No Context by Zach Baron: 'Close Radio'

Close Radio's "space," photographed by Paul McCarthy.

No Context

By Zach Baron

Little help, maybe—the Monitors? As heard here, recorded November 10th, 1977, on Los Angeles’ KPFK Close Radio program. “Punk rock music by an L.A. band” is the entry’s possibly misleading claim, © Humaneer Music, BMI: Modern Lovers covering Pere Ubu’s “Alternative Ulster,” or TV Personalities wrecking the Clash—raggedly turned out, hardly melodic art rock. Broadcast on the Close Radio program, as conceived and curated by famous corpsefucker and latter day noise musician John Duncan (and aided by the actionist painter Paul McCarthy, New Yorker turned Swedish historian Neil Goldstein, the performance artist Nancy Buchanan and the writer Linda Frye Burnham), for the purpose of allowing “artists to present sound and art projects via radio broadcast.” So, Simon Reynolds, what’s good?

There was Monitor, the Boyd Rice-affiliated, record collector new-wave band from LA, and which sounded like Devo (and were recorded by Ed Barger), or early Residents; not to mention “Monitor (band), an underground No Wave band from New York,” redded out over at the scintillating “Monitor” disambiguation page. The Monitors, as performers on Close Radio, are reviewed in the LA Times as part of the show but called “the beloved L.A. post-punk band Monitor (as yet unissued on CD)”—which would seem to settle the issue, if not for the fact that The Monitors’ (whoever they are) part-time punk shuffle sounds nothing at all like Monitor’s squeaky robot-lab primitivism. The internet fails: hit me in the comments or via email, so that I can rest easy at night knowing whose four shambling songs I’m stuck on.

Close Radio, part of the “Evidence of Movement” performance art-relic exhibition at the Getty, in Los Angeles, where I haven’t seen it, is full of odd jobs like the phantom Monitors—111 bizarre documents of word salads and horn orchestras and dead air as perpetrated by dozens of local artists, international musicians and random call-ins. Early electronic music obsessives will note the ninety-minute plus Pauline Oliveros accordion and voice concert “Pathways to Grandmothers”; Oliveros, who put by far the best name – “deep listening” – to the long form drones pioneered by herself, La Monte Young, Tony Conrad, John Cale, and other minimalist practioners of what they first called “dream music,” offers something rare for Close Radio: an entirely musical, landmark piece, the discovery of which is as stunning, if not quite as singular, as Conrad’s Four Violins or Young’s Inside the Dream Syndicate.

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Oliveros is one of the few proper composers to be included, but her presence points up the musicality in any number of other artists who appeared on Close Radio, number one among them the notorious Jim Roche—known for such monologue pieces as “Whatsda Matter Wid Jew” and “Hippys Are Living Proof (That a Nigger Will Fuck a Dog)”. Roche, a Southerner whose performance style was to give ventriloquist life to the bigoted and nightmarish characters who populated the areas in which he grew up, and to recreate their speech patterns, fears, and prejudices in front of New York and Los Angeles gallery audiences, turns out to have been not just an eerily gifted mimic but hypnotically gifted with rhythm. “Cadillac,” one of four pieces included in , works up a paranoid incantation of repetition and melody via a list of ways to customize a Cadillac, including, amidst fins upholstery and taillights, “a green flamethrower to kind of come on in there so when I go round so it look like a flying saucer.”

There’s a Paul McCarthy vocal piece, “U.N. Live,” which maniacally channels Stilluppsteypa via Whitehouse; and then there’s Chris Burden’s “Send Me Your Money,” which is exactly what it sounds like, and which was the fifty-five minute long final provocation that got Close Radio thrown off the air in 1979. The tapes sat McCarthy’s studio for 25 years before the Getty added them to “Evidence of Movement,” a long-delayed occasion that brought John Duncan back to LA to play, what else, a noise show.

My favorite, though not for listening—Barton Patrick Bolan’s “Dead Air: A Limited Tape.” Eight minutes and seventeen seconds of dead air, it’s simultaneously an ode to John Cage, silence, and the worst offense a DJ can commit: playing nothing.

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