Day 273: WUUW-FM Public Radio Presents – Experimental Music In The Afternoon

originally published September 29, 2012

Good afternoon. You’re listening to WUUW, public access radio. I’m your Saturday afternoon substitute host, Yemini Apollodopolis, and this is “Saturday Clanking”. Normally on my show, which you can hear Tuesdays and Saturday nights between midnight and three I tickle your eardrums with the greats of classic jazz: the Monks, the Blakeys, the Ellingtons, the ‘Tranes. Today we’re going to be following the playlist of my associate, Nicky Sheetz, as we explore the flora-laden path of experimental music.

I have been told that this is music that makes you think. You won’t be tapping your toes, but you’ll be tapping your very soul. Intrigued? Let’s dive right in.

This first cut is from the Futurist movement of the early 20th century. Visionaries like Francesco Pratella and George Antheil incorporated machine sounds along with various other effects to create a dynamic and powerful symphony of noise and music. Let’s have a listen to Luigi Russolo’s “Macchina Tipografica.”

Alright, we’re back. My first thought is, ‘Wow, we’re going to be listening to three full hours of this stuff?’ My second thought… well, my second thought takes a while to show up because my brain is still trying to recover from all that. That woman who yelped, “Nanananananananana” and made weird whooping noises certainly earned Luigi that applause at the end. Christ.

I don’t mean to sound sarcastic – I understand that Nicky Sheetz has a steady audience who loves this form of avant-garde music. As it is, I play some rather edgy Coleman Hawkins on my own show when the mood strikes, so I suppose I understand. But come on.

Up next we’re going to spin you a little phase music. This was a movement in the mid-1960s as I’m sure you know, in which the same piece of music was played on multiple tape recorders, with each recorder gradually going out of phase with one another over time and creating an interesting effect. In 1967 composer Steve Reich began writing music for live instruments to achieve this same effect.

We’re going to check out Reich’s 1967 composition, “Piano Phase”, played on two pianos, recorded live in 2003. You’re listening to WUUW-FM, the County’s public radio, funded by the unholy sacrifice of your tax dollars.

Alright, that was “Piano Phase” by phase musician Steve Reich. I’ve got to say, I was intrigued by this track. Then, about three minutes into the twelve-minute cut I found myself a little bored. Again, this is nothing against you fine appreciators of quality experimental fare, but come on. We just listened to twelve minutes of the same piano riff played over and over again by two pianists, slightly out of phase from one another. Did anyone sit through all that? Admit it, you slipped out to make a snack. Maybe you flipped over to WROQ to check out if they were playing something off the new Ben Folds Five album. There’s no way anyone who wasn’t getting paid to do so would sit through all of that.

Unless you’re on some great medication. You know, I take it all back. I can think of three different drugs that could fashion a crude but effective psychotropic trip with that music. Let’s roll on.

This next style is known as No-Fi music. The sample we’re going to hear is by a band called Slicing Grandpa. I’m not optimistic.

Alright, that wasn’t the chum-bucket of horrors I was expecting. I used to listen to Sonic Youth and some of the early punk movement here on WUUW-FM back in the 90’s, and I can appreciate the intensity of this music. Unfortunately – and again, I hate to criticize – intensity is the only facet of music this band appears to seek. I don’t hear anything I’d call ‘revolutionary’, ‘melodically complex’ or ‘aesthetically good’ in there.

But that’s just me

Up next we’ll be listening to a little protein music from our library. As I’m sure you know if your shift-nurse regularly wheels your unresponsive carcass over to the radio every Saturday afternoon for this show, protein music is the result of converting protein sequences, like genes for example, into musical notes.

If this sounds completely ridiculous, and a waste of a perfectly good music contract that could have been used to sign a musician who actually plays an instrument, well, then you earn the merit badge for rationality. Instead, if this sounds like something you’d actually want to sit down and listen to, well here you are:

Wait, that’s it? Thirty-five seconds? Hmmm. Yes, that appears to be the entire piece. Alright, this is WUUW-FM, and you were just listening to the CheY amino acid sequence, converted into music and played on a virtual synth. If you’re a fan of this, you should check out the musical score to any science program on PBS made during the 1980s.

Our next cut comes from an oft-overlooked form of experimental music, or at least that’s according to the notes Nicky Sheetz left for me on the mixing board. I did a bit of reading about this genre during that monotonous 12-minute phase song, and I have to say, I’m impressed. This is danger music, so named because the music is intended to bring an actual element of danger with it. Let’s listen.

Sweet mother of sacred death-soaked hell-kittens, that is awful. Simply awful. I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen, though I guess if you’re listening to this show you are used to this. That was a piece by the Fluxus collective, composed by original Fluxus member Dick Higgins, entitled “Danger Music #17.”

The idea behind danger music as a genre is that an element of actual danger is incorporated, whether it be to the performer or the audience. Yamantaka Eye drove a bulldozer through the back wall of the stage once as part of a performance. Takehisa Kosugi wrote a piece called “Music For A Revolution” that instructs the performer to gouge out one of their own eyeballs five years after performing the piece.

Sometimes danger music is meant to play noises so loud they cause hearing damage in the audience. This particular piece we just listened to – well, maybe you did; I was grooving out to Dave Brubeck in my headphones for the last three minutes – featured a guy screaming. I’m not sure what the danger here is, unless you’re afraid of turning into the kind of person who would actually pay for the privilege of hearing this crap.

We’re going to take a break now. I know, public radio doesn’t usually air a lot of commercials, but if I don’t hear someone try to sell me a car stereo after all that, I might just piss myself.

You’re listening to WUUW-FM, public radio for the masses. This is Yemini Apollodopolis, and I need a drink.

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