Friday, December 4, 2009


Table Of The Elements, 2001; available

3 tracks, 64:31

Well, what a find this was! What we have here is a collection of John Cale's private recordings from around the time his tenure with La Monte Young and the Theatre Of Eternal Music was over; they are for the most part contemporary with his stint in the Velvet Underground. Naturally enough, influences of both his minimalist past and his avant-rock (then) present and future are detectable on this disc. Straight from Tony Conrad's tape archives, these three pieces are pristinely recorded (for the most part) despite dating from '65 to '68. They are also nothing short of incredible. The title track opens up the disc and occupies most of it, being a whopping forty-two minutes and forty-two seconds. It sounds like it could be awfully boring on paper: Cale experiments with his Vox Continental and a single chord. Don't let that scare you away; this is fascinating to listen to the whole way through. The chord has subtle variations added to it, whether it be another note or a slight decrease in pressure applied to the keys. What results is a constantly fluid improvisation that sounds remarkably like later developments in electronic music, all done with a cheesy organ and plenty of inspiration. It's a tough act to follow, but the other two tracks are up for the challenge. "Summer Heat" is a solo guitar performance, with plenty of hypnotic cyclic patterns and subtle tonal shifts. It's a little over eleven minutes and not a minute is wasted. In many ways this predates Dylan Carlson's stance of being an "amplifier player", and it also sounds (not surprisingly) very VU-ish. Even the rough cut-off at the end is charming. Finally, "The Second Fortress" brings us back to Cale and his Vox, possibly aided by a tape recorder set-up a la Fripp and Eno or Ilitch(though predating them by a good six years or so). This is an intensely abstract piece, recalling the primitive electronic wizardry of Richard Maxfield while sounding remarkably like the much later electro-abstractions of Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada, et al. After ten and a half minutes, "The Second Fortress" is over, leaving you hungry for more Cale experimentation. Luckily, Table Of The Elements has released two more installments, STAINLESS GAMELAN and DREAM INTERPRETATION; also, the now-hard-to-find DAY OF NIAGARA features a rare (though poorly recorded) Theatre Of Eternal Music session. Other Cale recordings are interesting, especially the avant-skronk SABOTAGE-LIVE and the Terry Riley collaboration CHURCH OF ANTHRAX, but his experimental "New York In The 1960s" work on TOTE is the most daring and fascinating of his works, especially on SUN BLINDNESS MUSIC.

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