Village Voice 04.19.2017 : Page 20

20 April 19 April 25, 2017 lifetime — Another Thought was compiled and issued on Philip Glass’s label, Point, in 1994. Russell’s bigger career has been the posthumous one, and began in ear-nest when Steve Knutson’s Audika label launched in 2004. Dedicated to Russell’s work, Audika has steadily released un-heard recordings, as well as those that have fallen out of print. Audika and the 2009 publication of Hold On to Your Dreams have helped move Russell’s work into a pop canon that has become (almost) as accepting as he was. The origins of the Russell exhibit currently showing at BAM, “Do What I Want: Selections From the Arthur Russell Papers,” lie in two 2015 concerts (featur-ing Devonté Hynes, Sam Amidon, and others) that followed a tribute album re-leased by the Red Hot organization, Mas-ter Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell . At one show, BAM’s curator of visual arts, Holly Shen, started talking about Russell’s work with independent curator Nicole Will. At that fall’s Editions and Artists book fair, Will and Shen heard from rare-book collector Arthur Fournier that the New York Public Library for the Perform-ing Arts was about to acquire Russell’s papers, and the planning began. “Russell’s music feels important to me because it never seems nostalgic,” Will said while we toured the exhibit. “It doesn’t seem to be tied to any particular era. Steve [Knutson] has told me about hearing Arthur playlists in cafés. Young people hear it and say, ‘Great. Where is he playing next?’ ” “Do What I Want” is split into two parts, the larger section in the Natman Room on the ground floor of the Peter Jay Sharp Building, with a sidecar up-stairs in the Diker Gallery. Some pieces on display are reproductions from the archives at the NYPL, which will open to public view later this year. The majority of the material, though, comes from Russell’s partner, Tom Lee; Knutson; and former collaborators such as Peter Zummo, Peter Gordon, Brooks, and Steven Hall: flyers, photographs, re-cords, snarky notes from label execu-tives, lyrics, and Russell’s Yamaha KM802 Mixer, a fat black box striped with green and salmon. All of Russell’s various styles involve references to natural phenomena com-mon to both the landscape of the Mid-west and the symbols of Buddhism. Check the song titles: “Lucky Cloud,” “Corn,” “Hollow Tree,” “Tree House” — even “This Is How We Walk on the Moon” makes more sense as a song writ-ten by an Iowa kid, who would have seen that moon more clearly than his New York counterpart. To this point, one cor-ner of the Natman Room is wallpapered with a blown-out blue-and-white image of a cloud, a photograph taken by Rus-sell’s San Francisco Buddhism teacher, Yuko Nonomura. This year, Audika released an hour of live recordings of Instrumentals , taken from three different New York perfor-mances staged between 1975 and 1978. Even for those already converted to Russell’s benevolent sprawl, the range is immense. Track two on Volume 1, Part I — all are untitled — could be an easy-listening version of a Seventies Bacha-rach ballad. The legato horn parts on track two of Volume 2, Part II, conducted audible in dropped cues and occasional misalignment between instruments. In-strumentals is a document of an ensemble looking for a footing, a process Russell often said was more important than the result. Typewritten notes included in the ex-hibit show how Russell’s path could be as confusing for collaborators as it was for words, in order to be a commercial suc-cess, must have a special quality of its own, and since the music for the color slides was not structured on speech pat-terns, I ended up calling the piece ‘Instru-mentals.’ ” Flautist and saxophonist Jon Gibson had a different take: “One of the dif iculties (or should I say challenges?) in learning Arthur Russell’s new work involved trying to improvise with unfa-miliar chord sequences placed upon asymmetrical (at times) time lengths.” Though Russell imagined it would be performed as one 48-hour cycle, Instru-mentals was only ever played in smaller chunks, not all of which were recorded. Richard Reed Parry, composer and member of Arcade Fire, found Arthur in 2005. “Rough Trade put out the Arcade Fire and the irst two Audika releases, Calling Out of Context and World of Echo ,” Parry recalled. “Neil Young’s Decade , those two Arthur CDs, and a Discman was all the music I had with me for while we were touring nonstop for about four months. I loved being immersed in these fragmentary bits of poetry and musical ideas. Exploring them seemed more im-portant to Russell than inishing a record. The irony is that he did make some per-fect pop songs, fully realized things, but he was happy being in the process of inding an idea that could reiterate itself across different songs.” In the Diker Gallery, you see evidence of the (slightly) more commercial side of Russell, dance music producer. Sealed copies of Dinosaur L’s “Go Bang!” and Loose Joints’ “Is It All Over My Face,” both New York City club hits, hang on the wall, as does an enlarged copy of Rus-sell’s membership card to the Paradise Garage, the club where New York dance music was legislated: If something went over at the Garage, it had impressed both dancers and DJs. One record that connects all of Ar-thur’s worlds is his very irst commercial release, the 1978 single “Kiss Me Again,” credited to Dinosaur and present in the Diker Gallery as a bright red vinyl twelve-inch. A disco track with a modest chart life but a robust presence in downtown clubs, “Kiss Me Again” had nine different physical releases and ive remixes, at a time when releasing even one remix was still unusual. Sire, new to the disco mar-ket, was grappling with a thirteen-minute song and looking for the version that might break it on radio. Russell wasn’t in-terested in shortening the song, and the remixes didn’t help sell it. So Russell got the variation he loved, but for the wrong reasons. A recent signing to Sire, David Byrne, played guitar on “Kiss Me Again”; r&b designated hitter Bob Babbitt played bass; studio heavy Allan Schwartzberg was the drummer; and friends of Rus-sell’s including Peters Zummo and Gordon played horns. Though there is a topline vocal, the length and vagueness of the song make it both glorious and im-VILLAGE Courtesy of Audika Records, Tom Lee, and the estate of Arthur Russell “YOUNG PEOPLE HEAR RUSSELL’S MUSIC AND SAY, ‘GREAT. WHERE IS HE PLAYING NEXT?’ “ by Julius Eastman, sound like a Michael Nyman soundtrack from the early Nine-ties. Track one of Volume 2 evokes the placid, unevenly spaced, evenly deliv-ered motifs of Tortoise; another instru-mental the optimistic swells of Copland. As important as the ambition is the tenta-tive quality of these performances. Rus-sell’s desire to make trained players work in an accessible but skewed language is suits. Russell wrote: “Since January of 1975 I have been working...on music de-signed specially for a series of color slides by Yuko Nonomuro [ sic ]....I was awak-ened, or re-awakened to the bright-sound and magical qualities of the bubblegum and easy-listening currents in American popular music....Since in most popular music a lyric is the focus of a song, and since in popular music a song without

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