blood on the floor

as much as i find the above image funny (found by robin), it shouldn't be taken as disrespect towards throbbing gristle, at least not from me. they are one of the most important bands ever. that may seem like hyperbole, but it's true. love them, hate them, or anything in between, without them starting their "information war" on their DIY label industrial records, that genre of music would never have existed, or at least not in that form or with that name. somewhat confusingly for most people, it's been co-opted since the late 80's by a form of dance or rock music that was influenced by the early pioneers. i love those bands too, but to me "industrial" will always mean grating noise, the sound of factories, bleak imagery, intelligent lyrics, and confrontational attitude. all these things have influenced not only two generations of bands operating under that musical style, but also more poppy artists such as depeche mode and even suzanne vega, not to mention the sound design in movies and television shows.

i bring this up because TG have recently reactivated in the past few years, after disbanding in 1981. after an abortive festival event that turned into a one-off live recording session, the original 4 members have been working on mixing and making additional contributions to the new album. i've gotten to hear some of genesis p-orridge's work on it (through his co-conspirator bryin dall), and it sounds amazing. it should be out before the end of the year, barring a fatal teletubbies attack.

the title of this post comes from a TG song.


we found the light

initially, i ignored the arcade fire. like shannon from stars like fleas commented to me, i thought at first they were another overly-hyped indie dance-rock act with pretensions of being the next interpol. of course, i based this assumption on the snippets of accolades, ubiquitous ads and name-dropping that have been unavoidable since about this time last year. i finally decided to give them a try upon seeing funeral in a listening station in tower records. i wasn't impressed right away. what i heard sounded very simplistic, following all the hallmarks of indie rock tradition. however, two things stuck in my memory: the quaint production/instrumentation (somehow reminiscent to me of magical mystery tour) and the frayed edges of win butler's voice.

after repeatedly listening to clips online, i realized i needed to give them more of a chance and got the CD. by the time i realized how great it was, they'd already come and gone from nyc twice. i thought i had no chance of seeing them until after a new album. fortunately, CMJ invited them back for a benefit for central park summerstage. my fellow convert shannon would have been there too if he wasn't playing in the silent league at another CMJ showcase the same night.

opening act belle orchestre sounded wonderful online, so i was even happier to get there early to make sure i had a good spot. i instantly recognized the upright bass player, since he's also in the arcade fire (and more than one person has mentioned his resemblance to a certain recent movie character). the violinist is also an AF touring member, but here she was clearly on of the main forces, at least onstage. she commanded the stage with both her playing and her body language. there were also a drummer, a trumpeter/keyboardist, and a french horn player. their set was brief but very pleasant. it had more passion than a lot of similar instrumental music.

next up were sound team, who came up from austin texas at the request of AF for this show. their name was apropos, as six young men lined up with their instruments as if on an assembly line. the singer reminded me a bit of hamilton leithauser from the walkmen, and when he pushed his voice he gained a weathered, joe cocker-like gurgle-and-rasp. since he switched between guitar and a distorted electric piano, at times there were 3 keyboards pumping away. i definitely appreciated the moog's sounds bringing some distinctiveness to the music. they took awhile to get both their energy and their sound mix going, but once they did they were fairly enjoyable, especially the very solid bassist. the crowd was thick by this time, and ripe with anticipation.

the arcade fire took the stage dressed, appropriately, for an early 20th-century funeral, which must have been horribly uncomfortable in the humidity. looking like a tattered chamber orchestra (there were 8 of them onstage, sometimes also joined by the french horn player from bell orchestre), they began at a stately pace with the album opener "tunnels". it quickly increased in tempo and excitement. whether they had microphones or not, every member was singing nearly every word of the song with all their heart, as was the crowd. from beginning to end, the show was like a giant celebration of spirit, both band and and audience giving as much as they possibly could and more. the unfamiliar songs came from their self-titled EP (mental note: pick up the recently remastered reissue). even songs i didn't care for as much were given new life in this setting. all the members switched instruments several times, which must have been a soundman's nightmare.

at any given moment, various members added percussion or roamed around the stage screaming key lyrics at the audience. there were several little improvised mini-tableaus enacted by various duos, as they would attack each other playfully with microphone cables, flags, lengths of tape, or their bare hands. rather than coming off as unprofessional it seemed like we were witnessing some kind of guerilla theater group who also happened to be musicians. they can't be called the tightest band in the world, but nothing registered as sloppy or mistaken, only an incredible outpouring of emotion and relentless energy.

towards the end they played three incredible renditions that, taken separately, could each have served as the climactic song to the night. the first was the fragile "in the backseat," one of the few songs that featured butler's wife regine chassagne on lead vocals. if she was impressive playing drums on the first song (as well as her backup yelping, piano and accordion playing), here she outdid herself. while she was playfully entertaining on "haiti", all coquettish looks and mock-mime motions, on this ballad she laid herself bare, singing and tearing at the air as though she was ripping her soul out at the memory of the song's inspiration. the ending was drawn out by every member repeatedly singing the gorgeous rising violin melody. the crowd was so quiet you could even hear the ones without microphones.

a buildup of dissonant noises coalesced into their popular single "power out," which was drawn out longer and felt like the end of the show. however, after the song stopped, it seemed like it was coming back for an extended jam session. instead the beat slowed down and somehow morphed into another favorite, "rebellion (lies)".

at this point i was more than satisfied. we were all hot and sweaty, both physically and emotionally drained (yet strangely invigorated). i couldn't think of a song i needed to hear that i hadn't yet, and i was ready to go home. if i hadn't been dead center near the front of a huge crowd i might have tried to leave. but i knew they had to come back. encores at big shows have become so de rigeur as to be predictable and boring. fortunately they didn't make us wait long to come back (something i always appreciate). i was hoping whatever they did wouldn't be some obscurity for longtime fans only that would pale before the preceding three songs.

the band barely had time to strap their instruments back on before butler said "this is a david bowie song." i cheered along appreciatively until my jaw dropped a few seconds later when bowie himself walked onstage. the crowd roared as they immediately launched into bowie's "queen bitch," one of my favorite songs on the somewhat under-appreciated (in relation to ziggy stardust) hunky dory album. the band basically playing backup to bowie. he looked and sounded great, although it seemed as though he was dressed as 'the thin white duke goes on caribbean holiday'. as if that wasn't enough, bowie then grabbed an acoustic guitar and led the band through their own "wake up," singing lead vocals on the first few verses. it was a perfect fit, since the song had always struck me as some kind of lost bowie tune penned for mott the hoople spliced with an earthier remake of "modern love". it was as though it was simply being reclaimed by its spiritual father.

with only three and a half months left, i will probably not see a better show this year. but i can hope.

the title of this post comes from "power out."


sonic decimator

ever since a bob mould show years ago left me unable to hear myself say the letter "s" right after i left the venue (this condition went away by the next morning), i've been careful about my ears at live concerts. very often the volume is too loud and the high end is like razor blades in your ears to make up for poor equipment or increasingly deafened musicians and/or audiences. thus my first act upon entering a club is always to grab a napkin to stuff in my ears. it may not offer the best protection, but it certainly takes the edge off. sometimes it takes a few tries of getting the right amount to avoid blocking out too much. but there was one show i had to see which had me proactively stuffing in as much as i could possibly fit.

i'd always wanted to see merzbow. referred to as "the godzilla of noise," masami akita has over 330 releases (and i thought jandek was prolific), most of them probably more terrifying than any sound the average person would ever wish to hear. of all the artists working in the noise field, merzbow has emerged as the undisputed king (although he owes a great debt to throbbing gristle, who broke up in 1981 but have recently reactivated sporadically). how ironic then, that his nyc date was taking place on the same night as the jandek show. hoping against hope, i bought tickets to both shows. fortunately, jandek went on first, giving me plenty of time to get over to the knitting factory and meet up with ben, bianca, and josh.

i arrived just in time to catch the end of double leopards' set. i have to say i enjoyed what little i heard. not many people can take what seems to be a single note and make it interesting. 4 people hunched over various analog instruments, tweaking, strumming, and feedbacking away in a mesmerizing multi-layered drone. after that, jim o'rourke came on with a fellow noisescape compatriot. i'd been interested to check him out after hearing of him for years as producer, remixer, and now member of sonic youth. he started out interestingly enough, but quickly built to a noise level i realized i wasn't yet prepared to take. i took a long break for dinner. having just gone through a kind of endurance test at the jandek show (waiting in line for 90+ minutes, followed by a 90+ minute show of 4-5 very slow and similar avant-jazz songs in no particular key), i thought that aspect of my night was over. i couldn't have been more wrong.

akita took the stage armed with only two mac laptops and a tiny mixer. normally this kind of setup can put me off a bit, but it's not about visuals at all with this kind of music. it is 100% about sound. you close your eyes and let yourself go, allowing yourself to be taken to whatever places the music leads you. however, the places merzbow's music leads you may not be very pleasant. when i refer to his work as music, i'm doing it in the broadest possible sense, which is to say that music can be defined as organized sound. no matter how chaotic it may seem, there is a mind at work behind what comes out of the speakers when he plays. a lot of noise artists give in entirely to the chaos, letting the instruments make the sound for them, barely affecting the output except hitting switches or screaming over the top in a very rock-n-roll fashion. merzbow takes the opposite route. he calmly positioned himself between the two laptops and went to work as though he was designing a blueprint, clearly taking care and attention to detail as he stared placidly into one monitor and then the other.

the resulting sound couldn't have been more in contrast with his demeanor. it began with a low (and i mean low) frequency drone that began to ripple and swell, moving our guts around as surely as the club's subwoofers were being punished in ways they weren't used to. suddenly a harsh mid-high blast of white noise announced the onset of his main assault. i kept my head down and eyes shut, feeling the world change around me. eventually, as the sounds got denser and more high-end, i decided to sit on the floor. by the end of the show, several others had joined me there or simply left, unable to take it. but i was determined to stick it out and see where it went. rather than creating a series of similar noise pieces, merzbow played non-stop, adding layers and differentiating them from each other with subtle processing touches and stereo imaging. it continually morphed into different kinds of hellish sound. at one point, the most musical and human of the night, he looped a sound whose source sounded like a blood-curdling scream, which changed in pitch enough to become a very disturbing melody. that's about the closest merzbow gets to pop music. at other times, he dropped depth-charge bass pulses reminiscent of some impossibly malignant strain of acid house. at that point it seemed to be building to a climax, but several sounds dropped out only to provide a lower plateau to start from to climb to even greater heights. by this point i was swaying to the undulating rhythms that only prolonged listening to this kind of thing can reveal. it's a good thing i'm not into artificially altered states, because i was already taken to levels akin to being on lsd. a dose of the real stuff while listening to this could cause permanent brain damage. i had achieved a level of bizarre calm, although i was transported to an alternate universe. at this point you realize how literally physical merzbow's music is; you feel it more than hear it, since the volume and frequencies seem to affect changes in your body. my ears were relatively protected, but it was entering directly through my skull and causing shuddering sensations not altogether unpleasant. then, with a dive down in resonance, merzbow abruptly cut the sound.

the silence was glorious and rejuvenating, although punctured immediately by howls and applause of the faithful (or perhaps insane) who'd stayed through the entire 90+ minutes. i picked myself up and almost literally staggered out into the cool night, happy i had just experienced the most intense sounds in my life. the only thing that could compare would be an equal time spent standing right next to a running jet plane exhaust. it's a toss-up whether someone willing to do that is more of a glutton for punishment than a merzbow show attendee, but i'm sure the latter is far more rewarding.

the title of this post comes from a plugin that merzbow may or may not use.


the humility of pain

by the time i arrived at anthology film archives at 6:15 pm this past tuesday, a line stretched around the corner. i spotted jon from aarktica further up from me. although we were advised to arrive at 6:30, doors didn't open until over an hour later. when we were finally let in, the first performer at the top of the bill was simply listed as "corwood industries." of course, almost everyone there knew this was the record label of jandek, the mystery man who'd never played a concert before last fall, and the few since then have been mostly in europe. i've been looking forward to this show since before my last entry about it.

to my surprise, the auditorium that held the concert was the same in which i'd seen art-house films before, including one of my favorites, ulysses' gaze. i'd assumed there was a larger hall for special events such as this. in fact it seemed as though the show was slightly oversold, with several people lining the edges of the room. i spotted three professional cameras and a mic high on a stand. stark yellow-white footlights cast tall shadows on the blank white screen, with deep blue ligthing around the edges.

barry esson, the man who's booked all of corwood's shows so far, repeated the advance request of no recording or photography from the audience (hence my intentionally blurry picture above of the line outside the venue). after a brief round of applause for him, he left the stage, the house lights went down, and the room went completely silent. the level of anticipation in most of the people present must have been excruciatingly high; you could feel it in the air. after another minute that seemed to stretch out longer, a door opened at the end of a dark corridor to the right of the stage, and shadowy figures came forward. i later found out from the jandek list who they were. the drummer was chris corsano who plays with six organs of admittance, among others. the guitarist was loren mazzacane-connors, who i'd heard of but had never heard or seen. the upright bassist was matt heyner, who's played in no-neck blues band. tentative applause broke out as they got behind their instruments, which then increased when several moments later a fourth figure appeared. looking exactly like recent live photos, the man known as jandek (it's fairly well known that it's not his real name) radiates an oddness, as though he's somewhat uncomfortable in his body. he is painfuly thin, his black dress clothes seeming to make up the bulk of his frame. a black fedora hid his eyes when he looked down, and when he looked up they were just as ghostly as the rest of his pale, gaunt face.

he sat down behind two gleaming silver korg tritons, an incongruously modern instrument for someone so staunchly lo-fi and basic in his arrangements. however, i was glad, since i'm not fond of the "atonal electric blues" style he sometimes plays (and which reportedly made up the brooklyn shows the next day). as it turns out, he stuck to the same sounds on each keyboard, two slightly different organ patches, one sharper and more dissonant than the other. after the crowd stopped clapping and had once again gone completely silent, he paused and launched into a set that could be called a sort of song suite. that is to say, the music and lyrics were very similar in all 4 or 5 long pieces played. they all began with a midtempo organ figure, followed by walking, murky bass played with the left hand. slowly the other players filled in the spaces, doing their best to distinguish the pieces from each other with their improvisations. his singing style on this night was also closer to the kind i prefer, higher in pitch and relatively more melodic. at many times it seemed vaguely related to the sprechgesang style favored by david tibet of current 93 (although not as melodic, manic, or apocalyptic).

i thought the resulting atmosphere created was incredible. to my surprise, the small sound system was clear and sounded full-range (although i'm sure the medium volume, sparse instrumentation, and dead silence of the audience helped). the spooky music was somehow both like being in a gothic church and a small jazz club. i was particularly impressed with heyner, who would play a different style and string with each hand. corsaro was wonderfully inventive and understated (anyone expecting the unschooled bashing of jandek albums like interstellar discussion may have been disappointed). i wanted to remove the auto-wah from connors' effects chain as it did no favors to the music. however, when he added minimal, tasteful bent notes and tone clusters, he was fairly effective.

in a sense the show was like a microcosm of jandek's entire oeuvre. on the one hand, one can admire the artist's willingness to share with the public what seems to be everything he's ever written, with such a singular aesthetic. on the other hand, there is a lot of sameness, and even to someone like me who's used to "difficult music," it seems like he could use an editor. i'd like to take a recording of the night and chop the best bits together into one long perfectly distilled piece.

there were many moments of weird, dark beauty in the music and lyrics. there was also room for brief flashes of humor, however subtle. in one song/story (when he gave up all pretense of singing and simply spoke), as a child he complains there's nothing to do; his mother tells him to go outside because there's always something to do. "so i went outside," he soberly intoned, "and did things". i had to keep from laughing at that, as well as his lyrical announcement, "i've been depressed." yeah, for most of the past 28 years it seems. regardless of his frequent references to depression, emptiness, nothingness, and a lack of a reason to go on, he did actually break into a broad smile for a few seconds at the end of one of the pieces, sharing it only with the other musicians. other than that, he didn't stray much from a glazed expression or make a lot of eye contact with anyone. he never seemed to really look at the audience, although his eyes were almost impossible to see from where i was. at the end of the set, he stood up stiffly, arms at his sides as if at attention, not moving a muscle, and faced the rest of the band as the auditorium exploded into applause. he turned without any acknowledgement of us and they all left the stage. and one of the stranger and more charged concerts i've ever been to was over, just like that.

the title of this post comes from a recent jandek album.


high bias

in a recent discussion on the idm list, a certain publication was criticized for its bias towards a certain type of indie rock and against electronic music.

of course, any publication has a right to some kind of editorial focus. however, in several cases, this focus is not clearly stated, and can only be inferred through repeated perusals of their content. furthermore, as some publications (whether online or printed) get bigger, that unstated focus gets blurred, as they may praise both kraftwerk and the white stripes. however, this type of thing is the exception rather than the rule. and as far as kraftwerk goes, they are a hip band to namecheck right now.

this starts to create the impression that the publication is basically about music (or even say, independent music) rather than simply indie rock, while they still clearly give more weight and column space to stories about the brand of indie rock that had its roots in the mid-80's and rose to some kind of prominence and cohesion by the 90's. let me make it clear i'm not knocking this music or the people who love it. i love the pixies and many of their descendants (as well as the descendents), but there are other things out there.

on the other hand, electronic-based publications have their share of bias as well. i often see the same shutout that rock-focused zines show for the darker side of electronic music, such as industrial, dark ambient, power electronics, and breakcore, with a few exceptions. merzbow and kid 606 come to mind, but again, these are artists at the top of their fields.

in fact, it can be argued that simply by having the focus of one genre (electronic OR rock OR experimental OR hip-hop), any number of publications automatically turn their "focus" into bias. because good music is not often made in a complete vacuum, artists may be influenced by sounds outside their genre (or subgenre in some cases). those same artists can be unjustly lauded or ignored for their efforts. either the narrowminded publication dislikes the"impure" influences shown by the mostly status-quo music, or the artist is raised to the level of genius simply by looking outside their own backyard.

the hyper-fragmentation of music in the media has made it somewhat easier for artists fitting into one small niche to get some level of attention. each style has its own labels, club circuits, publications, charts, internet mailing lists and message boards; therefore niche artists have the chance to rise to the top of a very small game. at that point, they may have the opportunity to break out of the ghetto of their own making; they can be hyped as the best of their kind. that is, unless the tastemakers at larger, broader-focused publications have predetermined that said kind is not worthy of coverage. or worse, worthy of ridicule, simply because of guilt by association with a genre they don't understand.

this is both the blessing and the curse of genre- and scene-based music. there are two tiers of acceptance to fight through. before even getting to the top of a genre, you have to be clearly in one. not only does this hinder artists who don't think in terms of genre when they create, it also stifles creative growth in artists once they have landed in a genre. the prejudice against certain types of music is so strong that some artists avoid any association with their past once making the transition from one style to another. the examples that come to my mind are ministry (who went from new wave dance to thrash metal), and mikael stavostrand (who was in darkambient/industrial acts archon satani and innana before putting out minimal glitchy tech-house under his own name).

even this is simply another kind of trap: trading one narrow style for another. the music of these artists could be that much richer if they let their past or other outside influences in. but should they stray from a hermetically-sealed musical environment, they risk a loss of support from the genre-based publications essential in helping build an audience raised on this kind of fragmentation. thus they're left to deal with more mainstream, supposedly less-biased publications, who are just as used to the neat little genre boxes created for them, and give more time to more established artists, or those already with a buzz. and some potentially great music gets passed over or shot down.

i dont think genres are the culprit here - it's helpful to have signposts on the musical map to point listeners in a general direction. but after each musical explosion, when everything becomes a free-for all in a short period of time, the music world tends to readjust and recompartmentalize. the gates are closed off between cultures and influences. and we wait for the next explosion to set everything free again. i don't think music makers, listeners, or publications need to wait; we need to make it happen.

the title of this post is a kind of audio tape.


the revolution will begin next semester

to here knows when has gotten a little bit better each time i've gone. it's also become free, which is a great thing to do for a wednesday night.

i was mainly coming down to see my best fiend, who i liked a lot at tonic a little while back, but i was happy i made it in time to catch the last few songs by tungsten74. billy from other passengers turned up, and my comment to him was "big black meets pink floyd". in retrospect, i'm not sure how accurate that remark was, but they are a hard, angular, noisy rock trio like steve albini's former band (although using a live drummer instead of a drum machine). on the other hand, they play epic and sometimes slow-paced instrumentals that favor spaciness as much as ear-bleeding, and played to a film of surreal cartoons (no flying pigs, but close) and film noir clips. none of the band faced the audience, as though the musicians were unimportant, merely conduits being inspired to create a semi-improvised soundtrack to the visuals. their energy carried off this unusual setup as they were equally pummeling and trippy.

after they finished, i finally met autumn thieves, who put on this night at scenic as loveless music group (as well as several others coming up soon, including one at cake shop). they take turns spinning music that fits the loose theme of the evening, although not as much my bloody valentine as you'd think - curve and ulrich schnauss were in the mix along with many others. one track that stood out was by bleep, who will be playing lmg's upcoming catch the breeze event at rothko.

my best fiend added two more namechecks to my list from last time: jane's addiction and secret machines. but they also had simple synth arpeggios like krautrock crashing into postpunk, as well as electronic crackles that would be at home on kid 606 or autechre's glitchier releases. when a band can evoke such diverse comparisons, you know they're very far down the road towards becoming their own unique thing. the guitarist and keyboardist switched places several times, and each handled both instruments with equal ability and vigor. the bassist's rig gave him increasing problems, but he played it off well, and the speaker-ripping pops were right at home in the joyfully haywire arrangement of their final song.

afterwards, i complimented the drummer on his ability and willingness to play with a drum machine. he seemed very enthusiastic about it, but downplayed his impressive skills. i then bumped into daniel lee, better known as the invisible kid, while handing him an earlier version of this flyer. his song "full speed nowhere" has to be heard to be believed. i also met the singer of ifwhen, who were playing later that night, but he told me he was fighting a similar sickness to mine, which reminded me i should be leaving. but i left there with a great feeling of a growing community of bands doing something a bit different in this town.

the title of this post comes from a song by tungsten 74.


signal to noise

the bunker has become one of the most consistently enjoyable nights i've been to since angel's own late, lamented dogs blood rising. ok, so i partially found dbr enjoyable because ben and i were often spinning, but the other elements were good too.

when halcyon was on smith street i used to go to the experimental/chillout night undercity. the early part of the night at the bunker is sometimes a bit like that, depending on the dj. undercity alumnus spinoza hosts and spins, and a rotating set of guests man the decks (and/or laptops) the rest of the time. if you're thinking it's just another boring "techno" night, think again. danceable electronic music is the focus, but all kinds of crazy things get thrown in the mix. one great night had small change hitting us with stereo mc's "connected" and suicidal tendencies' "institutionalized".

every few months the bunker takes over both floors of tonic starting the upstairs acts at midnight. i figured i'd go since the last time i went was so good. keeping the tradititon of unpredictability this past friday was charles peirce, better known as end. i've been into his music since i picked up his debut CD on hymen a few years ago. i met him at remote lounge last summer after a mad ep show, while handing out flyers for one of my own. turns out he's a really nice guy, although the music he's done since his debut gives lie to his reserved personality. twangy surf guitars, maddeningly singsong melodies, and breakcore beats dominate his sound these days. i'm partial to the tongue-in-cheek, quasi-"easy listening" style of his recent percussions disc on tigerbeat6, but live he just goes insane. musically, anyway. physically, he spends most of his time in intense brow-furrowed concentration. this night i unfortunately arrived late, but caught the last part of his set which ended with some kind of manic children's tune. he was dressed as a long lost member of either kraftwerk or tubeway army. the place was packed and rightfully appreciative of his skills.

i was also downstairs for smartypants & local fields and david last, who pumped up the floor to ben and bianca's delight. in fact it was pumped up so much it sounded as if one of the speakers was starting to go, but it just added a raw edge to the already bleeping and farting synth workouts. giles hendrix did his usual great visuals, augmented by the presence of share mastermind ilan katin and others.

meanwhile upstairs, safety scissors pushed a slightly raw, updated retro-electro vibe. ben and i agreed that his instrumentals worked much better. dj olive seemed to take us all over the map with his set, which i enjoyed. i never liked we very much, but as a dj, he's great. monolake came on pretty late, unfortunately announcing something about a short set, which i was told had to do with the planned overseas live collaboration with deadbeat not working out due to internet connection problems. his music was definitely the highlight of the evening, several levels of musically-created ecstasy being reached by new sounds and themes at the onset of a new measure. the show exceeded my expectations based on the two CDs i have. i guess ableton live (which i assume he was using, since he designed it) really is all that.

the title of this post comes from an album by monolake's robert henke.