Newer, Weirder America:
P. G. Six’s Slightly Sorry
While the media are busy hyping the latest addition to the freak folk movement, P. G. Six continues to churn out carefully wacky quasi-folk-infused musical experimentations that are not so easily classified. Slightly Sorry is the one-man band’s fourth studio album and the first to be released on Drag City.
When Pat Gubler, the man behind P. G. Six, sat down with me in an East Village café, he explained that he did find the whole freak folk phenomenon a little weird.
“I think it really is a media thing in some way,” he said. He mentioned that acts like the Incredible String Band had been doing that sort of thing since the 1960s. “If they were playing in today’s climate it would be different for them, I think.” Not that he’s negative about the current championing of the movement, which has brought musicians he’s long admired into the limelight—performers like Bert Jansch and Vashti Bunyan—which he thinks is great.
“A friend of mine saw Bert Jansch in a pub in Ireland a few years ago and there was barely anyone there, and now he’s playing concert halls,” said Gubler.
Gubler himself has been playing music that fits somewhat within this label, as a founding member of Tower Recordings, a loosely hewn collective of musicians that recorded three albums in the 1990s. Other members included Marc Wolf, Bob Bannister, Helen Rush, and Matt Valentine. Like Gubler, they have all since recorded as solo musicians or as members of other bands. For example Matt Valentine is the MM of MM and EE, whose album Green Blues seems to be on everyone’s radar right now.
In 2001, Gubler went solo and released Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites on Amish Records. With help from Tim Barnes on percussion, the album was recorded mostly on a four-track, and with it Gubler invented his signature sound mixture, which blends traditional folk with psychedelic sounds and uses all sorts of “wacky instruments,” a phrase that he used frequently during our conversation. “Probably around the time I started playing music my brother brought home a kit to make a harpsichord,” Gubler said, by way of explaining where his fascination with obscure instruments began. At the same time he was regularly checking out reference books on early music instruments from the library.
At first Gubler improvised on the piano, but he began taking lessons at age thirteen, when he learned the standard Bach/Beethoven/Debussy repertoire. He went on to study music at SUNY Purchase, but knew he wasn’t meant to be an academic or classical performer. His fascination was always with experimentation and improvisation.
In Slightly Sorry, Gubler expands his sparse, delicate, and smart repertoire because the album, in a sense, features a real group, one which he said grew out of necessity. (When Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo called him up to book them for one of the fabled Hanukkah shows at Maxwell’s, Kaplan asked Gubler if he could bring a full band.)
“Doing this record was cool because I sort of ended up with this band,” he said. That band consists of Bob Bannister on guitar and bass, Steve Connolly on bass, Robert Dennis on drums and percussion, and vocals from Debby Schwartz, Helen Rush, Sue Garner, and Megan Reilly—musicians from a variety of backgrounds. Garner’s Mule Yard Studios in Greenpoint was where most of the album was recorded.
Just after Gubler generously offered me one of his falafel pieces, which I traded for some babaghanoush from my plate, I asked him how he went from Amish to Drag City. “One day I got an email from Dan Koretzky. And it was weird because it looked like junk mail,” he said. “It just said ‘Dan K.’ and the subject line was ‘yo yo yo.’” Gubler had met Koretzky after playing a few shows with the High Llamas. Tim Barnes, who produced P. G. Six’s first album, has also worked with many Drag City artists, including the Silver Jews.
Slightly Sorry does seem to fit seamlessly into Drag City’s catalogue, which includes Bill Callahan (formerly Smog), Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and David Grubbs, all solo musical acts that pair delicately structured traditional folk with lo-fi, rough-edged distortion.
When I asked him how he composed albums, Gubler said that he thought in terms of LPs.
“I think about how a side begins and how a side ends and sometimes that doesn’t translate so well in the CD format,” he said. When I went home and listened to Slightly Sorry with this in mind, what he said held true. The first side ends with “The End of Winter,” a slow lingering guitar ballad. The second side bursts in with “I’ve Been Traveling,” which has a country-rock sensibility à la the Byrds.
These two songs exemplify Slightly Sorry, which is at times intricately sparse, at times triumphantly jangly, but always intelligent, sincere, and weird.
KATY HENRIKSEN posts regularly at helloloretta.tumblr.com and twitter.com/helloloretta.
Raqs Media Collective: HUNGRY FOR TIMEBy Klaus Speidel
DEC 21-JAN 22 | ArtSeen
While some visitors deemed the exhibition refreshing or exciting, a majority also voiced anger, disappointment, and incomprehension in the visitors book of the Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste, the paintings gallery of Viennas art academy, in the face of Hungry for Time, an exhibition curated by Raqs Media Collective from New Delhi.
On HatsBy Wallace Whitney
MARCH 2023 | Critics Page
For over twenty years, Canada has been artist led, as Sarah Braman and I still maintain studio practices in addition to the daily work of running the gallery. The most common question we get is how do you find time for the studio, the gallery, and family life? Honestly, the people that I know who are most successful do only one thing all the time. It is a personality type, different but as distinct as the trickster figure; but my alter ego isnt Hermes. Maybe its a draft horse. I get a lot out of being part of a gallery, especially when the place is full and something exciting is happening. There are bumps and bruises as well, the price you pay to wear multiple hats. I suggest making sure one is a crash helmet.
Glitching Time and Time-Based MediaBy Charlotte Kent
OCT 2022 | Art and Technology
Time is a socio-technological system with profound organizing qualities that feels, these days, exceedingly oppressive. Theres never enough time! For anything. Calendars are the earliest containing device with the purpose of determining a social order; the history of the Roman calendar reveals the role of international and national politics that play out across each new temporal infrastructure. Our temporal orders have been designed through the global proclamation of Greenwich Mean Time in 1884 by colonial empires, the apocalyptic anxiety provocations of the doomsday clock established in 1947, the insistent instant-ness of digital time since the 1970s exacerbated by strings of video chat meetings of the last couple years, and the frenetic branding of our social/professional lives demanded by transnational corporate technologys mediation of everyone and everything, all the time. Its a mess.
Past and Present for a Creative FutureBy Charlotte Kent
MARCH 2023 | Art and Technology
Two museum shows opened in February about art and technology that, combined, span the last seventy years and present some of the different discourses surrounding the convergence of these two fields. Ill Be Your Mirror: Art and the Digital Screen, curated by Alison Hearst at The Modern Museum of Fort Worth presents nearly every contemporary medium from paintings and installations to games and face filters in an expansive exhibition of fifty artists across twelve sections touching on some of the major psycho-social outcomes of our mediated landscape. Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age 1952-1982, curated by Leslie Jones at LACMA includes prints, video, textiles and sculptural objects that admirably present a historical trajectory of artists experimentations with the possibilities of computational devices across those early years, when design limitations foregrounded composition and structure. Those constraints also contributed, occasionally, to a kind of didacticism, for which the field remains frequently derided.