– Autumn/Winter 2008

The Red Crayola/The Red Krayola: An Approachable Subject

Dustin Ericksen

Tags: The Red Krayola

'Listen to This' is the title of a very short song. In it one voice (unaccompanied) says 'listen to this', then there is a single strike of a note or two on the piano perhaps, simultaneously accompanied by a shot on a tight snare, and maybe a ride cymbal - it all lasts about eight seconds, including a little silence on either end. It really is like:

Listen to this … blampf!

where the 'blampf' is that strange trio, or something, of instruments being struck at the same time. This is a song/piece by The Red Krayola on the album God Bless The Red Krayola and All Who Sail with It (1968). The terms 'song' and 'piece' are used together because the creation lands somewhere between art and popular music: it shows influences from John Cage and process art, but also from musicians such as Albert Ayler, and compresses familiar pop instrumental sounds into a small chunk of recorded music.

The Red Krayola made a number of other extremely short songs called 'One-Second Pieces' in an earlier recording session for the album Coconut Hotel in 1967. These are a bit like 'Listen to This' but without the vocals - they each consist of a single strike, sometimes of one instrument, sometimes of two or three (drums, piano and horns). The descriptive title is not quite accurate, as the songs, even though they are short, last slightly longer than one second (three, perhaps four). The album features 36 of these, along with longer pieces titled 'Organ Buildup', 'Free Guitar', 'Piano' and 'Water Pour'. The seemingly descriptive titles again set up a pattern of deception: while some of

  1. Frederick Barthelme, 'The Red Crayola. All we wanted to play was the crack-ball stuff', Oxford American, n.d., available at http://www.oxfordamericanmag.com/content.cfm?ArticleID=287 (last accessed on 15 July 2008).

  2. Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc (eds.), The Blaue Reiter Almanac, Boston: MFA Publications, 2005.

  3. The Red Crayola and Art & Language have released a number of singles and albums together since 1976. The albums are Corrected Slogans (1976), Kangaroo? (1981), Black Snakes (1983) and Sighs Trapped by Liars (2007). For the first three albums the name was spelt with a 'c'.

  4. Email to the editors, 16 June 2008.

  5. 1868 letter from Fyodor Dostoevsky to his niece, in Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot (trans. Alan Myers), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, p.xv.

  6. Roland Barthes, Mythologies (trans. A. Lavers), London: Paladin, 1973, p.109.

  7. See F. Barthelme, 'The Red Crayola', op. cit.

  8. The Berkeley Folk Festival concert was released as part of Live 1967.

  9. Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (trans. Michael T. H. Sadler), New York: DAP, 2006.

  10. F. Barthelme, 'The Red Crayola', op. cit.