The 1983 A&M Press Release.
Nothing about Ray Manzarek's career has been ordinary. Keyboardist with The Doors, record producer (notably the rock band X), solo artist: in these and other pursuits, Manzarek has studiously avoided any hint of compromise or predictability. It's only appropriate, then, that his first album for A&M Records is another extraordinary effort: a contemporary interpretation of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.
Carmina Burana, written in 1935 and first performed in 1937, is a vocal and instrumental cantata based on a series of medieval poems (most likely dating from the 13th Century) written in Latin by a group of renegade monks. Manzarek was aided by the noted composer Philip Glass (who co-produced the album) and some of Glass' closest musical associates. Manzarek chose to perform the work in an instrumental setting that would have been impossible in Orffs time: instead of working with an orchestra, he arranged the music for an electric jazz-rock band, including members of a group called the Fents and Manzarek himself on keyboards.
The details of Manzarek's career have been well documented by now. In 1966, after graduating from UCLA, he and classmate Jim Morrison decided to form a rock 'n' roll band. That band, The Doors, went on to become America's premier rock band, record eight platinum albums' (and three platinum singles') worth of material before Morrison's death in 1971. Manzarek and fellow remaining members went on to make two more Doors albums before disbanding for good in 1973.
Manzarek then made two solo albums, The Golden Scarab and The Whole Thing Started with Rock 'n' Roll, Now It's Out Of Control. In 1976 he put together Nite City, his first working band since The Doors; they recorded two albums, only one of which was released in the United States. The late 70's was a period of intense activity for Manzarek. He participated in the completion of An American Prayer, an album of Jim Morrison's poetry and the Doors' music. He was asked to write some of the music for Francis Coppola's "Apocalypse Now," a task that Ray's schedule ultimately did not permit him to fulfill, (eventually Doors' music would be used for the soundtrack). He witnessed a remarkable Doors renaissance, as renewed interest in the group resulted in the reappearance of several of their albums on the charts, heavy airplay, various TV and film documentaries and a best-selling Morrison biography (co-written by Ray's personal manager/publicist, Danny Sugerman).
Manzarek himself was at the center of the new music scene that sprang up in Southern California. He produced X's Los Angeles, an album that brought both group and producer considerable acclaim; he has also produced the three subsequent X albums. All in all, Ray Manzarek has not been lacking things to do.
Carmina Burana, Ray says, "is a piece I've always loved. Four or five years ago, I went out and bought the piano and vocal score. I wanted to find out exactly what Carl Orff was up to in one particular section, as far as the rhythmic structure. The section was called 'The Dance'; I tried to keep my foot tapping along with it, but the rhythm kept turning around, and I wondered what he was doing . . . it was brilliant. So I got the music, and once I'd checked it out I was hooked.
"The aspect of Gregorian chants with strong rhythm - which is essentially what Carmina Burana consists of - is something you don't normally hear," Manzarek adds. "I think that's what intrigued me about it in the first place . . . the power and passion . . . But, I heard it with even more emphasis on the rhythmic foundation, and that's what I set out to do with it."
Manzarek, with production assistance from A&M's David Anderle, made demos of four Carmina Burana sections. Those tapes found their way to Philip Glass, a composer whose many works have included the opera Einstein on the Beach (1976), the musical theater piece The Photographer (1982) and soundtrack music for such films as "Koyaanisqatsi'' (1982). Glass expressed an interest in Manzarek's project; he and Kurt Munkacsi, who has co-produced all of Glass' recordings (and who has also produced the Waitresses and engineered for John Lennon, Brian Eno, Ornette Coleman and others), agreed to produce Carmina Burana. Michael Riesman, another frequent Glass collaborator, played synthesizer and conducted the 10-member vocal ensemble used on Manzarek's album.
"Once the Carmina Burana team was assembled, Manzarek discovered an almost inexplicable affinity among the project's various components. The whole minor overtone in Gregorian chants is, in essence, Doors music," he explains. "And that plugs into the modal idea of late '50's jazz - like Miles Davis' Kind of Blue one of my favorite records. That's the way I like to play. And working with Philip Glass was perfect. He plays like I do; I play like he does. We have a very similar harmonic, rhythmic and melodic approach, based on working off of chord structures. We're coming from the same place, only he comes from the classical end and I come from the rock end.
"Philip Glass, Carl Orff, Ray Manzarek: We're all revolving around the same central point of rhythm and harmony. It's a marriage made somewhere . . . I don't even control it."
Other than reducing Orff's 25 parts to 16, Manzarek and company stuck to the original score. But the instrumentation differed considerably: where Orff used strings and orchestral percussion instruments, Manzarek used synthesizers and a standard trap drum kit. "It is totally contemporary," he says. "Even though the piece is nearly 50 years old, it doesn't sound dated; it really could have been written today. I think it's timeless.
"The fact that the Iyrics are in Latin might be difficult for some people," Ray continues. "But the voices are simply another rhythm instrument, and they should be regarded that way. In essence, this is an instrumental album; there are human voices, but they're chanting across the top of this rhythmic foundation we've established for them."
A one-hour "video opera" based on Manzarek's Carmina Burana is currently in progress. Produced in cooperation with Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum, it will include a complete script written by Louis Valdez ("Zoot Suit"). Manzarek calls it a "psychic journey through life, death, and rebirth, sort of a modern Tibetan book of the dead."
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