Reflecting Stars

Reflecting Stars
Each place is a pathway to all others.
The building was dark and extremely dusty when we first started constructing our quarters. The front doors were hanging loosely, but were chained shut and padlocked through the broken panes. Only street vagrants, entering via the dangling fire escapes, had used the upstairs during the prior decades. There was no electricity and no running water either. The building stood as a relic from a time when gas lighting was still in use in Seattle. The second and third floors upstairs in the building, consisted of generously large abandoned apartments which had been occupied after World War II. Wallpaper was peeling everywhere from the walls, and pigeons roosted on the burned rafters of a blackened corner apartment which fire had claimed sometime in the past. Everywhere there was thick dust and detritus, rubble and junk. Many of the exterior windows had long since been smashed out by sheer exposure to weather and the vandalism of the international district.


The second logo

Photo by John Hubbard

Stick man tapes

Stick man tapes
Drones of a 1990 Yeast Sculpture.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Stick Men

How the Stick Men recordings came about was related to our performance space. The show room was at 2015 Terry Avenue in the Kalberer building, a former shipping and receiving warehouse. The performance space was about 1000 square feet with long spanning rough wood beam floors and bordered by long stud walls, with a garage door entrance. We had the freedom to set the space up differently for each show. Dennis Sita usually supplied the killer sound PA system.

Back in 1989 Masami Akita decided it was nearing time for Merzbow to make a first tour of the United States. He'd recently had his first US double album "Batz Tou Tai" pressed by RRR in Massachusetts, and also had several Japanese LPs behind him. Finally in early September of 1990 he and Reiko flew to the west coast for gigs in LA, San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Next was Seattle, for a Friday night show on September 10th at Incubator. Seattle occasionally got visiting acts from Japan, such as Shonen Knife. Merzbow did receive airplay on KCMU, and had some fans even back then. Notably, mail artist Burnt Raisins of Cerebral Discourse zine had been telling me how he thought that Merzbow meant business, and was someone to watch for in the future. How correct that opinion turned out to be! Who could have predicted the huge onslaught of albums that were yet to come? I'd been able to successfully sell about ten copies per title of imports that I'd handled from Masami's ZSF Produkt Japanese label.

Seattle had some nice weather during that week and I had decided that Yeast Culture would be setting up a sculptural installation for Merzbow to perform in. It was a good time to haul in "found" materials from the nearby streets. Craig Morton was also in town visiting from San Francisco. He worked for the Epicenter Zone, a cooperative record / zine store and hang-out space that was originally started by someone from Maximum Rock'n'Roll. Incubator was more of an experimental loft space that happened to sell records and do special shows, but we generally left punk acts to Seattle's many other venues. Craig's experimental sound interests were a perfect fit to the kind of stuff going on at Incubator.

A bunch of us set to work designing a performance environment. This was to be in the audience space for people to sit within. We wanted it to really accent the rare performance from Merzbow. We had about 48 hours to transform the space - lots of time. Allen Russell offered up rolls of white plastic to make the room look hospital sterile. These were actually plastic body bags from a local funeral home where he worked. We tacked these up over the whole room, including the floor and ceiling so that the place was shiny white inside. Basically, the room was transformed into a giant white body bag which contained everyone. The stage was set elevated to three feet near the garage door entrance, and a tunnel underneath it was constructed for audience entry into the environment. Near this entrance, Dale Travous set up one of his portable miniature spark generators that would periodically emit loud snapping arcs of electricity. From a few blocks away several more of us carried in piles of discarded wooden sticks from a local wood shop - lots of them. I started hammering in wooden sticks at angles into the walls and floors in the middle of the space. Craig and Allen built angular structures, and so did John Hubbard. Later Key Ransone joined the hammer party as well. There was no plan to follow, only improvised building to fill the room with a stick structure, leaving room for the audience to move. However, my own concept was to create deliberate obstructions which would force people to bend and move around awkward angles. Arthur Aubry came in to shoot photos after we'd gotten a lot done. He may have even built a bit. We worked for hours and hours building a weird stick zone. Later a series of short metal sitting stools were positioned around the room. Even the entrance to the bathroom was completely enclosed in white plastic. The west windows were covered too, but sunlight managed to glow through, giving the room a nice ambient white lightness. John Hubbard shot some documentary photos. Later for the show, Shade Rupe ran a film projector to shoot moving images over the stage.

Yeast Culture was very much a conceptual project, so that ideas for sound recordings might come about gradually or circuitously, through doing other things. We advertised the show as being a performance by Merzbow, with presentations by Yeast Culture, and opening act of C103 (Burnt Raisins' audio act with Dale Sather). I had activated hidden microphones during the sculptural stick building process, and recorded the work onto John's 4 track recorder. Periodically I would play the tapes back into the room while work was being done. The result was a mix of real building sounds and a background of playback from earlier hours of building. Eventually, after hours of recording, room resonance effects and commingling started to occur in the recordings. Everyone building the sculpture eventually figured out that I was cooking up an ambient sound work. We kept on building. Eventually these ambient tapes were played back into the sculpture room prior to C103 and Merzbow's performances, and then later on into the night.

From the sound of the tapes, I liked the minimal interaction of layers, so I later took the tapes into our studio to minimalize the sounds further. The sound room studio was large with high ceilings. I wanted to just use acoustical processes to contour the sounds. So I played tapes back through the Bose 901 studio speakers while employing physical effects such as using steel tubes to hold microphones to re-sample the room sounds. I locked myself in for hours doing several 45 minute long minimal droning experiments. The result was about ten cassettes of assorted sound material at various stages of transmutation. I kept these tapes for years just as personal playback tapes.

In November of 2010, these tapes were finally mixed into a limited edition project consisting of two 32 minute drones, "Stick Men" and "Flames Of Six Candles." Stick Men mainly consists of the sculpture building process tapes, and "Flames" is the drones which were reworked in studio isolation shortly after the whole performance was over.

Several pages of photographic proofs of this show exist thanks to Art Aubry, and some of these were featured inside Masami Akita's early 90s book "Noise War." Also, both Masami and our own Incubator group video recorded the show to some degree. There was a good turnout, perhaps fifty people, for this event. I hope that the very minimal audio results of the Stick Man tapes are relevant to more than just the folks who attended the show. I wish for that performance zone to propagate somewhat through this tape release, opening it again for further abstraction.

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