Rob Young

  • passages December 28, 2015

    Dieter Moebius (1944–2015)

    THE GERMAN SWISS MUSICIAN Dieter Moebius, who died from cancer in the summer of 2015, rarely allowed himself to be interviewed over his seventy-one-year life. He preferred, it seems, to articulate his thoughts via an effortless facility with the tools and praxis of electronic sound. This he effected as one of the kernels of a tortuously branching root system of German musicians, groups, and side projects, principal among them Cluster and Harmonia, two of the finest exponents of German electronic music since the early 1970s.

    While they may not have been household names internationally, Moebius

  • passages March 25, 2015

    Edgar Froese (1944–2015)

    WHAT IS CALLED DRAMA in musical terminology is frequently valued but often overrated: too often associated with the operatically overblown or the whining catgut of suspense. Watching the nail-biting sequences in William Friedkin’s unjustly forgotten, jungle-juggernaut movie Sorcerer (1977), with its monster trucks teetering on rope bridges above a torrential Amazon in full spate, you’re struck by how much the background music—a gray, insistent hornet hum of synthesized sound—helps ratchet up the desperation of the scenario in a ruthlessly restrained manner that’s nothing like the Wagnerian

  • Aphex Twin’s Syro

    IN THE 1990S, producers of IDM—so-called intelligent dance music—faithfully observed three unwritten rules. One: Stay anonymous, hiding your true name behind an arras of aliases. Two: Keep pushing the music into the future; nostalgists, stay away. Three: Never show your face. Time and again, Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin, broke these cardinal rules and many others besides. Despite or because of his intractability, he became an early poster boy for the new generation of bedroom producers. His music, forged in the afterburn of late-’80s underground rave culture, heralded an altogether

  • passages March 26, 2014

    Gary Grimshaw (1946–2014)

    IN AN ESSAY titled “Notes for the New Geology,” sci-fi novelist turned hippy philosopher Chester Anderson once wrote, “Rock is a tribal phenomenon, immune to definition and other typographical operations, and constitutes what might be called a twentieth-century magic.” But while rock indeed may have been an anti-typographical art form (in the McLuhanite sense), it certainly invented some memorable typographies all to itself. Some of rock’s most effervescent iconography was created by Gary Grimshaw, a native of Detroit whose poster art and political activism helped to define the indelible

  • “David Bowie is”

    Watching David Bowie’s screen test at Andy Warhol’s Factory in 1971 is excruciating. Moments before it was recorded, the artist had reacted with typical blankness to a playback of Bowie’s song “Andy Warhol,” and the young singer, his flowing hippie tresses capped by a widebrimmed hat, can barely bring his eyes to meet the camera. For a few moments, he self-consciously acts out the old mime routine of being trapped in a box; then, sheepishly, he gives up. He may have failed in his attempt to engage with Pop art, but his multiple transformations would soon set the terms for what we now loosely

  • passages January 31, 2013

    Ravi Shankar (1920–2012)

    BEFORE THE MID-1950S, the eternal drone and circadian rhythms of Indian classical music seldom reached Western ears. The unfamiliar scales and dynamics of the raga and the surging buzz of the sitar remained exotic and misunderstood feats of endurance. But while it was less likely to cause as much upheaval as Bill Haley & The Comets’ “Rock Around The Clock,” Ravi Shankar’s European and American tour of 1956 can be seen as an equally epochal cultural turning point in that year. While in London, he recorded the influential Three Ragas LP—the hip connoisseur’s introduction to Indian music—and within

  • “Linder: Femme/Objet

    “What makes Linder Sterling’s artwork so different, so appealing?”

    What makes Linder Sterling’s artwork so different, so appealing? Perhaps the sawn-off, Schwittersesque Merz that blasts through her DIY collages. Hacking images of household appliances, gooey cakes, facial features, and body parts from the pages of glamour magazines, the Liverpool-born artist creates photomontages that have come to define punk-era aesthetics: her iconic cover art for the Buzzcocks’ 1977 “Orgasm Addict” single; the art fanzine The Secret Public, which she published with Jon Savage in 1978. This Parisian retrospective will gather some two hundred

  • Rob Young

    1 Scott Walker, Bish Bosch (4AD) A new Scott Walker album is always an event, but with Bish Bosch the American expat extends his dark and exploratory late style, delivering a breathtakingly adventurous record well worth the six-year wait. With harsh couplings of digitized guitars, rams’ horns, swishing machetes, and an orchestra supplying “pillars of sound,” each song is like a Pynchon short story or a Flemish painting of heaven and hell, with subject matter ranging from brown dwarves and vivisection to flagpole-sitters and the execution of Romanian president Nicolae Ceauşescu.

    2 Diamanda Galás

  • “Home of Metal”

    RIDING THE IRON HORSE from London into Birmingham, I am always struck by how green and lush the outskirts still appear. Canals cut through the approaches, their crisp edges capitulating to the creeping undergrowth. You pass empty, smashed factories and brick warehouses to reach the city center, recently a riot battleground. Yet the green is a reminder that Birmingham and its satellite towns are inventions of the industrial revolution. This was a peaceful rural heartland until the eighteenth century, when the loom became the new plow and peasants were forced into the new city to work for the