3][4] and was voted one of the best albums of 1974 by NME.[5]

During the recording of Henry Cow's sixth album in January 1978, musical differences arose within the group over the prevalence of song-oriented material on the album. Some wanted purely instrumental compositions, while others, including Frith, favoured songs. As a compromise Frith and the band's drummer, Chris Cutler released the songs on an album Hopes and Fears (1978) under the name Art Bears, while the instrumental tracks, plus others recorded later were released on Henry Cow's last album, Western Culture (1979).[2] Art Bears went on to make two more albums of songs.[6]

After Henry Cow broke up, Frith moved to New York City in 1979 where he became involved with a number of musical projects, including a new solo album.[7] To make a more "immediate" record after the intensities of Henry Cow and Art Bears, Frith turned his attention to world folk and dance music. In Hopes and Fears he had "rediscovered the joys of song-form", and it was the song "The Dance" that Frith and Cutler wrote for that album that inspired the making of Gravity.[8] Frith said in a BBC interview:[8]

Frith had been listening to music from other cultures, particularly Eastern Europe since the mid-1970s. He made no attempt to notate what he heard, but absorbed it and let it find its way later into his own music. On Gravity Frith mixed up all these different musical styles to make new songs out of them.[6]


Gravity was the first of a series of projects Frith did for The Residents's record label Ralph Records.[6] He had recorded with The Residents in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and appeared on several of their albums.[9]

Frith used two backing bands for Gravity, Swedish Rock in Opposition group Samla Mammas Manna and United States progressive rock group The Muffins.[10] He recorded side one of the LP record with Samla Mammas Manna at Norrgården Nyvla in Uppsala, Sweden, with additional recording at Sunrise Studios, Kirchberg, Switzerland in August 1979.[11] Side two of the LP was recorded with The Muffins at Catch-a-Buzz Studio in Rockville, Maryland, United States in November 1979, with additional recording at Sunrise Studios in Switzerland in January 1980.[11] Frith recorded two additional tracks with The Muffins, "Vanity, Vanity" and "Dancing in Sunrise, Switzerland", but they were omitted from the album due to space constraints. They appeared later on The Muffins's 1985 album, Open City.[9]

"[Dance is] the victory over gravity, over all that weighs down and oppresses, the change of body into spirit, the elevation of creature into creator, the merging with the infinite, the divine."

Musicologist Curt Sachs, 1937.[11]

Many of the tracks on Gravity consist of melodic lines woven into complex rhythmic structures taken from different folk music cultures. The time signatures are not the standard 3/4 or 4/4, but more complex signatures like 15/8.[12] Frith described in an interview how he arrived in Uppsala with his carefully written music sheets, only to find that Samla Mammas Manna could not read music. But when he played the music to them, he was "stunned by their ability to hear the details, especially the rhythmic details, that I had written."[12]

The title of the album came from a 1937 quote by Curt Sachs (printed on the back of the album sleeve) in which he described dance as "the victory over gravity".[11] In 1980 Ralph Records also released a single from the album, "Dancing in the Street" b/w "What a Dilemma".[13] It did not chart on any of the major music charts.


Frith called Gravity a "dance album",[10] not in the disco/funk sense of its day,[14] but a collection of "dance music" drawn from cultures around the world.[6] The album features an array of rock, folk and jazz instruments, plus field recordings, clapping and "whirling", and has been described as a "musical hybridization" of "Latin percussion, calypso festivity, eastern-tinged percussion [and] Klezmer-like celebration".[15]

"The Boy Beats the Rams" opens Gravity with a burst of laughter followed by some tap dancing, "random" percussion and Frith's "distinctive keening" violin.[14] On "Spring Any Day Now" Frith mixes a bossa nova rhythm with a North African melody. "Don't Cry For Me" features Greek mandolin with heavy metal guitar. "Hands of the Juggler" draws on Middle Eastern folk dance, "Slap Dance" is a Serbian "folk romp", and "Career in Real Estate" is in the tradition of a Scottish fiddle tune.[6]

"Dancing in the Street" is a "de/reconstruction" of Martha and the Vandellas's 1964 hit that includes a "bizarrely harmonised guitar" playing the song's melody over a "boiling mass of feedback" and tape manipulation.[14] According to the album's sleeve notes, this track also includes a recording of "Iranian demonstrators celebrating the capture of American hostages".[11]

"Crack in the Concrete" features an e-bowed guitar over "edgy, dissonant chords" and a "massed kazoo choir of horns" that presages Frith's experimental rock band Massacre he formed in New York City in February 1980.[14] "Norrgården Nyvla" flows into "Year of the Monkey" which ends with a brief sample of the 13th Puerto Rico Summertime Band, "ten seconds of the real thing" according to the LP liner notes.[11]

Reception and influence[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4/5 stars[16]
BBC Onlinefavourable[14]

In the January 1983 edition of DownBeat magazine, Bill Milkowski wrote that in contrast to Art Bears's "bleak attitude", Frith's Gravity is a "truly joyous solo LP, ... an extremely warm, almost whimsical album".[6] Thomas Schulte at AllMusic described it as an "entertaining and multicultural pocket folk festival" and said it was "one of the most important guitar-based, experimental guitar titles from the avant-guitarist".[16] In a BBC Online review of Gravity, Peter Marsh called it "Absolutely essential", adding that it "manages to be wildly eclectic yet avoids incoherence".[14] Brandon Wu of Ground and Sky said that despite his "relative indifference" to the album, one of Gravity's great strengths is that it is both accessible and avant-garde.[10]

Gravity inspired a 2003 album Spring Any Day Now by David Greenberg and David McGuinness with the Concerto Caledonia.[17] Subtitled "Music of 18th century Scotland and elsewhere", the album includes covers of two tracks from Gravity, "Spring Any Day Now" and "Norrgården Nyvla", and a track from Frank Zappa's Roxy & Elsewhere (1974), "Echidna's Arf (Of You)".[9][18]

Frith continued his exploration of folk and dance music on his next album for Ralph Records, Speechless (1981). As with Gravity, he recorded Speechless with two bands, French Rock in Opposition group Etron Fou Leloublan on one side of the LP, and Frith's New York City group Massacre on the other. The album included extensive tape manipulation, which was an ongoing passion of Frith's at the time.[7]

Live performances[edit]

In August 2012 Frith led a performance of Gravity in San Francisco, California entitled "Fred Frith and Friends play Gravity". The performers were Frith, Dominique Leone, Jon Leidecker (Wobbly), Aaron Novik, Ava Mendoza, Jordan Glenn, Kasey Knudsen, Lisa Mezzacappa and Marië Abe.[19] Frith led two more performances of Gravity at Roulette in Brooklyn, New York City on 19 and 20 September 2013, featuring Frith (guitar/electric bass), Leone (keyboards), Leidecker (sampling), Novik (clarinet/bass clarinet), Mendoza (guitar), Abe (accordion), Glenn (drums), Knudsen (alto saxophone), Mezzacappa (bass), Kaethe Hostetter (violin), and William Winant (percussion).[20]

Frith formed the Gravity Band in 2014, comprising Frith (conductor/guitar/bass), Hostetter (violin), Knudsen (saxophone), Novik (clarinet), Abe (accordion), Leidecker (samples), Leone (keyboards), Mendoza (guitar), Mezzacappa (bass), Glenn (drums), Winant (percussion), and Myles Boisen (sound). They performed the album live at the 30th Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in Canada in May 2014,[21] at the Music Meeting in Nijmegen, Netherlands in June 2014,[22] and at the Moers Festival in Germany, also in June 2014.[23]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks composed by Fred Frith except where noted.

Original 1980 release[edit]

Side one
1."The Boy Beats the Rams (Kluk Tluce Berany)"4:54
2."Spring Any Day Now"3:04
3."Don't Cry For Me"3:28
4."The Hands of the Juggler"5:31
5."Norrgården Nyvla"2:54
6."Year of the Monkey"4:11
Side two
7."What a Dilemma"3:11
8."Crack in the Concrete"1:24
9."Come Across"2:47
10."Dancing in the Street" (Gaye, Stevenson, Hunter)3:20
11."My Enemy is a Bad Man"1:22
12."Slap Dance"2:32
13."A Career in Real Estate"4:42
14."Dancing in Rockville Maryland"3:04

1990 CD re-issue bonus tracks[edit]

15."Waking Against Sleep"2:08
17."Moeris Dancing"5:03
18."Geistige Nacht"5:18
19."Life at the Top"1:40
20."Oh Wie Schon Ist Panama!"5:02


Side one[edit]


  • Olivia Bruynhooghe – tap dancing, clapping
  • Chris Cutler – snare drum and maracas (track 3), clapping
  • Tina Curran – whirling, clapping
  • Catherine Jauniaux – whirling, clapping
  • Frank Wuyts – recorders (track 6), whirling, clapping
  • Michel Berckmans – clapping
  • Etienne Conod – clapping
  • Denis van Hecke – clapping
  • Veronique Vincent – clapping

Recording and production[edit]

Recorded at Norrgården Nyvla in Uppsala, Sweden and at Sunrise Studios, Kirchberg, Switzerland in August 1979.

  • Gabriel Rosen – engineer (Sweden)
  • Etienne Conod – engineer (Switzerland)

Side two[edit]

  • Fred Frith – guitar, bass guitar, violin, keyboards, drums (tracks 1,5,7)
  • The Muffins:
    • Dave Newhouse – alto saxophone, organ (track 4)
    • Thomas Scott – soprano saxophone (track 6)
    • Paul Sears – drums (tracks 1,2,4,6,8)
    • Billy Swann – bass guitar (tracks 2,4,6,8)
  • Marc Hollander – alto saxophone, bass clarinet


  • Hans Bruniusson – drums (track 4)
  • Tina Curran – subliminal bass guitar (track 1)
  • Frank Wuyts – drums (track 3)

Recording and production[edit]

Recorded at Catch-a-Buzz Studio, Rockville, Maryland, United States in November 1979 and at Sunrise Studios, Kirchberg, Switzerland in January 1980.

  • Thomas Scott and Colleen Scott – engineers (USA)
  • Etienne Conod – engineer (Switzerland)

Bonus tracks on 1990 CD re-issue[edit]


  • Track 15 recorded at Sunrise Studios, Kirchberg, Switzerland in July–August 1978, previously unreleased (an outtake from the Henry Cow Western Culture recording sessions)
  • Track 16 recorded at Kaleidophon, London in March 1978, originally released on Hopes and Fears (1978) by Art Bears
  • Track 17 recorded at Sunrise Studios, Kirchberg, Switzerland in January 1978, originally released on Hopes and Fears (1978) by Art Bears
  • Track 18 recorded at Sunrise Studios, Kirchberg, Switzerland in January 1979, originally released on Un Peu de l'Âme des Bandits (1980) by Aksak Maboul
  • Track 19 recorded at Sunrise Studios, Kirchberg, Switzerland in January 1984, originally released on Learn to Talk (1984) by Skeleton Crew
  • Track 20 recorded at Noise, New York City in September 1988, previously unreleased


CD reissues[edit]

In 1990 East Side Digital Records and RecRec Music re-issued Gravity on CD with six bonus tracks. In 2002 Fred Records issued a remastered version of the original Gravity with no bonus tracks.


  1. ^ Milkowski 1983, p. 23.
  2. ^ a b "Henry Cow". Calyx – The Canterbury Music Website. Retrieved 26 February 2009. 
  3. ^ Westergaard, Sean. "Guitar Solos". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 February 2009. 
  4. ^ Milkowski 1983, p. 24.
  5. ^ "NME Albums 1974". Retrieved 26 February 2009. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Milkowski 1983, p. 25.
  7. ^ a b Milkowski 1983, p. 61.
  8. ^ a b "Fred Frith interview". BBC Online. Archived from the original on 15 February 2006. Retrieved 26 February 2009. 
  9. ^ a b c Ramond, Michel; Roussel, Patrice; Vuilleumier, Stephane. "Discography of Fred Frith". New York Downtown Scene and Other Miscellaneous Discographies. Retrieved 29 May 2016. 
  10. ^ a b c Wu, Brandon. "Fred Frith: Gravity". Ground and Sky. Archived from the original on 10 November 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Frith, Fred (1980). Gravity (vinyl). San Francisco: Ralph Records. FF-8057-L. 
  12. ^ a b Wolff, Sander R. "Defining The Edge: The Musical World of Fred Frith". The Long Beach Union Newspaper. Retrieved 26 February 2009. 
  13. ^ "Fred Frith – Dancing in the Street". Discogs. Retrieved 5 March 2009. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f Marsh, Peter. "Fred Frith: Gravity". BBC Online. Archived from the original on 13 November 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2014. 
  15. ^ Jones, Mason. "Fred Frith: Gravity". Dusted Reviews. Retrieved 4 March 2009. 
  16. ^ a b Schulte, Thomas. "Gravity". AllMusic. Retrieved 3 March 2009. 
  17. ^ "Spring Any Day Now, Music of 18th Century Scotland and Elsewhere". AllMusic. Retrieved 4 April 2012. 
  18. ^ Walters, John L (9 January 2004). "Who could ask for anything more?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 February 2009. 
  19. ^ "Fred Frith & Friends Play Gravity". All About Jazz. 26 July 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2013. 
  20. ^ "Fred Frith to Bring GRAVITY to Roulette, 9/19-20". Broadway World Music. 14 August 2013. Retrieved 8 October 2013. 
  21. ^ "Fred Frith: Gravity Band". Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  22. ^ "Artist: Fred Frith's Gravity". Music Meeting. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  23. ^ "The Gravity Band with Fred Frith". Moers Festival. Retrieved 9 August 2014. 

Works cited[edit]

  • Milkowski, Bill (1983). "The Frith Factor: Exploration in Sound". DownBeat. Vol. 50 no. 1. Maher Publications. pp. 22–25, 61. 

External links[edit]