Walter De Maria, R.I.P.

Reports across the internet indicate that Walter De Maria has died. He is one of my favorite sculptors and musicians of all time, his most famous works being the installations “Lightning Field” (in New Mexico), “The New York Earth Room,” and “The Broken Kilometer” (both in New York). He also briefly played drums in the Primitives, a precursor band to the Velvet Underground. Back in 2005, I wrote a review (for Swingset Magazine) of his self-released compact disc Drums and Nature, containing two pieces of his from the 1960s, in contrast with then-new works by Watersports:

Painting, sculpture, hell even being in a regular rock band wasn’t enough for Walter De Maria. After moving to New York in 1960, hobnobbin’ and theorizin’ and fluxus-izin’ with crazyman composer La Monte Young, playing drums for a stint in The Velvet Underground, and establishing himself as one of the prominent sculptors in the emerging “minimalist” scene, De Maria looked for – and found – the ever-larger gesture. In search of an art that was more than just “art,” De Maria in 1968 filled the Galerie Heiner Friedrich in Munich with dirt, kicking off the whole earthworks movement. That same year, he recorded “Ocean Music,” which along with “Cricket Music” (from 1964) is available for the first time on Drums and Nature. “Ocean Music,” recorded with the help of rediscovered minimalist badass Tony Conrad, is a meditative piece beginning with – you guessed it – the sound of waves crashing along some shore somewhere. Some heavy solo tribal drumming eventually mixes in, then subsumes the ocean sound, and what we’ve got is something akin to New Age if New Age wasn’t fucking lame. That is, a perfect representation of the “natural,” but with an acknowledgement of the “human” (incidentally, La Monte Young also recorded a vocal piece with the ocean off Long Island as his backin’ band around the same time for Columbia, but it has yet to see the light of day). “Cricket Music” is less meditative, but no less amazing (and no less truth-in-advertising, title-wise). Listening to these compositionally simple, yet striking pieces, it’s too bad that De Maria hasn’t seemed to have done much since, musically…

De Maria’s Drums and Nature will be available for download here for a limited time: http://www.sendspace.com/file/9vcr0i. If you miss it, you can also download it from UbuWeb here: http://www.ubu.com/sound/demaria.html.

UPDATE, 7/26/13: The Los Angeles Times has confirmed De Maria’s death by publishing an obituary here: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-walter-de-maria-died-20130725,0,1642854.story.

UPDATE, 7/27/13: The New York Times has published their obituary of Walter De Maria here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/27/arts/design/walter-de-maria-artist-on-grand-scale-dies-at-77.html.

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