Monday, July 24, 2006


Been listening to a lot of Angus MacLise lately in anticipation of the Bastet release of Ira Cohen's film The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda, whose soundtrack is a divine racket by Maclise's Joyous Lake group. The DVD showed up this week, so seems like a good time for an all-MacLise edition of Retro Noise Monthly.

MacLise's history has been told a ton (a great example is here), so no need to for the DVD, it's a totally esssential package, with a beautiful transfer of Cohen's pre-Cremaster, Anger-minus-Satanism proto-psych kaleidoscope (an excerpt is viewable here), plus outtakes, miscellany, and Cohen commentary. The visuals are stunning but almost get blurred by MacLise's skull-busting soundtrack, heavy with multiphonic percussion and the scratchy drones of Tony Conrad and Henry Flynt. I'll pass for now on the "alternate" soundtracks by Sunburned Hand of the Man and Acid Mothers Temple - they're probably fine, but subtracting MacLise's sounds from the pictures is just too unseemly, even if Cohen did approve the idea.

There have been a decent amount of MacLise boots and ltd-ed releases in the past decade, but only four widely available CDs, all of which are must-haves. They're too wide-ranging to assess on an analytic level here (especially since none of them are truly "albums" in the authorial sense, as Angus was dead long before they were compiled). So instead I'm offering a quick rundown. (And since I've spent the weekend alternately listening to these and watching a ESPNClassic marathon of the 2005 WSOP, each release gets a rating of two pocket cards - you decide which ones to put the most chips on...)

Two things always strike me when I listen to MacLise. First, it's easy to quicky peg his stuff as hippy-jam/drum-circle improv, and I admit that some of it actually deserves that tag, but there's so much more happening, even in his hand-drum-based stuff. The guy was clearly obsessed with texture, detail, and sound-as-sound, and anything he used to get there was just a means, not an end.

Second, MacLise's stuff is so uncannily prescient, and sounds like so much that's happened since, it's hard to believe it didn't influence all things considered noise, drone, or improvisational, despite the fact that almost no one heard his stuff before 1999. Thus I like to think of MacLise's work as the subconscious of modern noise - as if it's always been running in the nether brain-regions of every noisemaker since, whether or not they know it.

Keep going for a rough MacLise consumer guide...

The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda (Quakebasket/Siltbreeze, 1999)
The first fruit of Tim Barnes' fortuitous friendship with Ira Cohen was this stellar disc - 40 minutes of the Invasion soundtrack (a live version recorded at a St. Mark's screening, with a different group than appears on the DVD soundtrack), a wondrous cloud of cycling drone and overlapping-typewriter beats. The other stuff is pretty right too: a one-minute shortwave radio collage, a five-minute chunk of flute-drum din from the "Universal Mutant Repertory Company," and the legendary, beautifully overmodulated "Blastitude" featuring some absolutely terrifying machine-gun percussion and spine-shaking shrieks. Only clunker is the chimey "Humming in the Night Skull," which is oddly saccharine. Still, a masterful package (with nifty Cohen liner notes) worth a rating of: Ace-King suited in Diamonds.

Brain Damage in Oklahoma City (Quakebasket/Siltbreeze, 2000)
Another Barnes/Cohen special, this time w/help and notes from Tony Conrad. Immediately announces its aggressive glory with "Another Druid's Nest," a 41-second screech-a-thon from the mouth of Angus's "maximum cembalum." The centerpiece is two segments of the "Dreamweapon Benefit," a 1968 Cinemathique recording of a seance-worthy wheeze-fest from Angus, wife Hetty, Conrad, Flynt, and Jackson MacLow. The glory of that hailstorm (whose detonating peak sounds like No Neck if they were the first band on PSF) might make the rest of Brain Damage seem like addenda, but they're not: a hand-breaking six-minute drum solo and a concrete tape-cut "Loft Collage" are just the high points of the rest of an unerring collection. Rating: Pocket Queens.

The Cloud Doctrine (Sub Rosa, 2002)
The only release of the four not masterminded by Tim Barnes, and, oddly, the one that's most "archival" in nature - there's not really any theme here, but lots of items of extreme historical interest. The biggest being four tracks from a kind of pre-Velvet Underground lineup of MacLise, Conrad, and John Cale. Those pieces are definitely all stunners, especially the uber-hypnotic "Trance #2," which could basically be the blueprint for every interesting drone/percussion piece ever made. Lots of other archival juice here: Maclise's near-folky score to Ron Rice's film Chumlum, a bunch of electronics pieces including the stunning 3-part "Tunnel Music," a couple poetry readings, and a way-ahead "Tambura Drone" which sounds like Pelt must've sampled it at some point. The variety here is pretty stunning and the packaging detail is miles-thick, so The Cloud Doctrine is clearly essential - but it's the only release of these four that really feels like an odds'n'ends collection, never quite hitting the across-the-board groove of the others. More a credit to Tim Barnes than a knock against Sub Rosa, but either way it knocks this down slightly to a rating of: King-Queen of Hearts.

Astral Collapse (Quakebasket/Locust Media, 2003)
Easily the farthest out MacLise release of the four here, and probably the best. We hear Angus explaining the global inspirations behind his tape manipulation process at the beginning, and from there Astral Collapse is pure sonic exploration and fiery idea mayhem. "Beelzebub" is a haunting stretch of bongos and prepared tape that sounds like Hell's zoo; "Cloud Watching" is an Angus-Hetty duo of distortion and drone that could fit snugly on a Handful of Dust album; and best of all is "Dracula" (linked below), a whining bit of pure noise that 3 decades of similar experiements hasn't nearly dampened. Anyone who likes most/all of what this blog covers should go directly to Astral Collapse with their first Angus-intended dollars. Rating: Pocket Aces.

Angus Maclise - "Dracula" from Astral Collapse


Blogger Leafy Green said...

Speaking of Henry Flynt, I recently heard "I Don't Wanna". It's uneven overall, but some tracks are amazing guitar pieces that, like MacLise's stuff, could have come out in 2006.

12:18 PM  

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