Putting the sex in sextet…

There’s been a minor stir within the improv ranks, a small disturbance of the collective tempers in those old dudes in threadbare sweaters, sporting Whitman-esque beards. I’ve always considered myself an interloper in that scene. I studied in London when I was 21. I went out a lot alone to the Vortex, the Red Rose, and the Bohman Brother’s loft to watch free jazz or free improv or European Free improv what ever you want to call it. I was usually the youngest person there. I did have a beard though, scraggly, but it was a beard. I looked a lot like a bum actually, with a black IRA-style jacket, at least that’s what an Irishman told me. I was battling twin passions music-wise — crust punk and experimental noise — but one of the main reasons I decided to study in London was because Evan Parker and Derek Bailey played there (although at that point not together anymore). . . It sounds pretty ridiculous now when I think about it now. I think the only time I was ever among dudes slightly my age or my inclination of stink was at the Bohman Brother’s loft, which held noise and improv shows. It was fucking fantastic. One of the first shows I went to within this area of music was there and one of the Bohmans immediately asked me where I was from (I don’t think they got many young Americans stopping in for a show) and I mentioned Wisconsin. He immediately asked me if listened to Killdozer. I think I saw Mick Beck, John Edwards and Mark Sanders for the first time. I was in love with how John Edwards played the double-bass. He would kick the back of the beast when he was playing, as though he was trying to throttle and beat the sound out of the instrument. Sanders played with deft creativity, a ringing bell there, a wood block shot here. It was an odd disjointed sound, as though gamelan played by lizards and birds. And I learned later it was the quintessential european free improv sound — selfless, egalitarian, a mass of intricate sound where no voice overshadowed the other. I loved it. It wasn’t like anything I had ever really heard before. Certainly not live. It lacked, in my mind, the edifice and bullshit of popular rock and roll, the endless braying masturbation of the indie rock put-on. It was punk in a way, as it was completely visceral and massive, although it lacked the kind of monumental volume punk relied on.

So what’s the beef within the kvlt free improv horde? What are the people pissed about (which apparently includes Steve Beresford)? Well, apparently it's a review by David Keenan, right here:

“By Leaving the Body behind…”

I like a lot of what Another Timbre releases. The Annette Krebs/Rhodri Davies album I “reviewed” previously is on Another Timbre. So that said, I probably am inclined to dislike this review. Although, it’s pretty damn entertaining. Often I think that’s one thing that’s missing from music reviews, the entertainment, the soul, the axe to grind. A good critic can make that Orange 9mm or Winger record worth reading about (if not worth ever hearing). And Keenan certainly entertains. His main argument that the guitar is phallocentric and that free improv is some kind of sexual desert, an anemic cockless/cuntless spread of futile scrabbling in the dark is an interesting one. Anybody who’s ever investigated the area of music knows that this isn’t immediately true or at least isn’t close to provable. Although, I remember as I sat alone at those shows in London, even one where I saw John Russell play with Evan Parker, that sex isn’t what immediately sprung to mind. The thing is that it isn’t something I really expect music to be a medium for. Sensual and sexual are different things– not mutually exclusive, obviously, but different. Punk, metal and noise has never equated to much on the sexuality front for me, either (although put on Curtis Mayfield or the Tindersticks and things may change). Maybe because at punk or metal or noise shows I went to I was usually surrounded by a bunch of dudes who were more interested in making love to their records than to their girl friends. Certainly punk is ripe for lampooning, Limpwrist, Panzy Division and others have shown that there’s a certain amount of homoerotic thrust in hardcore. But I don’t necessarily hear it. I don’t hear it in DNA or the Blue Humans or Albert Ayler really either (unless you take the most infantile view of it and equate momentum and bludgeoning force with intercourse). The thing is, as William Burroughs has pointed out, if you’re looking for something intangible hard enough you’ll eventually find it in everywhere. There’s no argument that music can be sexual. But the lack of sex or sexiness isn’t a bad or a good thing within art. And contrary to Keenan’s theory, it doesn’t make a thing more human either. Add a cock to a guitar and all it is is a fucking penis with strings. It’s a non-issue, a straw man argument built upon a heap of conjecture about what a certain kind of music means or doesn’t mean. But what the hell do I have invested in this? Not much. It’s a good article, if, well, a little obsessed:

Ultimately it’s a lot harder to criticize a piece of music about it’s merits as music. And that’s probably where Keenan might have something to say in these reviews. Although it still rings of a hatchet job on an area of music he either doesn’t get or doesn’t like or both to begin with. To attach some pale, insipid polemic on the values of a musical genre onto the review of a bunch of albums that undoubtedly took a lot of time, effort and thought to create is pretty sad really. But shit, it got me writing (that and a couple of glasses of Eagle Rare bourbon) at 1:30 am. Anyway, I still ordered the Toshimaru Nakamura/Volden collaboration… looking forward to it. And if you want to hear more of the minor controversy, check out Ihatemusic for more tempest in a teacup rumblings.


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