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In the deep subcellar of the human heart the dolorous twang of the iron harp rings out.
Build your cities proud and high. Lay your sewers. Span your rivers. Work feverishly. Sleep dreamlessly. Sing madly like the bulbul. Underneath, below the deepest foundations, there lives another race of men. They are dark, somber, passionate. They muscle into the bowels of the earth. They wait with a patience which is terrifying. They are the scavengers, the devourers, the avengers. They emerge when everything topples into dust.
- Henry Miller
The program liner notes for the Al'arme Festival Vol. VI titled this event : LAURIE ANDERSON & BILL LASWELL'S METHOD OF DEFIANCE: COLLISION & SHORT CIRCUITS. This event landed on the first of August at the Radial System V in Berlin.
The method of this defiance consists of Guy Licata on drums, Doctor Israel on beats, dub effects, M.C. and vocals, D.J. Logic on turntables, loops and samples, Graham Haynes on coronet and efx, Bill Laswell on bass guitar and efx, and Laurie Anderson on electric violin, synth efx, and vocals; tech support and organization provided by James Dellatacoma, Yoko Yamabe and myself.
Bill and Laurie go back a long way. He produced some tracks for her Mr. Heartbreak album in 1984 featuring William S. Burroughs. It was Anderson that initially introduced Laswell to Burroughs. Five years later Laswell would create the soundscape for one of Burroughs' most significant spoken word recordings, Seven Souls. Burroughs read text Laswell had selected from his recent book The Western Lands, his uniquely vibrant and colorful rendering of The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Seven Souls is an extremely evocative guided trip through the bardo, the land of the dead. It rates as a classic in the field of after-life technology.
Laurie Anderson has been on my radar a long time as well, listening to her albums since the mid 80's, seeing her exhibits at MOMA in New York and catching a performance at the Beacon Theater. I was fortunate to assist on one session for her Strange Angels album in the late '80s. Strange Angels is a great title, there are other things called that, but the one that interests me the most and somehow seems obliquely connected to this concert is Strange Angel in the singular, the biography of Jack Parsons. Parsons was one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Labratory. He discovered the formula for the first effective liquid jet and rocket fuel which made jet planes possible. He was also a major Science Fiction fan as well as a devout and very enthusiastic student of Aleister Crowley. Crowley's magick, of course, has a firm foundation in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Hopefully Parsons was able to quickly up his after-life technology points because he tragically died at age 37 when he accidentally blew himself up.
The opening artist for Method of Defiance was a Norwegian avant garde angel, Maja S.K. Ratkje who created a very powerful and densely layered sonic environment with only her voice and electronics. It definitely created a whole other world that, for me, recalled a quote from Dante's Inferno I had recently seen in Crowley's Konx Om Pax. It occurs in the 6th Canto when Virgil and Dante enter the 3rd Circle of Hell:
“ ____________Look to your science
Where it is written: the more a thing is perfect
The more it feels of pleasure and of pain."
I enjoyed what I heard very much.
The Method of Defiance set was framed by two stories Anderson told, the first as an introduction and the second near the end. Her first story incorporated one of the most ingenious uses of crowd participation I've ever witnessed. In the event that she does it again, I won't write a spoiler and say exactly what it was, only that it effectively evoked the feeling of frustration nearly anyone of sane mind experiences when tuning into the Trump political reality TV show. It created a powerful cathartic sensation that segued into an equally powerful music blast from the M.O.D. emergency broadcast system here at the Al'arme Festival. Anderson's second story was about the stars. From Trumpian angst to the stars suggests to me that the music, while it went in many directions from ambient soundscaping and melodic delicacy to furious drum & bass, hip hop beats and turntable scratching with rap dissent and poetics, overall it became a transformative voyage through a figurative and temporary death of ordinary identity. A realm of the dead, a realm which is another kind of very affective life. This is the realm where real change can occur.
There were two sets to different audiences and they were unlike any other Method of Defiance or Material concert that I've mixed. Laurie Anderson brought a unique sensibility that blended seamlessly with the drum & bass, dub & ambience, revolution rap of M.O.D. and guided it into uncharted territory. I saw Graham after the second show and he was shaking his head with a big smile saying something like, "... she takes you to places you never expect to go." It was clearly an exceptional new musical adventure for him. Bill also played differently, mixing in lots of melodic phrases and ambient environments with the heavy dub lines and the intense crescendos.
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