COLUMNS

  • Steve Reich

    NO FORM OF CLASSICAL MUSIC has exerted so enduring and pervasive an influence on pop culture as minimalism. Kellogg’s commercials and John Carpenter movie sound tracks, New Age schlock and abstract hip-hop all overtly cop such minimalist trademarks as repetitive keyboard vamps and hallucinatory vocal cut-ups. Indeed, from its inception in the early ’60s, musical minimalism actively blurred the boundaries between “high” and “mass” art, “classical” and “popular” music. Breaking with the confines of academic serialism and the decorum of the concert hall, the minimalists forged connections with the

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  • Stephen Prina

    WHY AREN’T THERE MORE debut records like Stephen Prina’s genteel Push Comes To Love (Drag City)? Backing the LA-based artist and sometime Red Krayola keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist are those Chicago don’t-call-them-postrock guys—Jim O’Rourke, Sam Prekop, John McEntire, David Grubbs, Rob Masurek—making subtly envelope-pushing, saw-assed, laid-back grooves. It’s totally the band you want to book when you go make your first record: Intuitive players, they can handle backing and lead roles without too much ego fuss (it doesn’t hurt that there are geeks the world over who will buy any record they

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  • Glenn McKay

    GLENN MCKAY PIONEERED the ’60s psychedelic light show, a somehow instantly tacky “art form” responsible for everything from Tom Wolfe having images “projected . . . on the back of [his] eyelids” while researching The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test to the Pink Floyd–scored Laserock freakouts I attended at the Hayden Planetarium as a seventh-grader. Like a creaky wave machine dusted off and set Into motion again, McKay’s work has been resurrected by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art under the rubric “Altered States” (until June 1). McKay, who founded his company Head Lights (get it, man?) In

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  • Hermann Nitsch

    THE STUNNING SCHEDULE of events for Hermann Nitsch’s Six-Day-Play, a happening held last August at his Schloss, in Prinzendorf, Austria, reads like a cross between death-metal theatrics and harmonic-convergence hippiedom. The day begins, “5:32 AM: Sunrise. Slaughter and disembowelment of a bull.” This kicks off a tight lineup: Primal Excess, Primal Beginnings, Matricide, Patricide, Fratricide, the Murder on the Cross, and the Fall. There’s a lunch break—nothing like fratricide to work up an appetite—followed by “Partial mounting of the mythical leitmotif,” with a unison hooting of all

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  • Lucinda Williams

    YOU CAN’T DEPEND ON ANYTHING, REALLY. Knowing that line from Lucinda Williams’s new album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, you know the whole thing—except, of course, the details, which count. You need to hear, for example, that the woman these songs describe used to listen to ZZ Top real loud. You need to hear that the eggs-and-bacon-perfumed kitchen of her childhood was in Macon, and that her friend from Lake Charles really came from Nacogdoches. Also, that all she now hopes for from the old lover she listened to ZZ Top with is that he’ll respect her privacy; that the man from Lake Charles

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  • Christian Marclay

    WHEN CHRISTIAN MARCLAY began spinning other people’s records into his own music around 1980, his only like-minded contemporaries were DJs who used the turntable as both rhythm track and soundbyter, dropping in a little James Brown shout, say, to signify “funky”; their innovations made hiphop the cause célèbre of cultural-studies postmodernists. Marclay, though, hewed to a lo-fi, highbrow avant-gardism, exploring the sonic properties of records to effect his own version of musique concrète; he backed up not MCs but improvisors on the noisy fringe. He seemed to be a high-late-modernist holdout

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  • Woody Guthrie with Bill Bragg and Wilco

    NEITHER A TRIBUTE ALBUM nor a collaboration, Mermaid Avenue is one of those peculiar contemporary hybrids: music and performance by Billy Bragg and the rock band Wilco, words by the late Woody Guthrie, the great agitprop singer-songwriter whose influence on the folk revival generation of the late ’50s and early ’60s gives him a paternity claim on later rock. When Guthrie died, in 1967, he left a trove of half-songs—written lyrics without the melodies to go with them. The papers languished in boxes until Guthrie’s daughter Nora asked Bragg, a British musician whose consistently, nay constantly

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  • artist-owned labels

    “WE HAD FIFTEEN RELEASES that were stylistically diverse: it wasn’t a doo-wop label or a label to reissue Boston hardcore, ” David Grubbs says. The Chicago musician is talking about Dexter’s Cigar, the record label he ran with former Gastr del Sol bandmate Jim O’Rourke from 1995 until April of this year. They’re just a couple of the handful of obsessive musicians who ’ve recently formed archive-&-reprint-based labels. In addition to Dexter’s Cigar, there’s O’Rourke’s brand new Moikai, Tony Conrad’s Audio ArtKive, John Fahey’s Revenant, and Thurston Moore’s K/EY, which launches next winter.

    Granted,

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  • Tony Conrad

    THE LONG, SLOWLY MODULATING drones on Tony Conrad’s box set Early Minimalism Volume One (Table of the Elements) are totally uncompromising, even if they do relax the listener over time; the electrified violins that produce the sounds attack tiny intervals across the audible spectrum with slightly wobbly intonation, never applicable to the equal temperament of the piano. There are four discs here, each filled with thirty minutes’ to an hour’s worth of this truculent process music; the result is occasionally reminiscent of the blues, like Little Walter inhaling one chord on an amped-up harmonica

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  • John Lurie

    JOHN LURIE FIRST WENT FISHING when he played St. James (either the Lesser or the Greater) in Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Jesus (Willem Dafoe) told his disciples to “become fishers of men,” and James, cranky and irritable as usual, misheard him and thought he said fisherman.

    Today, two thousand years later, Lurie is still at it, wandering the planet, tackle in hand, fishing for the fiercest game in the seven seas, from man-eating sharks to submarine-eating giant calamari. Fishing is an art, as anyone familiar with Moby Dick or Trout Fishing in America can presumably attest,

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  • the Poetics

    “IN THE END, this work is not so much a portrait of the Poetics as it is an examination of how a history is constructed. It concerns a period which is fairly recent and only now being historically considered. And in this examination, hopefully the prehistoricization of the Punk period will be perceived as a war for control of meaning—a war that one can still fully participate in. This history is not yet etched in stone.” The words are Mike Kelley’s, describing The Poetics Project, his multimedia contribution (with Tony Oursler) to last summer’s installment of Documenta. Incredibly rich source

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  • Komar & Melamid

    Used to be, Good and Bad were easy. Good was worthy, but a little dull: Little Nell, Jimmy Carter, the Queen Mum. Bad was dangerous but infinitely interesting: Byron, Lucifer, Mae West. But this century’s idea of the banality of evil has shifted the game, making Bad dull, and a turnoff. Komar & Melamid have been making hay out of the categorical confusion.

    Understanding that in America, moral or aesthetic judgments (Good, Bad) tend to conflate with statistical ones (most liked, least liked), the two developed a practice of designing paintings through market research. Now they’ve extended their

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