Experimental Musicians in a Post-Tonic Universe

Downtown innovators like White Out fight for survival in a brave, disquieting new world

Indeed, last Saturday night, the Stone charged an econo five dollars to see White Out transcendently run the gamut from sonic overload to pristine calm. Augmented by Samara Lubelski's delicate violin touch-and-pluck as well as Surgal's dry banter ("We encourage bodily functions," he announced, motioning toward the makeshift bathroom looming near his drum kit), the set was an exercise in rapport, personal and musical, Culberton's sinuous nuances brushing up against the clanks, dings, shakes, and scrapes emanating from her partner's cache of percussive contraptions.

Not content with the occasional Stone gig, Surgal's back to booking shows, too. His monthly events at Rehab (formerly Club Midway) on the LES, subtitled "Red Desert Nights," have an explicit Tonic connection—a former employee there works the door. "I wouldn't be curating these shows if Tonic was still in existence, but I don't wax nostalgic—I'm not into that," he admits, having waxed only slightly nostalgic. "At the end of the day, you pave on and find a new situation. It's why I'm doing this—out of necessity." With Culbertson chipping in—she designs the posters—White Out has found a new space to improv. Last month's noise-dominated night (derailed, alas, after Midwestern rascals Hair Police totaled their van) supports Surgal's vision of an aesthetic mélange. "I don't want to slap myself on the back, but I've put on variety," he says. "I've had P.G. Six, Sunburned [Hand of the Man], Zorn, and Han Bennink. It's social, and I'm friends with these people. But as time ensues, I'll start booking my enemies."

Next for White Out is May's No Fun Fest, the annual noise free-for-all, held this time at the Knitting Factory. The duo is also set to return to Moore's powerhouse Ecstatic Peace! label: "Thurston's gone corporate, and he can afford our big asking price," Surgal jokes. Their forthcoming effort will be a double album—joined by frequent co-conspirators Jim O'Rourke and Moore himself—recorded live at (where else?) Tonic. "That's our final homage," Surgal says, "and a fitting punctuation mark to that whole era."

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