Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Tellus #10 - All Guitars

An Audio Cassette Magazine #10
Harvestworks, 1985

Tellus was a mid-80's NY Council for Art supported project that put out a series of tapes, some of which are still available via their parent organization Harvestworks (see links below). This one brought together a lot of the Branca Symphony #3 graduates and assorted luminaries, obscure-types, and various 4-track basement geniuses for 70 minutes of never-know-what-to-expect guitar compositions, improvs and excerpts from greater works. Among the afore-mentioned luminaries were a slew of guitar jocks from various famous bands - Lee Renaldo, Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Mark C. (Live Skull), Bob Mould (Husker Du), Steve Albini. Tellus didn't skimp on getting the women artists involved with Lydia Lunch, Marnie Greenholz, Sue Hanel (Swans) and Janice Stone (now known for her visual art). Lesser known but still important jazzers like Elliot Sharp, Bond Bergland, Arto Lindsay and some others coming more from the classical (or semi-classical) side like Tim Schellenbaum and Glenn Branca himself.

Many of the tracks have a similarity to them. Sorta like what guitarists do when they're alone, reminiscent of the previously reviewed "Oh. Guitars." by Roger Miller - some of it pretty good (Bergland's "Moonlight Ride" and Hanel's "Dupe") and some of it forgetful (Moore's "Skrewer Boy" and Sharp's stratocaster duet "Solitons"). Other cuts are more innovative - Lee Renaldo contributes a stunning spoken word piece in which he overlays guitars to create the sounds of a steel bridge. Listen even to how he mimics the sound of leaving the bridge at the very end and hearing the other cars still going across recede into the distance. Then there are the pure noise guys - Bob Mould contributes a piece entitled "Soundcheck" which is an improv much in the spirit of Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" and Rudolph Grey's wall of sound entitled "1000 Luminous Flowers in the Red Pool".

I tried to like Branca's composition, an excerpt from "Acoustic Phenomena" (1983) , a piece combining harmonics guitar, mallet guitar and adapted harpsichords recorded on one of those wonderful Tascam 4-trk cassette recorders (and I can't tell the difference between supposedly better equipment). Like I said, I tried to like but perhaps because it was just an excerpt, I didn't get a sense of what he was trying to do. Steve Albini's contribution is contemptuously provocative. I won't even repeat the name of the one-shot group he formed with Urge Overkill's Nathan Katruud. But to their credit its a great piece of diverse overdubbed guitars punctuated by Albini screaming a hate-filled phrase every few measures. I suppose they wanted to get rejected so they could raise a stink about political correctness. But to Tellus's credit they put it in although right after a piece called "Rock That Baby" (which featured an infant's laughter). Speaking of diversity, one surprise is the absolute lack of nearly any world-influenced pieces. I would think a similar project submitted these days would draw from a lot more influences. About the only non-USA influenced piece is a simple round of guitars submitted by Angela Babin and Joe Dizney entitled "Work Song (Cameroon)" which is pretty but rather thin compared to the rest of the pieces.

I'm going to leave you with some of the better, but more obscure cuts:

"El Baile de la Penitencia dolorosa" - Tim Schellenbaum - Schellenbaum is a theater music composer and sound director in NYC. I believe his most recognizable work was with John Cameron in the stage productions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This is a fun piece he did with his friends and an overdub machine that has some surprising sound effects and a hop-to-it energy.
"Dupe" - Sue Hanel - Hanel was part of the infamous van tour that kicked off the careers of Sonic Youth and The Swans. She didn't last long in that band but the original incarnation (which included Thurston Moore on a 2nd bass) was said to kill live. Out of the Metal Machine Music cuts on Tellus, hers is among the best and most interesting (it helps to keep this type of thing short too)

This item is still apparently available here. But it doesn't look like they have really set their on-line store up correctly as the price of the item is listed as $0.00.

Harvestworks Tellus has a two-LP set that is apparently being marketed to DJs. IF you go to this site and click on the "Sounds" button, there's a fun play page where you can mix your own samples from the LP. Check out the Harvestworks' site to see what they are up to (training the next generation of multimedia artists).

What? You want something from one of the rock stars?

Oh, okay, bandwidth be damned, here's Lee Renaldo's "The Bridge"

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