I published this post, a review of the Angus MacLise 2cd set The Cloud Doctrine on Sub Rosa, back in 2003. Instead of burying it in the archives, I thought I’d re-post it at the top with a link to download the out-of-print release at the bottom. So please enjoy.
This is a two-disc set released by Sub Rosa that has a buncha until-now unreleased Angus MacLise madness for ya dome. In the past couple of years, possibly beginning with that Peel Slowly and See Velvet Underground box set thing (that I still don’t have, dammit), there’s been a steady flow of Angus MacLise material appearing on the marketplace, in legal-or-otherwise forms. For the past decade or so I’ve been pretty obsessed by all manner of stuff that emanated from the Lower East Side of New York during the early-mid 1960s (the Velvet Underground being my earliest and most immediate exposure to what soon became a much more rich and complex world of eccentric characters from those Fluxus freaks to La Monte Young to whatever), and it’s become increasingly clear, with each archival MacLise release (hey that rhymes sorta!), that the most viscerally exciting, most connected-with-the-spirit-world stuff that sprung from those gutters was done by the guy with the least care for ‘leaving a legacy’ or some such bullshit. Fortunately we are now getting to hear this music, to hear the poetry read by its author; we just as easily could’ve been deprived of it, had a tape’s decay been even more extensive, or a ledger not been saved, or whatever.
Disc One begins with a series of three solo electronic suites from 1965 all with the title ‘Tunnel Music,’ and what that sounds like is cracked electronics weirdness. #1 ends with sweet swooping dive bomber sounds, #2 sounds like a march of army ants across a bouncing rubber floor while an inept adept named Aleph repeatedly drops a gong, what my yoga instructor calls extended technique. Then the Rubber Band Man comes to sweep up, helped out by the friendly robot Bleep Bleep. And still, during ‘Tunnel Music #3’ that danged gong keeps dropping, it’s so slippery! Aleph must’ve anointed it with the holy walnut oil of the gods or something. ‘The First Subtle Cabinet’ does a whole ‘nother thing entirely, with Angus playing the cimbalum, joined by super-friends Tony Conrad and Piero Heliczer on additional instruments. What results is a rather long (read: 26 minutes, dang!) excerpt mini-stoned-soul-freakout, mango chutney flavor. A bit of scraping and touching and wheedling and it’s all very nice. The beginning of this gigantic improvisatory treat is great stuff for floating away over the ocean on a grey puffy cloud outlined with tinges of orange light as the sun sets in the West. As things progress and unfold, more percussion is utilized, but never in a heavy-handed, stomp-your-brains-out way. What begins in the clouds becomes rooted in the earth, but never leaden or lumpen. Then, moving ahead over a decade, we get a reading of ‘Description of a Mandala’ from a performance in 1976. Most, if not all, of the archival MacLise releases haven’t had actual poetry readings from the man, so this is a nice treat (Disc Two also has a nearly-twenty minute reading from his ‘Universal Solar Calendar’ which of course provided the basis for the titles of ‘works’ by the Theatre of Eternal Music). ‘Thunder Cut’ ends the disc, a swell 32 minute load of nonsense (in a good way) as Angus, Tony Conrad and Beverly Grant Conrad give us the spiritual business with lots of scraping, scribbling, swooping, stomping and shingy-shing-shing-ing.
Disc Two is a bit more varied, with ten total tracks, and again only two super-long pieces, one of them the afore-mentioned reading. The four minute ‘Chumlum’ soundtrack begins the disc with cimbalum and drum scrapeage, kinda like a condensed version of the longer cuts on Disc One. Next, the four ‘Trance’ pieces are recordings of Tony Conrad, John Cale and Angus MacLise playing together in 1965, so they’re probably the closest we’ll ever get to an approximation of the unreleased Theatre of Eternal Music tapes. They begin with some furied bow-scraping/drumming, then move into a gorgeous repetitive figure, kind of like hearing a shorter version of Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of The Titanic played at the bottom of the ocean interrupted with pinging sonar. The ‘Two Speed Trance’ and ‘Four Speed Trance’ sections are a little more sparse in some ways, but no less enchanting. At a point during the former, MacLise’s rapid-fire drumming is so swift that it takes on an electronic quality then Conrad and Cale come in on guitar and violin, and the whole thing goes off in a sorta rockin’ direction (not a bad thing). The latter does it double-speed, kinda crazy like. ‘Shortwave Piece’ and ‘Electronic Mix for “Expanded Cinema”‘ are probably my favorite things on the entire set, maybe, well at least I think that right now as they play and envelop my room with punctured crystalline shards and midrange squeals and deep sine waves from the blackest coldest parts of space (and all that other good stuff that early electronic music can sound like). ‘Organ & Drum,’ ‘Universal Solar Calendar,’ and ‘Tambura Drone + Sine Wave Generator’ finish the disc with a little bit more flavor of the earlier swami-of-the-L.E.S. vibe that I’ve come to love.
Overall, the two discs are of exceptional quality considering the source material. The murkiness at times actually adds to the feeling that you’re hearing primordial music, something not nearly as ephemeral as most of what passes for ‘Western’ culture (esp. of the ‘pop’ variety). It may take the ‘average’ listener a lot of patience to get through all of this, but for the MacLise fanatic it’s a sure thing.
Angus MacLise discography: http://olivier.landemaine.free.fr/angusmaclise/angusmaclise.html
Angus MacLise chronology: http://melafoundation.org/am01.htm
A really good piece on Angus MacLise from Blastitude: http://www.blastitude.com/13/ETERNITY/angus_maclise.htm