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tag: live-performance

Lee Ranaldo + Christian Marclay

Important Records uploads a sample of a track from 2008.

The Important Records label has been steadily uploading archival material from past releases to its SoundCloud page, such as this eight-minute stretch of a quiet quartet led by guitarist Lee Ranaldo, best known as a member of Sonic Youth. The track dates from 2008 and features Alan Licht on guitar, Christian Marclay on turntables, and William Hooker on drums. Marclay’s playing is especially syrupy and lovely, less hard-edged cut’n’paste than a soft, warbling interplay between source material, as he’s constantly slowing the vinyl in a way that makes the music sounds like it’s melting. The parallel brings to mind Salvador Dalí’s bowed clocks as much as it does Kid Koala’s sad-toned, downtempo beatcraft.

Track originally posted at More on the original release at More from Ranaldo at

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SFEMF 2015 + Interrogative Music

Olivia Block and Lawrence English's sets consume the space.


I made it to three of the four nights of this year’s San Francisco Music Festival. It’s been running since 2000, and I think I’ve attended every year since I moved back to San Francisco from New Orleans in 2003, with the exception of 2010, when it coincided with the birth of my little kiddo, who decided to arrive two weeks early. This means I’ve managed to miss out on Alessandro Cortini twice: he played the 2010 show and he had to drop out of this year’s opening-night event due to a family emergency.

As always, SFEMF, which ran from September 10 through 13, was admirably style-agnostic except to the extent that it remains pop-antagonistic. The performances included a comical theatric mini-opera by Kevin Blechdom and Aqulaqutaqu, a full-on ambient-industrial immersion by Lawrence English, a percussive live score to a short film by Surabhi Saraf, a modular synthesizer set by Doug Lynner (using the first commercial Serge, which dates from the mid-1970s), and a four-channel “film-less film” by Olivia Block. English’s performance was about as “pop” as it got, because his smoke-machine aura and booming minimalism might also be at home in a handful of adventurous techno clubs.

And as always there was at least one elder statesman. This year it was the improviser Charles Cohen, who played twice — on Saturday (the night I missed) and on the opening night, in a makeshift, last-minute synthesizer duo with Wobbly (Jon Leidecker), to fill the hole left by Cortini’s absence. Because I missed the Cohen show on Saturday, I also missed Robert Rich and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Rich is arguably an elder spokesman of sorts, too, because even though he was born in 1965, he started releasing music in his teens, and gained prominence early on.

Thursday I got to see Thomas Dimuzio put a massive amount of modular synthesizer gear toward an admirably minimal, often microsonic, goal. Friday I caught English and Saraf (the latter of whose video of an especially louche pharmaceutical production line seemed to have some technical issues), and opening act Horaflora (Raub Roy), who used massive, slowly deflating balloons as audio sources and tactile triggers. And on the closing night, Sunday, I caught Blechdom’s antic interstellar opera, during which she managed to have a slide projected for every single word in the libretto and many additional syllables, as well as sets by Block and Lynner.

Lawrence English and Olivia Block arguably performed the most memorable sets of the three nights I was in attendance. Everyone on the festival bill was experienced and unique — SFEMF is no slouch in its curatorial efforts — but the English and Block sets were the two that seemed to fully consume the space. (Note: there were two spaces. The first night was at the Exploratorium, and the remaining three nights at the Brava Theater.) English’s was a throbbing white noise of dense drama. Block’s was an ever-shifting collage of sonic elements with an underlying through-composed, narrative sensibility. It isn’t that a set has to surround the listener to make an impression, but this year saturated listening made the most sense as concert music. A lot of this has nothing to do with the other performers in particular, and almost everything to do with concerts in general. I go through phases in and out of love with live performance of experimental music, and there’s an extent these days where shows of experimental concert music (seated, reflective) can feel a bit like going to the movies. Movies have been undone by television, and while live concerts don’t have a direct parallel challenger, there are times when the purpose remains equally unclear. After a movie, you walk out of the theater wondering what the point is — why, unlike with television, can’t you see the characters again, witness their continued development. Experimental concerts also often fail to fulfill a specific desire. One thing that surprises me regularly at shows is that there is no time set aside for explanation. Even major symphonies regularly schedule pre-concert discussions by the conductor and sometimes the principal soloist. The term “experimental music” can fall short for what’s been undertaken. It’s really interrogative music. It’s experimental because it’s intended to go places no one has gone before, but in doing so it is, like anything experimental, trying to find answers to questions: does this idea work, does this sound register with an audience, is this technology stage-ready, does this music cohere? Likewise, the audience has questions, too. I don’t think it would undermine a concert were the musician, if so inclined, to take a moment to talk about what was about to happen, or what had just happened.

I do also wonder if SFEMF would to well to add a night at a third venue of more populist work — a place where dance-friendly, or at least head-bobbing, music by Monolake or Amon Tobin or the like would be at home.

Anyhow, it was a great year for SFEMF, and I’m looking forward to next year’s festival — right after my kiddo’s sixth birthday.

This first appeared in the September 15, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter:

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Can You Hear the Arctic?

And can you play the arctic? Ask Karen Power and John Godfrey.


For some reason, the track page for this live improvisation by Karen Power and John Godfrey isn’t allowing me to embed it here. So, to hear it, head over to Power’s SoundCloud page, at

Earlier this year, back in January, Power worked with Joyce Majiski on an installation at the Yukon Arts Centre titled Inside the Glacier. Both of the women were part of an Article Circle Residency Program expedition to the Yukon to collect sounds and develop art from them. This recorded performance teamed Power with musician John Godfrey, and together they, through live improvisation, developed a sonic response to the Yukon soundscape that emanated from another room in the gallery where this was all recorded. Their initially tentative plucks and whirs emerge from the winds and watery sounds of the arctic audio documents. At times the sounds are distinct from the sourced audio, but much of the time their playing achieves a naturalistic presence: strange birds in strange weather.

There is a host of images from her arctic trip at, depicting the use of omnidirectional microphones inside a wooden boat, microphones inside the remains of a locomotive, hydrophones inside icebergs, and much more. Power produced this half-hour documentary, Can You Hear the Arctic?, about her acoustic experience in 2013:

Track originally posted at More from Power, who has a PhD in acoustic and electroacoustic composition from SARC (Sonic Arts Research Centre) in Belfast, Ireland, at More on the installation at Photo up top by Tina Kohlmann, from the British Library site at

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The Eternal Life Aquatic with Laraaji

An interview with the ambient grandmaster in his 72nd year


In recent years, there has been much discussion about distinctions between “ambient” music and “new age” music. It is quite likely that the primary distinction between the two is a matter of just how foregrounded are spiritual matters — in the music’s conception, and in its presumed consumption.

If anyone can weigh in authoritatively on such distinctions, it is Laraaji, the longtime, holistic-minded musician whose most prominent release, 1980’s Ambient 3: Days of Radiance (Editions EG), was produced by a world-famous skeptic: ambient godfather Brian Eno. As has been well documented over the years, Eno came upon Laraaji playing his electric-enhanced zither in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. That chance encounter helped introduce Laraaji to the world, and to this day he travels widely and records and performs frequently, often as part of spiritual conferences.

Born Edward Larry Gordon in 1943, and later taking the name Laraaji as part of a spiritual awakening, he studied music at the historically black college Howard University and then moved to New York City to pursue a career in standup comedy. The impetus for this interview was the announced release of three of his archival cassette tapes by Leaving Records, dating from just before and just after Days of Radiance.

The collection is titled All in One Peace, and it contains the lush, aquatic, and deeply trippy Lotus Collage (1978), Unicorns in Paradise (1981), and Connecting with the Inner Healer Through Music (1983). They are being made available as cassettes not simply because the audience for cassettes has expanded in recent years, but because cassettes — easy to transport, inexpensive to reproduce — were the medium on which Laraaji originally sold his music when he busked in Washington Square Park.


In advance of the interview, which was spurred on by Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin, with whom I share an enthusiasm for Laraaji, I asked her and several musicians I admire if they had any questions for Laraaji. To begin with, his name is pronounced as three straight, even syllables, none of them emphasized. In addition to Jardin’s question about the connection between music and healing, I asked for Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud) about Laraaji’s thoughts on melancholia in music — this due to Laraaji’s profound emphasis on laughter — and for Greg Davis I asked about the origins of a specific record album, Essence Universe.

In the interview, Laraaji talks about many things, including what Washington Square Park was like back in the day, how he achieves his watery sonics, bridging the spiritual gap with the great skeptic Brian Eno, finding peace in the process of tuning the zither’s 36 strings, and his early career as a standup comic.

Marc Weidenbaum: How did this reissue collection, these three albums, come to be?

Laraaji: I think it stared with a gentleman named Douglas Mcgowan of Yoga Records who, maybe two years ago, when he was releasing an LP of mine he mentioned some people in California who might be interested, as an independent company, to release my music. Over about a year or two, eventually he connected me with Matthewdavid McQueen, in Los Angeles. Well, actually, I met David and his wife at an event that myself and a partner and music collaborator gave in Los Angeles — I think a year and a half ago, in October. And he met me there and handed me a CD and I met his wife, and maybe about a half year later he contacted me and mentioned that he was very much interested in checking out my early music on cassette, and asked if I sent him out whatever I had he would go over them and examine them and take it from there, on what to do with them. I sent him out a bunch of my old cassettes and he found three that he wanted to release immediately and he got my approval, very easy agreement, and he began to work on preparing the cassettes as close to the way they looked back when I did them myself. With Leaving Records and Stones Throw and all of our connections since I met him in Los Angeles, about a year and a half ago, have been through email and phone.

Weidenbaum: It’s a beautiful collection, and the packaging is gorgeous. I was familiar with two of the albums through YouTube, but of the three cassettes, one I had never heard of before. It’s titled Connecting with the Inner Healer Through Music

Laraaji: For that one I had a limited release on it because it was really for the people who are familiar with that annual excursion conference that takes in Greensboro – the South Eastern Spiritual Conference. I occasionally presented workshops for music for these conferences over the years. One year, 1983, I offered a three-day workshop called “Connecting with the Inner Healer,” and I prepared music for the people in the class. This is the music that came out of that experience. So I hadn’t tried to release that set too widely, mostly for people who are familiar with my workshop programs.

Weidenbaum: It’s incredible how little mention of it there is on Google as of now, just nine search returns as of today [July 21, 2015], several of which are for the phrase but have nothing to do, actually, with your album.

Laraaji: Yes, I’m not a great big promoter. I delegate that to other qualified people. I’m surprised there’s that many mentions.

Weidenbaum: I’d imagined it must have some sort of unique provenance. Please elaborate on Connecting with the Inner Healer. I want to also talk about your music and life, but because of the timing of these re-releases, I want to focus first on these albums, especially this one, about which so little is known. Was the music recorded at the conference?

Laraaji: It’s either I did the conference and it inspired me to do the music, or at the time I was preparing to give the workshop this recording happened as part of my preparation. I don’t remember the exact sequence. It was 1983. If I knew the month that would tell me more. The conferences were usually in July. The theme of this particular conference was healing, consciousness, and transition. My music was always being invited to be shared at these conferences. Connecting with the Inner Healer was a way for me to get deeper into the therapeutic side of music. These kinds of conferences offer many different speakers around the idea of spirituality, altered life, consciousness — so, I was constantly being exposed to ideas of healing, ideas of healing, healing lifestyle. I’m being reminded that my music had healing qualities, which I wasn’t surprised by, because it grew out of my experience with meditation in the early ‘70s. It grew out of my exposure to imageries and visions of altered states of consciousness in the mid-‘70s. That started me exploring for a music experience, or musical sound, on this side of the veil that would complement what I heard in altered states. The result was through yoga, meditation, metaphysics, and other modalities. My music began to reflect an inner sense of reality that I contacted through meditation, an inner sense of constant stillness, quiet, harmony, peace and serenity, and universal oneness. These themes found their way into my musical expression, along with, still I did jazz and bop and jam-alongs when I lived in Park Slope, New York. Coffee house jams, loft music jams. We’d go through the whole gamut of music, but my electric zither at that time was surfacing and the music that I offered into all these experiences was usually this flowing ambient textural continual kind of atmospherical space music. That was around the late ’70s. Read more »

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Six-String Rhythm

A remix of my "Six-String Buddha" by Austin-based Antenna Research

Antenna Research is the Austin, Texas, duo of Karin Kross and Bruce Levenstein. They’ve done me the honor of reworking my “Six-String Buddha” track, a brief loop of layered electric guitar intended to emulate the background quality of the FM3 Buddha Machine. Like the earlier remix of the track that Lee Rosevere committed, the Antenna Research version, “Buddha On the Radio,” uses the original audio as the sonic foundation, and then creates an additional layer, a bit more foregrounded, that is based on select segments of the source track. The underlying track is given a buzzy, warbling quality thanks to dense analog reverb, and the percussive material lends it a slight pulse. The rhythmic fadeout is especially appealing.

Write Kross and Levenstein of what they’re up to, for those playing along in a home studio:

We’ve taken Marc’s track and loaded it onto two Radio Music modules. One is looping the entire track, and run through an Intellijel Springy reverb module. The other is playing a short section of the track, with the reset being triggered rhythmically by a Korg SQ-1 sequencer. The bass drum is from a Peaks module, synced to the SQ-1 via a Pamela’s Workout clock divider.

Track originally posted for free download at More from Kross, aka Hanging Fire, at and from Levenstein at

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