A couple of months ago, in this column we mentioned the release of “I Am Not Artist” (Vinyl On Demand), a monumental box-set from the singular group Smegma. In that brief introduction to the delirious cosmology of the California group, today settled in Portland, we mentioned the important role that the sponsorship of Los Angeles Free Music Society (LAFMS) played in its founding, way back in 1973. By a happy coincidence, the celebrations on October 22nd , 23rd , and 24th of The Lowest Form of Music, the first event on British ground entirely dedicated to the work and influence of the LAFMS is now being highly publicised. Besides a complete program of projections, debates, and conferences about the “most unfairly ignored avant-garde movement of the 20th century”, the agenda of The Lowest Form of Music –a title, by the way, that was already used by the labels Cortical Foundation and RRRecords in 1996 for a retrospective of ten CD’s where the archives of the LAFMS were partially recovered– includes performances by Airway, Extended Organ, Le Forte Four, The Tenses, Dinosaurs With Horns, Tom Recchion, John Duncan and, of course, Smegma, all of them relevant figures in the abrupt, little-known history of the Los Angeles platform. The cycle will be rounded out by the participation of non-American artists influenced by the LAFMS, which is the case of the British Morphogenesis, which members of the bands Scratch Orchestra and Nurse With Wound have played in– or Japanese bands Incapacitants and Hijokaidan.
One guesses that this ambitious project has been designed to shed some light on a group about which someone said—and not without reason—that they were “the real New Weird America when nobody was paying attention.” The aforementioned subversive agents, to which at least the names Chip Chapman, Rick Potts, Gerald Bole and The Doo-Dooettes should be added, rebelled against the immobility of popular music and the lack of flexibility of the avant-garde making use, nearly forty years ago, of the same techniques that today are articles of faith in the area of NWE –“musique concrète”, electronic, free-jazz, improvisation, noise, folk tribalism, krautrock– aesthetically connecting, as some historians have observed, the release of the first album of The Residents – “Meet the Residents” (Ralph, 1974)– with that of “Calling All Girls” (50 Skidillion Watts, 1977), the debut of Half Japanese. In this sense, it is surprising to discover how relevant today things like Airway’s “Live At Lace” are–the missing link between “White Light White Heat” (The Velvet Underground) and “Confusion Is Sex” (Sonic Youth). And then there’s “Japanese Super Heros” by Le Forte Four –Boredoms meets Jackie-O Motherfucker– “Mojave” by The Doo-Dooettes –Yellow Swans covering Emeralds– or “Parasitic Twin” by Rick Potts –the single that Pussy Galore never recorded for In The Red. It’s surprising to find out about their performances, halfway between a concert and a surrealist happening, their low-tech facilities, their fanzines, and especially that sensational motto with which they promoted their record releases, whose distribution was almost always limited to mail-order: “The music is free, but you have to pay for the plastic, the paper, the ink, the glue, and the stamps.” Few people know about it, but this is the source of many things happening today.
The Good, the Ugly, and the CynicalA sense of humour is also an essential element in the work of Monte Cazazza. Although in his case, it’s a much more perverse, and—why deny it—sick sense of humour. Cazazza, who is credited with coining the expression “industrial music” through his legendary slogan “industrial music for industrial people,” was Throbbing Gristle’s best connection in the United States. Like the British group, his imagination was as twisted as it was voluptuous, bringing together pop, pornography, extreme violence—oftentimes real and aimed at the public—and the wildest brand of avant-garde art. It is enough to recall stellar moments of his career, like the time that he blocked the doors of a convention of alternative artists after burning the decomposed cadaver of a cat inside, his collages made up of religious imagery, gay hardcore, and swastikas, and, especially, the fake that he organised with Genesis P.Orridge around the execution of Gary Gilmore –yes, the same one to whom The Adverts dedicated their best song– founding the Gary Gilmore Memorial Society and anonymously distributing photos of himself sitting on the electric chair, which some newspapers believed to be real and even published as an exclusive.
Oddly enough, Cazazza’s musical work rarely reaches the heights of brutality of his performance activity. Perfectly summarised in “The Worst of Monte Cazazza”(The Grey Area / Mute, 1992), Cazazza, the musician, continues with his thematic fixations (some titles: “Candy Man”, “Liars (Feed those Christians to the Lions)”, “To Mom on Mother’s Day,” “Sex Is No Emergency”) and he tends, except for a few noise incursions on the side, towards electronic funk and a synth-pop that would today be called minimal wave.Now, when most listeners had already given him up for dead, or for definitively washed up—his record of going in and out of mental hospitals and jails is legendary—Cazazza is back with “The Cynic” (Blast First Petite). And it couldn’t be more of a surprise. Not only because he’s alive and kicking, but also because “The Cynic” is perhaps his most well-aimed sound insult. It’s a giant “fuck-you” to everyone and everything, especially to the industrial group that, much to his despair, adores him. The strategy is clear: to record the album that nobody expected from him, and which nobody will like. And he’s done it, all right: crepuscular western numbers – “Terminal”, “A Gringo like Me” and, don’t ask why, a little techno in the line of Orbital and Leftfield, but using a ton of presets – “Break Number One” , “Venom” , “What’s So Kind About Mankind” and “Birds of Prey”. Nonsense that will have many people pulling on their midnight-blue hair. But they will be the ones who never really understood what Cazazza’s art is about: offending, bothering, and driving people crazy as much as possible. Even the few people who pay attention to you. You have to be really big to stand up to your own legend that way. I imagine that the jerk is going to have a good laugh when he reads “Style: Industrial, Experimental” on discogs.com.
Journey to the Limits of Analogue
Who isn’t a legend yet, but is well on his way is Keith Fullerton Whitman. And not only because he’s good—which he is, really good—but because of his exceptional publishing pace. I’ve counted no fewer than fifteen releases since his return in 2009, plus the ones I’ve probably missed.The story of Fullerton Whitman is a strange one: between 1999 and 2005, his production brought together IDM and breakcore under the pseudonym Hrvatski –you can find it in catalogues like those of Planet Mu or Reckankreuzungsklankewerkzeuge– and works of affected ambient, drones and acoustic instrumentation, mainly guitar, put out by names like Kranky or Carpark. They were all albums that reflected a virtuous programming of patches for Max/MSP, focused on the use –and abuse– of the computer as a musical tool with apparently unlimited possibilities. Nevertheless, in the middle of the decade, Fullerton Whitman put an end to his use of computer resources, and he took a break to return to the ring, in 2009, with a completely different proposal, totally focused on the manipulation of analogue equipment in real time. And today he is perhaps the most interesting of the artists who use classic synthesisers. Although the timbres that he uses fit in with neo-synth for obvious reasons, his work doesn’t stick to outmoded stylistic coordinates. Fullerton Whitman investigates and experiments with modular instruments like he did with the laptop, seeking out limits, diversifying their use. He may stray into the realm of cosmic psychedelics – “Generator” (Root Strata, 2010), “Live Generators” (Protracted View, 2010), some sections of “November 28, 2009” (Upstairs, 2010), along with Geoff Mullen– or he makes himself comfortable in that of abstract noise – “Hallicrafters Inc.” (Rare Youth, 2009), “070325/080409” (Amethyst Sunset, 2010), shared with Mike Shiflet– or he solves equations that are theoretically impossible, “Variations for Oud & Synthesizer” (No, 2010). If you are fed up with so much hippy stuff, but you are seduced by the warmth of the old modules, KFW is your man.
mp5 Bill Orcutt: “Way Down South” (Palilalia)
The ex-Harry Pussy continues his return to the essence of acoustic blues with a firm stride. I know that it doesn’t sound good when you say it like that. But don’t be fooled: Orcutt plays blues, yes, but not like you’ve ever heard it. And he plays the acoustic guitar, but not like you imagine. Recorded live in Christchurch, New Zealand, “Way down South” has more energy and nerve than 90% of the rock albums put out so far this year. And besides that, it’s an LP recorded only on one side, and in a limited edition of 300 copies. Yum!
Classwar Karaoke: “At Philosoph.” (Classwar Karaoke)
Besides being one of the best names in history, Classwar Karaoke is an entity of a mutating nature, which may as easily become a netlabel as a platform for the publicising of short films. In the case of “At Philosoph.” It’s not entirely clear whether it’s a dozen musicians who have gotten together for a jam, or a mixtape. Whatever, over the course of its thirty minutes, you travel through heterodox sound art, ambient, noise and collage all equally well done. Download at http://www.archive.org/details/CWK0001
Pulse Emitter: “Over Clouds” (Root Strata)
“Over Clouds” starts off with Eleh, continues with John Carpenter, and ends with plain, straightforward kosmische. All of this in two songs, one on each side, that make this C-50 an act of neo-synth histrionics so big that it’s really hard to believe its release date. It might make some indignant, and fascinate others, but one thing is clear: Daryl Groetsch is serious. No trace of post-modern irony here.
Failing Lights: “Failing Lights” (Intransitive Recordings)
In the end, the honour of publishing the first “official” CD–preceded by no less than forty releases on cassette, CD-R and 7” since 2005– of Failing Lights, the solo project of Mike Conelly (Wolf Eyes, Hair Police) has gone to Howard Stelzer’s label. And Intransitive can be happy, because Conelly has given them a wonder: super-dark ambient–not merely dark ambient– sinister electro-acoustic, and even great moments of Theatre of Eternal Music ( “The Comfort Zone”), on an album that isolates the bad karma of Wolf Eyes from the noise discourse. A different kind of tension, anyway.
Motion Sickness Of Time Travel: “The Sound of Reality Dissolving” (Hooker Vision)
We still hadn’t recovered from the impact of “Seeping Through the Veil of Unconscious” (Digitalis Limited), one of the best cassette launches of the season, and Rachel Evans is already back in the ring with a delicious mini CD-R with three songs; although it doesn’t surpass its predecessor, it does widen the field of action of Motion Sickness Of Time Travel by heading over into the epic by way of 4AD, and it knows how to take advantage of 16-bit sound. Everything else is nothing new: cosmic ambient, ethereal voices, and drones that seem to be made of cotton candy. A delight.