Avant-Garde Music Etc.
it's bitterly cold right now, well below freezing. I am wrapped up in blankets, still feeling the chill, trying to stay warm. I've been listening to music by Morton Subotnick, Pauline Oliveros, and others. I've been editing sounds and music tracks on my laptop as I sit curled up on the couch in layers of blankets.
I am rambling through my memories of the avant-garde musical soundscape. This is a random walk, with no purpose, and far from complete.
This was all brought back to me by recent readings in the history of mid-20th-C. music, and some related topics. And from memories that have been surfacing, of the time I first lived in Madison, WI.
I've been involved in community radio since 1980, when I first got my FCC license. I've had my own Road Journal podcast since 2004, which I tend to view as akin to radio programming. Granted, the podcast veers all over the map, there's a lot of musical and sound experiments on it, as well as readings from my Road Journal; still, it had a pretty substantial listenership when it was mostly spoken word, those first two or three early years. My late-night radio show on WORT-FM in Madison, WI, which I had for 7 years, featured the most difficult avant-garde and challenging music available on record, and had a Nielsen rating of 11 percent of the total local market. I also regularly broadcast live improvised music, made in the production studio, and live mixes of pre-recorded sources.
I broadcast a lot of quality literary and radio drama recordings on my show, ranging from Samuel Beckett plays for radio to John Cage's ROARATORIO and William S. Burroughs reading Naked Lunch on CD, and these always received a lot of positive calls from the listeners. (The only time I ever got in trouble was when a housewife complained about my playing Allen Ginsberg's reading of Howl on the air; I mixed it with live music, namely my Stick set up in the in production studio, leaning against the speaker, and "howling" with continuous feedback; I used that as the background to Ginsberg reading several other poems along with Howl. I gathered later that the complaint was because the housewife was surprised, although I was in truth broadcasting during the FCC "safe harbor" night hours. Nothing ever came of the incident.) And my show always exceeded its goal during pledge drives. I also regularly played syndicated radio spoken-word programs like Ken Nordine's Word Jazz (which now has its own podcast) and the series New American Radio, which included a fair bit of avant-garde radio drama (and which I see one can now listen to again online).
Today I am also thinking of a performance I saw in Madison of the full-length dance piece choreographed by Bill T. Jones, Still/Here. The dancers in the ensemble for this piece were mostly ordinary folks, not professional dancers. There were lots of "non-dancer" bodies onstage. One of the dancers onstage had a body type like me own: tall and blocky and large around the middle; he moved with grace and power, often serving as the fulcrum or center around which other dancers moved. I found this dance concert incredibly empowering, something I will never forget. I had been studying for some time by then modern dance, with Ellen Moore, contact improvisation, and the martial arts Tai Chi Chuan and Ki Aikido.
It was a fertile time in Madison for me: also a time of much self-exploration. I met lots of established thinkers and avant-garde artists, people who had moved and shaken the creative world. I was involved in the local music scene as a musician, a photographer, and a writer of concert, music, album, and dance reviews. I was a music journalist, who also played music. I got to see a lot of amazing concerts; and I got to participate in some, too.
To be continued.