Flexibition #6: Springtime for Hitler / The Inquisition Song

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This disc was given away with Event magazine, now long deceased, which was a rival to Time Out in the early 80’s when it ceased publication for a bit. It was a promo for Mel Brooks‘ 1981 film, ‘History of the World Part 1’, from which the two songs on the disc came. As ever with Brooks, both were politically incorrect before the term even existed, being about Hitler and The (Spanish) Inquisition (he also later released ‘The Hitler Rap (To Be Or Not To Be)’).

This is probably one of the first flexi’s I ever got after the freebies with Flexipop magazine and was most likely rescued from the paper-recycling shed at school along with a pile of early copies of The Face that would periodically come in, unsold, from the local newsagent. I had so few records at this time that I’d grab anything and ‘The Inquisition Song’ even made it onto my first proper mixtape in 1987.
You can see the scene from the film here, it starts at about the 2 minute mark. (Warning: very inappropriate lyrics)

Update: More info on Event magazine can be seen on the website of Pearce Marchbank who was art director.

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Flexibition #5: Teach Yourself Heath / Monty Python’s Tiny Black Round Thing

Flex4_TeachHeath_frontAs flexis go neither of these are especially rare, certainly not the Tiny Black Round Thing’ which I discovered I had several copies of when going through my collection. ‘Teach Yourself Heath’ is actually quite good though, being a piss take of the former PM Edward Heath by an uncredited Eric Idle and Michael Palin from the Pythons. It was originally given away inside copies of the 1972 ‘Monty Python’s Previous Record’ album, an issue of Zig Zag (#27) and possibly Format magazine.
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‘Monty Python’s Tiny Black Round Thing’ was given away with a May 1975 copy of The NME to promote the group’s ‘Live at Drury Lane’ LP. Palin hams it up as a radio announcer talking about the flexi’s merits and Gumby makes an appearance as the NME’s editor. The B-side is ‘The Lumberjack Song’ which I’m sure you’ve all heard way too many times already.


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Flexibition #4: Bird Sounds

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Who ever knew Bird Sounds would be such a big deal on flexi disc? Here we have two different releases filed under the same heading: a 4 disc 9″ set from the National Geographic Society and a tiny 6.5″ x 6.5″ book with six transparent discs held inside, again published by NGS in association with the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in New York. Not being any kind of expert on Bird Sounds I confess I bought both of these for their packaging more than the contents held in the grooves although I did give them a listen. I swear that I heard the bird sample that Boards of Canada used on ‘Happy Cycling’ on the 1983-released ‘Guide To’ set. There’s no audio on the web that I can find but it does have an entry on Discogs where someone has actually taken the trouble to type out the extensive tracklist so you can see what you’re missing.

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Flex4_BirdSounds_book coverThis beautiful ‘singing’ book from 1965 is illustrated by wildlife artist Ron Jenkins and you have to fold back the pages and place the whole thing on the turntable to play the discs – not the last time we’ll see such an practice either as there’s a months worth of audio books coming up later in the year. Again, no audio but there are copies on Am*z*n, Abebooks and more.

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Flexibition #3: The Science of Musical Sound

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This book, published in 1983, was lent to me by DJ Vadim back in the late ’90s. Nestling in the back cover are two double-sided 7″ flexi discs with electronic examples of sonics described in the text. A couple of them made their way onto the ‘Kaleidoscope’ album, in fact I think the very first sound you hear on the record comes from one of these discs.
Flex3_Sciencefront The author, John R. Pierce, worked extensively in radio communication, computer music and psychoacoustics and was one of the inventors of something called the Bohlen-Pierce Scale which I’m not going to even attempt to describe as it’s way over my head. He worked at Bell Labs, coined the term ‘transistor’ and helped develop the first communications satellite, Telstar 1. He wrote several academic books like this and also wrote science fiction under the name J.J. Coupling. He also composed several electronic pieces, some of which were featured on the ‘Music From Mathematics’ album originally issued by Bell Labs and recently reissued across two 45s by Finders Keepers.
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There’s a nice little piece about the book here and I’ve cribbed some text about the flexi discs from it. Sadly the links on the page are long gone but the French versions of the discs are on the web under the translated title ‘Le Son Musical’.

“The two 7-inches collect around 10 short sound examples per side of mathematics applied to sound and music, each introduced by speaker Jean-Claude Risset (in French). Some were recorded by Pierce and Max V. Mathews at IRCAM, Paris in 1979. Some were created by Elizabeth Cohen [+] and John Chowing at Stanford University in 1979. Some were recorded by Jean-Claude Risset using Mathews’ Music V program in Marseille, IRCAM and Bell Labs. A biographical memoir was written by colleagues of Pierce in 2002, among them Dr. Max V. Mathews, and is available as a PDF here. Download link comes with 20 or so pictures from the book.”

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Flexibition #2: Space Sounds

*Flexibition_header4This beautiful 10″ flexi came in its own cover inside a minimal op-art box alongside a revolving ‘star wheel’ and build-it-yourself ‘space scope’ with slides. The set was published by National Geographic as the Our Universe Space Kit in 1980 and the ‘Space Sounds’ disc is a gold mine of spoken word samples and sounds exploring all sorts of cosmic phenomena.
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The graphics are gorgeous and you can still pick these sets up on abebooks or eBay now and again, there’s also a companion hardback book that goes with it but won’t fit in the box (lid pictured at the bottom).
David M. Seager is credited with design and I think LaBoca hipped me to this a few years back, thanks to Jason Wehmhoener for pointing me in the direction of the audio online.
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Flexibition #1: Discovery Workshop

*Flexibition_header4‘Sound Sheet’, ‘Phono sheet’, ‘Sound Page’, ‘Flexi Disc’ or just plain ‘Flexi’ – this floppy, cheap, disposable, low quality format has been around since the early 60’s when it was introduced by the daddy of flexi disc production, Eva-tone Soundsheets in the US. Used as an easy way to include recordings in books and magazines because of their thin, flexible nature they became very popular with educational publications like National Geographic and Reader’s Digest as well as a means to cheaply distribute music in music magazines like Rolling Stone, NME, Kerrrang! and even a dedicated monthly called Flexipop in the early 80’s.

I’ve been collecting flexi discs or all types for years and thought it was time to put some of the weird and wonderful online for all to see. I’ll be posting new entries from my collection every Thursday all through 2015, sometimes with audio or buying links if they’re online and there will be guest posts from other collectors too. The Flexibition will run for 2015 and I’ll have Rock, Pop, Spoken Word, Cut Ups, Porn, Comedy, Educational, Adverts, Technical and more featured.

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We start with an educational entry but I don’t remember where I got this, possibly somewhere in North America in the last 5 years though. Made by Eva-Tone for The United States Learning Corporation I’m presuming it was part of a magazine or book at some point. I took the name of the disc for a track on my album ‘The Search Engine’ and even included it on a clear flexi disc inside the limited comic book version (which will feature in a later post). As far as I’ve aware there’s no recording of it online.

The narrator starts out describing the planets before we blast off in a rocket to the moon, take a look back at Earth from the moon’s surface and survey the sun (never look directly at it). On side 2 we look at Mars (it’s very red), Venus (very bright), Jupiter (the red spot gives off strange radio signals) and Saturn (it could hold about 700 Earths). Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are given short shrift before we fly deeper into the galaxy and get into space gas. It’s very basic stuff as you’d expect from the image of the child with telescope on the disc but charming and includes suitably space-like orchestral accompaniment and the odd modular synth sound.

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