I made a ‘film’ on my phone as I crossed between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island on the tramway. Then I re-shot the film through a mirrored box that I found one night on the King’s Road in Chelsea. I looked for songs that were exactly the same length as the footage (4’46”) and tried out various combinations. The juxtaposition of ‘No One is Lost’ by Stars (a kind of disco-rock crossover number) with a kaleidoscopic view of New York, the Williamsburg Bridge and the East River worked…it looked like a proper pop video. I had initially wanted the two things, sound and image, to work together equally, or maybe more accurately I wanted an equal mismatch. This version made it look like the film was a response to the song….when Vimeo decided that I was in breach of copyright (what’s that?) I decided that the balance was all wrong anyway. The day after this setback I had to go to Tooting in south London and in the covered market I made a recording of caged birds in a pet shop. Behind me was a man talking very insistently into his mobile phone. In the spirit of disconnect I decided to use this recording as my soundtrack instead of a song. Here is the film:
1. The two tunes (not even tunes…phrases, lines) that were stuck in my head for most of the time in New York…’Bad Sneakers’ by Steely Dan. ‘Bad sneakers and a piña colada my friend, stompin’ on the Avenue by Radio City, with a transistor and a large sum of money to spend….’ And The Real Roxanne’s ‘Bang Zoom Let’s Go Go’…’…sorry, wrong beat!’ And (via Looney Tunes) ‘I ain’t pushin’ no moon button…’
2. At The Stone – NoHo, Alphabet City, Lower East Side, Wherever. Ned Rothenberg’s trio, Sync, as part of his week-long residency. I admire The Stone’s austerity and the straightforwardness of their mission. The space is a former corner shop on 2nd Street and Avenue C with no hint of its function, the name stencilled discreetly on the door. Two sets a night with separate admission…a standard ticket price of 15 dollars. No pre-booking. No bar. No food. The ticket price goes straight to the artists. This last seemed particularly appropriate on the night I was there. Two sullen young folk on the door and then three of us in the audience…maybe we should have skipped the middle man and each given one of the performers their 15 dollars. The intimacy of this performance was strained by the inability of us 3 to fill the space with applause. Ned and his two accomplices played as if the room was full…although maybe I overheard something along the lines of ‘oh, lets just play…’ A possible hint of disappointment at the artist to audience ratio. Anyway, it was a beautiful, composed set with overtones of classical Indian music throughout…the tabla providing a swirling fluid centre around which saxophone and guitar danced delicate patterns.
Ned Rothenberg, saxophones
Jerome Harris, guitars
Samir Chatterjee, tabla.
The Stone, 19. vi. 13
3. On a Friday afternoon, Astor Place closed to traffic to accommodate a continuous performance of Beck’s Song Reader by a variety of bands. (Song Reader is Beck’s un-recorded album issued only as a score). I chanced upon this event and stayed for a half hour as I was due elsewhere. I have noticed before the effect of the free concert in New York…namely that the social takes over from the musical. In effect the audience pretty much stops listening or, more accurately, allows its listening to become dissipated…is this just because the entertainment is free and therefore regarded as without value? This sometimes seems to be reflected in half-hearted performances too. This event was slightly different in that it was so low key…a Friday afternoon with the traffic rumbling down Broadway and up Lafayette, people strolling by and sometimes stopping, sometimes merely pausing. New York streets make a great backdrop to impromptu musical performances…contained, narrow, echoing canyons. Wisely the stage was set up facing the short end of the street with, in effect, a huge backstage area…this pushed the music into the active part of the adjacent streets. This was the flipside of a performance in The Stone…incidental, almost accidental, in its use of the city. As an audience we were drawn into this casual, quotidian encounter engaging in a network of relationships between music, sound, musician, street, audience, passer-by, architecture…
The Fall Café Allstars featuring members of Balthorp, Alabama.
For Joe’s Pub, Astor Place. 21. vi. 13
And 6 am. East 66th Street and York. A low background rumble of traffic through the window that opens out into the yard between this building and the adjacent apartment block. The traffic noise here is more distant than I hear it in London where the sound in the foreground is the street. This traffic sound is more constant and more even. There is no view of the street from any of the windows here so there is the sense of a strange, but not complete, detachment from the city. The birds that sing over this background rumble in the morning are more like soloists than a chorus…individual melodies that jump in from time to time. I have no idea which birds are singing though my hosts tell me there are cardinals in the area. (There were more birds yesterday morning but I woke at 5) Other sounds are overlaid on the drone of cars, trucks and buses: A truck reversing nearby. (Yesterday) A conversation between two women – in Slovak? Historically this area is Slovak. Ambulance sirens…there are a lot of hospitals in the vicinity…but what time do these start? Is there a time before which they are not allowed to use sirens? I have not heard any this morning now that I come to think of it. A garbage truck stopping on the street….warning signal, bags being thrown into the compressor, machinery. Repeat. A car horn. These come and go at different distances. The garbage truck (repeat but further away.) A long whistle, far away, like a train. Is this possible?..probably not. Sweeping in the yard. Someone messing with the bin lids.
Through 1979 and into 1980 I worked late into the night a lot. I lived and worked in a small attic room in the centre of Dundee. As I worked I listened to music and the radio. On many nights I would listen to the John Peel Show on BBC Radio 1 between 10 and midnight. There would be a blank cassette (C60 by preference) in the tape machine. Record, play and pause buttons would all be pressed down until Peel played something that interested me. I could maybe work out how many tapes were made this way at that time…they are all numbered though not dated. The tapes are a bit of a mess with the signal cutting out, bits of voice over and missing intros. I remember one night the local fire brigade’s radio interrupted and then they appeared in the street outside. Though I wrote down the artists’ names and the track titles, I often misheard things or omitted stuff so the tapes are not a ‘proper’ collection or even a very useful archive. They are, instead, a kind of snapshot of my interests at the time.
One track I recorded then was by a band I had never heard of ‘The Rentals’. (There is a band from the 90s called the Rentals but they are not related). The song was fairly stark, guitar-driven punk performed with some exuberance. Abandon even. The track was called ‘New York!’ and from what I could tell it was a celebration of the musical life of that city. The lyrics were ‘shouty’ rather than sung and some were not clear but I loved the line describing the city’s music ‘like a hammer in the sink’. It suggested rhythm without a tune…a kind of atonality.
On a Sunday afternoon in London in the early 1980s I was walking down Cheshire Street off Brick Lane and I was scanning the scattered detritus of the market. The street was much scruffier then and the market was ramshackle. Maybe I picked up other things that day but the two I remember are: an ex-library book by Isaac Asimov published by Gollancz with the distinctive yellow cover of that imprint and a 7” single with a picture sleeve of ‘New York!’ by the Rentals. It turned out that the song I had recorded on the radio some years before was the B side of the single. The A side was called ‘I’ve Got a Crush on You’.
As time passed I became fonder of this twice found record and I became more intrigued by the lyrics. Raking through my collection of singles I would often play it and try (though not very hard) to work out what the words actually were. Into the 21st century I did some internet research and I tracked down a website for two of the original members of the Rentals, Jane and Jeff Hudson.
After the Rentals broke up they formed an electronic outfit called Jeff and Jane and they still make music and art(and sell antiques). So I e-mailed them to tell them about the sequence of events I have described here and to ask about the lyrics and Jane replied. She said that the bit of the lyric I liked was actually:
‘the stratocaster blasts it
like a hammer in the street’
She didn’t reveal the rest of the lyrics.
When I thought about writing up this series of events I looked for the Isaac Asimov book. I realized I probably had not opened ‘Tales of the Black Widowers’ since the day I found it. Under the title runs the blurb:
‘A collection of finely spun puzzles, posed by the Black Widowers’Dining Club & recorded by SF maestro ISAAC ASIMOV’
One of these stories is called ‘The Lullaby of Broadway’. That could be for another time. In the meantime, you can hear ‘New York’ at: