Thursday, March 24, 2011

Culture of Fire

In June of 1994 David Tudor was in Amsterdam preparing for a performance of “Oceans” with Merce Cunningham’s company at the Amsterdam Opera House. He had shipped all his equipment to STEIM and it was stored in the studio there. I just happened to be working in the studio they chose to bring all his equipment to. So once again I was meeting up with one of my great mentors having worked with him at Mills several times and then shared performance venues in Berlin and New York over the preceding years. I remember him lighting his cigarettes with a lighter that looked like a small Thompson machine gun. I was prowling around the Amsterdam guitar shops looking for pedals with him and Matt Wand of Stock Hausen and Walkman. On his hand and knees on the floor with a ZVex fuzz factory and an Ibanez delay hooked up in a direct feedback loop into a Marshall cranked up to 11 … Beautiful. The guitar salesman in their leather pants and Motley Crew tee shirts had been casting eye rolled side glances to one another until David turned it on then … what I will call “the Culture of Fire”. They exchanged startled looks back and forth and were wondering how to get this old guy to stop this tremendous wall of noise that filling the music shop and ringing everyone’s ears. All acoustic instruments were resonating right along with these flames of sound … David had given me an introduction to Forest Warthman and Mark Holler who had helped him build the instrument of his last double CD album on Lovely called the Neural Net Synthesizer. It was made for three ETANN (electronically trainable analog neural net) chips. The instrument was stored on a desk at Forest’s technical writing firm in Palo Alto and with a note for Maestro Tudor, I was given the opportunity to spend and an afternoon “playing” the instrument. I put quotes around playing because there was no real way to play this other than to turn knobs and furiously jack and rejack the little mini plugs in and out the 128 various outputs looking for a sustained signal. I kept the DAT rolling and eventually got some 2 hours of material.