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.
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Email us at email@example.com.
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.