by carl wilson

"The Wire" on the Wireless (Plus: Save Brave New Waves!)

I've been meaning to tell you that there's a good show on the radio these days. It's a miniseries titled The Wire on CBC Radio 1 on Mondays at 8:05 p.m., through March 28. The theme is the effect of electricity on music - which is an amazingly abstract theme for a radio show that actually makes it to air, and yet also brilliantly appropriate to the medium. I heard Episode 2, about the revolutions in sound caused by the invention of magnetic tape, including an interview with Stockhausen!, on the highway from Montreal a couple of weeks ago in an empty cargo van in the pitch dark and the driving freezing rain, and I would like to thank the show publicly for saving my sanity on that trip, and therefore possibly my life. (How's that shit for maximum nerd factor? - it's not "last night a DJ saved my life," but "last night an audio-documentary program on music technology saved my life.") Tonight's episode, number 4, is about the synthesizer, and features interviews with Bob Moog himself as well as Russian theremenist Lydia Kavina, plus Canada's Bruce Duncan and Gayle Young. (Unedited versions of the interviews are on the show's website.) If it's anything like episode 2, the editing and production will provide a creative sonic echo of the historical themes. However, I hope this time they can manage to get through one episode without playing a Beatles song. Please, just one?

The other cool thing is that they give the tapes of the programs to an electronic-music maker and close each episode with a remix of the show you've just heard. So far they've had Caribou, Ozawa (from the Wabi collective), Meta4 and, tonight, DJ Delerious. Among others, Janek Shaefer is doing the turntable episode March 21, and Akufen the Internet episode on March 28.

A little bright light in the gloom of current CBC programming and internal politics, with the "reorganization" (read gutting) of the nascent Radio 3, which incidentally will bring, very soon, the cancellation of the nation's most vital music program, Brave New Waves. (Why the hell do you have to have all the programmers of a satellite service in the same geographic location, with today's technology?) Perhaps in the long run the changes at R3 will bring all the happy flowers they promise, but given the Corp's history of misfired gestures towards the younger audience, and recent history of careening unruddered programming in general, it's lousy that one of the Ceeb's most solid successes is being killed for the sake of maybe's and hope-so's. For solidarity's sake, turn to the flip to read my tribute to Brave New Waves, written to mark its 20th anniversary a year ago. Note the line about CBC youth strategies that are born and dismembered in their cribs. [...]

Riding 20 years of Waves

SCENE
By CARL WILSON
The Globe & Mail
Thursday, March 18, 2004

12:05 a.m.: Weather report on CBC Radio Two. Ten inches snow in Toronto, 20 in Hamilton. Damned March. A pause, and then, with a Pavlovian rush, the password: "Hey. This is Brave New Waves."

Outline for coming-of-age story. Author: Me and thousands of other Canadians.

Character -- named Holden, but maybe a girl? -- is stuck in the teen gulag of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Town is rural, coastal, industrial, suburban, prairie. If in city, draconian overlords pose as parents after true progenitors lost in espionage-related boating mishap (covered up).

Then (luck? tipoff?) Holden discovers a Jekyll-Hyde act on "the classical station" after midnight: It's jammed by pirate signal of harsh, throbbing music, and interviews that seem to be about overthrowing Parliament with a collective whose budget prioritizes acrylic paints, lesbian bath houses and analog synthesizers.

Gradually, Holden learns it's not an interruption but a program: Every weekday! Taxpayer funded! Nurtures a crush on host Augusta LaPaix (1984-85), or Brent Bambury (1985-1995, then wasted by CBC on piffle), or Patti Schmidt (1995-today). Fantasizes what they look like. Is very wrong.

Ingests all six hours nightly (or after 1995, four), despite overlord scoldings. Nods off, ear crushed against low-volume boom box, during final-hour electro-acoustic album feature. Turns the Mozart off fast in the morning. Nighthawk habits will mess up relationships, day jobs for life.

Sells off Rush albums to pay for records, comics, books with surreal, dirty names. (Humorous vignette: "The What-hole Surfers?" says the mall record clerk.)

Moves to big city as soon after high school as possible, if not sooner. Ideally to Montreal, where BNW is produced literally underground at Radio-Canada. There, Holden finds his secret shared by half the people he meets, in class or clubs. Actual life begins.

12:20 a.m.: Here's something. Jazz drums, rock bass, string section, Indonesian-sounding horns. Japanese? I wait for Schmidt to say. BNW has the CBC sense of order: Unlike an automated FM station, or chaotic college radio, you're assured background information . . . unless you're listening on the Internet and it crashes. Damn.

Brave New Waves is toasting 20 years of late-night public mischief since its creation in 1984, by LaPaix and producer Alan Conter. Last month, it replayed historic interviews with the likes of Jello Biafra, Sun Ra, Quentin Tarantino and Public Enemy, and the live, John Peel-style music sessions recorded over the years. This month come marathon concerts in Vancouver last Saturday, at the Drake Hotel in Toronto this Saturday and in Montreal the following Saturday. (See http://www.bravenewwaves.ca.)

Celebration is warranted. How extraordinary for any unpopular-music institution to survive so long, much less at CBC, where "youth strategies" are born and then dismembered in their cribs.

1 a.m.: The nightly profile. Nashville's "alt-country orchestra" Lambchop. With a dozen members including, Schmidt notes, "a guy credited only with playing 'open-ended wrench' and 'paint-thinner can.' "

Why BNW? This show has never pandered. Assuming only a minority of younger people are ever going to bypass MuchMusic for the CBC, it bets they'll want fare as challenging as the best CBC news shows. Probably more so. They're the kids who hunger for a razor inside the apple, not candy coating over it.

Well-wishers criticize the CBC for putting BNW on the graveyard shift. But how else could it last? Other producers don't gun for its real estate. The pressure groups and letter writers who pester the CBC away from half its daring moves seldom hear it. Same for the bureaucrats who squelch the other half.

That unsupervised sensation is one reason people (teens, college students, insomniacs of all ages) receive it so intensely: Host and listeners are up past bedtime together, up to no good.

2 a.m.: Profile wraps with a rare Lambchop side-project track that starts by commanding, "Quiet down, 'cuz he's gonna tell you a muthaf-in' story, okay?" Poetry follows, with a chorus cooing, "Too much rain/ Not enough drain."

Naturally, BNW has had its share of trouble. For one instance, an early-1990s appearance by U.S. performance artist Karen Finley, a flashpoint figure in the American arts-funding wars, brings on an obscenity charge. It is dropped only after the complaint is revealed to come from a CBC employee trying to kill the show. More chronically, budget cuts restrict its range and burn out its staff.

2:20 a.m.: For 10 minutes two guitars have been playing the same three notes. Nice. But.

I wonder if BNW will make its 25th anniversary. Once it was the lone lifeline linking the adventurous but isolated. Now there's the Internet; BNW is folded into CBC's youth-aimed, Web-based Radio Three. College radio has matured. And the indie boom the show helped nourish in the 1980s has become an international force. The program that launched its first broadcast with Simple Minds has grown more esoteric to stay unique.

Yet without it, I might not be writing on music now. Certainly, some friends, including Schmidt, wouldn't have become BNW's second-generation staff.

And I doubt you'd have an indie-rock capital in an outpost like Guelph, Ont. Or it at least not one with such free-thinking projects as Nathan Lawr's Minotaur Orchestra, where the Royal City drummer brings a 13-piece chamber group to his own warmly warped folk-pop, tonight at Toronto's Music Gallery - with an ex-punk-rocker turned avant-guitar improviser, Eric Chenaux, opening.

Whatever happens, all Canada is a Brave New world now.

2:52 a.m.: The Scorch Trio, a free-jazz-meets-Black Sabbath group from the Netherlands. If I didn't have a spouse sleeping upstairs, I'd crank it up. But I do. So I brew a pot of coffee, and trudge the recycling through the snow to the curb.

Read More | News | Posted by zoilus on Monday, February 28 at 5:45 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (12)

 

COMMENTS

CBC should resolve to terminate Brave New Waves. Providing an outlet for music which has no hope of ever getting any mainstream airplay is a noble aspiration, but programming music mainly on the strength of its ability to alienate the largest possible percentage of the population is very dubious broadcasting. As an analogy, consider that the Brave New Waves time slot is the largest CBC dedication to non-mainstream music that is outside of the classic and jazz genres. If the time periods currently dedicated to jazz and classics were to be replaced mainly with the kind of works you hear on Two New Hours, I think the CBC would be deluged with proposals for program termination. It's clear that CBC panders to traditional tastes in jazz and classics, so why are non-mainstream music fans left so far out in the cold? There is an endless supply of music, which is shunned by the main stream, that is far more worthy of airplay on national radio than the audience-snubbing fare that dominates Brave New Waves. To point fingers and name names, Patti is doing the absolute worst job in this amorphous genre (of anyone with a major broadcasting range) and Little Steven is doing, by far, the best. Can't the CBC at least do something between these two extremes?

Posted by rick on July 15, 2005 10:21 AM

 

 

Reads like my autobio Carl, moved to TO from London Ont at 19 just before discovering Meat Pups Up On The Sun and Bad Moon Rising by SY. London may not be a small town geographically, but arguably the mindset is still holding fast and hard. Which, I might add, many recalcitrant denisons will proudly tell you that they like it that way...big quiet fish in small pond and all that jazz, just don't try being a music promoter there...not a pretty sight/site.
A CBC casualty myself, I am milking my sources on some skinny on the BNW/Radio 3 trials and tribs...will let you know what I can find out from my regional sources...often less jaded than the Toronto types who tend to provide more commentary than information...no offence.

Posted by Phil on March 4, 2005 3:17 PM

 

 

..on a related note: does anyone out there know if Grant Lawrence and/or some of the Vancouver crew got the sack? He left the e-Mole nG in a huff, calling me a curmudgeon (But of course: what else is new?) after getting one of the Kinks Vs Cancer e-Mole newspams. Hardly the type of thing to have a temper tantrum over (most people know how to hit the delete button, right?)so I'm thinkin' somethings awry in BeeCee. Any guesses?
Any moles in the Ceeb out there?

Posted by Bruce Mowat on March 4, 2005 2:58 PM

 

 

I can only hope that the replacement program is entitled Brent Bambury's Bathhouse, and features conversations with leading artists and musicians (similar to his time at BNW pre-Schmidt), but set in a more intimate setting...

Posted by Jay Watts III on March 3, 2005 4:04 PM

 

 

I've been listening to the show for ages, and it's true, they've gotten deep into the obscure recently. When I was a teenager, all I knew was Madonna and (forgive me) Vanilla Ice. A bout of insomnia and a flip around the dial changed all that. I could go on about all the awesome music I've experienced as I've gotten older because of this program, but it's too lengthy. All I'll say is that now as an adult, I really appreciate even more just how important this program is. Maybe it'll survive and become sort of the flagship program on Radio 3, I wouldn't be surprised. I would be a bit disappointed if they couldn't even do that. I wonder what Patti's thinking about all this...

Posted by Jacqueline on March 3, 2005 11:02 AM

 

 

Yeah, I think the presentation has leaned too obscure ever since Patti Schmidt assumed the air chair, and the only people who'll be sentimental about the show's demise are the ones who *were* listening back in the Husker Du days. There are many models of accessible non-commercial radio that have done a better job of catering to the enlightened side of the mainstream spectrum. BNW hasn't done the CBC's cause any favors in the past decade, and even less for Canadian artists and listeners. I'm all for preserving a parallel-world heritage but BNW strayed too far off course to merit the precious resources being allocated for it.

Posted by Marc Weisblott on March 1, 2005 11:15 PM

 

 

i'd suggest that you tune in on friday night for last year's !!! concert if you end up staying in. it was phenomenal, and should translate well to the radio.

Posted by steve birek on March 1, 2005 4:29 PM

 

 

Final scoop on BNW is yet to come as bureaucracy grinds on, but It. Looks. Bad.

Marc - Here are the profiles on BNW this week:
Tuesday: Ian MacKaye profile (The Evens, Fugazi, Minor Threat, Teen Idles, Dischord Records)
Wednesday: Aesop Rock profile (Definitive Jux Records)
Thursday: McEnroe interview (Peanuts and Corn Records)
Friday: !!! concert (recorded last April for BNWs 20th anniversary)

This is way too obscure? I don't think they'd be doing their jobs if they were still playing Husker Du records. I know there's too little straight-ahead rock for some people, but there's still quite a bit, and that's hardly where the biggest underground action has been the last five or six years.

Posted by Zoilus on March 1, 2005 4:20 PM

 

 

Don't see what the loss is, they were trying way too hard to make BNW sound obscure--result being nothing on the CBC to rank with many a listener-supported pop-slash-rock station in the U.S.A. or plenty of what the BBC are doing ... if they stayed the original course from the Brent Bambury years, it would've eventually broken the stranglehold of jazz and classical on so much of the Radio Two weekday schedule.

Posted by Marc Weisblott on March 1, 2005 2:17 PM

 

 

God damn that would really put a dent in Canada's cool quotient, such as it is (Spin, NYT, and Richard Florida aside). I always marvel at the various CBC attempts to figure out the "youth market." With BNW they got it right so now they make it wrong. About par for the course, isn't it?

Posted by Iso G on March 1, 2005 9:52 AM

 

 

cbc better not be fucking around. if they cancel BNW and don't create a suitable replacement, i will have to move back to canada, train in the katana, and teach certain executives a lesson. with zoviet*france playing in the background.

Posted by sean on March 1, 2005 9:19 AM

 

 

So what's the scoop on BNW, then? I'm in Europe now and keeping on things CBC is hard.

Posted by Iso G on March 1, 2005 4:05 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson