Monday, March 12, 2007

Waiting for the man // Windy City noise // Ganging up

there is a decent chance that this will be the only night of my life during which i could utter, "I'm going to interview Anthony Braxton tomorrow," and have it be true.

as stated below, "Forces in Motion" has been invaluable. am sifting through the recordings--including the upcoming nine-cd-and-one-dvd box set of 2006 Iridium peformances on Firehouse 12--and trying to make sense of a gigantic oeuvre. another awesome resource is the Restructures interactive discography, put together by Jason Guthartz, who's also responsible for the excellent documentary DVD (featuring performance footage and a lecture Braxton gave at Columbia) in the box set. this site rules b/c it's got a lot of Braxton's color graphic titles scanned in for reference. it's not quite up to date, but i'm sure it's getting there.

during my last-minute googling, i came across a superweird and somewhat disconcerting document: this 1971 audio interview w/ Braxton. in watching the aforementioned documentary, one of the things that struck me is what a kind and amiable man Braxton is; he frequently describes his Ghost Trance Music as a kind of game or system for inducing wonder. the word "friendly" comes up often, and he concludes by saying that his recent compositions are at best intended to provide him and his collaborators with a "fun," challenging experience. the Braxton you hear on the interview above though is a suspicious, bitter and even nihilistic man, clearly suspicious of the interview format and of discussing his music at all. he refuses to ascribe any meaning to his work and expresses a sharp distrust of the lovey-dovey hippie mindset. his thinking clearly took a positive turn in later years, but it's interesting to see where his head was at then, just two years after "For Alto."

fortunately by "Forces in Motion," he was on a much more life-affirming and spiritual tip. at one point, he says, "The challenge of creativity, as far as I'm concerned, is to move towards the greatest thought you can think of." another positive-leaning quote i like is this one: "I can say for a fact, based on my own life, that John Coltrane's music has helped me to be a better person, that Arnold Schoenberg's and Karlheinz Stockhausen's music has made me work harder and want to be a better person." so anyway, you can see where he ended up, but his mindset apparently wasn't always so optimistic.

anyway, wish me luck.


so i'm just back from Chicago, where i went to hang for the weekend with some of my very dear friends (Kyle, Jeff, Mike S. and Mike P.) from the Midwest. the trip was really an excuse to hang out with extremely tight bros of mine who i see all too little of, but the reason we chose Chi-town and this date in particular was an edition of the Lampo concert series featuring Joe Colley and Jason Lescalleet, who are some pretty formidable noise/drone types.

i had first seen this duo at ErstQuake two years ago. i attended the entirety of that fest, but the Colley/Lescalleet set was the obvious highlight; it was the most physical and tense of the sets. it wasn't the most assaultive, but it was the most visceral. i remember headbanging at several points.

i'm not really a noise aficionado, but i was sufficiently impressed w/ Colley (a California musician who used to record under the name Crawl Unit) to follow his work in the intervening period. his solo set was easily the strongest of the three sets i saw this weekend (Friday night featured each musician solo and Saturday was a duo). Colley seems to improvise most of his stuff and he seems to have a real fascination with tension. watching his sets one feels endangered.

at Lampo that feeling was intensified b/c of the awesome and awesomely loud p.a. setup. Colley mumbled, "hi, i'm Joe Colley and i'm going to play some sounds for you," and immediately plugged in a power adaptor, creating a deafening din. as he performs, he stands over his mixing board and makes these hesitant gestures. often it's as if he's sort of afraid of what's going to happen when he twists a knob or plugs in a cord. his best pieces are wonderfully physical and alarming. it often sounds like he's frying his equipment. i have a few of his records, but if there's any advantage to seeing this stuff live it's that you're not in control. you can't turn it down when it becomes disconcertingly intense.

Colley's got a great presence. he's tall and blond, with gaunt, sly features and greasy hair. a pretty punk-looking dude given to sly smiles when not onstage. when he plays, it's as if he's plugged into his gear. it's not histrionic, but neither is it stoic. it's just sort of charged. sometimes he seems almost sickened by the sounds he's making. the set the other night climaxed with a fast, thudding pulse accompanied by a flashing white light. it was a brief set and left you wanting more; he's maybe the only noise musician i've ever seen who understands the importance of playing short sets.

i picked up his latest CD, "Waste of Songs," and it seems pretty darn good. as with the live show, the music isn't all abrasive, but it does all work with a sort of tension. any atmosphere he creates is in immediate danger of being assailed.

i wasn't as crazy about Lescalleet solo or the duo. Lescalleet's solo was a very deliberate piece, pretty much composed as far as i could tell. he performs as if he were skulking around in his basement--with shoes off and with nerdy concentration. his solo set started off with a slowed-down recording of a song i presume was entitled "Cherokee Nation"; it was kind of this funny, cheesy rock song with lyrics like "Cherokee Nation, so proud to live, so proud to die," or something like that. after that, a lot of the set was taken up by glacial drone. it was rich but uneventful. not really my kind of thing at all. he was doing a lot of live recording and processing, using various dictaphones set up throughout the room. when i last saw him, he was working a lot with these rickety analog tape machine to get some really abrasive, alarming sorts of sounds. he had those machines this time but focused more on synths and laptop. too placid for me.

the duo was kind of so-so. it was kind of tentative and episodic, with each musician making a little move and the other responding. kind of clunky in that way. there was a cool section when Colley was fooling aroung with wobbly dictaphone textures, and there was a highly ripping noise burst toward the end when Lescalleet was monkeying around with the analog player. but overall, the set just kinda happened.

i loved the venue though. it was at this weird, squat brick building called 6ODUM. low ceilings, moody lighting, folding chairs--it was sort of like a church basement. really great sound though and really cozy. i'd go back.

got to speak with Kevin Drumm after the show. my friend Mike S. is a huge fan and he introduced me. Drumm was a very nice and humble guy. wish i'd heard more of his music. anybody else into his stuff? i know that "Sheer Hellish Miasma" is supposed to be a noise classic.

other highlights of the trip were two visits to the Jazz Record Mart (best purchase: a cut-out copy of Charles Tyler's "Sixty Minute Man," a solo LP from, i believe, '79), a walk along Lake Michigan (it was balmy out, but there was still some pretty ice drifting about) and a trip to the planetarium for a dumb but fun space show. oh, and fucking awesome conversation on all manner of aesthetic issues with people whose company i cherish. epic conversation on the politics of noise/electronic-music performance at a Mexican joint after the show, where we later ran into Colley. anyway, tons of fun and way too brief.

here's a nice Colley mp3: Claysound 10.02 from "Desperate Attempts at Beauty"


last night Laal and i finished watching a goddamn fascinating documentary called "Bastards of the Party." it's an HBO film about L.A. gangs made by Cle "Bone" Sloan," a lifelong member of the Athens Park Bloods. this is simply one of the most engrossing docs i think i've ever seen. it's impeccably researched and devastating to watch.

basically, Sloan's objective is to find out how gang warfare began. the film tells how the Bloods and the Crips are basically the "bastard" leftovers of the black power movement. the first black gangs in L.A., such as the Slausons, were simply units of self-defense against Klan-style white groups. then in the '60s, the Black Panthers and the Us movement took black pride to a much more politically charged level. the L.A. Panthers, led by "Bunchy" Carter, took a militant stance, while the Us members, led by Ron Karenga, advocated peaceful rebellion.

using interviews with former Panthers and Us members, and FBI agents, Sloan tells the disturbing tale of how the FBI turned these groups, essentially working toward the same goal of racial equality, against one another through insidious propaganda. this campaign culminated in Bunchy Carter's murder at the hands of a few Us members. this incident, Sloan argues, basically derailed black power in L.A. and led to decades of disillusionment culminating in modern-day gang warfare.

Sloan gets a lot of help from the brilliant Mike Davis, whose alternative history of L.A., "City of Quartz," was the book that planted the seeds for this film. Davis, Sloan and a bunch of other L.A. historians show how inner city blacks turned to crime in the '70s, inspired by films such as "Superfly" and motivated by the city's increased job shortages. Davis talks about how prisons ("human storage," he calls it) sprang up in alarming numbers, as the LAPD sought to round up black men and take them off the street at the slightest provocation.

the Crips apparently started off as a benevolent community organization. they even had a constitution, basically derived from Panther doctrine. but Sloan shows how drugs flooded the inner city during the Iran contra scandal, and basically turned the Crips and their rival Bloods into drug trade pawns. turf wars began and the violence started spilling over into white areas; police cracked down and the Rodney King riots resulted. interestingly, Davis portrays the looting as community activism; he points out how people weren't just grabbing for themselves but were looting as families.

the riots brought the two gangs together, but just as with the Panthers and the Us movement, the police intervened, even going so far as to perform drive-bys in cars impounded from gang members (or at least one Blood member says). the violence escalates. former gang members tell of Crips kicking over the caskets at Blood funerals and Bloods organizing killing parties in retaliation. it's some pretty grim stuff.

Sloan is an inspiring and complex figure. unlike a lot of people who have reformed and left gangs, his mission is to change them from the inside out. his viewpoint isn't self-righteous. he implies several times that he's participated in the violence since an early age; he doesn't admit it outright, but it's pretty clear that he's been involved in murders. the most interesting thing is his equivocal viewpoint. on one hand the film is the story of him learning about the historical injustices that led to the gangs' formation, about how sowing black-on-black violence has been the essential aim of the FBI and LAPD all along. but even while he understands that the murderous gang warfare is playing right into the racists' hands, he's still deeply caught up in it.

near the end of the film, the son of one of his close friends is murdered by a Crip. we see Sloan struggling with the question of what he would do if he were to confront the killer. on one hand, he reasons, it would be treason for him to let the man live. on the other, he wants desperately to stop the cycle. his nonviolent choice is noble, but things remain muddy. when he visits other gang members who disagree, it becomes clear what a fucked situtation this all is. one man speaks of having an obligation to kill, as a fulfillment of his dying friends' last wishes. i'm pretty sure Sloan makes an Israel-Palestine parallel at one point, driving home the universality of this scenario.

there are a million other amazing testimonies in this movie and i felt like i learned so much about L.A. and U.S. race relations in general that my brain hurt. i only wish "Bastards of the Party" was a miniseries instead of just one film. i don't know if it's rentable yet, but it's a must-see. (sorry for all the plot summary, and i hope i don't spoil anything. maybe i just wanted to go over all those facts for my own sake, just to make sure i don't forget!)

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