#13 August 2002 WEB OF ETERNITY edited by Cary Loren PAGE 8 of 13



 


photo by (who else) Ira Cohen

I like to say that Angus MacLise, by titling one of his recorded jams "Blastitude" back in 1973, bequeathed upon me a magic word. When I spoke this word aloud three times, an entire web-zine was born. Really, all I needed was the name, and everything else fell into place. Thanks Angus. -- Larry "Fuzz-O" Dolman, editor.

 

ANGUS MACLISE: MASTER OF SYNTHESIS
by RenÚ van der Voort


There is a story that when the Velvet Underground got an offer for their first paid gig, Angus MacLise reacted by saying: "You mean we start when they tell us to and we have to end when they tell us to? I can't work that way." After which he left.

It might be a myth but it shows a glimpse of the person he was, a true free spirit and a highly individual multitalented artist. Appearing in and out of a set of creative environments, never staying long enough to get noticed by a broader public. A well kept secret whose genius was only recently revealed, in part, through a string of excellent CD's on the Quakebasket/Siltbreeze label.

However, as early as 1988, Fierce Records (an independent label dealing mostly in loonies like Sky Saxon and Charles Manson) released a single by Angus. The Trance 7" was wrapped in a fantasy package, included were a chocolate bar, incense, rolling paper and an order form for fake memorabilia. On the record was an excerpt of Angus' comment on an Indian ceremony. Sadly Fierce blew it all by stating in an interview with Strange Things Magazine: "He used to record a lot of stuff but unfortunately most of it was quite boring. Our record is everything you want to listen to."

How wrong can you be?

Most people first heard of Angus MacLise because of his connection with the Velvet Underground. Further investigation reveals that he also has been a founding member of the Theatre of Eternal Music, worked in multimedia and the Fluxus movement, designed his own calligraphy, was a mystical poet, an actor, publisher, bookshop owner and world traveller.

MacLise was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut on March 4, 1938. At school he developed an interest in music, especially percussion and took lessons in Latin drumming. He studied jazz technique, medieval European dance music and free form percussion.

During his schooldays he befriended the poet Piero Heliczer with whom he moved to Paris in the late fifties to establish the Dead Language Press. They published Angus' early poetry: Imprimatur 1281 and Straight Farthest Blood Towards.

The composer LaMonte Young found a copy of the letter and was immediately fascinated by the quality of the carefully constructed poetry. A well-directed stream of consciousness with surrealistic overtones.

When Angus returned to the States he was invited to play in the LaMonte Young Trio besides working at a number of Fluxus events with Yoko Ono, Composer Henry Flynt and "chance" poet Jackson MacLow.

In 1962 the Dead Language Press (now located in New York) issued a new publication by Angus, the calendar poem Year. It provided new names to each of the 365 days, a work of fiction that offered a different way of thinking about everyday life and was used by some artists to date their work.

He participated in the upcoming underground film scene. Cheap 8 mm material became available and made it easier for aspiring young filmmakers to shoot their often drug-induced exotic dream movies using friends as actors.

Angus appeared in many films, most notably the ones by Piero Heliczer. Autumn Feast, for which he also helped with the soundtrack, Venus in Furs with music by the embryonic Velvet Underground and Joan of Arc, which Cahiers du Cinema called: "The homemade movie of the Superstars." Ira Cohen, Gerard Malanga, Rene Ricard, Jack Smith, Charles Henri Ford, Tuli Kupferberg and many others all took part in this fantasy that combined the revolution in the Arts at the time with the issues of the Vietnam war.

Besides acting Angus worked on soundtracks for Jerry Jofen, who had the unhappy habit of destroying most of his creations as soon as they were finished, and made the score for Chumlum by Ron Rice. His hypnotic improvisations on the cembalum, that seemed to go on forever, formed the perfect backdrop for the Arabian nights vision of a psychedelic palace brothel in the movie. The cembalum, a stringed instrument to be played with sticks, was also used for some of his later scores of films by Gerard Malanga, Don Snyder and Jonas Mekas with whom he worked in 1966 on the movie Notes on the Circus. By accident the music was erased so we will never know what it sounded like.

For awhile Angus played live with LaMonte Young in front of the screenings at the Filmmakers Cinematheque but most of the time they held endless rehearsals at their Lower East Side apartment. The group took off when next door neighbour (and future partner of LaMonte) Marian Zazeela joined on vocals bringing in Billy Linich (later Billy Name, of Warhol/Factory fame) on guitar.

Angus organised a successful series of concerts at the 10-4 Gallery in Manhattan. Using light projections they played a slow interpretation of Indian drone music with a mastery of natural harmonics and just intonation at an ear crushing volume. Among the enthusiastic onlookers was violinist Tony Conrad who was asked to join the group now called the Theatre of Eternal Music. When Linich left he was replaced by the young Welsh musician John Cale, a classically trained viola player and Xenakis scholar.

With his amplified viola he added an extra dimension to the sustained meditative drones on saxophone, strings and hand drums.

A high level of perfection was reached but the discipline proved too much for Angus who failed to show up at rehearsals and concerts after awhile. He felt the urge to move on and split from the group in February 1964 to go on a trip to Europe and the Middle East.

While working with the Theatre of Eternal Music, Cale started to play with Lou Reed, a factory songwriter at Pickwick Records. Reed had written and recorded The Ostrich, an attempt to create a new dance craze. When the single got some airplay Cale and Reed quickly assembled a group to promote the record. Recruiting Tony Conrad and Walter deMaria (a drummer who played briefly with LaMonte and was later to become a well known conceptual sculptor), they went out on the road as the Primitives. After playing high school gigs and local television shows for awhile the action died down but Cale and Reed stayed together, eventually forming a trio with guitarist Sterling Morrison.

On his return to New York, Angus joined them to provide the music for a ritual happening called Launching of the Dreamweapon. It was the first theatrical event by Aquarium productions, set up by Angus and his old friend Piero Heliczer, a display of lights, dancers, poetry and improvised music from the group who played behind a veil. The multimedia extravaganza gave them a concept to work in and during the summer ofá '65 they were the anonymous musicians who performed at screenings of underground films by Barbara Rubin, Kenneth Anger and a second Aquarium presentation Rites of the Dreamweapon.

Playing under different names like the Warlocks and the Falling Spikes they finally settled for the Velvet Underground. According to legend it was either Angus who coined the name because he saw a paperback with this title at a bookrack in Times Square or Tony Conrad who found a copy of the book on a sidewalk.

Anyway the name stuck and in an attempt to expand their audience they put more structure in the music instead of free improvisation only. A paid gig was offered, all but Angus were eager to accept, and when he did not show up for the concert he got booted out. His replacement was Maureen Tucker.

MacLise was asked back though, strictly on a temporary basis, because Lou Reed fell ill in June '66 when the group was booked for a week in Chicago.

Angus moved to Berkeley in early 1967 to join the Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company, a street performance troupe where he met the painter and illustrator Hetty McGee. They were married by Timothy Leary during a ceremony in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

After recording The Haight Riot Mime, a mesmerising combination of Angus playing bongos and scat vocalising by Daniel Moore, the newly wed couple returned to New York with a friend, Loudon Wainwright III, behind the wheel.

During the trip they got busted for possession of cannabis and were transferred to the Oklahoma City jail. Wainwright's family bailed him out immediately, Hetty and Angus stayed behind. It took some time for their friends to gather the money needed for their release and as soon as they arrived in New York a benefit mixed media production was arranged to cover the costs.


poster by Hetty MacLise

Called Brain Damage in Oklahoma City, it shook the Cinematheque for four days straight in May. Images by Don Snyder and Jerry Jofen were shown, the Theatre of Eternal Music performed as did John Vaccaro's Theatre of the Ridiculous. Angus played his Dreamweapon music with Hetty, Henry Flynt and Jackson Maclow. Theiráset was taped, the interaction between the performers was incredible. Nobody had a leading role, it's a complex tapestry of voices, percussion and flutes wavering around for hours. Ira Cohen showed scenes from his work in progress The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda. He had developed the Mylar Chamber, a large box with bendable mirrors that resulted in all kinds of wonderful warped effects which he filmed or photographed.

For his movie Cohen had gathered all his friends, the Universal Mutant Repertoire Company, and filmed them in exotic clothing and ambience while they were singing, playing and groping around, producing spectacular images that look as fresh today as when they were filmed. Ira used some music from the benefit concert for the movie but the bulk of the soundtrack was played live when the completed film was shown at St. Mark's Church in 1968. It is an intense score, Angus beating the hell out of his hand drums as voices, dulcimers and tampura swirl around on a basis of repetitious organ drone.

From 1968 until 1970 Angus' main interest was in music, playing informal sessions with his friends Benno Friedman and Don Snyder, creating his Ritual Music for the Berkshires and Sitar Rhapsodics, beautiful serene pieces that reflected the atmosphere of the surroundings.

He recorded for the Foundation of Mind Research, who were into experiments with various trance and other psychic phenomena. A series of concerts, Epiphanies, were organised by him. He worked with poet John Giorno, minimalist Terry Riley, Indian drone wizard Peter Walker and crazy folkster Steve Weber.

In 1970 Angus and Hetty were invited to be the editors of Aspen Magazine #9, for this occasion called the Dream Weapon Portfolio. The magazine, a quarterly in a box filled with artwork, contained a flexidisc by Angus' Joyous Lake.

When the box was finished, Hetty and Angus travelled to British Columbia to settle down but they could not get working visas. Their journey continued throughout Asia and ended up in Kathmandu, Nepal, where Hetty gave birth to a son, Ossian. The boy was declared a Tulku, or reincarnated Lama, by Karmapa, the head of the Kargyupta sect; the first time a child of two westerners had been so elected.

In the Kathmandu Valley they met with a group of foreigners who were making Tibetan woodblock prints to sell to tourists. A poetry community was formed when Ira Cohen and Charles Henri Ford also settled down in the region.

Angus started the Spirit Catcher Bookshop with fellow poets John "Fungi" Chick and Roberto Valenza and brought out a literary magazine called Ting Pa. The shop became a meeting place for the poetry and music scene.

Ira Cohen published a series of books and broadsides, the Bardo Matrix Starstream Editions. The first edition, Gregory Corso's Way Out, a play/poem, was performed once at the Yak and Yeti Crystal Ballroom by Ira, Angus and writer Bill Barker. All the publications were printed on rice paper.

The paper, made from a bush called Daphne, was the main industry in the valley. The delicate material often contained plant forms, mica and the occasional insect.

Angus was always looking for new varieties; he once found a lovely paper in the village of Toshe and called it Speckled Toshe. He immediately wanted the exclusive distribution of the product; actually in the last year of his life he tried to establish a handmade paper business called Himalayan Paper, Incorporated.

Bardo Matrix published Angus' Subliminal Report. A woodblock profile made by Ira Cohen graced the cover, and included were 2 photo's printed in silver ink, one a Mylar portrait of Angus taken in New York.

Cloud Asylum was published at the same time by the Spirit Catchers' Dreamweapon imprint. It had an identical cover to the Subliminal book but was printed in red ink instead of black. His poetry was almost prose now, hermetic stories layered with mystical images.

Angus made occasional trips to the west, in 1976 for a poetry reading during the Millennium Poetry and Multimedia Performance (in New York). He travelled to Paris with Hetty, Ossian, Ira and Petra Vogt and accompanied Ira during his reading about the Kumbha Mela at the Tropeninstituut in Amsterdam. That same year saw him in London where he was editor for the Wide Awake Papers which were used as an insert for the International Times. It had some of his poetry, works by Lama Gendun Rimpoche and a history on the Kathmandu scene. In New York he played and recorded with Bill Breeze and Marc Slivka, but by that time his health was deteriorating due to excessive use of drugs for years.

He returned to Kathmandu and made one last trek through the Himalayas. It proved too much for him and he had to be carried back.

Angus MacLise died on the Summer Solstice, June 21, 1979 at the Shanta Bawan Hospital in Kathmandu. He was cremated to the traditions of the Tibetan Buddhists.

His life had been dedicated to Art. In his own words: "I followed a curve through poems, calligraphy, music and journey, humming with as many beings as possible."

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This article merely scratches the surface of his work. There is still so much unexplored. An enormous amount of taped music, unpublished poems and calligraphy. A wealth of material!

Until now the most interesting releases are on Quakebasket/Siltbreeze: the CD's áThe Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda (SB78) and Brain Damage in Oklahoma City (SB81).

Angus can also be heard on The Majoon Traveler, a CD by Ira Cohen (Sub Rosa SR62), Gerard Malanga's Up from the Archives (Sub Rosa SR170) and on a Jack Smith CD compiled by Tony Conrad Les Evening Gowns Damnees (Audio Artkive/Table of the Elements 46)

The Fierce single and the soundtrack for Chumlum can be found on a privately released album from 1998 just called Angus MacLise (Counter Culture Chronicles 1).

Probably still in print is the bookáRatio: 3, Media Shamans Vol. I published in 1991 by the Temple Press in England. Besides Angus it also features work by Ira Cohen and Gerard Malanga.

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Thank you Tim Barnes at Quakebasket for the support, thank you Gerard Malanga for the Angus MacLise Collection Checklist, and thank you Ira Cohen for your time and stories!

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(This article originally appeared in Green Groceries.)

 

 

"Angus and Hettie MacLise (pregnant with Ossian), NYC." Photo by Andy Warhol, courtesy of the Billy Name collection.

 

#13 August 2002 WEB OF ETERNITY edited by Cary Loren PAGE 8 of 13

End is Here I was a Jack Smith love slave Infinite Black Darkness, Infinite White Darkness Buried Alive Rock and Revolution, photos by Leni Sinclair Aesthetics of UFOs by Mike Kelley Wallace Berman Angus MacLise Father Yod  Ira Cohen Akira Ikufube Swampy Lagoon Index Ray Johnson