Friday, May 28, 2004


No Wave Friday

I'm focusing on an album rather than on one artist today, and the connection to No Wave is more tenuous than usual. While No Wave is identified with the bands that appeared on No New York, there were a bunch of more "artistic" people who were involved with the scene. Today's album relates to the latter group.

New Music From Antarctica Volume 1 came out in 1982 and collected works by a bunch of people whose work straddled the line between art and rock, but sat more on the art side of things. My working definition for the two terms: people whose work gets classified as "art" get grants; people whose work gets classified as "rock" don't. I'm sure there are exceptions in both directions. You've probably read about Sonic Youth doing their first European tour off the back of their gig with composer Glenn I understand it, people like Rhys Chatham and Branca were considered "composers" and were therefore able to raise money for their projects, and were therefore able to pay their musicians. Meaning that a bunch of the more "rock" people wound up playing in guitar symphonies at least in part so they could pay their bills.

Anyway, NMFAV1 is all over the place. If you follow up on most of the people who appear on it, you find yourself walking away from the kind of music that this blog covers and into a land of galleries, grants, installations and so on. One of the places this will take you is into the world of Disques De Crepuscule, a weird Belgian label that you can read about here. I'm torn regarding DDC...they released a ton of obscure and unusual music (you may remember that they put out one of the Wayfarers' tracks) but I don't like a lot of it, and their releases tend to be expensive and hard-to-find. I keep thinking I should investigate further, but it's a lot of effort...even file-sharing won't help you much with this one. I have one pretty interesting compilation from the label, and I'll probably post some of it in the future.

Is all of this a complicated way of saying that I can't tell you as much as I'd like to about most of today's songs? Why, yes it is!

Getting back to NMFAV1. I originally bought it because it has a piece called Drastic Classicism for Electric Instruments by Rhys Chatham. But, I'm going to be doing a Friday feature on Rhys in a few weeks, and I'll post the track then (which has, btw, a different length than the version on the recent Chatham collection An Angel Moves Too Fast To See. I need to sit down w/both and figure out how they differ.) Briefly, though, Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca were the two people most likely responsible for inventing the idea of composing for electric guitars, and Sonic Youth pretty much got their ideas about electric guitars/weird tunings from Branca. (Chatham inspired a group too, the somewhat lesser known Band of Susans.)

Here's a sampling from the rest of the album:

First, this is Peter Gordon's Love of Life Orchestra performing the theme song Siberia. Members of the orchestra include Ned Sublette (who played with Branca and Chatham on some of their pieces) and drummer David Van Tieghem (ditto). [Sorry, there's one small skip on the track, but I thought it was worth posting anyway.]

Here's Jill Kroesen, a Chatham associate, with the wonderfully titled I'm Sorry I'm Such A Weenie which is kind of hard to describe. Vocal experiments plus electronics plus rock band's not at all hard to listen to, but I don't have any good points of comparison with other bands/artists.

Here's Ned Sublette with I Ain't Afraid of Girls (a song written by Jill Kroesen) which is also hard to describe, though "cowboy in downtown Manhattan at an art gallery" is kind of getting there.

Finally, my favorite piece on the album may be The World's Greatest Piano Player by "Blue" Gene Tyranny. He's a minimalist/avant garde composer and in this piece he makes something pretty interesting out of what initially sound like very cliched piano riffs. One hallmark of the people on this album, in fact, is that they often start with very accessible aspects of popular music before working their weirdness.

I'd be very surprised if most of the tracks from NMFAV1 didn't also appear elsewhere, but together they make for an interesting walk through the world of NYC in the early 80's that didn't end up teaching its girlfriend to play bass and forming a rock band.

Last thing: there was a video that went with NMFAV1 which you can apparently arrange with The Kitchen to view, though they don't exactly charge video-store type fees.

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