Tag Archives: Tony Conrad

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.

Angus MacLise, The Cloud Doctrine (Sub Rosa, 2CD)

Angus MacLise

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.

Sub-Rosa: http://www.subrosa.net/
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

Download The Cloud Doctrine here.

Recidivist, ep. 1: Autechre, Thomas Brinkmann

Insomnia-filled nights get me to thinkin’ about all sorts of random things. Tonight’s few hours of attempted-but-failed sleep got me on a nostalgic kick, thinking back to days of high school when my best buddy Jesse LeBus and I published a short-lived scandal sheet called The Recidivist (named for a Bastro song, natch). It only really lasted maybe one issue, and I vaguely recall it being a broadside against our high school administration’s perceived hypocracies — nevermind the fact that we were using the school’s computers to edit and publish the dang thing. Ah, the folly of youth. We got in some minor trouble (if that? I don’t recall much), and the whole thing blew over. Maybe if we had stuck with it, or had developed a sense of tact, we could’ve made it into a school paper-y thing, complete with stories and cultural reportage of the day (perhaps an essay or two on how Pearl Jam blows, dude?). But we never were ones for sticking with anything.

At some point in the early morning hours, as the birds started a-chirpin’, I started thinking of another, more worthy snapshot of a place and time even longer gone, that of Mr. Tom Johnson‘s excellent book, The Voice of New Music, a collection of his music criticism that was originally published in the Village Voice from 1972 to 1982 (you can download the whole shebang here — ain’t the internet wonderful?). I read this worthy tome when an undergrad, workin’ on some Tony Conrad stuff, and this book was an incredible resource not only on the specifics of the changes that were taking place in the downtown NYC snooty music scene, but also of a general cultural context that’s sorta disappeared (even if I’d bet more people listen to weird music now more than they did back then).

Big whoop, sez you. All right, all right, so here’s the point: instead of trying to recreate some old feelings about music and cultural what-have-you that would just about be impossible, I thought I’d start a new thing on this blog dedicated to looking back at some music I probably haven’t listened to in a long time, and in the process I hope to share some ideas about the music, the time in which I first experienced it (and how), and just whatever other random stuff may bubble up to the surface. So here goes, episode one of Recidivist

Autechre, Chiastic Slide (Warp)
Thomas Brinkmann, Klick (max.E.)

Chiastic Slide

Funnily enough, I’ll begin the first installment with two records that have nothing to do with either my high school or college years, unlike the reminiscences that inspired this series. Though I certainly knew of and enjoyed many records on the esteemed Warp label through my college years, it probably wasn’t until I picked up Autechre‘s Chiastic Slide sometime in the summer of 1998 (though it was released in 1997) that everything started to, uh, click (no pun intended). I was a fan of their previous records Amber and Tri Repetae, but Chiastic Slide was the one, maaaaan. Listening to it again last night while reading Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, I was struck by how structurally this record fit with Kundera’s idea of the novel as an exploration of variations. That is, his novel consists of seemingly unrelated episodes which form a coherent summation of his once-an-insider, now-an-outsider-looking-in perspective on the totalitarian regimes of Central Europe in the 1970s.

Now, this connection isn’t explicit by any means. There’s nothing in Autechre’s music that suggests anything similar, thematically, to Kundera. There’s no politics, no laughter, nothing really even that “human.” What I mean is that Chiastic Slide takes some pretty distinct elements and fuses them into studied variations. And like Kundera is compelling to read (I finished The Book of Laughter and Forgetting pretty quickly, granted it’s short), Autechre hit upon what I think was the beginning of an incredible run of densely packed, seemingly-random-yet-not albums filled with intense variation. As Kundera writes about his father’s love of Beethoven’s later variations (Kundera’s father was a composer and teacher who studied with Janacek, btw), I couldn’t help but make the connection to what I was hearing while I was reading.

So Chiastic Slide: it’s a killer album, packed with crunchy, distorted tempos; the detritus of their soon-to-be-abandoned rote-techno melodies (which were generally more off-kilter than a lot of their IDM contemporaries anyway); and a lot of variation. Take one theme, expand on it until it’s worn down to a nub, then add something else in. It’s brilliant, and at the time it sounded FANTASTIC booming out of my car stereo (and it’d prompt some pretty funny looks, too). By the time I finally got to see Autechre (with Russell Haswell and Kevin Drumm!) at the Metro in 2001 (see photo below, swiped from Warp), I’d already moved on to more minimal moves…

Autechre at Metro

At some point in 2000 or 2001, I can’t remember which, Jim Magas opened the long-gone (and sorely missed) Weekend Records and Soap in Wicker Park, a short walk from my pad down Division. I’d gotten increasingly into the more minimalist stuff coming out of Berlin and Koln (how, I don’t really recall, though I’m sure the less-austere Warp scene was somewhat of a gateway drug), and the location of Jim’s shop meant I could find stuff easily without having to run over to the always-annoying Clark Street corridor of Lincoln Park. Again, I don’t really recall, but I somehow got wind of what Thomas Brinkmann was doing, perhaps because it was similar — though different — from a lot of the other Profan/Studio 1/Kompakt axis (er…) around Mike Ink.

What I heard of Brinkmann was compelling, hard yet super-minimal techno of a sort that (at the time) wouldn’t have gone over at Chicago’s dance clubs AT ALL (indeed, the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink nights that Brandon Goodall, Greg Davis and occasionally Kevin Drumm and I’d do around town weren’t well received — and we were far more accessible despite eclecticism than the minimalist stuff), and I was intrigued. Jim would stock EVERYTHING in Weekend, and within the limits of what I could spend, I’d buy pretty much all of it. So imagine my surprise when, after far more straightforward “first-name” 12″s and Studio One releases, Brinkmann releases the Klick 12″ (to be fair he also released more abstract-y Esther Brinkmann stuff, but that was harder to find), followed by the Klick full-length. The methodology behind this new phase was simply described:

10 tracks made with two decks, an isolator, a mixer and some with a tc multieffect. About 15 endless groves, cut with a knife in the last groove of vinyl records, some voices from records as well, and feedbacks are the sound sources. The loops are cut between 1978 and 2000 like the one on Suppose 08 (Feran Loop).

But what I’m hearing is a crazy amount of variation (that word again) on the theme of music-as-recording, a sort of meta-statement about the seeming finality of vinyl being a starting point for a new music. Yeah, yeah, sampling has been a part of music long before Brinkmann (even John Cage fooled around with turntables), but there was something about this record, coming from the context of the Berlin techno scene, that really was something special. And it’s also fun to guess a little bit as to where and what specific contexts it comes from. That is, the rhythms of these pieces get stuck in your brain almost like “regular” pop music (indeed, for some reason the sixth track “0110” reminds me of Can’s “I Want More”).

Klick

Download Klick here for a limited time.

Also, please send comments to hstencil at yahoo dot com, these comment boxes are busted.

SHORT SUMMER SABBATICAL

Been sorta M.I.A. lately, and I don’t mean some lame Elastica groupie who can’t dance wearin’ a “Golden Girls” outfit that blogger types jerk off to. Apologies for that (the not-posting, I mean — M.I.A. fans can continue to suck at the tit of mediocrity). No explanations forthcoming. Trust me, you don’t wanna know. But more stuff is on the way soon, I promise. I was thinking that, in light of the Tony Conrad review below, I may restart my long-abandoned goal of publishing the Tony Conrad Project (as it is colloquially known on teh interweb) on this here blog, in chapters. But I dunno. We’ll see. I am a lazy man. Aside from, like, booking shows, djing secret Comets on Fire shows and weird parties with swimming pools inside apartments, running around Midtown buying stuff for my friend who makes guitar straps, fulfilling orders, avoiding any mention of the name “Kaz Ishii,” buying groceries, collecting obsolete computers and peripherals, and reading. In the meantime, take a gander at Tony’s very fantastic and fun-filled new site.

TONY CONRAD, TEN YEARS ALIVE ON THE INFINITE PLAIN, May 18, 2005

A little over a week ago, I saw this performance of Tony Conrad’s Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain at the Kitchen in NYC, which was originally premiered at the Kitchen in 1972, 3 years before I was born.

It was a pleasant Wednesday evening, the sky was blue and a cool breeze rolled off the Hudson. I exited the subway at 14th Street, and walked around Chelsea for a little bit. As I was walking down 19th Street or somewheres, the sun of the remains of the day illuminated smoke wafting in from somewhere. Something was on fire, somewhere. I walked around some more, saw some fire trucks blaring away, barrelling down 9th Avenue, and eventually found what they were looking for: a building, off the West Side Highway, where something (I couldn’t tell what) had happened. At the least, it wasn’t a big hellacious inferno or anything. So the sirens were a little superfluous.

I kinda forgot about it and strolled to the Kitchen, on the other side of 10th Avenue. I waited for my friend Warren who had the tickets, and watched as various luminaries (look, there’s David Behrman! there’s Lee Ranaldo! etc.) came into the lobby.

When the space opened prior to the performance, we saw that the large number of chairs we expected to see weren’t there. In their places were various pillows strewn about the floor. Though there were a few chairs here and there, and some placed in orderly rows on risers, I opted for the floor.

The performance began with two violins, amplified. Not quite as loud as I expected them to be, perhaps my hearing hadn’t adjusted to “normal” volumes after hearing the fire trucks race to the non-fire. Then the pulsing bass came in, one note, it underlying the the drone of the violins, supplying a base, as it were. This was the same pulse as Outside the Dream Syndicate, the same as Slapping Pythagoras. If I want to get all technical music-nerdy, I would state that there were a few times where the bassist (I forget his name) was slightly off, time-wise. But that’s ok, people are not robots. Anyway, the fourth instrument in the group was the long string (one of Tony’s inventions), played by Jim O’Rourke.

After a short period of time, four projectors were switched on, and the visual component of the piece began. I could describe it more, but I’m feeling lazy, so I just looked up this interview I had with Tony in 1998, and I’ll let his words about how the piece developed in ’72 take it for a little bit:

I thought that it would be interesting to work with a more complex overlay of even simpler material, so I made some more [film] loops, which actually I had already devised for the making of [1970’s] Straight and Narrow, I already had this pattern set up. I generated some loops which were simply made of these same stripes, which I shot on a piece of fabric… I had the negative [black] image and the positive [white] image… eight times a second it goes back and forth. And of course the projectors don’t match, so they could get in-between effects… But how did the music come into the picture?

… Yeah the real story is that I forget how that happens right now….

It looked really, really wild and I thought, ‘Well that’s good.’ Now what I wanted to do was to play music with it, so I felt that I should get a group together, and we’d do live music, and it would be very meditational and it would be very terrific…

… I would slowly manipulate the projected image so that over the course of an hour and a half, all these images would converge and make something really amazing happen.

So that was basically what was happening, over thirty years later, on a very-different-from-then West Side of Manhattan. I noticed that as the performance went on, the violins got louder, more assured, and were assuming a similar — yet not nearly as unpleasant — noise to the fire trucks from before. Interesting (or perhaps not?) how context is everything. There, in the performance space, the droning blare instilled a calmness, a stasis — though at the same time there were overtones dancing all over the place. O’Rourke’s glissandi functioned as a counterpoint to the stasis of the violins and bass, and added an element that I found heightened the dissonances and consonances.

Every once in a while, without any pre-determined manner, the violins would synch into the same beginning, primordial root chord, and the film strips would synch together to appear to dance before my eyes. Sometimes my eyes would follow the four projectors’ emissions left and right across the screen, sometimes my eyes would converge in the middle, sometimes my eyes would zig-zag uncontrollably. Oddly, and perhaps chillingly, there were a few moments when I imagined those strips giving me the sensation of falling, head-first, along the thin spines of the almost-four-years-gone World Trade Center. I tried not to think of that too much, though I can’t say that it was an altogether unpleasant feeling.

At the time I wasn’t really sure how much time had passed. The films had converged into a singular image, and eventually the playing stopped, Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain was over. I looked at my watch; it was over two hours since we’d entered. We left, went outside, and a cooler breeze this time rolled across the Hudson.