Biography All Music GuideWikipedia
All Music Guide:
Chris Cutler has led a varied and surprising career as a drummer, record label executive, hard line socialist, and ethnomusicologist, among other labels, spanning over three decades of work and close to 100 records. Born in Washington, D.C., on January 4, 1947, but raised in England, Cutler began drumming in beat and psychedelic groups around 1966. His first group, Louise, played the clubs in London's psychedelic scene until disbanding three years later. With then-keyboardist of the band Egg, Dave Stewart, Cutler formed the 26-piece Ottawa Music Company, which played seven gigs in all, highlighting the music of composers that they knew or had met. Henry Cow was formed in 1971 after Cutler placed an ad in the paper, and for seven long years they recorded and toured, by themselves or in collaboration with members of Slapp Happy. Cutler also played with progressive band Gong and the London Philharmonic and the Berlin Radio Orchestra. Politics were always important to Cutler and to Henry Cow who were looking for radical social change. Such drive is seen in his lyrics for Henry Cow and for subsequent Cow and Slapp Happy related bands, such as Art Bears, News From Babel, and other collaborations with Lindsay Cooper and Peter Blegvad. Cutler's lyrics often tell metaphorical political tales using imagery from medieval English texts. Henry Cow broke up in 1978, just after the setting up of Rock in Opposition, a collective of similar thinking musicians. Since then he has formed several groups for one or two albums apiece, including Cassiber, the (EC) Nudes, and P53, and collaborated with a long list of progressive and experimental musicians, such as the Residents, Pere Ubu, Hail, Biota, Telectu, and many, many more. Cutler also founded and runs ReR/Recommended Records, which releases a majority of the work he either initiates or performs on. In the early '90s, he published "File Under Popular" a series of essays about experimental musicians and the theories of creating music against the mainstream.
Chris Cutler (born 4 January 1947) is an English percussionist, composer, lyricist and music theorist. Best known for his work with English avant-rock group Henry Cow, Cutler was also a member and drummer of a number of other bands, including Art Bears, News from Babel, Pere Ubu and (briefly) Gong/Mothergong. He has collaborated with many musicians and groups, including Fred Frith, Lindsay Cooper, Zeena Parkins, Peter Blegvad and The Residents, and has appeared on over 100 recordings. Cutler's career spans over three decades and he still performs actively throughout the world.
Cutler created and runs the British independent record label Recommended Records and is the editor of its sound-magazine, RēR Quarterly. He has given a number of public lectures on music, published numerous articles and papers, and written a book on the political theory of contemporary music, File Under Popular (1984). Cutler also assembled and released The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set (2009), a collection of over 10 hours of previously unreleased recordings by the band.
Chris Cutler was born in January 1947 in Washington, D.C. to a British foreign correspondent and his Austrian wife. In 1948 the family moved to England where Cutler was brought up. He never studied music but tried his hand at banjo, guitar, trumpet and flute while at school. He finally settled for drums "because I wanted to be in a band and drummers were scarcest." Cutler formed his first band in 1963, playing Shadows and Ventures instrumental covers, then played in several R&B and soul bands. In 1966 he joined a band called Louise which performed on the London psychedelic club circuit for three years before breaking up. Looking for work, Cutler placed a series of advertisements in Melody Maker over a period of nine months in 1970. This put him in touch with a number of musicians which led to Cutler and keyboardist Dave Stewart of Egg forming The Ottawa Music Company, a 26 piece rock composer's orchestra, in 1971. Soon afterwards, Henry Cow, looking to replace the drummer who had just left them, responded to one of Cutler's adverts and invited him to a rehearsal.
Henry Cow 
Henry Cow had been formed in 1968 by Cambridge University students Fred Frith (guitar) and Tim Hodgkinson (woodwind and keyboards). By 1971 the band had gone through a number of personnel changes and it was only when Cutler joined them in September 1971 that the group stabilised. Frith, Hodgkinson and Cutler became Henry Cow's permanent core until the band split up in 1978.
Henry Cow's prominence in progressive rock circles launched the careers of many of its members, including Cutler's. Their music was uncompromising and this eventually put them at odds with the mainstream music business, forcing the band to do everything themselves: from recording, manufacturing and releasing their own albums, to organising their own tours and being their own management and agency. All this proved invaluable experience for Cutler that would assist him greatly in his future endeavours. The group spent most of its last three years touring Europe and many of Cutler's future collaborations resulted from contact made with musicians on these tours. In Henry Cow's last few months they initiated Rock in Opposition (RIO), a collective of like-minded bands they had encountered through Europe that were united in their opposition to the music industry.
Recommended Records 
After Henry Cow disbanded in 1978, Cutler created Recommended Records in London, an independent label and distribution network for RIO artists. The record label quickly filled the gap left by commercial labels and soon began to also release non-RIO bands and musicians. Recommended Records's aim was to produce records of high technical and musical quality, placing the musicians' interests first and profits second. This strategy, however, led to the label experiencing financial difficulties from time to time, but it stuck to its principles and has survived for over 25 years. There are a number of musicians whose work would never have seen the light of day had it not been for Cutler's label.
Cutler also founded November Books in 1982, the publishing wing of Recommended Records.
Other bands and projects 
Cutler's first post-Henry Cow project was Art Bears (1978–1981), a group formed by Cutler, Fred Frith (guitar and keyboards) and Dagmar Krause (vocals, from Henry Cow) six months before Henry Cow split up (see Henry Cow for details). Art Bears were a song-oriented group that recorded three studio albums. Cutler's main contributions were the songs' texts and (with Frith) the album productions. Art Bears (in the wake of Henry Cow) were well received by critics which further boosted Cutler's reputation in "progressive" circles.
In 1982, Cutler co-founded the Anglo-German group Cassiber (1982–1992) with German musicians Heiner Goebbels, Alfred Harth and Christoph Anders. Over the next ten years Cassiber produced five albums and toured Europe, Asia, South and North America. Their music was very experimental and often involved spontaneously improvising pre-existing structured and arranged material.
In 1983, Cutler formed News from Babel (1983–1986), another song-orientated group with core members Cutler, Lindsay Cooper (from Henry Cow), Zeena Parkins (a United States harpist) and Dagmar Krause. With guest musicians (including Robert Wyatt and Sally Potter) they made two critically acclaimed studio albums, but did not perform live.
Cutler was a member of the United States experimental rock band Pere Ubu between 1987 and 1989. He had first encountered them in Washington DC in 1978 while exploring the possibility of Henry Cow touring America (which never materialised as Henry Cow disbanded soon after). Cutler kept in touch with Pere Ubu until they split in the early 1980s and their singer, David Thomas began a solo career. Cutler and Lindsay Cooper joined Thomas in 1982 to form David Thomas and the Pedestrians, and for the next three years they toured Europe and North America and made two albums. Over the next few years, some of the ex-Pere Ubu members began joining Thomas's Pedestrians. Cooper left in 1985 and by 1987 the group (now called David Thomas and the Wooden Birds) was effectively Pere Ubu again. As Pere Ubu, the band (with Cutler) made two albums. Cutler left in 1989.
In 1991, Cutler and German composer Lutz Glandien recorded the critically acclaimed song project Domestic Stories. Cutler wrote the song texts and played drums, while Glandien composed and performed the music with samplers and computers. The supporting musicians were Dagmar Krause (vocals), Fred Frith (bass and guitar) and Alfred Harth (saxophone and clarinet). Cutler collaborated with Glandien again in 1994 to record Scenes from no Marriage and to participate in P53, a commission for the 25th Frankfurt Jazz Festival with Zygmunt Krauze, Marie Goyette, Otomo Yoshihide.
The (ec) Nudes were a band Cutler, Wädi Gysi (guitar) and Amy Denio (vocals, bass, saxophone, accordion) formed in 1993. The trio recorded Vanishing Point, a CD of songs with texts by Cutler and music by Gysi and Denio, and toured all over Europe and visited Brasil. Bob Drake later joined the group on bass and as a quartet they toured all over Europe, Canada and Brazil, but did not record. Cutler left the group in 1994.
Cutler and Yugoslav keyboardist and composer Stevan Tickmayer formed The Science Group in 1997 to record A Mere Coincidence (1999), an album of songs on science topics, including quantum mechanics. Cutler wrote the texts, Tickmayer composed the music, and the rest of the group comprised Bob Drake (bass guitar, vocals) and Claudio Puntin (bass clarinet), with guests Amy Denio (vocals) and Fred Frith (guitar). In 2003 Cutler and Tickmayer reconstituted The Science Group as a quartet with Bob Drake (bass guitar) and Mike Johnson (guitars), and released an instrumental album, Spoors. In 1998, he joined John Wolf Brennan's sextet "HeXtet" to record a series of poetry settings, from Edgar Allan Poe to contemporary Irish poets like Theo Dorgan and Paula Meehan, together with legendary singer Julie Tippetts, saxophonist Evan Parker, trombonist Paul Rutherford and clarinetist Peter Whyman.
Other collaborations Fred Frith (left) and Chris Cutler performing in Austria in November 2009.
The ex-Henry Cow members have always maintained close contact with each other and Cutler still collaborates with many of them. Cutler and Fred Frith have been touring Europe, Asia and the Americas since 1978 and have given over 100 duo performances. Four albums from some of these concerts have been released. In December 2006, Cutler, Frith and Tim Hodgkinson performed together at The Stone in New York City, only their second concert performance since Henry Cow's demise in 1978.
On 4 November 2006 Cutler, Jon Rose (violin) and Zeena Parkins (harp) performed with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ilan Volkov, at the Glasgow City Halls in Glasgow, Scotland. The concert was recorded and later broadcast by BBC Radio 3 on 24 March 2007.
Other musicians and bands Cutler has performed and recorded with over the years include Tim Hodgkinson, Lindsay Cooper, Peter Blegvad, John Greaves, René Lussier, Jean Derome, Tom Cora, Aksak Maboul, The Residents, The Work, Duck and Cover, Les 4 Guitaristes de l'Apocalypso-Bar, Kalahari Surfers, Hail, Biota and Brainville 3.
In 2009, Cutler toured North America with avant-garde Czech violinist Iva Bittová.
Solo performances 
Since the late 1990s, Cutler began giving solo electrified percussion performances to audiences across the world. His first was in Tokyo in June 1998, which was recorded in a documentary film, At the Edge of Chaos, by award winning film director Shinji Aoyama. The first part of the film is equipment set-up and sound-checks, plus interviews with Cutler, while the second part is the improvised concert itself.
In 2001 Cutler released Solo: A Descent Into the Maelstrom, an album of solos on his electrified drum kit taken from live performances in Europe and the United States between August 2000 and May 2001. In 2005 he released Twice Around the World, an album of real-time recordings made from all over the world between 23.30 and midnight GMT. The material was taken from a daily half-hour radio programme Cutler ran for Resonance FM: Out Of The Blue Radio between July 2001 and July 2002. A companion album, There and Back Again, comprising 44 environmental recordings, was released by Cutler in 2006.
Electrified drum kit 
Chris Cutler never studied music and taught himself drumming on makeshift drum kits assembled with whatever was on hand. He slowly developed a technique using a "top-down" approach as opposed to the traditional "bottom-up" approach used by schooled drummers. Drummers are first taught basic patterns which are later combined into more complex patterns. Cutler learned the opposite way, hearing or imagining a sound and then disciplining his hands and feet to reproduce it. This "top-down" approach resulted in a unique style of drumming that pervades all of Cutler's performances and recordings.
By the time Cutler was drumming for Henry Cow in 1971, he had become a perfectly competent, albeit unconventional, drummer. The nature of Henry Cow was to experiment and explore and it was here that Cutler developed and refined his drumming techniques. It was also here that he started to electrify his drum kit. He began by attaching old telephone mouthpieces to drums and cymbals, and connecting them to an amplifier and a reverb unit. He later added a small mixer for four independent inputs. The effect was very basic: a few low-grade inputs with only equalisation and reverberation to manipulate.
By 1982, Cutler had added another small mixer, a pitch shifter and a delay unit. He had also begun using cheap guitar transducers and a table full of additional wired objects (pans, metal trays, small tambours and egg-slicers).
Cutler experimented briefly with drum pads triggered to play sampled or synthesized sounds, but quickly dismissed this option because he found them unresponsive and inflexible. They reduced a drum to nothing more than a switch: hit it and a pre-programmed sound is emitted, irrespective of how hard or in what manner the drum is struck. Cutler preferred real-time processing: amplifying and modifying actual sounds produced by the drum, making it a kind of an electroacoustic instrument, immediate and responsive, and retaining all the qualities of an acoustic drum kit.
Cutler went on to wire his entire drum kit, using a 16 channel mixer with multi-effect processors, a "Space pedal", a "Whammy pedal", a PDS 8000 and an old Boss pitch shifter/delay unit. In addition to transducers, he also attached miniature microphones to some of the drums and sticks. Cutler introduced feedback into the mix by placing a monitor speaker near the kit.
The electrified drum kit continues to evolve and to Cutler it is "satisfyingly unpredictable", responsive to all his old techniques while continuing to generate new ones. It has a unique "voice" that Cutler still has not plumbed the depths of. This is what prompted him to start giving solo performances because it tested his skill at playing an instrument he had to treat as an equal and evolve with.
Writings and talks 
In the early 1980s, Chris Cutler became active in the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) and started giving talks and participating in symposia throughout the world. Some of the talks he has given are:"Composing with Other People's Music – Creativity or Theft?", British Council, Belgrade."Electrification and Experimentation, the Development of New Musical Resources in the Popular Field", Union of Composers, Moscow."Improvisation: Motives and Methods", IASPM, University of Leeds."Rock In Opposition, a case study". Academy of Science, Berlin."Studio Composition and Visualisation" – a case study IASPM, University, Montreal"Sonic and Structural Convergence at the fringes of Musical Genres". The Royal College of Art, London."On The Impact of Recording Technology on Popular music." Pomeriggi Musicali do Milano."Punderphonics and Postmodernism", Dissonanten, Rotterdam."Sampling and Plunderphonics", Museum School, Boston."The Recording Studio as a Compositional Instrument", The Royal College of Art, London.
Cutler has written and published a number of essays on music, including:"Necessity and Choice in Musical Forms: Concerning Musical and Technical Means and Political Needs" (1990) – an essay on the evolution of recorded music, published in The Cassette Mythos."Plunderphonia" (1994) – an essay on plunderphonics, published in Musicworks 60."Scale" (1997) – an essay on the scale of sounds in music, published in The Gramophone Special Edition "Perspectives on Contemporary Music"."Thoughts on Music and the Avant Garde" (2005) – an essay commissioned for a book dedicated to Professor Gunther Mayer, published in Perfect Sound Forever."Locality" (2006) – published in Resonance Magazine."The Road to Plunderphonia" (2011) – published by Quaderns d'àudio/Ràdio Web MACBA.Radio broadcasts "Probes 1" (2012) – published by Quaderns d'àudio/Ràdio Web MACBA."Probes 1.2 Auxiliaries" (2012) – published by Quaderns d'àudio/Ràdio Web MACBA."Probes 2" (2012) – published by Quaderns d'àudio/Ràdio Web MACBA."Probes 2.2 Auxiliaries" (2013) – published by Quaderns d'àudio/Ràdio Web MACBA."Probes 3" (2013) – published by Quaderns d'àudio/Ràdio Web MACBA.
Cutler has also published two books:The Henry Cow Book (co-authored with Tim Hodgkinson) (1981) – a collection of documents and information about the band.File Under Popular (1984) – a collection of theoretical and critical writings on music, also published in Polish, German and Japanese.