Friday, March 17, 2006

Out Angels, Out: An Investigation

PART I: The Muse is a Harsh Mistress

There is some music that I’m unable (for a variety of reasons) to make or contribute to at this point in my life. I can’t play the “good” or “real” (normal??) music any more – and I’m not sure I ever could. I’m not sure that what I do is even music at all, but possibly some twisted form of aural sculpture or automatic sound painting.

Here’s what (noted North Carolina based improviser) Bret Hart wrote to me for our first collaboration*: “Ask yourself, ‘What are your extended techniques?’ Then, exploit them to tape… Avoid all overdubbing (live looping/sampling does not constitute overdubbing). Simultaneous use of multiple instruments is great. Signal processing encouraged, if it it’s your thing” (Hart).

To me, “extended techniques” means much more than doing goofy things to the instruments (though certainly I do that), it means digging deep into yourself to find out what and who you REALLY are and express that in spontaneous, unfettered (by rules, clichés, hang-ups, chops, equipment, etc.) music. It’s like Zen meditation – once you realize you’re thinking you’ve failed – you’ve limited yourself. For me it’s time to play the unheard music – time to trust the impulse. To quote Blake, “I must Create a System or be enslav’d by another Man’s”.

No slavery for me, man.

“Exploit” means to take fullest advantage of – in this case – that which is uniquely yours. When I scrutinized my own playing in early 2002 I discovered that I didn’t exist. Literally. There was nothing in there that was mine – A realization that horrified and demoralized me. I began the discovery of my musical self by going to the beginning – or the bottom – of my material, human existence. I sought myself through the lowest (highest), most elemental and eternal constructs of life on this planet – bugs. Vermis (imcr –001) was my rebirth through the primordial logic and simplicity of the scamperers. Next came myth (Grendel – imcr #002). All good myths express the meta-reality of human existence.

Now I’m losing my sense (and appreciation) of linearity in music. I’m trying play (like we think) in an all-at-once ness (as in a cubist painting where the forms are so abstracted as to show all sides of a subject simultaneously on a flat, two dimensional surface). This means that the poor, suffering listener is hearing the beginning, middle and end of the piece at the same time (or at least an approximation of that). Here’s the aforementioned Blake quote again (in anagram), now in the (more) non-linear (?):


Isn’t that better? Well, it’s much more interesting to me (and hey, I’m deconstructing my own motto here) I think it’s time to express more clearly the human condition using the true, essential “vocabulary” of the human being. Sure, time is linear (and by such law our mundane physical lifespan is too), but our thoughts, energies, emotions, desires and souls (how I hate that word) are not. To work in an art that is linear is to suckle the most meaningless aspect of our existence – the frailty and emptiness of our limited physical duration – at the teat of vile, egocentric materialism. To work in the all-at-once ness is to affirm the true essence of what is really the most profoundly “human” – the metaphysical. The musical cliché (the dung of decrepit, colonized Western harmony) sows seeds of the mundane – the banal (vapid dross). Surprise celebrates and nurtures the new (the previously unknown – unheard) in its shocking, primal appeal to our deepest human, known (but yet unknown) selves.

Mythologies: Discovery of Musical Self

When blocked, maybe consider an alter ego? I originally had to invent a persona who played "the forbidden music" (props to Ra) exclusively ‘cause I was too chicken to do it myself (I was Bhagiti**). I believe mythologies are important and can help us give 100% to any given task - I certainly wouldn't ever think of running my croaking voice through a fuzz pedal and a Leslie cabinet, but Bhagiti did all the time (goofball). Hart invented this guy named Alonzo Phillips who's even more "out there" than Bret himself (I asked Bret about Phillips when I couldn't find ol' Alonzo during some online research - Bret told me the truth with a sort of laugh). The really significant thing is that Bret recorded Bret Hart and Alonzo Phillips, Duets Volume 1 (itids #7) with him. When I asked Bret if this was difficult he told me, “No, we understand each other.”

The reason why I say this is because an alter ego may help solve musical identity issues related to "who the hell AM I, and why or what do I play?" Slamming your instrument through the window out of frustration or despair isn't necessarily the answer (but if you do, record it!). If you're at the same crossroads I was facing it's time to be what you're supposed to be as a musician; that is, accept that what comes out is YOU (like it or not), and work on fine tuning from there. Trust the universe, it's much bigger than we can ever know and it operates on energies that we can't possibly understand. I had to learn to accept my music (even though it sort of shocked me - still does) as being the music that was me. You have to accept YOUR music and be willing to stand by it.

“Growth" and "change" are part of the joys of old age. Paradox: the more physically decrepit we get (and more unable to manipulate our twangers), the more musical we become.

So where am I going with all this contradictory linearity (am I a hypocrite)? I don’t know. Have I made any meaningful sense? Probably not. Words fail to express that which I can easily grunt and pound – wood and wire. Flesh on implement – wind through pipe.

PART II: The Lords of True Slack - A Personal Reflection

The Lords of True Slack were:

B.J. (William) Price: Moog, Electric Guitar, Live Effects & Loops
Eric Wallack: Electric and Electro-Acoustic Guitar, Guitar Synth, Upright Bass
Nick (Comet Emission) Conrad: Drums, Percussion

As Robert Fripp once said about that titan of largely improvisational eclectic rock, King Crimson; The Lords of True Slack was, more or less, “a way of doing things.”


B.J. says elsewhere that in his formative years he was influenced by the idea (but not the practice) of free jazz. I was different; I embraced both the idea AND practice of free jazz; studying, analyzing, and actually transcribing the work of such artists as Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, late John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Eric Dolphy. I frittered away my formal music training years attempting to develop enough fluency on my instruments to express myself at the same high level of creativity as my “heroes”. The ideal improviser is able to “think it and do it”, without relying on licks and patterns, to be able to respond immediately to musical stimuli in the heat of “spontaneous combustion”. This, in theory, is the way the Lords of True Slack “did things”.

When I first met B.J. (1989?), we had an instant rapport based on our interest in under-appreciated, obsolete musical gear (also discussed elsewhere), and found common musical ground in King Crimson & Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. We had spoken of collaborative musical projects for years, even getting together for a couple of impromptu recordings (the fabled Morning of the Magician’s project, now “safely” in the hands of Gong’s Pierre Morland, comes to mind). It wasn’t until 1999 that we actually arranged for a gig of entirely improvised music at the local Anarchist Bookstore (Pauper’s Books). The “success” of that encounter led to further gigs, recordings, and the eventual inclusion of percussionist/drummer, Nick Conrad.


The Lords of True Slack did not play free jazz, or any other individual style of music. We did was improvise, and we wore our separate influences on our respective sleeves. The listener was likely to recognize references to early 70’s rock surrealism, freak-out surf and psycho-billy guitar, the aforementioned free jazz, Frippertronics, gut-bucket blues, prog-rock noodlings, ambient soundscapes, and whatever else floated through the aether.

Methodology; or, Expect Nothing:

Each gig was a living, breathing entity based on the ideology of the unexpected. Not only was there no pre-preparation of musical material, there were no guarantees as to what instruments would be hauled to any given performance.

* (This became Bret Hart and Eric Wallack, Duets Volume 1 – itids #36)

** (and worked in two bands and recorded 5 cassettes worth of music under the name)


Blogger myshkin2 said...

Great stuff (and lots of it too!) here. More to respond when I get a chance to reread. I love the music/cubism analogy, thinking of course and then of course not, how could music which unfolds in time overcome itself. And then I think of two quotes--the obvious Eliot 4 Quartets "in my beginning is my end," (or somethign to that effect) and the dancer, Doris Humprheys, I think, talking about choreography, which too must by nature unfold in time--"Dont' leave the ending till the end."

Monday, March 20, 2006  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home