Privacy Issues (droneworks 1996 - 2009)
3 cds for the price of 2
Featuring Chris McIntyre and Peter Zummo, trombones; "Blue" Gene Tyranny, keyboards; and The Black Jackets Ensemble.
"This was something unexpected and truly different: pulsing electronic textures that derived their rhythm from the beating patterns of closely-tune pitches - as if Alvin Lucier and Philip Glass had gone on a blind date to CBGBs… David put the beat in beating patterns." - From the liner notes by composer Nic Collins (on his initial exposure to First's music in 1987)
Long overdue overview of composer David First's drone works. This special and specially priced set (3 CDs for the price of 2) is comprised of nine works composed between 1996 and 2009.
"1996 was the beginning of a new period for me", says First. "I had spent the prior five or six years creating a lot of music for other players and larger ensembles - culminating in 1995 with a couple of mountings of my opera, The Manhattan Book of the Dead. I was a little burned out on this and decided to return to a more personal, intimate format - one that ended up including an even more extensive exploration of tunings, alternative compositional softwares and how my playing techniques interacted with these things. I think I just wanted to go deeper and have more control over the results. During the ensuing years I've had a few pendulum swings - forays into beat-oriented pop music with lyrics & vocals and, of course, the re-animation of my rock band from the late 70s - the Notekillers. But I've continued, through all of the changes, to maintain my grounding in my love of the drone & associated acoustical phenomena - a love affair that began in my teenage psychedelic years and will, no doubt, be a most significant aspect of my music path for as long as I am at it. The tracks here represent almost every major work created from 1996 to the present and I'm grateful that they will be heard by a wider swath of people than those who lived in NYC or happened to be at one of my touring performances during these years."
"David First is a guitarist and composer who is perpetually fascinated by drones, harmonics and psychoacoustic phenomena. His latest project, Operation:Kracpot, plans to start with live frequencies from brainwaves and Earth's magnetic field and works them into mind-warping minimalism." (Jon Pareles, The New York Times)
"this is music that spontaneously replicates the soundscapes of Gyorgy Ligeti and Giacinto Scelsi in a startling new electric-guitar context. " (Alex Ross, The New York Times)
"Those connoisseurs who treasure their battered copies of La Monte Young's "Drift Study" and go to extraordinary lengths to acquire the music that grew out of Young's early 60s Dream Syndicate group are strongly encouraged to book a table at Dave's Waves right away, since First is quite simply a master chef when it comes to cooking up harmonics." (Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic)
"The only disc my dog has ever barked at. "(Kyle Gann, Village Voice)
DAVID FIRST (b. 1953)
David First's musical life is filled with opposites and extremes. At the age of twenty he played guitar with renowned avant-jazz pianist Cecil Taylor in a legendary Carnegie Hall concert. Two years after that he was creating electronic music as an "after-hours" artist-in-residence at Princeton University and leading a Mummer's String Band in Philadelphia parades. He has played in raucous drunken bar bands and in pin-drop quiet concert halls with classical ensembles. As a composer First has created everything from finely crafted pop songs to long, severely minimalist drone-works. His performances often find him sitting trance-like without seeming to move a muscle, unless he is playing with his recently re-formed psychedelic punk band, Notekillers, at which time he is a whirling blur of hyperactive energy. First has been called "a fascinating artist with a singular technique" in The New York Times, and "a bizarre cross between Hendrix and La Monte Young" in The Village Voice.
A 45 single released in 1980, The Zipper, by Notekillers, was cited by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore as one of the songs he played for the rest of the band when they were starting out. Moore called it a "mind-blowing instrumental single" in the British rock magazine Mojo and "a big influence" in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
First's music has been performed in the USA at The Kitchen, Bang On A Can, Central Park Summerstage, the CMJ Music Marathon, Joe's Pub, SXSW, The Stone, The Knitting Factory, Tonic, Issue Project Room, Monkey Town, Merkin Hall, CBGB's, and The Spoleto Festival. He has also been presented extensively in Europe - appearing, at Podewil, the USArts Festival, Institut Unzeit (Berlin) as well as at De Ijsbreker (Amsterdam), the Heidelberger Festival for Experimental Music and Literature (Heidelberg), ZwischenTone Festival (Köln), The Impakt Festival (Utrecht), Het Apollohuis (Eindhoven), and the Brugge Concertgebeouw (Brugge). First has also presented sound installations at Kunstforeningen (Copenhagen), the Uppsala Konstmuseum (Uppsala), Exit Art (New York), Voorkamer (Lier) and Studio Five Beekman (NYC). An installation - Dave's Waves, a Sonic Restaurant - ran during the summer of 2006 in the Sonambiente Festival of Sound Art in Berlin.
He has also been featured in numerous publications. There have been articles about him in both Guitar Player and Keyboard Magazine as well as in MusikTexte (Germany), Arude, Atlantica (Spain) and Tape Op. There are chapters about his music in the books American Music in the Twentieth Century (Gann/Schirmer) and La Musica Minimalista (Antognozzi/Edizioni Textus), Music Downtown (Gann/UofC Press) and Rifugio intermedio - Il pianoforte contemporaneo fra Italia e Stati Uniti (Arciuli/Teatro di Monfalcone).
First received Honorable Mention from Leonardo/ISAST for his article "The Music of the Sphere: An Investigation into Asymptotic Harmonics, Brainwave Entrainment, and the Earth as a Giant Bell". He has received grants from the Foundation of Contemporary Performance Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust and the Meet the Composer Commissioning USA program.
A review by Kyle Gann on ArtsJournalListen to this eleven-minute excerpt, and don't bother clicking unless you'll commit to the whole thing. It's the ending of David First's Pipeline Witness Apologies to Dennis, and I hope the mp3 format doesn't dumb it down too much. First's new three-disc set Privacy Issues, on Phill Niblock's XI label, is the greatest new recording I've heard in awhile, and I've been relistening to it every few days. It's all drone-based works from the last 14 years. David's work is sometimes (amazingly) solo and sometimes ensemble; I picked an ensemble piece here thinking it might have a little more profile over computer speakers, but he can make just as much noise by himself. It's all music gradually going in and out of tune. You could say that Niblock's music is the same, and it is, but while Niblock's music is slow and marvelous and creeps up on you unawares if you have the patience, David's is considerably more dramatic and high energy. You don't have to wait for it, it'll come get you. He's always been really interested in the liminal area between consonance and dissonance, and the amazing places in his music are those in which you suddenly realize where the music's going, and you can't believe it's about to get there - buzzy and jangling for a long time, but then it starts to slide into tune and this gloriously consonant sonority emerges that you couldn't imagine was in there. It really feel symphonic to me, like a symphony stripped down to just its harmony, and blurred; Carl Nielsen comes to mind, because Nielsen has these great harmonic clashes in which some major key wins out in the end, and it does in First's music too, just far more gradually. I wore out three laptops trying to make First famous via the Village Voice, and I'm thrilled that after a long silence he's got this incredible CD set out, every piece a knockout. I wish I could write music like this, but I can't. I tried. I just can't make anything work without a melody to it, but some of First's passages almost sound like you could analyze them with Roman numerals, except for the buzzy parts in-between. If I were a young composer today this would be my Stockhausen, except that First is already older than Stockhausen was when I was a teenager. In a sane world, grad schools would be hosting conferences on this music, but everything's so conservative these days that it's more fringe now than it was 20 years ago.
Privacy Issues is to drone connoisseurs what a huge block of succulent cheese
is to a horde of mice, a triple whammy ultimate testament to David First's addiction
to that resource (drones, not cheese). Amidst the dozens of artistic settings
that he's taken part in, from pop to chamber music, during a career that began
as a young guitarist in a Cecil Taylor performance, First has always maintained
a keen compositional interest in aural slowmotion. Several of these tracks are
extremely valuable from a purely psychophysical point of view: neither corporeal
nor overly ethereal, their use of gradual glissando a means of contrast and
suspension. This is particularly evident in Pipeline Witness Apologies To Dennis,
in which Christopher McIntyre and Peter Zummo's trombones add a touch of unpredictability
and fragments of melodic content to the sloping moans generated by First's eBow
guitar and "Blue" Gene Tyranny's tuned keyboards. Another favorite
is A Bet On Transcendence Favors The House for – again – eBow guitar,
thick masses of harmonics transcending the essence of the originating instrument
to enhance our rational permanence. Not all the pieces are destined to remain
carved in the rock of perpetual remembrance, though – some appear more
akin to transitory ideas or experiments whose results are only partially gratifying,
particularly The Softening Door and Aw!, whose somewhat unemotional nature derives
from MIDI networks that take a little magic away. But these are minor quibbles
from an anal-retentive perfectionist: the operation was ambitious, and it came
out just fine – there is at least an hour and a half of marvelously droning
stuff herein. Go get a copy.–MR, Paris