“I want to climb out of Forsyth Street.”
“We don’t have to live down there. We can move up to the Bronx.”
—James Cagney (City for Conquest)
“He gets five thousand dollars a month from his parents. That’s more than most people make in a month.”
—One young woman to another outside the Whitney Museum
“Voice comes from text not the writer. There should be a different voice every time.”
We’ve had The Secret Garden. Grey Gardens. The Garden of Earthly Delights. The King of Marvin Gardens. Green Mansions, Home and Garden, and now: The Creeping Garden. So what exactly is slime mold? Well, it’s been decided that it’s not a fungus, but, rather than me giving away too much information, see the aforementioned The Creeping Garden, which played recently at the Film Forum. Aside from a brilliant soundtrack by Jim O’Rourke that literally underscores the action of these creepy, creeping, not-too-distant relatives of the “Blob” (at times O’Rourke’s music and that sound made by the mold itself mingle indistinguishably), there are scenes in which slime mold not only is placed on the strings—producing vibrations (as in prepared piano) and making chords and discord—but also charts courses (translates maps) and eats Wheaties. It has an intelligence far greater than the average ‘shroom, with unlimited growth potential and pulsating (bio)-rhythms (or was that O’Rourke?).
I’m back from two months out of New York and before I get into some of what I experienced musically in Europe, here’s a bit of what I heard just before leaving:
I caught two horrible shows in New York fronted by “art rock” singers who couldn’t sing. One talk-sang in a monotone voice. The other delved into endless screams and vocal spasms. Both destroyed standards like “Over the Rainbow,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” “My Favorite Things,” and “Them There Eyes,” interspersing these with insipid rock songs. Both had huge audiences and shall remain anonymous. My only question is: why bother? The answer: I got in free.
Some of the music that brightened my departure was Liberty Ellman’s group at Cornelia Street Café, which consisted of Steve Lehman, John Finlayson, Damion Reid, and Stephan Crump. The music was swift, with minor intervallic twists throughout. The compositions were Ellman’s, and included a piece that might have been written by Ellman’s longtime boss Henry Threadgill. It was played impeccably—with passion and joy—to a full house. His new CD, Radiate, is on the Pi Recordings label, as is the new Jen Shyu CD, whose show I caught at the Rubin Museum before leaving town. That included Mat Maneri, drummer Dan Weiss, and a dancer, and had Jen singing, playing many eastern instruments—including a piece of bamboo—and telling, in multiple languages, stories from the Far East.
I heard two beautiful and soulful Loren Connors solo gigs: one in front of a Rothko painting at the new Whitney that I wrote a poem for, and one at an ISSUE Project Room event. I also heard an interesting Kosugi show at the Whitney as well. Arts for Art presented their yearly “InGardens” series with such artists as Daniel Carter, Steve Swell (who just finished a week at the Stone that I was gratefully part of), Mike Bisio, Michael Foster, Shayna Dulberger, Todd Nicholson, and Andrew Lamb. I caught five completely different Evan Parker sets in as many venues in a week.
I was saddened to know that I’d miss Barre Phillips, Jacques Demierre, and Urs Leimgruber, who were supposed to arrive right after I left for France, but at the last minute I discovered through a writer friend in Paris, Gary May, that they were playing there the day after I arrived, on a double bill with Peter Brötzmann and Steve Noble. Sadly, Barre is very sick and did not attend, though a film of him was shown. I also saw Michel Doneda and Didier Lasserre in a brilliant duo (Doneda will play on December 21 with Tatsuya Nakatani at Andrew Drury’s “Soup & Sound” series).
Though I missed most of the tributes and concerts in New York for the AACM fiftieth anniversary I was lucky to catch some of the main founders in concert in Paris: Henry Threadgill with Double Up (he’ll play Roulette on December 14 – 15), Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet (he’ll be at Roulette December 10), and the Roscoe Mitchell/Mike Reed duo. I saw this humongous collage piece by a new name to me, Olga Neuwirth, Le Encatadas o le avventure nel mare delle meraviglie, which was as long and unnecessarily complex and pastiched as the title.
Due to bad timing and previous obligations, I missed Charlemagne Palestine. He was in Paris while I was in Berlin. I also missed Lydia Lunch due to misjudgment, Marianne Faithfull due to concert conflicts, and Patti Smith (too expensive and sold out months in advance). I also visited the new Louis Vuitton Foundation in the heart of Bois de Boulogne, another Frank Gehry monstrosity, where they had a terribly fabricated exhibit titled Pop et Musique comprised mostly of videos. The best thing about it were two Basquiat paintings, some work by Christian Marclay, and above all a view of the Eiffel Tower, then a glorious sunset followed by an amazing full moon on one of the rare good weather days. I’m sure Gehry was responsible for the planning of the last three. Overall, except for continued domestic disputes and bad weather in spots, the time spent over in France and Germany was well worth it. Even some of my gigs turned out okay.
Among the other stuff I missed in New York, and again in Paris, was a Malcolm Goldstein solo show. And on November 17, while I was having a party for my latest book, I missed drummer Andrew Barker and cellist Thomas Kpade in Paris, and a Cecil Taylor solo concert, and a concert of French and Chicago musicians organized by the Bridge (an organization I mentioned in November’s “Outtakes”), with Steve Swell as their guest and Benjamin Duboc—an extraordinary French bassist with whom I have done many gigs. It was the first time the Bridge came to New York. Yes, you read it right. All on the same day. So much for modern technology and simulcasts. Of course there were countless other gigs I won’t even go into.
What impressed me most while away was seeing/hearing three different sax/drums duos over as many weeks, and how each differed in their qualities and approaches. First there was Brötzmann/Noble, two artists complementing while sparring with each other, and using harsh, melodic, spontaneously composed improvisation as their tool. Approaching the music in a traditional yet totally free manner in a case of sound into music/breath into notes.
Second, Doneda/Lasserre, totally in sync in a stone room with perfect acoustics—one of the strangest venues I’ve ever been in, owned by an eccentric Chinese artist, where the drumming was an instrument of sonic dimensions. It was like pouring the ingredients into a mixer until a perfect blend was reached, leaving us in a state of arm-scratching, head-thumping, and belly-whistling, wondering, “Is this still true? Is it possible that creating sound can still be so sublime?” A state in which one can honestly say there is really no need to articulate this event in words, in which action truly does speak volumes, music into sound/notes into breath, where the two languages don’t just complement each other but become one.
The third, Mitchell/Reed, was the most problematic due to different languages not really meeting, except a bit towards the end of the set. It was, however, made into a masterpiece by Mitchell’s almost supernaturally superior mastery of his instrument through breath, dynamics, layering (à la speaking in tongues), and mixing every octave—another complete case of egoless-ness, where musician and instrument are one. Reed, whose language was way more conventional, did his best to listen, support, and keep pace, but Mitchell was flying solo in completely unknown territory, deeply immersed in his own creativity. Sound/music/sound/breath, notes colliding or clashing, not truly boosting or complementing each other, except in rare moments.
Getting back to slime mold. Since it cannot be completely subdued and much of what happens is by chance, two questions that must be asked without giving away too much of the “plot” are: Can we use music to harness behavior? Has slime mold replaced John Cage? Go see the film, then decide for yourself.
Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was a long time contributor to the Rail. His book The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse - 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His latest CDs are The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Roguart, 2014), and the book/CD Pretty in the Morning with the French art rock group the Snobs (Bisou Records, 2019). He was a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His most recent books include Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bissonte Prods, 2017) and where night and day become onethe french poems (great weather for MEDIA, 2018) which received a 2019 IBPA award in poetry.