ISSUE #5        FEBRUARY, 2001
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CALE/CONRAD/MACLISE/YOUNG/ZAZEELA: Inside the Dream Syndicate, Volume One: Day of Niagara (1965) CD (TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS)
After a truly ridiculous amount of controversy and delay, Table of the Elements has issued a recording from 1965 of the Dream Syndicate, i.e. The Theater of Eternal Music, i.e. (in alphabetical order) John Cale, Tony Conrad, Angus Maclise, LaMonte Young, and Marian Zazeela. We all know the story: these five would get together in a loft space, sit on rugs, take drugs, and get deep into a zone in which they would play heavy drone music for hours at a time. Cale and Maclise went on to join the greatest American rock band of all time, the Velvet Underground. In the meantime Young and his soulmate Zazeela have developed their career as ur-minimalists, he with drone music and she with haunting calligraphy and sculptural installations, their collaborative masterpiece being the long-running Dream House in NYC. In the meantime, Conrad, unable to come to an agreement with the stubborn Young about the democratic nature of what they created together, has released powerful recordings of his own heavily massed violin-driven take on Eternal Music.
        They still haven't come to an agreement, so this long-awaited release does not mark the occasion of Young finally relenting his iron grip on the fabled tapes. Instead, it is a bootleg, presumably supplied by someone else who happened to be present, and had a tape recorder, which was probably running surreptitiously. And whoever this person was, he must have been sitting right next to Cale and Conrad's viola amplifiers, and nowhere near Young, Zazeela, and Maclise, for those three are audible on this recording for a grand total of about ten seconds. When Maclise is audible, it sounds more like someone tip-toeing past the tape recorder or, at best, tapping on an empty margarine container with his left pinky. After hearing the earthquake/rainstorm/super-circular hand-drumming on last year's mind-boggling archival Maclise release Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda (Siltbreeze/Quakebasket), this is a real tragedy. The drone-singing by Young and Zazeela is a little more audible, but only from time to time; for the most part this sounds like a viola duet. As such, it's still good to finally hear it. I'm most surprised by how downright loud and vicious this music is, with Cale and Conrad stacking two very mean sawing drones on top of each other. I've listened to my share of Handful of Dust and the like, but this music is much more intimidating. Despite my initial disappointment, I've played it several times, each time approaching it with the same feeling of detouring around a block to see that bloody car-wreck again.
         I think this terrifying power would still have come through in a more even-tempered, ethereal mix, and would benefit from a more audible presence from Maclise, Young, and Zazeela. On his webpage, LaMonte Young claims that he has just that kind of recording of this very same session, and that it is much superior to this bootleg version. (For his complete statement, go to And when it comes to things like this, I'll be damned if I don't agree with him. He even sounds like he's willing to work with people to get his 'superior' tapes properly released. His only demand? That he is credited as sole composer. While this exhibits an ego that I find extremely offputting if not outright unfathomable, at this point I really don't give a shit. I think we all know that this music was a group effort, improvised according to democractically agreed upon standards, so does it really matter if the credit on the album says "LaMonte Young"? Let the baby have his way, and let's get on with giving this music it's proper due. This Table of the Elements release is fascinating, but in a way that's far from satisfying.

     These are two cd-r's produced by the Charalambides to take on their recent tour of the American West Coast/Southwest. I think they're limited to something like 100 apiece, but somehow when they returned they still had a few copies, which are now being sold exclusively by Ed Hardy at Chances are they'll be gone by the time you read this, but send Ed an e-mail and ask him anyway. 'Cause this music is pretty fantastic.
        On their most recent recording that I've heard, Houston, Tom and Christina Carter seemed to be long past the 'song' and on the cusp of (if not levitating directly above) the freefolk/freenoise abyss. There were still song-'forms', but they seemed pretty much improvised and not necessarily repeatable. There were still vocals from Christina, but they were entirely wordless and also seemed very improvised. In my opinion, Houston took the duo about as far as they needed/could go into the 'free' thing - I wanted to hear them go back into songs, because I always liked the way they folded 'noise/improv' into/out of their fragile, dreamy songs. I love fuck-it-all off-the-deep-end freenoise as much as the next guy, but who wants such a hauntingly incredible songs band like the Charalambides to become just another free/noise band? We've already lost the Dead C, not these guys too…please? pretty please?
        Well, no such luck. The first of these two discs, Sticks, is as gone as the Charalambides have ever gotten. Christina is still singing, wordlessly and beautifully, but the music is pure free-form abyss-diving. And you know what? It's still incredible. In fact, I take it back, if they're gonna play free/noise this good, they don't have to do songs anymore at all. They've earned their right to go songless. Both are playing electric guitar, and it sounds like prepared electric guitar, as if Donald Miller and Keith Rowe or someone imported from Pelt's Burning/Filaments/Rockets album were recording duets together. Except it's probably better than that, because the sense of dream/mystery/atmosphere that always pervades the Charalambides music, no matter what 'style' they're working on at the moment, is still here in full effect. The best comparison for me is quite simply the Sea Ensemble's We Move Together album, if it were driven by electric guitars instead of 'traditional' jazz instrumentation. There's 70 minutes of music here, split over 4 tracks, and they all sound great individually or as one long endless/nameless piece. The fourth 22-minute track is a real killer, opening with some of the greatest female space-phoneming since the Red Shift CD by White Out. As the track unwinds and progresses and spreads all the way way way OUT, Tom starts hitting these random high guitar notes that are in the exact same register as Christina's vocal free-falling. Every time he hits one I think for a glorious nanosecond that it's Christina's vocals. It's just the kind of thing that really earns that already-cliched free-music-crit phrase "beautifully disorienting."
        The second disc (it's got two bird silhouettes on the cover instead of one) Home sounds to me more like what descriptions of their album Internal/Eternal sound like, but I can't say for sure because I've so far missed out on that disc. Home features the Carters in a less severely out mode, playing acoustic guitar/clean electric folk-filigree trance patterns. Having listened to Sticks first, I initially found this one not as stunning, more reserved and nice. But it's the one I keep coming back to. Nowadays, putting this one on almost instantly turns my apartment into some kind of meditation temple, especially the 4th track, a 23-minute piece called "Zodiac Speaking." I had it on one morning not too long ago, and found myself freezing to attention, laying on the floor, lost in the calm logic of the guitar playing. The whole room I was in seemed to freeze into place as well, as if the clock on the wall and time itself had stopped completely, and only the lovely music on the cdr was still continuing. After about ten magical minutes of this, my wife came home, carrying a bunch of stuff, yelling at the cats, wondering when I was gonna do those errands I said I was gonna do, etc., and how I wished I could just go back into my room and put Home back on and forget about everything. It's dangerous that way…not good listening if you have work to do, but if you've got a couple hours and just wanna melt into your sofa, light a couple candles and put Home on repeat. My only warning is that the withdrawal symptoms when you finally have to do something else may be severe.



next page: something for the Melt-Banana fans out there...          
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