by carl wilson

May 29, 2007

At Long Last

The Zoilus gig guide calendar has been updated, with fairly detailed listings for June and even a start at July. And what will you find therein? Cecil Taylor! The Rob Brown Trio! CSS! The Spanish Harlem Orchestra! Ozomatli! Keren Ann! Joe Boyd! Junior Boys! Dirty Dozen Brass Band! Rufus Wainwright! Tim Hecker! Hidden Cameras! Harborfront tropical festivals! Manu Chao! The Ex! Rickie Lee Jones! Antibalas! Vijay Iyer! The Boredoms! Toumani Dibante! Slint! Fred Eaglesmith! De La Soul!

Sounds summery, doesn't it? Well, except for that Tim Hecker.

POSTSCRIPT (Monday June 4): North by Northeast and Luminato listings now added to the schedule. Apologies for any and all typos. They probably won't be fixed. I'll have a few NXNE picks in the Globe and Mail this week too (coming out on Thurs. I believe - I'll let you know). Sorry for the current reduction of Zoilus to a listings rag. Blah blah book blah book blah book. I'd be eager to have any readers' reviews of the shows that I currently can't attend, like the Cecil Taylor show, tonight's Rob Brown show, or any of the others over in the sidebar or given double-star ratings in the gig guide. Just email.

ALSO: Having just dealt with NXNE mostly on my own, and with the Jazz Festival coming up, I realize that the post of Zoilus Listings Jazz Helper really should be filled. If you're available and interested (probably best if you're interested in improv and experimental jazz, this site's main focus, but with enough interest in more traditional and fusion jazz to watch those listings too), the job comes with a very small honorarium and the satisfaction of helping the artists find audiences. Amazingly, email works for this function too.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, May 29 at 9:12 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)

 

May 27, 2007

I Love Cat & Girl, Part Eleventy Hundred

Enough about "hipsters!"
The "Berlin Wall of Geekdom" doomed Veronica Mars!

Dorothy Gambrell, the Voltaire of our pathetic little tribe. Be sure to read the Cat & Girl home page at least once a week.

General | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, May 27 at 4:41 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

May 25, 2007

Amazing Tales: Davis's Blocks Bonanza,
Dixon's Girls Go Swing London

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A portrait of the artist, BJD, as a young bad-ass.

Zoilus's mancrush on friend, neighbour, writer and conceptual artist Brian Joseph Davis has been evident for years now, with such wonders springing from his temples as the Theodore Adorno punk-rock single, the "Greatest Hit" mashups, the "Banned Records Burned and Played" project, the "Yesterduh" beyond-karaoke experiment, The Portable Altamont and (with partner Emily Schultz) the Centre for Culture & Leisure - I'm worn out just listing them, and that's just some of BJD's creative hijinks. Now, I'm excited to announce that for the first time, all his music-related projects will be gathered together and released thanks to some of Zoilus's obviously-favourite people, the co-op-operated folks at Blocks Recording Club.

Brian's album will be called The Definitive Host, it will be formatted as (Blocks's first) book/cd package and it's coming out July 29. Besides most of the above, it will include two new pieces. As Brian says:

"Eula is a choral piece with lyrics adapted from Sony/BMG's notorious End User License Agreement. This score for four vocalists was composed in collaboration with Dawn Lewis of Sub-static recording artists Repair." (If I'm not mistaken, though I may be, it was sung by a choir of lawyers.)

Plus: "5 Box Sets Played on Fast Forward, Then Edited Into Songs: I used a consumer grade Hitachi CD player to turn hours of music into skittering sonic mulch (16 thousand automatic edits); I then assembled the samples using cheesy DJ software."

The release party is Friday Aug. 3 at Mercer Union, featuring a short live laptop set and then "a very live performance of Greatest Hit," in which copies of The Carpenters: The Singles will be loaded into 12 CD players and played by members of the audience. Whitney Houston's Greatest Hits might get the same treatment, time permitting.

Some new MP3s are already up on Brian's site. Eula will be posted July 1.

♥ ♥ ♥

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Sean Dixon plays a gas-can banjo (belonging incidentally to Michael Ondaatje)
at his "banjoree" book launch last month. Note the "HELIX" logo - roxx!

Other news that we can't let pass without a champagne toast: Zoilus's old friend Sean Dixon (possibly the only living person for whom I would sing in public) has just accepted a very generous offer from Harper Collins UK for the British rights to his new novel The Girls Who Saw Everything, just out from Coach House in Canada. I'll leave it to the literary gossip sheets to report how generous, but I'll say it's the kind of reward one always wishes but never dares hope would come to an artist who has persevered in pursuit of his distinctive voice and vision with great integrity for many years. I couldn't be happier to congratulate just about anyone for just about anything, with cheers, bravos and love.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, May 25 at 2:25 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

Guest Post: When Adult & Kid Worlds Collide

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While Carl scrambles with deadlines, friends step in to keep Zoilus fresh. Today it's Helen Spitzer, broadcaster, writer, omni-rocker and mom, discussing an event this weekend that puts the "all" in all ages. - CW

Thrills abound in the T-dot this weekend, but perhaps the thrillingest ticket is an afternoon show at the El Mocambo this Sunday. Hotter than Feist tickets! More sold-out than Amy Winehouse! It's Rock Plaza Central and a band of 10-year-olds called The Bunnies!

I'm impressed by what the Bunch ladies (Rebecca Brown and Lisa Kaplan) have kicked into action. In a little over a year they've conjured up an entire scene in Toronto around the notion of rocking out with your kids - first with their Family Dance Parties, and then with the "Indie for Kiddies" events (they kicked it off last August with the always already kidfriendly Bicycles). And while at some all-ages events people still look at you funny if you bring your 8-year-old, these shows truly are kid-centred - they keep it under 85 dB and babies get in free. Crawling babies at the El Mocambo, ladies and gents. When did this all happen?

It should be a no-brainer (and I was dying for this kinda thing 10 years ago) but I think it's the confluence of indie kids breeding and feminist mamas who aren't apologetic about wanting to have lives. I'm thrilled about this long overdue shift into parenting culture - and I'm not talking about smug hipsters still fretting about their cred.

I was chatting about this with Bunch co-founder Rebecca Brown at their Family Dance Party a few weeks back for a piece I've been working on for CBC Radio 3. Kids were breakdancing downstairs and DJ Fase was spinning, but we were upstairs comparing notes on France, where kids go out on the town with their parents and Barney never rears his insipid head. "It's a North American phenomena - this idea that there's a grownup world and a kid world," she said. It's so true - and I wonder if it has roots in darker cultural manoeuvres. Further research may prove me wrong, but I can't help thinking that a children's culture that infantilizes the parents grew out of the whole 1950s move of shooing women out of the bigger world and back into more appropriate spheres.

Theorizing aside, I'm just glad that this is happening now. Rebecca and Lisa are fab for so many reasons, but what I enjoyed about them most was the frank way they speak of bridging the chasm between kid world and adult world. Lisa: "When I had my first kid, I kind of switched into 'mommy mode' - and I was actually a bit sad. Why am I suddenly just a mom? Why does it have to be that we have to do everything just for our kids and not ourselves anymore?" Rebecca: "Toronto's such a vibrant city and sometimes when you're a parent you can get a little pushed out of that. We just wanted to elbow our way back in."

Elbow away, mamas! If you're just learning about this show for the first time here - well, it's long sold out - so I'll leave you this little taste of the Bicycles from last year, and a quick hit from a lady who never seems to have a problem navigating the two worlds, Zoilus fave Mimi Smartypants, whose cheeky smartness kind of reminds me of Carolyn Mark. - Helen Spitzer

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Friday, May 25 at 1:53 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

May 24, 2007

T-Dot Thrillz Runneth Over

What a weekend: Three nights of Kids on TV (read Chris Randle's xlnt Eye profile)! Frog Eyes tonight - with Jewish Legend and Himalayan Bear (whom I hear are terrif)! Steve Reich Percussion Ensemble tonight (in the Cool Drummings festival)! Friday night: Chicago AACMer Ernest Dawkins at the Trane, Joel Plaskett at the Opera House, Republic of Safety at Stone's Place, Richie Hawtin at Mod Club, Kids on TV again! Saturday night, more Kids, more Cool Drummings, more Joel Plaskett, and the latest Extermination Music Night, this time taking its space-invader ethic where it's really needed, the suburbs! (Plus Feist, if that's your thing, and I must say, after listening to the new album with high hopes, I still don't think it's mine.)

Will I see any of these shows? No, I'm-a-gonna be chained to my desk. But you go and come back and tell me about them, please?

The June gig guide will go up tomorrow (Friday), by the way. Sorry for the strange delay that's left just a week's worth of guide on the pages this week, but that's the way things are right now. As a commenter in yesterday's post pointed out, if you don't yet know that Cecil Taylor is playing the St. Lawrence Centre on June 1, know it. We want that mutha sold out. T-dot-ba-doo-bwish-flarfla-bang represent. I don't think categories like "greatest living jazz musician" really compute - the great ones are kind of mutually incomparable - but if somebody jumped me in a shopping complex, dragged me into the washroom and started dunking my head in a toilet over and over until I said who's the greatest, I think Cecil's would be the name I'd spit out.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, May 24 at 12:09 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)

 

May 23, 2007

Destination: Now?

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My favourite jazz blog, Destination: Out, is doing a terrific series in which they've polled musicians, critics and bloggers for lists of the best jazz albums of the '90s - trying to do for that period what last year's flurry of discussion did for jazz of the '70s-'80s. Here are parts one, two and three. Now we just need a best-of-2000-05 list and we're set.

But I'm not wholly convinced by these exercises, if the point is to say not just that jazz 1970-2000 has produced countless riches, but that jazz is "still incredibly vibrant." There are issues in the life-cycle of a genre that lists of great albums don't answer, ones having to do with where it's practised, by whom, its rate of stylistic evolution, the generic features that are retained or dropped, who the audience is and in what way fans and non-fans alike recognize the genre. The fact that great artists work in the field doesn't automatically mean the genre is vibrant on its own terms or in cross-generic comparison.

The fact that "classical" (notational, compositional, whatever) music still has great composers and performers doesn't mean that it's a "vibrant" genre in the sense we might mean when we talk about popular culture. (I'm not saying it's necessarily not, either, but most of my reasons to say it might be have to do with developments aside from purely artistic ones.) Jazz isn't as extreme a case but it still has similar issues - eg., how much of its audience regards it as a contemporary living genre rather than as a museum-like, repertory genre? Blame that on Wynton and Ken if you want, but it still seems a significant issue for a genre if you look at it in social and not just creative terms.

Not that I have an answer - part of me wants to say "let's start calling new music that grows out of this tradition by new names" and part of me wants to start calling all beat-based improvisation-including music (like six or seven brands of electronic music) "jazz." Just saying that I'm not sure great-album lists are a sufficient response to the anxieties around these issues. Though they sure are wonderful in their own right.

On a less cranky note, here's an interview with Toronto-born, L.A.-established, New York-resident, West Africa-travelling jazz composer/percussionist Harris Eisenstadt. Also, for Alice Coltrane/Zeena Parkins (and Joanna Newsom) fans, a nice feature from Kevin Whitehead on emusic today about jazz harpists through the years.

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, May 23 at 4:13 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)

 

Nobody Takes Manhattan First Anymore...

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Bad news for Toronto, good news for Berlin: Stillepost chatter reveals that members of Kids on TV are moving to Berlin this summer, following in the allemanding footsteps of localz Joel Gibb (Hidden Cameras), Peaches, etc.: "these next shows were doing in may/june are going to be our last ones in Canada for a long time. We won't stop coming back but it will be a lot less frequently." The queer-dance-underwear-punx-party band has just put out its full-length debut Mixing Business with Pleasure on Blocks in Canada and Chicks On Speed Records on the rest of the planet Earth.

Read about the band here (how can you resist a profile that begins, "A pink plastic cock is pressed against Scott Kerr's cheek, blurring his black and white facepaint..."?) Zoilus Team Hunger Force action figure Chris Randle will also have a profile of the band in tomorrow's Eye. B(oot)log has a great set of tracks from KoTV's mashup set with Ohbijou on CBC Radio's Fuse (and B(oot)log's right, that show doesn't get enough credit - does it still exist?).

Below is the video for KoTV's Breakdance Hunx, but before you watch it, I must insist you go listen to Club Action by Yo Majesty from Tampa at their MySpace - I'm sure all the internetses were talking about this months ago or something but I've just heard it and it is the catchiest song released anywhere in the universe this year. Yep, more than anything under yer umber-ella-ella, and way more than Lip Gloss (which can, however, proudly claim to be the mostest so-dumb-it's-brilliant song of '07). CLUB ACTION. I officially declare summer open for gettin'-busyness.

And now back to the Hunks:

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, May 23 at 2:04 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

May 21, 2007

'That was really hardcore -
and you want some more?'

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John Kelman at All About Jazz.com is (sorta) live-blogging the Victoriaville festival (FIMAV), so far covering the Marilyn Crispell/Lotte Anker/Andrew Cyrille/Mark Helias quartet, Corkestra, the Michael Snow/Alan Licht/Aki Onda trio, Theresa Transistor, John Zorn's solo (seen above), the meshugginah Melvins, Signal Quintet, the Victoriaville field-sampling project, Carla Bozulich and (less happily) Acid Mothers Gong. By Kelman's reckoning it's turning out, as the programming promised, to be a very good Victo year.

As for Zoilus's year, I am now well and truly hunkered down in bookwritin' mode, folks, so expect posting to continue being erratic for the next several weeks. Your patience is appreciated.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, May 21 at 1:55 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)

 

May 15, 2007

Musique, Actuelley

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Koenji Hyakkei.

As the annual Victoriaville International Festival of Musique Actuelle gears up in Quebec, those of us Toronto-bound have the consolation of the double-ought-seven edition of the VTO fest, put together by the indispensible Ron Gaskin of Rough Idea and the Music Gallery. My apologies that the Zoilus gig guide mistakenly listed the opening show with the Netherlands' Corkestra for tonight rather than last night, but there are still two shows that should command your attention: On Friday at the Music Gallery, there's the local Evergreen Club Gamelan Ensemble along with Vancouver's Fond of Tigers (featuring violinist and Drip Audio mastermind Jesse Zubot). And most excitingly, Sunday at the Horseshoe, from Japan comes KoenjiHyakkei, led by Yoshida Tatsuya, the percussionist from the monster bass/drum duo Ruins; this band is a theatrically baroque prog-rock unit with soprano vocalist Yamamoto Kyoko, singing in an invented language that draws on the Zeuhl tradition of the almost-literally cult French band Magma, a band still reverently spoken of in Europe but oft-overlooked in North America (poker pro Steve Davis testifies). Matching Yamamoto's vocal gymnastics will be Toronto's own polyglot improvimentalist Christine Duncan in a new configuration of Barnyard Drama, her duo with drummer Jean Martin, this weekend featuring Brandon Valdivia (percussion), Nick Storring (laptop, cello, keyboard), Colin Fisher (sax and guitar) and Justin Haynes (guitar).

Not officially part of the fest, noise group Magik Markers is at the Boat on Sunday, the day after their Victo set. No reports of any other off-fest events yet - if you get wind of a surprise Anthony Braxton, Acid Mothers Gong, Kevin Blechdom/Eugene Chadbourne or John Tilbury gig in town, be sure to send word, hm?

Meanwhile, also around town, check out my colleague Robert Everett-Green's lovely profile of Dark Blue World vocalist Elizabeth Fischer from Vancouver, who I recall from my favourite Canadian feminist funk-punk band of the '80s and '90s, Animal Slaves. Robert also spills some glowing ink on the debut album by PEI's Jenn Grant, whom I've had on my mental to-check-out list for a while now.

And finally, as the Gilmore Girls comes to a close tonight (I'm just about to watch the finale), read friend-of-Zoilus Helen Spitzer's heart-tugging personal essay about the effect the show had on her own unconventional family, from the Toronto Star.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, May 15 at 10:01 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

May 8, 2007

A Little Off the Top
(Miscellany)

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In the future, every child will be given a pair of scissors and invited to shape our destinies. In the future, every child will be granted full citizenship rights; encouraged to vote, run for office and drive streetcars. In the future, children will teach and adults will learn; a playground will be built on every battlefield; and candy will be free. In the future, children will be powerful creatures able to cross the street without looking both ways, and hold their breath underwater forever and ever and ever. Darren O'Donnell

Darren O'Donnell is bringing his little masterpiece of social performance, Haircuts by Children, to Birmingham, England, next week, May 19-20. Maybe my favourite thing anyone in Toronto has created in the past couple of years.

Give or take a few Final Fantasy songs, of course. New stuff keeps popping up: Flare Gun (part of a compilation inspired by spam email), plus this terrif Polaris-finalist-teamup with Cadence Weapon for the CBC (including Owen's beautiful version of John Cale's Paris 1919), a live show in Kingston, Ont., a Montag track featuring Owen, the Stars remix... And you know of course about the ridikulonk hootenanny in NYC last weekend.

I'd heard a rumour about this but didn't quite believe it until a press release arrived today: Toronto's Andre Ethier (of the defunct Deadly Snakes) has been invited to - wait for it - sing the national anthem at a Major League Baseball game. Those who are (unlike me) knowledgeable about baseball might already have guessed that it's going to be an L.A. Dodgers game - a move inspired by the fact that Andre shares his name with Dodgers right-fielder Andre Ethier. I'm told the Dodgers got wind of the coincidence, had a cute idea, asked to hear some of our Andre's music and dug it, so they're flying him down to L.A. to sing O Canada when the Jays play the Dodgers on June 9. It seems like a bit of a psych to have a singer with the name of one of your players sing the other team's anthem - but on the other hand, A.E. brings a bit of hometown, so I guess it balances. Still, if the Dodgers had really listened to Ethier's very Dylanesque, Americana-styled solo work, it might musically have been better to get him to do the Star-Spangled Banner.

T-dotters, the gig guide continues to be updated; watch it and the sidebar for news, like the fact that Marc Ribot is returning May 18 to play with Italian singer-songwriter Vinicio Capossela. Second time this year! Second time I can't go! Is he dating somebody in Toronto all of a sudden, or is he just out to taunt me?

Tonight's Bitchin' improv session at the Gladstone Art Bar, including Eugene Martynec, Alan Bloor and other local improvimentalists, is going to be streamed live to the web via this site beginning at 8 pm.

Eye Daily reviewed the Arnold Dreyblatt show. (See interview below.) Just as I feared, since I couldn't go: "It was a big, joyful, almost overwhelming noise, maybe the greatest I'll hear all year."

Our pal Sean Michaels of Said the Gramophone has an interview with Will Sheff of Okkervil River in the new Believer. Hi'ly rec, natch.

Currently on TV: V.Mars has been watered down from noir to hot cocoa; Heroes and Sopranos are, in their different ways, ratcheting up the mind-fuckery; and Gilmore Girls is ending, simultaneously too soon and too late. The last half-season, from the splitup with Christopher on, has been, I think, the best sequence of episodes since... maybe, in fact, since Rory started college. But the story is ready to end. Too bad they didn't figure that out a year ago and plot it that way.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, May 08 at 4:39 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)

 

May 7, 2007

Zoilus: Now in New Toronto-Lite!

Regular readers will notice a new presence in the left-hand sidebar on this site - a button that says "View Zoilus Without Toronto-specific Content." If you hit it, what will happen is... well, at the moment, nothing, because there's not any Toronto-specific content currently on the front page.

But usually there is: Gig notices and other event-oriented posts that really aren't of much interest if you're not a local reader. They'll make a reappearance when I'm back in full-power bloggin' mode, after I turn in my manuscript in June. And at that point, if you're not from aroun' here, you could just hit that button to skip that stuff and get straight to more universal material.

Of course you may be the type who enjoys reading about Toronto minutiae even if you're not a local. Zoilus loves your kind. Just go on reading the site as always. Also, I should clarify that "without Toronto-specific content" doesn't mean removing all material about the Toronto scene: It won't strip out posts about Final Fantasy or Pyramid Culture and meta-sceniac-theorizing. But this way, I can post about local news and events without fretting (because I'm neurotic) that I'm boring the further-flung audience - which is likely to mean I'll do more of it, so that's good for everyone.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, May 07 at 1:15 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

May 4, 2007

Guest Post: A Chat With Arnold Dreyblatt:
'I had no musical ability at all!'

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Arnold Dreyblatt (right) with Toronto's Scott Thomson on trombone, at the Music Gallery. Photo by Jonny Dovercourt.

My call for guest submissions to Zoilus during my bookwriting downtime has yielded unexpectedly swift & scintillating results: Jonny Dovercourt, co-artistic director of the Music Gallery, contacted me tonight (Friday) to ask if I'd be interested in posting his freshly transcribed interview with Arnold Dreyblatt, who is appearing Saturday night at the Gallery as a co-presentation with the Over the Top Festival. As someone who's been given excitations by Dreyblatt's "Excited Strings" - though only on record before now - I immediately said yes. Jonny's done a terrific interview. Enjoy.
- Carl W.

Play one of my favourite Dreyblatt pieces, The Adding Machine, while you read. Audio via Dreyblatt's website.

Biographical boilerplate: Arnold Dreyblatt was born in New York City in 1953. He has been based in Europe since 1984 and is presently living in Berlin. From 1979-1997, he was director and composer for his music ensemble, The Orchestra of Excited Strings. In composing a performance opera entitled Who's Who in Central & East Europe 1933, Dreyblatt formed a new ensemble in 1991. In 1995, recordings by the ensemble were released by Tzadik Records (produced by John Zorn) under the title Animal Magnetism. He's also released material on Hat Art, Jim O'Rourke's Dexter's Cigar label and Table of the Elements Records, and recordings of his work by the Bang On A Can All-Stars. A four-CD box set of historical recordings will be released by Table of the Elements in 2007.

"As one of the most engaging of the second generation of New York minimal composers, Arnold Dreyblatt has developed a distinctive - and delightfully accessible - approach to composition and performance. Employing modified and invented instruments and a unique tuning system, his music is a vigorously rhythmic and richly textured romp through the natural overtone series." - Second Layer

Arnold Dreyblatt performs Sat. May 5 at the Music Gallery (197 John St., Toronto) at 8 pm, with Toronto's Anne Bourne, cello; Rob Clutton, double bass; Nick Fraser, drums; John Gzowski, guitar; Kathleen Kajioko, violin; and Scott Thomson, trombone; with Dreyblatt leading the band on modified bass. Tickets are $10-$20.


Jonny Dovercourt & Arnold Dreyblatt in Conversation
May 2, 2007 - Toronto, Ontario

JD: Arnold, I believe you grew up in Queens, New York. Do you want to talk a bit about that and how it maybe influenced you getting into music in the early days?

AD: Actually, I didn't get into music in the early days. I was just telling the musicians today that I was taking piano lessons as a six-year-old and the teacher taught me with a number system, ironically, and I was kind of improvising with it. And she didn't like me not playing from the notes, so one day she told me, "Well, it's not actually numbers." And then she showed the five-line staff, and I said, "Forget it."

And then The Beatles came out a few years later, and I wanted to take guitar lessons, and so my parents sent me to this Spanish gypsy down the block, and after one lesson, he said, "It's throwing your money down the toilet to give your son music lessons." So then there was a long hiatus!

But I was always interested in experimental music, even while quite young, and I was also listening to a lot of rock music. I was going to concerts at the Fillmore East in New York while in high school in the '60s. Then I was in upstate New York studying at various colleges and universities, I was interested in video and experimental film, which brought me to Buffalo, not far from here, around '74/'75.

[after the jump, Dreyblatt on portapacks & the invention of video art, how physics explains sound, Alvin Lucier, LaMonte Young, tunings and harmonics, the composition to be premiered this weekend, & the wisdom of Joey Ramone!]

JD: What was your area of study?

AD: This was SUNY [State University of New York] Buffalo, and there was this very interesting department called Media Studies, which was a public access centre and a department in the university, and it was very connected to the New York or national experimental film scene, and also the beginnings of video art, which was just starting around that time. The medium was practically created by the New York State Council on the Arts in the early '70s. Portapacks were just invented at the same time a lot of funding became available.

JD: Portapacks?

AD: The portapack was the first portable video recorder. There's a question whether Nam June Paik got his hands on it first, or if another artist did. They used half-inch tape, reel-to-reel, black-and-white, really heavy. You had to carry around the whole recorder, which weighed a ton, and a camera, but it was the first time that artists could get instant feedback, audiovisually. It was the first moment that that was possible. So it was very exciting.

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I should say that I was a student, in Buffalo, of Woody and Steina Visulka, who were the founders of The Kitchen in New York. Two years before I arrived they had come up from New York - they were invited by a guy named Gerald O'Grady, who founded this department. They were very interested in producing electronic images, that means not working with cameras but using various frequencies and electronic interference to create electronic imagery.

So I was learning this language of frequency and amplitude; at the same time, during my first month in Buffalo, I was interested in having contact with the music department. Morton Feldman was then head of the music department and there was an event they called "June in Buffalo," the first one with Pauline Oliveros, an electronic music composer called Joel Chadabe, and Feldman.

So I was very happy, after my childhood experience with the numbers and the staff, to learn that the language of physics can explain sound. That it's not just a cultural language with notes on a page and certain letters indicating frequencies and so forth - but that I could escape all that! So that was a very important discovery for me. I was at first applying it more to video, and ironically my early video work was kind of stroboscopic colourfields. I didn't see Tony Conrad's work until much later, but it's interesting that I started with that and then went to music. But I was gradually interested in how this language could be applied to working with sounds, and my videotapes were periodic images; they were in periodic cycles. I was working with putting audio signals into video X & Y and creating different shapes and colours and movements, rhythms. So it was just natural that I would slowly want to move into working with sounds.

And the music department was just as interesting as the media department: They were bringing in a lot of composers from around the country, and in that first year Alvin Lucier came. He did a piece with a snare drum on a stage. It's a piece that I recently had the possibility to realize myself in Dublin. In this piece, he's on the side with a sine-wave sweep generator, with some speakers pointed at the snare drum with the snare on; there's nobody on the stage, other than Alvin Lucier on the righthand side of the stage, and he's turning this dial up, and as it reaches certain resonating frequencies the drum begins to sound. And the audience could feel it, they could feel the standing waves in the room, going through their bellies as the drum would start to sound on its own. So a sense of, "Okay, here's this language of frequency and amplitude, but with video you can just see it on a screen or a monitor" (we were using video almost like an oscilloscope, but with more than one line). But suddenly you could actually feel it, like it was a physical thing - these are like molecules dancing around, up and down.

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Alvin Lucier.

So that made me very interested in sound, and then in the bookcase of one of the experimental filmmakers there, Hollis Frampton, I found [at a party] a copy of Selected Writings by LaMonte Young, which he gave to me. It's a very rare publication, and it was there that I read about his work in the '60s. So I came back to New York, met him and spent a number of years then studying with him. First I was interested in his work with sine waves, and then in the idea of basing an ensemble on his acoustic principles.

You could say that Alvin Lucier, who I also ended up studying with later, his medium was more concerned with sound installation, or sound in spaces, or very directly just transporting acoustic principles through an aesthetic situation, whereas LaMonte in a way took the same principles, and from his own very dense composition background, applying it to an ensemble, which was probably the first amplified "band" in contemporary music. That form hadn't yet existed in contemporary music, a composer with own ensemble, heavily amplified. The band that made him famous was the one with Tony Conrad on violin and John Cale [The Velvet Underground] playing viola.

JD: Was that the Theatre of Eternal Music?

AD: Theatre of Eternal Music if you talk to LaMonte; the Dream Syndicate if you talk to Tony!

JD: At the time that you started studying with LaMonte, had you already started composing your own music or doing your own sound experiments?

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LaMonte Young.

AD: I came back from Buffalo in '75, so I was 22 when I became LaMonte's "slave," and I spent a year living in his loft, trying to understand how he worked. Then I stopped working with him for personal reasons, but continued as his tape archivist for another year. It takes some time to get out from under the influence of someone like that, so I gradually started developing the music in '76/'77, and in '78 started doing my own sound experiments. I was having trouble finding an orientation for this tuning system that LaMonte and Tony had developed, and it wasn't until I started working with strings that I started to understand what the relations are, because on strings you can actually see it. So again, I was looking for a physical model, a geometry you can hear.

I spent some time doing a lot of theoretical work, looking at the use, in history, of strings for generating tuning systems. Of course I always give credit to LaMonte and Tony for their work in that area. So I did my first concert with an instrument in this period, in 1979, in an artist performance festival. I bought a double bass for $100 from the visual artist Robert Longo, another Buffalo connection, who was collaborating with Rhys Chatham. In New York, we were living in the same building, and I strung it up with piano wire as an experiment, and found this fantastic sound. So I developed this technique of brushing and bowing the strings rhythmically, which became my signature sound, and I had this solo concert which was very successful; it happened to be a very beautiful, very resonant room.

Then in '79/'80, I founded my first ensemble, my first Orchestra of Excited Strings. The first one was called Arnold's Orchestra of Excited Strings, and Alvin Lucier told me to take the "Arnold" out. Then I went to Wesleyan University [Middletown, Connecticut], where Alvin invited me, I had a kind of assistantship there, I basically just did my band and taught a few courses. I had an ensemble there of students, and then I moved back to New York, had the third ensemble, and then the fall of '83, I moved to Europe.

JD: Was your tuning system established by the time you founded the first ensemble, or did it evolve more slowly over time?

AD: No, it was basically set then. Completely, the full system. I had this little piano I found that was a miniature upright with tiny keys for a rich family and their nice little girl to play, and I restrung it and I tuned it with unwound wires. And I tuned it with the first 23 overtones to see what would happen, using F as my fundamental - the first 23 odd overtones; all even numbers are octaves, so you don't need to tune the even ones.

And I found right away that there were these relationships. First of all, prime numbers, like 3, 5, 7, 11, were new tonalities. And I also noticed that if I played by accident 5, 3 and 15, it made this incredible chord. And that's how I started to develop the system. Of course, Tony and LaMonte use another version of the same thing - it's not anything I invented; it's something that exists in nature.

JD: You just had to discover it.

AD: Well, I had the background from what they did, and then I had to discover it for myself, let's say, and then the version I came up with had to do with this series of experiments which I carried out. It's a slightly different way of approaching it, but Tony recognizes a most of the tones in the system. So I heard those relationships, then I worked as I began to understand the system, I came up with this "magic square," which is a multiplication table with 1, 11, 11 and 121 at the four corners. I can show it to you.

JD: And these are overtones.

AD: My music, from the beginning, was based on the principle of having a very rich harmonic series, enacted very much in the early days, but to some degree still, being produced by a long string. When I play bass, all it is is a big body strung with a long unwound wire, to produce a strong harmonic partial series, and then I mesh with that what I call an intellectual act, which is to calculate these higher overtones, which are related to the lower ones, like those odd numbers in the magic square - I multiply them by each other, transpose them into a lower octave and then sound them together with the long excited strings.

JD: So how did you take this vertical realm of the tuning system and put it into the horizontal realm of rhythm, which also plays a big role in your music?

AD: Well, when you listen to the early music, like Nodal Excitation [1982], I had no musical ability at all! [laughs]

JD: Punk rock!

AD: I went to high school with the Ramones, you know? Well, with Joey Ramone, what was his name, [Jeffry] Hyman? I had social studies class with him. And I read this interview where someone asked him, "Can you really play guitar?" And he said, "Man, you just turn up those Marshall amps, and then you just strum as hard as you can, and then you listen to those overtones, man, that's all I need to do." So, in the beginning, the striking of the bass, I used to call it "juggling." You'd have to keep hitting it a certain way to get those resonances to come up, to coax them out.

Normally in music, people feel like they're the masters of their instrument, but I'm like a servant to the instrument. I'm there to make it sound, to get it into vibration. So in the beginning I was hitting, and the whole ensemble in a way went into that. There was the little crazy piano I made, amplified, there was a hurdy-gurdy in the beginning, then I started experimenting with some brass instruments. We went into what I called "the rhythm of one," and then a year later I discovered that I started playing in triplets. I figured it out at home and then we all played. The ensembles were always mixtures of musicians and non-musicians, often visual artists.

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Joey Ramone and friend.

Of course, over the years, some other things happened. I remember when Rhys Chatham gave me a gig at the Mudd Club [in NYC], he said to me, "Do you have drums?" I said "No." And he said, "Without drums, you're dead." [laughs] I was very good friends with Phill Niblock then, and I was having a very hard time putting drums in, but then when I moved to Europe I realized it was a very natural thing to help propel the music along. And of course, from all those years of listening to rock music, under the influence, I had that feeling in me, actually. So I started with a snare drum, one snare drum. I've never used a full trap set - I don't like that. I've introduced percussion to the music, and always tried to keep the percussion non-resonant, that means drums are tuned up very tight, so they can cut through all the overtones but don't cloud it. And that gave another rhythmic possibility for the music, and that changed the rhythmic possibilities for the strings, which started becoming more complex.

In the '90s, I realized that the music was wanting to become more complex, and that it wasn't taking away from this other aspect. So I stopped performing with the group then, because I wanted to score it out. So then I had to learn how to notate - and then computers came out, and that helped out a lot - but then there was the question of how to notate it? There were in fact no "bars" in my music until not that long ago, around '99 - which means there were internal systems within the bands to give cues from chord to chord. In the '90s, I began to develop what I call the "Next Slide" structure ("Next Slide" being a cut on Animal Magnetism [1994]). I would have different rhythmic and tonal patterns and it would just cut from one to the other. It's from my film background, to contrast different scenes in the music. Gradually I started to notate some of the more recent material.

In '97, I stopped maintaining an ensemble. I'd been working with the same group of musicians for years in Europe, who knew everything, but I felt like I needed some fresh air, to see what I could do with other musicians. Jim O'Rourke invited me to Chicago, and then in New York, Bang on Can invited me to work with some other classical ensembles. So I started to embark on some new directions, either longer-term commissions where I really write a piece, sometimes for classical musicians. I actually wrote a quartet and an octet. Took me forever, especially when trying to find how to communicate this to musicians that actually don't have the time to learn the tuning for months.

When I did the quartet I worked with a very famous new-music quartet from Germany, the Pelligrini Quartet, but there was no way they were going to sit there and learn how to do all this. So they retuned their strings, they played only open strings and harmonics, which is beautiful.

And then I've also done a number of projects like we're doing here in Toronto, which is meeting a group of musicians and trying to put something together in a shorter period of time - sometimes for two days, this time for a week. There's a certain risk in that, but it's also exciting to see what comes out of it.

JD: Do you want to talk a bit about the pieces you'll be playing at the concert this Saturday?

AD: Actually, there's going to be three pieces. First I'm going to play what I call a recreation of Solo Nodal Excitation from 1979, on this prepared instrument, the "Excited Strings bass," which I started playing again in the late '90s in some club situations, and I feel like it's really developed, in some ways more than it was originally. And then we're going to do a piece which I'm actually quite excited about - with the ensemble, they've actually retuned their instruments and they're struggling to learn that the 5th harmonic is really the major 3rd. This drives them completely mad! But they have actually learned to play in this intonation, and we have a great percussionist, so it's going to be what I call a very sustained, very meditative piece going through these different tone combinations, which is quite long for me, because I'm used to having very short pieces. I'm not sure how long, I'll know tomorrow morning [at the next rehearsal].

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Nick Fraser, percussionist for Saturday's show.

And then we're going to do kind of a rhythmic piece which is based upon a similar technique to what I do on my bass, but by bowing on the violin-family instruments, and to some degree guitar. Listening to the different tones in an open string, and playing tones against it. So there are those three things that show three different aspects of my music. Not that it represents everything. I talked to John [Gzowski] and we agreed that it would have been too time-consuming for me to write out a whole complicated score and have everybody learn to play it, so it is a workshop situation of a week with them, so it's a challenge to see how far we can go. They're going to have charts with what the sequences are, for what they're going to play.

JD: Are these two ensemble pieces relatively new then?

AD: The sustained piece in that form I've never done before. It's actually been created here ... it's a premiere! [laughs] The second piece has aspects which I've used in other pieces, but it's going to be a more complex version than I've done before.

JD: It seems that in your relationship to your music, you're working with something you invented more than 25 years ago, but you're still letting it evolve. That seems really rare. What do you think it is that's kept you committed to this idea of making music?

AD: Well, I have one good excuse - that I can't play anything else!

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, May 04 at 11:11 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)

 

Joining the Dark Side: Come Along?

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My first piece ever for Pitchfork, a review of the new Frog Eyes album, Tears of the Valedictorian has gone up. (The version posted yesterday accidentally omitted a small important bit in the set-up, but it's been fixed now.) I think it's perhaps the best release yet from one of the best bands in Canada - although I reserve the option to decide I still prefer The Golden River.

I'll be writing for Pitchfork semi-regularly in future, because I appreciate the space they allow for long-form record reviews and because, whatever one's criticisms, it's an important forum for music talk today. To play purer-than-thou + turn down their invitation would've been as silly as to refuse Creem or Rolling Stone in the early 1970s - there's not much value in refusing to get in the sandbox. You just want to bring in your own castle design.

Also wanted to note that between the Over the Top Festival and misc. other events, this weekend is an absolutely extraordinary one for music in Toronto - and I'm going to miss all of it, as I crouch in my deadline-based hermitage. Am I really going to stay in on Saturday, when harmonic innovator Arnold Dreyblatt is at the Music Gallery, jazz colossus Sonny Rollins is at Massey Hall, reggae alchemist the Mad Professor is at Lee's Palace and Toronto's own gracious miniaturists the Phonemes launch their lovely new CD with guests such as Bob Wiseman and Jason Trachtenburg at the Whippersnapper Gallery, to name a few? That, my friends, is a test of will.

With all the action in May, and with me chained to my manuscript, I'd like to make an invitation to readers in Toronto and environs - if you'd like to send in short reviews of Zoilus-friendly live shows you see this month (say 250 to 500 words), I'll gladly post them. No pay, just potlatch.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, May 04 at 1:06 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

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