petak, 1. ožujka 2013.

Henry Jacobs - Around The World With Henry Jacobs (2010)

Radio-kolaži iz '50-'70-ih sačuvani na magnetofonskim vrpcama, razbacanima među lukom i krumpirima u špajzi. S analognom tehnologijom Jacobs je radio sve što je danas s digitalnom tehnologijom pisofkejk. Pored toga, u miks je ubacivao lažne improvizirane intervjue s navodnim istraživačima etničke muzike, uličnim čudacima i bitničkim jazz pjesnicima... Dobro su ga nazvali: folklorist apsurda  i zen-satiričar.


Absurd folklorist Henry Jacobs returns with a selection of rare interviews, odd loops, sales pitches, early synthesizer demos, an ether-infused evening, and more! Produced in San Francisco and New York City, Around The World With Henry Jacobs is a travelogue that continues the story begun with The Wide Weird World of Henry Jacobs, mixing archival material from the 1950s with recent improvisations by Jacobs. Guests include Stan Freberg and Dr. Irwin Corey, with Alan Watts returning for a visit, too.
Also included is special bonus disc — First Night, one of the true gems from the collection. Recorded in February 1957 by Henry Jacobs on the opening night of the Poetry/Jazz Series at The Cellar in San Francisco, this unique document captures the first time Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti read their poetry to jazz in this very intimate setting. In contrast to Fantasy Records' Poetry Readings in the Cellar, you feel yourself a part of the audience here, moments punctuated with a register ringing, muted conversations, laughter, and clinking glasses. Includes Rexroth reading "Between Myself And Death" and "She Is Away", and Ferlinghetti reading "The World is A Beautiful Place."-

Built from sound manipulation, ethnic folkways, musique concrete experimentation, spoken-word conceptual humor and socio-cultural satire, Henry Jacobs’s radio collages from the mid- 20th century offer an idiosyncratic but nonetheless vivid taste of the American creative frontier during the beat movement and counterculture years; a manically creative west coast–hipster exploration of possibilities at the FM radio fringes of electronic mass media.
Jacobs started in radio in Chicago, but the art, music and poetry scene of 1950s San Francisco called him, and it turned out to be an ideal and receptive environment for what he would do for the next two decades. So what was he doing? Well, using tape recorders to capture, process and compose with sound; improvising jazz bands, Afro-Cuban percussion ensembles, and city soundscapes; manipulating pitch, cutting tape; and messing around with analog synthesizers. Added to this mix were fake improvised interviews and conversations with the likes of supposed ethnic music scholars, strange street people and beatnik jazz poets. The quiet kick to these segments often came from the slow, subtly developing revelation that hipsters and squares were often equally clueless, confused and obtuse in their perceptions of the world. On a deeper level, there was a disturbing sense that people could not actually communicate with each other — as if everybody was speaking a slightly different language.
The Henry Jacobs legend is full of missing tapes and forgotten, buried archives. The selections released here were apparently dug up by Jacobs recently in his backyard. No dates or sources are given, but judging from cultural references and various argots, the material seems to range from the 1950s through the 1970s. (The bonus disc is a you-are-there 1957 recording of Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading poems to jazz accompaniment in a small San Francisco club.).
All the aforementioned traits and techniques are on display in the collection; one can hear in the comedy segments a sort of beat version of Bob and Ray’s cool radio conceptualism with some Lenny Bruce rawness thrown in, the whole thing unfolding with the attention to sound-as-art and mind-bending evocation that eventually blossomed in the psychedelic radio plays of Firesign Theatre.
Behind much of the humor, however (and in the pieces that are not overtly humorous), it seems that there is something philosophical at the heart of Jacobs’s expression and experimentation, a rough beauty and revelation to be found in the way disparate sounds and paths of perception can stumble together into something new — something, perhaps, just as surprisingly transcendent as it is absurd and transitory.- Kevin Macneil Brown

The Weird Wide World Of Henry Jacobs/The Fine Art Of Goofing Off
streaming ulomaka

Henry Jacobs is a sound artist and improviser par excellence. His influential recordings as well as collaborative projects resonate with an irreverent sense of humor and a love for musics of the world. From the early 1950s into the 1970s, Jacobs experimented with tape music, staged the early surround sound and visual spectacle Vortex (with artist Jordan Belson), and developed an array of absurd characters that would pop up as crank callers, relaxation coaches, or upside-down smiling instructors. A contemporary of Ken Nordine and Lenny Bruce, Jacobs honed an individual style that was droll and laid-back but winked at you at the same time. On his recordings for Folkways, World Pacific, and Fantasy, as well as on his private label MEA, the world of Jacobs is an audio collage that embraces many cultures and sensibilities. This CD/DVD collection pays homage to Jacobs’ creative play, presenting recovered and restored audio as well as rare animated films that will give you a taste of this man’s special talents.
During a house renovation in Mill Valley a couple of years ago, a stash of reel-to-reel tapes and 45s was discovered beneath the floorboards. Caked in grime, the collection found its way to nearby resident Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto, whose own large sound archive included several records released by the owner of the collection: Henry Jacobs. Remarkably preserved for all the exposure to the elements, the more than eighty tapes chronicle wild collaborations with close friend and theologian Alan Watts, San Francisco soundscapes, riffs with Ken Nordine, fictitious radio spots, warped tabla beats, feedback mayhem, hipster parodies, and goof conversations. In collaboration with Henry Jacobs, Jack Dangers has selected, restored, sequenced and mastered this audio stew into a seamless travelogue. Equipped with a reel-to-reel, a microphone, and insatiable curiosity, Jacobs created a breathtakingly original approach that deserves to be appreciated by a much wider audience.

Wonderful material. This CD animated brain cells that have been dormant for almost 40 years! Unquestionably, I was ripe for Henry Jacobs when I heard him back in 1962, having already become hooked on musique concrête in the mid-fifties, stretching and recombining sounds with my Revere tape recorder. When George Lucas and I were making THX1138, I wrote a scene that took its inspiration from some of Henry's work, and then we were lucky enough to actually get him to do the improv for the film itself. I'm sure much of what I have been doing in film sound since the mid-sixties has had a Jacobean twist to it. -Walter Murch

Born in 1924, Henry Jacobs spent decades exploring tape experiments, audio collages, field recordings, and world music, most famously on his Berkeley, Calif., radio show from the 1950s to the ’70s. Various record labels documented his work, but reams of material remain unreleased. A few years ago, Meat Beat Manifesto’s Jack Dangers discovered more beneath a house Jacobs once occupied (Jacobs habitually buried his tapes), and The Wide Weird World of Henry Jacobs mixes the best of that vault with selections from out-of-print releases. Jacobs’ imaginative work evokes other groundbreaking art of the time—the verbal improvisation of Lenny Bruce, the surreal comedy of Ernie Kovacs, the audio experiments of Raymond Scott—but his use of radio as an artistic medium is unparalleled.
Jacobs took the basics of radio—interviews, announcements, instructions, and field recordings—and flipped them inside out, jumbling them into an absurdist narrative. His obsession with all aspects of radio is typified by his “laughing string” pieces, concerning a string that, when tied around people, causes uncontrollable laughter. Jacobs reports on its use at a ritzy party (evoking the Orb in Woody Allen’s Sleeper), advertises it as a family-friendly product perfect for barbecues, chants its virtues like an evangelist, gives loungey warnings (with tinkling piano accompaniment) about its dangers, and even hypnotizes a patient to help cure a laughing-string addiction.
There are many more highlights on Wide Weird World: “Fluidoodle” creates a composition from dripping faucet sounds, “Reflexive Sound Therapy” seeks perfect human rhythm through hypnotherapy, “Scarekicks” parodies “This I Believe”-style pretension, and “Every Drop” offers a poem about urination read in a prissy British accent. Other, less verbal tracks sound stunningly modern: “Drumhead Jones” mixes African drums and chanting, “Interlude” turns hissy field recordings into bouncing percussion, and the loops of noise on “Untitled” could pass for Wolf Eyes or Black Dice. Throughout, Jacobs’ deadpan humor and self-awareness (he often refers to his techniques, comments on what’s happening, and even chants “audio collage” during an audio collage) are endlessly entertaining.
Also included in Important’s excellent package is a DVD of three half-hour videos made by Jacobs, animator Bob McClay, and producer Chris Koch, originally broadcast on San Francisco public TV in 1972. Using animation, claymation, cutout collage, and stop-action tricks, the films evoke Monty Python and Jim Henson, but the trio’s work is more philosophical. Exploring the programs’ title, “The Fine Art of Goofing Off,” Jacobs sets audio of people talking about work and leisure against McClay’s active images, interspersed with lectures by a strange metallic “host” made of levers and bolts. The specific stories Jacobs offers fascinate, but it’s the larger themes here—why people work, why people play, and why people separate the two—that resonate. At one point, our rickety host concludes that “work is what you do and leisure is what you don’t do,” but in the criminally underappreciated art of Henry Jacobs, things are much more complicated than that. - Marc Masters

Concerning the Henry Jacobs’ archival tapes, the several of them found underneath Henry’s old house in Mill Valley, you should know that Sandy, which is Henry’s nick name, has tapes hidden away in many places, usually along long stretches of inaccessible beaches, hence his nick name. The fact that this set of tapes was found under one of his houses and not along a long beach is a deviation from the norm, one that history will thank you for. - Ken Nordine, Father of Word Jazz

In 1972, San Francisco public television station KQED aired the first of three half-hour programs devoted to leisure titled The Fine Art of Goofing Off. Combining various animation techniques — stop-action photography, claymation, collage, cut-outs, and continuous drawing — this unique series celebrated pointless activity, dancing between the silly and the philosophical with free-associative abandon.
With few if any creative limits set by the station, the films reveal a fresh, imaginative collaboration between animator Bob McClay, Henry Jacobs, and producer Chris Koch. Included are contributions from Alan Watts, author George Leonard, psychedelic poster artist Victor Moscoso, filmmaker Jordan Belson, humorist Woody Leifer, as well as members of the legendary San Francisco troupe and Second City antecedant, The Committee. Amazingly, these three films were rescued by McClay on their way to the dumpster about 30 years ago! Thanks to him, they’ve survived to still offer the advice, “The pursuit of happiness can be extremely tiring— sit still and let happiness pursue you for a while.”
…an aimlessly irresistible collection of animated fun. - Terrence O’Flaherty

Important's elaborate packaging continues (the Hafler Trio, Diane Cluck and Piano Magic of particular note) with this CD/DVD release of Henry Jacobs, all housed in an authentic looking magnetic tape container. An influential sound artist and improviser, Jacobs was one of the first to get his hands dirty in tape experimentation and alongside one of the first forays into surround sound (alongside Jordan Belson), he used it to quench his over-active funny bone. Considered by many as a peer of Lenny Bruce and Ken Nordine. 'The Wide Weird World of Henry Jacobs' is certainly that; with prank calls (one of the best being a rock&roll Ku Klux Band trying to get a record deal), fake self-help tips and (quite disturbing) interviews. Add to this a raft of found sound collages and an accompanying DVD of audio/animation, and you've got yourself a real curio that is a joy to experience. - boomkat

Radio Programme, No. 1: Henry Jacobs' Music and Folklore 
streaming ulomaka

A loop of a voice saying "audio collage" introduces this album-length experiment in tape manipulation and audio vérité from Henry Jacobs, which appeared on the Folkways label in 1955. Jacobs assembled the album, Radio Programme, No. 1, with excerpts from his radio show, Music and Folklore. The result is a miscellany of people talking, bits of jazz and world music, and rhythmic loops spliced together into a befuddling array of sounds. The loops are novel, but most of the album consists of interviews with offbeat characters who are only sporadically engaging. The funniest one is "Interview with Shorty Petterstein," in which a square interviewer questions a hipster, resulting in some comedic moments that resemble a Stan Freberg skit. Jacobs' use of tape technology to manipulate and rearrange the white noise of environmental sounds and pop cultural emanations may not be as intrinsically beguiling today as it was in the early days of tape experimentation, but it is remarkable how similar Radio Programme, No. 1 is to the works of modern audio manipulators like Negativland. The spliced and looped musical creations, like the rhythmic "Sonata for Loudspeaker," will be of more interest to historically-minded listeners than the interviews.-

Henry Jacobs Animation Screening!
Ben Pritchard

Ben Pritchard of London pub film club Cinematograph hails veteran sound artist, broadcaster and humourist Henry Jacobs, whose animated series The Fine Art Of Goofing Off explores the nature of time and how to use it frivolously, as attendees of this Sunday's event will discover...


In 1972 Henry Jacobs headed a team of animators and improvisers to create The Fine Art Of Goofing Off, a three-part series made for San Francisco public television. Utilising a range of animation techniques to accompany improvised and skillfully edited reflections on the nature of time and leisure, the series celebrates pointless activity in a way that straddles the silly and philosophical with free-associative abandon.
Jacobs' prolific and pioneering career centres around recording and sound. From radio work to live presentations, he has remained innovative while retaining a lightness in his creative approach. His early output with Californian radio station KPFA explored his fascination with ethnic music, field recordings and poetry, channelled through the dry wit that defines his style. Employing varied audio collages, Jacobs experimented with reel-to-reel recorders, splicing and manipulating recordings to create rhythmically charged pieces of mmusique concrète. Later, he inspired John Cage with an array of sound works at his weekly events at the Golden Gate Park's Morrison Planetarium, the 'Vortex Experiments'. Using multiple separated speakers Jacobs anticipated developments in surround sound technology that are now standard in big budget film productions.
This deft approach to presenting sound was complemented by his wit and satirical pieces. He improvised and elegantly edited recordings to sculpt the humorous faux interviews and tongue-in-cheek skits that made his name with the San Fran hipsters in the 1950s. In refusing to use scripts or attempt multiple takes the material was liberated, generating an excitement in the unexpected.
By the '70s, Jacobs was making his best work. His shrewdness and technical know-how were combined masterfully in The Fine Art Of Goofing Off, which he described as a "Sesame Street for grown-ups" (see YouTube excerpts below). The series explores the nature of time, how to make the most of it, what it means to goof off, and how best to do it. While being genuinely funny, it also poses some interesting ideas for anyone who feels the strain of the clock. Indeed, the relentless volume of London might urge you to seek out this hour and a half of escapism that could generate a lot more.
The Fine Art Of Goofing Off will be screened at Cinematograph Film Club this Sunday September 2 at The Duke of Wellington on Ball's Pond Road, near Dalston Junction.
Cinematograph takes a different focus each week - from Jan Švankmajer to Free Cinema, Jean Painlevé to Townes Van Zandt - showing films, playing related music, and providing an opportunity to discover more about significant works and those involved in their creation. The events start at 8pm and entry is free; more information can be found here. -


The Aleatory World of Henry Jacobs


Henry Jacobs is a living embodiment of the picaresque. He seems to have spent his life playing, but in the process kept inventing things for which his successors got the credit. He was fooling around with spacial sound distribution through loudspeakers before Varese’s Poeme Electronique took the 1959 Brussels World Fair by storm—in fact, he was there at the same time doing his thing in another building. He experimented early with multilayered tape loops, quite independently of Pierre Schaeffer in Paris. His free-form radio collages in the early fifties were a whole decade ahead of John Leonard’s Nightsounds, the program which is authoritatively identified as the first of this kind.
At the same time, he has been a Zelig-like shlimazl to whom unfortunate things keep happening. After a big success with Interviews of our Times [above right], all the material for a subsequent album was destroyed by an associate in revenge for a party practical joke. His first album was re-released by Fantasy with no royalties and his name blacked out in the liner notes[right]. And to cap it all, the rambling fairy-tale house in which I interviewed him was later wiped out in a forest fire, along with a whole hillside of once-in-a-lifetime dwellings.*

Some of Henry Jacobs’s experiments with tape loops as broadcast on KPFA in 1953/4 were included in Folkways FX 6160, Sounds of New Music, along with Soviet “socialist realist” music such as Mossolov’s Steel Foundry, and Henry Cowell’s ethereal Aeolian Harp and screaming Banshee. Side two is devoted to “THE EXPERIMENTS”, closing with Jacobs’ selections, which can be heard here.

From the beginning, Jacobs was interested in ethnic music and in the course of making his KPFA programs he sometimes interviewed ethnomusicologists. The fruit of this experience was a shrewd grasp of their speech manerisms which went into the INTERVIEWS OF OUR TIMES which he improvised with a friend, Woodrow Leafer. The result was instant notoriety.

The first, INTERVIEW WITH DR. SHOLEM STEIN, set out to trace the Jewish origins of calypso; the second, SHORTY PETTERSTEIN INTERVIEW, was an attempt at conversation with a jazz musician so far out and laid back as to occupy a totally different dimension in outer space. If you want to know what happened next, listen to our CONVERSATION, recorded in 1994.

* At 84, he still hasn't given up. Eric Bauersfeld writes: "He has built a new, how shall we say it, house? Great concrete slabs, floor levels that go up and down the hillside. Everywhere bits of things, unfinished plumbing coming out of walls, shower stalls, window frames. Junk awaiting a name and a use adorns the unfinished terraces: old cars, rusted things, throw-aways, things left over from the fire . . . The good old days revisited." -


One Man Goofing: A visit with legendary Zen humorist Henry Jacobs
by Joel Rose

Once a week, Henry Jacobs drives to a community center near his house in Marin County, California to play ping-pong with his neighbors. But it’s ping-pong with a twist: Jacobs, a natural righty, insists on playing with his left hand. “I don’t know if I’m as good,” he says. “But I sure have a lot more fun, because I can surprise myself. With my right hand, I never surprise myself.”
The 82 year-old Jacobs has been playing left-handed ping-pong every Monday night for the last seven years. At first, he says, the neighbors were skeptical. But they’ve gradually come around and started playing with their off-hands, too. Jacobs recently started filming interviews with his fellow left-handed ping-pong players for a documentary. “I envision it mainly for the Third World,” he says, and for a second it’s hard to tell whether he’s joking or serious. “The motive is to try to clean up the rather ugly image [of Americans] in the last 50 years or so,” culminating with the present conflict in Iraq. Jacobs says he wants to offer an alternative view of American culture, and ping-pong is the perfect vehicle because of its popularity around the world. “The economics of it are pretty basic. A paddle which you could make out of banana leaf or whatever,” he deadpans. “It’s not about wiping out the planet. It’s about a simple activity called ping-pong.”
Jacobs sees the new documentary—which doesn’t yet have a title—as a kind of sequel to The Fine Art of Goofing Off, the series of animated television programs he worked on in the early 1970s. He says he’s filmed eight or nine interviews so far. Instead of shooting them head on, Jacobs had his subjects invent tasks to perform. (“One guy is fixing an electric lamp. Another guy is diddling around with some paintings.”) The point, says Jacobs, is they’re involved in what they’re doing, even while they’re talking out loud about ping-pong. “They’re not forced keep trying to remember all the points they wanted to make,” says Jacobs. “They can stop talking and get the screw-driver in the right place. It takes the pressure off to constantly be producing something useful and intelligent.”
And of course, “all this will be edited mercilessly. So you’ll only get little pieces of anything.” This, says Jacobs, was point of The Fine Art of Goofing Off: “Never do something so long as to bore someone.”

* * *
Henry Jacobs lives near the top of a winding road, on a hill overlooking Point Reyes National Seashore, about an hour north of San Francisco. A single concrete pillar holds up the roof of the house; wooden beams radiate off in various directions. Jacobs has lived on this spot for 30 years. Some of the present house is recycled from an earlier one that burned down in the 1990s, taking most of his possessions with it.
The hipster moustache Jacobs wore in the ‘50s and ‘60s is a full beard now. His long white hair is pulled back in a ponytail. On the day I dropped by, Jacobs was recuperating from a cold. He’d also been up late teaching himself how to use a new DVD burner. Still, Jacobs was a gracious host; he insisted that I stay for tea as he rambled through the high points of his five-decade career as a satirist, improviser, radio artist and filmmaker.
In a few days, Jacobs said, a crew would be coming over to shoot material for a documentary about him. “The filmmakers, they wanted to come up with a script. I said no way. I don’t do that. We just do things on tape. And if you like ‘em, we use ‘em. We’re not gonna redo them. My theory is that if you’re reading a script or thinking about a script, that cuts you off,” he told me. Jacobs prefers the spontaneity of improvisation: “just letting the energy out. Plans and scripts, they have nothing to do with that.”
It’s the same approach Jacobs brought to his radio skits more than 50 years ago. One of the funniest and most famous started with “absolutely no plan, no plan whatsoever.” Jacobs says he was sitting around one day with his friend and collaborator Woody Leafer. “I turned the tape recorder on. And Woody said something like, ‘We’re here talking to Shorty Petterstein, a jazz musician.’ And I just answered him.” After some artful editing by Jacobs, “Interview with Shorty Petterstein” found its way onto LP and 45 – and out into the hipster zeitgeist of the middle 1950s. “It became sort of, at that time part of the popular culture,” Jacobs remembers. “Lines in it that people liked: ‘I didn’t want to fall up here in the first place’ and ‘don’t bug me.’”
Jacobs started producing his radio show “Music and Folklore” in the early‘50s at the University of Illinois. He would record and edit the show in his spare time, and then ship the tapes to free-form station KPFA in Berkeley. At first Jacobs conducted straight-ahead interviews about what would now be called world music. But on occasions when Jacobs couldn’t find a real expert, he would sometimes invent one. “The most successful one I did,” Jacobs remembered, “was a Hebraic musicologist named Sholom Stein. He pretended to trace the origins of Calypso to ancient Hebraic texts.” The joke was so subtle that listeners called in to tell him he’d been duped.
“Music and Folklore” caught the ear of Moses Asch, the owner of Folkways records, who released some excerpts on the 1955 LP, Radio Programme No. 1. After the LP came out, Jacobs said he got offers to cross over into stand-up comedy, but he declined. “Much more fun to just do it in my little laboratory on tape and edit it forever,” he said. “Start studying the micro-temporal considerations of how long a pause… should… be….before you went on talking.”
* * *
By 1953, Jacobs had moved to San Francisco. And he struck up a friendship with comparative religion scholar Alan Watts, who also had a radio show on KFPA. Watts was already a hero to the Bay Area counter-culture. That didn’t stop Jacobs from making fun of him. “Say he walks into a room. And I say, ‘I want you to meet my friend, Albert Watts.’ And he loved it because everybody in his life was like, ‘Oh Mr. Watts, on page 82, you said this. And what did you mean?’”
It was Jacobs who first suggested that Watts record his lectures with a portable Nagra tape recorder, which was still a novelty at the time. And it was Watts who introduced Jacobs to his future wife, Sumire Hasegawa (the daughter of Watts’s colleague Saburo Hasegawa). “I tried courting her,” said Jacobs, “and it seemed like I was unsuccessful.” A few weeks later, Sumire surprised him with a gift: a tea set. “That’s a pretty far-out gift to get. A tea set? Like whoa, what does this mean? I was lost from that moment. I was just following orders. And I married her. And we had three kids.” (They were married for 17 years; today their oldest daughter is married to Watts’s son.) Jacobs, Watts and Hasegawa worked together on several recordings, including an LP of Haiku called This is IT!. Hasegawa reads the poems in the original and Watts reads in English translation, while Jacobs directs a bunch of drummers and instrumentalists.
Despite his close affiliation with Watts, Jacobs insists he’s never been very religious. Jacobs grew up in Chicago, where his father was a deacon in the Congregational Church. But Jacobs’s father quit the church when he was just five years old; as a results, “I went to Sunday school two times,” Jacobs said.
After college, he helped set up a TV station in Mexico City. Jacobs was back in Illinois when he got his first tape recorder in the late 1940s. Before long, he acquired another one, and started experimenting with rhythmic loops, feedback, and other kinds of musique concrete.
His experiments with audio tape would culminate in a series of sound and light concerts called the Vortex Experiments. Jacobs says the inspiration for the series came from avant-garde composer John Cage, who visited San Francisco in 1955. “‘He said, ‘Henry, I’ve heard about you,’” remembers Jacobs, breaking into an old-fashioned lisp. “‘I’m doing a concert. I don’t know anything about tape recorders. And can you help me?’” Cage wanted to record 12 different radio stations, and then play them back through a dozen loudspeakers. Jacobs managed to procure the necessary equipment through a well-placed friend at the Ampex company. “And that’s got to be what turned me on to the Vortex thing.”
The Vortex Experiments took place inside Golden Gate Park’s Morrison Planetarium. On Monday and Tuesday evenings—when the planetarium would otherwise have been closed—Jacobs and filmmaker Jordan Belson directed a 360 degree sound and light show. Jacobs recorded music for Vortex, and invited composers from all over the world to do the same, including Toru Takemitsu, Luciano Berio and Karlheinz Stockhausen. By putting loudspeakers all around the room, Jacobs basically invented surround sound. Academy Award-winning sound designer Walter Murch credits him with inspiring the multi-track sound that’s now standard for big-budget films. “This idea of sound that moves all the way around in the theater—that’s linked to the kind of experiments Henry was doing in the Morrison Planetarium.” (Murch and a young director named George Lucas would later invite Jacobs to do an improvisation for the soundtrack to their 1971 sci-fi film, THX 1138. He doesn’t appear on camera, but you can hear his voice.)
After about two seasons of Vortex, the planetarium staff started to notice the “funny smell” outside during the concerts, said Jacobs, and asked the organizers to take their experiments elsewhere. By then, Jacobs was also tired of working with collaborator Jordan Belson. (Jacobs remembers Belson as a “prima donna” who liked to talk about “what a serious artist he was and all that shit”.)
The disintegration of Vortex —along with the emerging need to support a family—pushed Jacobs into the field of audio-visual consulting. For much of the 1960s, Jacobs “sold out,” as he puts it. He made ads for Japan Airlines. He filmed surgery at a San Francisco hospital using a mirror, camera and boom mic. And he helped wire Bank of America’s world headquarters for sound and video. In 1965, Jacobs began studying the sitar with Ali Akbar Khan, who had recently set up a school in Berkeley. Jacobs later compared this to “studying tennis with Tiger Woods”—because Khan plays sarod, not sitar—”but I hung in there for five years.”
Jacobs made some of his best work in the early 1970s. The Fine Art of Goofing Off was a three-part animated series for public television station KQED in San Francisco that Jacobs describes as “Sesame Street for grown-ups.”
“I had a group of very talented improvisational actors called the committee,” Jacobs said. “I’d just say come on over to the studio. We’re working on this series about leisure. They’d do some riff. But with some skillful editing, it could be perfect.” The series included fake TV commercials for such unlikely products as talking slowly and working overtime. In one on these, the voice-over urges the viewer not to give up after only 8 hours: “You still have a lot in you! A lot of the real drive and grit that makes America what it is. Don’t waste it at idle pass times! Log a few extra golden hours at the old grindstone.”
One of Jacobs’s favorite skits from the series is also one of the simplest: an announcer just repeats the question, “Can you hear me?” over and over and over again. “Bob McClay liked it,” said Jacobs. “He did a primitive visualization of a dog sitting in front of an old-fashioned radio. The two went together really well. That of all of this is the work I’m most proud of.”
* * *
The year 1973 was a difficult one for Jacobs: his wife divorced him, and his friend Alan Watts died. In 1976, Jacobs moved north to Inverness, California, living on land he’d bought with Watts’s son Mark. Jacobs is still the curator of the Alan Watts archives, which he says brings in a “steady trickle” of money. A fire tore through the valley in 1995, burning ten thousand acres and dozens of houses. The Watts tapes, which were stored elsewhere, survived; many of Jacobs’ tapes weren’t as lucky. Jacobs rebuilt with the help of some insurance money and architect Daniel Lieberman. Today he lives there with Susan Hyde, his companion of 10 years.
For a long time, Jacobs’ recordings were out of print. That began to change in 2003 when Locust Music reissued Radio Programme No. 1 and other titles from the 1950s. Some of Jacobs’ old master tapes were rediscovered under a house in Mill Valley in the late ’90s; a compilation of those is now out on CD from Important Records under the title The Wide, Weird World of Henry Jacobs.
That release also includes a DVD featuring three episodes of The Fine Art of Goofing Off, which has helped push Jacobs back into the public eye. He was invited to the 2006 Birmingham TV and Film Festival in the UK for a screening of Fine Art, but Jacobs didn’t go, sending in his place a 12-minute film by his neighbor and longtime friend, director John Veltri. That short is now the foundation for a full-length documentary. Jacobs says he’s flattered by the attention, but admits he does find it a bit awkward. “Veltri and his wife, they do kind of a slight hero worship on me,” he says, “where they say things like, ‘Alan Watts was just an old drunk blabbermouth, and you’re the real guy.’ And I’m wondering, what kind of con is this?”
Jacobs also declined an invitation to appear at ArthurFest in September of 2005, where episodes of Fine Art were screened on the main stage between bands. When pressed for a reason, Jacobs cited an unfavorable impression of Los Angeles –”the smog, the overall growth of the place” – as well as a dislike of airplanes and hotel rooms.
But mostly, Jacobs just seems to prefer staying home. There’s his Monday night ping-pong game, for one thing. And there’s another monthly ritual he doesn’t want to miss. On the full moon of each month, Jacobs leads an outing down to a sweat lodge on the beach near his house. He says the idea is to get very, very hot, and then jump directly into the chilly waters off Point Reyes, before running back up the beach to the sweat lodge. “Every time when I come out of the ocean,” Jacobs says, “I’m nude. And I have to get from here to there, and I usually do it running. And I always feel like I’m 8 years old when I do it. Every single time, I get this convincing feeling that hey, I’m eight years old. How about that shit?” -

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