Lovely musics

Aug 30, 2000 at 12:00 am

These two discs, recorded 33 years apart, aren’t quite music for meditation, but they’re close. This 1965 John Cale-Tony Conrad-LaMonte Young meeting of the minimal minded produced an otherworldly droning (painful to some) that raises both philosophical questions about eternal emptiness and the hairs on more than a few listeners’ necks. Table of the Elements’ latest batch of releases makes Day of Niagara available for the first time ever and it’s barrier-shattering stuff, to say the least.

Out of what at first seems like monolithic noise from a black hole in time, separate strands slowly emerge: Cale’s amplified viola, Conrad’s amplified violin, Young and Marian Zazeela’s chantlike vocals and Angus MacLise’s percussion (least discernable, because of not-so-great recording quality). It’s a bleak concoction of layers, a seminal overtone-undertow sandwich that links what might be John Cage’s Buddhist leftovers and atmospheric seeds of the Velvet Underground (Cale and MacLise’s other project in 1965).

Conrad and Young have been squabbling about conceptual authorship ever since those formative days, but who cares really? What counts is beginnings, middles and endings, mostly perpetual middles, the way Day of Niagara manages to sound like it’ll never end. And the opening tones of Pauline Oliveros’ Primordial Lift pick up right where Niagara leaves off, but with some key differences.

For one thing, multitonal minimalism needs the kind of high technology that makes Primordial such a luscious pleasure. Every droning note from Oliveros’ accordion, her almost submerged yet so-physical vocals, Conrad’s electric violin, David Grubbs’ harmonium, Anne Bourne’s cello and Alexandria Gelencser’s electric cello blends clearly into the whole (actually two parts, “Primordial” and “Lift”). Portentous trips out past the stratosphere can get pretty dreary, but this group is centered, as if on a source of light. Also there’s appreciably more variation on Primordial, even though the Golden Eternity is still there behind it all, 33 years later, forever and ever, peace by peace.