Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
first published in Arthur No. 5 (July 2003)
Let’s start this time with a little political play we wrote. The setting is a children’s park in Northampton, Massachusetts. Two middle-aged men are sitting on the swings, drunk. Their toupees are askew.
GALLANT: What would you do w/ the Bush twins?
GOOFUS: I’d eat the fat one first.
Okay, that’s it. Back to our regular log haul.
New England now – beyond Providence:
One of the weirdest gigs I’ve seen/heard lately was by a Providence, Rhode Island duo called KITES CAN’T. Their name alone was a curious alliteration of chitinous promise. That and the fact they were riding along with another Providence duo called Mindflayer (being B. Chippendale of Lightning Bolt, and Mr. Brinkmann of Meerk Puffy, Force Field, MC Brinkmandibles, and Danse Asshole). The CAN’T of Kites Can’t is Jessica Rylan, a “noise performance artist” (according to her “pop”), who, unlike the scallywags notoriously involved with said genre, is a NICE-natured individual. Though when she springs into performance I suggest you hold onto your moorings: Jessica bolts her tall-drink-o’-water body to and fro like a flesh-spear controlled by a caffeine-spiked jerkin’ joystick. Kinda scary and amazing as the oddball galoomph of it not only shreds whatever gender-tradition Jessica is obviously liberated from but acts as an affront to the high percentage of male noise nose pickers agawk at her spectacle. In tandem with her performative rite are her “Can’t machines”–noise boxes with a visual aesthetic both positive and alarming. One such machine is a modified Arvin boom-box which she presented in the Boom Box show early in 2003 at the Boston Center for the Arts. Because of this exhibit she was featured on a WGBH TV special on Boston sound art. She has her own label called irfp (the name of a transistor she has utilized in amp construction) releasing a trio of CDs and a limited handbound book called Noise Show where she writes of dreams, noise, politics, social anxiety. The 3-inch CD-R morse code vs. can’t is a screaming match twixt Can’t (synth, voice, mxr, acoustic 150 amp) and Morse Code (Tim Morse using sax, seven pedals, two Peavey amps) in a numbered edition of 99 copies. It suggests distorted anarchy yet realizes an intelligent spray of heartfelt expression. A Bard graduate furthering the expanded field of post-gender, post-boundary noise work Jessica is delivering a welcome shot of sonic funtime.
KITES is a new cat (Christopher Forgues) from the more-alive-than-ever Providence scene in and out of the Fort Thunder nexus from which the supernovas Lightning Bolt, Black Dice and Force Field blasted. Kites wears handmade grey-scale splattered noise-wear and sexulates his odd-machines to harried levels of distracto-crunge. He also creates spiked comic art which seems to be a shared vision/vocation for a lot of this area’s enclave, be they wasted Rhode Island School of Design denizens or simply localized noise rats. Kites, along with Chippendale and others (including grafik great Gary Panter), squirts jizzed n’ jamming inksplot inside the newsrag Paper Radio, now in its 14th issue. Not only is the art mania here insanely inviting but the host of micro-ads are a compendium of underworld (specifically east coast) noise/art scuzz beneficial to any jonesing noise-jack’s junksick. The Kites music available right now is strictly in cassette format in wonderful normal-bias outage. CDs suck, vinyl’s better and normal-bias cassette is the best—always has been. Wanna make a hot CD? Transfer your audio file(s) to normal-bias cassette (no dolby no noise reduction) and then use that as your master. That’s good listenin’. Kites Vol. 3: The Miracle of Thought (Unskilled Labor U.L. 004) is for digging on headphones with all EQs rammed to peak level. It won’t hurt, it will help; indeed it may heal (particularly the side-2 long track “Total Peace”). Kites’ liner notes exclaim, “FUCK YOU SELF IMPORTANT NOISE SLOBS AND BLAS… SCENESTERS ALL OVER WORLD” and there does indeed seem to be a new breakaway from genre purism as practiced by the likes of Kites and Can’t that seems almost like a euphoric new-birth with a reinvestment to junk manip/control. Sweet.
I doubt the Providence extreme noise outfit PRURIENT qualifies as an example of what Kites is ranting on, as the ringleader of this active emission is a humble lad. The Prurient vibe is aligned with a more traditional and classic noise world. The label it’s involved with, Hospital Productions, has released a steady stream of well-worn sociopathic hyper-scree through the years. They’ve documented such uber-discharge as Black Leather Jesus, Skin Crime and Macronympha, as well as a heavy sick dose of house-band Prurient. They’ve also been home to even more nefarious concerns such as the near-unapproachable Nuclear Pig Shit and Whorebutcher. What excites us is Hospital Production’s cassette release of more wig-fry by Lexington, KY’s HAIR POLICE. Anyone who has subjected themselves to multiple pops from the classic Blow Out Your Blood LP these guys did on the bedraggled-yet-delirious Freedom From label last year, or from any of their head-on bonkers gigs of the last 12 months, will know how utterly noise-freak genius Hair Police is and any release by these fuckos is essential. Look for more soon come from Providence’s infamous Load Records and a split 10-inch with Crystal Fantasy on the Liquid Death/Hello Pussy label. And scour Hospital Productions’ site for much great Providence noise Prurient and otherwise.
Not every mother’s son and daughter in Rhode Island is unleashing harsh rainbowtronics. There is the psych/folkcentricity of Iditarod who have been active for a few years now and are wonderful. As well as the remarkable free-improv/modern comp hybrid music of BARNACLED. Both these bands fit dynamically in excited context with their more wilded-out contemporaries. Last year when the Bay Area’s plague-assault core unit Total Shutdown blew through the northeast they had Barnacled along for the ride, which made for a far headier night than just full time destructo. A booking much appreciated by myself and the other eight people in attendance. Barnacled looked scary, as if they were academic musos caught in the wrong dorm, but as they propulsed forward with their energy-ideas it was obvious why taste-mongers of Total Shutdown’s caliber had requested their company. Hot-shot arrangements treated with no wave mind play were in charged abundance. I recommend the CDs available from Corleone Records. All these Providence labels and bands’ sites have linkage far more subterranea to explore (such as Noise Nomads, Neon Hunk et al). The connection to scenes in the Midwest, West Coast, NYC and elsewhere is a unity that’s pretty fucking happening.
When Kites Can’t played the aforementioned gig it was in conjunction with a weekend full fest of out-reaching musics under the banner The Brattleboro Free Folk Festival which happened May 1 thru 4 2003 in Brattleboro, VT and Easthampton and Amherst, MA. It was organized by a compendium of Western MA and Vermont peace groovers with a streak of rough play across their souls. Such heroes as Matt Valentine and Erika Elder of Tower Recordings and MVEE Medicine Show and the label Child of Microtones, and the label Spirit of Orr from Cambridge, MA, which has released the LP debut of spangled wizards Sunburned Hand of the Man, and Dan and Pat Ireton (Dan being Dredd Foole) threw down an awesome event of new free-breath expression.
Along for the journey were such amazing purveyors of field-psych as Texas lad Tom Carter (Charalambides, ex-The Mike Gunn), Jack Rose (Pelt), Dredd Foole (exhibiting his deep-tho-far-out vox improv majesty), Elk Link (a duo of Graham Lambkin, ex-Shadow Ring, and Adris Hoyo, ex-Harry Pussy), Willie Lane (previously known as Willie “Gutbucket” Lane as Matt Valentine felt his gut overflow like a bucket of love after first hearing Willie’s electric folk-wild fret work–Willie has an LP due on Child of Microtones) and a host of other various profile masters (Michael Hurley, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Glenn Jones, Mindflayer, Tower Recordings, Charalambides a.o.). The most startling event hands down would be the premier performance by BABES ON THE LOOSE, a group comprised of Chris Corsano (drums), Paul Flaherty (sax) and SCORCES. Scorces is Heather Leigh Murray and Christina Carter of Charalambides who have a reputation for heavy flow trance drone atmospherics. The question was how they would jibe with the free-fire spark of Corsano/Flaherty. What happened was life-changing for anyone present as Flaherty and Carter kept the engine cooking and Murray and Corsano destroyed and howled all negative light from the immediate environment. Crutches were thrown down and blood streaked Heather’s pedal steel in a psyched ritual of deliverance.
The following evening CHARALAMBIDES settled into post-partum sway and played what was to be their first fully improvised set of live music ever. They were accompanied by Marcia of New York’s DOUBLE LEOPARDS. Double Leopards, along with Amherst, MA’s SON OF EARTH-FLESH ON BONE, have become two of New England’s most rewarding of improvising groups. Neither are featured much at the acclaimed outposts of this music (NYC’s Tonic and Knitting Factory) but, along with their co-joined ensemble Shackamaxon, have become far more challenging and spirit-forward than the stalwarts consistently booked at these joints. So they’re pretty submerged below the pop/improv strata but the recordings bear them out by greatness. Son Of Earth’s label Apostasy released a split LP of these two which is remarkable (and very limited—act fast).
A few of the Son Of Earth/Apostasy clan have decided to rise from their tap-tap tinker knees to celebrate their more erectile rockist desires. A distinct lust for things Bowie and Reed has birthed a horribly attractive no-boogie glam gloop called THE BELIEVERS. Bass player Matt Krefting, at 6 foot 6 inches, had singer Jessi Swenson hold a copy of Lou Reed Live next to his scalp in one hand and with the other scissor his hair in direct proportion to Lou’s. With black fingernails and extremely ill high-water leather pants, he struts and strikes his instrument like a primo new wave gork from the backwoods of 1977. Jessi in hot hot hot pants spiels wonder-glam recitations whilst the others, in varying degrees of hairy transition, groove a thorny hybrid of woodsy punk and neon junk. The Believers join local legends Magic Markers and Scott Foust and Karla Bolecky’s Swill Radio band bonanza (Anti-Naturals, Idea Fire Company, Tart, The New Peculiars a.o. – I suggest procuring Scott’s solo The Fighting Sensualist cassette on his new Pineapple Tapes label. This tape is a 1981-2002 overview of Scott’s outstanding glam-noise dialogue with reason. Indeed, it is Scott’s glamitude in dress and swagger that has given this contempo New England scene its underlying style) as a new voice in post-versatile punk/glam/improv. MAGIC MARKERS heartthrob drummer Pete Nolan has readied a fresh master of the premier Magic Markers LP which will be co-released late summer by Apostasy and Ecstatic Peace. Both bands will be touring together this summer though how far from New England they can stray is hard to tell. As long as they return!
Chad Stockdale seemed like a pretty unassuming guy when we met, but his recordings on tenor saxophone, recorded in duo with percussionist Nate Beier, are really wild. Under the procedural soubriquet, KLONDIKE & YORK, the pair has recently released an LP, The Holy Book (Weird Forest) that treads outsider jazz ramps as strangely as Arthur Doyle might. Stockdale’s tone is fractious and scattery, but follows neither the bellow nor the tinkle of the Euro free jazz tradition. If anything, he recalls the strangest players of the American fire music underground, who investigated internal chambers of passion with their reeds blazing softly. Skronky sax, scuddering drums, some wall-eyed synth, everything blended like some sorta weird stew of darkly boiling orgone. It’s one of the best free jazz duo records from Sacramento since [yr favorite here]. And frankly, it’s even better than that.
If you can read French you might wanna check out a nice new collection, edited by Vincet Pecoil. It’s called Prieres Americaines (Les Presses du Reel) and collects a few really good essays about the intersection of semi-popular music and art in the furnace of American underground culture. They use a nice bit of Pettibon art for the cover and the individual texts are pretty heavy. There are good interviews with Christian Marclay and Mike Kelley. There’s a nice piece on Dan Graham’s importance in tickling the crotch where high and low culture meet. Kim Gordon and Jutta Koether both unspool extremely pleasant thoughts (an ode to west coast art, and fake Sun Ra texts, respectively) and so on. Worth translating. Honest.
The best Japanese LP released by an American label this time out is probably Anoyonodekigoto by IKURO TAKAHASHI (SIWA). As far as we can tell, Anoyo No Dekigoto is actually the name of a duo which includes Takahashi and dancer Yoko Muronoi. This album captures some of Takahashi’s amazing electronic creations and they are so beautifully strange and space-altering, that you’d better make sure your seatbelt is good and tight before you play them. The work sounds like nothing else, really. Well, it might be a little like hearing a swarm of locusts eating your family from the toes up, but even that doesn’t really capture the metallic, head-bending edge of the sonics. It really is an insect rebellion soundtrack unlike any other. Too bad there’s not a video to accompany it. It’d be bitchen to see the dance that goes with it.
Took a while, for some reason, but finally conjured up a copy of THE MEKONS’ Hello Cruel World book (Verse Chorus Press). And it’s great. It doesn’t collect all of this incredible band’s lyrics, but it has lots and lots of them from one of the more wonderful canons a Brit combo has created in living memory. Interspersed with handwritten drafts, illustrations, and a good section of road photos, are lots and lots of good words, from a group that has always made a point of seeing the political as personal and vice versa. It may be a bit daunting for songwriters to read a book of stuff as strong as this, but that’s no reason for you to sluff off. So don’t.
Was great to get a few things from Mondo Macabro, who seem to be about the most insane movie reissue house around. If the three DVDs that came along are indicative of the company’s wares, it’s probably a good idea to see them all. Alucarda is a totally nutty, bloody, out-of-control witch movie, shot in 1975 by Juan Lopez Moctezuma, who was a protege of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Convents full of burning Sapphic nuns in bloody gowns, spinning and screaming galore, orgies, antlers, nude girls with knives, what more could one ask for? Well, how about a 20-foot-long tongue that extends out of shrubbery and makes little magic tattoos on girls’ thighs? That is but one of the crafty features of Mystics in Bali, an Indonesian horror film that is crafted a pace of high hysteria as piercing as the Sun City Girls at their most demonic. My favorite part is probably the bit where the main woman’s head comes flying off, attached to its internal organs, then goes around sucking babies out of wombs. But you may dig something else better. Regardless, there’s something for everyone here. The Nude Princes may be less of a crowd pleaser, but maybe I’m wrong. It’s ostensibly an Italian Pam Grier softcore movies from ’76, without Pam Grier. The star is Ajita Wlson–a statuesque-as-hell African American actress, but the only really transcendental scene is the one in the Milanese hotel room with cheeb and ritual dancing. But hey, if that’s your bag, so be it.
If pressed, we would probably still have to say that OREN AMBARCHI’s most utterly fantastic music is that which he does with his band, the Menstruation Sisters. Their stuff is the kinda wild-eyed chaos that really fuels dreams. But Ambarchi, who is often absent from his native Australia, wears many other lab coats. He does techno stuff. He does weird experimental electronic stuff. He does spectral solo guitar stuff. Anyway, his latest LP is Triste (Idea) and it’s a really beautiful set of solo guitar ruminations. Quiet and electric, the vibe here is somewhat congruous with that of Loren Connors’ most slowly wound electric pieces, but Ambarchi’s inability to resist evil gesticualtion takes things into a new place, a not entirely friendly or even knowable place. But it’s nice. At least if you like to walk along the edges of dark, long, sizzling tones that lead to a pit of cartoon insanity worthy of Raymond Scott. Then there is a bonus 7-inch, with the material dicked with and crackled up by Tom Recchion (historically linked with both L.A.F.M.S. and Sonic Youth). This single is almost more tiki-like than you could imagine, detourning Ambarchi’s music into a nest that is almost like Solid Eye or one of the other World imitation off-shoots in both stance and valor. How fitting!
The always wonderful Abaton Book Company has outdone itself with its newest release, JD FLEISHMAN’s Looking for Maya. The book is collection of photographs taken at a Manhattan escort agency, interspersed with texts. There’s an excerpt from Black Alex’s Privelege, an interview with “Maya” by Lori Bortz that includes the timeless philosophical question, “Does a woman at the sperm bank fuck a Dixie cup?” And a great poem about being a john by Jeff Burns. The photographs are fantastic–sexy, weird, intense, arty. And this is a really great take on a ubiquitous, important and almost entirely ignored part of our culture–sex work–and should be dug by everyone.
Finally dug up a copy of MAMMAL’s Fog Walkers LP (SNSE) and all the talk about this one man Michigan space-noise-aktion-beat unit rings pretty goddamn true. It is impossible to not hear this jumble of vaguely-dancey, totally corrupt electronic huzzing as an outgrowth of the old Industrial Records ethos, but the guy who’s doing this probably wasn’t even born when Throbbing Gristle packed it in. So what’s that tell you? I dunno. But this is the real thing–the kind of Olympian munge experience that the Wax Trax crowd and a certain period of Foetus were always shooting for, but were too bogged down in intellect, knowledge and technique to actually achieve. Shorn of society’s hideous rudders, Mammal is able to surge into pathways beyond the reach of many’s imagination. A total victory.
Good new mags this time include Dream #4 (Dream), which is George Parsons’ wonderful attempt to recreate the universe in a pattern that makes sense to him. There are good pieces on post-psychedelic pioneers like Peter Scion, Green Pajamas, Iditarod and Sand Pebbles. There’s excellent historical stuff on the poet Robert Creeley and the folksinger Vashti Bunyan. There’s a ton of well-written reviews, and plenty more. Swingset #3 (Swingset) is pretty hep, too. There’s a good Liars tour diary, very fine spurts on the artists Robert Beck and Cecelia Dougherty, stuff on Black Dice, Little Walter, Henry Jacobs, and plenty more. Always a pleasure to file this one in the bathroom.
Best rant zine this time is definitely the first two issues of Valerie Beth Webber’s Why Missing the Mark (Webber). Originally started as a high school project, these zines combine polemics about living in out of the way places, with a kind of primordial grappling with world politics, in a way that is very cool. Hand-written and sketch-filled, there should be some new issues out by the time this column appears, and let’s hope she includes some of her poetry next time, ‘cause it is great.
Another key piece of Canadian content is The Waxathon by Blake Hargreaves LP (Fluorescent Friends). It’s not entirely clear what the artist’s name is, but the brunt of this fucker is lovely. The sound goes all over of the place, crudely distorting vaguely post-core motion through the use of creaky guitars, spoon-darkened vocals, some kinda goddamn electronic hijinx, and presumed turntable leakage. Sounding like the hand-picked gems from many months of vastly stoned late night jam sessions, the music here really moves around in your head like a little truckload junk, looking for just the right corner in which to take a dump. In ways it has some textural similarities to the Midwest and Northeast U.S. underground space-core-improv scenes, but its flavors are unique and it also features two of my favorite song titles of the month “I beat cops up the rope ladder” and “I am standing on a fucking mountain.” Wow, the story of my life. In song!
Originally planned as a CD on Wholly Other, CHRISTINA CARTER’s Bastard Wing is now out as an LP (Eclipse) and it’s a real hoss. Playing a piano that is not exactly in known-tuning, she moves through wonderful passages of meditation strategies using fingers, voice, body and soul. Anyone familiar with Christina’s work with Charalambides or Scorces won’t be surprised by how powerful and rapturous the sound is–sad, deep, thoroughly human, it is another kind of blues, as sure as anything Loren Connors does, but unique in focus and equally in the spirit of Patty Waters. Great stuff. The same can be said of the new SCORCES LP, Vivre avec la Bete (Eclipse), which album combines all the quivering feather energy for which they are so rightly famous. Strings get plucked like courageous chickens, notes hover in the air like ballpeen hammers in zero gravity, hints of melody lurk behind clouds of sheerest joy, and vocals weave through holes like pixies.
Very extremely easy on the eyes is JACKIE O MOTHERFUCKER’s new video, Forestry Center (U Sound). Shot by Theo Angell, in the forests of Oregon, this is semi-abstract rural footage, accompanied by music from the last few Jackie O CDRs. Lotsa continuous motion, lotsa simple effects, lots slow spinning…this is as realistic an evocation of doing acid in the forest as I’ve seen in a good long time. The band was using some of this footage (I think) and a lot more as projections for recent live shows. This presumably means there might be another volume in the works. And who could argue with that? Not these elves.
You know how sometimes when you’re in a Finnish restaurant, the waitress will turn to you and say, “Avarus is not just a band in Finland?” Me neither. But, still, AVARUS is a band in Finland and a good one. There new LP seems to be called III (HP Cycle), and their members include Jan Anderzen (of so many other notable Finnish units). But where much recent Finnish action-hunch has been very thoroughly rural in its vibe-creation, Avarus combine this woodsy tribal thing with a noise rapture worthy of the Holy Modal Rounders at their most amphetamined. Tongues babble, flutes unroll their teeth, logs are struck with hollow crania, bones begin to whistle, and then thing get electric.
Hey hey hey. THE FRAMES’ new album is out, it’s called Frames 2 (S-S Records) and it is as much of a motherfucker (maybe even more of one) than their debut. This Sacramento band has the thickiest bass sound since King Snake Roost or feedtime or something, and they wrap that huge thug cable around some of the most glorious snats of Rough Trade classicism we’ve heard in ages. Their songs are really a lot more poppy than they sound when you first hear ‘em, and really, playing this thing is not too unlike listening to a good Brit late ‘70s DIY mix tape. Throw in a little bit of the Urinals, and maybe mid period Middle Class (for requisite American content) and you’ll be howling with pleasure.
Should you have anything to send to Bull Tongue, please direct two (2) copies to:
P.O. Box 627
Northampton, MA 01061
CAN’T: Coreleone Records: http://www.corleonerecords.com
Fluorescent Friends: 1 Highland Road, North Hatley, QC J0B 2C0 Canada
Scott Foust: http://www.anti-naturals.org
Hair Police: http://www.geocities.com/hairpolice000
Hospital Productions: http://www.hospitalproductions.com
HP Cycle: unknown
Idea: PO Box 461333, San Antonio TX 78246
KITES: unskilled labor / p.o. box 913 / providence, RI 02901
Les presses du Reel: c/o Pecoil, 69 rue Monge, F-21 000 Dijon, France
Liquid Death/Hello Pussy label: http://www.ldr-hpr.com
Mondo Macabro: http://www.mondomacbrodvd.com
paper radio: http://www.paperrad.org — (box 913 / providence, RI 02901)
The Scorces: http://www.scorces.com
SNSE: PO Box 51021, Kalamazoo MI 49005
Spirit of Orr: http://www.spiritoforr.com
Swingset: 532 La Guardia Place #102, New York NY 10012
U Sound: http://www.usoundarchive.com
Verse Choris Press: POB 14806, Portland OR 97293
Webber: 3551 rue Gertrude, Verdun, QC H4G 1R4, Canada
Weird Forest: firstname.lastname@example.org