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Monday 26 September 2011

Words and music by Desmond Leslie

The two items pictured on the left were both produced by the multi-talented Desmond Leslie in the 1950s. By far the better known of the two is the book Flying Saucers Have Landed, written in collaboration with George Adamski in 1953. Perhaps "collaboration" is too strong a word, as the book consists of two completely disparate sections -- the first written by Leslie, the second by Adamski. The book's fame (or notoriety) rests on the latter section, which records Adamski's alleged encounters with visitors from outer space. This was the beginning of the "contactee" phenomenon which was to dominate ufology in the 1950s -- naïvely written accounts of extraterrestrials coming to Earth in order to warn people about the naughtiness of atomic weapons.

Desmond Leslie's contribution is at the opposite end of the intellectual scale from Adamski's. It's still nonsense, but it's literate and well-researched nonsense. Leslie was the first person to try to link the UFO phenomenon with what would nowadays be called New Age beliefs -- bringing in everything from Atlantis and the Pyramids to Indian flying machines (vimanas) and Celtic mythology. Leslie also draws heavily on esoteric writings such as the Stanzas of Dzyan and the theosophical theories of Madame Blavatsky... and even inserts a few original ideas of his own. Foremost among these is the notion that Flying Saucers are powered by musical tones and harmonies: "A vimana can be moved by tunes and rhythms".

This brings us onto the second item depicted above: Music of the Future. This is a modern CD, but the music on it was recorded by Leslie in the 1950s and originally issued as an acetate in 1959. "Music of the Future" is an accurate description of the sounds produced by Leslie, if not the technique he used. The music sounds electronic, but it isn't -- it was produced acoustically by various contrived means, and then processed mechanically on analogue tape recorders. The French term for this type of music, which was a short-lived fad among avant-garde composers, was musique concrète... the result sounds a bit like a cross between Revolution 9 by the Beatles and the closing sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The titles of the tracks clearly show Leslie's continuing interest in the mystical and esoteric: "Comet in Aquarius", "The Warhorns of Mars", "Coming of the Elementals" and "Death of Satan". The last-named is described by Leslie as an esoteric tone-poem, and contains the album's only recognisable tune (which can be heard in the clip at the bottom of this post) -- a distorted version of the theme from Richard Strauss's own tone-poem, Don Juan.

The first six tracks on the CD were written for a now-forgotten film called The Day the Sky Fell In. I don't think Leslie had anything to do with the plot of the film, but from the way he describes it in the sleeve notes it sounds like an archetypal "contactee" scenario. A mysterious stranger visits a defence scientist and tries to dissuade him from working on nuclear weapons. The scientist refuses, so the stranger gives a loaded revolver to the scientist's son... who happens to be mentally retarded. The point being -- this is no more dangerous than giving an atom bomb to a politician!


Anonymous said...

This sounds incredibly cool. Did you see the YouTube video of him punching a guy on a tv?

Andrew May said...

Absolutely - this is probably what Leslie is most famous for outside the UFO community. The "victim" was Bernard Levin, one of the best known "highbrow" TV personalities in Britain in the 1960s and 70s.