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November 2009

Fantastic Music


I'm not sure if three performers rubbing Nivea Cream into their hands qualifies as music, but the bill for Saturday night's A Fantastic World Superimposed On Reality (part of Performa 09) generally steered clear of visual art provocation. Joan La Barbara, one of the great singers of the American avant-garde, performed two of her early works for live and recorded voice: October Music (1980) and "Fire Dance" from Shaman Song, which had her singing over a jungle of recorded animals. Tony Conrad, one of the founding fathers of minimalism, played a fierce violin looping over himself. And pioneering turntablist Christian Marclay, who developed his vinyl technique before hip hop, exchanged recorded banter with Shelley Hirsch's live vocals.

The highlight of the night, though, was an appearance by the reunited Airway, who initially formed in L.A. in 1978. With three drum kits, a brass section, a keening lead singer, electronics and guitars, they created a massive wall of sound approaching My Bloody Valentine-sized volume. I couldn't help thinking these aging dudes could show their noise rock neighbors a thing or two. 

Less successful was the anti-rock experiment Destroy All Monsters, originally put together by visual artists Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw in Detroit 36 years ago. The band achieved some notoriety in the late 70's when they added personnel from The Stooges and the MC5, but left to their own devices, Kelley (who made random noises on various toys) and Shaw (who sang gobbledigook via Skype from L.A.) produced the musical equivalent of a fart joke. Not that that stopped the art crowd from fawning all over them.

P.S. For any of your art types who had your ears piqued and want to hear more of this music, just go here. (More pics below and here.)

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The biennal art festival known as Performa 09 wraps up with weekend in NYC, inlcuding a number of events devoted to experimental music. Last night, I saw the first of Mike Kelley's two-night experimental noise fest A Fantastic World Superimposed on Reality at the Gramercy Theater, featuring such old school downtownies as Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Z'EV, Jad Fair and Arto Lindsay, along with new schoolers James Moore and Taylor Levine of Dither (above, performing Fred Frith's Stick Figures.) Maybe I'm still coming down off last week's venture to Carnegie, but to my ears, it all sounded more like provocation than proper music - which I suppose isn't all that surprising, given the in-your-face nature of current contemporary art. (More pics below and here.)

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