John Adamian on COLLEEN (Arthur No. 20, Jan 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 20 (Jan. 2006)

UNDER A BLANKET
Amidst the culled samples and loops of antique instruments, where in Colleen‘s music is Cécile Schott?
By John Adamian

Lockstep rhythms, heartstring-tugging melodies and overpowering volume can bring the masses together. People talk a lot about the communal and social nature of music. The language we use reinforces the connection: “groups” and “bands” play in front of “crowds.” But some music—like that of the contemporary French musician/composer Cécile Schott, who records under the name Colleen—is intensely solitary, almost private. Not in the candid, pulled-from-the-diary, confessional sense, but in the I’m-alone-inside-my-head sense, holed up in a zone between headphones. In Colleen’s music there are no words, and computers and effects create its blanketing layered feel. It’s the music not of crowds, but of solitude.

My wife and I just had our first baby, Bernadette, a few months ago. Ever since we brought her home from the hospital we’ve had a lot of music in rotation in the CD changer. We’ve tried Bascom Lamar Lunsford, the Rolling Stones, Nina Simone, Raymond Scott, some old Brill Building pop, Vashti Bunyan, the Louvin Brothers, Art Blakey, Gary Higgins, new ones by the Clientele and Broken Social Scene, and lots more. A few records seem to go over well with the baby—a field recording of the Bayaka, forest people from the Congo, a couple of Glenn Gould playing J. S. Bach, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, two Elizabethan composers, and two discs by Colleen. The mix is pretty seamless and it creates a sufficiently womblike atmosphere for all of us, but Bernadette clearly prefers the Colleen discs.

Colleen’s first record, 2003’s haunting Everyone Alive Wants Answers, is made up entirely of looped and layered samples, snippets culled from her record collection; the music creates a cocoon from thrums and furious zithers. It might seem simply soothing at first, until it casts its menacing shadow. For her followup, this year’s equally captivating The Golden Morning Breaks, Colleen (who had previously played only guitar) decided to abandon her method of using reprocessed bits from preexisting recordings and play all of the instruments (cello, music box, gamelan, melodica, etc.) herself. She then, in effect, sampled herself.

If Colleen’s music feels hermetic, of its own world, it’s not entirely coincidental. Schott, 29, works and performs almost exclusively by herself. She shuns collaboration. She doesn’t see herself as fitting in with a group of like-minded musicians. And maybe she’s right. Working for months at a stretch on her recordings, Schott prefers not to let anyone hear her work until she’s entirely through with it. She doesn’t exactly reveal herself through the music of Colleen as much as she loses herself in it. She avoids traditional touring because of the frantic travel from one city to the next without time to soak anything up.

I spoke with Schott twice by phone about her work, once from her apartment in Paris and once just after a soundcheck for a show at a London museum. As a part-time English teacher at a high school in the suburbs outside Paris, Schott isn’t a recluse, but she cultivates a kind of scholastic quietude that seems almost monastic, especially today. It was only relatively recently that Schott’s pupils and colleagues found out about her other career as a musician, and she didn’t necessarily want them to. “Somehow I felt that this wasn’t something that I wanted my pupils to know about,” she says. Schott appears inclined to maintain a distance between herself and the world. Even her stage name seems to be another buffering layer, but she says it’s more elaborate than that.

“Basically I have a problem with words in music. I think it’s hard to have good lyrics and sing them meaningfully. I have the same problem with song titles and even band names. I’ve always found it embarrassing to have to find a name, and I wouldn’t want to use my own name because I think it’s quite boring, and so I wanted something simple. I had this phonetics dictionary—I knew the name Colleen, so I’m not actually referring to the names of people, but the noun, the Irish word meaning ‘young girl,’ like the Scottish word ‘lass.’ I like the look of the word and the sound. The name itself is full of curves with the C and the O, and there’s also repetition with the double L and the E, so I thought it kind of looked like my music. Also if you say it in French, colline is the word for hill. Again that sounded really nice, this image of natural curves.”

Natural curves sounds about right. Colleen’s music has a kind of organic undulating quality to it. It’s music that maps out a certain slow welling up, an ebb and flow, a liquid flux that requires time and patience to take in. Plucked on strings or tapped on chimes, gracefully simple patterns course, separate and reconnect. The elegance is in the unfolding.
With its music-box plinkings, plangent strings and percolating drones, Colleen’s work is often labeled as ambient, but she resists the tag. “I don’t really like the word ambient. Somehow it seems pejorative. Like you put it in the background, and it’s like a nice wash of sounds, and I don’t think my music is.” When asked how she imagines her ideal fans listening to her music, Schott replies: “In bed under a blanket. Hopefully they wouldn’t fall asleep before the end of the record.”

On her website Schott writes enthusiastically about the five years she spent reading Marcel Proust’s A la Rechere du Temps Perdu, the enormous cookies-and-memories work commonly known in English as A Remembrance of Things Past. Proust, who famously holed up in his bedroom to finish his novel, was pretty fond of his personal time, too. The book starts with an extended meditation about lying awake in bed. It’s something Schott can relate to.

“Being alone in your room, listening to music in your bed, you have to have time for that. I have a feeling at the moment that time is the most precious commodity, and that everyone is running around, myself included. I think to listen to my music, you definitely need lots of time, and the bedroom thing, listening on your own, is kind of a symbol of having to find time in your own life to do this sort of thing.”

Schott relishes free time not for indolence or leisure, but because she’s trying to accomplish so much. Now, as she begins work on her third record, Schott has set a few humble goals for herself. She’s teaching herself piano, studying a bit of music theory, taking up the clarinet and planning to begin lessons on the viola de gamba, a 17th century ancestor of the cello.

We have the eclecticism of the lending libraries of Paris to thank for Colleen’s hypnotic music. Born and raised in Montargis, a small town south of Paris, Schott came to music relatively late. “I had no musical background whatsoever. My parents weren’t really into music.” In high school she played guitar in what she describes as a noise-pop band. She then studied English at the university in Dijon, before going off to England for two years, where she worked odd jobs in Winchester, Manchester and Liverpool. In 1999 Schott came to Paris to get her teaching certificate, and there she started exploring the vast musical holdings at the city’s libraries. There she discovered the music of Elizabethan composer John Dowland (“I just liked the idea of guys playing the lute,” she says), the tumbling glassy phrasing of the West African kora, the clangor of Indonesian gamelan, the freedom of jazz and other music whose spirit infuses her work (though she shied away from using the material as a musical source because she felt she couldn’t improve on it). The transition from guitar player to sample cobbler and back to performer on exotic and rare instruments was a roundabout one.

“It was a long development,” she says. “After I stopped playing in this noisy pop band, I got a four-track tape recorder and tried to make stuff on my own, but I had nothing other than a guitar. I would bang on things. I would definitely try to make ‘experimental music’ with just the guitar and not even one single pedal, so it was really hard, and I got really discouraged.”
Then a friend gave her a computer with some music-editing software, and Schott had a revelation listening to the extensive stacks of music she’d borrowed from the libraries. “I thought, that’s what I need to create my music from other people’s music, but it’s going to be mine, and I’m going to be independent, and I won’t have any problems with gear, and it’s going to be easy. All I need is CDs, and all I need to do is look for the sounds and assemble them.'”

Sounds easy enough. And it’s a familiar line of thought for just about anyone with a musical idea in their head, a CD collection and a computer. But Schott did it.

On Everyone Alive Wants Answers, insect sounds flutter in the background while what sounds like the superhuman hammering of a dulcimer floats by. An arterial pulse churns behind the sound of a child’s voice further buried under a wisp of bowed strings. “Babies” sounds like the inside of a giant wind chime. Airy skeletal samples are gathered into cycling patterns on “Your Heart on Your Sleeve.” A marching, Sun-Ra-worthy boinging Moog sound peoples “Long Live Mice in the Metro.” Sounds emerge and recede.

“I’m okay with things sounding a bit—’Oh where is this coming from?’ Maybe it gives you the feeling of some natural thing rising,” says Schott. There’s no singing, no drums. But the songs, many of which clock in at under four minutes, have a subtle rhythm and hummable melody.

The success of her computer-pastiche music created a new challenge for Schott: how to make her music for a live audience. Initially, Colleen embraced the switch from sampling records to generating her own sounds using acoustic instruments (the technique she used on The Golden Morning Breaks) because she didn’t want to be a laptop auteur. Not on stage at least.

“I’ve actually never been able to perform the older material,” she admits. “I decided to go back to playing instruments because I wanted to do live shows, but I didn’t want to bring a laptop. Originally the main impulse was because I thought there’s no way I’m going on stage with a computer and pretending to do something when I’m not. To me it’s more a question of whether the person is really doing something live, because that’s what it’s supposed to be. I’m not saying that all people who perform with laptops donít do anything, but from what I know, a lot of them are just going to press play and do a couple of things. But I wouldn’t call that a live show, and I’d be bored on stage if I had to do it.”

Despite the drastic change in approach between her first and second recordings, the results are surprisingly similar, and they demonstrate a single-minded vision working its way through both efforts. With Colleen playing all of the instruments herself, on The Golden Morning Breaks (which takes its name from a Dowland piece) the music gained a warm glow. In addition to cello and guitar, Colleen’s instrumental arsenal grew to include toy gamelan and a rare instrument called a glass harmonican. “It’s not mine, unfortunately,” says Schott. “It belongs to a friend of mine who used to sell antiques. He used to sell mechanical instruments mostly. This isn’t mechanical. It’s kind of like a glockenspiel, but it has glass blades and some small beaters made of tortoise shell and cork at the end. It’s from the early 19th century, just amazing.”

Now, if she wants to do a gig, she just has to figure out how to lug her gear. “I do everything on my own, so mostly I need a cello and a guitar, and now I have a clarinet, and I have a melodica. I have music boxes. If I play and someone can help me carry stuff, then I try to bring some more stuff. I have guitar pedals. Mainly sampling pedals, and I sample myself live, that’s basically how it works.”

Schott stresses that she’s not a specialist in any of the subjects that fascinate her, whether it’s baroque musical practice, composer Pauline Oliveros’s idea of Deep Listening, music theory, or the non-Western traditions that inspire her. Intuition characterizes Schott’s mode of composition. Sometimes spending months on a single track, Colleen works and composes in a kind of isolation, but solitude allows for practice and study as well.

“It’s not that I want to be a solo performer for the sake of being a solo performer, but I love learning things, and I would rather learn something and at first make pathetic sounds rather than leave it to someone who can do it better than me, because then it’s them and it’s not me; I’m the one who enjoys the pleasure of learning,” she says. “Also I do find it very hard to work with other people. Often in the world of music, people seem to expect it to be very natural and easy to collaborate, but I think that in any human interaction there’s going to be—not necessarily trouble, but compromise and adjusting to each other.”

For me, Colleen’s story brings on a nod of recognition and the spark of inspiration. Having played for years in a noisy-pop band, spent more than a decade trying to teach myself piano, gone back to school to study and perform non-Western music, wanting nothing more than vast stretches of days in which to read and practice, Schott’s attempt to carve out enough time to fuse all these threads sounds familiar. By making deep music from an eclectic record collection, tinkering with recorded loops of oneself, and insisting on the importance of solitude and study, Schott strikes me as being both a quiet revolutionary and entirely of the times. Maybe that’s why her music seems right at home in my life.

[update] Q: WHEN IS THE NEXT ISSUE OF ARTHUR MAGAZINE COMING OUT?

Q: WHEN IS THE NEXT ISSUE OF ARTHUR MAGAZINE COMING OUT?

A: Arthur has been on hiatus from print publication since December, 2008, when for the first time in Arthur’s six-year history, we were unable to go to press, due to repercussions from that year’s financial catastrophe, fatigue, mounting debts, etc etc.

It’s February, 2011. Although I’ve been able to clean up almost all of Arthur’s debt (magic works!), I still do not have the logistical means to resume print publication. Arthur needs a West Coast-based someone to handle its business affairs—that is, a publisher/co-owner—cuz I sure can’t do everything myself. It’s a challenging gig, fer shure, but… Know anyone? Please be in touch.

Jay Babcock
editor-owner, Arthur Magazine

Arthur Radio Transmission #37 w/ SAADI

Recorded on a whim days before Hairy Painter left for Thailand, this episode of Arthur Radio is a celebration of all possible futures; roads that we choose to take, for whatever reason, that ultimately lead us to another, and yet another. Whether life is a choose-your-own-adventure or a fated journey is unknown to us, but it is empowering to believe that we mold our own destinies.

The positive energy created by special guests SAADI (Boshra AlSaadi of Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang with Tim Wagner)’s performance was tangible in the Newtown Radio studio, where we stayed after hours to dance with christmas lights in the dark. White-saged into the present, we returned to the streets with a sense of newness in every passing moment.


Photo: Alberto Milazzo

STREAMING: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Arthur-Radio-w_-SAADI.mp3%5D

DOWNLOAD: Arthur Radio w/ SAADI 12-05-2010

Timeline below…
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C & D reason together about some new records [Arthur No. 26/Sept 2007]

Originally published in Arthur No. 26/September 2007

C & D: Two guys “reason” together about some new records.

D: Christ on a crutch, it’s hot in here.
C: [winces] Uh yeah, I guess I forgot to mention the “air conditioner, lack of” situation we’ve got going over here.
D: It is going to be difficult for me to do my work in these conditions.
C: [guffaws] You call listening to records “working”? Ha! That ain’t workin’! You get your money for nothin’ and your chicks for free.
D: Where have I heard this before. What money? And I don’t see any chicks around here.
C: I regret that my hosting skills are not what they once were.
D: Yes your place is not only a sweat lodge—it’s sexist. I cannot work in these circumstances.
C: You can do it if you put a beer into it.
D: Okay. Beer me.
C: Of course! [Heads to the kitchen, ceremonially] Come! Let us drink beer and reason together.

ALAN VEGA
Station
(Blast First/Mute)
C [returns from kitchen with a sixer of St. Pauli’s, starts CD at medium blast]: So for some reason I thought it was a good idea to kick things off with the darkest, most negative thing possible. Alan Vega from New York City electro-rock-minimalist legends Suicide, talking about the condition of this nation. Analysis: dark. Prognosis: bleak to terminal.
D: [listening to “Freedom’s Smashed”] Turn it up! This is the ’80s back with a vengeance! [listening to lyrics: “Smashing down freedom / Smashing our freedoms / Wah! / Smashing our freedom / Freedom’s running scared/ Freedom’s running out of time/Freedom’s gone!”] Shit! I’m flipping out here. I could live inside this sound.
C: The rhythm is really amazing, it’s like John Henry hitting a punching bag—and Alan Vega is the ringside coach talking to himself about how they’re gonna lose, the fix is in.
D: Yeah baby! Freedom’s going down. It’s terminal idiocy, nobody’s paying attention. But Suicide always knew what was going down in the negative times.
C: The vocals really are astonishing in their range, very actorly. Repeated phrases in different intonations, suggesting different moods, different meanings—shock, resignation, despair, hope; and then there are all those Goblin-esque shrieks and gurgles in the background.
D: This is America at its most violent, self-flagellating. [Repeating lines from “Station Station”] “There was a TIME/ When you could dream /Now—NOW / It has become a crime/ to dream! / It has become a CRIME/ to dream.” Talking about the dream losers. Doing a deeper analysis of American society. Sometimes there’s something at work in the culture that normal journalism can’t decipher. And right now is not normalcy, my friend. One thing’s for sure: this won’t be giving comfort to the neighbors.
C: Hey, Springsteen has been doing [Suicide song] “Dream Baby Dream” live lately.
D: [pause] Little Steven was pretty good, but I always thought Alan Vega and Martin Rev should have had characters on The Sopranos.
C: Especially with those world’s biggest sunglasses that Alan Vega always wears.
D: It’s his signature. They belong in Cleveland in that Rock N Roll museum.
C: Yes, right next to all the other sunglasses of rock ‘n’ roll: Stevie Wonder, Bootsy Collins, Ray Charles, Velvet Underground, Elton John, Sly Stone, Yoko Ono, Roy Orbison. Only, Alan Vega’s would be behind cracked glass with bars in front and you’d hear someone yelling at the television in back.
D: [in Alan Vega voice] “Freedom’s smashed!”

MAGIK MARKERS
Boss
(Ecstatic Peace/Universal)
D: More ominosity.
C [handing D another beer]: This is the new Magik Markers album, and it’s much more straightahead than you’d expect from their reputation as improv poet noise-stars. These are recognizable drums-guitar-vocal duo songs with relatively melodic chant-singing by Elisa Ambrogio and surprisingly in-the-pocket drumming by brother Pete Nolan. There’s even a pretty good stab [“Empty Bottles”] at a piano ballad.
D: “Body Rot” and “Taste” remind me of the lest-we-forget great dark mystical ’80s Californian band Opal—
C: Respect to Kendra Smith.
D: —and that band the Kills who made one really good album and then….
C: Yeah there’s a similarity—in a driving, on-the-edge-of-something-intense, and she has a similar voice to the Kills singer V.V., but this seems more committed to um, murder, or something. “Last of the Lemach Line” has that good ol’ grimy looming-catastrophe-in-a-dying-factory-city sound… like Godspeed!, or Kim’s Sonic Youth jams. Patti Smith in her freer, less barroom moments. This is not beer music. [looks at band photograph on CD] But you could drink bottles of whiskey to it on a hot Saturday afternoon, which is apparently what they did when they were made it!
D: [in own world] Hmm… What did happen to the Kills?
C: Being confused with The Killers would probably be enough to cause any band to do themselves in. But my best guess is they were killed by a drum machine WITH NO SOUL.
D: That never would’ve happened if they’d used Suicide’s drum machine. Early ’70s SoHo soul, baby! [looks at empty beer bottle, bellows in Jim Morrison voice:] Beer me madly/Beer me one more time today!
C: Life: enjoy it while it lasts!

BLUES CONTROL
Blues Control
(Holy Mountain/Revolver)
D: [looking at CD spine] “Blues Control”?
C: I know, sounds like a pimple commercial. “Son, we know you’ve been having a hard time lately. Maybe you should think about using…BLUES CONTROL (TM)? It wipes away those hard-to-kill blues in a matter of minutes. “Control your blues today with Blues Control.”
D: I think my current blues control is a beer with a German girl on it. [pauses, thinks] They are hard at work on something, but I’m not sure who’s at the controls.
C: It’s a di-sexual instro duo on guitars and keys, with a drum machine. Lea Cho and Russ Waterhouse. Seems like they have two major modes: brute force monstrosity trudge in the cloudsmashing style of the mighty Blue Cheer…
D: And impressionist, introspective space and electronic plant music on that subtle plane visited by Eric Satie and Popul Vuh, with the subaquatic melodica of Sir Augustus Pablo…
C: [chuckles] That’s a team-up to be reckoned with.
D: These other songs are some pretty heavy duty stuff! It’s music you hear when you dig a hole deep enough to listen to what’s going on inside the earth. Troglobite rock, baby. And I am a troglophile!
C: [carrying on] If they put this out on vinyl, and I think that they did, it should be on coated 540 gram for the needle’s sake.
D: It should be on shellac. [finishing another beer] Analog all over your face! Ya heard?
C: Maybe I should put something else on before things get any more out of control…

CELEBRATION
The Modern Tribe
(4AD/Beggars Group)
C: …
D: Well, here’s our first obvious album-of-the-year contender.
C [listening to “Pressure” and “Pony”] The singer’s totally going for it. It’s like Johnette Napolitano … fronting a shit-hot psychedelic-funk-dance band on an electro-church run to the dub castles of Jamaica. And yes, I just made that up.
D: The singer is not holding back. Fuck me…two times!
C: [ignoring C’s outburst] Like a more passionate, more organic and more, dare I say ‘soulful’ LCD Soundsystem, fronted by a belter of a singer, who is a woman. [rhetorically:] How badly do we need this?
D: Women are DEFINITELY where it’s at right now.
C: [quizzical] And maybe always…? But yeah, so awesome. Produced by Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio, and those guys sing on it too but you can tell that. Reminds me of Moonshake, or Laika, only more muscular, funkier.
D: There is a certain Eurythmics-soul quality apparent here. [pauses] But she may actually be undermixed. Underrepresented. I want to hear the words.
C [listening to “Hands Off My Gold”]: You were right at the top, this is the album to beat, there’s hit after hit here.
D: [self-righteously] But of course, music is not a competition!
C: [smug] Oh yeah, of course not.
D: …
C: …
D: So, interested in a friendly wager?

FAUST
Faust IV
(Caroline/Virgin/Capitol)
D [listening to the opening track “Krautrock”]: Well, this is pretty clearly the source of Spacemen 3’s “Revolution,” even down to where the drums come in And there’s that Can-Hawkwind motorik rhythm. It must be… FAUST! What is this, 1973?
C: Yes and yes and yes again—sir, you are the sweepstakes winner!
D: Thank you veddy much, ladies and gentlemen. [pauses] Whoops, I mean no ladies and one gentleman.
C: Yeah well, if there were ladies here, I’m sure you’d be to busy checking your blackberry instead of actually talking to a live female human being.
D: [snorts] Silence in the lower ranks!
C: …
D: Ahem.
C: …
D: So, I never listened to Faust, they were always a big question mark for me.
C: Me too.
D: They might have been one of the most radical, political bands in Germany. Then again it was a very political time in Germany. And it’s not anymore. There’s no nail bombs anymore, just police teargas…
C: The bass sound on “Jennifer” is amazing is insane, timeless. It’s Syd Barrett inside deeply abstract bass sound, that’s essentially, basically electronic. The mix is so daring. What else sounded like this, ever?
D: This [“Just a Second (Starts Like That”)] is what we’re talking about. That certain pulse that only the Germans and Hawkwind could do.
C: Yeah, and, um, remember this band called Creedence Clearwater Revival? “Suzie Q”…
D: —is pretty much the template for everything. Highest praise to John Fogerty, one of the last surviving Great Americans of the Golden Age. You better recognize! [four minutes into “Giggy Smile”]: But—did Creedence ever dare to get this far out…into giddiness? And electronics?
C: The La Dusseldorf guys were pretty goofy. But, yeah this kind of multi-genre hopping —folk, motorik, drone, psychedelic pop—in such good spirits, so fearlessly, so without a care. Zappa? Mutantes? Amazing that there was some kind of audience for this, enough for them all to make careers. What a time that was… [drifts off]
D: By the way, I have an addendum to make. No one had cooler sunglasses than Om Khalthoum. Egyptian Moderne will always be the number one fashion look.
C: ???
D [mysteriously]: Those who know, know…

WHITE RAINBOW
Prism of Eternal Now
(Marriage vinyl/Kranky cd)
D [jaw agape]: I feel like I’m listening to the soundtrack to the truly great cosmic film Ralph Bakshi was never allowed to make.
C: [also gone] Wow…with super guitars and tablas and some seriously Steve Reich maneuvers on the vocals…
D: [at end of seven-minute first track] This is what Strawberry Jam wishes it could sound like.
C: And it’s all one guy. Remember? He did that “vibrational healing chamber” at ArthurBall a year and a half ago.
D: [one minute into third track] Serious pedal-oriented vibrations on this one. This will take a long time to investigate properly.
C: It’s like half Fripp/Eno “Swastika Girls,” half Terry Riley “Poppy Nogood.” Multi-tracked guitars riff away over a bed of raw synthesizer grooves. Incredible!
D: Massive!
C: I think we may have just left the beer portion of the evening.
D: Which can mean only one thing: Bring on the papalolo!

DEVENDRA BANHART
Old Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
(XL/Beggars Banquet)
D: Ah, not this guy again. Every single record of his, we have to review. Why?
C: Well, those at the controls of this operation like to keep tabs. See how things grow. See how the organism evolves.
D: [takes a tug on the pipe] This is Devendra’s White Album. Or the truest Tropicalia tribute album.
C: He took a longer time to make this record, really took the opportunity to stretch out and go for it with his band. The whole thing is a sprawling beauty, but there’s two kinds of songs, basically: some party goofs – reggae, doo-wop, Doorsish epics, Crazy Horse workouts—and gorgeous quiet slow-goers. A band, a talent, in full-bloom.
D: Plus Vashti Bunyan and Linda Perhacs on here? It can’t be true!
C: And yet it is. Another album-of-the-year-contender.
[E barges in through door out of nowhere]: Agh! This slow breakup shit is killing me! [grabs beer, sits down on couch]. You know you’re in trouble when you’ve been staring at a pulsing Apple logo for three days straight! Agh! It’s slow torture, everything I’m doing right now. [chills out] Hey, what is this?
C: The new Devendra.
E: The do-what now?
D: The new Devendra!
E: [listening to “Seahorse”] This is actually pretty good. I thought I didn’t like this dude, Mr. Defreaky McWeirdbeard, but…
C: It’s those canyon vibes. Chill out…

DANIEL A.I.U. HIGGS
Atomic Yggdrasil Tarot hardcover book with cd
(Thrill Jockey)
C: New album of extended instrumentals by Daniel Higgs, housed in a hardcover book of paintings and large type text.
D: [Reads from book] ”Our actions are God’s food.” Whoa. “Devils Establish Absolute Truth Here.” “Grief Obscures Delight.” I don’t understand any of this but it is clearly a major artistic statement.
C: The first letters from each word in those phrases forms another word. So—
E: Give me that. [Reads from book] These paintings are beautiful, like Miro on a serious hermetic trip. “TERROR: Tirelessly Extending Rays Reaching Our Reality.”
C: Maybe I’ve been unadventurous, but Daniel Higgs the spookiest performer I’ve ever seen who’s not named Diamanda Galas. With black candles and a fog machine, this could send you into that void for sure.
D: He is clearly on his own path into the big infinity void, telling it like it is.

The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13 and the Source Family book with cd
by Isis Aquarius with Electricity Aquarius, foreword by Erik Davis
(Process Media)
C: This is the long-awaited group autobiography/history of the Source Family, an early-’70s cult in Los Angeles led by super-charismatic older dude who called himself Father Yod, or as he was known later, Ya Ho Wa. He had 100-plus followers, including 14 wives.
D [piping in]: And Sky Saxon from The Seeds!
C: [puts book’s accompanying CD on] They had a rock band that recorded studio albums and played daytime shows at schools. They had a big mansion, VW buses and Rolls-Royces, lived in Los Feliz. The whole thing was funded by the super-organic restaurant they ran on Sunset Boulevard that all the celebrities ate at.
E: Yeah, right. Give me that. [grabs book, reads caption of photo of Father in a pool surrounded by naked women] “Teaching water aerobics?” This guy… This is some weird fucking white pimp shit is what this is. What the heck is this, man? I guess in California, if you look like God, you are God.
C: He was a practicing Sikh and they don’t cut their hair. And he says on the CD that it’s hair that gives your body vitamin D, so the more of it you have…
E: Hey there’s some great breastfeeding shots in here.
C: It’s one of the cults that ended well.
E: What, they were the one cult that didn’t kill people or themselves?
C: He died after a serious hang gliding crash in Hawaii, he refused hospital treatment.
E: [reading] “His pain was so intense that YaHoWha wanted anything to relieve it, and he took what we had on hand to help him through it: Darvon, aspirin, champagne, Sacred Herb, Sacred Snow, and nitrous oxide.”
D: Well, that would do it.
C: And not long after that, they split up.
E: “Sacred Snow”?!? With capital S’s?!? [cackles] “The word of God cannot be copyrighted.” This is the most classic shit ever. I’ll take it. [Runs out the door, cackling] Hahahaha!

ANGELS OF LIGHT
We Are Him
(Young God/Revolver)
D: I know that voice. Swans!
C: Yeah, it’s Michael Gira’s new album. It’s got quite a sound—the Akron/Family dudes are all on here, but so are the old Gira hands like Bill Rieflin and Christoph Hahn. Layers of stuff, perfectly arranged: guitars, banjo, piano, flute, strings, accordion, melodica, hammer dulcimer.
D: [listening to “Promise of Water”] Still menacing and grand after all these years.
C: It’s…ceremonial, melodic, yearning. [“The Man We Left Behind”] is like a slow Johnny Cash waltz, just beautiful.
D: [Listening to “My Brother’s Man”] And he can still punish at will.
C: “Not Here/Not Now” throbs with life; and this (“Joseph’s Song”) has the most unexpected Gira move ever: it goes uptempo into a trombone-led jamboree.
D: A Giramboree!
C: [laughs] Like the Devendra album, this his opens up so much new territory. Unbelievable, wonderful to hear, especially coming from a veteran artist. Another album of the year contender that demands further examination…

WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM
Two Hunters
(Southern Lord)
D: [looks admiringly at black album cover with a single wolf’s skull on it in gold.] This is the best cover tonight! This is what awaits. [maniacally] As Brother Theodore, said: “Friends flee. Lovers leave. Worms wait.”
C: I might be headed back into the metal direction again. It makes the most sense when you loathe what’s around you and want to block it all out. And this is huge, majestic. Like Mogwai with a power drummer—
D [interrupting]: I think the drummer may have had some interaction with Sacred Snow.
C: —and a black metal wraith on vocals. This song is now in its ninth minute.
D: This is the one! This is heavy work in the dark metal machine. When he sings, no human entity can be identified.
C: This could be the end of the wolf bands.
D: They’ve killed them all and are roasting them on the barbecue. Where are they from? Sweden?
C: What does it say on the sleeve?
D: I can’t make out a single word. [Third track, with angelic female vocalist, starts] This has the stamp of truly obsessed.
C [reading “Artist Statement” from band’s website] “Our project is based in the forests of Olympia, Washington—
D: The land of the mighty Thrones!
C: “Our music is a reflection of the land in which we dwell; it draws its power from the long, dark winters, the perpetual mist… Our philosophies are anti-modern, romantic and anti-human, a musical expression of an emerging eco-black metal consciousness that has taken root here in the Pacific Northwest.”
D [dazzled]: “Eco black-metal”?
C: “We are unique in that we express a deeply underground ideology on a larger stage. Our Black Metal is highly local and personal—not beholden to the expectations and demands of any scene. Our music is rooted in the traditions of Black Metal, but we subvert the aesthetic and ideology to remain true to our personal manifestation. To us, Black Metal might be understood as the Death card in the Tarot or the number 13, which represents not an end to life, but the shedding of an old and outmoded way of being: death and rebirth, transformation and enlightenment. Our music is perhaps what happens after the initial, necessary, hateful burst; after the psychic explosion that is Black Metal wipes away that which came before: the sick and twisted “truths” of our modern condition. For in Black Metal, we see great truth, transcendence and power. Black Metal is the cleansing fire that frees us from the bondage of rationality, science, morality, religion, leaving us free to choose our own path.”
E: Well, there you go.
C: [musing] Does Daniel Higgs know these guys?
D: This band should curate the next Wagner Ring Cycle. They need it, the young edge, some new blood. And they have extreme people doing extreme Rings all the time, like Schlingzief is going to do the new one. He’s the biggest cultural star of Germany. He made Freakstar 3000.
C: Is he the Matthew Barney of Germany?
D: In a way, maybe. He’s a total anarchist.
C: “Thank you Cremaster, may I have another?”
D: You know that’s where all the old Nazis come out of hiding, at the annual Ring Cycle. It’s the biggest cultural event in Germany on this old-scale, old-school level. That’s where you see all of them together. [shivers] Everybody knows about it but it’s not talked about.
C: What can I say but: Send in the Wolves!

MARIEE SIOUX
Faces in the Rocks
(Grassroots)
D: What can I say? A beautiful voice of nature, singing about nature, in nature. Contentment and beauty. Forest-folk.
C: [listening to “Friendboats”] Gorgeous. She’s another one of these amazing folks from the Nevada City area in California. Terry Riley, Gary Snyder, Joanna Newsom, Noah Georgeson, Alela Diane, Dream Magazine… Something is going on up there.
D: Maybe it’s the same thing as what’s going on in the woods outside Olympia, only…
C: No two forests are alike. I am picturing her singing next to the Yuba River on a summer afternoon, everyone’s high on old-growth oxygen and riverside blueberries…
D: [Listening to “Flowers and Blood,” closes eyes] Ah. Please do not interrupt my serenity.

SUN CITY GIRLS: GOD, HOW THEY SUCKED by Byron Coley (Arthur No. 26/Sept 2007)

Originally published in Arthur No. 26 (September 2007)

Sun City Girls: God, How They Sucked, 1981-2007
by Byron Coley

The Sun City Girls were one of the great bands of my lifetime. Now they’re gone and the world is both meaner for their passing and richer for their having been here. Their official end occurred on February 19, 2007. That was the day Charlie Gocher, the band’s drummer, succumbed to forces greater than his own—a concept almost unfathomable, but true nonetheless.

For 25 years, the Sun City Girls were a trio of exquisitely hermetic design. Charlie Gocher, Alan Bishop and Rick Bishop created a wildly bizarre universe in which almost anything seemed possible. It was always difficult with these guys to understand where truth ended and fiction began, but it didn’t seem to really matter. Like the LSD street-talkers of my youth, conversations with the band (in whole or in part) tended to obliterate many of the culturally-drawn distinctions that usually seem important. They were able to bend time and space to their own evil intent, which, luckily for all of us, was really not evil at all.

The Girls dropped many delightful and smelly bucketfuls of recordings over the years. Singles, videos, CDs, cassettes and LPs. These ranged from the virtually unlistenable—arch sets of covers played with enough irony to give you a soft-on for a year—to albums like Torch of the Mystics, which floated into the spaces between your atoms, instantly bonding with every available surface.

Never the touringest of bands, the Girls nonetheless remain most burned into my memory for their live shows. The earliest ones were mysto-shroud post-core jamborees of the most frenzied nature imaginable. Later ones blended shtick and strangeness and playing so brilliantly precise it was devastating. There was Charlie, assaulting his drums like a myth-gorilla trapped inside a VW bug. There was Alan, moving between jazzbo-centric bass pops and the corrosive performance art characters with which he amused himself. There was Rick, just kind of taking it all in and regurgitating splanges of guitar noise as delicate or vicious as you could imagine. Together they seemed unstoppable.

One of the last times I saw them was a two-night stand they did at the 2004 Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival. My friend Benoit had never seen them before, but he knew he was in for a treat. I explained we should be prepared to heckle the Girls with all the means at our disposal, since they thrived on intense audience interaction, no matter how negative. He was leery, but game. The first night we screamed our heads off, drawing incredible barbs from Alan’s Uncle Jim doppelganger and getting more than a few rises out of Rick when we began insulting him for being a rare book dealer. So successful was this approach, Benoit was invited onto the stage the next night to give Alan a tutorial in Quebecker cussing. It was an exquisite evening, although Charlie was clearly not feeling well before the show. He explained it as being some variation of a flu, combined with his “advanced age,” but I guess it was a little more complicated than that. Still, he played with a ferocious lop-sided intensity that belied any physical diminishment.

Live shows went back to being a rarity. They played but a single festival set in each of the last three years. There started to be sniping in some quarters regarding the band’s purported heisting of ethnic music traditions, but when I saw them the last time (at ATP in December, 2006), we had a good laugh about the idea of them as cultural imperialists. Their travels around the world had always been journeys of wide-eyed discovery. The souvenirs they bore home from these trips (whether internal or external) were things they were driven to share. Like maniacs. Which they were. To say they didn’t enrich our knowledge of different cultural traditions (particularly those of Southeast Asia), misses more than a few available boats. They were nothing if not the American underground’s cultural ambassadors to the world.

It hasn’t been long since Charlie died. Alan and Rick must still have a lot to figure out. Their varietal solo works will undoubtedly continue in all their glory, and one assumes there are oceans of unreleased material to be pumped into the cosmos. But I will miss knowing the Sun City Girls co-exist with me on this planet. They were a funny and generous group of individuals, committed to a lot of truly worthwhile things, not the least of which was a cruel and cutting humor, beautifully suited to the times in which we live.

But Charlie is no more. And the Sun City Girls are no more. And that’s just something we’ll have to live with.

So long, motherfuckers. You suck.