New Zealand rock named after group-theoretic entities

Douglas‘s label Dark Beloved Cloud put out a great record by the Magick Heads called Transvection. You and I think a transvection is a unipotent element of the symplectic group, but it turns out it also means — well, let Douglas explain it:

DBC222 The Magick Heads’ Transvection CD

“Transvection” is the act of riding through the air on a stick or a broom, and The Magick Heads’ glorious ride spanned almost a decade. Natives of Dunedin, New Zealand, driven by the songwriting prowess of Robert Scott (of the Bats and the Clean) and the throbbingly gorgeous singing of Jane Sinnott, they released two exquisite albums on Flying Nun and a couple of EPs. Before they called it a day, they assembled this collection of levitational performances from their entire career: studio recordings, live tracks, radio sessions and 4-track demos–13 never-heard songs and three radically different versions of Magick Heads classics. Delicious he sang/she sang harmonies, the savory friction of acoustic guitars against electrics, backing by members of the 3Ds–it’s all here, and it’s all exquisite. $10 ppd.

The record is just as great as Douglas says. It reminds me a little of an amazing old Boston band, Prickly; Collin Oberndorf’s clear, high, hollow-sounding vocals cut through the haphazardly layered guitar on that record much as Sinnott’s does here. Here’s the Magick Heads, “Standing on the Edge,” courtesy of Flowering Toilet:

“Standing on the Edge,” the Magick Heads

I have “The Lonely Passion of Joey Heatherton,” Prickly’s finest song, only on cassette — but Shumai, featuring some of the same personnel, does an almost-as-good version:

“The Lonely Passion of Joey Heatherton,” Shumai

Back to New Zealand: if I could post my own .mp3s on the blog, I’d put up Prickly’s great cover of “Death and the Maiden,” by NZ’s Verlaines. And the Magick Heads, via Robert Scott, are related to the Clean, whose song “Odditty” is the greatest pop monument New Zealand ever produced. Tom would probably accord that honor to “Not Given Lightly”:

At the very least, this song is tied with “Stand” and “Chinese Bones” for best use of the open E (and is the uncontested champion in the “not played by Peter Buck” division)

More group theory: the Pin group is not just a double cover of the orthogonal group, but an early NZ post-punk outfit. The Pin Group was that rare thing, a band that sounds a lot like Joy Division without being second-rate parody. Here’s their 1981 single “Ambivalence,” (via The Walrus):

“Ambivalence,” The Pin Group

I have this single in my collection only because it’s part of The Greatest Mix Ever Made, which is to say the 13-disc, 411-song box set “1981”, consisting entirely of songs released in that year. It’s one of my prize posessions, and I am eternally in awe of and debt to its compiler, the musical encyclopedist known as Soundslike. Who it turns out makes his own music, and it’s kind of great! Surprisingly easy-going and gentle, given the vast amount of aggressive post-punk he’s brought into my life. Here’s a standout track:


If you liked that, his albums are all available for free download here.

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4 thoughts on “New Zealand rock named after group-theoretic entities

  1. John Cowan says:

    The not-yet-updated OED entry says (translating to TeX notation):

    1. The action of carrying or conveying from one place to another; transportation. Obs[olete].

    1615 CROOKE Body of Man 325 The transvection or transportation of the same Lungs of the infant. 1680 H. MORE Apocal. Apoc. 330 The consummate salvation of the Saints, or their transvection into those eternal Mansions of glory. 1682—- Annot. Glanvill’s Lux O. xiii. 105 That transvection of them, rather than pulsion or traction.

    2. Math. A method used by Clebsch and Gordan for deriving invariants and covariants from a product of two binary forms.

    1876 SALMON Lessons Introd. Mod. Higher Algebra (ed. 3) xix. 272 If \phi, \psi be covariants..we can obtain from them the series of covariants \phi x^{p-k} \psi x^{q-k} (\phi\psi)^x… This operation, in German called Ueberschiebung, we shall call transvection, and the covariants generated we shall call transvectants of the two given covariants.

  2. musicophilia says:

    Goodness, what a compliment! Though I myself have spent rather little time with prickly (or other) post-punk since completing it–wore it out temporarily, as you can imagine–it is truly gratifying to find that people are still enjoying the set these years later; and more importantly, that people discovered music they came to love through it. It was really a lot of fun!

    Regarding my own music–you’re just wonderfully kind. Haven’t made any in nearing seven years now, barring a weird little deconstruction-remix dabble of previous stuff. But that’s just as gratifying, though far more surprising, to hear that people enjoy it, too!

    I’m posting from an as-yet empty blog/username that will hopefully soon become a storehouse for various mixes I cobble, new and old. I’m not one of those those inspiring fellows doing first-source archeology, but your kind comments give me the feeling that maybe my mixes serve their more modest dual purpose as nice listen in their own right and gateway drug to further musical addiction. Maybe enough time has passed since the 1981 box as an artifact that I can now post the individual mixes? Or maybe I’ll revisit the era, and make mixes of further discoveries from the year made since–even without concerted seeking, that year never ceases to pop up with new surprises.

    Many thanks!


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