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||| john cale: new york in the 1960s |||
Sun Blindness Music album cover Stainless Gamelan album cover Dream Interpretation album cover
Vol. 1 - Sun Blindness Music
Vol. 2 - Dream Interpretation
Vol. 3 - Stainless Gamelan

[Table Of The Elements]

John Cale is best known for his time with seminal New York proto-punks The Velvet Underground. His over-amplified viola added urgency and extreme noise to some of their finest freakouts, like Heroin and the 20 minute Sister Ray on 'White Light White Heat'. Cale is often at his minimalist best on these pieces, scribbling intense, high keening drones that cut through the din of the Velvets at their noisy, uncompromising finest.

At the same time, he was conducting minimalist experiments with a loose collective of musicians variously known as The Dream Syndicate or The Theater Of Eternal Music. This much has been known for years. Participants included sometime Velvets drummer Angus MacLise, Tony Conrad, LaMonte Young, Marion Zazeela and other floating members. However, the music they created has become shrouded in mystery because it has largely remained unheard. LaMonte Young has held onto the tapes, claimed ownership and refused to release them. This was the situation until recently.

These three John Cale releases are from a batch of tapes recorded between 1965 and 1969. The music is a revelation. Its far removed from the school of thought that characterises minimalism as well-mannered, lengthy extrapolations on a theme. This early minimalism is tortuously loud, gratuitously experimental. The themes are those of ecstasy and intoxicated indulgence on the edge of madness.

Volume 1 presents Cale solo, setting the listener up for an abrasive hour of over-driven drones with 42 minutes of punishing 'Sun Blindness Music', played on Vox Continental organ. The intensity overwhelms, it's painful to listen to, but hell its exciting. There's a palpable air of frenzy. In the aftermath of the Velvets, John Cale has always appeared such a calm and quiet guy. These early solo pieces indicate the calm, but layer sheets of static over the silence, suggesting that when the void opens up it's a very noisy place indeed.

This intensity, this fierceness of delivery, continues through collaborations with Tony Conrad and Angus MacLise on volume 2; and with Conrad and Sterling Morrison on volume 3. Only 'Terry's Cha Cha' [volume 3, with MacLise and Terry Jennings], a lilting piece for Wollensack tape recorder, hand drums, tambourine and soprano saxophone, allows some respite from singular intensity.

Duets with Tony Conrad form raw chunks of sonic assault. 'After The Locust' [volume 3], with Cale on electric piano tearing through Conrad's "thunder machine" Vox-amp reverb unit, is savage. David Fricke's excellent sleeve notes describe Conrad and Cale's early collaborations as "raw prayer". You get the feeling that they are clawing their way to shamanic insight with visionary musical experiences, opening up vistas over dangerous Lovecraftian dreamscapes.

There are two duets with Sterling Morrison on volume 3. 'Stainless Steel Gamelan' is an uplifting and beautiful piece for fretless guitar, Morrison playing above the bridge and Cale below. It sounds like church bells, a call to prayer, or at least a call to action. Their second duet is a wholly different drone; harsh, ugly, blurted out and scraped, before opening out into wild electronic mania and bowed melancholia. Its beginning recalls some of the fine extended bass playing of Henry Grimes or Gary Peacock that was opening up new spaces in free jazz during the 60s. Its wilfully weird continuation sounds like elasticated shortwave irruptions accompanied by a busted cortina.

These aural documents have been a long time in coming. They could have exploded the myth, been revealed as merely interesting tinkerings. Instead they are an awesome, concrete substantiation of all the excitement their long non-appearance has generated. They completely re-write the territory of minimalism, fragment its formalist and carefully considered perception with wilful abandon and supercharged exhilaration. They also firmly situate the Velvet Underground in the sonic avant garde of 60s New York, alongside the Warholian visual milieu and downtown rock scene they are already associated with. Hopefully Table Of The Elements or somebody will get more of this out in the public domain. Now we've got a taster we definitely would like more please.

No-Neck Blues Band

 Hong Chulki, Choi Joonyong and Jung Eunju at RELAY 04, 2005

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