Interview- FREDRIK NILSEN (for The Wire)

Was there/is there an overall LAFMS aesthetic? Is it possible to describe it?

That is an interesting and difficult question. The LAFMS at its inception was a product of the convergence of 3 or 4 independent groups on the east side of Los Angeles, each group creating experimental sounds without really being aware of the existence of the others. Each were coming from differing backgrounds and approaches. I identify the four groups as being Le Forte Four, Ace and Deuce, Smegma, and the DooDooettes. We found each other through the portal of Poobah Records in Pasadena.

If there was a common aesthetic it had to do with not really caring a damn about aesthetics. There was an irreverent attitude toward virtuosity. It wasn’t that we didn’t respect, admire, even envy virtuosity, we just didn’t place much stock in it with respect to the music that we were making. It was more about the texture of the resulting sound and the feeling that arose during the interactions between the players. The music was frequently imbued with humor and sometimes it was downright silly. We loved to have a laugh. Why the hell not! Making art and music was damn fun. I think that our sense of humor was part of the reason we that were so often dismissed as not serious. The fact is that we were quite serious about working as artists in the medium of sound. We were sound artists and we didn’t have a stick up our butts. Some elements of the local free jazz scene, which could be dreadfully serious and humorless, regarded us with disdain.

We were also political in that we pursued a path of self-empowerment. We were here working in the world’s center of commercialization, in the heart of the beast, and we were completely disregarded by that bureaucracy. Thus, through the “I.D. Art” construct created by Joe Potts of Le Forte Four, we pursued artist financed and distributed releases using a do-it-yourself model. In this model aesthetics were irrelevant to the track selection process. The production and distribution process itself decided what was released on the records, thus pulling the wool over our ego’s eyes (as Cage used to say regarding his chance operations model).

What was the LA of the early-70s like? How did it contribute to the birth and affect the development of the LAFMS?

It was sort of a colorless, smoggy place  Richard Nixon was wrecking his train and the atmosphere was ripe for the SLA and slaughter. Vietnam dragged on. It seems in my memory that there was sort of an artistic malaise in the air. I became interested in the Viennese Actionists and became aware of local artists that were sort of an analog to that, like Kim Jones, Paul McCarthy and Chris Burden. Something was bubbling up under the surface. It seemed like there was an opening to do something new.

Tell me a little about Poo-Bah Records – can you recall your first meeting with Tom? What sort of records was he turning people onto?

I met Tom in 1967 well before Poo-Bah;s opened. A friend took me to a Halloween party that was in some kid’s garage. I was pretty deep into music at that point and was listening to records with my only friend who shared my interest, Jan Paulshus. He lived 30 miles away. We listened to imported Stones records, Hendrix, Pink Floyd and a lot of US psychedelic groups like 13th floor Elevators, the United States of America, the San Francisco bands, plus LA bands like the Music Machine, Love and Buffalo Springfield. Aside from that somehow we got turned on to Ligeti (via 2001 A Space Odyssey) and Stockhausen and a bunch of other experimental “serious” music. It was super cool. However, I didn’t know anybody in my school who shared my interests so I lived in my own little world. I walked into that garage party and to my shock the kid hosting and DJ’ing threw on Are You Experienced. I went right up to him and asked him if he could spin “Third Stone From The Sun”, which was my favorite track on the record. He looked at me kind of stunned. The Hendrix album had just come in the states out a few weeks before. He asked with an astonished tone, “YOU KNOW ABOUT JIMI HENDRIX???” That was Tom Recchion and from that day forward we were best friends.

So, by the time Tom got the job at PooBah Records we already had a history. We had formed a band in 68 simply called The Power Trio with the aforementioned Jan Paulshus and played garage parties. We only played 3 songs, A Train Kept A Rollin’ was one of them, and were so noisy that people would run out of the garage in horror.

Jay Green opened Poobah’s in Old Town Pasadena in 1971, which was at that point a derelict section of town housing thrift stores, porn shops, a free clinic, and populated by a lot of junkies, prostitutes and weirdos. It therefore had a lot of appeal for us. The rents were dirt cheap there. Tom and I were probably among Poobah’s very first customers. Jay stocked an amazing selection of used jazz, funk and rock. That’s where I first heard Maggot Brain by Funkadelic and I am forever grateful for that alone. It wasn’t long before Tom was working there uncovering music heretofore unknown to us and educating us. He schooled us in the wonders of Can, Syrinx, Terry Riley, Henry Cow, The Stooges, Cecil Taylor, Mauricio Kagel, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Robbie Basho, Guru-Guru, Han Bennink, Derek Bailey, etc, in an endless stream. Soon we were gathering after hours in the back room having listening parties and playing music together late into the night.

How did you first become involved with Tom and DooDooettes? What was your impression of him?

Tom and I were old friends by the time the Ettes came about, having shared a house and pet goats. He was becoming a fantastic abstract expressionistic painter and we were all into the art scene. He met Harold Schroeder but I don’t know where. They started playing abstract music together as a duo. They had sort of a regular gig playing music for a group of middle-aged women who ran a weekly expressionistic improvising dance club. Harold and Tom played their weird improvised music and the women would dance to it expressing themselves in movement. I went once and expressed myself in dance, mostly sliding myself around on the linoleum floor like a worm The music was fascinating. Tom and Harold called their two person ensemble “The Two Who Do Duets”. About this time we were making friends with Ace and the folks in Smegma. One of these people was Dennis Duck. Another Juan Gomez. Those two started playing with Tom and Harold and so the Two Who Do Duets became four and the name got changed to DooDooettes. I formed another group with Dave Nold, Billy Bishop and Chuck Saldumbide called Nut Mosaic Music. We played every night in our livingroom and recorded a lot on cheap crap cassettes, but never performed out. The DooDooettes, however, had ambition. They self booked to play a gig with Le Forte Four and Ace and Deuce at the Old Spaghetti Works in the building above Poobah’s. That was 1975. I was so in awe of what they accomplished in that concert. Tom had a studio at 35 South Raymond building in Pasadena right by Schoeder’s studio, Le Forte Four were in that building too. I would drop in all the time and play, and organically worked into the group and they asked me to join. In my mind it was like, WOW, I’ve been asked to join the greatest group in the world! I was totally stoked.

Did the LAFMS inherit anything from the LA freakscene around Zappa, Wild Man Fischer, Beefheart et al?

Absolutely. The first time we all saw Beefheart and the Magic Band play, around 70 or 71, it was a life changing experience. We liked the early Zappa up through Uncle Meat, but it was Beefheart that really spoke to us. Then Smegma recorded with Wild Man Fisher. I was full of envy. Later Rick Snyder of Ace and Deuce actually became a member of Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band.

How about improvisation – how aware were you of improvising as a form of musical practice, ie coming out of jazz, free jazz etc – or was it much more instinctive than that?

We were musically very aware. We listened to a lot of American experimental jazz free improv and were also very interested in the European Free Improvisers. Anthony Braxton, Peter Brotzmann, Derek Bailey, AMM, etc. Tom and I were particularly in love with Alterations. We were not jazz musicians though and I think that our motivations were more inspired by rock music meets electronic music and 20th century serious music.

Did you feel a connection to rock music, did you feel you were furthering modes/ideas/styles that came out of the late 60s rock revolution or did you feel more like overthrowing it altogether? Was there any relationship between late 60s head culture and your own experiments in community?

Psychedelic music merged with Stockhausen for me as a perfect storm of influence. Our musical experiments came much more out of a rock tradition than a jazz tradition, even though we did listen to jazz. That period in which we were working was a particularly unique moment for our kind of music to occur. It was one of those times in art history when sociological, political, artistic and economic evolution converge to create a movement. Along with the LAFMS there was Destroy All Monsters in Michigan, Hojikaidan in Japan, Half Japanese in Maryland, Bachelors Even in New York, Alterations in the UK,  all developing music coming from a unique combination of traditions. It arose spontaneously and independently with very little inter-communication, at least at first. As the collective aspects of LAFMS production developed, we did serve to help connect that network by including and spreading the music in some of our releases.

Can you recall first hearing Bikini Tennis Shoes? What was your reaction.

When Tom brought me Bikini Tennis Shoes I was awestruck. The incredible cover made of an actual full sheet of gang printed post cards salvaged from the Huntington Library’s garbage of Gainsborough and Lawrence reproductions (Blue Boy and Pinkie) enclosed a record of particularly dazzling music that was both totally experimental and completely hilarious at the same time. It was dazzling and they put it out themselves. That may seem like a ridiculously easy and obvious thing to do now, but then it was anything but obvious. What seemed impossible was suddenly possible. We bonded with Joe. Rick and Tom Potts, Chip Chapman and Susan Farthing of Le Forte Four and the LAFMS sprung forth. Le Forte Four had already used the moniker of East Los Angeles Free Music Society to try to get taken seriously by a contemporary music festival in Norway. The rejection note from the director of the festival said something like…”Free minds and ears are one thing, but what about aesthetics???” He hit the nail right on the head.

To illustrate where Le Forte Four were coming from in part an incident involving Chip Chapman comes to mind. He was a composition student at Cal Arts and all composition students at Cal Arts at that time were required to study and compose for the piano. Chip refused and when It came time to turn in his composition he taped a firecracker to a sheet of typing paper printed with the words “tape to head and ignite”. They tried to expel him.

Can you tell me about the recording of LAFMS Live At The Brand?

The Live At The Brand concert occurred on 8 July 1976 (my 24th birthday). L44 did a pre-recorded performance which was piped through 44 pyramid shaped headphones that would entirely cover the listeners’ heads. The headphones were spread across the floor of the space and audience members would take turns wearing the headphone. A few hogged their pyramids for the entire set. There was a definite Dada element to it. The prerecorded piece of music is what comprises Le Forte Four’s sides of Live At The Brand. The music was strange by any measure.

The DooDooettes performed live and were recorded in 4 channels on a Teac quarter track by Jan Paulshus., In the spirit of our origins our part of the performance was structured as a series of duets blending into one another, culminating in a full ensemble improvisation. There were prerecorded elements and tape manipulations mixed with various instrumental combinations. I was into reel-to-reel tape scratching and Tom and I did a live looping section. There were standard and prepared instruments. The line up was Tom, Harold, Juan, Dennis and me.

Why the need for a ‘Society’? What was the role of the LAFMS? Was it a strength in numbers thing, a co-operative publishing house, a hot-house for brainstorming ideas, a roll-call of weirdo musicians that you could all draw on?

The “Society” name was a joke that stuck. What we were was an informal collective that collaborated in publishing records, tapes, a journal called Lightbulb Magazine” and we organized some performances. I can’t say that we were terribly energetic, but we did manage to get things done. I never considered us to be weirdos. I had my own concept of what made a person a weirdo and it didn’t usually have anything to do with the music they made. Collectively we did form a hot-house of sorts for cultivating combinations of art and music in differing combinations. There was a period when some of us would regularly meet at Kevin Laffey’s house and jam and record. That was a fertile period. One notorious session at Kevin’s involved Paul Burwell, Anne Bean, Harry Kipper and Vetza and who know who else. No one will talk about what happened there that day.

Who named LAFMS and what was the concept of ‘free music’?

Le Forte Four. The concept related to both improvisation and attitude.

There seems to be a ‘scientific American’/hobbyist ethos with the LAFMS, making your own instruments etc… do you see any connections between what you do and the musician-inventors like Harry Partch, Harry Bertoia et al? It also seems to tie-in with garage band traditions but also classic 50s/60s garage hobbies, building your own monster kits, your own hot rods…

I think that there may have been a bit of that that 50’s hobbiest vibe in L44’s approach and some of that seemed to occur in the collages that Ace and Tom R created, but I don’t really see it as integral. Though Partch and Bertoia were certainly inspiring, our homemade instrument sensibility was really far cruder and sometimes very impractical. A good example is Tom’s nail shoe which which was comprised of nails hammered into one side of a short piece of 2×4 inch wood then strapped onto the foot generating sound when walking around scraping the ground. A more elegant example was Tom’s “strungaphone” which mounted a cymbal to a 2×4 using a guitar string which was made to sing like a banshee using a plastic breadbag clip gripped by a clamp.

Ju Suk Reete Meate maintained that Smegma were more of a rock band whereas the rest of the LAFMS were more arthouse – how accurate do you think that is?

I think that is true, except that I’m not sure exactly what “arthouse” means. We did come out of rock more than jazz, but were we also influence by electronic and experimental 20th century music as well as an interest in performance art and text sound.

How important was the concept of ‘unmusicianship’ of music made by non-musicians – how was this liberating and how central is it to the sound of the LAFMS? Were there particular inspirations for this approach, these were lean years before punk huh? Or is that a myth?

We did relate to the concept of music for non-musicians. We were children undressing animals. It was part of our ethos. Even when we learned how to actually play instruments some of us would intentionally play in a way that was unfamiliar in order to enter that realm of exploration that comes from a lack of mastery. Virtuosity never really mattered. The arrival of punk was great, even though we became sort of a thorn in the side of punks. We were both respected and despised by differing elements of the LA Punk Scene. Don Bolles of the Consumers and then The Germs was a fan and later a collaborator.

How do you feel now that the LAFMS ethos had percolated so far and so deep into the contemporary underground, did you ever think you would see that?

I never did. I think it’s great and I love so much of the music that’s being made now. Everything has become so fluid. The network has a life of its own.

Tell me about growing up, what music were you digging, what was your first introduction to weirdo music?

I preferred rock music but was interested in everything. The record that really sent me on a tangent after being primed by US and UK psychedelic music was Telemusik by Stockhausen. I got that record and sat in my bedroom for 3 hours playing that side over and over until my poor Norwegian mother burst in freaking out wanting to know just what the hell was going on.

Rick has spoken of the 1975 gig in the ballroom above Poo-Bah as the birthday of the LAFMS, can you recall the specifics of the show, who came, what was the reaction on the night, did it feel instantly significant?

I remember it pretty well. I took pictures and still have a couple of the negatives of L44 who played behind a barrier of sorts. I was architecturally beautiful room with an atrium as I recall. I don’t remember much of the music, but I do remember feeling that something amazing was happening there that was bigger than the concert itself. It was Ace and Deuce, Le Forte Four and the DooDooettes and the room was or was to become a restaurant called the Old Spaghetti Works. I think the show was billed as the “Shinese New Years Show” or something like that to commemorate the date of the show. I may be wrong about that, but that’s how I remember it. If any event marks the birth of the LAFMS, that would be it.

What was your first encounter with Ace and Deuce?  How about Smegma?

My first encounter with Ace was at Poobah’s. I remember being invited to play with him and some of the other Smegmoids and Ace and Deucers. Once I brought a tin can marimba that I’d made and it cause quite a sensation.

So who all lived in the Raymond Building? What was the atmosphere like there?

The Raymond was a beautiful multi-story arts and crafts era building in Old Town Pasadena 2 blocks from Poobahs. It had housed the Foothill Free Clinic, a radical health center run mainly on volunteer energy. The clinic had moved up the street so now the Raymond Building was empty and essentially derelict like most of the buildings in that area. Artists and musicians were renting up dirt cheap space and the energy was infectious. There was a lot of cross pollination. This is when I met Barbara Smith and John Duncan and loads of other provocative artists working in the neighborhood. One performance that I remember involved the Raymond Building and the building directly across the street which was similarly populated with artists. It was a Rear Window sort of affair where you could watch the theater going on in the windows across the street. I must say though that my memory of this is quite foggy.

Can you recall the circumstances of the recording of Airway’s Live At Lace?

I heard all about it. I was living in San Francisco when it happened.

What happened to the LAFMS in the end, did it fizzle out, deliberately terminate, what?

At a certain point in the early 80’s it became a bit awkward to release LP’s under the name LAFMS when there was no formal structure in terms of running a business like a record label. There were issues, like who was liable for an unpaid bill at a pressing plant when 3 or 4 different people were ordering work under the LAFMS name. That was why I started a label called Solid Eye Records with the idea of releasing LAFMS projects in sort of a licensing arrangement. The DooDooettes “Look to This” was done this way. The reality of running a label though was not really my cup of tea. Solid Eye did release a Romans LP and a number of cassettes, but my attention turned to other pursuits. I moved to Europe in 1984 and though I did manage to run the label from afar for a few months, it was really an unsustainable pursuit. I had partnered with John Talley-Jones (of Happy Squid Records and the Urinals/100 Flowers) and Bruce Licher (of Independent Project Records and Savage Republic) to form a mail order distribution company called The Starkman Concern, named after the building in downtown LA where Bruce had his letterpress printing studio. However, starting a business partnership and then immediately running off to another country with one’s girlfriend isn’t really a great idea. Bruce, John and I have remained good friends, however.

LAFMS has carried on, evolving, ebbing and flowing. Most of us consider the collective to be alive. Way back in 1980 or so we trademarked the name and elected a president, Jerry Bishop, who holds the papers of the “disorganization”, as we sometimes referred to the LAFMS. Solid Eye, Points of Friction, Joe and Joe, Extended Organ, Dinosaurs With Horns, Smegma, the Mystery Band etc, etc have carried the movement forward.

Can you tell me a little about the birth and arrival of Smegma? How did they fit into the LAFMS?

Smegma were for me a solid core element of LAFMS that started, like Le Forte Four, well before the LAFMS formed. They held a god-like status for me. Whenever I had an opportunity to play with any of them I felt humbled. Then suddenly they moved away to Portland, Oregon. And yet, somehow they remained part of the LAFMS. The early Ju Suk Reat Meate LPs with one of a kind hand drawn covers are at the apex of LAFMS releases for me. They embody so much of what LAFMS was.

Do you see the groups as having very separate identities or as blurring the lines as members came and went? For example, were some groups more about tape composition, some more about electronics and post-production, some more about the live jam? What was what and who was who?

The groups did have there individual identities and flavors. L44 definitely had a tape compositional element at their core, but at times they were equally a garage band banging out a cover tune in a most peculiar way. Ace and Deuce for me was the most Beefheart influenced. Smegma was rockier, though I associate them with a lot of abstract music as well. DooDooettes were more like free improv meets electronic I suppose, really just playing with sound. It was all about push and pull, build and collapse.

Can you recall the details of the 1977 LAFMS telethon? How did it work, who did it attract, were there particular stand-out callers?

I was in San Francisco. You should ask Joe about this one.

Can you recount any particular key performances?

Aside from Shinese New Year and the Brand, there were loads of both fantastic and awful shows. Performing at the Masque, LA’s punk shrine run by Brendan Mullen with Le Forte Four and the South Pasadena Free Music Ensemble was an interesting confrontation. Some DooDooettes performances that I found memorable occurred when we were a trio; Tom, Dennis Duck and me. Among those were the Actualist Convention at Terminal Concepts, San Francisco in 1978, performing with Fred Frith at the Theater Vanguard (another Brendan Mullen/Masque production), our “destroying the Pilot Theater” show when our co-billed Le Forte Four performed Japanese Super Heroes, and our performance on the KPFK Close Radio program with John Duncan on drums and video documented by Paul McCarthy. CV Massage was an LAFMS associated group with John Duncan, Tom, me, Michael LeDonne Bennet and Paul McCarthy on vocals. We did a rousing performance at a space in Japantown that was at that point called DTLA I believe. That McCarthy sure could belt out a sea chantey!

LAFMS Questions

Was there/is there an overall LAFMS aesthetic? Is it possible to describe it?

That is an interesting and difficult question. The LAFMS at its inception was a product of the convergence of 3 or 4 independent groups on the east side of Los Angeles, each group creating experimental sounds without really being aware of the existence of the others. Each were coming from differing backgrounds and approaches. I identify the four groups as being Le Forte Four, Ace and Deuce, Smegma, and the DooDooettes. We found each other through the portal of Poobah Records in Pasadena.

If there was a common aesthetic it had to do with not really caring a damn about aesthetics. There was an irreverent attitude toward virtuosity. It wasn’t that we didn’t respect, admire, even envy virtuosity, we just didn’t place much stock in it with respect to the music that we were making. It was more about the texture of the resulting sound and the feeling that arose during the interactions between the players. The music was frequently imbued with humor and sometimes it was downright silly. We loved to have a laugh. Why the hell not! Making art and music was damn fun. I think that our sense of humor was part of the reason we that were so often dismissed as not serious. The fact is that we were quite serious about working as artists in the medium of sound. We were sound artists and we didn’t have a stick up our butts. Some elements of the local free jazz scene, which could be dreadfully serious and humorless, regarded us with disdain.

We were also political in that we pursued a path of self-empowerment. We were here working in the world’s center of commercialization, in the heart of the beast, and we were completely disregarded by that bureaucracy. Thus, through the “I.D. Art” construct created by Joe Potts of Le Forte Four, we pursued artist financed and distributed releases using a do-it-yourself model. In this model aesthetics were irrelevant to the track selection process. The production and distribution process itself decided what was released on the records, thus pulling the wool over our ego’s eyes (as Cage used to say regarding his chance operations model).

What was the LA of the early-70s like? How did it contribute to the birth and affect the development of the LAFMS?

It was sort of a colorless, smoggy place  Richard Nixon was wrecking his train and the atmosphere was ripe for the SLA and slaughter. Vietnam dragged on. It seems in my memory that there was sort of an artistic malaise in the air. I became interested in the Viennese Actionists and became aware of local artists that were sort of an analog to that, like Kim Jones, Paul McCarthy and Chris Burden. Something was bubbling up under the surface. It seemed like there was an opening to do something new.

Tell me a little about Poo-Bah Records – can you recall your first meeting with Tom? What sort of records was he turning people onto?

I met Tom in 1967 well before Poo-Bah;s opened. A friend took me to a Halloween party that was in some kid’s garage. I was pretty deep into music at that point and was listening to records with my only friend who shared my interest, Jan Paulshus. He lived 30 miles away. We listened to imported Stones records, Hendrix, Pink Floyd and a lot of US psychedelic groups like 13th floor Elevators, the United States of America, the San Francisco bands, plus LA bands like the Music Machine, Love and Buffalo Springfield. Aside from that somehow we got turned on to Ligeti (via 2001 A Space Odyssey) and Stockhausen and a bunch of other experimental “serious” music. It was super cool. However, I didn’t know anybody in my school who shared my interests so I lived in my own little world. I walked into that garage party and to my shock the kid hosting and DJ’ing threw on Are You Experienced. I went right up to him and asked him if he could spin “Third Stone From The Sun”, which was my favorite track on the record. He looked at me kind of stunned. The Hendrix album had just come in the states out a few weeks before. He asked with an astonished tone, “YOU KNOW ABOUT JIMI HENDRIX???” That was Tom Recchion and from that day forward we were best friends.

So, by the time Tom got the job at PooBah Records we already had a history. We had formed a band in 68 simply called The Power Trio with the aforementioned Jan Paulshus and played garage parties. We only played 3 songs, A Train Kept A Rollin’ was one of them, and were so noisy that people would run out of the garage in horror.

Jay Green opened Poobah’s in Old Town Pasadena in 1971, which was at that point a derelict section of town housing thrift stores, porn shops, a free clinic, and populated by a lot of junkies, prostitutes and weirdos. It therefore had a lot of appeal for us. The rents were dirt cheap there. Tom and I were probably among Poobah’s very first customers. Jay stocked an amazing selection of used jazz, funk and rock. That’s where I first heard Maggot Brain by Funkadelic and I am forever grateful for that alone. It wasn’t long before Tom was working there uncovering music heretofore unknown to us and educating us. He schooled us in the wonders of Can, Syrinx, Terry Riley, Henry Cow, The Stooges, Cecil Taylor, Mauricio Kagel, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Robbie Basho, Guru-Guru, Han Bennink, Derek Bailey, etc, in an endless stream. Soon we were gathering after hours in the back room having listening parties and playing music together late into the night.

How did you first become involved with Tom and DooDooettes? What was your impression of him?

Tom and I were old friends by the time the Ettes came about, having shared a house and pet goats. He was becoming a fantastic abstract expressionistic painter and we were all into the art scene. He met Harold Schroeder but I don’t know where. They started playing abstract music together as a duo. They had sort of a regular gig playing music for a group of middle-aged women who ran a weekly expressionistic improvising dance club. Harold and Tom played their weird improvised music and the women would dance to it expressing themselves in movement. I went once and expressed myself in dance, mostly sliding myself around on the linoleum floor like a worm The music was fascinating. Tom and Harold called their two person ensemble “The Two Who Do Duets”. About this time we were making friends with Ace and the folks in Smegma. One of these people was Dennis Duck. Another Juan Gomez. Those two started playing with Tom and Harold and so the Two Who Do Duets became four and the name got changed to DooDooettes. I formed another group with Dave Nold, Billy Bishop and Chuck Saldumbide called Nut Mosaic Music. We played every night in our livingroom and recorded a lot on cheap crap cassettes, but never performed out. The DooDooettes, however, had ambition. They self booked to play a gig with Le Forte Four and Ace and Deuce at the Old Spaghetti Works in the building above Poobah’s. That was 1975. I was so in awe of what they accomplished in that concert. Tom had a studio at 35 South Raymond building in Pasadena right by Schoeder’s studio, Le Forte Four were in that building too. I would drop in all the time and play, and organically worked into the group and they asked me to join. In my mind it was like, WOW, I’ve been asked to join the greatest group in the world! I was totally stoked.

Did the LAFMS inherit anything from the LA freakscene around Zappa, Wild Man Fischer, Beefheart et al?

Absolutely. The first time we all saw Beefheart and the Magic Band play, around 70 or 71, it was a life changing experience. We liked the early Zappa up through Uncle Meat, but it was Beefheart that really spoke to us. Then Smegma recorded with Wild Man Fisher. I was full of envy. Later Rick Snyder of Ace and Deuce actually became a member of Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band.

How about improvisation – how aware were you of improvising as a form of musical practice, ie coming out of jazz, free jazz etc – or was it much more instinctive than that?

We were musically very aware. We listened to a lot of American experimental jazz free improv and were also very interested in the European Free Improvisers. Anthony Braxton, Peter Brotzmann, Derek Bailey, AMM, etc. Tom and I were particularly in love with Alterations. We were not jazz musicians though and I think that our motivations were more inspired by rock music meets electronic music and 20th century serious music.

Did you feel a connection to rock music, did you feel you were furthering modes/ideas/styles that came out of the late 60s rock revolution or did you feel more like overthrowing it altogether? Was there any relationship between late 60s head culture and your own experiments in community?

Psychedelic music merged with Stockhausen for me as a perfect storm of influence. Our musical experiments came much more out of a rock tradition than a jazz tradition, even though we did listen to jazz. That period in which we were working was a particularly unique moment for our kind of music to occur. It was one of those times in art history when sociological, political, artistic and economic evolution converge to create a movement. Along with the LAFMS there was Destroy All Monsters in Michigan, Hojikaidan in Japan, Half Japanese in Maryland, Bachelors Even in New York, Alterations in the UK,  all developing music coming from a unique combination of traditions. It arose spontaneously and independently with very little inter-communication, at least at first. As the collective aspects of LAFMS production developed, we did serve to help connect that network by including and spreading the music in some of our releases.

Can you recall first hearing Bikini Tennis Shoes? What was your reaction.

When Tom brought me Bikini Tennis Shoes I was awestruck. The incredible cover made of an actual full sheet of gang printed post cards salvaged from the Huntington Library’s garbage of Gainsborough and Lawrence reproductions (Blue Boy and Pinkie) enclosed a record of particularly dazzling music that was both totally experimental and completely hilarious at the same time. It was dazzling and they put it out themselves. That may seem like a ridiculously easy and obvious thing to do now, but then it was anything but obvious. What seemed impossible was suddenly possible. We bonded with Joe. Rick and Tom Potts, Chip Chapman and Susan Farthing of Le Forte Four and the LAFMS sprung forth. Le Forte Four had already used the moniker of East Los Angeles Free Music Society to try to get taken seriously by a contemporary music festival in Norway. The rejection note from the director of the festival said something like…”Free minds and ears are one thing, but what about aesthetics???” He hit the nail right on the head.

To illustrate where Le Forte Four were coming from in part an incident involving Chip Chapman comes to mind. He was a composition student at Cal Arts and all composition students at Cal Arts at that time were required to study and compose for the piano. Chip refused and when It came time to turn in his composition he taped a firecracker to a sheet of typing paper printed with the words “tape to head and ignite”. They tried to expel him.

Can you tell me about the recording of LAFMS Live At The Brand?

The Live At The Brand concert occurred on 8 July 1976 (my 24th birthday). L44 did a pre-recorded performance which was piped through 44 pyramid shaped headphones that would entirely cover the listeners’ heads. The headphones were spread across the floor of the space and audience members would take turns wearing the headphone. A few hogged their pyramids for the entire set. There was a definite Dada element to it. The prerecorded piece of music is what comprises Le Forte Four’s sides of Live At The Brand. The music was strange by any measure.

The DooDooettes performed live and were recorded in 4 channels on a Teac quarter track by Jan Paulshus., In the spirit of our origins our part of the performance was structured as a series of duets blending into one another, culminating in a full ensemble improvisation. There were prerecorded elements and tape manipulations mixed with various instrumental combinations. I was into reel-to-reel tape scratching and Tom and I did a live looping section. There were standard and prepared instruments. The line up was Tom, Harold, Juan, Dennis and me.

Why the need for a ‘Society’? What was the role of the LAFMS? Was it a strength in numbers thing, a co-operative publishing house, a hot-house for brainstorming ideas, a roll-call of weirdo musicians that you could all draw on?

The “Society” name was a joke that stuck. What we were was an informal collective that collaborated in publishing records, tapes, a journal called Lightbulb Magazine” and we organized some performances. I can’t say that we were terribly energetic, but we did manage to get things done. I never considered us to be weirdos. I had my own concept of what made a person a weirdo and it didn’t usually have anything to do with the music they made. Collectively we did form a hot-house of sorts for cultivating combinations of art and music in differing combinations. There was a period when some of us would regularly meet at Kevin Laffey’s house and jam and record. That was a fertile period. One notorious session at Kevin’s involved Paul Burwell, Anne Bean, Harry Kipper and Vetza and who know who else. No one will talk about what happened there that day.

Who named LAFMS and what was the concept of ‘free music’?

Le Forte Four. The concept related to both improvisation and attitude.

There seems to be a ‘scientific American’/hobbyist ethos with the LAFMS, making your own instruments etc… do you see any connections between what you do and the musician-inventors like Harry Partch, Harry Bertoia et al? It also seems to tie-in with garage band traditions but also classic 50s/60s garage hobbies, building your own monster kits, your own hot rods…

I think that there may have been a bit of that that 50’s hobbiest vibe in L44’s approach and some of that seemed to occur in the collages that Ace and Tom R created, but I don’t really see it as integral. Though Partch and Bertoia were certainly inspiring, our homemade instrument sensibility was really far cruder and sometimes very impractical. A good example is Tom’s nail shoe which which was comprised of nails hammered into one side of a short piece of 2×4 inch wood then strapped onto the foot generating sound when walking around scraping the ground. A more elegant example was Tom’s “strungaphone” which mounted a cymbal to a 2×4 using a guitar string which was made to sing like a banshee using a plastic breadbag clip gripped by a clamp.

Ju Suk Reete Meate maintained that Smegma were more of a rock band whereas the rest of the LAFMS were more arthouse – how accurate do you think that is?

I think that is true, except that I’m not sure exactly what “arthouse” means. We did come out of rock more than jazz, but were we also influence by electronic and experimental 20th century music as well as an interest in performance art and text sound.

How important was the concept of ‘unmusicianship’ of music made by non-musicians – how was this liberating and how central is it to the sound of the LAFMS? Were there particular inspirations for this approach, these were lean years before punk huh? Or is that a myth?

We did relate to the concept of music for non-musicians. We were children undressing animals. It was part of our ethos. Even when we learned how to actually play instruments some of us would intentionally play in a way that was unfamiliar in order to enter that realm of exploration that comes from a lack of mastery. Virtuosity never really mattered. The arrival of punk was great, even though we became sort of a thorn in the side of punks. We were both respected and despised by differing elements of the LA Punk Scene. Don Bolles of the Consumers and then The Germs was a fan and later a collaborator.

How do you feel now that the LAFMS ethos had percolated so far and so deep into the contemporary underground, did you ever think you would see that?

I never did. I think it’s great and I love so much of the music that’s being made now. Everything has become so fluid. The network has a life of its own.

Tell me about growing up, what music were you digging, what was your first introduction to weirdo music?

I preferred rock music but was interested in everything. The record that really sent me on a tangent after being primed by US and UK psychedelic music was Telemusik by Stockhausen. I got that record and sat in my bedroom for 3 hours playing that side over and over until my poor Norwegian mother burst in freaking out wanting to know just what the hell was going on.

Rick has spoken of the 1975 gig in the ballroom above Poo-Bah as the birthday of the LAFMS, can you recall the specifics of the show, who came, what was the reaction on the night, did it feel instantly significant?

I remember it pretty well. I took pictures and still have a couple of the negatives of L44 who played behind a barrier of sorts. I was architecturally beautiful room with an atrium as I recall. I don’t remember much of the music, but I do remember feeling that something amazing was happening there that was bigger than the concert itself. It was Ace and Deuce, Le Forte Four and the DooDooettes and the room was or was to become a restaurant called the Old Spaghetti Works. I think the show was billed as the “Shinese New Years Show” or something like that to commemorate the date of the show. I may be wrong about that, but that’s how I remember it. If any event marks the birth of the LAFMS, that would be it.

What was your first encounter with Ace and Deuce?  How about Smegma?

My first encounter with Ace was at Poobah’s. I remember being invited to play with him and some of the other Smegmoids and Ace and Deucers. Once I brought a tin can marimba that I’d made and it cause quite a sensation.

So who all lived in the Raymond Building? What was the atmosphere like there?

The Raymond was a beautiful multi-story arts and crafts era building in Old Town Pasadena 2 blocks from Poobahs. It had housed the Foothill Free Clinic, a radical health center run mainly on volunteer energy. The clinic had moved up the street so now the Raymond Building was empty and essentially derelict like most of the buildings in that area. Artists and musicians were renting up dirt cheap space and the energy was infectious. There was a lot of cross pollination. This is when I met Barbara Smith and John Duncan and loads of other provocative artists working in the neighborhood. One performance that I remember involved the Raymond Building and the building directly across the street which was similarly populated with artists. It was a Rear Window sort of affair where you could watch the theater going on in the windows across the street. I must say though that my memory of this is quite foggy.

Can you recall the circumstances of the recording of Airway’s Live At Lace?

I heard all about it. I was living in San Francisco when it happened.

What happened to the LAFMS in the end, did it fizzle out, deliberately terminate, what?

At a certain point in the early 80’s it became a bit awkward to release LP’s under the name LAFMS when there was no formal structure in terms of running a business like a record label. There were issues, like who was liable for an unpaid bill at a pressing plant when 3 or 4 different people were ordering work under the LAFMS name. That was why I started a label called Solid Eye Records with the idea of releasing LAFMS projects in sort of a licensing arrangement. The DooDooettes “Look to This” was done this way. The reality of running a label though was not really my cup of tea. Solid Eye did release a Romans LP and a number of cassettes, but my attention turned to other pursuits. I moved to Europe in 1984 and though I did manage to run the label from afar for a few months, it was really an unsustainable pursuit. I had partnered with John Talley-Jones (of Happy Squid Records and the Urinals/100 Flowers) and Bruce Licher (of Independent Project Records and Savage Republic) to form a mail order distribution company called The Starkman Concern, named after the building in downtown LA where Bruce had his letterpress printing studio. However, starting a business partnership and then immediately running off to another country with one’s girlfriend isn’t really a great idea. Bruce, John and I have remained good friends, however.

LAFMS has carried on, evolving, ebbing and flowing. Most of us consider the collective to be alive. Way back in 1980 or so we trademarked the name and elected a president, Jerry Bishop, who holds the papers of the “disorganization”, as we sometimes referred to the LAFMS. Solid Eye, Points of Friction, Joe and Joe, Extended Organ, Dinosaurs With Horns, Smegma, the Mystery Band etc, etc have carried the movement forward.

Can you tell me a little about the birth and arrival of Smegma? How did they fit into the LAFMS?

Smegma were for me a solid core element of LAFMS that started, like Le Forte Four, well before the LAFMS formed. They held a god-like status for me. Whenever I had an opportunity to play with any of them I felt humbled. Then suddenly they moved away to Portland, Oregon. And yet, somehow they remained part of the LAFMS. The early Ju Suk Reat Meate LPs with one of a kind hand drawn covers are at the apex of LAFMS releases for me. They embody so much of what LAFMS was.

Do you see the groups as having very separate identities or as blurring the lines as members came and went? For example, were some groups more about tape composition, some more about electronics and post-production, some more about the live jam? What was what and who was who?

The groups did have there individual identities and flavors. L44 definitely had a tape compositional element at their core, but at times they were equally a garage band banging out a cover tune in a most peculiar way. Ace and Deuce for me was the most Beefheart influenced. Smegma was rockier, though I associate them with a lot of abstract music as well. DooDooettes were more like free improv meets electronic I suppose, really just playing with sound. It was all about push and pull, build and collapse.

Can you recall the details of the 1977 LAFMS telethon? How did it work, who did it attract, were there particular stand-out callers?

I was in San Francisco. You should ask Joe about this one.

Can you recount any particular key performances?

Aside from Shinese New Year and the Brand, there were loads of both fantastic and awful shows. Performing at the Masque, LA’s punk shrine run by Brendan Mullen with Le Forte Four and the South Pasadena Free Music Ensemble was an interesting confrontation. Some DooDooettes performances that I found memorable occurred when we were a trio; Tom, Dennis Duck and me. Among those were the Actualist Convention at Terminal Concepts, San Francisco in 1978, performing with Fred Frith at the Theater Vanguard (another Brendan Mullen/Masque production), our “destroying the Pilot Theater” show when our co-billed Le Forte Four performed Japanese Super Heroes, and our performance on the KPFK Close Radio program with John Duncan on drums and video documented by Paul McCarthy. CV Massage was an LAFMS associated group with John Duncan, Tom, me, Michael LeDonne Bennet and Paul McCarthy on vocals. We did a rousing performance at a space in Japantown that was at that point called DTLA I believe. That McCarthy sure could belt out a sea chantey!

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jerry Bishop on April 27, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Kevin Laffey’s house w/Paul Burwell, Harry Kipper et al: I was at that one (probably to mooch as much beer as possible). I seem to recall Harry Kipper running around naked on Kevin’s front lawn. Fortunately Kevin had a back house, so it was away from the street. I believe other events took place which won’t be mentioned here. No sir!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Jerry Bishop on April 30, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    LAFMS – The Presidency.
    One day in mid-1982, Fred called me about registering LAFMS as a trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office. We needed to do it quickly as the fees were about to go up. Fred had the money, but not the time. I had plenty of time, sooooo…

    I got the applications from Fred (or the P and T office, I don’t recall). I filled out 2 applications, one for LAFMS and one for Los Angeles Free Music Society, and mailed them with payments to USP and T. This began a 2-year correspondence with a patent attorney for P and T. Everything had to be worded a certain way. I had to send samples: Darker Skratcher, Spin ‘n Grin, a sheet of labels for the Light Bulb Emergency Cassette and magazine ads (Slash and CLE). I had to claim to be the soul owner of LAFMS; had to describe the function of LAFMS and the type of music involved. I asked several people what I should say in my description, but was pretty much on my own with this. Fred told me to just claim to be the president.
    “Oh boy! President! Can I get business cards?”

    Well, after much correspondence and many, many corrections (this stuff is usually done by an attorney, folks, not some bozo with WAY too much time on his hands), one application was accepted, one denied. The spelled-out Los Angeles Free Music Society was rejected as a trademark because “…when applied to phonograph records and prerecorded audio tapes is merely descriptive of the goods.” LAFMS was accepted as an official trademark in September, 1984. Yeah! WooWoo! 2 years of wading in a bureaucratic quagmire finally over!

    There you have it, folks! Strictly Utilitarian!

    Never got the business cards, though.

    Reply

  3. […] Recchion and Fredrik Nilsen have always had a penchant for strange objects found at garage sales. They both have daunting […]

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