If you happened to stumble across one of the now impossibly rare copies of the BIG FRONT YARD SALE back in 1990, you’d have been looking at a single album sleeve, slightly fatter than usual, black, possibly with a spattering of white paint, and with an off-white label pasted to the front (lower left) announcing the title. Another label on the back adver­tised that the set comprised three 

||| a sort of shock |||||||||||||||||||||||||||| 


0 G (15:51)        the silence of the stars (3:25) 

sign (7:12)        2134 (2:13)

port (4:16)        waveries (5:53)

                               point (4:14)

                               lights (7:35)


||| where I stand ||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||



ur (12:32)            sile (7:13)

volmar (2:57)       survey (6:14)

ratio (8:24)          cloud garden (12:36)

xp (4:07)


||| no cargo room |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||


undr (2:56)           the viscid erection (3:10)

spires (8:00)         od (3:24)

symbiotes  (2:42)   whetstone (7:02)

tides (7:23)           wait  (14:48)

the viscid serpents (2:56) 


discs by the denboro collective. If you fished out the single page photocopied insert, you’d have learned that:


The Denboro Collective were formed in 1969, and have played under an assortment of names, beginning with The Willow Band. Another of their names—The Future Is Here Now Ensemble—discloses their guiding intention: a commitment to preparing listeners for the necessary and inevitable adjustments that must accompany our cultural advance into the future.


This is a practical and a pragmatic music. The evolution of cultural forms proceeds chaotically. Psychic imbalance is an almost inevitable consequence. One possible defense is a reactive attachment to older social and artistic forms, on the principle that the future may be colonized by the past, and that by expropriating the potential wealth of the future we may not only remain secure in the present, but happy.


This is an illusion.


The future is chaos. And, just as the sky begins where our feet touch the ground, so the future begins today. We are enfolded by it, but refuse to see it. The music of the Denboro Collective is designed to provide listeners with the means whereby a necessary equilibrium may be attained, and of dispelling the layer of illusion—maya—by which the immediate presence of the future is disguised.


The music—though it draws on traditions of 20th-century avant-garde—is far from difficult. A music of texture and shape, it is suitable for meditative attention. Designed for use in private and domestic settings, it accommodates the intrusions of refrigerators and radiators, as well as airplanes and automobiles. Repeated listening may result in an awareness that the sounds and forms of this music are ever-present in the modern environment and underlie much of our experience.


Since 1969, fourteen members have contributed to the activity of the Collective, of which this first collection represents but a small part.


The names of these fourteen members were not supplied, nor was the lack explained save perhaps by the implication that they were subsumed by the “collective” identity in which they participated. Given the date of its formation and the date of this release, we might imagine the band had its origin in some countercultural or utopian impulse that took on a communal and self-effacing form, and persisted and evolved to find shelter under the umbrella of the emerging “New Age”. On the other hand, almost all of the information offered by the insert was misleading. There were only six members of the band, which formed not in 1969, but 1989.


“But to say it drew on the traditions of 20th century avant-garde,” commented band-leader Den Brock, 


was not so far off the mark. The touchstones are obvious—the electronics that started emerging in the fifties, the theorizing of Russolo, the explorations of Varèse, the impatience of Ives with any sort of lily-minded limitation. But also, let’s face it, sounds that were coming over on the TV and in the movies: the electronic noodlings of Raymond Scott; Ligeti, who prised apart my awestruck ears as I watched 2001; and—where it all started for me—the soundtrack of Forbidden Planet. 


 Science fiction provides the keynote, and the key to the titles of several tracks: Fredric Brown is behind one, if you know your stuff, and maybe Clark Ashton Smith lurks behind another. And the title, the BIG FRONT YARD SALE,


came from something Harry Partch said, about how he once considered writing music for different emotions, then cutting off lengths of it to be used as required, and he was going to call it Yardage Goods. So that’s where that came from, along with Clifford Simak’s story, “the Big Front Yard”. 


Simak regularly combined his far-flung fantasies with rural settings and folksy characters—a conjunction reflecting the background of more than one writer of early pulp sf. The story Brock refers to, which won the Hugo award for best novelette in 1959, is a fairy tale in which a dealer in antiques, living on the edge of a small town, finds his stock repaired by invisible beings, who go on to attach the front door of his house to another point in space, so he can trade with aliens he meets, whose dwellings are similarly connected.

     The subtitle of each of the three discs was also taken from Simak’s story.



“It was a sort of shock to step out of your own front door into an unknown land. A man might eventually get used to it, of course, but it would take some doing.” 


Brock had been making music (of a sort) for years, but no one, so far as he knows, listened to it. It was never reviewed. Nobody bothered with it at all. “I kind of got off on the wrong foot,” he later said, 


—or several wrong feet. I didn’t write music. I played, but wasn’t proficient in any instrument—and didn’t intend to be. I didn’t like performing, not even the idea of performing. I liked the music I heard on records, and was never so impressed by what I heard live, or the experience of hearing it, that I valued it more than the transformative power offered by the availabilty of music to the private ear. And while I liked different kinds of music, it didn’t exhaust the range of what I wanted to hear, and wasn’t what I wanted to make, so when I started to play I was looking for a way to break down the limitations I felt were imposed upon me, both by the idea of performance, and by the western system of notation. I may be grateful for some of the marvels it has produced, but when it stifles me, I gripe.

   Of course, if I felt the system of notation was a problem, why take up with the piano? I liked Partch’s notion of “corporeal music”—body music—and also the relation—well, it’s pretty obvious, look at Hendrix playing his guitar—between speech and music. But I’m no theorist, I just wanted to play, so I said music has a grammar, like speech, I never set myself to learn how to speak, just started speaking to whoever was around, anyone who spoke to me. So why not begin with music in the same way? So here’s a piano with all these notes. I was also thinking of John Cage’s prepared pianos, but I never did much along that line.

   What was against me was that I was in my twenties when I decided to do this, not a kid, so my character was pretty much set. And because I didn’t start out by trying to make the music I was hearing, but instead to find my way to what I wasn’t hearing, there wasn’t much mimicry. No effort to match up to something. No excuse to be disciplined. Put on one of those early discs, what you hear is the collision between my limitations and the limitations of my chosen instrument. I had limited resources, there were no synthesizers. And I didn’t have much patience at that time with playing around with tape. It wasn’t direct enough. I did some of that later. So there was this stuff I did on piano, where I was trying to get away from the habit of song, of melody, of tempo, to knock it back from poetry to prose, to direct speech. And—big surprise—nobody got it. 


Not only did the young Brock disdain public performance, but the small editions of his self-financed early recordings were discarded rather than publicized: 


   Of course I wanted somebody to say this is interesting. More than that, I wanted somebody with a trombone or electric guitar to say let’s go along in this direction and see where we can take it. But nobody did. And I was too shy to ask because at that time I hadn’t figured out a way to tell anybody what I wanted. I could see there’d be misunderstandings. But I started out by figuring if anyone wants this they’ll find me...

    You didn’t make it easy for them.

   No, I didn’t make it easy. Maybe I knew, maybe I knew it was a work in progress, I wasn’t ready. Anyway, about ten years hammering the keys to no good purpose, by which I mean not getting through to anyone and getting nothing back, I got tired, sort of gave up.

    What did you do?

   Fuck you, none of your business. I kept on breathing, I shed tears. I fucked around and fertilized the earth with my waste. I saw the sun come up and I saw it go down...

    Time passed.

   Yeah. Bought a new tape recorder. I didn’t think I’d done so badly. Nobody ever said they liked what I did, not even you... but I reckoned I’d put down one or two pieces I was willing to stand by. And I held onto a few copies of the old records, so if anyone asked... well, I could say I made music. And it happens I did get the chance to make music—a few things, little things—over the years... 



*   *


“This is the reality, thought Taine, this is all the reality there is. Whatever else may happen, this is where I stand – this room with its fireplace blackened by many winter fires, the bookshelves with the old thumbed volumes...”


In 1985, someone who knew someone he knew asked if Brock might be able to do the soundtrack for a movie set on a spaceship. 


On the cheap, obviously, or why are they asking me? But don’t look a gift horse, right? I said yes, and he wanted to hear what kind of a thing so I came up with some samples and it wasn’t what he wanted at all, big surprise. He was looking for this John Williams stuff, all fanfares and William Tell and here comes the cavalry, so that fell through.

   But that was the beginning, because it was never my idea to do a big whoosh for the spaceship and call for the string section when things got exciting, or tell the audience they better get tense because something’s about to happen, or they ought to be happy or sad because it did. Most films wallpaper your ears and I had the idea to work up tones and textures to stain the background, and some other pieces that could be excerpted or used as a counterpoint to the action. Already there was the idea here’s what I made, let’s use it creatively, not “I need six bars of something as this guy’s creeping up behind the hero.” This guy can stick those six bars up the hero’s ass, for all I care, but I was already excited by the idea of the independence of the music, and its variety, and when the movie fell through—I don’t think it ever got finished—well, I had this stuff on my hands, okay... but also there was a kind of imperceptible momentum. It wasn’t that I was twitchy, but... well, here’s a project, something waiting to be done. Waiting for the opportunity to be done. And I suppose I knew I was willing to be the one who gave it the opportunity... 


The opportunity waited four years, until Brock happened to stop for a meal on the way back from Oregon to California. 


A small hotel. I don’t know, built in the twenties, I think. Redecorated in the fifties. Three stories, nothing grand. All the rooms upstairs, but a big ground floor that had been used for dances and shows and a big restaurant that ran around three sides, and this kind of vaulted ceiling with stars painted on it, on a deep blue background, and gold trimmings and pillars. There was a bandstand in the middle, piled high with junk and curtained off, but there was a guy in the corner, tinkling a piano in the half-light. He was okay, but it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. The building was shabby, it was untidy, but the restaurant was clean and I was just fascinated by all these stars above my head, and it’s a big space and I just thought, fuck. I mean, FUCK. This is the place. And I had the idea there and then—or it had me. Who am I to resist the mandate of heaven?

   The owner’s some young guy took it over from his uncle the year before, and he has no idea what to do with it. But I know, and I tell him what a great place, did the piano player come with the building? No. Here for the summer, it was just an idea. Here’s another idea, I let him know, and I can tell he’s skeptical, but I say, so when’s a quiet time? And he says yeah, the place starts to die in October, so I say, well let’s see if we can make something happen, and I’m just so excited and full of ideas—but calm, and clear, like, this could happen if we want it to. And some of it rubs off, so I get his number and say I’ll send him some tapes, and tell him he can have me and my band, if my band members are free, for living space and enough food to eat. And I can see he thinks it won’t cost him much for the empty rooms and leftovers if we don’t turn out to be a bunch of degenerate hippie drugtakers who bring our loud freeloading friends and trash the place. He’s younger than me, and I’m not saying he’s straight... but he was pretty straight. Lucky I was neatly turned out, and about old enough to be his father, so next thing is who do I know might be up for the gig?

   Obviously I’m not looking for professionals, because what can I offer them? And I need people with their ears set wide, not somebody insists on playing the particular thing they know. I had two guys in mind. Emilio [Guttari], because he can afford to do it—he owns three restaurants and plays in one with a light jazz combo from time to time. I know he’s interested in doing something different because we talked about it. And we can do something light around his guitar if we need to get back to Earth if all the frazzing and wheezing gets on somebody’s nerves. He didn’t mind sitting back with his ears open, and not doing much. Brought along an electric bass to add a little bounce and fuzz.

   The other guy I thought there was half a chance, Buddy Franklin. For sound, recording and playback. He did all sorts of things—a couple of weeks in a studio, a month on the road, six months sitting on his ass. I never had a clue where he picked up his money, but he always had enough. Never threw it around, but never any sign he needed to do this or that, so it looks like he can do what he pleases, and I think there’s half a hope he might be pleased to do this if I can make it interesting and he’s got nothing else lined up. I got lucky. Never met anyone as lazy as Buddy, except when he’s interested, and I took advantage of both. He was great, as happy tinkering and playing with the sound as sitting back and listening. He just enjoyed playing with different set-ups. Some nights he didn’t turn up at all, so we worked with what we set up the night before, that was fine. The equipment we had wasn’t the best, but he did as much as I could ask, and had no objection some nights to sitting around with his finger on a button or turning a dial. Great sense of humor, and he never got impatient because what did it matter? But he was never careless, I couldn’t have done it without him. He just anchored the sound and let it roll. I owe him. Didn’t ask for a penny. A great guy.

   Janice [Patrizio] was just a great piece of good fortune. She used to play trombone as meditation and didn’t mind doing it in public. One note, she’d hold it for like, half an hour, I don’t know. Or if somebody was using a chainsaw, she’d get out her horn. I wasn’t sure how she’d fit in, and I don’t think she was always comfortable, but I have no complaints about what she contributed, and her commitment was a hundred per cent.

   Lisa Santangelo was a friend of hers, Janice talked her into it for the sake of company, I think. I didn’t know her, and didn’t get to know her very well. But she was fine. 

   [Paul] Firmin I could never figure out. Somebody must’ve tipped him off because he came to me. I’d seen him on a screaming jag once, and he loved noise, and I told him, Paul—because I could see us getting kicked out of this place—I said, Paul, this is going to be quiet, a lot of this is going to be very quiet, if you want to hear what’s in this music you’ve got to be like the princess and the pea. And he says, I’ll bring my tiara and a dressing gown. He dressed in a suit every night, he had close-cropped blond hair. He looked like he’d gone straight from the marines to selling Bibles. Somehow I always felt uncomfortable, because he always gave me the impression he was on a secret mission, you know, like a secret agent on TV, sharp and intense, but in the end I didn’t come up with anybody else and there he was, so I swallowed my doubts. He was always ready to take orders, he never seemed to relax. Before we got the records mixed, next year, he just vanished. Don’t know where he went, never heard from him again. 


The group arrived at what Brock dubbed “the Celestial Lounge” in early October, and began playing and recording on October 10. The sessions ended near the middle of December.



*   *   * 


“Of all the commodities that might be exchanged by an alien people, ideas would be the most valuable and the easiest to handle. They’d take no cargo room and they’d upset no economies – not immediately, that is...”


It’s possible to mistake the nature and intentions of the music. “The liner notes were just a disguise,” says Brock, 


not altogether serious. Originally I had the idea of making more of the idea it was retrospective, that the music originated in the sixties. I was reinventing myself as a contemporary of Stockhausen. And maybe Sun Ra, when he really took off. Obviously, we came from different planets and weren’t heading in the same direction, but space is the place, it’s big. I liked the idea if we get out there we can leave behind some of the crap. Anyway, the idea was if the music isn’t new, then somebody who listens to it doesn’t wonder is it hip to listen to it, they just listen, like or no like, because it’s something other people have listened to. Basically, if the music already existed, and it had been around for twenty years, I wouldn’t need to plead for acceptance. So here it is, it already existed.

   Most pieces didn’t have titles when we played them, they were just ideas, so a lot of the tapes ended up with names derived from science fiction, from the pulps, like “Crater 17” and “Mond Z”, just so I could tell them apart. And the idea of an all-out tour-of-the-planets, head-for-the-stars kind of a deal tickled me. But the idea got pushed a little bit to the background when I put the first album together, just because the more obvious titles got left off. Sure, it would’ve been easy to dismiss as pastiche if I’d gone down that road, but we didn’t mind playing with the idea of “space music” and space-music cliché—or what we took to have been cliché, before Star Wars took over the world. The space we were exploring wasn’t a chest-swelling plant your flag or your boot on some other planet. It was space around the awareness of where you are as you’re listening. I wasn’t kidding about that “meditative attention”. I didn’t mean it’s music to meditate by, but it’s a private music, that’s the way we made it—for ourselves, for anyone who happened to be listening. Not music to unite an audience, a crowd. It’s not dramatic. There’s no story, no program. The idea was provide the listener with a range of explorations, not a development, not a sequence. It’s abstract music, but not in the sense of being intellectual or technical. It’s topological rather than emotional, not a music to tell you what to feel. Some of what we played was just relax, relax, but the selection here was about duration and texture, not mood. If something develops as a consequence of listening, it’s not evoked or controlled by it. You could call it rock music, in the geologic sense. It’s like walking around a big rock, moving in the space around it, getting a sense of the shape of it, seeing how the light and the shadow reveal its texture. I always believed our aesthetic responses are related to our response to the world around us, not formed in exclusive relation to works of art. Our intention was not to use music to evoke or describe nature or our response to nature, but to act, musically, in a such a way that the musical objects we made had their own nature, to which listeners might respond as they would to a rock, a canyon, a cave, to something shaped or weathered by time.

   I never thought of it as background music, but some people have thought, because it’s quiet—quiet in how it develops—that it was designed to be put on and ignored. I never thought of it that way. I suppose that comes from Brian Eno, the idea of “ambient” music, Discreet Music. I’ve listened to that, and not listened to it. And that thing he did, something else, with Robert Fripp [the Heavenly Music Corporation, obviously] is one of the great things of the twentieth century. Later there was that soundtrack he did for the space footage. Never saw the movie, but I bought the album and I’m sure that must’ve been in the back of my mind when I came up with the idea of doing my own “space” music, my own soundtrack to the forms we impose on the thing in itself—or which are imposed upon us. But it wasn’t background, even if we pretended the audience could go right on eating, just ignore us. But the pieces benefit from close and repeated listening. We were listening when we made them, and when we listened hard enough we found what we were after, and a tip of the hat to Pauline Oliveros for taking the lead and suggesting how we might get into that space. 


  Problems with the pressing, problems with distribution and Brock’s characteristic antipathy to publicity allowed the BIG FRONT YARD SALE to languish in an obscurity barely lightened by an eccentric half-life on cassette tape. Thirty years later, Brock’s explorations of hum, howl, whine and  throb  get  a  second  chance  to  languish  in  a  changed world where distribution can be worldwide and immediate, and seemingly everything is available.

   But it’s a world in which things clamor to be noticed, and this is not a clamorous music, so who knows?

  Anyway, here it is. Here and now. And, for all that Brock may have preferred to play under the cover of fiction and retrospect, it’s as here and now as it needs to be. If you missed it first time round, you didn’t miss a thing. The future wasn’t ready.

   It never is.