Tag Archives: Fireworker

Striking Sparks Over Gazpacho’s Fireworker

Gazpacho Fireworker

In this second dialogue between Spirit of Cecilia’s Editor-in-Chief, Bradley Birzer, and Arts Editor Thaddeus Wert, they discuss the merits of Norwegian progsters Gazpacho’s latest album, Fireworker.

Wert: Hello, Dr. Birzer! I understand you consider Fireworker to be Gazpacho’s best album since their 2007 classic, Night. That album certainly deserves its iconic status; I would say it single-handedly established a new genre of prog – “drone rock”. And when you add the incredible lyrics, it’s undeniable Night is a masterpiece. I really like Fireworker, and I have spent quite a bit of time immersing myself in it, but I’m still partial to Tick Tock, followed by Demon, if asked to rank their albums following Night. What is it about Fireworker that gets you so excited?

Birzer: Hello, Mathematician Wert! Yes, I’m finding myself rather obsessed with Fireworker.  I’m not sure how many times I’ve listened to it since it first arrived on my doorstep, but the number is getting close to uncountable. And, while I love Tick Tock (one album, I might have listened to, too much) and Demon, I’ve not been this immersed in an album since Night.

For me, Gazpacho always has great atmospherics and great vocals (Jan-Henrik Ohme).  The flow of any Gazpacho album is unparalleled in the prog world.  They linger when they need to linger, and they breathe when they need to breathe. Unlike some of their harder colleagues, Gazpacho values silence and restraint. A rare gift in any art form. 

What makes a Gazpacho album successful then–given the admittedly excellent vocals, atmosphere, and flow–is the meshing of vocals with atmosphere.  Again, each one–taken separately on any Gazpacho album–is near perfect, but how they mesh together is not always perfectly attained.  Every album is always good, but not always perfect.  As I hear it, Night might be unbeatable when it comes to the meshing. It’s a case of the vocals helping the atmosphere and the atmosphere, likewise, helping the vocals. 

On this meshing, Fireworker comes VERY close to beating Night.  This is especially true on the title track, which allows the vocals to proclaim an urgency, a weirdness, and a conviction. Take, for example, the truly bizarre insertion of Stephen King’s The Shining toward the end of the song:

Your ideal life

You’re the pilot of a dream

A fireworker’s fire regime

To illuminate

The sky’s a billion burning eyes

A final sulfurous goodbye

In The Shining

Apocalyptic overlook

Where Wendy wants to read his book

Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure what Gazpacho is doing here, lyrically, other than giving us a series of hazy utterances.  Yet, the lyrics work, and I desperately want to know what’s going on.  In large part, this is because the atmosphere and the vocals have meshed perfectly, thus making the lyrics deeply fascinating.

Tick Tock and Demon, while brilliant albums, don’t quite mesh the vocals and atmospherics quite as well as do Night and Fireworker.

Wert: Brad, I agree with your observation that on Fireworker, Gazpacho does a great job meshing vocals with atmosphere, and very few groups are as atmospheric as they are. Musically, though, I need to have something to grab onto – a melodic hook – and Fireworker doesn’t provide that for me. It is a beautiful piece of music, but if you asked me, I couldn’t hum anything from it. I probably need to spend more time listening to it.

Were you as surprised as I when the choir burst into the mix on the opening track? They have been posting some interesting insights on their Facebook page. One fan asked what the choir is singing on Space Cowboy, and they replied that they are 

“…singing randomly generated lines that were supposed to be in the “ancient language of the brain” used before words came into the picture. The choir is supposed to be the consciousness with its various voices all coming together to warn the protagonist of venturing further towards the Fireworker itself.”

I find that fascinating! I also appreciate the fact that they devote every album to a unifying theme. Fireworker’s theme is the ancestral voices that are embedded in our DNA – like the ancient “fight or flight” response we are still slaves to, even though we don’t face the same threats primitive humans did. They seem to be saying that we aren’t in control of ourselves; the “Fireworker” that is in our DNA makes demands on us we can’t resist. I find that perspective to be a little pessimistic.

Birzer: Tad, thanks  so much for such a thoughtful response.  I’m in agreement with you about most of this.  But, maybe because I’ve been listening too much, I find myself humming long parts of the album, and I especially find parts of Space Cowboy and Fireworker hummable. 

As to the album’s concept. . . I’m in agreement that it’s incredibly pessimistic and, given how free form much of Gazpacho’s music can be, strangely determinist.  You’d think an art rock band would do EVERYTHING to avoid believing in and espousing determinism.  Unfortunately, though, we’ve been a determinist society since the 1850s and Darwin.  Believe me, I long for a humanist society, one based on free will.

So, what a paradox and tension in Gazpacho’s album–free-form music with determinist lyrics.  I think, in my own mind, I can get around this because of two things.  First, the lyrics are so chaotic as to be, at times, nothing more than mere notes added to the album.  Second, I’ve been placing the album alongside H.P. Lovecraft’s works–which are equally determinist and mechanical in thought.  And, if I can love Lovecraft despite this, I can love Gazpacho.

Still. . . what would a humanist album from Gazpacho be like?  It would Night or Tick Tock!

Wert: “Paradox and tension” is the perfect description for Fireworker, as well as Gazpacho’s music in general. Like you, I love their work despite my dissent from their philosophy, and I am glad they are producing such beautiful music. And while I’m at it, I’d like to offer my appreciation for their attention to detail in the physical packaging of their albums. Each one is like a small hardbound book with exquisite art from Antonio Seijas. Each one is like a treasure trove of hints and omens. In an era when many recording artists simply throw a CD into a cardboard folder, Gazpacho obviously put great care and thought into every release, and for that I am grateful. Here’s to hoping there are many more from them in the future!

Gazpacho Discography
The Consistently Beautiful Art Books That Are Gazpacho’s CD Releases

In The DropBox: Flying Colors, Nick Mason, Djabe with Steve Hackett, and Gazpacho

The DropBox overfloweth this week: two live sets, an interesting prog/jazz offering, and the new Gazpacho album.

First up, Flying Colors’ third live album, Third Stage: Live In London, recorded during the tour in support of 2019’s excellent Third Degree. The prog supergroup of Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, Casey McPherson, and Neal Morse just gets better and better. This is a two-disc set featuring the cream of their crop of arena-rock style prog. The rhythm section of Portnoy and LaRue is insane, especially LaRue’s funky bass. If you aren’t familiar with Flying Colors, this is the perfect introduction. If you’re a fan, it’s the best document of their scorching live prowess yet recorded.

Next up is Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. This is a real treat: Nick Mason, original drummer for Pink Floyd, put together a talented group of musicians to play a relaxed set of pre-Dark Side Of The Moon classics at the Roundhouse. If all you know about the Floyd is DSOTM and later, these songs (with the exception of the Meddle ones) will surprise you. They are playful and psychedelic in a very charming way. Gary Kemp, of Spandau Ballet fame, handles vocals, and he is terrific. It’s obvious both the band and the audience are having a great time, and Nick Mason has not lost his chops one bit.

The Magic Stag, by Hungarian group Djabe, is hard to categorize. The first few songs sound like some sort of raga/smooth jazz hybrid, as if Bob James found himself in Bollywood. Okay, I exaggerate, but there’s definitely an Indian feel to “Power of Wings” courtesy of a sitar jamming with trumpet. Steve Hackett lends his always tasteful guitar to seven of the eleven songs, and he and his wife wrote the lyrics to the title track.

The sixth track, “Unseen Sense” is the highlight, with some outstanding acoustic guitar work supporting a beautiful melody. This is a song worthy of stellar fusion artists such as Oregon, Weather Report, or Mark Isham. The rest of the album maintains the high standard set by this track. If you are looking for a nice album to play on a lazy Sunday morning, Djabe’s The Magic Stag is a perfect choice.

Anything new from Gazpacho is big news, and it’s been two years since we heard from them. Fireworker is their latest, and it is somewhat of a departure from previous efforts. I, for one, am glad to see them stretch out a little. The past few albums were starting to sound a little interchangeable. This one kicks off with the 20-minute epic “Space Cowboy”, which features a huge choir. It’s as if Carl Orff took his Carmina Burana and scored it for a prog rock group. That sounds ambitious, but Gazpacho pulls it off with aplomb.

This song cycle, like most of Gazpacho’s, has a unifying concept. In the words of keyboardist Thomas Andersen,

“There’s an instinctual part of you that lives inside your mind, separate from your consciousness. I call it the ‘Fireworker’ or the ‘Lizard’ or the ‘Space Cowboy.’ It’s an eternal and unbroken lifeforce that’s survived every generation, with a new version in each of us. It’s evolved alongside our consciousness, and it can override us and control all of our actions.” In order to get us to do what it wants, he clarifies, the “Fireworker” will silence the parts of our mind that feel disgust or remorse so that we’re unable to stop it. The conscious part of our mind, Andersen notes, will actually “rationalize and legitimize” those thoughts and actions so that we never discover the beast behind-the-scenes. No matter how we feel about ourselves in terms of identity, accomplishments, and value, we’re all just vessels—or “Sapiens”—that the creature uses until it no longer needs us. “If you play along,” Andersen explains, “It’ll reward you like a puppy and let you feel fantastic; if you don’t, it’ll punish you severely.”

From arena prog, through psychedelic pop, to jazz prog, and finally Norwegian choral prog (for want of a better term!), this is the most eclectic batch of music we’ve ever pulled from the DropBox. I’ll leave you with a little Djabe and Steve Hackett: