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Music Consumption: Television
04/25/1999 Television: The Blow-Up

ROIR has definitely released "The Blow-Up," live Television recordings from 1978. I haven't yet picked up my copy, but as each day passes, I feel somewhat more diminished for not having it. Don't let this happen to you.

04/25/1999 Television

Still listening to the live Television stuff.

04/25/1999 ORI: universal standard 84000

Still listening to ORI, particularly universal standard 84000. It's fantastically motivational. I find that once I hear the opening strains of "L.U.N.C.H." (large ultra-noisy computer hardware), my productivity zooms. So can yours.

03/07/1999 Neil Young: Dead Man

Neil Young's soundtrack to the movie Dead Man, which is pretty impressive, too. Kinda diffuse on its own; it might work best if you see the movie first. It's definitely Neil Young.

03/07/1999 Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

A friend picked me up a very good performance of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and some concertos, by the London Chamber Orchestra conducted by Christopher Warren-Green. Energetic and well-defined. It also happens to kick the sorry ass of some generic on-hold version I had the misfortune of listening to recently.

03/07/1999 Tim Berne: Ornery People

Tim Berne and Michael Formanek's "Ornery People"

03/07/1999 Television: live

I've been listening a lot to some live recordings of Television from 1976, which are fantastic. It's not quite official-release quality, but it's not much noisier than the Velvet Underground's Live at Max's. I'll note up front that these weren't authorized, but I didn't purchase them anywhere--they were sent to me through the kindness of someone who had them. I wouldn't recommend trying to buy any bootlegs, but The Blow-Up, a now-official live set, has just been rereleased by ROIR, so f you buy it, your money does go to the band, where it should. According to Steve Rovner's bootleg discography, this performance is the same one from a bunch of different bootlegs, so you're best off buying this one. I don't have it yet, but I've consistently heard that it's amazing.

03/07/1999 ORIcon: live

Last night, I went to ORICON '99, the first annual Operation Reinformation convention/gathering. The chief scientists of ORI were there themselves headlining, and for the moment I'd have to say that their performance--the first of theirs I've seen, although I've been familiar with their software and met one of them before, since they're local--was truly astonishing, one of the information events of this time period. People packed into CBGBs to see Television and Patti Smith, people standing on chairs to keep warm in the Fisherman's Cove to see Pere Ubu, any International Pop Underground event during the 80s, being one of the few people to actually see Slint while they were still together (full disclosure--I wasn't)--ORIcon was one of those events. People drove 20 hours to get there (shades of Woodstock? Nah, this is too scientific). It was one of those events where, well, you had to be there, and if you weren't, then ten, fifteen, twenty years down the line, you're going to wish you were. I don't know about you, but I was there.

I showed up a bit late, just missing the Joysticks, but in time for Satan's Robot and k/Rad Labs doing a joint performance on cheap Casio keyboards run through various guitar pedals into a cranked Jazz Chorus amp. Pretty impressive, and nice as hell guys, to boot. They got very funky toward the end, and if pop culture can strip away a few layers of that fin de siecle irony it's picked up this decade (the future seemed much less certain, but we knew what our values were during the Reagan-Bush era, which might be one of the few things I'll say for that era--and I say this as someone whose values are diametrically opposed to those of Reagan and Bush), and acquire a few more layers of a different kind of irony, these guys might pack a serious commercial punch. And even if they don't they pack a damn good info-punch. I like the post-net-era milieu to their performance, too: just like the Who smashed guitars, k/Rad sacrificed an old, obselete laptop. This is actually much more appropriate than guitar-smashing, too--if the musician's not going to be using the guitar, someone else could have gotten some utility out of it, but a laptop that can only run DOS 3 or something is pretty much a doorstop. I mean, any lower and you're banging rocks together. I ended up picking up three tapes from these guys.

Megamagnapore wasn't performing as such, but was illustrating a corporate report (Compromise and Optimization) that cuts straight to the hypothalamus of the contemporary corporate being. Kicked around by your substandard job? Of course you are, and now we know exactly why. For that matter, there's some justification for it. Remember that knowledge is power--not necessarily your power, but power nonetheless.

ProtoVex turned in a performance that combined several of the things I always liked about late '70s-mid-'80s fringe synthy New Wave (from the biggies like Joy Division, the B-52s, and Wall of Voodoo, down to the really obscure stuff, like Crash Course in Science): cheesy keyboards, bass carrying the melody, a good drummer, and tuneless female vocals. (I know this last one doesn't apply to Joy Division, so don't bother correcting me.)

The evening came complete with a fashion show, featuring cutting-edge styles for the lab, the home, and everywhere else. Whether you're reinforming a major population center or just replenishing your supply of liquid spoon, you can be dressed perfectly for the occasion. (This means foil, 5 1/4-inch floppies, Tyvek, bubble wrap, prostheses, and furniture components. Getting the picture?)

After this, imagine my delight to be treated to a full set of the Evolution Control Committee. The conceit was the ever-popular hanging-out-in-the-bunker-after-all-the-missles-got-launched-during-the-Y2K-crisis shtick. (More Reagan-Bush nostalgia!) Several songs I haven't heard before, separated by a George-and-Gracie routine between Mark and "Braniac 2000," and the two hits closing the set: "I Want a Cookie" and "Rocked by Rape," of which I later picked up the single. (This last title will make sense if you've heard the tune, or if you have a photographic memory for a certain major-network news show. Disclaimer: the song does not take any kind of position on rape itself, so don't go complaining to anybody.)

A brief performance by Man? or Astro-Manny (you'd have to be a Pittsburgher to get it) preceded the rockin' cerebral throbbing of ORI, who gave the audience a full-body reinforming. ORI is a band that wrote its own software to play samples directly from the Macintosh (and, shortly, Windows) keyboard--total random access to samples, with decent key control options, not a lot of equipment to haul, and a completely reinformed sound supply and sense of humor. The software's running on PowerBooks, but they've got extended keyboards plugged into them to give them some freedom of movement.

I once heard a certain band I liked (Reagan-Bush era flashback here) described as sounding like a "hoe-down at Hewlett-Packard," but I think ORI might more appropriately wear that particular 10-gallon orange hardhat. Imagine all those half-formed corporate-advertising-informed media-percolated memories and reference points removed from your head, soaked in a carbonated benzene-serotonin solution, twisted into a square knot, used to haul a horse trailer, and put back in. That's what it's like. And, let me tell you, it's deeply satisfying. I picked up their two full-length CDs, CTRL and the new one, Universal Standard 84000. Both are (or should be) available from the ORImart.

The software, BackToBasics, is available as a downloadable save-limited demo, and you can unlock the full version for a more-than-fair shareware fee. ORI is more than this generation's Kraftwerk; they're a way of life. No, they're more than a way of life--they're a business plan, and you are gonna feel way stupid if you don't invest. You know what to do.

02/05/1999 John Zorn: Redbird

John Zorn: "Redbird"

The title track here is disturbingly hypnotic. I'm not sure what to make of it, but it definitely has an effect.

Equally powerful in a completely different way is "Dark River," a piece scored for four bass drums--and only four bass drums. Most of the information is nearly subsonic. Ultra-hip.

02/05/1999 Joel R.L. Phelps: 3

Joel Phelps: Warm Springs Night and The Downer Trio EP

Based in part on the beyond-amazing experience of "3" and Eric Hahn's recommendation (both on his excellent Phelps and Silkworm pages and in email), I picked up the first Phelps solo disc and the EP. And they're amazing. Joel Phelps has to be one of our great songwriters, and you're seriously missing out if you haven't checked out these recordings (and "3", too). Warm Springs Night is louder than what I expected, kind of like what Crazy Horse would sound like without a bassist, but with an extended tonal palette. The songs are incredibly moving, too, but you probably don't want to listen to it when you're deeply depressed. Or maybe you might.

The immediate standouts for me are "The Graze and the Graves," "Warm Springs Night," "Lady Lucero," and "All We Want," but the others are good, too. It's an interesting halfway point between Silkworm and "3".

The EP hasn't walloped me the way the longer disc has, but that doesn't mean it won't grab you. The three Phelps originals (not counting the uncredited and probably original instrumental) are again excellent--"Razorback" is somehow lightheartedly sad, and subtly catchy. I haven't gotten a handle on "Good Advice for Dogs" yet, other than this is one where he finally pushes his voice too hard, and his pitch diverts from the song completely. "At El Paso" could well have been a hit somewhere--uptempo and open, but haunting and sad. The two covers are good, too.

There's something very old about this music, an oldness at its core, that makes up a big part of what moves me. It's like the land--vast, wide open, and old.

02/05/1999 Jim O'Rourke: Terminal Pharmacy

Jim O'Rourke: "Terminal Pharmacy" and Gastr del Sol: "Upgrade & Afterlife"

For a while I've been looking for a piece of music that liberates me, compositionally. Not so much something that hist the targets I'm aiming for, but that opens up a field, or validates as a direction something that I've been working around the edges of, not sure if it's a direction or not. "Cede" on "Terminal Pharmacy" does something pretty damn close to this. It's completely baffling. I have no idea what's going on with it--where, for one thing, are the clarinets and bass trombones? I do hear a couple drum hits late in the piece, so the drum credit is explained, but everything else is a mystery. Structurally it's confusing as well--I have no idea what's governing the decisions he's made about what goes where when, etc., and the introduction of prerecorded material manages to be both blatant (with the tape motor noise and the thunk! of the tape drive switching on and off) and subtle (with the actual use of the material). It's the confusion that's liberating, the confusion of setting off into completely unknown territory. This is one good piece.

Haven't listened enough to the Gastr del Sol, but expect a report.

02/05/1999 Aerial M: Aerial M

Aerial M: Aerial M

David Pajo, who's played with more than enough indie luminaries to fill a couple barges, comes up with this very stealthy sonic confection. I'm not sure what I was expecting (maybe something slower, more langorous, rougher), but my expectations were exceeded. It's mood music for your sunny ambivalence. My one complaint is that it's only EP-length, but apparently there's a double-length collection (with vocals!) coming up under the name Papa M.

01/10/1999 Arvo Pärt: De Profundis

Arvo Pärt: "De Profundis"

Very slow, contemplative vocal pieces, performed here by Paul Hillier's Theatre of Voices. Extremely consciousness-altering. These pieces, chosen from various sections of Arvo's career, build a cathedral in your listening space. His Passio (not included in this collection; it's a CD unto itself) is one of the most amazing pieces of devotional music I've ever heard. If the Deis Irie doesn't give you serious chills, nothing will. What CDNow has of his is available "here", but you're better off with "ECM" and "Harmonia Mundi".

01/10/1999 Rahsaan Roland Kirk: We Free Kings

Roland Kirk: "We Free Kings"

If any human being could swing, it was Rahsaan Roland Kirk (credited on this early CD without the Rahsaan). One of the songs here is entitled "A Sack Full of Soul," and that's what the man had. I first encountered his music in the film "Sound?" from the '60s, screened a few years back as part of the city's Jazz Festival. Oddly, the film alternates between Roland Kirk performing, experimenting with tapes, walking around, etc., and John Cage wandering around reading from the "32 Questions" (I think that's the number) section of Silence. Some people don't like Cage in this; I don't have a problem with it. What the two of them are doing in the same film, however, is something of a mystery, although both of them were sonic polar explorers.

Kirk was, among other things, a one-man horn section, playing two and three instruments at once. It wasn't just a gimmick; it was musical. He also played some heavy flute, singing and shouting at the same time. If this won't get your party going, honey, your guests are dead.

After I saw the film, I used to get this CD out of the library (I was, as the French say, flat-ass broke at the time), which was OK, except for the main problem with borrowing CDs--the other people who get CDs out of the library. Every time I'd get something out, I'd find that someone had been using it as a drink coaster, a frisbee, or propping up uneven tables and chairs with it. Eventually the library copy of this became unplayable. Having bought it, though, I'm taking the unusual step of playing it and listening to it. So should you.

01/10/1999 Bob Dylan: Live 1966-Bootleg Series Vol.4

Bob Dylan: "Live 1966-Bootleg Series Vol.4"

A friend of mine got me this. It's actually the first Bob Dylan recording I've actually owned. (Years ago, some other friends talked me out of buying Biograph.) This one is immensely pleasing, possibly because this is my favorite Dylan period--from Highway 61 Revisited to Blonde on Blonde. (I've always had a fondness for Blood on the Tracks as well.) His voice is...well...stereotypical. But the performances are, if ragged in places, full of primary energy. I'd heard reports of the acoustic disc being "lackluster," but I got into the acoustic set immediately. It has the lonely quiet and focus of perfect late-night music. The middle of the set shines: "Visions of Johanna" is the ultimate late night drift; "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" starts a bit fast, but becomes haunting and sad as it should be; and "Just Like a Woman" is impressively meditative in its stripped-down form.

While he's obviously stoned during the electric set (it shows between songs), it seems to have no effect on the performances--maybe it enhances them. Just about everything here is a fierce classic, although I think he over-sneers "Like a Rolling Stone" (which says a hell of a lot coming from me, at least for people who called my answering machine from 1988-89). But "Tell Me, Mama," "Baby Let Me Follow You Down," "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat," "One Too Many Mornings," "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," and "Ballad of a Thin Man" all hit it pretty close to right. Definitely a good listen.

01/10/1999 John Coltrane: Live At Birdland

Another Coltrane disc you should check out is "Live At Birdland"--"Afro Blue" changed my life.

01/10/1999 John Coltrane: 1961 Complete Village Vanguard Recordings

John Coltrane: "1961 Complete Village Vanguard Recordings"

I'd been aiming to get this for a while, having heard some selections from the original Village Vanguard recordings. I"m still processing all this--these are, apparently, all the recordings from these performances, and the differences range from subtle to mind-blowing. The subtle differences are in the various versions of "Spiritual"--with the exception of length, which varies widely--and the mind-blowing are in the case of "Chasin' the Trane" which reaches its pinnacle with the originally released version on Disc 3. Coltrane said, "I used to listen to it and wonder what happened to me." Particularly interesting on these are the contributions of Eric Dolphy. For my money, what he does to "Spiritual" is well worth the price of admission.

01/10/1999 Gavin Bryars: The Sinking of the Titanic

Gavin Bryars: The Sinking of the Titanic

An astonishingly beautiful work by a frequently overlooked modern composer. This came out in 1995 or so, but there might be hope that Titanic-mania might cause a few people to pick this up. There are some amazing acoustics going on here, and his use of the hymn "Autumn" raises the emotional stakes considerably. Nothing on CDNow, but you may be able to find some of his work at "Cheap CDs".

01/10/1999 random listening: Visitation Rites

And I've still been listening to Tim Berne's Visitation Rites. A review is available "here".

01/10/1999 random listening: Phelps, Bedhead

Still listening to Joel Phelps and the Downer Trio's "3", and Bedhead's Transaction de Novo. Still beautiful, still moving. Reviews can be found "here".