Category Archives: avant-garde

Goodbye 2016 (we will not miss you)

I have been dreading having to write a wrap-up piece about the year 2016. The last post that I made was in November when Leonard Cohen died. Since then, it seems to have been difficult to write anything. It has never been my intention to have my blog look like an obituary column but, it quite often feels like that.

In recent years, I have been reminding people that the musicians whose music we have enjoyed since the ’60s and ’70s are now mainly in their 60s and 70s. That means that the inevitable signs of mortality will surely take hold. This has certainly been the case in 2016.

The year seemed to start off on a high note with a brilliant new release (Blackstar) by David Bowie. However, this event seemed to quickly get overshadowed when Bowie died a couple of days after its release.

The death of Bowie seemed to resonate hard and deep within both the music industry and among his long-time fans. As someone who had been a fan for 45 years, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. This seemed to be a shared experience as many people that I talked to or exchanged messages with appeared to be doing their best to hold back a wellspring of tears. Many tried but did not succeed. The last time that I can honestly recall such a reaction was when John Lennon was brutally gunned down.

But, that was just the start of a year that appeared to be voracious in its appetite to take away so many musicians and music related personalities away from us. It didn’t matter which genre of music was your favourite, the losses touched all aspects of music from rock, pop, R&B, jazz, classical and avant-garde.

Bowie, Cohen and Prince were among the biggest or most influential names for most of the year and then word of the death of George Michael slipped in on Christmas day.

I’ve owned records by many of the people who have passed this year. I’ve seen some of them in concert. I’ve even had the pleasure to meet a couple of them. The sad fact is that as time marches on, more of these people will make the headlines as they continue to leave us. So, let’s enjoy their music while they are still here and continue to honour their memory after they are gone.

Music can make us happy. Music can make us sad. Music can make us think. Music can make us feel how great it is to be alive. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you like, it just matters that it means something to you. Be grateful for that. It is rare.

Here is a very brief list of some of the musicians and music-related people we lost in 2016:

Signe Anderson (Jefferson Airplane)

Gato Barbieri

Paul Bley

Pierre Boulez

David Bowie

Leonard Cohen

Tony Conrad

Keith Emerson

Glenn Frey (Eagles)

Dale Griffin (Mott the Hoople)

Merle Haggard

Sharon Jones

Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane)

Greg Lake

Neville Marriner

George Martin

George Michael

Scotty Moore

Alphonse Mouzon

Pauline Oliveros

Rick Parfitt (Status Quo)

Prince

Leon Russell

Dave Swarbrick (Fairport Convention)

Rudy Van Gelder

Alan Vega (Suicide)

Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire)

For a much more detailed (and depressing) list of the people that we lost this year, please visit Musicians Who Died in 2016.

Silent Records Lives Again

Silent Records was the brainchild of label founder Kim Cascone. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Silent issued many recordings of interesting music spanning several genres including ambient, industrial and beat-oriented sounds.

In 1996, Kim invited me to issue something on his label after becoming familiar with my work on the FAX label from Germany. So, twenty years ago(!) my album Distant Rituals was released on Silent Records.

It was around this time that Kim left the label and sold it to an employee. Unfortunately, this change of hands did not work out well and the label folded in 1997. So, for nearly 20 years many great recordings have remained out of print.

Fast forward to 2016 and Kim has decided to re-boot Silent Records. In recent months, he has managed to track down most of the core artists who are still living and active. That includes me.

In the coming months, many of the long out of print recordings will start to make a reappearance via various media platforms. In addition to this, he has also managed to create a brand new compilation release entitled From Here to Tranquility 6. This latest installment in the series includes recent recordings by many of those core artists from years gone by. My work entitled Onlooker will be featured on the set. It will be available for download or as a limited edition CD release.

There will also be a second volume of this set which features artists which have some relationship with the label (but, not as a core artist). This release will be made available as a download-only item.

In addition to re-issuing Distant Rituals, Kim has inquired about the re-release of some of my other long out of print material. Stay tuned as there will be more information coming in the future.

At the present time, Silent Records now has its own devoted streaming channel via SomaFM. Please visit the site to hear some wonderful ambient sounds from the past. This is just the beginning to the channel. Musical content will soon be expanding.

It’s all very exciting news and I wish Kim Cascone the best for his venture in the future!

The Silent Channel on SomaFM

Exposure for Canadian contemporary music (or lack thereof)

During my 25 years on the radio, I always took great pleasure in featuring the music of countless Canadian composers and musicians. These included works from the world of contemporary classical, electroacoustic and out jazz music. While it was great to share this material with the audience of a community radio station, it was not quite the audience that this music could have been receiving from a national broadcaster.

Over the years, the CBC (Canada’s national broadcasting service) has gone through many changes and these have often resulted in these types of music getting even more marginalized.

Canadian composer Paul Steenhuisen recently put together a letter to send to the Canadian League of Composer which addressed the situation of contemporary music and its status on the CBC. Paul has graciously given me permission to re-post his letter here.

Please read this letter in order to gain a greater understanding of the challenges that people like me (an electroacoustic composer) face when trying to get our music exposed to more people.


From Paul Steenhuisen to the Canadian League of Composers:

Following up on my recent FB post, I’ve written a letter to the Canadian League of Composers. I include the letter here in order that others can read it, and perhaps add their comments. The letter was addressed to CLC President Brian Harman and the Head of the Advocacy Committee, Ian Crutchley. Others cited in my original FB post were Christien Ledroit, David Pay, and David Jaeger. Hopefully good things will happen.

“As a former longtime Canadian League of Composers Council Member, past ISCM Canadian Section President, composer, and contemporary music and public broadcasting advocate, I am requesting that the CLC, in its role as representative of Canadian composers, direct resources toward renewing its working relationship with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for the benefit of the status of the artist in Canada.

The past decade has seen the removal of the CBC’s composer commissioning program, the demise of the CBC Vancouver Radio Orchestra, the cancellation of Two New Hours (the primary broadcast venue), the abandonment of recording of Canadian contemporary music, the end of the Young Composers Competition, and removal of other Classical Music radio programming. The accumulation of these actions amounts to the decimation of all resources previously, historically, and successfully devoted to Canadian contemporary music by the CBC, and the severance of the relationship between our flourishing field and the public broadcaster. While in some areas the CBC has diversified its programming, with the absence of Canadian composers and Classical music programming, it has moved toward significantly more commercial programming, at the expense of its responsibilities to the 1991 Broadcast Act. The Broadcast Act states that the CBC is mandated to provide programming that is “distinctively Canadian,” “actively contribute(s) to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,” to “make maximum use of Canadian creative and other resources in the creation and presentation of programming,” to “safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada,” and serve as “a public service essential to the maintenance and enhancement of national identity and cultural sovereignty.” Over the course of just over a decade, the CBC has perpetrated significant, quantifiable cultural and economic damage to the fields of Contemporary and Classical music in Canada.

In addition to developing and maintaining regular dialogue with the CBC to regenerate their investment in Canadian contemporary music through recordings, broadcasts, and commissions, etc., it would be prudent to determine the formal process for how new programs are proposed and developed, create a list of producers amenable to new programming initiatives, determine ways in which composers work could be included in current programming, and compile a set of resources that would assist CLC constituents in establishing meaningful communication with the CBC regarding our shared musical interests. More specifically, I am also requesting that the CLC, in combination with the organizers of the ISCM World New Music Days (Vancouver 2017), work towards securing national broadcast commitments by the CBC. The ISCM World New Music Days is an important international festival that will showcase top-level music, performers, and composers, and is an ideal opportunity for the CBC to be reminded of the quality, interest, and value of artists and individuals contributing to this wide-ranging field of creative music. While various other new media is available for making concerts available, nothing can currently match the awareness and exposure that can be obtained through the radio and television resources of Canada’s longstanding public broadcaster.

Please note that in discussion with the CBC, some individuals are inclined to distort and manipulate important terminology required for the presentation and understanding of accurate broadcast statistics. While demonizing art music as elitist, they have simultaneously sought to co-opt the term composer to apply to singer-songwriters and anyone who makes music. They have also attempted to transform the terms contemporary music and new music to mean anything recent, and inclusive of anything, such as commercial, pop, rock, hip-hop, electronica, and other forms of musical expression. By doing so, they will argue that they play more contemporary music by Canadian composers than they ever have, while knowing that this is untrue based on historically accepted definitions of the terms. Meanwhile, the CBC’s inclusion of composers associated with the Canadian Music Centre, including electroacoustic music, is near zero. The CBC is mandated to be an alternative to commercial interests, driven by cultural responsibilities rather than commercial ones.

With a new government that has stated its commitment to restoring the CBC, and new funds being promised to the public broadcaster, it is critical for the Canadian League of Composers to devote significant and ongoing resources to forging a meaningful role for Canadian art music at the CBC. There is a wealth of wonderful music being made and performed by artists of the highest level in Canada, and the field has expanded and changed – it is a cultural loss to Canadians that the CBC is currently not part of it. My hope is that with the advocacy of the CLC (perhaps in combination with the Canadian New Music Network), the current circumstance will change and our collective, active role in Canadian culture will once again be reflected by our public broadcaster.”

Tony Conrad 1940 – 2016

On March 22nd, The Guardian ran an article about musician and filmmaker Tony Conrad which encapsulated his long career and was a lead-up to the April 1st Big Ears Festival in Knoxville. Scarcely a week later, it was reported that Conrad would not be able to make the appearance due to health concerns. On April 9th he succumbed to prostate cancer.

Back in the early 1970s when I first started getting interested in avant-garde and minimalist music, the name Tony Conrad crept into the text of many books that I read. I knew that he was associated with La Monte Young and his Theatre of Eternal Music (AKA The Dream Syndicate) but, was not able to source any recordings. At that point in time, the only photo that I’d seen of him was simply a shadow of a figure playing a violin projected on a curtain.

I knew that he recorded and LP with the German group Faust but, even though I could find the Faust albums, that certain record always seemed to elude me. It wasn’t until the days of CD re-issues that I finally managed to obtain a copy.

I was also aware of Tony Conrad’s film/video work which I was finally able to view courtesy of youtube. His main area of focus for many years was film.

Fast forward to 2010 and I find myself (as half of the duo Transmorphous Sound Ensemble with Richard Moule) booked to play at the LOLA Festival on the same bill as Tony Conrad.

For his performance, Conrad used his Long String Instrument to create a wonderful cloud of sound. After his performance, Richard and I were lucky enough to get to hang out with Tony and chat. It was a quite surreal moment for me as we listened to this iconic musical figure who had once only existed to me as a photograph of a shadow.

To discover more about Tony Conrad’s work, I recommend doing a search on youtube. There are several clips there including some very interesting interviews.

There is also a book which Tony himself recommends entitled Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts After Cage by Branden W. Joseph.

Here are a few photos which I took of Tony performing at the 2010 LOLA Festival here in London, Ontario.