Interview- JOHN DUNCAN

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

Freedom.  Acceptance, especially when that was difficult to find in anyone else.

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

I remember that artists working with sound then were often insufferably stuffy and pompous, especially one or two ‘Sound By Artists’ sort of records that even then were hopelessly academic and lethally dull.  That was the work that was being taken seriously by both local and national pundits — for us, an inspiration by negative example.  That work was being funded by the major art institutions.  Our events were self-produced, at places where the owners would often enough cut the power on us despite being paid in advance…  The more hostile the reception, the more we knew we were onto something.

How would you describe your introduction and involvement in the LAFMS?

Harold Schroeder, a fellow bus driver who also liked unusual music, introduced me to Tom Recchion.  Tom introduced everyone else.

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? What was your impression
of him?

Poo-Bah’s: Snobbish, intimidating for anyone not informed.  Hated going in, until Tom started working there.  After that, it was food — always something new, mind-opening.
Tom: Serious.  Shy.  Sensitive, an excellent friend and listener.  An encyclopedia of music, always eager to introduce new finds to anyone who would listen.  His enthusiasm was very contagious.

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

Not that I’m aware of.  Those guys were all established record company artists, with radio airplay, a following and recognized discographies.

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?

More informed than I ever realized, thanks again to Tom.

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?

Nothing even close to being so pretentious.  We were and are friends, paying attention to each others’ creative efforts and applauding them, simple as that.  Working together when we could, supporting each other when we could.

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

Shock and awe.  Took a day off from driving the bus to go through all the LAFMS records that Tom had given, stunned and fascinated by each track.

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?

I remember it as being somewhere between a label name and a joke.

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

Haven’t a clue…  Free music = no rules.  Anything and everything OK.

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…

Can’t imagine that Partch or Bertoia would ever have seen themselves in such a light.  The do-it-yourself spirit was very much in each of us — in my case, it comes more from the punk attitude of ‘screw conventions and institutions that perpetuate them, they won’t support me and I don’t care’.  We soon realized that they were unnecessary as well; we could raise the money ourselves to make our own records, without having to worry about whether or not they would inspire a ‘market of listeners’.  Making records was a way of proving to ourselves that what we were doing was worth making into a lasting document, worth remembering in a form we respected.

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?  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?

I think there’s no separtion between them, labels like that don’t matter.  For me, that’s the beauty and the essence of LAFMS, its key element.  So is the unique voice and talent of each participant, whether or not they have ever touched a traditional musical instrument.  In LAFMS, that voice is respected, listened to attentively and appreciated.

Were there particular inspirations for this approach, these were lean years before punk huh? Or is that a myth?

We inspired each other.  Beyond that, I don’t understand the question.

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?

Never.  And the evidence is still a shock months afterward, very humbling, profoundly gratifying.

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

Chronophagie, the lp with Jacques Lasry, found in among the records at the Wichita, Kansas public library, 1968.

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?

Was I there?

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

London 2010.

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

Tom brought me there once, where I think I met Rick and Joe Potts.  The visit was brief.

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

Still going strong, thank you.  As you can see in the work we’re doing.

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

Wasn’t there.

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?

Everything was interwoven.

Can you recount any particular key performances?

Beyond Baroque, mid-70’s

Airway Live at Lace (both events)
Airway Live at ?? (Santa Monica, 2005)
London, 2010


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