“Blue” Gene Tyranny with Trust in Rock flyer designed by Phil Harmonic. Photo: Pat Kelley
“Blue” Gene Tyranny with Trust in Rock flyer designed by Phil Harmonic. Photo: Pat Kelley

 

TRUST IN ROCK
by Ned Sublette

Trust in Rock is a recording of the final night of a concert given November 4-6, 1976, in Gallery A of the University Art Museum in Berkeley, California, featuring composer-performers “Blue” Gene Tyranny (Robert Sheff) on piano and synthesizer, and Peter Gordon on tenor sax.

Trust in Rock was Gordon’s media-satiric name for it, though it wasn’t exactly what most people thought of as “rock” at the time. The very use of the word was startling, though; even as rock dominated the music business, it was pretty much taboo in even the hippest college composition classes at the time, even those specializing in the intentionally vague label of “new music.” Gordon, who was 25 at the time, had bailed on academia and was hanging with Arthur Russell and Rhys Chatham in New York, while Tyranny, 31, had left Iggy Pop’s band three years previously. The East Village / SoHo scene was in its early stages, as was punk.

A pre-concert blurb in Ear magazine called it NEW MUSIC FOR ROCK BAND. Trust in Rock stands out as an early example of composers forming ensembles configured like rock bands, exploring structural ideas with the by-then-standard rock instrumentation of keyboard, guitar, bass, and drum, plus the occasional horn section. The already established wave of “minimalist” composers (Philip Glass et al) didn’t do this. Gordon would follow up in 1977 with the creation of Love of Life Orchestra, or LOLO, which fluctuated from being a duo to a large ensemble, depending on the occasion, with highly variable instrumention.

Disclosure: This writer has known the two principals since the early ‘70s, having gone to graduate school with Peter Gordon at UC San Diego in 1972-73; he then went up to study at Mills, where Tyranny was a faculty member. I wasn’t present for Trust in Rock, though; I too was living in New York by then. New in town and in need of work, I filled in for Peter at his graveyard-shift tape-editing job while he went out to California to put Trust in Rock together. I’ve been in the studio and on stage with both of them many times.

“Blue” Gene Tyranny, left; Peter Gordon, right. Photo: Ned Sublette
“Blue” Gene Tyranny, left; Peter Gordon, right. Photo: Ned Sublette

42 years after Trust in Rock, we got together in February 2018 to talk about it at Blue Gene’s apartment in Queens. 72 years old and blind, Blue continues to compose, perform, and record. Peter, 66, continues to compose, perform and release new work, and is Professor of Music at Bloomfield College in New Jersey.

What follows is a transcript of our conversation . . .

* * *

NS:    What background were you bringing to this music?

BGT: Oh my God. My total background? I’m writing about it now -- writing my autobiography, basically, but it’s in the form of music lessons. It’s done by decades, and I go through my early background, which was experimental music, and music without notes, which is verbal instructions for music, by everybody you can think of. Phil Krumm and I did a lot of that work in the Southwest, in Texas, with other artists -- some were painters, some were poets, some more musicians. And we performed at all sorts of venues. But we were kids. I was 12 or 13 at the time. Phil introduced me to lots of people, and we began writing to John Cage, a lot of the New York composers, and a great many of the so-called Fluxus people.

But at the same time I was playing in rock ‘n’ roll bands in San Antonio, at the drive-in theaters, where you’d stand on top of the concession stand, and underneath were all these 1950s leather types.

PG:    Do you remember any of the movies that they were playing?

BGT:  Oh yeah. The first movie I remember that was extremely important was Forbidden Planet, with its electronic score by Louis and Bebe Barron. I was a child then, and in front of the screen, underneath it, they had situated a playground with swings and stuff like that, so I was sitting on the swing and watching Forbidden Planet.

NS:    And then you went and played rock ‘n’ roll at intermission, for the snack bar break?

BGT:  Not at that time, but yes, later, at intermission we would play rock ‘n’ roll, and battle of the bands.

NS:    Covers?

BGT:  Some covers, some original. Some we didn’t know what they were, we just started playing (laughs).

NS:    I remember you telling me about seeing Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.

BGT:  Yes, I did, in a dance hall outside of San Antonio. I was a little kid then, about six or seven years old. I didn’t know who he was, but I remember the name, and I remember dancing around in front of the stage. I remember they had a wooden outline of a cat, and it was called the kitty, if you requested a tune you put money into the kitty.

Clockwise: “Blue” Gene Tyranny, Karl Young, Peter Gordon. Photo: Pat Kelley
Clockwise: “Blue” Gene Tyranny, Karl Young, Peter Gordon. Photo: Pat Kelley

NS:    So you were bringing a background that encompasses both the vernacular culture of this place you grew up in, and a conceptual framework that was not that.

BGT:  Yeah. I’m an air person, I’m a mental person, astrologically. And that motivates me – I mean, I’m a very emotional person too, but that’s another thing. Yeah, the combination of influences – I was born in 1945. It was the start of when rhythm and blues was being generated out of swing at the time, and they started getting a New Orleans thumpa thumpa, and putting a Fats Domino beat to it. I heard a lot of Tex-Mex music in San Antonio, and there was a lot of gospel music, which I would hear mostly on the radio at one or two in the morning. I’d take the radio to bed and hide it so my parents couldn’t hear it. They weren’t against it, they just didn’t want me up late. That’s how you got your music. Otherwise it was novelty music and nonsense.

NS:    Peter, could you briefly characterize what you brought to Trust in Rock and how that interacted with what Blue Gene brought?

PG:    Like Blue, I had a conceptual interest in music as form and structure, sort of this external manifestation of music as idea. At the same time, I was playing in soul bands, and playing rock. I was born a little bit later than Blue Gene, but growing up in Virginia, I listened to a lot of black radio coming out of northern Virginia and Washington DC, as well as in the ’60’s, when I was living in Munich, Germany, English pop. I played a lot of improvised music in the context of the post-bebop players, but I never considered myself playing jazz. Also, I always liked music with funky beats, coming out of, I guess, James Brown, or what Sly Stone was doing. I think I learned most of my harmony from Motown songs. My formal education came more out of the post-serial academic and conceptual scene, but the actual music and harmonic content came more out of Holland-Dozier-Holland and that type of harmonic rhythm.  [To Blue Gene]: And you had played with those guys, when you were…

BGT:  Yeah, we did some backup for the Four Tops, that was later, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ann Arbor’s only a few miles from Detroit, and it was like every week there was a new entry into the diary, so to speak. It was like a living life thing, it wasn’t like music business, it was a whole continuing life that was generated from Detroit. Next week, you get a song here, and the next week you get the comment on that song, and then a comment on that song, and it went on and on and on, you know, but it was like a whole family generating music all the time. A lot of which got national attention and some of which didn’t.

PG:    That’s interesting, because skipping ahead to Oakland, and what was happening at Mills at the time, there were a few important things going on. One big thing was that there was a multitrack recording studio there. But there was also the weekly performance series, and there was that sense of music as being part of regular life -- music as news, rather than this special singular event.

BGT:  You know, the concerts that we gave every week at the CCM, Center for Contemporary Music – a nonprofit, public access institution – were organized by and a lot of times starred the music of the composers who were there, or composers who were invited by the Ford Foundation or whatever, to give them an opportunity to do exactly what they want to do, and the same thing went for all the people who were students, like Peter. The condition was, anybody could come, but we didn’t invite any critics, so even though we got ridiculously uninformed critics from the local San Franciscan newspapers, I must say, talking about “Robert Sheff and his ilk put on a concert of John Cage and his ilk’s music,” things like that. You didn’t want that spirit, you didn’t need that spirit, because that’s not what you’re working on, you weren’t trying to entertain in that way. I mean, the music was entertaining if you let yourself go, but you had to let yourself go out of these states. Cage’s music would generate in the players absolutely new feelings and systems of thought. [becomes emotional, pause button pushed, resumes]

Left to Right: Paul Dresher, Steve Bartek, Patrice Manget, Gene Reffkin, Peter Gordon, Karl Young, Janet Cuniberti, “Blue” Gene Tyranny. Photo: Pat Kelley
Left to Right: Paul Dresher, Steve Bartek, Patrice Manget, Gene Reffkin, Peter Gordon, Karl Young, Janet Cuniberti, “Blue” Gene Tyranny. Photo: Pat Kelley

NS:    Who were these people who played at this concert? What relationship did they have to the music?

BGT:   Almost all of the people that played were Mills-associated, but not everybody. Peter, what was the fellow’s name who played sax with you?

PG:    Karl Young, who also played flute. I had replaced Karl in a 1950s music revue called Butch Whacks and the Glass Packs. Karl had to quit the band when he began his studies in physics at San Francisco State, and I understand that after a career in physics, he is now devoted to playing the shakuhachi. Then we had composer-guitarist Paul Dresher, who at the time wasn’t going to Mills.

BGT: He was at Berkeley, but he was in a band with me also.

PG:    Right, so Paul and Gene Reffkin, the drummer.

BGT:  Gene was in the same band.

PG:    Yeah, so you and Gene, and when Craig Hazen, one of our original collaborators and bass player, had to drop out due to illness, I called in my old friend Steve Bartek, who I’ve known since high school in LA, still a close friend of mine. While he’s known as a guitarist and flute player (and now one of the leading film orchestrators), he is also quite a fine bass player, an amazing reader, and he was able to jump in at the last minute. Then there was Janet Cuniberti.

BGT:  She was a notable student at Mills. I remember she was overjoyed to be part of this collaboration. She was playing synthesizer . . .

PG:    . . . .and RMI piano. Two keyboards.

BGT:  Patrice Manget, the singer, had a group called Patrice and her Nasty Band with her husband, whose name was Nasty [Robert Alden “Nasty” McMaster], who played guitar. They were very good people. They would do all sorts of music / theater events, a very San Francisco kind of performance esthetic. I played with the Nasty band on a couple of guest appearances. They worked with Ken Beckman, with live video. They were really open to a lot of things.

NS:    What about the lyricists?

PG:    My songs had lyrics by Kathy Acker, and then Blue Gene wrote his own.

NS:    There are two very different kinds of song, two very different kinds of lyrics, in this project. What part do the lyrics play?

BGT:  Well, the writers are very different. Kathy was a brilliant poet and lyricist also, and had a truly minimal style that was very elegant. Her lyrics were very much on the surface, but underneath you knew there were all these other depths that you could experience. And mine tended to be more earnest. I’m not really a writer.

We were saying something about American society. Many of Kathy’s stories were about people who were directly confronting their circumstances, without judging them. I unfortunately have a tendency to judge things, and I’m trying to get rid of that now. I think the politics couldn’t be avoided, you know. But mine were more general. There’s one line in one of the songs that says, “I know you care about meaning and money, but will you ever care about me?” “Meaning” is the way people guard themselves with religious meaning or even status in our society, and the idea of money of course is obvious.

Patrice Manget. Photo: Pat Kelley
Patrice Manget. Photo: Pat Kelley

PG:    One of your lines that I really liked was “Identity, the angels came and took you away.” What do you mean by that?

BGT:  The angels are any kind of spirit that solves things for you, or takes you beyond, or gives you a feeling of beyond.

I became blind in 2009 and since then I’ve had profound experiences of what’s called the Charles Bonnet syndrome. It’s a very little-known thing that happens to thousands of people all over the world. Even my doctor never heard of it. She said, “I thought you couldn’t see.” I said, “I can’t see!” Because I’m describing these hallucinations to her. Basically, when you’re awake, or sometimes when you come out of sleeping but usually when you’re awake – and I’ve had this happen for several years now – if you’ve been sighted your whole life and you suddenly become blind in middle age, your brain continues to want that visual stimulus, so it makes its own. So what you see are people, that you don’t know, who are not transparent except if you tried to reach out and touch them. They appear to be maybe just walking through your room. You don’t know who they are, they’re smiling, they’re nice. It’s not frightening at all, except it’s unusual to say the least, especially the first time it happens. Sometimes it’s hallucinations, like a British double-decker bus appearing in your kitchen, things like that. The first person who described this was Charles Bonnet, in 1750, writing from Geneva, in French.

I’m trying now to write a secular cantata. It compares three different ideas about evolution – self propagated, cross-fertilization, and the modern one is transformation. Self-propagation is obvious, and that’s the oldest theory. Then cross-fertilization, of course, is Darwin – and that work was actually done on orchids, not animals. Orchids. He was in love with orchids. And then the modern one, transmutation, is, there was a woman scientist who discovered that if you froze electricity at absolute zero it turns to liquid. I think there’s a certain point when things transmute, and that all phenomena, no matter what it is, is connected. So that’s another idea of evolution, all three of which I think can exist at the same time, it just depends on what you’re talking about, plants or animals or planets or whatever.

Charles Bonnet’s idea was that evolution is progressive – that animals can gain human intelligence, and that humans gradually become angels.

Peter Gordon. Photo: Pat Kelley
Peter Gordon. Photo: Pat Kelley

NS:    “Am I sleeping and waking, or just turning over?”

BGT:  That’s “Leading a Double Life.”

NS:    Would you mind talking to me a moment about the lyric of that song?

He is in the blue distance

He is getting nearer

She’s in the blue distance

She is getting so clear

I don’t know where they came from

I don’t know how we got here

I just turned my back

And suddenly you were here . . .

BGT:  It’s partially about, that we’re all born into a schizophrenic society, and that we live in a schizophrenic way -- which is, there’s an outside reality, there’s an inside reality. And the thing is to get beyond the idea that those are separate. But at the same time to know which is which. When you’re born, you have none of that idea of, you know, the conflict of the universe, of the society in which you’re born, and gradually you learn the language . . .   And it’s basically that, leading a double life. If you’re enamored, that’s a beautiful way of leading a double life.

“He is in the blue distance.” Blueness increases with distance. “She’s a visiting wonder.” She or he. The lyrics are gender-interchangeable. It could be a heterosexual or homosexual song, it doesn’t matter, or anything else. “She’s in the blue distance, she’s a dream come true. Am I sleeping or waking or just turning over? A cellular wonder, leading a double life.”

PG:    I think Blue’s song suites come from a more personal place, a more introspective place. My songs with Kathy Acker’s lyrics are like three little stories that embody passion, anger, obsession, love, power, rejection. They’re bookended by instrumentals, beginning with “Machomusic,” which is the earliest piece that I still play, from 1973.

NS:    I recall the premiere [at UC San Diego.]

PG:    You recall the premiere. It builds on this primal cell, the saxophone riff [dahn data dahn data dahn data dahn . . . ]. The original performance included a drone of 16 Buchla synthesizer oscillators tuned in unison . . .

NS:    . . . and those oscillators were highly unstable, so part of the piece was how they drifted out of tune over the course of the piece.

PG:    . . . and the riff was played in unison by six male saxophonists in drag . . .

NS:    . . . hence the title “Machomusic,” but that aspect has not been recreated in subsequent performances of the piece . . .

PG:    I guess it was a non-binary exploration of “what it really means to be a man.”. . . and then on the other side, there’s the piece “Intervallic Expansion,” which has to do with both horizontal and vertical expansion and contraction, both melodically and rhythmically, with sections of repeated asymmetrical polyrhythms alternating with sections in straight four.

"Blue" Gene Tyranny. Photo: Pat Kelley
"Blue" Gene Tyranny. Photo: Pat Kelley

NS:    You memorably recorded this piece later in the studio . . .

PG:    . . . for Star Jaws, but before that there was a longer tape piece called “If I Trust You,” which began as a song -- actually, I was just listening to it on Seven Years of Crazy Love, which is “Blue” Gene’s mix tape of pieces done at Mills. “Intervallic Expansion” as a live piece came out of a song that is never actually sung within the show: “If I trust you, a revolution will happen.”  “Intervallic Expansion” was also the fourth movement of my Symphony #1 at The Kitchen in 1976, which featured Philip Glass on the clavinet.

BGT:  Would the title “If I Trust You” have anything to do with Trust in Rock?

PG:    Yes, with the optimistic idea that social change can happen. At the same time, I was working as a tape editor making commercial spots at WHN-AM radio in New York. Commercial radio is about slogans and soundbites that are designed to make the listener feel personally invested in whatever product you’re selling, so I thought of the slogan, “Trust in rock, your new concept in music.”

NS:    What I see in your instrumental pieces -- “Intervallic Expansion” and “Machomusic” -- is a kind of structuralist concern that was, to my ear, one of the marked characteristics of your work in the years that followed.

PG:    I think it was there, though, in the songs as well. It was sort of hung on the framework of the songs, of the words, and the characters. But within that, for example, in “Cloves and Cinnamon,” it begins with that structural polyrhythmic idea. I was hearing certain harmonic things, and inspired by Persichetti’s book on harmony at the time. So rather than a chord relating to, say, an overtone structure or an extended scale, I was hearing the layering of triads. And that’s kind of still the way I see harmony, and chord voicings as well. For example, I never think in terms of ninth or 13th chords – rather, I hear stackings of triads.

Janet Cuniberti. Photo: Pat Kelley
Janet Cuniberti. Photo: Pat Kelley

NS:   You hear it in terms of superimpositions?

PG:    I hear it more in terms of superimpositions.

NS:    Or is that horizontality more than verticality?

PG:    I think that’s really verticality. The horizontal is more cellular. A cellular wonder. (laughs)

NS:    The reason I ask about structure is because there was a large arc to this long concert. This is a lot of music. Nobody today, I think, would come with the program that long, served as one big new piece. At the time, that aspect of it didn’t seem so strange.

PG:    Well, I think in the context now, you find it more within concerts of jam bands. And even at the time – in Mills, the Bay Area at the time, there was kind of the shadow of the Grateful Dead, and there were these long Philip Glass concerts as well. Those loft concerts. I mean, it didn’t seem so long at the time.

NS:    Well, this was an era when people were doing entire concerts consisting of a single tone.

BGT:  Oh yeah. Same thing in avant-garde music. Pauline Oliveros’s pieces. The long piece was the thing to do. Terry Riley, A Rainbow in Curved Air.

PG:    Terry Riley was your colleague at Mills. And I had studied composition with him. Composition with Terry was, you would go in, you take out your instrument, and you would start playing. And you wouldn’t really talk about things, but you would exchange musical ideas, and aurally develop ideas, which was just the opposite of where I had been before, at San Diego, where for 2 ½ hours you’d talk about a chord but never listen to it.

BGT:  That authenticity of the actual hearing thing, I’m getting to appreciate that more now that I’m blind. I listen to people’s interior voices much more, I think it’s like what they hear in their head. But that might be just an illusion.

NS:    Forty-two years later, as you listen to this music again, what do you hear?

PG:    It's amazing we got a decent recording. The University Art Museum – recently replaced -- was this amazing brutalist architecture. It was extremely reverberant concrete.

BGT:  First, I heard how beautiful everything was. I also heard the repetition of things. And I thought, now, were we doing pattern music? The answer is no. Pattern music, mistakenly called minimal music in a lot of books -- you know, music of John Adams and Steve Reich -- and Terry, but Terry sort of initiated the idea, basing it on Japanese music and Balinese gamelan music, which he studied. But we weren’t doing pattern music. Because at certain points in the recording, I went, I went, wait a minute, why isn’t someone playing a solo over this? Are we just listening to accompaniment, or what? But we were just listening to the interior state of something.

Recordists of the evening.  Left to Right: Rich Gold, Maggi Payne. Photo: Pat Kelley
Recordists of the evening.  Left to Right: Rich Gold, Maggi Payne. Photo: Pat Kelley

They say in bebop, you think in three and you play in two. And that reflects the tradition of the music of Africa. In the West, it’s 4/4 mainly, and in the East it’s 12/8 or triplets, in Motown music you can hear both of them. But having the fast triplets underneath, heard directly or just imagined, was a new thing in music. Except for jazz. And so the tension between twos and threes has gotten into our music, and it automatically provides accents that we don’t really have to emphasize, they become secondary, you know, because of what you’re feeling inside, thinking in three, playing in two.

PG:    In my instrumental pieces, but also in the songs as well, I’m adding fives and sevens into that mix, so you have the 2 x 3, or the 3 x 4, but you also have five, and seven. There’s a lot of listening going on among the musicians, getting into each musical space, which also because of the nature of the different length of the different cells, sometimes takes a while for all the different permutations to come around…

NS:    And to be clear, when you’re talking about fives and sevens, you not talking about quintuplets and septuplets, you’re talking about 4×5.

PG:    Yeah, we’re talking about 4×5×7.

BGT:  And eventually it comes out to the beginning again.

PG:    So within those, there are opportunities for so many different accents -- points that come around within the cycle, and within that adding to that the layer of musicians listening to each other, so they then sort of build a whole network of musical commentary based on this. It comes out – I don’t want to say, meditative? because it’s more active than a meditative space, but it’s a more – I don’t know, a certain mindfulness. Within each one of these sections, which can last from 30 seconds to a number of minutes, even the slightest shift can change the whole landscape, that whole sense of feeling. It’s like you have a repeated gesture, and just one of the components you then shift by a 16th note, and that shifts the whole accent structure, melodic structure.

BGT:  And that becomes formalized later, in dealing with rhythm in a very sophisticated way in the sense – actually, in the way that a lot of Duke Ellington arrangements dealt with it, which is, when, say, the brass comes in, and they go {snaps fingers} 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5, but the rest of the tune is in 4/4, and it takes them, like, 20 beats to get back to the original combination. What you’ve done is what some musicians call offset. You take the same phrase, and you offset it by an 8th note, 16th note whatever – I call it phasing – and from that, you can do a rotational rhythm idea, so that you construct two measures – dot-da-dot-da-dot / da dot da dot da -- that’s two measures, you take the da dot da dot da, the second measure, and play it when the first measure is playing, and you get this beautiful combination of what originally somebody like Stravinsky would write, very complex meter changes, you know, like in, Rite of Spring or something, which don’t have to be written that way. They can be written in straight 4/4, believe it or not. But it’s a new sense of rhythm, as in reflecting off something, physically reflecting off something, bouncing back at you. It’s like if you do a complex, say like, Cuban music or something, you have all these – each instrument plays certain kinds of riffs, or certain kinds of rhythms, then they combine them and put them all at the same time, and it’s beautiful. At the end of the long instrumental, which is called “Without Warning,” there are many, many variations that seem to change meter, but they don’t actually. They’re all internal meters of each other.

There are many ways you can formalize that feeling, but the feeling when people get together, it doesn’t necessarily need that formalization. I recently wrote a piece that used five string instruments, and some people were wondering, why five string instruments, why not a string quartet? Well, because it’s boring! And the rhythm structure came out to be just beautiful, listing to those five strings play, something I could never play, but very simple at the same time, you know, so those feelings, those things that really generate within you, can also be formalized. If you want to use it as a compositional tool you can do that also.

Paul Dresher, Steve Bartek. Photo: Pat Kelley
Paul Dresher, Steve Bartek. Photo: Pat Kelley

PG: That rhythmic offset sometimes gets misheard as an intentional stylistic reference. It’s sort of like, you know, like okay, you have the basic pulse going, you shift a component by an eighth note and it might imply a polka rhythm, or a reggae rhythm. And so just by working with these shifting offsets, it sort of goes through – how can I say, it sort of touches on what seems like different styles or genres, but really, it just enters into what that offset is. Like, you listen to some of the later Beethoven variations, where it sounds like he’s going into ragtime – and yeah, you could say he’s going into ragtime, even though this predated ragtime, but it really had to do more with dealing with those rhythmic offsets.

BGT:  Also, CPE Bach sounds so much like bebop, I can hardly believe it. It’s right there, it’s a bebop rhythm, and he has, like, accenting. It’s amazing!

NS:    Trust in Rock was in 1976, the post-Nixon world.

PG:    November 1976, so it was right around the election of Jimmy Carter. There was a certain austerity both in punk and in minimalism, but it was also the tail end of the progressive rock era, with the multiple keyboards going on.

NS:    Also, the American economy had been tanking for several years, after unbroken postwar expansion up until the 70s, and everyone was living in a new economic regime.

PG:    Yeah, I had just come out of college at the time, and it seemed like everyone was scuffling.

BGT: Even though I was teaching courses at Mills College, I was being paid very little. I was working more than 60 hours a week, because I also did recording at night, and that would often be till midnight, and I would have to miss the bus and sometimes walk home to Berkeley, which took about two hours. I finally decided, no more academia. Although I really enjoyed teaching.

NS:    The “rock” of Trust in Rock is a clear reference to what at the time was the dominant commercial style of popular music. But a listener hoping to hear pop music in this might find that it doesn’t move like pop music.

PG:  Well, that’s where you need the trust. It’s about trust on all levels. And the idea that within, especially within that energy of early rock ‘n roll, there was a danger in it, but also the music itself provided a safety which allowed one to experience those thresholds of whatever – teenage rebellion, badness, but within a sort of controlled domestic setting.

NS:    Thank you, gentlemen.

We are happy to introduce a digital release of new music from Carl Stone arriving March 1, 2019.  Track 1 from the album, "Okajouki," is now streaming.

Despite non-stop activity (live concerts, festivals, collaborative records, and his well loved Electronic Music from... 70s-80s and 80s-90s compilations) and non-stop new music creation, this is somehow the first release of new Carl Stone solo music since 2007's Al-Noor.  A second full-length album of new material is in the works for September, and Carl will be appearing for some US dates (outside of his Tokyo home-base) this March, including Big Ears festival.
 
Upcoming Live Dates:

2019 March
  • March 16 - Brooklyn NY - Murmrr Ballroom w/ Eli Keszler
    (save $5 w/ advance tickets)
  • March 17 - Washington DC - Rhizome DC
  • March 21-24 - Knoxville TN - Big Ears Festival 2019
2019 June
  • June 26 - Berlin, Germany - Kiezsalon

Does music mean anything?
Can you say what it is?
If not, do you ask it?
If it doesn’t reply, do you call again?
Has music ever asked a question of you?
Can music speak meaning without words?
Can music speak no meaning with words?
Does music keep you company, or do you keep company with it?
Does music improve your life or does it improve the life around you?
How much music can fit into your life?
How much meaning can fit into a piece of music? 
If it sounds good, is music true?

If words sound good, are they true?


Sam Ashley

Some of the best records ask more questions than they answer, and others answer questions you didn't ask.  I’d Rather Be Lucky Than Good is a new recording collaboration of Sam Ashley and Werner Durand, recorded in 2016.  When it was sent to me for consideration for release on Unseen Worlds in 2017 we had just had a year of Donald in the White House and the gruesomely plain chatter around it, something like small talk at an execution, which still dominates day in and day out.  I was thankful to find something new being made that searched for bigger, non-personal truths, and was plain about the fact that it was.  What else could I do to reciprocate but give it a release?


Werner Durand

Sam Ashley’s mystic parables imbued with benevolent humor are drawn from a lifelong pursuit of a present-day shamanism. Werner Durand’s wind work on invented and traditional instruments stems from the minimalist tradition, routed through his own unique studies of obscure world musics.

The two artists first met in Berlin in 1984 while Sam was touring Atalanta with Robert Ashley’s opera company, with whom he was a principle vocalist for many years. Sam Ashley’s work has appeared on other Unseen Worlds releases (J. Jasmine: My New Music) and in solo and collaborative performances alongside “Blue” Gene Tyranny and other artists across the world.

Werner Durand, also active since the late Seventies, performs music for saxophones, Iranian ney, and self-made wind instruments. He is a linchpin figure in the experimental music scene in Germany and abroad following formative studies with Ariel Kalma and Gilbert Artman in Paris, Indian Classical Music with Kamalesh Maitra, and Iranian Ney with Ali Reza Asgharia. He has worked notably with David Behrman (Music With Memory), Arnold Dreyblatt (Animal Magnetism), Muslimgauze, Henning Christiansen, Catherine Christer Hennix (Born of Six), David Toop, and Amelia Cuni (AshtayamaDiasporagas). He also was a longtime employee of Ursula Block’s gelbe MUSIK (Broken Music).

I'd Rather Be Lucky than Good is out on LP/CD/DIGITAL formats March 08, 2019.

 

Sam Ashley: Love Among The Immortals from maulwerker on Vimeo.

 

When we first began our work reissuing Laurie Spiegel's The Expanding Universe in 2008, you could still purchase sealed copies of the original pressing on Joel Chadabe's Electronic Music Foundation (EMF) webstore.  A lot can change in a short time.  Between that time and 2012 when the release finally made it out, EMF no longer had that webstore.  Between 2012 and 2017, when it began time to start repressing the album, it was clear that we should bring more of the tracks from the 2CD collection into the vinyl format.  We've managed to fit onto three LPs most of the tracks that on the 2CD collection, except for "Music for Dance" and "Dirge" which remain exclusive to the digital editions, and have all been newly cut for vinyl by Rashad Becker.

 


On the same date, January 18th, 2019, we are bringing into circulation Laurie Spiegel's second album, Unseen Worlds. created using her own computer program "Music Mouse: An Intelligent Instrument." At the time of its original release in 1991, the issuing record label, Scarlet, turned out to be going out of business, dissolved and disappeared, sending the album immediately into obscurity.  Outside of a private CD edition issued by Spiegel on her own Aesthetic Engineering label in 1994, this new edition represents the first proper commercial release of Unseen Worlds.

 



The album also happens to be a namesake for this releasing label.  We empathize wholeheartedly with Laurie Spiegel's reason for selecting the name for her album:

"The title 'Unseen Worlds' was suggested to me by I Ching Hexagram #16, "Enthusiasm", which says "It fell to music to construct a bridge to the world of the unseen" (Bollingen Edition, p. 72). After not having used the I Ching for some years, I thought it might help me put this recording together, and so it did." - Laurie Spiegel, from the Unseen Worlds liner notes

So has music like Laurie's helped us put recordings together and make a number of other difficult connections hiding in plain sight.

We are excited to share with you EXTREEMIZMS early & late a new recording of works composed by maverick American composer Philip Corner, dating back to 1958 and up to 2016.  Our previous release with Philip Corner was the well-received 2CD set Satie Slowly [UW12, 2014].  This new recording is a testament to just how early Corner's compositions arrived at the forefront of the American avant-garde, and it puts into relief not only how well he has enjoyed his freedom as a composer through his varied output but how true he has remained to his practice over a career spanning 60+ years.

Silvia Tarozzi, violin, and Deborah Walker, cello, are the driving force behind this new recording.  As active members of the Dedalus Ensemble, they have worked with composers Tom Johnson, Jürg Frey, Christian Wolff, Michael Pisaro, Phill Niblock.  As a duo, they have worked extensively with the music of Eliane Radigue, Pascale Criton, Pauline Oliveros, and Charlotte Moorman.


Silvia Tarozzi and Deborah Walker performing at REDCAT in Los Angeles, CA in 2017

Having discovered Corner living not far from them in Reggio Emilia, Italy, it was not long before a collaboration was born. Rhodri Davies, also a long-time performer of Eliane Radigue and Philip Corner's music, was a natural fit for the project as well.

Given the radical climate of the present moment, nevertheless eerily surrounded by a steady proliferation of placidity, it has been personally important and rare for us to find the EXTREEMIZMS Corner, Tarozzi, Walker, and Davies have conjured herein.

Imagine for a moment that you could freeze frame a piece of music, like an image in a movie, then zoom in with a microscope, closer and closer, with ever more detail revealed at each increment, in a similar fashion to the Powers of Ten films by Charles and Ray Eames, where we expand into the edges of the universe and then reduce inward until a single carbon atom remains. Using whatever resources were available at the time Carl Stone has continually enabled such a re-examination of the familiar, offering listeners an opportunity to reflect upon the minute detail within sound.

However, such descriptions can easily deflect from the sheer emotional impact of such works. My first encounter with Stone’s work was revelatory. Hearing Banteay Srey in 1992 for the first time was entrancing, a blurry world of sonic exploration, as soothing undulations settled beneath a warm ambience, all constrained within an elegant structure and frame. Taking a sample of a child’s song, then stretching it and re-contextualizing it with a music bed is something that apparently came to the composer in a dream and it certainly maintains that feeling of reverie and vision.

In the days when the floppy disc ruled triumphant, Stone composed Sonali for the Prophet 2002 sampler and Yamaha TX816, the latter famously used by Michael Jackson and Chick Corea. Resampling one of his very own works into a minimalist style keyboard-led work it offers up a kind of moldable elastic atmosphere, but just as you get comfortable the supple melody is interrupted by finely diced samples of opera. Any intimations of new age music potentially suggested by the opening are now shattered into a sputter of stuttering harmonic grains.

Working with rather more restrictive means when he composed his works at this time, Stone had to be ever more inventive. We often hear of tape pieces in electronic music, works that have evolved over time through careful crafting and editing but Stone was always keen to maintain a live character to his productions. In Mae Yao, Stone was able to create loops of sound, playing against one another until about midway through when it evolves into resonant washes of sound, as drifting organic melodic patterns move across the soundscape, recalling the textural work of Roland Kayn’s Cybernetic series from the 1970s. As often in his works, it’s the reveal at the end of the piece that surprises the listener, where the original source emerges like the curtain pulled back in the Wizard of Oz.

The palindromic shape of Woo Lae Oak brings a genuine symmetrical satisfaction to the listener, as the eerie sampled wind instruments balance against the strings, circling around one another, like boxers in the ring. It makes me think of Robert Fripp’s ‘Frippertronics’ guitar process that he applied to his recordings, especially with Brian Eno in the early 1970s, and would later tour as a small mobile unit, based around two reel-to-reel Revox decks and live guitar. This in turn was informed by the kind of systems music first used by Terry Riley and Pauline Oliveros in the 1960s. So, in a sense, it’s all part of one big loop, in both time and creativity. Curiously Woo Lae Oak is a tape piece originally envisioned as a composition for radio and one can only imagine how listeners would have responded to hearing this work at the time formulating its seemingly static shape over the crackling airwaves.

Stone’s voice is truly that of a pioneer, joining the dots between computer music and composition as an avant-garde explorer and playful provocateur. Contextualising his work today one can hear decades’ previous foretellings of William Basinski’s hypnotic The Disintegration Loops, the pastoral abstraction of Boards of Canada, the glitchy experiments of Oval and the melancholic industrial soundscapes of Abul Mogard. To listen to his work today is to listen to the spaces in between sound, projecting a future from the past, creating something unforgettable from the fragments of time.

- Robin Rimbaud

The four pieces by Carl Stone on this recording span a remarkable period in the history of music technology. In 1981, when Stone composed Woo Lae Oak, digital samplers had only just become available, MIDI did not exist, and desktop computing was still something for hobbyists. By 1990, when he composed Banteay Srey, rack-mounted samplers, sequencers and other processing units had become widely available; MIDI was ubiquitous; and laptop computers powerful enough to control all of this were on the horizon.

Stone – one of art music’s early adopters – was composing on the forefront of all these changes. So while Woo Lae Oak was still composed entirely with tape loops, Mae Yao (1984) uses a Synclavier and a rack-mounted digital delay box (the rare and expensive Publison DHM89, able to transform sampled sounds in real time), and Sonali (1988) was written for the Prophet 2002 sampler and Yamaha TX816, controlled (via MIDI) from one of the relatively affordable Macintosh computers that were now on the market. Banteay Srey was composed a few years later, just before he could shift in the mid 1990s to the still more compact digital workstation enabled by the programming language Max (and later Max/MSP).

Yet what is remarkable about this story of fast-moving technical innovation (aside from the fact that it was made independently of the major institutions for electronic music) is how little affect it had on Stone’s aesthetic – a fact he cheerfully admits. The main impact, he says, was to make his music-making more efficient (no more cutting little loops of tape or searching endlessly for the right sample). He clearly hit on something early on as a composer. And while technology has since caught up to facilitate that idea, it wasn’t inherent to it.

The fundamentals of Stone’s music are these. First, sampling, as a way of capturing sounds so that they can be electronically processed, but also as a way of introducing semantic content that can be played with through recognizability, juxtaposition and surprise. Next, repetition, as those samples are made into loops (often very short, but not always so – as in the case of the more relaxed Banteay Srey, for example). Finally, change, as a result of processes applied to those loops.

Alvin Lucier (I Am Sitting In a Room, 1968) and Steve Reich (Come Out, 1966) are clear, and frequently cited, antecedents, and Stone knew their work when composing his own early tape pieces. His approach differs, however. Reich, as is clear from how he developed the discoveries of Come Out (and It’s Gonna Rain, 1965) into instrumental music was interested in gradual change aligned to the traditional matrix of pitch and rhythm. For Lucier, the gradual process of Room magnified a situation that was already present – the resonant frequencies of an architectural space – and the way in which they were activated by sound.

Stone’s interest in gradual change, however, originated in timbre and meaning. Considered in the abstract, samples are just particular configurations of musical information. And that information – details of timbre, duration, pitch and so on – can all be processed and altered electronically. On top of this, however, they also have an identity.  For other sample musicians contemporary with Stone, it was important that their sources be recognizable: Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad used samples to construct a canon of Black music; John Oswald on his Plunderphonics album uses them to deconstruct and estrange familiar tunes and performers.

That recognizability is not always important for Stone (indeed he sometimes goes to some lengths to disguise his sources). However, we can hear that his sounds come from somewhere, and that there is a “correct” or “complete” version of them in theory; and so we can hear when they are being changed. This tension between identity and difference is a very contemporary concern, in the real world as in music. What drives Stone’s music is the flow that he draws out of those differences: the way an Indonesian gamelan morphs into a chorus built from one female vocalist over the course of Mae Yao’s twenty-three minutes, the surprise emergence of a Mozart chorus out of the synths and skip-glitches of Sonali, or the slow, ambient evolution of Banteay Srey.

Woo Lae Oak, the earliest recording here and issued in a single side edit for the first time, is an exception. Its samples – a tremolo string and a bottle being blown across the top like a flute -  are simple in the extreme. Yet Stone still finds their inherent emotional properties – the tingling anticipation of the string and the calm nobility calm of the wind – and takes them into unexpected expressive territory. The combination of strings and wind is also one shared by Western and East Asian musics: even in this relatively early, and abstract work, the Stone hallmarks are clear.

- Tim Rutherford-Johnson

One might ask of J Jasmine: My New Music: what are you? Actually, not what—which? Which style? Which format? Which history? Which narrative? Which music?

A first listen might suggest some answers: this is an album of songs, mostly under three minutes, mostly of a type that would not be out of place at a cabaret—a chanteuse and her piano. But what is that mbira doing there? Or those ebullient electric flourishes that peek out of the reverb for a second? Isn’t David Rosenboom known for making music with brainwaves? And why would this album be made for the Ann Arbor Film Festival?

As the title of its first song suggests, My New Music feels androgynous: it resists categorization. Yet the stuff it is made of points towards categories: singer-songwriter confessionals, ballads of heartbreak, desire, and fantasy, country violin harmonies, honkey-tonk tack piano. The lyrics of that song continue: “androgyny / it’s happening to me / it’s just one more thing that I’ll use to be free.” The melting away of categories—the freedom that that melting reveals—is one among the tools of liberation. Androgyny may be “happening” to this song’s narrator. But it may also be happening to her, putting her in a state of becoming. My New Music records this state of becoming, showing us how to use music to be free. Humbert dedicates this album to “the hope that one person’s fantasies can contribute to another person’s freedom.”

How did we get here? By the mid-1970s, the idea of “popular music” had already been around for a few generations, enough for a few cycles of the nostalgic re-purposing of old tools for new tasks a few times over. If, as Lyotard suggests, the modern is always-already contained within the post-modern, then Humbert and Rosenboom’s play with musical signifiers should be seen not as an ironic nod to their meaninglessness—but rather as a rather sincere commitment to their affective power.

David Rosenboom had moved to Toronto to help found York University’s Department of Music in 1970. He had already begun a career as an experimental musician, bouncing between the University of Illinois, where he studied with Lejaren Hiller and Salvatore Martirano; New York City, where he worked for the Electric Ear series at the Electric Circus, and worked alongside Morton Subotnick in his legendary Bleeker Street studio and NYU’s Intermedia Program; and the Center for Creative and Performing Arts in Buffalo, where he was a Creative Associate. Rosenboom played the role of composer, producer, musician, recordist, collaborator, and engineer: “music” meant media, and media meant experimentation. Everything seemed up for grabs.

Around 1972, George Manupelli—whom Rosenboom had met in the late 1960s while producing a performance of a Robert Ashley work at the Electric Circus—moved to Toronto and joined the faculty at York. Manupelli had founded the Ann Arbor Film Festival in 1963, and had most recently released his Dr. Chicago series of films, staring Alvin Lucier, Mary Lucier, Steve Paxton, and the mime Claude Kipnis, who had studied with Marcel Marceau. Manupelli had also participated in the ONCE Festivals in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which included Robert Ashley, Gordon Mumma, Mary Ashley, Milton Cohen, and many more. For both Manupelli and Rosenboom, collaboration was a way to experiment not only with their own respective media, forms, and conventions, but also to experiment with taking on different roles in the creative process.

Whereas Manupelli got his start collaborating with Milton Cohen to produce the legendary “Space Theater” in Ann Arbor, and Rosenboom had been deeply involved with brainwave research and multi-media, both brought their sense of experimentation to new political realities in the 1970s. Among their close friends and colleagues at York was Chilean printmaker and painter, Eugenio Tellez (1939—); and soon after Manupelli had relocated to Toronto, so did a large group of Chilean refugees, fleeing Pinochet’s coup in 1973. Rosenboom had established a Laboratory for Experimental Aesthetics at York where he and his students were pursuing advanced work in biofeedback and the arts. Jacqueline Humbert was one of those students, and soon, she and Rosenboom collaborated on a brainwave performance work, titled Chilean Drought, which used human brainwaves to control how versions of a news story describing the Chilean people’s challenges with multiple natural disasters are heard.

Soon after this initial collaboration, Humbert and Rosenboom began an art collective named Maple Sugar, after a farmhouse near Maple, Ontario, where they invited artists to present works during the summertime. Maple Sugar grew to include Manupelli and several other artists from York and the greater Toronto area, and soon started presenting shows in galleries and other Toronto venues year-round. Rosenboom remembers the group’s interest in making politically-oriented works, using all of the tools available to them at the time from across technological and aesthetic spectra—from EEGs to Motown. Uniting this group was a desire to study themselves through experimenting with musical forms, aesthetics, and technologies, following what Rosenboom calls “propositional music” to its end, in order to reveal something true. For Maple Sugar, playing with music—like playing with identity—was, as Humbert’s character J. Jasmine sings on “Androgyny”, “just one more thing that I’ll use to be free”.

Humbert and Rosenboom traveled to Berkeley, California, in 1977, during a sabbatical granted by York. Along the way, Humbert began to work on her own political project: a set of song lyrics which expressed her growing interest in second-wave feminism, putting into action the slogan “the personal is political”. Humbert and Rosenboom gradually collaborated on setting those lyrics to music, and turned to a thriving Bay Area community of artists for collaborators, including Sam Ashley and David Behrman—both of whom were connected to the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College. They recorded the album at the CCM studios, with help from Maggi Payne, and at 1750 Arch Street in Berkeley, a studio run by Robert Schumaker—which would later become CNMAT, the University of California Berkeley’s electronic and computer music center.

Manupelli suggested that they press LPs to distribute to all of the entrants to the Ann Arbor Film Festival in 1978, and so they did— a kind of album-as-film, with an image of Humbert as J. Jasmine on its cover, sitting in a peacock chair with a Muybridge-like film still of a galloping horse between her legs, an alternate “origin of the world”. Manupelli shot performances of three of their songs for the festival, but the audio was out of sync; Rosenboom remembers him telling the audience, “watch the mouth, not the music.” They toured the songs along the west coast, performing at art spaces like the Portland Center for Visual Arts and the Western Front in Vancouver. To make a postcard promoting the album, they posed on an old Studebaker (owned by William Farley, who taught filmmaking at Mills) parked on the Mills College campus—Humbert as a resplendent J. Jasmine, complete with a black feather boa—and Rosenboom, Ashley, and Behrman as her backing band, all wearing headphones. During that sabbatical year, while living in Don Buchla’s basement apartment in Berkeley, Rosenboom went to work making “The J. Jasmine Songbook”, which features piano-vocal scores for all of the songs on the album, illustrated with enigmatic cover images of Humbert in the desert and photo portraits of her mother Evelyn Marie Smith Humbert, who had been a child vaudeville star in the late 1920s and early 1930s. A group from the Maple Sugar crew reconvened in the summer of 1978 at Manupelli’s own summer retreat in New Hampshire, where they shot another Manupelli film—Almost Crying—for which Humbert and Rosenboom made a new J. Jasmine song, “Oasis in the Air”. Humbert went on to make another album with Rosenboom, collaborate with Robert Ashley, and release an album in 2004 titled Chanteuse with songs written for her by an array of contemporary composers; but beyond a private-label Korean re-issue in 2010, J. Jasmine: My New Music new music was not heard again in North America.

What does the desert mean for Humbert and Rosenboom in these songs? Perhaps more importantly, what does it mean for J. Jasmine? These songs fantasize a terrain where heartbreak is as big as the Grand Canyon, where one might stumble into an old-time saloon and hear J. Jasmine dedicate her song to “Miss Margo St. James, and the Coyote Organization.” Where men leave women after meeting other women in motels, and where women fantasize about leaving their men for other women. Perhaps the desert represents freedom, but that freedom comes at an emotional cost: heartbreak, loneliness, and burning desire.

Our first clue comes in “Androgyny”, the album’s first track: what seems like a simple country waltz, an aesthetic space often marked with rigid gender boundaries, is actually an ode to becoming androgynous. In “Broke and Blue”, J. Jasmine then takes on a voice with markers of masculinity—calling up a lover only to find out “their love has gone cold”, taking refuge in brandy. And yet—this refuge is also a painting studio, where Jasmine is “painting a picture that’s colors of blue / And painting a picture that’s finally true // It’s homemade to me, But the truth it does speak /It’s a picture of me without you.”

Immediately after this realization, we are treated to the album’s first extended instrumental section (“Wild about the Lady”), as if the affective powers of Jasmine’s realization have been finally let loose: a disorienting 7/4 piano ostinato, with delayed and reverberated mbira and vocals panning throughout the stereo spectrum. While articulating her desire “for that lady over there / the one with the platinum hair”, Jasmine gains the accompaniment of fast-moving percussion, adding to the propulsive desire of the verse—all before breaking the song’s rhythmic meter to relish in her “merging of souls”, illustrated by a trill- and octave-heavy piano solo reminiscent of “Blue” Gene Tyranny.

After this reverie, the listener is snapped back to reality—a kind of filmic cut—to the auditory space of a horse racetrack, with narration by George Manupelli. In the most cinematic song on the album (“Rented Car, Painted Lady, Borrowed Time”), written by Manupelli, Jasmine is accompanied by a tack piano and country violin, as we hear the story of a breakup: with a rented car, a painted lady, on borrowed time, in a “lonesome motel room”. There is then a song of longing—eerily similar to “Androgyny”—in which Jasmine craves her lover’s “Strong Arms”, but ultimately needs “more than a man / I need him to see who I am”.

This is followed by an extended instrumental break—an excerpt from Section VIII Rosenboom’s ongoing composition, “How Much Better if Plymouth Rock Had Landed on the Pilgrims.” Rosenboom had made this particular recording in 1968-1969, playing trumpet, Hammond organ, and piano—using analog delay and feedback to create a kind of canonical form, which he later spatialized into two stereo tracks. Perhaps this section illustrates the postcard Jasmine receives from her lover in “Grand Canyon Heartache”—another country waltz with all the right genre markers.

But this heartache seems to be productive: it enables Jasmine to see a “Clear Light”, in one of the most complex and emotionally-laden tracks on the album. It begins with an out-of-time, harmonically complex introduction accompanied by a solo piano, but is followed by new territory: a fast rhumba rhythm in the piano, accompanied by bongos and female backup vocals. And as soon as we’re in time, we’re out of time again: Jasmine tells us “You can shine sister, shine / It’s your time, it’s your time.” After yearning, betrayal, heartache, and remorse, J. Jasmine has “actualized her wildest dreams”—she’s a whole person. Androgyny—the blurring of identity, the assertion of selfhood—has happened to her, as she promised it would at the very beginning of the album.

As an epilogue to this long narrative arc, the album—without the later addition of “Oasis in the Air”—ends with what Rosenboom calls an “environmental collage”, carefully constructed from field recordings he made during happy hour in a large hotel lobby in San Francisco, mixed with a rock band playing Section VI of “How Much Better…” (Rosenboom recorded every part of the band himself.) Jasmine speaks directly to her audience in the sound-world of the album—in which we imagine ourselves—and, in alternating verses, reveals that she has become a sex worker—and an enthusiastic one at that. Rather than see this as a kind of return to the scene of trauma—her character’s betrayal comes from her husband leaving her for a different sex worker in a motel—this is an assertion of the space of the “clear light”, a kind of actualization of the self: J. Jasmine is finally free.

J. Jasmine: My New Music is, yes, an album of country ballads and cabaret songs. It could be read as an intertext to the so-called “cabaret revival” of the mid-1970s, and the growing interest of female-identified singers, like Patti Smith, in experimenting with the raw material of two generations of American pop music. But it is also “new music”—and in Humbert’s community, this term meant something. For Rosenboom, Ashley, and Behrman, “new music” often meant a kind of cultural production that defined itself in opposition to “old music”—what most might call “classical music”—but which kept much of its infrastructure: the role of the composer, the support of the institution, the use of scoring, the economic and social networks of patrons and performers. J. Jasmine, Humbert’s alter-ego, declares: this is my new music. It’s the music of old weird America—country ballads and cabaret songs about love, fantasy, and “the world’s oldest profession,” yes—but also androgyny, intergenerational love, and feminism, sequenced with a filmmaker’s flair: a complete new world.

 

- Ted Gordon

–––

Ted Gordon is a musician and musicologist based in Chicago. His research lies at the nexus of experimental music, critical organology, and science and technology studies. He is a PhD Candidate in the History and Theory of Music at the University of Chicago
February 23rd Unseen Worlds is releasing the first ever vinyl and download/streaming re-issue of Jacqueline Humbert and David Rosenboom's J. Jasmine: My New Music worldwide via Secretly Distribution.  
 
Recorded in 1977 and released in 1978 as a private press LP made specifically for the 1978 Ann Arbor Film Festival under just the pseudonym "J. Jasmine", the record has enjoyed some cult status as a private press curio for many years, with little to no recognition paid to the fact that this was a significant performance-art, post-genre song cycle masterminded by Jacqueline Humbert (famed for voice and set design work for Robert Ashley) and David Rosenboom (legendary avant-garde composer).  It is also the precursor album to Jacqueline Humbert & David Rosenboom's Daytime Viewing (re-released by Unseen Worlds in 2013). 

 
On J. Jasmine: My New Music, we get to hear the organic arranging style of Rosenboom that was also used on early versions of the songs on Daytime Viewing, but eventually replaced with primarily electronic orchestrations.  Featuring a cast of Mills College personalities like David Behrman and Sam Ashley on backup vocal duties, this song cycle is at every turn boundary-pushing and gender-busting, yet still hilarious, sweet, and genuine, all delivered in a post-genre, art-song, cabaret musical style that happens to boast some serious avant-garde chops, courtesy of Rosenboom. If it weren’t so spot on, you’d swear it was a guilty pleasure. As "J. Jasmine" writes, "My New Music is a collection of personal stories and private desires, exposed, articulated, performed and dedicated to the hope that one person's fantasies can contribute to another person's freedom." 
 
In additon to the LP and digital editions, we are also offering a limited number (300) of the of the original 1978 printing of the J. Jasmine Songbook, which has scores, lyrics and images for all the songs on the LP.  Printed but never distributed because of the book distributor going out of business, this is a must-have item for fans of Humber and Rosenboom.
 
 
 

Unseen Worlds just launched a year-end campaign that is something more like a 10-year-end campaign, it being the end of our 10th year of releasing music. We are very pleased and honored to still be doing it.   

This ten year mark is not only a rare time to ask for your support to help push Unseen Worlds into its next ten years, but it's also a time of great growth and potential for the label. The funds raised with this campaign will not just be an affirmation and celebration of the label's life up to this point, but also a real building block that will facilitate growth at a key time.

We have some great rewards for donating:   

  • A limited-edition, campaign-only Laurie Spiegel 12" single featuring a late 1970's collaboration with Don Christensen (impLOG, The Contortions) and an alternate version of "Patchwork"   
  • A special edition of our February release from Jacqueline Humbert & David Rosenboom J. Jasmine: My New Music paired with a a vintage J. Jasmine Songbook   
  • Totes, shirts, hats   
  • 2018 release plans and subscriptions   
  • and more...    

Thanks for pledging however best you can and for being a supportive part of our music community. 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/unseenworlds/ten-more-years-of-unseen-worlds

We're very pleased to announce that this month we will release new music from Robert Haigh (SEMA, Omni Trio).  His new album, Creatures of the Deep, is a new high point in his catalog of piano driven ambient compositions.

Our newest release from German composer C-Schulz has arrived.  We will start shipping very soon!  
  
Entitled FRÜHE JAHRE, this collection is the first time C-Schulz’s early work from late 1980s and early 1990s has been reissued in any format. Schulz’s first LP, 10. HOSE HORN, was introduced alongside other debut LPs from Jim O'Rourke and Frank Dommert on Dommert's Entenpfuhl label in 1991. Combining the cathartic sounds of industrial, early techno, and innovative pop with inspiration from acousmatic, New Music, and Dada, Schulz’s music is a prime example of the Cologne experimental music scene of the time. Rhythmic delights, outlandish juxtapositions and a sustained, unresolved, aurally-fascinating tension evoke dramatic, film-like meditations.  Also included in the collection are the tracks from 7. PARTY DISCO and various other cassette, 7" singles, and compilations, as well as a previously unreleased digital-only bonus track.

The release comes as a digital download, LP, and CD, with new liner notes by Marcus Schmickler, who also co-produced many of the tracks.

Remastering of the original master recordings was done by Rashad Becker. 
 



 
The LP edition comes as an single LP reproduction of the 10. HOSE HORN album and includes a liner notes insert and download card for the completeFRÜHE JAHRE collection.  The tip-on sleeve is coated in a specialty plastic-like paper stock.


The CD edition also comes in a Mini LP sleeve with specialty plastic-like paper stock, metallic-silver ink printing, and also includes a download card and liner notes insert. 

Our friend Jordan Mitchell made a short documentary on Girma Yifrashewa during his recent "Love & Peace" Texas tour.

Congrats to Carl Stone on being named Wire Magazine #1 Archive Release of 2016 for Electronic Music from the Seventies and Eighties.

October 28, 2016 - Austin, Texas
Girma Yifrashewa — Meet-and-Greet & Record Signing at Las Cruxes
6pm
RSVP on Facebook

October 29, 2016 - Austin, Texas
Central Presbytarian Church presented by Unseen Worlds and Las Cruxes
7pm
RSVP on Facebook
purchase tickets

November 5, 2016 - San Antonio, Texas
Travis Park United Methodist presented by Unseen Worlds and Las Cruxes
8pm
RSVP on Facebook
purchase tickets

Photo by Edward Colver
Carl Stone.  Photo, Edward Colver.

Carl Stone's Woo Lae Oak was our third release in 2008 and since then we've been quietly plugging away at a second project with Mr. Stone during his busy schedule of teaching, touring the world, and working on new music.  After an archival recording of Carl performing "Kuk Il Kwan" at The Kitchen in New York in 1981 surfaced, we signed on to release and the project has grown and grown into a lengthy effort to restore and unearth other recordings to accompany.  Just when we thought we were done, another recording or a better version of a recording we had been discussing would emerge.  What we have ended up with is a top-notch collection with many tracks we wanted to include from Carl's early work, like "Shing Kee" – a favorite from his 1992 CD on New Albion, Mom's – along with Buchla tracks like "LIM" and "Chao Praya" from his student days in the early seventies at CalArts with James Tenney and Morton Subotnick.   

This is also Stone's first vinyl release since the original Woo Lae Oak release in 1983.  At 3LPs with rougly one piece per every side (side F has the two Buchla pieces together), this one was a natural for the format.  Check out the release details here and the cover below.

Carl Stone is about to set out on tour this September, just before this set releases.  Dates below and lots more info on his website:

September 6 - Dusseldorf, Germany - Filmwerkstatt Düsseldorf*

September 10 - Hamburg, Germany - Westwerk*

September 12 - Copenhagen, Denmark - Mayhem

September 13 - Aarhus, Denmark - Aarhus Concert Hall

September 17 - Berlin, Germany - St. Johannes-Evangelist-Kirche

September 18 - Berlin, Germany - Spektrum

* = Performing as Realistic Monk (Carl Stone & Miki Yui)

 

Unseen Worlds will be at the 2015 NY Art Book Fair, sharing a table with two great organizations, Audio Visual Arts and Issue Project Room.  Everyone will have new, old, and special goods for sale. 

Hope to see some of you there!

A collaboration between ISSUE Project Room and The Whitney Museum has generated a very exciting three-day, 50-year retrospective concert series around the work of David Rosenboom.  Full details of the May 22-24, 2015 events at the Whitney.
 

 

GIRMA YIFRASHEWA
May 3, 2015 - Bethesda, MD - Bethesda Blues & Jazz    TICKETS
May 5, 2015 - New York, NY - Joe's Pub at The Public   TICKETS
 
LUBOMYR MELNYK
May 23, 2015 - New York, NY - Le Poisson Rouge   TICKETS
 

     This weekend we are welcoming Girma Yifrashewa back to the States.  He will be here in March and May, with a quick exit to Poland in April.  Shows are in the San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC and New York City areas, with David Moore of Bing & Ruth on solo piano as a special opening act in New York.  First up is The Lab in San Francisco tomorrow night.  Please come out or help spread the word to your loved ones. 

     We're also celebrating by offering a limited-time reduced price on his album in the Unseen Worlds shop for the duration of his tour dates.  
 
     More Unseen Worlds announcements upcoming for 2015, so stay tuned . . .

Girma Yifrashewa US Tour dates and ticket info:

March 22 - San Francisco, CA - The Lab   TICKETS  /  FACEBOOK 
March 25 - Los Angeles, CA - The Carriage House
   TICKETS  /  FACEBOOK 
May 3 - Bethesda, MD - Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club   TICKETS  /  FACEBOOK
May 5 - New York, NY - Joe's Pub (with David Moore of Bing & Ruth)   TICKETS  /  FACEBOOK