Archive for September, 2009

In connection with the release of the book by Tim Lawrence:  Hold on To Your Dreams; Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, a series of panels and events will take place at NYU on Saturday October 10, 2009 at Tisch Performance Studies, 721 Broadway Suite 612. I read Tim Lawrence’s book as a draft and it  is a well-documented, historic biography with a level of objectivity that does not leave any gaps in the history or press a gay viewpoint. This is the link for the conference, book party and concert schedule which will appear only if you scroll down the page…

Arthur Russell and Elodie Lauten at LaMama

Arthur Russell and Elodie Lauten at LaMama, 1988

My own presentation in the first panel (10:30-11:30AM) will cover “Lesser-known relationships: in the Singing Tractors nexus, a sense of freedom and exploration”. The elusive Singing Tractors were actually more than a band per se, a set of creative relationships that evolved between Arthur Russell, myself, Peter Zummo and Mustafa Ahmed some of which last to this day. I will also speak between 5 and 6PM in the panel Remembering Arthur Russell.

When I first met Arthur Russell at Allen Ginsberg’s apartment where we were both staying, he was a classical music student and I was the lead singer and songwriter for Flaming Youth, the all female band formed by Denise Feliu, guitarist and on-and-off girlfriend of Peter Orlovsky. Arthur was curious about our band and came to a Flaming Youth performance or two. Classical meets rock at Allen’s: being at opposite ends of the musical scene, the serious music student and the rebel songwriter, we were very interested in each other and I recall that Arthur invited me to record for him at a studio at NYU.

But I left Ginsberg’s place and lost track of Arthur for several years as he went to the West Coast and then back in New York, I did not find him again until 1977 when in a memorable jam session with his band the Flying Hearts, I sang nonstop for two hours. Then again, we lost track of each other. Three years later, I ran into Arthur on Second Avenue; he was in the process of recording Go Bang. He immediately asked me to and record for him at Sorcerer Sound – the studio’s atmosphere was created with various  species of insects including a live tarantula.

Then something magical happened: the classical and the punk rock were merging all around us. Without being “influenced” by it, we were inside of the trend – generally perceived on the scene as a crossing over from rock music to experimental and classical music to microtonality, with the rise of artists like Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham who began to perform works that borrowed freely from various forms.

Taking advantage of the proximity of our apartments we started getting together around sunset to improvise. I was playing a Casio and he was playing cello. His favorite key was G minor natural – I still have some of those recordings on cassette.  Our playing together was not prompted by anything else than making music.

Later I found myself participating in various sessions with Arthur and Peter Zummo and the three of us soon became a trio. We loved Casios. The mini keyboards allowed easy transport and some toy-like electronic sounds that were usable. All three of us played the Casios. We also did cello, trombone and Casio trios and occasionally were joined by guitarist Ken Goshhorn and also Ron Kuivila on one occasion.

When Mustafa appeared, I was thrilled because I always loved African percussion. It runs in the family: my father, Errol Parker, who played jazz piano and drums, customarily replaced the snare on his drum set by a conga which gave his band a more African feel…

The four of us became  the Singing Tractors, after Arthur had visited his family in rural Iowa and came back inspired with the name…. So that’s what he called the ‘band” although there was not the kind of pressure that you usually have with certain common goals and business. It was just a purely creative gathering, a  nexus of free-form exploration.

The music itself was very experimental and mostly improvised although there were usually a couple of lines written out but no strict arrangement for them. We would explore harmonically and melodically reacting to one another’s sounds and occasionally reading a part but always expanding from there. We were merging influences  from post-Cagean randomness to free jazz to rock and pop music to classical elements to African beat and dance music… such as In the Light of a Miracle, recorded by the group at Battery Sound where Arthur had time booked by Sleeping Bag Records.  I recall working on many, many sessions during the winter of 1982,  but the song was somehow never finished – I think Arthur was fascinated by it and wanted to keep working on it, as finishing it would mean to let it go: he keep remixing it  for years on end without ever bringing it to final stage, although every different remix was good enough to release. I was very involved with this song initially to the point that I co-wrote the music, but I also wanted to see it finished and released. Despite many attempts, remixes and partial releases the piece  has never been properly released in its entirety – it  could probably fill an entire album.

Arthur was a crossover artist who bridged the gap between pop music and experimental music, in the same way as I and many other of my contemporaries have bridged between classical music, minimalism, experimental music, rock and jazz.  No wonder this seed band and its members’ interaction led to such a fruitful variety of recordings and performances for the next 20 years.

Peter Zummo had innumerable collaborations with Arthur Russell including on his own album Experiments with Household Chemicals and on his projects for Trisha Brown Dance Company and more.  Mustafa Ahmed has a well documented MySpace page that will tell you how many albums and tours he worked on that involved Peter Zummo, myself, and others he met through Arthur Russell like Peter Gordon.

We worked together in all different ways, trading leadership on different projects.  I would play on some of Arthur and Peter’s gigs, they would join and play on some of my gigs also. Arthur and Peter are an integral part of my early 80s releases, Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory and The Death of Don Juan. We worked closely together until 1988. When I did a sound sculpture installation in Soho based on the work of Marcel Proust (in collaboration with Carl Karas), Arthur played with me at the opening. Also we performed together at LaMama the Music for the Trine, a custom electro-acoustic lyre I designed to facilitate microtunings, and Arthur participated in a commissioned project I had at Lincoln Center that summer. I continued to work with Mustafa Ahmed on  Existence my multimedia opera at the Performing Garage (1991), Waking in New York (1999-2003), Harmonic Protection Circle (2004). I also worked with drummer Bill Ruyle on Waking in New York and my recent Two-Cents Opera at Theater for the New City last March which also featured Steven Hall.

I was involved creatively with Arthur Russell in the early to mid-eighties. It is interesting to mention that Arthur was open to working with women – mostly myself, and later on Joyce Bowden. I was working with Arthur in an early stage of my career when I was in a process of evolution from musician to composer – I went to NYU for my Master’s in the mid-80s and got an NEA grant in 1985 for The Death of Don Juan. By the late 90s  I had evolved into a composer and multimedia artist writing chamber and orchestral music as well as multimedia operas and doing visual art as well. My band days were  over by the late 80s.

Elodie Lauten & Arthur Russell and collaborators:
Discography/Performance Highlights

Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory (LP, Cat Collectors 1984), soon to be reissued on Unseen Worlds: with Arthur Russell, Peter Zummo

The Death of Don Juan (LP, Cat Collectors 1985), reissued on CD by Unseen Worlds (2008) with Arthur Russell, Peter Zummo

Music for the Trine, LaMama, live performances with cello and Trine, with Arthur Russell (1988)

Five Pieces for Processed Strings (Lincoln Center Commission Serious Fun 1988), with Arthur Russell

Remembrance of Things Past, live performance with gallery installation, Penine Hart Gallery, Soho, 1988), with Arthur Russell (1988)

Existence, live performance at the Performing Garage, Cat Collectors 1993, with Mustafa Ahmed

Arthur Russell, Another Thought (Point, 1994) - In the Light of the Miracle

Dry Ice, songs by Steven Hall, produced by Steven Hall and Elodie Lauten (Studio 21, 2002)

Waking in New York, portrait of Allen Ginsberg, (4Tay, 2003) with Mustafa Ahmed and Bill Ruyle

Harmonic Protection Circle, with Mustata Ahmed (Studio 21, 2004)

The Two-Cents Opera, with Bill Ruyle and Steven Hall (DVD, L.E.S.P.A., 2009)

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Bach bust in a park (photographed by Johnny Reinhard)

Bach bust in a park (photographed by Johnny Reinhard)

What kind of tuning did Bach really use? That is the subject of Johnny Reinhard’s new book, Bach and Tuning. You may know Johnny Reinhard as the host of a wonderful Bach show on WKCR every Christmas Day. He has passionately studied this subject for most of his life, including several pilgrimages to Germany to the places where Bach had lived and the churches where he played.

I am welcoming this book because it challenges a widely accepted misconception: the idea of a connection between Bach and equal temperament; I have been annoyed at times when reading or hearing from respected classical practitioners that Bach “created equal temperament”. The truth of the matter is a lot more complex and subtle…but a clear answer is provided and well-documented in this book.

Many musicians accept standard tuning as a given or even though they are quite capable of hearing the subtleties of other tunings, they do not want to complicate things for themselves – I have had some violinists refuse to rehearse in a Baroque tuning because they said “it ruins my intonation when I go play a Broadway show later tonight”. Sad but true. However, I stand by the principle that Baroque music “sounds” much better when using the correct temperaments that bring out beauty of the natural harmonic intervals. It does require a fine ear… or an average ear that can be educated.

When I discovered the power of just intonation through the work of LaMonte Young (even though his his just intonation is highly customized), and the beauty and subtlety of Baroque tunings for keyboards, I had my piano tuned to Vallotti Young for several years and then moved to Werckmeister III, which I find to be an exquisite tuning that works for any kind of material, Baroque, jazz or other. It is as they called it a “well temperament”, as in “The Well-Tempered Klavier”.


Reinhard’s thoroughly researched book covers Bach’s family and lifelong relationship with Johann Gottfried Walther, a distant cousin who became more like a brother to Bach; Dieterich Buxtehude and the type of keyboard tuning that his improvisations would necessitate; Andreas Werckmeister, responsible for a revolution in tuning through his published temperament alternatives; a discussion of tuning and very detailed comparison of Werckmeister II, IV, V and VI tunings, Kirnberger II and III tunings, Trost tuning, and Neidhart I, II & III tunings, including tuning tables in cents; Bach cities, through well-informed visits to Germany complete with photos; a chapter on “Thuringian aesthetic”, featuring the popularity of certain tunings in Bach’s particular region of Germany, Thuringia; tuning notation including samples of rare manuscripts; a chapter on Johann Philipp Kirnberger, a former student of Bach who introduced  tuning innovations; and a conclusion establishing what Bach’s tuning really was, with detailed answers to a multiple choice question: was it Meantone, Irregular Tuning, Equal Temperament, Idyosincratic Tuning (personal), or Well Temperament (Werckmeister III), the latter being the correct answer.

In addition, the appendix features the complete translation of Andreas Werckmeister’s Musical Temperament, which makes this book very convincing.

The book can be ordered directly by email to in hard copy or pdf version. It belongs in every music college library.

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Friday September 11, 2009 at the New Museum: performance of S.O.S.W.T.C. for solo synthesizer, followed by a performance by the group Arthur’s Landing featuring the music of the late Arthur Russell. New Museum, 235 Bowery and Prince. Tickets $12/$10 at the door.

sos.Program notes

It’s the day before 9/11. A block away from World Trade Center, I am working on a poster design with a big brown shoe against the New York skyline, as if stepping on it. I don’t really know how I came up with that idea. At night, my cats are acting up. On 9/11, I am in midtown, lucky not to be in the downtown office that day. Around 8:45 AM, people are gathering in the conference room, staring at a television screen: there is smoke coming out of the Twin Towers. It looks like a fire or accident. No one understands until a half hour later the plane crashes into the second tower. Around 11AM we are told to evacuate the building. The buses are at a halt, and there is no subway service. There are droves of people walking, walking. It’s a panic. There is a smell in the air. At home only one television channel reports live on the events.

Several weeks before I dreamed that my grandmother (who had long passed away) was on fire… I knew it was a warning of danger, but what kind?… After the disaster, I felt a scramble of mad energies, the firefighters, the tragedy and heroism, the folk music. But the jobs were gone. I was home playing my synthesizer, taking dictation from what I sensed and I saw. To avoid the smell and smoke, I stayed in, totally involved in this piece, which remained untitled for a long time. My personal tragedy of 9/11 is that with the recession that followed, I had to move to a smaller place, and give up some of the things I loved the most: space, piano, cats.

In the music of  S.O.S.W.T.C., the tonal center is either missing or constantly shifting, like a carpet pulled from under. The pitch is indefinite. The sound components are controlled via the touch sensitivity of the keyboard so that the improvisation literally ‘sculpts’ the sound. This technique allows tri-dimensional control of melody, harmony and color. The mystery surrounding pitch creates a sense of floating in space, of vulnerability, of a growling, chaotic presence. In the original recording, sections are arranged according to the “3 short, 3 long, 3 short” Morse code for S.O.S. This premiere performance is both excerpted and expanded from the original. However I replaced the reality footage with a more abstract take on the fragility of life which I created thanks to a residency at Experimental Television Center.

S.O.S.W.T.C. had its first performance (with news footage of the tragedy) on December 22, 2001 at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, in an event where the organization Dharma Nature Time had gathered spiritual leaders from all different faiths to pray and reflect on the disaster. A CD was released in November 2001 (Studio 21) and it was pledged to the Red Cross. It is now out of print. If you wish to obtain a CDR copy of the recording, or any other material, please email:

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Art Loisaida’s Homage to Ginsberg – Howl Festival

Coming up on September 1st through September 30,  the new Art Loisaida show presents an ‘Homage to Ginsberg”,  at Theater for the New City (155 First Avenue at 10th St)  with an opening reception on September 9 between 5 and 8 PM. The artists in the show are: Deborah Aslanian, Amy Cohen Banker, Kathryn Bloss, Kathy Creutzburg, Lauren Edmond, Haim Elisha, Kris Enos, Millie Falcaro, Kathy Jennings, Randy Jones, Angela LaMonte, Phoebe Legere, Len Leone, Marlis Momber, Jerry Pagan, Jo Pendola, Carolyn Ratcliffe, Mike Rimbaud, Christine Rodriquez, Anne Stanner. NOTE: During the opening on September 9, I will perform (assisted by Andrew Bolotowsky, flute, soprano Mary Hurlbut and guitarist Jonathan Hirschman) a new setting of the poetry of Ginsberg, entitled – so appropriately – Velocity of Money… ‘”whistling through windows of Lower East Side…”

Art Loisaida people Read the rest of this entry »

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