Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
first published in Arthur No. 7 (November 2003)
While a newfound farmhand glam seems to be tripping through the hearts of American underground noise folk, it’s the unpinned nature of trad-surrealism, which seems to be guiding the Euro-scene. Case in point may be the remarkable sound cantations of Raymond Dijkstra and Timo van Luyk. Both have had involvement with an ongoing array of slippery activity through the years (Dijkstra with Razoul Uzlu, Indra Karmukaand and Dadaphon; Luyk with Af Ursin and Noise Makers Fifes amongst others.) The two have recently combined their spirit force as ASRA and have released an initial document Souvenir ‡ ASRA la PoupÈe Vivante on the Le Souffleur label. An engaging outsider dada stroke vibe pulls you into this weirdo soundcurrent and it breathes a serious and graceful drift into the air. Chamber LSD expositions for the new mind. Edition of 300. No web presence found though they reside in or around the Netherlands and the Dutch noise/industrial distributor Staalplat may be of service. In the USA try Self Abuse. Also check out the Dadaphon 10-inch on Le Souffleur for further kosmische scloob.
One of the real bonuses of all the recent archival and reissue frenzy has been in the genre of avant garde composition. Many of the composers whose work was most talked about by people who seemed to be on the right track was all but unavailable. Over the last few years there has been a goddamn glut of the stuff, however, and we aren’t complaining—far from it—we’re wallowing. And two of the most wallowsome recent LPs in this field are Charlemagne Palestine’s Negative Sound Story (Alga Marghen) and Tony Conrad’s Fantastic Glissando (Table of the Elements). Neither of these guys was well-represented by recordings any time in the past, but what rich loam has been dug! Negative Sound Story is a one-sided LP, recorded in 1969, documenting one of Palestine’s first pieces, predating the influence of Pandit Pran Nath and long tones. It is a somewhat crude but quite involving series of generated synthesizer waves that splutter in sequence and shift in the air like clay pigeons, expanding towards nirvana. Fantastic Glissando was also recorded in 1969, and is one of Conrad’s experiments for a sine wave oscillator. The album presents four different versions of the work. The original piece sounds something like standing at the end of a runway at JFK while a 747 takes off over your head in slow motion. But as the channels become more separate, the effect becomes more and more like being torn apart by two subway trains. Either way, the results are invigorating.
Back in the USA the summer was blown to bits by the reformed Iggy & the Stooges shows. The first one, in Palm Springs, CA, as part of the Coachella Festival, was brainsmoking. Mike Watt, holistically woodshedding with Ron and Scott Asheton and J Mascis (as Asheton, Asheton, Mascis & Watt) for the last two years, is the new recruit on bass (original Stooge Dave Alexander left the planet in 1975). As absurd and perfect a choice Watt is, it was equally nutso to see and hear Steve MacKay, the Funhouse sessions saxophonist, appear on stage to reprise his classic howl. Unlike the peripheral players from Iggy’s subsequent Hollywood years, like Scott Thurston and Zeke Zettner, MacKay was a Michigan boy hooked in with the Asheton scene, the real high energy family of the Midwest ‘60s/early ‘70s. Before, during and after the Funhouse era MacKay blasted around in a weirdo patchwork of playing situations. He had his own free jazz/rock group in 1969 called Steve MacKay with Carnal Kitchen which existed as a precursor to the Stooges’ “L. A. Blues.” He can be heard with integral Detroit late-‘60s rock group the SRC (in an incarnation then known as Blue Scepter) on the Lost Masters CD (One Way Records, UK). He recorded with the Commander Cody Band in 1977, as well as a bunch of different Commander Cody & The Lost Planet Airmen sessions through the years. Also in 1977 he recorded with “Blue” Gene Tyranny on “Blue”’s signature new music art/roots LP Out Of The Blue (Lovely Music). He then recorded with Snakefinger in 1984, the Violent Femmes in 1985 and Andre Williams in 2000. Carnal Kitchen still exists as a concern for MacKay in residence in the California Bay Area even though VH1, Mix Magazine, Nick Kent and other doofus media dipshits have claimed the man dead. As interesting an underground career MacKay has had, what he’s doing now with the Radon Ensemble is the most mind-blowing. The Radon Ensemble is Tyler Armstrong (Nequaquam Vacuum) drums, steel cello, signal processing; Marlon Kasberg (Liquorball) bass, clarinet; Sam Lohman (36) drums; Travis McAlister (Nequaquam Vacuum) reeds, brass, string can; Noah Mickens (Nequaquam Vacuum) scrap percussion, vocals; and Scott Nydegger (Sikhara) drums, electronics. This collective has been active on the west coast incorporating aspects of electric improv and performance for a few years now, almost as a contemporary version of the classic Los Angeles Free Music Society. Since 1988 the Radon Ensemble has extended its work into booking, distribution, publicity, and recording/mastering services for like-minded creativists. On first glance their aesthetic seems to stem from hard-goth hell-rave stainage though from proof of their recordings they exude a future-blowing energy such fringe-genre music can readily use. A recent Radon Ensemble gig in L.A. featuring Steve MacKay (as well as the electronic zap frazz of Bastard Noise a/k/a John Wiese) was killer. Tripping and metascoping tenor sax jowl-action interwove with the ensemble’s thrash-trash percussion, loose-wire fuzzplay and bass amp anarchy all cutting loose through the astounded listener’s gawp. There are recordings available from these lads, along with archival MacKay music at their site and chances are this full ensemble will unleash some righteous sides soon enough. An extensive overviewithinterview with Steve MacKay exists in Black To Comm magazine issue #12. Tell him Bull Tongue sent ya.
Also at the above gig (along with Smegma’s triumphant return to L.A. with Richard Meltzer and, again, Steve MacKay and LAFMS stalwarts Solid Eye, who played a mesmerizing drone-drift) was a young woman duo from Japan called Afri Rampo. They went on last after Smegma, the purported headliners. I had heard about these two from a friend in Japan who had mentioned something about the most insane and fantastic girl duo ever to land on earth so I was duly curious about why they were in L.A. with absolutely no forewarning or even the slightest of subterranean media profile. The few people who were there at the show were ambling away to get homewards when these girls began to soundcheck a little. This did nothing really to spark anyone’s interest too much and the girls then disappeared for about 15 minutes. All in all not a good move seeing as how the place was emptying. But for those of us still finishing our $5 beers we were thrown into group headscratch and breath gasp as Afri Rampo took the small stage dressed in micro stripper wear. This was either going to be groaningly tacky or groaningly embarrassing (for us, particularly). What happened next was the aging chins of Don Bolles, Mike Watt, Raymond Pettibon, Richard Meltzer, all of Smegma, myself et al just HITTING the goddamn floor.
Using electric guitar and a full scale drumset Afri Rampo relentlessly destroyed us. Each piece was a journey through hyper-irreality as the two musicians called and responded with vocals nailed with reverb. The playing went through passages of Boredoms style aggression, scratch-improv wildness and Sabbath groin-pummel. Anyone en route out of the club turned slowly and came back to see just what in the hell was happening. And what was happening was a new musical experience most of these very experienced individuals had never thought would happen again. But it did and this event became a celebration. Afri Rampo, demurely entering a jaded arena, ripped a whole new sonic slit into the fabric. At times the performance flamed so hot that it could only melt into a sex-scream lava flush. Both women injected proto-gorge guttural yowling into our already heavily ass-kicked psyche to the point of near-fucking-death. I think they brought a few CDRs with them, which at gig’s end, vanished into trembling L.A. boy hands. The next day they played again, as the promoter was so mind-scorched that he demanded they play every day he was alive. I didn’t catch that show, but I heard they went to Disneyland and then flew back to Osaka. Here is the only info I’ve yet to glean via e-mails:
We are star?
Nice to meet every one!
We are AFRIRAMPO!
oni Guiter & Vocol
pikacyu drum & Vocol
very enjoy fun YO!
You should feel the AFRIRANPO.
It was started ’02 spring, when they are18-19 this time 1 years old “AFRIRAMPO”.They are so cute and little barbarous pair naked mind, and brain open feel give to all kind poeple.
They play G.Vo.-Oni and Dr.Vo.-Pika very heavy kind of rock and so improvised feels catch everytime-different sound. They are like 60’s hippys. But try a lot of new interesting things .
Oni: 1983 born, She was started play band in1997-8 sit in many band now through going it. she is singer song writer. Kind of lyricist. She play in Evellive (20 peace improvisation band, she also pikacyu play there Chorus and Percussion)
Pikacyu:1983 born, she is a more from visual arts she and Oni were gradurate same art unique public high school. they were same photography club. Oni and Pikacyu is different from class grade. they are working together now. Pikacyu play a drum and sing acting statement. AFRIRAMPO make Drama, thier compose drama and sing, expressing anyway!
They are play with a lot of Japanese bignames ex member of Boredoms, Yoshikawa Toyohito…Hiromichi Sakamoto……Namaiki……a lot of session work, Now ‘s Osaka’s Scene is infuruenced from them many things!
In Osaka Castle Park(like brooks),They organize jam session party every month. Last party is 50 musician (guitar 20???,a lot of drumers…dancers.and all kinds…audience a lot include this park’s homeless people was collecting many I saw) play started from evening sun to in the morning sunrise.
Great Rave Culture.
This Party was No Drug Natural Trancing Very Silent Minds party was last year, a few times police came but They talk to Oni&Pika soon go back their statement.
They are Star like shine flash, Interesting funny and sexy cute …so real.
Same of in the stages or every lifetime this is great thing I think.
Pika write is “our’s real music CuleCule stir Japan Drop in River Nake. SOON OVER THERE STIRING. Everybody Smile.”
Oni also Supponpon (naked) brain rock sing and guitar ! So Amazing.
“SUPPONPON ROCK AFRIRAMPO!”
Sound man / Bun
2003. June. LOVE.
NUDE MIND. FEEL!
The great Richard Meltzer was mentioned above and, lest you think he is just functioning as the vocalist for Smegma these days, it should be noted that he has just had a new book released, and it’s a honey. Autumn Rhythm (Da Capo) is Meltzer’s book about becoming a self-proclaimed geezer, and it may well be his best yet. He has really mastered the flow of his muse over the last few years, and the boil of his “mature” style is fucking incredible. Some of the pieces have seen print in various places, but the blend of prose, poetry and sheer cussedness is magnificent to read. Meltzer has always seemed to be one of the two most influential writers of his generation (the other being Pynchon), but the saddle of “rock crit” that he was forced to wear for so long gave people an easy way to not-take him seriously as either a stylist or a thinker. Death, non-death, meta-death, quasi-death, death of youth, death of sex, resurrection, etc., these are all topics that are dealt with here in scabrous, hilarious terms. If this isn’t enough to get the guy into the rolls of “serious” writers, it’s time for a revolt. Anyway, it’s a monster of a goddamn read. So do it today.
The printed page seems to be alive and well in England as well, with two fine new shelf-stuffers courtesy of Ed Pinsent. The first is the eleventh issue of his occasional music omnibus, The Sound Projector. Perfect bound and filled to bursting with reviews, this number also has a special section on the Seattle experimental scene with great interviews with Climax Golden Twins, Scott Colburn, Dave Knott, Jesse Paul Miller and Matt Shoemaker. It’s a wonderful bathroom read, as is the first decent sized collection of Pinsent’s comics. Voice of the Wilberforce: A Book of Signs (Kingly Books) is a truly bizarre set of stories, following the diminutive, rotund intellectual Windy Wilberforce through a series of metaphysical adventures that are equal parts kid’s stories and adult-style bad dreams. Soothing!
A couple of other notable Japanese things have recently come out on American labels. The Don’t Forget to Boogie LP by Tetuzi Akiyama (Idea) is one of the more disorienting things to arrive. On the cover, Akiyama, a guitarist best known for his free improvisations and noise efforts, is portrayed as a refugee from an early line-up of Electric Flag or something. And the music is a mutant strain of solo guitar choogle, taken to extreme minimalist/maximalist lengths in a way that suggests intellectual underpinnings of John Lee Hooker’s sound that have never (to the best of our knowledge) been previously posited. I mean, did even the Mysterious Al Wilson ponder the connection between “Boogie Chillen” and “Metal Machine Music”? A bit more straightahead is the Heavy Acid Blowout Tensions LP by Splendor Mystic Solis (Galactic Zoodisk). This was an ad hoc live band that Plastic Crimewave (the editor of Galactic Zoo Dossier as well as a fiercely weird guitarist) assembled for a ’99 tour with Mainliner. Using members of Acid Mothers Temple, the Ruins and High Rise, Mr. Crimewave managed to get them through a short, explosive psychedelic tour that is captured here. Less about form than sound, the three long tracks here are wonderful meandering psych jams, shorn of the hard rock bombast that can mar some such outings. Cool, loose and spaced. Okay!
Out of Brooklyn, a steaming hotbed of potential sqwooge, comes the first release from the Skul Record Label. It’s a shrouded affair titled Tuck Tuck Tuck and on first spin you may want to scream and bolt as yr confronted with a loner boy with barely touched acoustic guitar and what may be just a cassette recorder. The attempt here is of something shot with Palace Bro alien-stream and pre-Palace Nick Drakeanism, neither of which can withstand too much more investigation by contempo ears, but no one says you can’t at least try. In distress we flip the sucker and a whole nother slew of gush rips forward. And it’s nice: improvised scrape and amp shudder with a bitching deftness. More of this shit would be extremely welcome. Edition of 300 with handmade covers.
From elsewhere in New York (the Lower East Side, mostly) comes the poetry of Irving Stettner. The long-time editor of Stroker, and a favorite of Henry Miller, Stettner is one of those street poets whose work grew out of the beats without ever really becoming a part of their stream. There’s a solid new collection of his work, Pigeon Feather: Selected Poems (1967-2002) (Stroker/Papandrea) that puts a lot of his best poetry in one place for the first time. Stettner writes about the road and the Village and art and love and all else like a master. He doesn’t have a dry, academic bone in his body and allows himself to be swept away by passion like a smoke-ring in a hurricane. His style is great and readable, somewhere between Jack Micheline and Allen Ginsberg, and he should be so much better known it hurts. Stettner’s buddy Everett Rand has also gotten out a new issue of his great zine, Mineshaft. This new one has drawings by R. Crumb, Kim Deitch, Ace Backwards and Bruce Duncan, wonderful pieces by Everett, Tommy Trantino and others, and a nice photo portfolio by Olivier Berthe. Definitely worth a check (as are back issues).
Another fine zine is Wildflowers (Shivastan) edited by Shiv Mirabito and printed on beautiful handmade paper in Nepal. The focus here is poetry by people in and around Woodstock, NY and their circle. As this includes Janine Pommy Vega, Hetty Maclise, Ira Cohen, Ed Sanders, and Andy Clausen, the wordsmithing here is rich as hell. The four issues thus far are uniformly lovely in both content and format, really nice to handle and read. The same press has also published Festival of Squares by Andy Clausen, probably the best poet around, although weirdly unknown in too many circles. Clausen’s new chapbook is a long poem taking apart George W and the whole fucked yuppie culture that allowed him and his whole family to be shat out onto our heads. It’s a damn fine read. I just wish that someone would publish the text of Andy’s “The Old Days” (thee epic poem of the last twenty years) somewhere. Thus far it has only appeared in an issue of Charlie Potts’ late, lamented ‘zine, The Temple. And even if I’m sure Potts still has an assload of copies, it’s not exactly on the stands.
One of the Bay Area’s treasures for the last many years has been Barbara Manning. An incredibly gifted musician and human, Barbara has made so many fine records, my mouth waters just thinking bout them. The newest one under her name is a sweet-looking picture disk LP, One Starry Night at the Shop (Swamp Room), recorded live with her current band the Go-Luckys. It has 18 songs, old, new, borrowed and blue, all of them powered by her exquisite vocal sense and the playing of the reckless Steinbach brothers. From the electric folk perfection of “Scissors” through Faine Jade’s psych-snot-classic “Don’t Underestimate Me” to the thug-slunch of “Don’t Neglect Yourself,” this is music as sharp as a tic’s pincer, and twice as grabby. Ms. Manning’s more perverse side is on display with the Tubular Bells LP (Starlight Furniture Co.), by Glands of External Secretion and Decaer Pinga. Glands is the experimental duo she does with Bananafish editor Seymour Glass, and Decaer Pinga is the English unit formerly known as Prick Decay. Together, they approach Mike Oldfield’s lazy-prog opus with pitchforks, and toss it rudely into the air by “covering” it using only pre-recorded sounds, electronic pucks, and dithering effects barrages. How it relates to the original is something best left to individual listeners, but it is a weezily strange suite of blinking sound-sheets no matter what side of yr bread is buttered. How sneaky!
Back in the cosmic farmland of New England we have an LP document of a rather wigged out night at Brattleboro, Vermont’s Common Ground space. This is the scene where David Keenan of Wire magazine became so irreversibly turned on by “New Weird America.” It so happens one summer night in 2002 Mr. Brinkman (Mindflayer, Forcefield), Neil Burke (Men’s Recovery Project) and Fast Forward showed up for a collaborative performance at Common Ground, which is a fairly well-known Brattleboro hippie event pad. As it was, no one there let anyone else know this was happening, no flyers, nothing. The manager had gone home and the P.A. was locked in his office. Legend has it the performers broke into the office, liberated the P.A., set it up and proceeded to blow a mighty blare into this hallowed den of bearded burnout. Wabana Records have released this hippie attack and it is a big, deep noisefuck glissando roiling through dimensional organix. Available from the label’s distributor, Surefire.
Lots of great print stuff has been popping out all over. First up may as well be our old friend Valerie Webber, who has a swell new poetry broadsheet called cigatete (Webber). This evidence of her newest work is pretty dazzling, a mix of sex and anger that will pin you to your seat. There’s supposed to be a French language edition of her Figure Order collaboration around too, as well as hints of a new bilingual book in the works with Benoit Chaput’s great l’Oie de Cravan press. In the meantime. Monsieur Chaput has come through with a selection of goodies associated with his organization, Mouvement Lent (Slow Movement), who are dedicated to decreasing the hectic pace of contemporary life. In concord with such great visual artists as Julie Doucet, ML have created some small manifestos, cardboard readymades, beautifully packaged unplayable CDs by their band, les Slow, and a variety of other gorgeous stuff, guaranteed to make you stop in yr tracks and just smell the day. The stuff is unbelievably nice and you should write them (by slow boat) and ask how to join the gang tomorrow (or the day after) (or the day after that). Another visual feast is the one provided by Steven Heller’s Merz to …migrÈ and Beyond: Avant-Garde Magazine Design of the Twentieth Century (Phaidon). This is a big, beautiful coffee table book with great illustrations of legendary mags from the beginning of the modern design revolt through Dada, Surrealism, hippies, punks, mimeo, Raygun, RAW, and tons else. The text is excellent, but it’s the numerous illustrations that will suck the eyeballs out of yr head. Naturally, there’re things you might think they should have covered, but hey—that just means it’s time to do your own goddamn book! Or if you wanna do a newspaper, try to style it after the incredible Paper Rodeo, which is this freebie from Providence full of totally insane graphics that spring out of ratty graphics into deep space. It seems like these guys are almost impossible to deal with by mail sometimes, but it’s really worth a try. Also, on a recent trip to Cleveland, turned up a booklet by the wonderful poet, T. L. Kryss, who once ran the legendary Black Rabbit Press. This new volume, 7 Poems (Ferguson), is the first new work of Kryss we’ve seen in a while, and like so many others, he seems profoundly touched by the current state of the world’s affairs. Between the lines of personal introspection and blue collar muscle, Kryss’s work lets out a baleful sigh about the ways things have become. Send a couple of bucks to sigh along with him. You’ll be happy you did.
West Germany’s Peter Brotzmann is one of the great figures of the age. Both as a visual artist and as a musician, he has created vast neural pathways of his own unique design. His first two albums, self-released on the BRO label were legendary pieces of the European avant garde puzzle, later re issued by FMP. But the original copies, with silkscreened covers existed as virtual art pieces and, together with a later 3-LP set on FMP that included pieces of a balloon from an event by Fluxus artist Nam June Paik, they have long represented the sole fusions of Brotzmann’s arts. Now, 35 years down the pike, there is a third release on BRO, the ink is gone LP (distributed by Eremite), which has a lovely silkscreened cover and contains evidence of a fine set of duos for Brotzmann’s reeds and the drumming of Walter Perkins. Perkins has been around for a long time and figures into the discographies of everyone from Mingus to Roland Kirk to Booker Ervin to the birth of the AACM and onward. The shows they did together were splendid surges of back and forth, giving Perkins’ spare kit action plenty of space, and pulling Brotzmann into some of his most reflective playing ever. The album is a true document of this, and breathes with such beauty and open-ness it is impossible to resist. Peter’s gorgeous blend of sweet and sour combine with Walter’s protean Murray-esque free-formalism just perfectly.
Back in Brooklyn the sick style spazz gods Japanther have released a motherfucker of an LP called Leather Wings (Menlo Park). It truly is a ping pong of dipsorhythmic mania. Using loose tapes of radio bonkerisms and stink-fried grooves Japanther is a lean slam boogie machine with no time for boredom. A titillated mix of Germs and no-wave and drunken noise is Japanthers screed. By the time this is published their anti-Rikki Lake CD should be out, also on Menlo Park. They have friends too who are all just as invitingly damaged – http://www.tapesrecords.com
AS ALWAYS. IF YOU HAVE MATERIAL TO BE LICKED BY BULL TONGUE – VINYL, BOOKS, MAGS, VIDS, ETC. SEND TWO (2) COPIES TO:
PO Box 627
Northampton MA 01062
Black to comm: chris stigliano, 714 shady avenue, sharon, PA 16146, usa
da capo: http://www.dacapopress.com
ferguson: 1330 west blvd. #512c, cleveland, oh 44102
galactic zoodisk: c/o eclipse – http://www.eclipse-records.com
steve mackay: http://www.geocities.com/detroitrockandroll/bands3.html#mackay
menlo park: http://www.menloparkrecordings.com
mineshaft: p,o box 884, lewisburg, wv 24901
mouvement lent: cp 48115, 5678 av. du parc, montreal, pq, h2v 4s8, Canada
paper rodeo: p.o. box 321, providence, ri 02901
radon ensemble: http://www.radonstudio.com
self abuse: http://www.selfabuserecords.net
shivastan: 54e tinker street, woodstock, ny 12498
skul records: http://www.skulrecordlabel.com
the sound projector: http://www.thesoundprojector.com
staalplatg: : http://www.staalplaat.com
starlight furniture co.: p.o. box 424762, san francisco, ca 94142-4762
stroker/papandrea: 174 huntsville rd. #5, dallas, pa 18612
swamp room: http://www.Swamp-Room.de
webber: 87 troy, verdun, pq, h4g 3c6, canada