Guy Livingston, Publisher; Dan Warburton, Editor-in-Chief
New from Japan: Tetuzi Akiyama / Taku Sugimoto / Taku Unami / Masafumi Ezaki / Burkhard Stangl / Bo Wiget
On AUM Fidelity: Maneri Ensemble / David S. Ware Quartet
The Test of Time
The End of Silence
"The Theoretical Girls may just be the most influential group you've never heard," runs the press release from Acute. Well, that's debatable - my vote would go for the original line-up of The Theatre of Eternal Music (unless you're lucky enough to own one of those dreadful bootlegs) - but the release at last of the long lost Theoretical album (or most of it: see below) is of interest to those of us who like looking in the rear-view mirror to see where we've come from. In this case, the line can now be clearly traced forward from the Theoretical Girls via their guitarist Glenn Branca to Sonic Youth (whose Moore and Ranaldo played in Branca's ensembles).
Between 1976 and 1978, artist and poet Phil Demise ran a loft space in Chelsea called The Placenter, organising performances by, amongst others, Bob Moses, Jerome Cooper, David van Tieghem, Jay Clayton, The Acme Band (later The Breakfast Club) and numerous local poets. Demise recalls: "Jeffrey Lohn did the plumbing in my loft and we became friends. Glenn Branca had just arrived from Boston and started to hang out there too, coming to rehearsals of my band, The N.DoDo band. This grew out of my art/poetry and was immersed in the concept "Todo Mundo Es DoDo": everyone was in the DoDo band. Jeffrey played electric violin on a number of gigs with us and met Glenn. They began fooling around with music and asked to "borrow" our drummer, Mike Anthol. The rest is history."
Formed about this time, the Theoretical Girls consisted of Lohn on vocals, keyboards and guitar, Branca on guitar, Margaret Dewys (now composing and teaching at Bard College) on keyboards and Wharton Tiers (who has subsequently produced Swans, Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth at his Fun City Studios) on drums. Lohn states that of the band's twenty-five or so original songs, three quarters were written by him and the rest by Branca. The group's name "came up spontaneously" in discussions with artist Dan Graham (the song "Theoretical Girls" came later). Their first gig, with Graham, was in late 1977 at Franklin Furnace in Tribeca; their last was at Max's Kansas City in early 1979. Branca claims they played just sixteen gigs. ("Between sixteen and twenty-two," recalls Lohn.)
It's not clear who first coined the term "No Wave", but Flying Luttenbachers percussionist and authority on the No Wave scene Weasel Walter recalls seeing it used in the New York Rocker to refer to the May 78 Artist's Space show that eventually resulted in the influential Brian Eno-produced album "No New York", which featured tracks by DNA, Mars, Contortions and Lydia Lunch's band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. "In print, I've seen the term actually credited to Lydia more than once," he states. "True, it's vague, but that's the beauty. It doesn't necessarily denote any particular style of music making, just a certain nihilistic attitude towards deconstructing rock music, pure and simple, a certain level of ugliness and dissonance."
According to Weasel Walter, "there were two factions of so-called No Wave bands at the time. The No New York bands were primarily based in the East Village while other lesser documented bands like Theoretical Girls, Gynecologists (and various other Rhys Chatham units), Tone Death, Red Transistor, Arsenal, Youth In Asia, Boris Policeband were situated around Soho/West Village. The attitude from the East Village bands was that they were more "street" and that the West siders were all pretentious artistes. Originally there were supposed to be more bands on "No New York", but somebody on the East side talked Eno out of including them." Glenn Branca's version of the story confirms Walter's hypothesis: "We were referred to as 'the fifth band on the No New York record'. Supposedly there were going to be ten bands on the album with two cuts each. That would have involved about everyone on the scene. I think that when Eno hooked up with the East Village bands, they convinced him that they were the "real" No Wave. They had his ear. None of us ever met him as far as I know." Branca also claimed that the Theoretical Girls drew exponentially more crowds than Teenage Jesus did. "I don't know if Glenn's "we were more popular than them" thing is really factually based," comments Weasel Walter: "The Contortions were an extremely good club draw by late '78 / early '79. In various New York Rocker articles on the scene, all these bands were lumped together as part of a movement, but the No New York bands eventually eclipsed the other ones. I think that it's hard to say what impact the Theoretical Girls had on anything. They were pretty eclectic musically. Of course, Branca is the most renowned member of the group and we know what he's done."
Around 1978, Lohn started organising concerts himself in his loft at 33 Grand St. (at the corner of Grand and Thompson, one block south west of West Broadway and Broome), the most elaborate of which was "Short Pieces / Electric Music / Performance / Film" featuring Laurie Anderson, John Lurie, Glenn Branca, Adelle Bertai, filmmakers Scott and Beth B., Mark Abbot, Lohn himself and Rhys Chatham (who Lohn subsequently invited to play with the Girls for a "performance or two of "Computer Dating" - he played a pre-composed guitar part written by me"). Brian Eno was apparently interested in the Theoretical Girls at the time, but Lohn wasn't interested in Eno, finding his work "boring and pretentious". He also admits to having had no interest whatsoever in The Velvet Underground, Suicide, Talking Heads, Phil Glass and German bands such as Neu!, all of whom might come to mind on listening to the Theoretical Girls' material. In fact, Lohn, who double majored in English and Music, lists his influences as classical music, from Gregorian chant to John Adams ("some of his stuff") and everything in between, with "a special fondness for the incredible rhythmic, contrapuntal and harmonic brilliance of Haydn's choral and orchestral works." (He was also a big fan of jazz, Latin and ethnic music - of everything, in fact, except rock, "except for some early stuff like Little Richard, and a Dead Boys live performance at CBGB's which stimulated me to start mixing punk-rock with classical music ideas and techniques"). He clearly identifies the influence of Bach (in "Polytonal") and Beethoven ("in the harmonic changes and voice-leading (counterpoint) of "Computer Dating" and "Lovin in the Red"). For his part, Branca "loved Suicide, but I wasn't into any of the Euro-hippie bands. I was more into Henry Cow and Matching Mole. Both Jeff and I were very interested in the minimalists."
The only tracks the Theoretical Girls recorded in a real studio (a "low budget" 8 track studio in Greenwich Village whose name both Branca and Lohn have forgotten) were Lohn's "US Millie" and "Computer Dating" and Branca's "You Got Me" and "Jill". (For the 7" single, Branca chose "You Got Me" and Lohn selected "US Millie".) Several tracks ("Nato", "No More Sex", the second version of "Computer Dating" and one of the versions of "Lovin in the Red") were recorded on 4 track machines by the group and friends at various gigs in New York art spaces such as The Kitchen, Art Space, Phil Niblock's Experimental Intermedia Foundation (NYC), and the "X" Magazine Benefit in the East Village, as well as club spaces such as Hurrahs, CBGB's, Max's Kansas City, Tier 3 (in Tribeca) and La Vitrine pour l'Art Actuel in Paris.
"This album had been intended to come out years ago, about 1984, with the tracks in a different order," Lohn recalls. "The label was supposed to be either Daisy or Neutral (I can't remember which), the master was made and was ready to be sent to the manufacturer when Glenn suddenly refused to allow any of his songs to go on. I decided to cancel the whole project rather than release it with just my material. I was busy with other stuff, so I just forgot about it."
Lohn was surprised when Branca subsequently released the songs he'd written for the Theoretical Girls on his Atavistic album "Songs '77-79". "He did so without my knowledge and permission - and I played either keyboard or bass or guitar on all his songs," recalls Lohn. (In similar vein, Branca seems to have been unaware of the release of the Acute album: "I know very little about this CD. Jeff has not contacted me about it. I didn't even know it was out."). Whether Branca decided not to allow the original release of the Girls album because he thought the exposure of Lohn's work - notably "Contrary Motion", "Electronic Angie" and "Computer Dating" - might lead to accusations of his being less original than he actually was remains open to question. When questioned on the subject, he merely replies: "They're my songs, man. It's not billed as a T-Girls record." Even so, the above-mentioned Lohn tracks seem to point quite clearly in the direction of Branca's guitar symphonies, but given the present state of relations between Lohn and Branca, pursuing the question of who wrote what any further would only lead to squalid and acrimonious claims and counter-claims. Better instead to sit back and hit the PLAY button.
"The Girls are definitely not as outré as the more well known bands," writes Weasel Walter. "They have their tangents into noise, but they also have a blatant pop/rock sensibility that the No New York bands deliberately eschewed." The lyrics to "Computer Dating" - erroneously marked as being track three but in fact track two, and the second version is track eighteen, not nineteen - could come straight from Laurie Anderson ("How much time do you spend by yourself? / What kind of parties do you enjoy? Do you really like children & pets?.."), and its steadily rising guitar lines and keyboard arpeggio patterns place it clearly in the West Village side of the scene as described above. Lohn is proud of the baroque contrapuntal weavings of " Polytonal", and "Lovin in the Red" - two versions are included, the first of which is track five and not track two - is a personal favourite too "because of the way the organ and guitar work together - the lines in the first section are very "classical" but they're sexy and they rock!" "Theoretical Girls" itself (two versions are included, one live) has no lyrics as such other than its title and the classic "1-2-3-4" countdown, elevated in status from simple metrical cue to musical material itself (in a manner analogous to Ligeti's piece for 100 metronomes).
On the few occasions they got a clean recording ("No More Sex") the group indeed sounds closer to mainstream rock than No Wave contemporaries such as Mars or DNA. The hard-hitting lyrics of "Mom & Dad" ("She told me when I turned 11, life's empty all's in heaven / When I learned I had a prick they told me sex was somethin sick / Sick and ugly"..) are beautifully offset by a catchy keyboard riff. "Europe Man", despite a surface roughness highlighted by the absence of bass, is a straight-ahead pile driving footstomper, as is "Nato", whereas "U.S. Millie", with Tiers' militaristic snare drum patterns and Lohn's rattling lyrics, is pure pop. Lohn may have disliked Talking Heads, but it's easy to imagine David Byrne trotting out lines like "Sitting on the beach with your ping pong peach"; in total contrast, he could never have come up with "Electronic Angie" or the first version of "Chicita Bonita", the longest cut on the album (clocking in at 5'35"), which shows what the Girls were like when they stretched out, with savage guitar work, nasty keyboard clusters and snarling vocals. The live cuts are rough and rocking - on "Angie" Lohn lays a bass guitar flat and beats it to death, on "Keyboard Etude" (a deliciously ragged tape made at Tier 3 featuring Mike Anthol) he manhandles a Farfisa organ and on "Parlez-vous français", (culled from the Girls' appearance in Paris) he intones remarkably good French over a pool of churning grey sludge.
"The Theoretical Girls were participating in the same emerging genre as the Contortions and Teenage Jesus but they didn't perform anywhere near as much as those bands," remembers Phil Demise. "They had a good following, and their presence on the scene was well-known but their public appearance was minimal, which added to their mystique. They became symbolic "darlings" of the ongoing merging of art, music and performance. The art world loved them - real Art Brut!"
Thanks to the following for their help in researching and proof-reading the article: Jeffrey Lohn, Glenn Branca, Wharton Tiers, Weasel Walter, Phil Demise, Dan Selzer, Marie Warburton.
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Ultra-minimal Japanese Improv
Tetuzi Akiyama / Taku Sugimoto / Bo Wiget HOKOU
Corpus Hermeticum Hermes 036
Tetuzi Akiyama RELATOR
Slubmusic SMCD 06
Taku Sugimoto / Burkhard Stangl AN OLD FASHIONED DUET
Slubmusic SMCD 07
Taku Sugimoto / Masafumi Ezaki / Taku Unami TRIO AT OFFSITE
Hibari Music, Hibari 01
Masafumi Ezaki / Taku Unami MANGA-MICHI
The recent slew of releases of ultra-minimal Japanese improvisation, much of it seemingly recorded live at Tokyo's Off Site, presents listeners (especially those who have to review it) with a couple of problems, the first of which being how to find both the necessary time and a sufficiently quiet listening environment to appreciate such extraordinarily spare and exceedingly quiet music. (Having chosen, like many of the musicians concerned, to live in a large and noisy city, my personal solution is to get up at 4am and listen through headphones, but even at that ungodly hour the low murmur of early morning traffic and nearby restaurant ventilation systems still manage to make themselves heard.) The second, and more bothersome, problem is how to arrive at a meaningful value-judgement of the work on offer: if I had to recommend just one of these five albums, which would I choose, and why?
"Hokou" ("walking around") was recorded way back in April 1999. At least a dozen albums featuring Taku Sugimoto have appeared since then, and compared to his recent work, this trio with guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama and cellist Bo Wiget sounds quite busy. (One can suppose that Corpus Hermeticum's Bruce Russell would be less enamoured of Sugimoto's more recent work, given his withering review of Radu Malfatti's "Dach" on Erstwhile in Opprobrium a while back). The gentle continuous shimmer of the guitar work seems to be a nod in the direction of Keith Rowe (this session in fact predates the recording of Sugimoto's own Erstwhile release "The World Turned Upside Down" with Rowe and Günter Müller by some six months); Sugimoto's musical language, while remaining distinctly recognisable, has often reflected - refracted might be a more appropriate word - the influence of his playing partners: his two duo albums with Kevin Drumm heralded a more fragmented approach to the instrument, and his recent work with Annette Krebs (the pair have also released two albums to date) has prompted him to move even further away from clear pitch-oriented playing towards "small sounds" for their own sake. Wiget's semitonal meanderings on track eight of "Hokou" - he gets so busy he nearly starts swinging for real - recall the cellular chromaticism of Feldman, another figure with whom Sugimoto is often misleadingly compared, and his continuous semi-regular tremolos on the following track prompt the guitarists to respond with a quiet bustle of activity that they probably would not have indulged in had the album been recorded a couple of years later.
While Sugimoto's work has attracted wide acclaim, the playing of friend and fellow guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama is no less worthy of attention. "Relator" compiles nine solo improvisations recorded in February 2001, and reveals a grittier approach to the instrument. Akiyama is not averse to whacking the body of the guitar if need be, and the twang and buzz of metal and swoop of slide point clearly back to the blues (it's about time his Abstract Blues Concrete work with Sugimoto was released to a wider public): the Setagaya blues, to quote Jason Khan's liner notes, where "time flows of its own accord". Akiyama's gently detuned guitar throws up some extraordinarily rich microtonal pitch combinations, both vertically (as lazily strummed chords) and horizontally, as angular melodic cells. His sense of timing is masterly - another aspect of the early blues guitarists' work that few others picked up on - and every moment is utterly spellbinding.
"Trio at Offsite" was recorded on September 3rd 2001 and runs continuously for fifty-five minutes. Taku Sugimoto is joined by Masafumi Ezaki on trumpet and Taku Unami on computer (though in fact Unami here uses self-designed software on his Powerbook to control audio material coming from a synthesizer and contact mic). Working with pitch is clearly not a priority for Ezaki, who joins an impressive list of extended techniques trumpeters (he sounds most like Matt Davis, or Greg Kelley in slow motion), and Sugimoto duly abandons playing notes almost entirely, punctuating Unami's sporadic crackles and flutters with judiciously timed thuds. My colleague Phil England, reviewing the album for The Wire, described it as "cold and astringent"; it's certainly the latter (put that down to the disturbing interjections from the computer, and Ezaki's metallic blasts of white noise), but I'm not sure if adjectives of temperature with emotive connotations are applicable, especially if "cold" is to be taken to mean "emotionless" or "heartless". The music is certainly uncompromising, but has its moments of melancholy and wry humour all the same.
Ezaki and Unami reappear on "Manga-Michi", recorded that same night after the trio set (!), but in a more intimate acoustic - Unami's room - which better picks up the trumpeter's repertoire of tiny sounds. Without Sugimoto, there are even fewer recognisable sounds on offer - this is pure sonic microscopy (which is not to say it doesn't get quite busy, even vicious in places), closer in feel to the work of Utah Kawasaki and Ami Yoshida, and also - in sound, if not in concept - to the field recording experiments of Toshiya Tsunoda. It's compelling stuff, but to appreciate it you need to meet the musicians halfway.
My copy of "An Old Fashioned Duet" with Burkhard Stangl, recorded in November 2001 in Vienna and released on Taku Sugimoto's own Slubmusic label, came along with a postcard showing our two protagonists poring over a chessboard. Chess is quite an apt metaphor for the music, which unfolds in a series of considered moves, each player taking his time to weigh up the full impact of what has gone before and what is likely to occur three moves down the line. Art Lange's memorable line about Misha Mengelberg once more comes to mind: "you can hear him listening to himself" (Mengelberg, not coincidentally, is a fine chess player). The beginning of the second (untitled) track is a perfect example of the metaphor - and the album title - in action, Stangl responding to Sugimoto's exquisite flurries of notes with utter simplicity, before the pair finally settle on a mutual exchange of tiny, high-pitched sounds. It's gentlemanly, civilised, restrained and poetic.
Returning to second of the two problems mentioned above, I'm frankly at a loss as to which one of these five albums I'd recommend more than the others (not that anyone's actually asked me to). If pushed to name my own personal favourites, I'd probably go for the Akiyama solo and the Ezaki / Unami duo, but then I'm lucky to have all five. The choice, then, is yours, but even if you manage to dispense with this second problem, you'll still be left with the first one: spinning any one of these five albums while frying bacon, bathing the kids, washing dishes or even replying to emails won't do them much justice. The simple fact that music exists (and there's quite a lot of it about) which forces us both to challenge our preconceived notions of listening and concentration and re-evaluate the acoustic reality of our daily lives and surroundings is cause for celebration.
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GOING TO CHURCH
Aum Fidelity AUM 024
With a title like this, you might be forgiven for expecting a sanctified holy rolling free jazz blow-out à la Frank Wright, but you'd be a tad disappointed - despite a powerhouse line-up featuring trumpeter Roy Campbell, pianist Matthew Shipp, drummer Randy Peterson, and (the master stroke) Barre Phillips on bass, it's Maneri père et fils who occupy the high altar here. Campbell at times sounds curiously distant, Shipp is restrained, even impressionistic (especially on "Before the Sermon"), and though Peterson and Phillips fairly crackle with energy, Mat Maneri's pallid, slow vibrato and Joe's fat, roly-poly saxes seem to soak up all the sweat like a sponge. There's no shortage of Mat Maneri product on the market these days, but the albums I've found most exciting recently are those which have featured him in the company of other charismatic performers from outside the Maneri family (notably Borah Bergman and Conny Bauer on "The River of Sounds" (Boxholder), and Masashi Harada and Phil Tomasic on the fabulous "Obliteration at the End of Multiplication" (Leo)). On the opening "Blood and Body" (about the sixteen minute mark) he seems content to lay down static double stops which seem to suck the life out of everyone else's pitches, except, of course, those coming from Joe's clarinet, which knows how to steer clear of the quicksand. Thankfully, "Blood and Body" is texturally fluid, and rarely features all six musicians at the same time (though there always seems to be at least one Maneri in evidence). While Peterson and Phillips are the perfect sauce for the Maneri's microtonal spaghetti, Campbell and Shipp sometimes sound as if they'd be more at home back in Other Dimensions In Music. On "Before the Sermon" Shipp finds more room to make his pitches really count, but he's back in the second row of the choirboys on the final title track. Such quibbles aside, the album manages to work its charms - its sheer complexity at times reminds me of another sextet, the classic ESP "New York Eye And Ear Control", another seemingly impenetrable block of musical granite that takes many patient playthroughs to yield up its secrets. Of course, repeated listening always reveals new depths - every Maneri album requires an investment of concentration on the part of the listener, and ultimately perhaps a leap of faith - I suppose it depends on how religious you are, but for this particular agnostic, this music is often as frustrating and intimidating as, well, going to church. However, like the central questions of religion, it won't be brushed aside.
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David S. Ware Quartet
AUM Fidelity AUM 023
After the divided critical reaction to 2001's "Corridors & Parallels" (on which, if you'll recall, Matthew Shipp traded his piano for a synth, to the horror of crusty purists), it's as if David Ware is once more thumbing his nose at Columbia: look what you'd have had if you hadn't terminated the contract, you dumb asses - a red hot Progressive album followed by a smash hit right in the Tradition (capital letters intentional). Compared to its adventurous predecessor, "The Freedom Suite" is a no-risks money-in-the-bank affair, but those who groaned at the street-smart funk groove of "Corridors" will doubtless love this full-length album reprise of the Sonny Rollins' classic originally released on Riverside in 1958 (featuring Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach), a well-recorded, hard-swinging homage to the saxophone colossus whose enthusiastic championship a decade or so ago helped put Ware on the map. Rollins recorded his nineteen-minute track in early 1958 just eight months and five albums before his famous self-imposed "retirement" - apart from "Newk's Time" it was arguably his most far-reaching work to date. Ware reveals a maturity of imagination, command of technique and deep affection for and understanding of Rollins and the tradition (sorry, Tradition) he sprang from. Though Guillermo Brown isn't quite Max Roach, comparing William Parker to Oscar Pettiford isn't as daft as it might seem: both gradually acquired phenomenal technique after long years mastering their respective jazz idioms - Pettiford bop, Parker free - both produce a great big sound that firmly anchors the music of their playing partners, and both can swing like hell. The extra ingredient in Ware's mix is Matthew Shipp, whose soloing manages to reference the last half-century of pianists from Bill Evans to CT via McCoy Tyner and Andrew Hill. The whole affair is very accomplished, but it's now time to stop calling Ware's music "free jazz" and, in the name of some spurious modernist nostalgia, putting him on a pedestal while spitting blood at the Marsalis brothers. Curiously enough, Branford Marsalis, on "Footsteps of Our Fathers" also had a go at "Freedom Suite" (as well as tunes by Ornette and Coltrane, "A Love Supreme", no less - way to go, Branford!), and, superficial differences of rhythmic articulation aside, his reading of the Rollins material isn't that different from Ware's. Both swing, both use standard, tried and trusted formal procedures - clear statements of thematic material, reprised at the beginning and end of solos - and both spout off about The Tradition in their press releases ("the lineage made explicit", reads the dispatch from AUM Fidelity.. Stanley Crouch couldn't have done better). Before heading for the studio in July, Ware took the "Freedom Suite" on the road to great acclaim; so perhaps we can hope a live recording of the piece might surface one day, as Ware's gigs are far more exciting and dangerous affairs than this.
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"Once I had a wonderful professor in composition, Henry Cowell. He came into class one time and said he had been on the West Coast and had visited George Antheil. When I was a young man, George Antheil was considered the up and coming great composer. When Cowell went to see Antheil, George was in his study at his piano and didn't want to be disturbed. As Cowell sat there all he heard from Antheil was the same chord over and over and over again. After about 20 minutes of that chord, Cowell banged on the door and went into the study and said, 'George, what the hell are you doing?' And Antheil said, 'It's quite simple. I'm giving that chord the test of time.' "
The Most Reverend Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B.
Archbishop of Milwaukee
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We mourn the passing of one of the summer's truly entertaining controversies...
excerpted from the INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
A copyright dispute over the American avant-garde composer John Cage's silent composition for piano, "4'33," has been settled, Cage's publishers said. The composer Mike Batt was accused of plagiarism by Edition Peters, the publisher of Cage's work, over a track called "A Minute of Silence" on Batt's latest album "Classical Graffiti," performed by The Planets. The piece was credited to Batt/Cage. Nicholas Riddle, managing director of Peters, told Reuters that Batt had paid an "adequate sum" to the John Cage Trust in settlement. "It has been very gentlemanly," he said. "We haven't called each other names or anything like that." On his web site, www.mikebatt.com, Batt said: "I'm sure John Cage had a dry sense of humor and would have loved the spectacle of The Planets being all over the press protesting that their [my] silence was original silence and not a quotation from his silence." The parties had tried to prove their points with performances of both pieces. The results were inconclusive.
window in Dubrovnik
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Copyright 2002 by Paris Transatlantic