Sunday, May 06, 2018

Merkwürdig Riechnerv: Big Show Next Saturday!

Hello again,

Andreas, Bianca and I will be performing as Merkwürdig Riechnerv on the 12th at OSCO // Open Space, the indoor venue of Platzprojekt in Hannover. We've been rehearsing like mad to make up for the down time necessitated by my broken leg and various away trips by B and A, and it sounds just as unpredictable and galvanic as before. If you're in northern Germany, we expect to see you there.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Michelle Wolf Was Brilliant at the WHCD...

Wolf punched UP, beating the living shit out of sleazy old power in the process. The payoff of her abortion jape was especially satisfying. Bravo!


Friday, April 06, 2018

Requiescat in pace: Cecil Taylor

I saw Cecil Taylor perform only once, at the Baird Auditorium of the Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, on November 30, 1984. It was an astonishing experience. Two-thirds of the audience - well-heeled District toffs doing their cultural duty - fled halfway through his uncompromising set. He was 51 at the time. 

(Taylor, performing in Nürmburg on July 7, 1984, nearly five months before the concert I attended. It was filmed by Bayerische Rundfunk and broadcast over Germany's Das Erste.)

Today he died, having turned 89 less than two weeks ago.

Here's the Post's preview interview with Mr. Taylor, printed in its entirety.

In case you'd rather read it from its source, here's a link.


Cecil Taylor, the brilliantly talented composer-performer, reaches high.

"Entertaining? Well I hope it is entertaining, but it is also I think the most holy thing I can do," the 5l-year-old pianist says of his music. He was resting after a performance -- he called it exhilarating -- with his seven-member Unit here last week.

Taylor, who performs solo this Friday at Washington's Baird Auditorium in the Museum of Natural History, was lounging on pillows on the otherwise bare floor of his Brooklyn brownstone, wearing a sweat suit. He speaks carefully. His art, after all, has been called such things as "avant garde," "violently energetic," "technically and intellectually virtuosic" for the past 25 years, and he believes such characterizations are misunderstandings.

"With the artists that were most important to my own development, you felt and then learned what made you feel, but you felt first," he says. "It seems to me there is a wonderful balance between how one consciously organizes material, which is determined by how you train your senses to respond to something -- in other words, intellectual manipulation -- and what makes you feel good, which is passion."

Most listeners are awed upon their first encounter with Taylor's music, then puzzled. They can't discount his passion -- he's obviously a lion on the ivories, as his hands pounce with incredible speed and strength, or stroke the keys with sensitivity. Yet Taylor is an improviser using a vocabulary of his own device, related to the traditions of jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, African ritual and European classicism.

There are blue notes and modulations, but they are obscured by the flurries of his percussive fingers, fists or forearms. There are few single note lines, the standard tools of melodic variation in jazz, but rather a plethora of brief motifs that Taylor arranges and rearranges with unpredictable intent. If he's performing with his Unit -- alto saxist Jimmy Lyons has been with the pianist 24 years, but other players come and go -- everyone's likely to be blowing at highest volume at once; alone, Taylor is more reflective, given to sustaining harmonic tension for half an hour or more, then resolving his suspensions with a sumptuous cluster. His sound is seldom simply swinging or tuneful, though a firm pulse and expansive themes are always there, somewhere.

"They call it collective improvisation, they call it jazz, but I don't know if jazz is a noun, an adjective or a political science term," Taylor says. A newborn kitten mews and romps on the floor around him. Books on Coptic civilization and modern architecture are propped open on his mantel. "Inherent in that word jazz is a tie-up with the particular socio-economic-historical situation of Americans of African and native American descent, but there's nothing in the word which gives very much insight into the spiritual-religious musical process that makes it."

Taylor refers to many of his contemporaries as either musical "revisionists" or, like "Mr. Miles Davis," indulging in "a compromise mish-mash of musical stands." Taylor has a somewhat kinder opinion of Ornette Coleman, arguably his only other peer as an innovator in improvised music. "The thing I like about Ornette is the uniqueness of his syntactical structure when he's speaking," the pianist allows.

This is not to suggest Taylor disdains all others, but that he has a purist's discriminating taste. He speaks glowingly of "the glories I learned from Marvin Gaye's marvelous Fender bass player," and regards Lena Horne, whose one-woman show he saw half a dozen times, as a great singer, dancer and comedian. A balletomane who has collaborated with choreographers Alvin Ailey and Diane McIntyre, Taylor shrugs at the reputation of Mikhail Baryshnikov, for whom he composed "Eatin' Rain in Space."

Of working with Baryshnikov and Heather Watts, he says, "I drove them crazy, actually. But it was a wonderful experience in terms of my realizing what it means to me to walk on stage. I learned something from it -- that you don't simply walk to the piano."

Taylor probably never just walked to the piano, though his approach may have been more conventional in his youth than it is today, or was this past summer, for instance, at Carnegie Hall. Sharing a Kool Jazz Festival bill with the more traditional jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, Taylor leapt out from the wings with a series of throaty cries and highly stylized, frozen gestures. At first his playing seemed tentative, but soon he was like a master weaver working a complicated loom. At this point, some members of the audience grew restless and rudely fled their seats. A faction of Taylor's fans responded by vocally cheering their hero's more energetic passages -- becoming equally rude to anyone who wanted to hear the pianist's nuances. Taylor's playing rewards close attention; volume is not his point.

"Energy is a term that's been misapplied to my music," he says. "That's not what's happening here. It's more than physical; my playing is like using all the aspects of one's mind and passion through reading, through qualitative walking in space, through seeing experience, through making one's senses be the most exact barometer of one's cultural environment. So I dance, I sing, I write poems, I have these books here, because it means something. That's what I'm putting into this music; this is also what I bring to people I'm close to. This is the simplest version of a spiritual transformation which has to do with the state of trance."

Taylor's concern with theory is not an eccentricity. It is, rather, the result of a rigorous musical education from the New York College of Music and the New England Conservatory, as well as study of such jazz artists as Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck and Fats Waller.

"Ellington makes quite clear that you construct a sound universe that allows individual musicians to enrich the framework that they agree to participate in," he says, explaining his Unit's practice of collective improvisation. In the 1950s, after Taylor had accompanied such mainstream players as Hot Lips Page and Johnny Hodges, he became impressed with "the depth and texture of Brubeck's harmony, which had more notes in it than anyone else's that I had ever heard." His debt to Waller and other Harlem stride pianists is two-fold: most obvious is Taylor's insistent playing in the piano's bass register, and his determination to have fun.

One might not hear that in his music at first -- Taylor's passion is usually interpreted as sober, perhaps born of frustration or outright anger. He first recorded his own music in the late '50s; in the '60s he became a leader of the jazz avant garde, which often wed its radical esthetic to a radical political philosophy. In recognition of his achievements, Taylor has been awarded such establishment honors as a Guggenheim fellowship, election to the down beat magazine jazz hall of fame, and performance at the White House during Jimmy Carter's Bicentennial jazz party. But unlike Ellington, Brubeck and Waller, he's had limited commercial success.

"To play this music is in itself a cultural statement that transcends the immediacy of a political statement," Taylor says. "Plus, you never make any money." He adds, "The only people who are free are those who don't have to worry about where their next money is coming from.

"Legend has it I'm a morose person, but actually I don't care what people think, because I'm happy much of the time, doing what I want to do. One of the things you discover as you grow older is that no one else takes the responsibility for you wanting to do what you want to do."

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Boat Of, 30 Jan 82

Hi again,

Here's the flyer for Boat Of's performance at Athens' 40 Watt Gulag on Saturday, January 30, 1982. I've had it buried under heavy art tomes for a few weeks in order to smooth out its creases. I admit to applying a spot cleaning brush in PS to remove a smudge and a light tear, but apart from those fixes, there was little else to do. Scanned at 300 dpi.

Boat Of on that long-ago eve was Carol Levy, David Gamble, and yours truly.

Best, as ever,


Monday, April 02, 2018

Pussy Galore / Soy Earplugs

Hello Droogs,

I was sent this photograph yesterday.

I'd never seen it before.

Pussy Galore, performing at Houston's suspiciously Dada-deficient Cabaret Voltaire venue on January 17, 1986.

Left to right: Tom Smith (c'est moi), John Hammill, Neil Hagerty, Julie Cafritz, and Jon Spencer.

(I've no idea who the shutterbug might have been. Anyone out there with a clue?)

This was the penultimate gig of the Peach of Immortality / PG Fuck Sky Bear tour. I took acid in New Orleans three shows earlier, stayed up most of the night, caught a cold, and was pretty wiped out when we hit Texas. (I was the only member of the road company pulling double duty - as soon as Pussy Galore would finish, Peach would clamber on stage and ramp up the static. You can hear Julie berating me for being out of it on one of the live cuts from the Corpse Love compilation.)

Apropos of P. Galore: what a great motherfucking band that lineup was.

Sincere thanks to Alberto Diez for sharing this image.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Schluss @ Oberdeck Tonight!

Hey - just in case any locals haven't received the telex, up-and-coming Hamburg freak duo Schluss are performing at the Oberdeck tonight. Our very own Paranoid Leather will be stretched out in the DJ lounger as well. Komm!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Convalescence: Day Eighteen

Hi again,

Well, I returned to work today, but first I had my stitches removed!

The nurse who did the honors commented on the relatively rapid healing processes that seem to be underway, but I won't be happy until I can chuck the crutches and get back to competitive power loitering. Rehearsing later with Bianca and Andreas at the Merkwürdig Riechnerv bunker.

(I realize the affected area looks particularly unsavory. It's been under wraps since the accident on February 28th...)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Convalescence: Day Seventeen / Salt

Carol Levy's cover design for the Boat Of album that never made it to fruition. She decided it should be named Salt, and so it would have been. The label that had been sniffing around weren't serious, and it's probably all for the better. We were too fucking too much for 1981. Carol's illustration has yellowed with age but the late Ms. Levy remains 100% acetylene.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

New on Karl Schmidt Verlag

Available now on Karl Schmidt Verlag and Adult Contemporary Recordings: Cup of Indignation by Boat Of, a 60-minute generative chronology (i.e., an assemblage of stochastically distributed, non-static loops) covering a wide swath of the group's recorded output from 1979 to 1984. Yowza! With the Boat Of compilation cassette Forbidden Mourning Practice forthcoming on Hitomi Arimoto's unhinged 777 Was 666 imprint, it's a very good time to be against every fucking thing that exists all over again.

No physical edition at present. My broken leg precludes hauling parcels into the post for at least another month. Lossless digital, €7.99 at KSV Bandcamp.


Boat Of is quite the complicated beast. Our original idea was to change the name of the group with each live performance and / or shift in direction, but of course the conceit quickly revealed its limitations as soon as we began to be asked to play venues a second time!

I started alone as Prepared Party (in the Cage-ian sense) in 1979, mainly using a shortwave receiver and tape edits. With bassist Mike Green, guitarist Carol Levy, and occasional organist Mike Stipe (we never called him “Michael”), we morphed into Pre-Cave. I made the tape edits, played drums or discarded parts of drum kits, and worked with radios, turntables, and my Farfisa. Sometimes synths too. Sometimes with clothes dryers filled with shoes to create more stochastic rhythms! We rehearsed in an earthen basement at the Cobb Institute in Athens, GA, and furtively in the Method Actors' upstairs space when they were away on tour. The “pre” was also a reference to PRE, the aesthetic strategy I first promulgated in ish #1 of Hot Java, a short-lived arts newspaper published in Athens in 1980.

We had a show booked at the 40 Watt Club in Athens for June 26, 1980, but for some forgotten reason it fell through. Afterwards, we again changed the name of the group to Nest (adj.). (As in, “nest” as an adjective. Mike Green and I were disgustingly deep into semiotics, textual manipulation, etc., but also inveterate wags deeply cynical about the nascent Athens music scene. Dark humor and obscure puns were characteristic elements of our interactions, and remain so to this day. Boat Of Say 'Put'!)

Nest (adj.) had its first gig at the 40 Watt in October of 1980. MSG couldn’t make it, but Carol, Stipe, my then-girlfriend Mary and I showed up with osmium chips on our shoulders. It was quite a good performance and a decent turnout. Maybe 85 people? It seemed phenomenal at the time. There was a second Nest (adj.) show on Valentine’s Day, 1981. Afterwards we took a break while Mary and I made a mess of wedlock and unsuccessfully pretended to be normal. I was recording constantly, refining the edits and inching closer to the sound I'd always heard in my head, a Stygian readymade melange informed as much by the stylistic motifs of my favorite Enjoy and Sugarhill 12" singles as Xenakis or Lee Perry - our range of influences fell noticeably outside those of our peers.

When the group returned in May, we had adopted the name Boat Of, and we remained so limned through late March 1983, when Carol was killed in a dreadful car crash.

So, attributing all the recordings on Cup of Indignation to Boat Of is a form of shorthand. I never tire of relating the tale, but I suppose it might be a bit taxing for those who aren't so interested in convoluted origin sagas.

Boat Of‘s personnel shifted slightly from Pre-Cave/Nest (adj.) - Stipe played the June 1981 gig with us, but afterwards focused his energies on M.R.E. He invited me to one of their early gigs... I was horrified by their dire farmer-rock, and our friendship ended.

David Gamble, one half of the exemplary Method Actors, quit that group in the summer of 1981 to join ours on drums and vocals. Sandra-Lee Phipps, a lovely friend of Carol‘s with a refined wit and great stage presence, cast her lot with ours on vocals. My high school pal Don Fleming also contributed (taped drum machine and library recordings) to the burgeoning collective.

We were obsessed with “field hollers” and glossolalia. David covered the latter, and Sandi the former.

Jim Walker, a friend of mine from the outback and a huge Pip Pyle / Hatfield and the North / National Health fan, sometimes joined us on drums as well. Because PiL’s original (Canadian) drummer had the same name, and since the American television actor Jimmy "Dyn-o-mite" Walker was - at least through the mid-1980s - such a recognized star, we never knew what to call our Jim. Usually we wrote something like “not the guy from Public Image and The Pack, but a really cool drummer nonetheless!”

Dominique Amet and Davey Stevenson from the excellent Limbo District (the only Athenian band with whom we really felt kinship) also joined, performing and recording radio sessions with us from late summer '82 through the winter of 1983. Dominique fell into our orbit earlier, actually - she appears on a July 1981 rehearsal recording, screaming her guts out. Such style. 

When Carol was killed I became quite distraught. Things fell apart for about 15 months. After befriending Minimal Man’s Patrick Miller in California and with the encouragement of both he and Don Fleming, I got back into the game. I moved to DC, decamped with the Velvet Monkeys, and made a final clutch of Boat Of recordings that overtly presaged the shift to a new performance identity, Peach of Immortality.

Boat Of's mix of influences was quite broad, and as acutely insular snobs we were very protective of them. We never revealed much of this sort of info, knowing intuitively that one quickly becomes trapped by pronouncements of aesthetic fealty. As a collective, we were sui generis. That may seem arrogant, but it’s clear that we were doing something well outside prevailing norms. We were also hyper-critical - if we felt ourselves lapsing into any sort of lazy trope we tended to purge ourselves of the offending notions until they'd been expunged.

The archive is rather extensive - about 65 hours of material altogether. A few cassettes of backing tracks and performance edits disappeared between 1983-1984, and another was borrowed by a label guy (Peter from Armageddon / Press) who never returned it. Cunt. There was also a pretty amazing early rehearsal (September 1980-ish) tape that just vanished. But, remarkably, everything else survives.

- Tom Smith, March 2018


Boat Of: Mike Green, Carol Levy, David Gamble, Sandra-Lee Phipps, Jim Walker, Dominique Amet, Davey Stevenson, Don Fleming, Tom Smith, and others.

Part One:

Boat Of, live, 40 Watt, Athens, March 9, 1982 > Boat Of, live, 40 Watt, Athens, May 16, 1981 > Boat Of, live, Coffee Club, Athens, January 30, 1982 > Boat Of, “Bra” cassette radio cut-ups, Seaside, August 1983 > Boat Of, live, Coffee Club, Athens, January 14, 1982 > Boat Of, live, d.c. space, Washington, March 10, 1983 > Boat Of, live, House of Rimbaud, Athens, August 6, 1982 > Boat Of, If You’d Like to Nominate Your Boss remix, WABR studios, Tifton, July 23, 1982 > Boat Of, rehearsal, Cobb Institute, Athens, July 21, 1981 > Boat Of, Los Fabulosos 20 cut-ups cassette, Seaside, September 1983 > Nest (adj.), rehearsal, Cobb Institute, Athens, October 23, 1980 > Nest (adj.), rehearsal, Cobb Institute, Athens, October 27, 1980 > Boat Of, live, Night Gallery, Athens, July 19, 1981 > Boat Of, live, Night Gallery, Athens, September 22, 1981 > Boat Of, live, Night Gallery, Athens, October 24, 1981 > Boat Of, live, Nitery Club, Atlanta, January 17, 1983.

(29:58, contiguous)

Part Two:

Boat Of, ADS Sound session, Atlanta, February 14-16, 1983 > Pre-Cave, Cobb Institiue session, September 9, 1980 > Pre-Cave, From Writing “Indifference” session, Cobb Institute, Athens, July 1980 > Boat Of, Peach Encroachment sessions, Velvet Monkeys rehearsal basement, Washington, July 1-8, 1984, (the final Boat Of recordings) > Prepared Party, shortwave manipulation, Adel, October 1979 > Boat Of, rehearsal, Night Gallery, Athens, July 18, 1981 > Pre-Cave, Tom (magazine) interview, June 13, 1980 > Boat Of, soundcheck, T.V. Dinner, Atlanta, May 22, 1982 > Boat Of, live, T.V. Dinner, Atlanta, April 24, 1982 > Boat Of, live, Tyrone’s O.C., Athens, June 11, 1981 > Boat Of, WABR session, Tifton, January 16, 1983 > Boat Of, WABR session, Tifton, November 30-December 1, 1982 > Boat Of, WABR session, Tifton, March 7, 1983 > Boat Of, live, WREK, Atlanta, September 5, 1982 > Boat Of, live, WREK, Atlanta, January 16, 1983 > Boat Of, live, WREK, Atlanta, August 29, 1982 > Boat Of, live, Wax Museum, Washington, March 11, 1983.

(29:51, contiguous)

Edited, mixed and produced March 2018 by Tom Smith, who looped and sorted the tracks via randomizing algorithms.

Original recordings composed and performed by the various iterations of Boat Of / Nest (adj.) / Pre-Cave / Prepared Party, 1979-1984.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Convalescence: Day Fifteen

A brief programming note: Kevin Drumm's new Karl Schmidt Verlag album, Jury Prize, is live and available at KSV Bandcamp. It's both a colossal return to KD's brutalist mid-aughts form and very much of the fractious moment.

There's no physical edition yet, as bounding up the stairs of Deutsche Post with armfuls of parcels is pretty much an impossibility - I'll be on crutches for another month. 



Merkwürdig Riechnerv: Big Show Next Saturday!

Hello again, Andreas, Bianca and I will be performing as Merkwürdig Riechnerv on the 12th at OSCO // Open Space , the indoor venue of Pla...