Sonic Youth (5) Gets Experimental With Philip Glass (4) In SOTC’s March Madness


Sound of the City’s search for the quintessential New York City musician enters Round Two this week, with battles in the Round of 32 daily.

During the first sound of SOTC’ March Madness, Sonic Youth drowned Arthur Russell in feedback, and The Fugs were no match for Philip Glass’ hypnotic repetitions. But now the two downtown experimental music legends will battle each other to see who’s really the Don of Dissonance.

Best Song:

Sonic Youth: “Teenage Riot”

Sonic Youth spent the ’80s proving that feedback could be disorienting and terrifying. Here they proved it could be triumphant. As they said goodbye to the ’80s, Sonic Youth pointed the way to a better future, where the kids were united in love, progressive politics and delicious wallops of noise.

Philip Glass: “Einstein On The Beach”

Philip Glass is probably best known for the opera Einstein On The Beach, which features overlapping stabs of dialogue, strings, counter point vocals and synthesizers. There’s a lot to take in at first–it’s supposed to run five hours–but given time the starkness of violins and the intentionally alienating electronics begin to make sense in the mind, and build to a meditative force.

Longevity: Glass has been going at it since the ’60s, and like he told Steven Thrasher it’s not like he spending his old age golfing; his latest opera The Perfect American is due early next year. Glass is probably one of the only people whose work ethic and consistency could dwarf Sonic Youth, who released their first EP 30 years ago this month and continue (we hope) to put out excellent albums at a two to three year clip, and can always be relied upon for an excellent out door New York Show.

Innovations: Glass’s work with repetition, minimalism, unusual song structure and dissonance helped define the language of modern composition, and showed that so-called classical music can be a wild as jazz or pop music. Sonic Youth’s use of experimental tuning and even more unusual song structure fused raw punk energy with the innovations Glass and his peers were working on when Kim and Thurston were still in high school. Both of these artists have handled their career with a grace that proved to musicians of all stripes that it is possible to spend your life making the exact music you want to make exactly the way you want to make it.

Starpower: Glass and Sonic Youth are both icons to people who care about their field. But I really have no idea who has more mainstream fame: America’s most celebrated composer or one the most respected and influential bands indie rock ever produced. Glass is Oscars nominated and all, but Sonic Youth were on The Simpsons, so I think they get the edge here.

Intangibles: Glass’s 75th Birthday was a big deal around these parts, but the break up of Kim and Thurston (and possibly the band) might get them the sympathy vote. Also, you should never underestimate how much people idolize Kim Gordon.

Likely Winner: You know, I just don’t see classical music fans stuffing the ballot quite like mourning indie lifers.