March News 2003 Reviews and articles by Dan Warburton:



Electronic music online at Stasisfield.com
More vintages from Family Vineyard: Grand Ulena / Tigersmilk
Pianoduo Post & Mulder
Electronica: Quintet Avant / Cascone, Chartier, Deupree / Arg / Skozey Fetisch / Richard Francis/
Improv: Khoury, Shearer / Absinth / Allport:Olive /Tom Djll /
Book review: Painful but Fabulous: The Lives & Art of Genesis P-Orridge
New on Emanem: Lunge / Charlotte Hug /Markus Eichenberger
INDEPENDENCE DAZE: The Rev. Dwight Frizzell
Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell on Confront

Last Month


go to: stasisfield.com

by Dan Warburton
"Electronic music is the opium of the people", intoned the deadpan voice of the lead singer of the long-forgotten (and absolutely horrible) English punk group Danny And The Dressmakers, years ago now. While kids like the Dressmakers sought refuge from the banality of everyday existence in scuzzy guitar noise in someone's garage, youngsters today can stay ensconced in their bedrooms, download state-of-the-art software and turn out a high-quality piece of electronic music in a few hours. And once it's done, there's no need anymore to print up crappy 45s and mail them off fingers crossed to John Peel in grubby envelopes - convert to mp3 format and post it up there on the web for everyone to hear (you have to tell them it's there, first, of course). Several labels - notably 12k and fällt - and numerous individuals, from obscure bedroom mystics such as JLIAT to megastars like Bowie, have jumped at the opportunity of releasing material this way: it's up there for a limited period only, you want it, go get it. www.stasisfield.com/ is one of the best (and most elegant) sites on the web offering discriminating consumers a choice of downloadable music. John Kannenberg runs the site as an online art space as much as a record library, and his current Audible Still Life project reflects his concern for visual as well as aural excellence. A number of discs are available for purchase from the site, and an mp3 CDR featuring nearly all sixteen Stasisfield releases from the site's first year is in preparation.
If you sometimes feel like your life is being cut into a billion fragments and hurled back at you, "Audioreliquary" by J3 (Kannenberg's project with James Warchol, James Schoenecker and Ethan Koehler) is the perfect soundtrack; for old BBC Radiophonic Workshop nostalgics who grew up watching Doctor Who, Capricorn One's "Panopticon" is a must; Kannenberg's solo "Aero" project is an exploration of cunningly transformed field recordings and what the Wire magazine likes to call "critical beats"; Takuji Tokiwa's "Four Tears" is a superbly crafted four-movement symphonic poem that runs the gamut from teeth-grinding drones to church bells; Denmark's Jonas Olesen's "dis_published" is absolutely gorgeous, while "_minus one" by OK Suitcase (aka Portuguese sound artist André Gonçalves) is powerful and brooding. If references and cross-connections abound here (Brian Labycz's real-time manipulation of field recordings recalls the work of French group Afflux, and Carol Genetti's "Grain" is pure poésie sonore), so does originality: Neil Jendon and Dave Mackenzie's "Uh-Oh, Machine" is unlike anything I've ever heard. Ian Simpson's "Seite" paints it big, but Sawako's close-up recording of the family piano (love the dog barking in the background!) is as intimate as a kiss. Bremsstrahlung label boss Josh Russell (see the review of "lowercase sound 2002" elsewhere on this site) contributes the coolly mesmerising dronescape of "Ub_cus" and James Schoenecker's "Live in NYC / Open Air" gives the blokes at 12k a good run for their money, but if you think it's all 100% electronic at stasisfield, think again: Belgian composer George de Decker's "La Citta Invisibili", though heavy on manipulation and post-prod, is scored for fourteen-piece ensemble, and Crouton Music's Jon Mueller's "A Wooden Bicycle" is sourced from his beloved percussion instruments.
"Sonic Planar Analysis ::01" (Stasisfield SF-CD101) is another brief sampler of the diverse catalogue on offer, from the spitty, crackly dub of Phluidbox to the haunting soundscapes of J3 (move over, William Basinski). While some of the material is rather slight (both Capricorn One's thunky electro and Pressboard's "Corner Slit" might have benefited from longer reflection on the part of their creators), there are some wondrous things on offer, notably Psychiatric Challenge's "Echoes of Madges Kitchen", a wild, fucked-up piece which spins round so fast trying to find a direction to go in that it all but drills itself into the ground. "Meditations (on ashKroft)" by Warchol (aka Loam, also on the mp3 CDR in its entirety) is composed from samples of the US Attorney General's self-penned patriotic song "Let the Eagles Soar" (which his staff is obliged to learn by heart - way to go, Johnboy!). One imagines that Mr Ashcroft, were he not so busy disguising statues and generally being what is known in my country as a "proper pillock", would be inclined to take Warchol and tar and feather him, but he clearly has neither the time nor the necessary grey matter to appreciate such thoughtful and coherent composition. But if you've got as far as reading the end of this review, YOU HAVE - and you owe it to yourself to check out http://www.stasisfield.com/ without any further delay. Go download.


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New from Family Vineyard..
by Dan Warburton
Grand Ulena
GATEWAY TO DIGNITY
Family Vineyard FV18
Anything that comes warmly recommended by the Flying Luttenbachers' Weasel Walter is likely to be a) damn good and b) damn loud. "Gateway to Dignity", happy to say, is both. Guitarist Chris Trull, bassist Darin Gray and drummer Danny McClain have sucked up all the energy that flew out of Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society (before they got tired and flabby), Zorn's Naked City and Painkiller (before they went their respective ways into Masada and dub gloom) and Chicago (the city, not the bloody group) and spit it out here in seven mighty tracks. After some precarious stutters "Between Tholozan and Oleatha" roars into life, and it's all aboard. The ensuing montage of tightly composed cellular structures, "Total Joplin", is like a precariously teetering structure of piled-up glass jars each containing an angry wasp. Of course, it topples over and lets all hell loose on "Jennings Station One" and "Gravois Means Rubble". If "Crowbar at Crescent and Cricket" seems unable to sustain the momentum of its breakneck opening tempo, it's just a trap: the track's central concept is precisely to set up and dismantle grooves - these guys aren't just musicians, they're trapeze artists. And don't be fooled by the title of the next track -"Whispering Pines", indeed.. "Chainsaw Massacre" might be more appropriate. By the time the final "Grand Arsenal" is through, you're on the floor. Forget the pretentious, bloodless drone gloom of Jackie O-Motherfucker and Godspeed You Black Emperor (and who cares where you put their goddamn exclamation mark?) - if you grew up with Hüsker Dü and Blood Ulmer and graduated to Mr Bungle via Napalm Death, you'd better get your check book ready right now.
Tigersmilk
TIGERSMILK
Family Vineyard FV19
Tigersmilk is a trio consisting of Chicago bassist Jason Roebke, Vancouver-based percussionist extraordinaire Dylan Van Der Schyff and cornettist Rob Mazurek (whose Chicago Underground projects are now so overground that he's apparently gone underground - in Brasilia). On the opening "Frequency Location" Roebke's big sound is the perfect foundation for Van Der Schyff's inspired clattering and Mazurek's splashes of electronics. "Long To Win" is an intriguing assemblage of material - while Roebke's bowed bass prowls round its darker registers, Van Der Schyff sounds like he's opening oysters with an amplified plastic knife and Mazurek's cornet transformations resemble a theremin heard underwater. "The Soft Releases" starts out even more fragmented, but the insect electronics and percussion gradually coalesce into something pulse-like; after which Mazurek's tooting Cherry cornet comes as a pleasant surprise on the brief solo "Little Pleasures". Roebke, who slunk off into the undergrowth on track two, comes back out on "Right On Agatite" with an agile bowed solo accompanied by strange flanged pulses from Mazurek and a distant, somewhat ominous march rhythm from Van Der Schyff's snare and bass. When Mazurek takes up the horn at the three-minute mark, the New Orleans funeral procession is in full swing - but this is one scary funeral. It's rare - and always welcome - to hear regular rhythms in so-called improvised music (a genre where periodicity is usually spat at by improv purists). "There Are Ghosts" is as fitting a title for the following track as it could be for the whole album; there are indeed ghosts inhabiting this music, ghosts of Okkadisk and Thrill Jockey as well as ESP and Blue Note, and they come racing out of the darkness to party hard on "Secret and Mask" (the only piece that goes beyond the six-minute mark - none of the nine tracks overstays its welcome, which is also refreshing). Van Der Schyff is outstanding, sending the spectres shuddering back to the shadows with a veritable arsenal of extraordinary sounds, while Roebke sounds like he's trying to play Brian Ferneyhough's "Trittico per G.S." - upside down. Decidedly, if you want your music to give you easy answers to straightforward questions, you'd better leave this one alone, and the intriguing "Waiting on Ferrari" too. The closing "Long, Past, Time" is introduced by Roebke's bass (his best solo on the album), and he and Mazurek hover about G major, finally settling on it in the closing moments. We may be back home, but the journey has been so eventful and unsettling that its images stay with us long after the CD has ceased spinning.


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Pianoduo Post & Mulder

UIT DE NIEUWE KOLLEKTIE
BV Haast CD 0102
by Dan Warburton
For "The New Collection", pianists Pauline Post and Nora Mulder "challenged" 23 composers to a piece for piano duo with additional instrument(s). The two Dutch pianists look pretty challenged themselves on the album cover, which shows them buried up to the neck in sand - affectionate reference to Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days" or fitting metaphor for the postmodern pianists' plight? Richard Ayres' "No.35" adds timpani and euphonium in the "overture to an imaginary opera". Perhaps someone ought to break the news of George Antheil's death to Pierre Koning as he breathes, sobs and sighs melodramatically into his horn (while Post and Mulder pound bottom octaves in time-honoured Louis Andriessen style - hell, there must be a lot of money to be made tuning pianos in the Netherlands). It's all very potty and PoMo and witty and tittery and peculiarly Dutch, but for bizarre slapstick cabaret, melodicas, squeeze boxes, farts, whoopee cushions and pure insanity, I prefer to stick to my old Alterations albums.
Gerard van Dongen's "Eine Aniemierdame stösst Beschied" is altogether less frivolous, starting out with Roswitha Bergmann's melancholy soprano adrift in a sea of frozen pitches refracted through van Dongen's electronics (imagine one of those old Nono tape pieces played simultaneously with loops extracted from Vol.1 of Boulez's "Structures"). The texture gradually thickens, but suddenly things go all Pierrot Lunaire when Bergmann starts singing / declaiming Erich Kästner's poem. If Alban Berg instead of Kurt Weill had worked with Brecht, it might have sounded something like the strange lied that kicks in about halfway through the piece. Four minutes later and we're moving through the 20th century at breakneck speed to the athletic All-Bran of Hindemith (or is it Ligeti? Will the real Mr van Dongen please stand up?) - the extreme register ostinati accompanied by sporadic dampened mid-register thunks sound great, but including the Kästner text, and a translation of it, might have been a good idea. Post and Mulder did, after all, have two full pages of the huge fold-out booklet free to display no less than 43 shots of themselves.
Boudewijn Tarenskeen sets Shakespeare's 129th sonnet for soprano and piano duo, and here the music is on a par with the magnificent text (thankfully included this time). Austere low-end rumbles resonate in clouds of suspended harmonics, and by the time soprano Jenny Haisma enters, humming, the necessary gravitas is firmly established. Tarenskeen's word setting is simple and direct without being naïve, and allows the formidable intensity of the sonnet to manifest itself (it takes balls to tackle a poem as good as this - imagine the horrible turgid mess a Gorecki could make of it). At last a real composer who doesn't feel the need to hide behind a PoMo mask.
Unfortunately, it doesn't last. "Medusa Runs the Voodoo Down" plugs the piano sound into a "battery of guitar electronics" operated by composer David Dramm, in homage not (as the title might suggest) to Miles Davis but to Xenakis' "Evryali" (whose title in translation refers to, amongst other things, Medusa's hair of serpents), and, it says here, Chicago blues harp player Little Walter. Indeed, if you try hard, you can spot a few blues licks under the layers of sonic muck that Dramm encrusts everything with, but it's like digging up five hundred square feet of wasteland in the driving rain in the hope of finding a 1€ coin - you get wet through, muddy and exhausted and when it's all over you haven't even got enough to buy yourself a beer. Great piano playing, shame about the music ("Sonnet 129" excepted).


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Electronica In Brief
by Dan Warburton
Quintet Avant
FLOPPY NAILS
Mego 059
Metamkine head honcho and sound artist Jérôme Noetinger assures me he's never heard of The Osmonds (he and fellow QA members Lionel Marchetti, Jean Pallandre, Marc Pichelin and Laurent Sassi came across the photo in an 1970s American lifestyles magazine), which is a shame, as a "reworking" of Little Jimmy's "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool" is long overdue. What we get instead on "Floppy Nails" (titular homage to Claes Oldenberg?) is a wild and wonderful mishmash of bleeps, bips, whooshes, cries, screams, operatic divas and songbirds (Pallandre, Pichelin and Sassi's field recording work on the Ouie-Dire label is well worth checking out), and that warm, dusty Revox reel-to-reel sound makes a welcome change from Mego's supercolliding screes of digital noise.
Kim Cascone / Richard Chartier / Taylor Deupree
AFTER
12k 1017
This 21-minute live set, recorded by Cascone, Chartier and Deupree in Montréal in April 2001, is beautifully sculpted, elegant and spacious - and nowhere near as "minimal" as some of their recent work. Indeed, there's a lot of activity going on, but the musicians shuffle elements around from foreground to background with consummate skill and studiously avoid the in-yer-face rips and snarls of Mego-style electronica. It's classy stuff, and yields much when subsequently "reconstructed" (about time we dispensed with the word "remix" for good) by each artist in turn. Cascone's Max/MSP software on "New World Rising (New Density Mix)" squeezes the final few minutes of the music through its own cracks to produce a compact, pulsing four and a half minutes, while Chartier's "Afterimage" distills its essence down to static drones punctuated by tiny bell sounds and frosty panning clicks. On "4+2_stil live" Deupree's loops crunch out a locked groove backbeat over which layers of gritty algorithmic crickets settle - things get alarmingly funky after about six minutes, but just when you finally expect the thumping 110bpm bass, Deupree pulls out the clicks and crackles and leaves you with the clouds. Accomplished and entertaining, if not as captivating as the three preceding tracks.
Arg
ARG
Sirr 2008
Arg is the debut album of Italian sound artist, saxophonist (and astrophysicist) Graziano Lella. "Classer l'enfance / La vie qui dort" is in three separate movements (separate index numbers on the disc might have been a good idea) which "can be composed and decomposed like a puzzle"- the composer namechecks author Georges Perec - it almost sounds like an invitation to load all three into the hard drive and do your own remix. It's gritty and engaging, and Lella's baritone sax playing (one assumes it is he) kicks ass. "Policicio" weaves an austere texture out of tiny vocal fragments, with Lella using silence very effectively to counterpoint the extreme register sonorities. On "Pomeriggio a Rovaniemi" (sourced from recordings of Lella's prepared bass guitar, though you'd probably never guess were it not for a few blasts of vicious amp buzz), Lella was apparently inspired by French director Robert Bresson "to use extreme compositional rigour with very poor materials", though Kevin Drumm's work also comes to mind. It's crunchy, challenging stuff to listen to, but slicing our inner ears to shreds once in a while is a good way to wake them up to the richness of sounds that surrounds us - after what has preceded it, the closing "Pupille gustative", whose source sounds are more diverse in origin, more easily recognisable and emotionally charged, is profoundly touching.
Skozey Fetisch
SPECTRAL FREIGHT
CIP CD09
Mark Jackman's first release since 1991's "momma:key" uses a wide range of source sounds from analog synths, radio interference, field recordings ("Subjective Fill" is a nightmare ride on a Japanese subway train) and even what sounds like Maria Callas ("Seize Frees") overdubbed for maximum queasiness. It's dense, at times overpowering stuff ("Symbiotic Film" will give your woofers a thrill), but tends at times towards the monotonous (especially the 17'36" of "Solar Fibrillation"). As you can see, all sixteen track titles follow the "SF" pattern of the artist's name and album title, and if SF is for San Francisco (where Jackman is based) and "science fiction", "structural frigidity", "staggeringly frustrating", "static frenzy", "sounds ferocious" also come to mind. Consume with moderation and keep out of the reach of children.
Richard Francis
THREE TRACKS
CMR3 3"CD
They don't come much more austere than this: compared to the rich if chilly textures of his work as Eso Steel, these three tracks - tracks more as in paths through a desolate windswept wasteland of rumbles and hums - are, as composer Richard Francis suggests, best appreciated on headphones, where the subtlety of Francis' manipulations of field recordings (though "field" sounds too cosy a word for a landscape as blasted and deserted as this) can manifest itself. Even so, they're as intimidating as the record's uniform beige sleeve. Francis was also behind the 20city label, whose intriguing releases have been documented elsewhere on this site. Elusive stuff.


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Improvisation In Brief
by Dan Warburton
Mike Khoury / Jason Shearer
FALLING BELLS: DUETS 2001
entropystudios@yahoo.com
This set of eleven rugged duets featuring violinist Mike Khoury and clarinettist Jason Shearer (though the photo shows him on sax) comes in a limited edition of 70 complete with apologies for "tape hiss, radio interference and pegged meters". No need to apologise, lads - the music's good and strong, with a keen sense of pitch and - something alarmingly unfashionable these days - melody. Both men have the knowledge of their instruments gained from years of good old-fashioned practice (also unfashionable these days), and use it well. Though not averse to extended techniques (Khoury puts his fiddle through hell on "Improvisation 5" and Shearer dismantles his clarinet), a sense of humour prevails. Choice cut: Shearer's affectionate Ivesian folk tootling on track four. God knows what Entropy Studios is (it sounds like a garage), but if these guys get near somewhere more state-of-the-art next time, I look forward to hearing more of their work with great interest.
Dafeldecker / Hautzinger / Sachiko M / Tilbury
ABSINTH
Grob 435
This quartet convened in the summer of 2001 to appear at the Nickelsdorf Konfrontationen festival and record this outstanding album (not to be confused with the Naked City album "Absinthe"!) in Christoph Amann's studios in Vienna. Grob regulars Werner Dafeldecker's lugubrious bass and Franz Hautzinger's otherworldly trumpet sounds are beautifully complimented by Sachiko M's sine wave sampler (she's finally abandoned the dental surgery high register squeals for a more gentle world of mid register clicks and tones), but the real master stroke here is the inclusion of John Tilbury on piano - "the dean of British new music" as the press release rightly describes him - whose ear for timbre and especially pitch is simply extraordinary (and pitch is a parameter all too easily overlooked in new improvised music). Tilbury brings his impressive track record as interpreter of Cage, Wolff, Feldman and Cardew -not to mention AMM - to bear on this fragile and delicate music, transforming a damn good session into a truly great one. Essential listening.
Allport:Olive
www.infrequency.ca
allportolive@yahoo.com
This small but elegant 3" CD (limited edition of 200) documents the work of guitarist Tim Olive and percussionist Jeffrey Allport, who, since a moment of epiphany in a loft in Osaka in 1998 when they realised that they should concentrate on "making only those sounds that needed to be made", join the growing movement of what Ed Pinsent amusingly (and astutely) refers to as the "not bothering you am I?" school of improvisation. Though the duo have forged strong links with likeminded souls in Japan (Tetuzi Akiyama, Taku Sugimoto and Taku Unami, who also mastered this recording), their music is closer in spirit to the microimprov bustle of nmperign, the Boston-based duo of Bhob Rainey and Greg Kelley (with whom Allport and Olive have also worked). Put another way, if you play this at normal volume during the day, you probably won't even know it's on; this is another one of those recordings I appreciate best at 4am.. If you're new to the genre, this will probably either bore you senseless or scare the hell out of you, but if you're in a lowercase frame of mind, it's right up your street.
Tom Djll
BLASTED RUSTBUCKET
www.stringsandmachines.com 3"CD
One day, in an ideal world, trendy festival curators like Victo's Michel Levasseur (whose "innovations" this year include an all-star concert featuring four double basses - horreurs!) will assemble the Extended Trumpet Big Band: Axel Dörner, Greg Kelley, Franz Hautzinger, Matt Davis, Masafumi Ezaki - and Tom Djll (who has, in fact, been making noises like this on the horn for well over a decade). Djll, who memorably described his excellent album with Jack Wright, Matt Ingalls and Bhob Rainey as "like a kitten being born in a shoebox in a dark closet", sounds like he's still in that closet here, though maybe "blasted rustbucket" also refers to the place of recording, the decks of Oakland CA's Artship. References above to a microimprov big band are, of course, flippant: this is very much solo music, and best appreciated as an individual listening experience on headphones. Here's to more on PNMR Founding Father Hugh Livingston's mini-CD imprint.


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Painful but Fabulous
PAINFUL BUT FABULOUS
THE LIVES & ART OF GENESIS P-ORRIDGE
Soft Skull Shortwave 200pp
by Dan Warburton
Born in Manchester on May 22nd 1949 as Neil Megson, Genesis P-Orridge (the name he took in 1971 in homage to his favourite breakfast - good job it wasn't Froot Loops) is a rich and complex figure whose importance to the world of performance art, painting and music is beyond doubt. "Painful but Fabulous" opens with seven pages of quotations praising P-Orridge's life/work - the two are inextricably linked - from the likes of William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Michael Gira, Robin Rimbaud, John Peel and Charles Manson (!) plus a few less charitable impressions of the man, notably by Conservative MP Nicholas Fairbairn, who, in kicking up a veritable shitstorm about the artist's infamous "Prostitution" show at London's ICA in 1976, probably did more to advance P-Orridge's career than anyone else.
This 200-page book contains no less than 150 photographs of P-Orridge (probably more if the bound, pierced and partially mutilated body in some of the disturbing shots of COUM Transmissions performances is that of the artist himself), and includes ten extended articles, two of which are interviews, on P-Orridge's work. Two of these are penned by Genesis himself, and he also provides the introduction. Though hardly an autobiography, the document comes with an official GP-O seal of approval, which means that all the contributing writers are at in sympathy with - if not awe of - the man and his vast body of work. In both the introduction and especially in the interviews P-Orridge comes across as pragmatic, even likeable, a shrewd observer of contemporary mores and culture with a lively sense of humour. "He's a sweetie. A trickster for sure, but not a demon from hell. Just a guy on the edge - living there in order to show the rest of us where that edge is," writes Douglas Rushkoff, who drove the artist and his daughters down the coast of California to meet Timothy Leary when P-Orridge chose to flee England after the confiscation of his personal archives by the British police. "Unless you really know the baker, don't confuse him for the cakes," adds Monte Cazazza, one of P-Orridge's closest American collaborators and Industrial Culture's more colourful figures.
Rewind to 1969. After a traumatic English public school education, Neil Megson enrolled on a Social Sciences course at the University of Hull, but dropped out in 1969 and hitchhiked down to London (to see the Stones and Pink Floyd, of course). He ended up staying with Gerald Fitzgerald's Exploding Galaxy commune in Islington Park Street, and the experience marked him for life: "The walls were just knocked out so that the toilet and bathroom were completely exposed, so that anyone who wanted to go to the toilet or have a bath were doing it in public. There was nothing hidden.. and we were not allowed to sleep in the same place two nights running.. In the morning when you got up, there was a big box in the centre of the room and that's where all the interesting clothes were. It was first come first serve, and if it was female clothes you pulled out, then you were female that day, or an elf.. Whatever you pulled out was what you were. You owned nothing, including identity. You didn't exist, you were merely this strange energy which passed through everything and never repeated itself and didn't own or possess even a place to sleep. It was really rigorous."
Returning to Hull, P-Orridge and fellow adventurers set up a similar commune of performance artists, COUM Transmissions, in a house at 8 Prince Street, whose costume room included the Alien Brain, "a hat with a brain on it made out of bits of TV sets and stuff", which members of the group could wear at the weekend. "You didn't do it as a performance, you did it for the whole weekend, you were the character, and you lived it and spoke it. [..] I think people thought we were completely crazy; to dare to do that in Hull, right near the docks, if we were prepared to walk around like that we were either insane or dangerous." (The local police, naturally, took a keen interest in proceedings at 8 Prince Street, but by 1973 the group were more often on the road performing in Europe.)
Another key encounter for P-Orridge was his meeting with William Burroughs. The influence of Burroughs and Gysin's cut-up techniques soon made itself felt in both P-Orridge's mail art (hilarious and disturbing collages using images culled from the tabloid press, porn magazines and postcards of the Royal Family) and in COUM works such as Coumceptual Painting N° 3: "Every hour on the hour seven minutes of recording were made. No matter where or what sounds were occurring. Then when both hour-long sides of the tape were filled, every half hour 3 minutes exactly were then over-recorded. Then immediately afterwards 4 minutes played back at the same volume [..] People hearing it absorbed it unconsciously as part of the noise around them. If it plays back a car going past, they'll think forever a car went past somewhere near them when they heard it. [..] A reversal of time. You get three minutes of the present before four minutes of the past, yet the past is simultaneously transferred into the present." (It seems that P-Orridge has a knack for pulling the past into the present: the interview with Richard Metzger, "Annihilating Reality" is notable for his claim to have met Aleister Crowley (who died two years before Gen was born) in Gatley, Cheshire in 1957: "This old guy caught up with me and started talking to me. He had a shaved baldhead and as he was talking to me the streets started to change: the houses started to look like they were made of bread [..] I was going fast, but I wasn't getting anywhere. And he patted me on the shoulder and left.")
P-Orridge notes that Burroughs "was very clear that not only was this [cut-up technique] a political thing, but you could change reality, you could make something happen; what would once be called magic. And that really interested me. That one could actually reprogram physical reality as well as mental consciousness." (Most people, though, don't like their reality reprogrammed - in 1975 P-Orridge was prosecuted and fined for his mail art: "At that time in Britain, jury trials on anything obscene had failed. So they charged me with indecent mail [..] the idea is that if one person anywhere complains that they are offended by what they've seen, it's indecent. One of the people working in the mail sorting office had seen one of my postcards and was offended. Therefore I was guilty.") P-Orridge also echoes Burroughs idea that homo sapiens' days are numbered and it's time to "work towards the next species [..] moving towards the portal of the inconceivable without fear or expectation. That's the door I wish to pass through. I'm up for change and adventure and I'm in it for the duration." (In the pursuit of adventure P-Orridge's own days were nearly numbered: during a COUM performance in Antwerp he ate poisonous tree bark and plants, washed them down with a bottle of whisky and starting cutting patterns in his skin with rusty nails, regaining consciousness in a hospital emergency room with a doctor shining a torch into his eyes and pronouncing him dead.)
The most infamous COUM event was the 1976 "Prostitution" show at London's ICA - literally a couple of stones throws from Buckingham Palace - whose shock imagery (including maggots and girlfriend Cosey Fanni Tutti's used tampons) provoked an outrage in the British gutter press (lovingly reproduced here) and catapulted P-Orridge into the news as the "vilest man in Britain". It couldn't have been a better time to start a rock band - but P-Orridge, Cosey, Pete "Sleazy" Christopherson and Chris Carter, collectively known as Throbbing Gristle (Yorkshire slang for hardon) were no run-of-the-mill punk outfit. P-Orridge prefers to describe the group as "a chaotic research lab." The distinctive and extraordinary TG sound came from hours spent living (and sleeping) together. "My favourite times were when I'd touch the bass guitar and the wood on the stage would start to vibrate my feet. [..] My body was absolutely at the mercy of the sound. And THEN things would come through and then voices would come through and words would come through and dynamics and textures would come through.."
This is Gen's book though, folks, so don't expect the TG story to be retold here. Maybe it's too well known (not only has the famous 24 hour box set been reissued, but the mythic First Annual Report album has now also surfaced), as are the origins of his next group Psychic TV and its spin-off fanclub-cum-cult Thee Temple Ov Psychic Youth. "Painful but Fabulous" may provide exhaustive lists of P-Orridge's published work but there is hardly any mention of the essential creative input of his fellow musicians. Psychic TV's 109 recordings - an extraordinary outpouring - are listed but not discussed. Nor is there a Throbbing Gristle discography (and though Simon Ford's is theoretically available at www.genesisp-orridge.com the page wasn't available when I tried).
"Because the stuff I wanted to do was so gruelling, and took me to such strange mental and physical places, it seemed inappropriate to do it for the public," P-Orridge notes. Since the early 1980s he has been producing "sigils" - he borrows Austin Osman Spare's term to describe "magical" artworks he makes according to strict rules of collective participation: TOPY members are invited to engage in sexual activity at precisely co-ordinated times ("thee moment ov orgasm is central to thee process") and subsequently send in examples of sperm, blood, pubic hair or whatever to be incorporated into P-Orridge's artwork. Paul Cecil provides an erudite but rather dry essay on the subject in "The Metaphysics of Sigils" (peppered with quotations from Alfred North Whitehead's well-nigh impenetrable "Process and Reality"), but what good is a photograph of these things?
Julie Wilson's "As It Is" provides interesting biographical information and a few choice quotations, notably from Jung ("possibilities of this sort seem utterly fantastic to anyone who has not experienced them himself, for a moral person 'knows what he thinks'… [..] This increase in self-knowledge is still very rare nowadays and is usually paid for in advance with a neurosis, if not with something worse"), but Wilson can't resist including her own mildly sycophantic email transcripts, and the essay comes across more as adoring fan mail than critical issue-taking. "E am trying to integrate my body and brain (ego) and then lose them. Negate them to set thee deeper magickal self free to travel into other dimensions and time zones to try and retrieve or locate information and revelation and bring it back," writes P-Orridge. Fair enough, but it might have been of interest to readers to know exactly why he writes "the" as "thee", "I" as "E" and "but" as "butter"..
Despite Industrial Culture's clear links to the blasted, broken Britain of the late 1970s, many of P-Orridge's ideas are affectionate, even nostalgic, glimpses to the utopian transcendentalism of the late Sixties, notably the notion that "anything that you sample contains everything that happened to the person at that moment, so if I sample John Lennon's voice, I also sample everything about the Beatles.. it's all contained in the smallest piece of that sample.. which is a very powerful thing." P-Orridge openly expresses great admiration for Brian Jones' "discovery" of the Master Musicians of Jajouka (which "represented a seminal moment in contemporary musical culture, the moment when Jones [..] effectively reseeded the divine into popular music," comments Wilson). There's even a photo of Gen laying flowers on Jones' grave (sorry to seem cynical, but I can't help recalling David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls in Spinal Tap outside Graceland).
"I was an idealist and a utopian, and I still am," writes P-Orridge. "I believed without exception that everyone had some skill, some ability to do something completely unique that was only theirs that would add something to the world. But the education system [..] conspires deliberately to suppress that genius factor. You are not encouraged to find your marvellous skill, the thing that you see that no one else sees, that you have an absolute right to see and to express to others."
It is in this interview with Carol Tessitore, "Painful but Fabulous", that P-Orridge is at his most revealing, especially when he confronts the issue of his own identity. ("There was a point when Neil was forgotten by Genesis. It's a question that puzzles me - does Neil still exist? Or was he erased by Genesis almost like a monster or parasite in one of those movies where the creation takes over the creator. I'm Genesis, and I think I killed Neil.") He also addresses some of today's central cultural issues with clarity and humanity: "We're in the first age where everybody can communicate with just about everybody else, even people in caves in Afghanistan can use satellite phones to talk to people in America. I don't think anyone has fully understood the implications. I think television and global media are really the culprits for the disillusion and destruction of serious, thoughtful and spiritual culture. [..] For many people the ultimate achievement in life would be to be on television for a minute. That's a profound indictment of the sterility of the Western cultural vision." In true Burroughs style, he is painfully aware of the power of mass media and telecommunications and its consequences: "It struck me that privacy is taboo. People say to me 'Why haven't you got a cell phone?' They're in shock, 'poor poor baby, hasn't got a cell phone, that must be terrible.' I value my privacy and I like to choose whom I speak to."
While we wait, then, for Genesis P-Orridge to choose to speak to someone with the time (and courage) to undertake a complete and detailed biography, "Painful but Fabulous" is about the best we can do. In the meantime, maybe P-Orridge will also get round to fulfilling his ambition as stated to Metzger in "Annihilating Reality": "I want to write a really good book of amusingly arcane ideas that could help some people come to terms with and be blessed by the weird mystery of being alive."


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New on Emanem
by Dan Warburton
Lunge
STRONG LANGUAGE
Emanem 4079
Amsterdam's Bimhuis is a great place to play - superb acoustic, spacious stage, good piano, comfortable seats, well-stocked bar and record stand for the discerning public - and on June 1st 2002 it certainly brought out the best in these four fine visitors from London. Trombonist Gail Brand is all over her instrument (the virtuosity of George Lewis comes to mind on a number of occasions), just as at ease producing lovely high register melodies - yes, melodies - as she is digging around with her mute in the dirty low end. Phil Durrant took his violin and his Powerbook, and uses both to great effect, and while pianist Pat Thomas is more discreet on "White Writeable Area", he's his usual ebullient self on "No Filters". And drummer Mark Sanders must have eaten a lion before taking to the stage, as his drumming on the opening "Planarchy" is beyond belief. There's an extraordinary range of music on offer here, from the groove - yes, groove - of "Planarchy" to the spare, wiry textures that open "Rough With The Smooth", and the inclusion of two tracks recorded back (back!) in 2000 (Martin Davidson likes to fill up CDs with as much music as possible: this one's quite short by Emanem standards at 61'32") shows exactly how far all four musicians have moved on since their first album "Braced & Framed" (Acta 13, 1999). The only gripe is that these two closing pieces, despite being very fine in their own right, do detract somewhat from the power of the Amsterdam set, but, such quibbles aside, there's enough on "Strong Language" to keep you enthralled for years to come.
Charlotte Hug
NEULAND
Emanem 4085
During her recent stay in London, Swiss violist Charlotte Hug discovered the House of Detention, a damp and claustrophobic subterranean prison that inspired the ten-movement suite of the same name that forms the central part of this extraordinary solo album (her second). No stranger to odd performance space (she's also played in ice caves in the Rhône glacier and soundproofed torture chambers), Hug uses her surroundings as a means of exploring the acoustic reality of her instrument, by reinterpreting her own improvised drawings ("Sonicons") made on site - with extraordinary results. Incredible as it may seem, there is no multitracking or electronic jiggery-pokery on "Neuland": instead, Hug, like Greek cellist Nikos Veliotis (also resident in London until recently), has gone right back to basics - the bow. On "Delirium" she uses a "softbow" (Veliotis calls his variant a "Bachbow"), with a special lock on the frog that allows her to play all four strings of the instrument simultaneously. (Most of the time, the physical shape of the instrument's bridge allows for two notes to be sounded at once, or three if you're prepared to accept a vicious scratching, but never four.) Elsewhere, she uses a "twistbow" and a "wet bow" (pretty self-explanatory, but you should hear the sounds they produce), and various preparations and scordatura (different tunings), but the majority of the amazing sounds she produces originate in standard string techniques pushed to the limit. Authentic extended technique, if you will.
All of this might sound rather dry and technical, but the music that results is spellbinding, visceral and disturbing. In the brief history of improvised music there have been plenty of great solo bass albums, and a handful of top-notch solo violin albums (Michael Goldstein and Phil Durrant's work comes to mind, though for sheer extremes only Polly Bradfield's long deleted Parachute album comes close to this), but so far the sonic potential of the viola has remained unexplored. Not any more. Forget the dreary anaemic twiddling of Mat Maneri - "Neuland" is best goddamn thing that's happened to the viola since Berlioz's "Harold In Italy."
Markus Eichenberger
DOMINO CONCEPT FOR ORCHESTRA
Emanem 4084
Though the Emanem label is normally associated with the English improvised music scene that Martin Davidson has so tirelessly championed for nearly three decades, his label has in recent years produced three of the most impressive albums featuring improvising large ensembles - Masashi Harada's Condanction Ensemble (Emanem 4041), the LIO (documented on several Emanem releases, none of which needs introduction here) and now Markus Eichenberger's Zürich-based Domino concept. Growing out of clarinettist Eichenberger's Workshop for Improvised Music, a thirteen-strong Swiss-German ensemble came together to develop Eichenberger's concept (unfortunately not explained in as much detail as I would have preferred in Steff Roarbach's notes). Similar in line-up both to Georg Gräwe's GrussenklangOrchester and Wolfgang Fuchs' King Übü Örchestrü (in a blind test I identified Eichenberger's album as the latter, confusing trombonist Paul Hubweber for Radu Malfatti - apologies to both men, and remind me never to allow myself to be blindtested on my own record collection again), but with added strings, Domino Concept is glorious proof that big band improv doesn't have to descend into sweaty mud wrestling to make its point. Eichenberger's chipped, bristling clarinets are particularly impressive throughout, and the static drones of violin and viola (respectively Helmut Bieler-Wendt and Charlotte Hug) in Part II form a delicate backdrop to Ivano Torre's percussion and the breathy, sensual vocalisms of Marianne Schuppe and Dorothea Schürch. Change, when it comes, is handled masterfully; one could almost suspect the presence of a score somewhere, or least some pretty well-worked out conduction (particularly half way through Part III). A rewarding album, but one that needs some good concentrated listening to yield up its treasures.


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Independence Daze: the world of the Reverend Dwight Frizzell

 

by Dan Warburton
Originally published in Signal To Noise #25, Spring 2002
"If you get up in the air far enough, the laws here do not concern you. Space is the place." - Sun Ra
"I've had plane crash dreams ever since I can remember. A passenger plane out of control, on fire going down, a tolling bell hanging from an emergency exit. I see it overhead and then hear it crash in the distance. When I was six, my parents told me the story (and showed me a photograph) of a single-prop plane crash that my father survived before I was born. It killed his older brother, Junior, who would have been my uncle. My dad was in a coma for three days and later recovered. The dreams are sometimes triggered by planes or helicopters flying over while I sleep. There's a small municipal airport about forty-five blocks away and police and life-flight helicopters frequently buzz. When I first moved to Kansas City in 1980, I'd often wake up in the middle of the night, heart racing, in a sweat, a helpless observer in a plane crash dream. I've gotten used to the planes that fly over, but when I have a crash dream, I'm horrified and yet comforted that this part of my childhood is still with me. This event resonates in my work in ways sometimes conscious, as in my sci-fi opera "Space Egg" where a mysterious object crashes through a cockpit plexiglass and pierces Defense Pilot Nietzsche's pressurized suit. He's suspended between life and death while flying forty-two miles above Kansas, and is visited by Death, his Mother, Lea, the Cow Goddess, and Willy, the Electrician."
Until we get to that bit about Nietzsche and Willy the Electrician, this could be just about anyone speaking, but those familiar with the work of composer, performer and film maker Reverend Dwight Frizzell won't be at all surprised to see figures as diverse as Nietzsche, Harry Truman, the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Max Ernst and Sun Ra pop up in - or forty-two miles above - the state of Missouri.
Dwight Frizzell was born in 1956 and grew up in Independence, Missouri. "A rather conservative community. Very church-going, very Mormon. They not only believe that Independence is the site of paradise, but also THE place, the apocalypse centre, where Jesus is going to return and the New Temple's going to be built. They set a cornerstone on the lot where Joseph Smith was in the 19th century. That's about a block and a half from where I grew up." (In such a religious environment, it's perhaps not surprising that Frizzell got himself ordained, but his decision to do so in 1974 was taken for more mundane reasons: to avoid the draft. He wrote off to the Universal Church of Life and subsequently acquired all the legal rights of a minister. "I perform weddings all the time. I take it very seriously.")
Independence was also, of course, home to President Harry Truman. "Harry Truman was my neighbor. Growing up in Independence, having the neighbor that dropped the Atomic bomb, I saw Independence as a kind of sister city to Hiroshima. A place where not only the Apocalypse might happen, according to the Mormons, but a place where the Apocalypse in a way had happened, and was always happening."
Frizzell, like Truman, was a frequent visitor to the Midcontinent Public Library, and his local barber George Miller was also Truman's. The aging President, accompanied by his bodyguard, once had to wait for Miller to finish cutting young Dwight's hair while the Dick Van Dyke Show blared out of the barbershop TV. "All I could think about was the bomb," recalls Frizzell. "I was going to ask him why, but I just couldn't vocalise it. I took his jittering hands to be an answer." Obsessed with Truman, Frizzell even went as far as stealing Bess Truman's garbage in 1976, four years after he'd shot footage of Harry's funeral for use in his film "Harry's Shadow."
The Reverend's musical activities first came to the attention of the local press and public through the release of his extraordinary album "Anal Magic: Beyond the Black Crack", reissued three years ago on Paradigm, a label run by Morphogenesis' Clive Graham. The story of how Frizzell (aged 19) recorded the album, "a thick and adolescent tale" according to the Rev., is documented in detail in a fascinating in-depth interview with Ed Pinsent published as issue 8 of "The Sound Projector" (2000) and is strongly recommended reading. Even so, it's worth recalling how a limited edition LP pressed up and sold to a handful of friends leaked out into the world outside Independence Missouri's 2nd RDLS Church Chili Supper..
"Although only two hundred copies of the Beyond the Black Crack LP were pressed (with original silk-screened covers, a booklet and poster) and sold in-advance to subscribers willing to finance the project, I had about a dozen copies left. It made a little splash locally and led to some new work (the additional tracks on the CD reissue were recorded soon after the LP had hit), but by 1982 it already seemed impossibly old to me. My video installation "Sunset Event" was being shown in Paris at the Museum of Contemporary Art and I had been strongly urged (by Alvin Curran) to go, so when some people from the Spiked Dog Collar in LA called - they were getting freaky about the LP and wanted copies, I decided to sell almost all I had left to help fund my trip. I think I got $10 or $12 a piece (which was high back then). I don't know how much the originals are worth now, but a Japanese woman brought one to my Klinker gig in London and I was flabbergasted."
Part of the album's cult status is due to its appearance on the legendary "list" included with the first Nurse With Wound album, "Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella". For adventurous souls in search of strange and obscure music, everything selected by NWW's Steven Stapleton instantly became highly sought-after. "I believe the Nurse with Wound folks found a kindred spirit and experimentalist in my LP - the music, the approach to sound and environmental composition, the humor, the sci-fi apocalyptic narrative associations, the freshness/naiveté/honesty, the aspect of music with a life of its own, and the mix of popular and improv musical forms creeping in."
Frizzell doesn't consider the album to have been very influential, nor avant-garde in being ahead of its time. "It's very much of its time, which may be why some of these like-minded artists connected with and referenced it. My pieces aren't really avant-garde, because they are rooted in everyday soundscapes and influences that we [who live here] experience."
Even so, when Graham called to express his interest in reissuing "Beyond the Black Crack", Frizzell agreed. "A lot of work had developed since then, so we reached an agreement that if the CD reissue did well, we'd do a second disc that would include some newer material - what I'm currently engaged in always seems the most fascinating. I found the edit master to the first side of the LP and almost all of the source recordings for both sides (reel to reels), and started to carefully restore and transfer them, using some EQ, a BBE Sonic Maximizer, a Lexicon processor, and Peylon on the tapes to keep them from squeaking during the transfers. I reconstructed all of side one, replacing segments that were problematic technically or aesthetically with other similar (but in my opinion better) segments from all the recordings. Damn, the original project had been an immense undertaking - the hours of recordings, the copious notes, all the edits (from one ATR to another). The engineer who did the LP mastering must have been totally flipped by all the out-of-phase material in the recordings when he looked at it on a scope. (And compressing the grooves to fit 27 minutes onto the Other Cheek side of the record would have had the stylus jumping out of the grooves all the time, so on the LP it became mono.) It was a huge time soak to recreate, but I learned something incredibly valuable about my own ears. I heard into these recordings how I had listened when I was 19 years old and it was different - a surprisingly fresh approach unfettered by the succeeding years of commercial production. "Turtle Music", for example, unfolded so slowly, everything took its own time like breathing, and subtle sounds such as the phase shifts due to unusual environmental echoes were allowed to have their quiet place."
This extraordinary piece, a veritable precursor of today's environmental improv, was recorded in McCoy Park in Independence, at night, with Frizzell playing his flutes and percussion on top of an artificial pyramid, capturing the singular acoustics of the sound echoing off a corrugated concrete wall. "It was so different from the very American approach of get-in-there, get the hook up front and keep it full frequency and skanking until the end, all compressed into a maximum of four minutes. Despite the adolescent goofiness, there was something of value that helped me listen again with fresh ears. I am very indebted to Clive Graham for being the catalyst to reminding me of something so personal and basic that I had obscured. When I sent him the fruit of my labor, he said: "Where's the beat here? This section is missing two beats! What happened to this scream? This overlap is shorter!" He knew the entire album by heart, event by event, the sound inside every sound, much better than I did after not listening to it for over twenty years. I'd tried to improve on the old project, to compose afresh with the archaic tapes, and Clive wanted it restored as exactly and faithfully as possible! I ended up sending him all the transfers to DAT (many done at the MARR Sound Archives) and he assembled it on the CD in its original stereo version. The hours he spent! It took almost a year with Clive to restore it."
"To be real is to be surrounded by mystery." - John Cage
Even a quarter of a century on, "Beyond the Black Crack" still sounds amazingly weird (if you're prepared to overlook several bursts of exuberant adolescent toilet humor) and without apparent precedent. It seems though that experimentalism ran in the family: "My dad was a professional welder, experimented with electricity, and built radio towers, tractors, go-karts, trailers...He had no pretense of being an artist, but created several interesting installations. My favorite was one for an oven-timer sitting inside an audio speaker (used as a microphone) hooked up to a preamp connected to an AM radio transmitter (installed in the basement) transmitting to three radio receivers (two in our apartment upstairs and one in the car parked out front). Wherever you walked in and around the house and front porch, you could hear the oven-timer ticking from multiple points, creating subtle phase shifting beats according to your placement in the radiophonic array. When I was 12, he brought home an old Army issue vacuum tube audio oscillator which could produce a sine wave from 20 Hz-200 kHz! I hooked it up to an amplifier and speaker and did all kinds of experiments. It had heating elements inside to keep it at a constant temperature and frequency output, and a dial, very convenient to play, that would sweep anywhere in 200 Hz increments (with a x10, x100, x1000 switch at the side). I created pieces where I would turn the oscillator on at a constant output, say 7 kHz, and then you could follow a series of arrows (drawn on paper and placed across the floor) to direct your movements while walking through the house. In this way, each listener was performing the music of the piece, with ripple effects across the ears, Doppler shifts, and different resonances in different rooms. This same oscillator was used back in 1977 to create the "Copulation of Helio and Selene" sequence in "The Wandering Madness of Basilea, the Great Mother" (one of the additional tracks on the "Beyond the Black Crack" CD) by filtering it through a funky amp (via vacuum tube extraction and replacement) and creating multiple tape loops on several reel to reel tape recorders. I also used it in the 1995 version of Scrat (opening cut on the "Natural Selection" CD)."
The story of Frizzell senior's domestic installations recalls John Cage, whose father was also an inventor. Not surprisingly, Frizzell is a fan. "Cage has always been an inspiration and sage-like presence. I was first introduced to his music and ideas when I was thirteen. I think it was "HPSCHD" (the old Nonesuch LP, still have it, with the instructions for tone/balance/volume), and then Calvin Thompson's book "The Bride and the Bachelors". I was a convert: when he came to the University of Kansas in Lawrence in 1980, I had to go meet him." Frizzell was working at PennyLane Records at the time, and was a staff writer for The Pitch newspaper, an entertainment monthly he later edited for two years. With Jay Mandeville, a friend from Independence and long-time collaborative writer, he drove to Lawrence to cover the event (at the time they wrote together under the name Charles Chance, Jr.). "Cage was doing presentations for the music and art history departments at KU. The music people were simply freaked out and rather awkward in his presence, and the history people were gloating the whole time." Though obviously somewhat in awe of Cage, Frizzell didn't seem overly freaked out himself; witness this extract from his (and Mandeville's) report of the proceedings: "I had a hard time containing myself meeting Cage. I had momentarily mistaken him for my Aunt Gussie, a hairdresser who uncannily had hand, gum and teeth movements (during speech) identical to Cage's. I gathered my thoughts and received Cage's permission to take his portrait. "This will take less than a minute," I explained. "And the source, instead of being something we necessarily see, is a specialized photography--the Polaroid snapshot. Of course any media may be used to make this Instant Self-Realized Snap-Shot Portrait or ISRSP." Cage seemed intrigued as I opened my eyes wide and stared him in the face. "I have just exposed," I explained, closing my eyes. "Now I'm developing." My hands were drawing wildly on a large tablet. Within seconds the portrait was completed. Cage looked it over carefully, seemed pleased, then rolled it up to carry with him. "Where are you from?" he asked. "Kansas City where I studied at the Art Institute," I answered. "I hear they have a most wonderful Shiva there," Cage added. "Yes, I live just down the street from the Shiva.""
In 1982, Frizzell and his group the Black Crack Revue performed twice at the alternative concert series associated with the New Music America festivities in Chicago. "I remember meeting Roscoe Mitchell, Pauline Oliveros, Ruth Anderson, Charlie Morrow and Charles Amirkhanian after one set. Cage was guest of honor and went everywhere attending everything. Glenn Branca was the most controversial performer that year, with a piece entitled "Indeterminate Activity of Resultant Mass." Cage was sitting in front of me when three of Branca's motley load of punks surrounded him and started verbally abusing him, giving him shit. I couldn't believe it! These kids were insulting the man who had opened up so many possibilities for each of us! I was about to spring to his defense when I witnessed his very kind and measured response - he quietly, very respectfully, answered all their questions, letting their insults slide right off."
Also that year, Frizzell briefly met Conlon Nancarrow in Paris. "I heard the "Studies for Player Piano" in that acoustically perfect IRCAM recital hall, with a slide show and the composer himself present. Roger Reynolds provided a very snooty pedagogical introduction (I'm sure the Parisian intelligencia slurped it up) before Cage gave a marvelous, light-hearted talk comparing Nancarrow to Satie. Amirkhanian's recordings from Conlon's Mexico City basement sounded great - loud, as preferred. Conlon was mortified in front of the audience, and Cage sat next to him and helped him out answering questions (he didn't have any problem with mine about who his favorite jazz recording artists were: Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines and Cecil Taylor!). His son David invited me to the reception after the concert, but Reynolds began hassling me, asking me who I was, trying to get rid of me. I got the message and ducked out. I was glad enough just to have made the contact. Nancarrow had such an ole time Arkansas drawl. I felt an affinity with his humble presence."
"I was born with the Space Age and Laika, the spacedog, was my nickname after the launch of the first Bio-Sat in 1957." - Revd. Dwight Frizzell
For newcomers to the Reverend's universe, last year's Sparkling Beatnik album "Bullfrog Devildog President" is a perfect introduction, being somewhat more diverse and approachable than "Beyond the Black Crack". The President in question is, of course, Truman, (though the Reverend claims to have seen all the U.S. Presidents since Truman pass through town), featured here as a performer: while searching for a recording of Harry's notorious whistling, Frizzell came across an archive performance of Harry playing "Black Hawk Waltz" on piano, which appears in five increasingly disembodied versions on the album.
Exploring what he calls the "historiophony" of his region led to the composition of "The Irish Wilderness", which collages field recordings, church organs and extracts of Irish folk music in a depiction of the hardship suffered by Irish immigrants arriving in Missouri in the mid nineteenth century. "Appalling Heart" features a text written by the eccentric Dada poetess Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, whose work Frizzell came across as a result of his extensive reading. "I keep exploring basic concepts of identity - distinctions between self/other, human/natural, wilderness/civilization - and what happens when these differences evaporate or become permeable. The consciousness-altering effects of psychotropics, and the people who write their perceptual narratives while in this state have long been areas of research for me. I heard about the Baroness probably first from reading Duchamp, then in a wonderful anthology "Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady: Women's Writings on the Drug Experience" and then later in Rothenberg's anthology "Revolution of the Word". Her writings are dark and impressive."
Patricia Johnson sings the text and Frizzell is credited on the track as providing "body-dubbed heartbeat and Galvanic skin response". He explains: "A galvanic skin response device measures the skin's electrical resistance which is always changing with your sweat associated with physical and emotional shifts. It's used in lie-detection, although this one triggers a sinewave generator, a biofeedback device used here as a way to body-dub myself (multitrack) with the voice, getting my heart in sync with the nuance, the grain in each of Patricia's words and sighs as I listened to it on headphones and simultaneously recorded my heartbeat and skin response."
This willingness to incorporate extra-musical scientific phenomena as musical elements in their own right or as the basis of musical notation is also evident in "Scrat", (here in a live version) whose instrumental parts are graphic notations from the phenomena as described in the notes, including events as diverse as solar storm activity and "male courtship songs of the Drasophila Virilis". These, Frizzell explains, take the form of X/Y graphs from scientific readings with musicians setting relative pitch relations within their instruments' ranges, and within prescribed time limits in the score.
Two tracks on the album were recorded in London in April 2000 with an ensemble (featuring Clive Graham) going under the name of "Anamnesis". Though recorded at the Red Rose, a mythic venue long associated with British improvised music, Frizzell is at pains to distance them from the improv tradition: "I don't use the term "improvisation" (not that there's anything particularly wrong with it, as I play in some folk styles where improv is central) - I like to refer to what Anamnesis does as "real-time composition", because it's a more accurate description. We worked out the flow of events, various clouds of activity and relationships in advance, with an emphasis always on being in the moment and trying to wake up to what we have always known but didn't realize until we were there together. Hence Anamnesis (meaning "waking up to what you already know", but also, curiously, the name of a local kebab restaurant)."
After the reissue of "Beyond the Black Crack", Clive Graham followed up on his agreement to release more Frizzell material with the album "Natural Selection", which includes an extended version of "Scrat", four early soundtracks from the Reverend's experimental films, a track called "Film making" which is in fact a recording of one of his film shoots followed by some deliciously weird outtakes, and the epic "Building the Earth", a 28-minute meditation on creation based on texts by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin". This ambitious work for three instrumental groups, tapes, radio, sound spatialization and seedless grapes (!) was conceived for and recorded in St Mary's Episcopal Church in Kansas City and expands by "zones" from the local to the intergalactic. It's an extraordinarily dense, almost Mahlerian work collaging hymn tunes, nuclear attack warnings, pianists practising scales, birdsong and archive recordings of political speeches, and is arguably the Reverend's masterpiece to date.
"I use derision to evade the serious to such an extent that I've been considered a joker most of the time, whereas, for me, humour and derision are part and parcel of philosophical work at its most serious." - Luc Ferrari
Dwight Frizzell's work is shot through with a healthy dose of oddball humor, both verbal and musical. Die-hard avant-gardists who take life and music too seriously can have a hard time with the cabaret antics of the Black Crack Revue, Frizzell's working band for the past two decades, but they would do well to remember that the group's openness to jazz, rock and other manifestations of popular music culture is totally in sync with a long line of American Experimentalism, from Charles Ives to Frank Zappa. The at times naïve (in the sense of Art Naïf) use of documentary in Frizzell's radio profiles of John Cage and Max Ernst for the series "From Ark to Microchip" is maybe tongue-in-cheek but in essence not far-removed from the all-embracing compositional philosophy of Ives, whose ghost is probably out there digging "Building the Earth."
"There are many ghosts around these parts," Frizzell gleefully acknowledges. William Burroughs liked to frequent Sanderson's and Nichol's Cafes (both just a few blocks away from where the Reverend Dwight lives), and Frizzell met him on a few occasions, but never visited him at his house in Lawrence. "He was a wonderfully apocalyptic and looming presence - very appropriate that he came to mummify here.. Curiously, Tristan Tzara is still listed in the phone book, and there's also an H. Ball and a M. Duchamp - this must be a retirement community for Dadaists!"
Apart from dead Dada poets, several giants of jazz continue to haunt Kansas City, as one might expect. "The best jazz ghost story I personally experienced was back in the mid-80s when BCR rehearsed in a loft at 3925 Main (I now live two blocks east of this space) rented by our then bassist Jeff Rendlen and his girlfriend. One tune we practised endlessly was Jeff's "Breakfast Atiphonal", a tribute to the great bass player Oscar Pettiford (on BCR's 1987 LP "Which Earth Are We On?"). Imagine how we freaked out when we read in The Kansas City Star that Pettiford was once arrested for playing jazz after hours in a loft at 3925 Main! And [Charlie] Parker's everywhere of course. Where my wife and I eat breakfast on Sunday mornings, Fedora's, is where he had his first pay gig with McShann's band. I like to remind audiences that the stage I'm standing on was once occupied by Ra and the Arkestra, or Parker and McShann, especially when we are playing their material. I feel I've absorbed some of it myself (swing seems so natural to me and I consider it my cultural heritage, the center of my soul, to be Afro-American - at least this is the heritage that I owe the most to. Even so, I think of myself as more of a folk player, rather than a genius technician (which is what's required to be a jazz master); harmonic invention is not at the core of how I hear things or think in musical terms."
Frizzell befriended the late Step Buddy Anderson and also recorded several interviews with Milton Morris, the club owner who worked with Basie and Billie Holiday, but his most enduring relationship with a jazz giant was with Sun Ra, whom he met in Chicago in 1980, an amazing story told in detail in the Sound Projector interview with Pinsent.
"Sun Ra really picked up on these presences every time he played in the Kansas City area, twenty-six times between 1982 and 1986. He always vibed or absorbed very particular presences from every city he played in - you can tell where he was by just listening to the tape even if its source is undocumented. He had a few older friends here, like Bill Russell, and places where he and the band could stay and work out on all the ole timey charts - the Fletcher, Lunceford and Hawkins material was introduced in their live shows around this time. Ra was really connecting with the traditional jazz stream more than ever while he was here, and he talked about it a lot - he turned me on to many seminal influences: McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Fletcher Henderson, etc. It's through Ra that I came to understand that everything that has happened in jazz can be heard in recordings up to about 1931 in one form or another. Ra told me: "Jazz took a wrong turn when it got too serious." He also played lots of material in the Basie-esque jump style while in KC. I remember one gig at Parody Hall where he played this type of material all night long, at least four hours, with everyone dancing. A few people expecting to be transported to Saturn were mystified until they realized (perhaps subconsciously) that they had been time-transferred back to the same place 65 years ago!
"Another night he played at a loft and got into some of the most funky butt organ music I've ever heard - Jimmy Smith eat your heart out! - with several Arkestra members standing around him, ears open wide and mouths agape! After that show I went back to speak with Ra in a room filled with the black intelligencia from our area - poets/writers, activists, ex-Black Panthers - I was the only white guy in the room (Ra and I had made our metaphysical connection by then), and Ra was holding court about how slavery was a "good thing" for black people because it gave them a sense of discipline they needed - incredibly provocative in this particular context!"
Frizzell rarely recorded the Arkestra's live KC gigs ("Danny Thompson frowned on it"), but always, at Ra's insistence, recorded the interviews. While dubbing copies of the tapes for John Szwed for his Ra biography "Space is the Place", however, he discovered that he had, "in a kind of unknowing way," recorded several gigs on the other side of the interview cassettes. He was always on hand to help promote Ra shows, set up in-store appearances, and do his research: "He called me once and asked if I could find him the Lost Books of the Bible - the Forgotten Books of Eden, the Infancy Gospels and the Book of Jasher - all of which I did track down (amazingly, since Jasher had been out of print since the '20s.. I located a copy in the basement of the public library, out of circulation! It offers this key variation on Genesis: "Man was created in the image of God's infinity."). The Church of the Nazarene bookstore had everything else."
"Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore…" - Dorothy, arriving in Oz
Although an avowed pacifist, the Reverend's latest project, "Sonic Force", is "an experimental musical work using U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthog attack planes as intonarumori (Futurist sound instruments) orchestrated and digitally mixed with a 12-voice choir and 7-piece military band." As influences, he cites Francis Bacon's "The New Atlantis, Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathon," Samuel Butler's "Darwin Among the Machines" and Raymond Kurzweil's "In the Age of Spiritual Machines". Musical precursors, apart from Russolo of course, include George Antheil's 1924 "Ballet Mécanique" (which calls for three plane propellers) and, more recently, Karlheinz Stockhausen's notoriously potty "Helicopter String Quartet."
In July and August 2001, at the Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Leonardwood Missouri, Frizzell recorded the plane starting up its engines, taxiing, taking off, performing aerobatics, and landing using the state-of-the-art Neumann RMS digital system, "from the broadband whine of the turbofans to the thunder of the jet exhaust at higher speeds." Acoustic phenomena produced by the A-10 (Doppler pitch shifts, timbral shifts due to proximity, phase cancellations..) are used as material to create the score for the military band instruments. Aiming to blur the distinction between humans and machines, performers are asked to match take-off sequences with their voices, "creating a Jet Exhaust Choir when multi-tracked and time-aligned. Arboretum Ionizer signal analysis and processing software maps the spectral information of one sound onto the sound of another, using it like a filter. Spectral aspects of one sound may also be removed from another so that a voice can be heard through the sound of a jet only by its absence."
Frizzell is hard at work on a stereo radio broadcast version of the work for 7-piece band, choir and two A-10 Warthogs, and a concert version for 16-piece military band and 6.1 channel sound projection, which he hopes might eventually be performed on U.S. military bases around the world. More ambitiously still, he intends to stage an all-live concert version featuring two A-10 Warthogs (in real-time) performing with the live musicians and choir. Even if the Reverend's music ends up being played outside his beloved Missouri, or even outside the U.S., it's a fair bet he'll still be eating his breakfast in Fedora's. After all, he's become as much a part of local history as Harry Truman.
Discography, links
Given his interest in all things technological, it's not hard to find the Reverend Dwight Frizzell in cyberspace. His early experimental films can be viewed at: http://www.pleasewatch.com/dwightfrizzell/index.html
Two CDs from Frizzell's "From Ark to Microchip" radio series are available from LodesTone Media. Go to http://www.lodestone-media.com/ and search for Dwight Frizzell as producer to get to info.
An article culled from the script to the one-hour Ark show "The Counterclock Worlds of Philip K. Dick" is available at: http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Exhibit/1923/counterc.html
To audition the "Center of the World" segment from the Ark show "Harry's Shadow", go to http://npr.org/programs/lnfsound/stories/990219.stories.html For more info on "The Irish Wilderness", go to http://newear.org/IrishWilderness.html For more info on "Sonic Force", go to http://www.pleasewatch.com/sonicforce And check out latest album information on http://www.sparklingbeatnik.com


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New on Confront
by Dan Warburton
Rhodri Davies
TREM Confront 11
Akiyama / Nakamura / Sugimoto / Wastell
FOLDINGS Confront 12
Confront started out as a CDR only label (many of its fine early releases are no longer available, though we live in hope of reissues someday) but has recently graduated to elegant digipak packaging. Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies' "Trem", recorded live at All Angels in London and taking full advantage of that church's beautifully resonant acoustic, opens with what sounds like a trumpet. Those who equate harp with Harpo are in for a mighty shock - Davies' instrument comes in for the kind of treatment that, were it inflicted upon a non-consenting adult, would probably have the perpetrator charged with assault. It's bowed, scraped, scratched, has sticks and plates jammed against and between its strings, and ends up sounding something like a cross between a koto, a washing machine and Xenakis musique concrète (it's not all harp, in fact - "Trem" uses percussion and tape). Davies does here for the harp what Axel Dörner did for the trumpet and Keith Rowe the guitar - the instrument is completely redefined as sound source and its history and repertoire will never be the same again. This is an absolutely extraordinary album that no self-respecting follower of new music in all its forms can afford to pass up.
Coming across an album featuring Taku Sugimoto entitled "Foldings" filled me with dread (after several months I still haven't figured out how to put the self-destructing origami of "Deluxe Nakamura", his album with Brett Larner, back in its plastic envelope), but my fears were ungrounded. This happens to be the twenty-second album featuring Sugimoto that's popped up in my collection, so you'll have to forgive me for knowing more or less what to expect. A backdrop of near-silence speckled with tiny and exquisitely placed thuds and pops, tiny bleeps and hisses (from Toshi Nakamura or Tetuzi Akiyama? And what, by the way, is an "air duster"?). Mark Wastell's cello - the wooden and metal parts of it at least, as he doesn't seem interested in playing anything on the strings - fits in perfectly. The concentration is intense - either Tokyo's Offsite venue is so small that no members of the public can actually fit in, or the Japanese concertgoers are the most attentive and best behaved in the world (the other possibility being that they've actually fallen asleep or even died) - and it has to be for this kind of music. Personally, I'm a fan, though I'm often led to wonder whether so-called microimprov / lowercase / reductionist (delete where appropriate) improv hasn't begun to stagnate into an idiom in its own right.


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