the primal white jelly

even missing two of the acts at tonic last friday, it was another great night of music hovering between the borders of quirky experimentalism and enjoyable melodies.

i arrived just in time to hear andy ortmann performing solo under the name panicsville. i say "hear" because there were no stage lights during his set, only a faint light from the bar in the rear. resembling a scientist toiling away patiently in the middle of the last century, ortmann calmly tweaked several small effect pedals and a mini synthesizer. this minimal setup was augmented by a tube running to his mouth which enabled him to make his bizarre textures literally speak. he was able to create a variety of sounds, from warbly slow-motion ambient minimalism to speaker-shredding noise. it was the best such show i've seen since the one i saw of colin potter of nurse with wound at free103point9. in fact i noted a few similarities with nww, although ortmann is a bit darker/noisier and indulges in more "modern" sounds than their leader steven stapleton. i was one of several people immediately at the stage once he finished his all-too-short set, buying his very good solo CD.

next up was the band flying, who constantly exuded a refreshing naivete in their music and approach. their instrumentation and delivery suggests people who were never told or cared to learn the usual or "proper" ways of doing things. it's almost as if they've heard next to no music at all, but walked into an old warehouse full of instruments and toys and decided to pick up whatever struck their fancy, following some primal call to make music. this resulted in a lineup of a pianist/vocalist, an electric guitarist/vocalist, a drummer, and a singer who also played drums and various toys and bells. their songs all had the kind of structure that only comes from people shutting out the outside world while playing purely for fun, with stops/starts and other unusual dynamics thrown in to alleviate boredom that might arise from the lack of complexity in their chord changes. their hesitant unison and simple harmony singing bore a resemblance in tone to a number of indie rock wallfower types, but no one specific came to mind. i have to say this is one of the most charming and original-sounding bands i've heard in a long time.

stars like fleas pulled out all the stops with their show. this was the largest ensemble i've seen them with yet. several of the musicians they've recorded with for their next album were onstage, including a saxophonist, a harpist, and a pedal steel player, all of whom are excellent. another great addition was bandleader shannon's ukeolin, which he alternated playing between bowing and whacking it while adding computer effects. they started off with an unstructured piece that resembled a medieval plainsong, quickly morphing into barely-controlled chaos. this was followed by another similar piece which slowly became their beautiful new song "cicada". they followed this pattern of instrumental improvisations alternating with somewhat more structured vocal songs for the rest of the set.

the result was definitely a more noisy, avant-garde representation of their abilities. the crowd applauded with vigor when the band paused between suites of 3 or 4 songs that bled into one another. i could have done with a little more melody and less chaos, but that's partially because my tastes in that style run towards the more noisy and electronic rather than abstract modern classical tone clusters. i definitely enjoyed it nonetheless; when you're dealing with improvisation, part of the excitement and danger is that moments that don't work rub up against those that do. stars like fleas, in any incarnation, have far more of the latter than the former.

the title of this post comes from a track on andy ortmann's CD.


a sound i never heard

sometimes coincidences are just odd enough to support the idea of the collective unconscious. just last week, i bought the moog documentary on dvd as part of a larger order. on friday, by chance i picked up a used moogerfooger murf pedal (the first thing i've ever owned made by moog). sunday i found myself at beacon's closet contemplating a moog t-shirt (i didn't get it). as it turns out, that afternoon robert moog died.

moog was always the name you looked up to (literally, on the backs of keyboards onstage) if you were a keyboardist growing up anytime after the 70s. i could never afford any of them myself, or else they were out of favor and hard to find for years. now the originals are part of the "vintage synth" boom and more expensive than ever on the secondhand market. these were inventions that shaped the world by imagining the sound of the future and then building it. only leo fender can claim as important a place in musical history of the twentieth century.

read the new york times obituary, the synthmuseum entry, and a 1997 interview.

the title of this post comes from a song by golden earring.


march of the wooden soldiers

this shot was taken in a shop window after leaving abigail's masters photography show on my way to see the other passengers / my best fiend / saxon shore show at tonic. i'm not sure what sort of toys these are exactly, but i find them both amusing and unsettling.

the title of this post comes from a 1934 film.


softer than shadow and quicker than flies

above is one of the new pictures added to ocular spectra this week. this was taken at a recent 14th street loft party i didn't bother blogging about because the headliners, kill memory crash, had their gear stolen, so we left. however, the night wasn't a total loss since i got some good shots like this one. i also took one i used for this flyer.

other ocular spectra photos were originally going to be used by ben and angel for the debut cd by their new musical project averauschen. however they decided to go for cover made of more textural materials, which is being worked on by josh. i'm looking forward to seeing how that comes out, as i'm a big fan of weirdly-packaged, limited-edition stuff. however, my photography and design are still available for similar endeavors. hint hint.

the title of this post comes from lullaby by the cure.


words may not come so close

stars like fleas is a band who deserve more attention than they've been getting. while several avant-folk artists such as the excellent akron/family and devendra banhart have been more widely discussed, stars like fleas have garnered some serious respect by setting themselves apart from the pack. their music draws extensively from jazz and experimental improvisation, yet utilizes and contains electronics that would put off most purists.

the band is a loose collective of ultra-talented musicians centering around composer/arranger/multi-instrumentalist shannon fields and other members, several also in orchestral pop band the silent league. the wild card is singer/lyricist montgomery knott, who also runs the very cool monkeytown series of shows/installations. he reminds me of michael stipe singing in jeff buckley's range with the fractured imagery and emotions of thom yorke. but frankly even these are weak comparisons which fall away when listening to the band play live.

ok, full disclosure time. i have the privilege of being asked to play on the next SLF record. how much i end up on it is entirely up to them and how well what i did fits in with their vision. i won't give away too much of the process, but shannon and i share a love for both the extremely experimental and massively anal-retentive approches of music-making. we met when my band was looking for artists to play a show with us (and the aforementioned a/f) at the tank last year. this also led to our playing a show with keyboardist ryan smith's project a million billion.

if you're in nyc and like music that is delicately violent and out of the ordinary, make it a point to go to tonic this coming friday to see them and the intriguing support acts they've personally lined up.

the title of this post comes from a song on the last SLF album.


strange phenomenon

i used to see the mysterious, forbidding, immense jandek section at mondo kim's and ponder who this strange, single-named person might be and what the music might sound like. but i have to admit i remained in the dark until the dvd release of the 2003 documentary jandek on corwood. the flashes of brilliance mixed in with the mystique gave me enough of a taste to want more. from what i've heard so far, the man's output itself is erratic, but that's part of its charm. that, coupled with the single-minded, minimalist design and information accompanying his 42 releases (to date) since 1978. regardless of your opinion of his art, he's fascinating because he's not only very prolific, but one of the original "DIY" and "outsider music" artists.

seth tisue's unofficial website has been one of the few resources out there (and still the best) for anyone wanting to know about as many facts as there are about this artist. which frankly, there aren't a lot of apart from the music itself. this is because jandek has spent most of his unique career living up to one of his ironically-titled albums, worthless recluse. until last year, when he played an unannounced live set at the instal 04 festival, his first ever. a few others followed, also in the UK. then a few weeks ago, the unthinkable was announced: jandek was playing 3 dates in the US, including one at anthology film archives in new york city. the choice of venue was just strange enough for it to be true.

then the ticket rumors started to fly. tickets would only be available at the venue. calls confirmed only that tickets would be available around august 8th. then other music (one of the few places in the city that stocks jandek CDs) was said to have tickets. unfortuntately i was unable to get to either place and they reportedly sold out within an hour or so. it's only because of seth's down-to-the-wire posts on the jandek list about a ticketweb sale (rumored to be around 80 tickets) and the fact that i was hitting refresh on a super-fast connection at the time tickets belatedly went on sale that i got some. by several estimations, the online allotment sold out in 5 minutes. longtime fans are definitely not pleased.

i understand everyone's frustration with the ticket situation as well as desiring "normal" practices like having CDs on sale at the venue. in theory (and ordinary practice), i agree. however, in some way, none of this should surprise anyone familiar with jandek. everything sourrounding him is unusual. so much of the mystery is all about lack of information. so jandek playing a place as quirky as anthology film archives is par for the course, as is next to no info on ticket sales and last-minute shifts in availability. with only 200 seats available, it almost makes sense to limit the knowledge necessary to secure tickets for such a rare show. sadly, this hasn't ensured the most hardcore fans getting tickets, only the luckiest and/or most resourceful. i count myself very fortunate to be going on september 6th.

the title of this post comes from a song on the jandek album living in a moon so blue.


wonder why i can hear you

some types of music are harder to pull off live than others. that's why i have to applaud the loveless music group for starting a semi-monthly night called to here knows when, dedicated to shoegazer, dreampop, and other styles mixing trippy melodies with drones and noise.

newest east village club scenic is the former guernica, and more famously, save the robots. i never went to either of those, but the new owners seem to be doing things well so far. besides the nicely-designed upstairs bar, they put a very decent PA with proper monitors and plenty of outboard gear in the basement for live acts. this is a great thing, and i wish i could personally thank whoever signed that puchase order. even so, bands like the ones tonight fight an uphill battle with sound.

the problem comes from the template established by my bloody valentine and others. the main instrument is a wall of sound that puts the "harm" in "harmonic". this is usually chiefly layers of heavily treated guitars and keyboards. vocals (usually breathy and female) are also awash in effects, partially buried but tweaked and multitracked in the studio to be just the right balance with the supporting instruments behind the gorgeous ruckus happening up front.

autumn thieves seems to be one of a few bands at the forefront of several new local shoegazer outfits. the songs i heard on their myspace page are pleasant and well-recorded. they bring a portion of this to their live show by using the now-ubiquitous mac powerbook for rhythm and keyboard backing. the guitarist slashes up a storm, the bass is basically an instrument for counter-melodies, the lead singer (above) is very stylish and has a pretty voice. but as you can guess from my long lead-in, they face the same sound issues as anyone else mixing a delicate balance of instruments in a live setting. at times the waves of effects and distortion completely overwhelmed everything. i hope to see them again when these issues are resolved, because they seem to have some good ideas.

since one of their members is also the main organizer of LMG, this night is their baby. i'm very happy they put it together. this kind of music has gotten short shrift until recently (the lost in translation soundtrack, cover versions and reissues of slowdive, and general MBV-namechecking). still, they're aware that keeping to a strict definition of shoegazer isn't really an option when putting together a night if you want to stick around.

this is one reason i'm glad they also had aarktica playing. i hadn't seen them since their set at bowery ballroom opening for low. they showed just as much professionalism in this much smaller venue as they did there. as then, 6 musicians weilded various acousitc and electronic instruments (including an ipod for a few beats). they wove their trademark guitar loop-based pieces that expanded into songs and/or drone/texture explorations before collapsing in on themselves. aarktica leader jon derosa is also fond of switching his guitar to alternate tunings mid-set. perhaps because their layered sound comes from everyone playing extremely quietly rather than loudly, their mix was somewhat more successful than the other bands.

this night faces a lot of challenges (the wednesday slot, a relatively unknown club, a kind of music that's not hugely popular at this moment). for the sake of everyone involved as well as the nyc music scene, i hope it keeps going for awhile. it's time people realized there's a lot more going on in this city than indie rock.

the title of this post comes from lyrics to a slowdive song.