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Oral Complex was, clockwise from top right, John Whiting, Bob Cobbing and Clive Fencott.

Oral Complex became a group in late 1981 after a number of exploratory sessions in the October Sound recording studio. John Whiting had expressed a wish to work with poets, particularly in a live improvised context. A mutual friend, Eric Mottram, introduced the musician to the poets. The rapport was not long following.

Work was initially centred on production of quadrophonic studio collaborations using voices and other sounds given elaborate electronic treatment. The first live concert performance - May 1982.

You will find details of all Oral Complex performances, many with program notes, below.

Two live performances, October Gallery 1982 and London Muscians Collective 1983, were released on Writers Forum cassettes Nos.3 and 4. There were other live recordings many of which you will find links to below.

Interspersed throughout all this you will find thoughts, reflections on the dynamics of Oral Complex's creative processes.

   May 21st and 22nd 1982      October Gallery

October Gallery Flyer
The program for this gig is listed below with links to recordings from the actual event. The image on the left is a scan of the actual program given out to all who attended on either of the two nights and links to a larger, readable version.

   Seating Arrangement
   Nervous Tick
   Plastic Mach
   Answer Phone
   Childs Foreply
   God Jul

The original recording of this gig was released as Writers Forum cassette No. 3 which consisted of the recordings listed above. The detailed liner notes for this cassette are immediately below.

  Writers Forum Cassette 4


Bob and Clive had performed, improvised together, solo, and with others, for years, 10 years more or less, literally hundreds of poetry gigs in UK, continental Europe, Canada, USA. Bob in particular had worked in recording studios on sound peotry pieces since the mid 60s. Clive has also worked in recording studios but much less so.

John was also highly experienced, avant guarde radio KPFA in the US, later working with classical music ensembles at the more experimental end of that spectrum, and particularly with vocal ensemble Electric Phoenix.

Bob and Clive working with John was very much a meeting of cultures and minds ... years of working with avant guardes.

   May 13th 1983      London Musicians Collective

Writers Forum Cassette 4

LMC flyer
Above is the liner notes for Writers Forum cassette No.4: "a virtually unedited recording of a live improvised performance" which you can listen to online at UBUWEB: sound.
Below you will find a set of links to John Whiting's archive recordings for the same gig. The recordings are quite different in many respects although Test Run is on both.
   Blast Off
   Test Run
   Primal Scrum
   Ring Mod
   In The Klink
   Narrow Squeak
Neither John nor I can remember which set represents the actual gig.
Not to worry. Together they make up a set of very enjoyable and inventive pieces to listen to; John and I will leave it at that.

   May 18th and 18th 1983      Northampton Cooperative Music

Workshop and gig
There was a gig Saturday night? and a workshop on the following Sunday? morning ... the program has my notes on the time of the performance, first and second half, and the timings of the individual pieces.
Evening program


This meeting introduces new possibilites, uncertainties that are exciting to explore. It is very much about uncertainty, dynamic responses. The live electronic treatments and quadrophonic displacements/movements turn these compound possibilities/uncertainties into an ethereal-aesthetic universe dynamic space-time improvisation.

Bob and Clive knew very little about the technology John was using, Clive less than Bob, and couldn't have named let alone defined what electronic sound treatment John was deploying.

   March 24th 1984      PoetSound 84, Glasgow

Flyer front Flyer back

Evening program
A major sound poetry festival at the Third Eye Centre on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow - since relaunched as the Centre for Contemporary Arts in the same building.
A great lineup and a great weekend.

   March 31st 1984      London Musicians Collective

Workshop and gig
And then, the 14th International Sound Poetry Festival, with many of the same participants, just a few days after the Glasgow event.
I remember Bernard Heidsieck performed at this festival and I don't think Sorley MacLean travelled down.
John has the whole festival recorded on an old betamax tape so at some point we will be able to digitise the Oral Complex contribution and others maybe.
And, just come to light, is the original program flyer:


Bob and Clive would vocalise, sense the way their voices were different from the untreated acoustics in their heads and play with the difference, the changing differences. Different vocalisations woud elicit different differences between the audio expected and the audio-electronic treated: a game to play with voice and treated voice and its two dimensional displacement betweeen the 4 Bose speakrs. Bob and Clive would also be working in detail with the text of the piece; John less so.

And there was also sometimes prepared tapes as accompaniment.

   June 8th 1985      Chapter Arts, Cardiff

Flyer front

Flyer back
   Sound Object
   Belles Letres
   Vowel Movement
   Hooligan's Wake

   January 30th 1986      Peterborough
Peterborough clipping 1
There is no program listing for this gig nor any memories of what was performed except for the piece Cage on Cage: Cage in this case refers specifically to John Cage. You can find a link to the recording of Oral Complex's performance of the piece and how it all came about here, as part of John Whiting's reminiscences about the great composer and artist.
Peterborough clipping 2


Oral Complex did prepare pieces to some extent but didn't rehearse them. John needed to make some decisions about treatments to help give each piece its individuality. But once this had been achieved they didn't rehearse as that would have been detrimental to the sponteneity of the live, imporvised performance.

Some pieces were made and recorded in the October Sound Studio, there are a few on this page, but Oral Complex was overwhelmingly a live, imporvising ensembe.

   August 6th 1990      Institute of Contemporary Arts, London

The last ever Oral Complex gig.
I have no materials for this gig which was part of the celebrations of Bob Cobbing's 70th birthday.
I know one of the pieces we performed was The Halfpenny Bridge ...

   Studio Works      October Sound Studio, London

       Complete Gulliver's Travels
       Wood Work

Oral Complex Flyer detail

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