Interview- RICK POTTS (for The Wire)

It’s hard to be a spokesperson for an amorphous mutation like the LAFMS so I can only really answer from my own perspective. No doubt, other LAFMS participants would have some different views and  other memories.

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

Among members there many overlapping aesthetics, but I think there are some concepts we generally share. The absurd.

For the most part we reject traditional virtuosity in favor of making sounds any which way we can. The roles of composer and musician seemed limited and we wanted to work with spontaneous sound as the focus. Most were influenced by idea of the ‘non-musician’ as someone (or anyone) who creatively works with sound as the medium. There’s an anti-elitist folk approach to the avant-garde. A sense of humor was encouraged but not essential. Personally, I wanted to have a good time with it, but there was a serious ongoing investigation of sound.  Sound as a raw element stripped away from centuries of “music”. Manipulating a sound source replaced playing a musical instrument. We called it ‘noise’ to distance it from musical expectations. It was Sound but admittedly it did rub against Music. It couldn’t be avoided, besides we liked Music. We are trying it from a different direction.

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

The hippie euphoria of the 60′s had soured. Peace & love were being slapped  in the face with harsh doses of reality and dense smog. As a young teen I was confronted by how corrupt everything was beneath the artificial surface. The pretty facades were crumbling. Hard drugs were rampant among even school kids and there was a bleakness about. Musically, it was kind of a drag. Even local heroes Zappa & Beefheart were putting out records we didn’t like much. Personally, I thought rock had died of an overdose onstage at the arena sized Los Angeles Forum. I can’t say there was a void though because it seems more like an overload. There was a lot of records, including important reissues. You could buy a John Cage record or a Bessie Smith record. Bitches Brew. You might not think of it nowadays but there had never been so much music available. All that music. Yoko Ono !! Tons more great music from every previous decade of recorded music. Sounds of North American Frogs.  We all had large collections and different facets of appreciation. Sun Ra. A huge accumulation, it all went into the blender.

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

First time I went to Poobah’s I was about 14 years old. The place was in a dank basement in a rundown part of town where counterculture accessory stores had sprouted up around adult book stores and junk shops.. Tom Recchion knew my brother Joe who I was tagging along behind. He was really friendly, funny and cool. The store was funky and there was longhair, beards and jazz playing. As a young guy I was amazed to see crates of LPs marked 25 cents, 10 cents and free. “Wow, even I could afford to shop here!”. We came back regularly and got to know Tom a bit  better. He was enthusiastic about a lot of the new music being released in the UK and Germany. I specifically remember him suggesting we buy Henry Cow, Can and Matching Mole LPs. He told us to get Tago Mago.

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

Well, we all liked that stuff. I think the Dada-esque humor and the feeling that they weren’t trying to sound like anyone else sunk in. At times Zappa was blending and bending genres like free jazz. R&B, doo-wop and avant-garde classical in his rock and roll. You felt like he wasn’t afraid to use a wide palette of possibilities when he  assembled an album.  It didn’t have the smeary psychedelic gobble-de-goop of ‘freaky’ music from the Summer of Love that felt a bit passe by then. The edits were  hard. It bumped you around a bit but there was a logic to it. The touches of sarcasm and cynicism were very appropriate for that era in particular. Most of us were big fans of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band.  Once you got a feel for it, Trout Mask Replica was an alchemy of  chaos into beauty. Surrealism hadn’t been taken so far in rock music. Again, it wasn’t a dreamy vibe. More like being slapped in the  face  with a polka dot catfish. It wasn’t commercial. It was a blend of Pop and avant-garde that we responded to. Maybe we inherited some of the self-assured bombast.

Ace had direct contact with Don Van Vliet for awhile and got him to do some drawings for the Blorp Essette comps.  Reverend Toadeater of Ace and Duece (aka Rick Snyder) became Brave Midnight Hatsize Snyder in the last Magic Band incarnation. Zappa’s editing style was an influence.
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?

Aside from traditional jazz, a guitar solo or Zappa’s sporadic forays, I was  uninformed about improvisation. Free improvisation is an easy concept to grasp but it’s harder then it looks. For me it was hands-on trial by error. There were plenty of headache sessions where you wondered if maybe you were insane. When it worked it was like breathing laughing gas. Those moments hooked me. We also learned from each other. I learned a lot  from the Doodooettes. Tom in particular was knowledgeable about Cardew and the European free jazz. I think I absorbed it through osmosis from him and the ‘ettes.

By the time we started recording at CalArts I was more and more interested in unhinging my mind. I found I could tap into a resevoir of nonsense and absurdity. I practiced bringing up disassociated words and images at will. Bored in classes I would tap into this place and write and draw. Time had a way of changing when I was in this mode. I couldn’t sense it. I was trying to open up the right hemisphere of my brain, convinced that the creative side was being abused by the rational, logical overbearing left side. Le Forte Four became a safe place to be insane or rather, speak in tongues and play free.

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?

We all grew up loving Rock, but what was coming out at the time tasted pretty stale to some of us. With Le Forte Four, our earliest attempts at playing  rock songs were embarrassingly ridiculous. Moreover, we weren’t having much fun with it. It felt like there were so many expectations for a ‘band’. They felt like limitations. Especially in LA where bands focus tended to be  ‘getting signed’ and trying to figure out how to please record executives. Meanwhile, we were more and more informed by  Reich, Reilly, Xenakis, Cage, Partch, Stockhausen and electronic  music. We just mutated away from Rock for a while. As far as  60s head culture  and  community I guess the way  we pooled our cash to release records worked in a ‘grass’ roots sort of way. The truth is when we started out I  felt an ambivalence about rock. I didn’t hate the great stuff from the past but  I wanted to investigate avant-garde music. I didn’t ‘get’ Bowie and some of the other notable rock groups of 1973 or ’74. The Glam, Prog and Proto-Punk of the era, not to mention Heavy Metal or top 40, didn’t interest me at the time. There was this ‘other’ music that excited me. In retrospect, I think part of our aesthetic came from an era where media technology of audio and video was inexpensive enough to fall into the hands of creative types, artists, to really have access and experiment with these mediums for the first time. It was a time of multi-media expansion in  the art world, where the boundries of  what could be called art work had expanded to include performance, video, sound, mail art, conceptual and  multi-media installations. These things had been  done previously, Fluxus for instance, but now it was  easier and  cheaper to get ahold of the gear. There was a  mail art scene that pre-dates and  morphed into the cassette-exchange scene that some of  us  were involved  in. These  were  DYI phenomenon that went around record companies and gallery systems to get the art and  music out.

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?

We use ‘Society’ loosely. It started as a way for us (later called Le Forte Four) to sound more legit when sending in a tape to an international electronic music festival in Norway in 1974 or so. Chip Chapman figured a fancy sounding name would help sneak our submission in so he labeled the tape as being by ‘the East Los Angeles Free Music Society’. it was kind of a joke because we were really just 3 or 4 teenage weirdos. This was a couple years before we used the shortened name for a larger collective. The collective was  built on camaraderie and  we  shared gear and resources, pooled funds and ideas for projects and shared talents. The plan was to put on shows and put out records.

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

After putting out the Bikini Tennis Shoes album we found out from Tom Recchion that he was involved with a group of people playing weird music. They ‘jammed’ in the back room of Poobah’s (now moved upstairs to street level) and in an all but abandoned office building near the store.

I remember we had a gathering at Tom’s space at the Raymond Building. Tom proposed using the name and creating a collective to play shows and put out records.  I took ‘free music’ as an invitation to do whatever I wanted with sound. I’m assuming Chip and Tom must have known about the free music scene in Europe. Chip was an electronic music student at Cal Arts and Tom was ‘studying’ music at Poobah’s. The name was Chip’s and Tom applied it. I think the ‘Free Music’ part was used as a general term. I don’t know if we all had the same concept of what ‘free music’ meant.
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…

We were influenced by Partch. I saw a film about him, ‘The Dreamer that Remains”, on Public TV when I was still a kid. My parents, brothers and several of my brothers friends crowded around the black and white portable in the kitchen. I watched with amazement from under the kitchen table. I hadn’t considered building new instruments to create new music before. That was one thing he imparted. Tinkering was part of it but it was in an attempt to make new sounds. We didn’t have great success with PAIA synth kits we tried to assemble (we got the Gnomes to work) but Chip in particular was adventurous with a soldering iron and ended up as a head super-computer tech at Cal Tech. He figured his way  around a circuit board and them some, but that was later.  I was making mutant creatures by mixing up model kits but thats another story. Chip found an acoustic guitar in the trash can of a friend, filmmaker, Sean Phillips. Sean’s brother, who had dug a pit in the driveway to allow better access to the  undercarraige of his muscle car, had made the mistake of putting  steel strings on a hinge-neck guitar. The body collapsed at the neck and when he lifted it out of the bin an amazing cartoonish sproinging sound inspired him to take it home and fix it up. He electrified it with a pick-up and 2 cheap mikes stuck through holes in the body held in place with rubber grommets. A three position switch with three colors of lights(that required a power supply) was the crowning  touch. The flexable neck-to-body damage was  reinforced with sturdy gaffers tape. This guitar was really fun to play. The ultimate sproinging device could be played a number of ways  and it sounded like no other guitar. It held up well for a few years and finally the  tape gave. it inspired me to experiment with  hinge-neck guitars. I’ve built four so far and keep working on new  designs. Most of my tinkering  involves fooling with found objects to see if they’ll make an interesting sounds. Ready-mades. Tom Recchion has built a number of things over the years. His strung cymbal strung-a-phone sounds like 1950′s outer space. Many of us were tweeking and altering instruments and objects to find new sounds.

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’s generally correct. For one thing, Bikini Tennis Shoes has classic oil paintings on the cover! Tom Recchion, Chip Chapman, Joe Potts and I all went to art schools at some point. Le Forte Four spilled out of Chip Chapman’s stint at Cal Arts electronic music program. ID Art (Volume 2) was part of a series Joe started at Otis Art Institute but it included people not affiliated with the school. Suburban Magic and Music for Gamalan and Synthesizer were composed by Chip and played at Cal Arts. We had a week long faux Telethon at Otis. We played at art galleries. It wasn’t only about free improvisation. There were ideas behind some of it. Generally, sound was the important factor. For me, the ideas have to make good sounds. You can  hit a refrigerator with a baseball hat for dramatic effect but the sound is only a dull thud so why drag a fridge around. Joe Potts created Airway which  is based on an idea but is raw rock on the surface. We had the chance to try somethings out, experiment with concepts and gain access to equipment at Otis and Cal Arts. I think we shared many influences but usually I wasn’t thinking. I was just making sounds and listening back to the recordings. Playing with friends and listening for the transcendent moments that felt amazing. I also wrote and recorded silly songs and wanted to play in everyone else’s group.

Back in the 70′s Smegma was kind of a mystery to the Le Forte Four faction who didn’t know them at all before their move to Portland. Tom, Ace, Dennis Duck and other Poobah pals played with them before they left. We heard about them but knew of them only second hand and through their tape submissions, artwork and letters. I jammed with Reet a few times when he visited but we really only corresponded through the mail. Except for a few occasions I can think of, the groups didn’t see each other play live until the late 90′s. They’re like-minded friends of friends who we love having on the roster. If you listen to the Smegma related tracks on early LAFMS records their stuff doesn’t sound anymore ‘Rock’ then what we were doing. They might have had different influences but the results sounded similar. Chip went to Cal Arts Electronic Music for a couple of years on scholarship and that’s how Le Forte Four got it’s hands on the mighty Buchla modular synthesizers and tape machines to record most of Bikini Tennis Shoes. Airway was originally part of Joe’s master thesis project at Otis Art Institute however Airway is a rock band. Tom Recchion and I  went to Otis, too but we were both in rock bands (Human Hands, BPeople) plus playing in our other  bands (Doodooettes, Le Forte Four) at the same time. Le Forte Four didn’t consider themselves a rock band but sometimes we played in that style. We had a whole set of songs we played most notably at the Masque & the Century City Playhouse. Ace and Deuce might have been more influenced by rock, too. Ace’s band some of his other projects are rock. We all took another look at it when all the new bands emerged in 1976 and ’77 and reacted to them. Some of our work was more informed by art, but we all hated the elitism of the snobbery system. Mixing it up is part of the LAFMS style. We all kept trying different things and the influences changed so it’s pretty slippery. Most all of us were creating paintings drawings sculptures prints and collages along with the sounds. One of the cool things about Smegma is all the art they’ve made.  Smegma has a LP box set named after a track on Glamour Girl 1941, “I Am Not Artist”  ‘Artist’ IS kind of annoying. Artist, Musician, Rock, Music all carry baggage and held a whole set of expected conditions that just get in the way. Free art. Anyone can be creative.

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?

For me, those terms helped me play and listen in a new way. It leveled the hierarchy so that a trash truck became an orchestra of sound.

I didn’t know  the history behind it but it helped me understand what we were doing. Really, I didn’t think that much. I was really enjoying creating syncronistic moments with spontaneous sound. We adopted that idea as we went  along and I think it helped free us up. Sometimes we needed to explain to people what the hell we  were doing. It helped in that way. I heard mention of Cardew and the Scratch Orchestra but didn’t read about it or hear any of it. I spent the summer of 1977 in Philadelphia and  had copies of our first few records. I had to try to explain we were doing! I talked about being a non-musician and how any object could be an instrument and invented a theory that just made people scratch  their heads and make fun of me. I didn’t really care  because making those records was so much fun. Later, I got dragged to a band rehearsal by a DJ I visited at WXPN and as I’m standing in this basement listening to this mediocre garage band I realize that they think I’m an A&R guy from a record label and they’re auditioning to get signed!  I loved the Residents and their DIY approach inspired us. Yoko Ono was another artist who intrigued us.
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?

In some ways I’m totally surprised. For years the records hardly got out and little reaction getting back to us. People didn’t want to tell us how horrible they thought it  was. Occasionally someone would flip over it. Some animation students spending long hours at their light tables listened to Bikini Tennis Shoes over and over. Friends returned copies we had given them, saying “Maybe you have another friend who would appreciate it better. A letter would show up from Germany or Japan wanting to know about us and that was amazing to me. The records found homes, eventually. BIkini Tennis Shoes was met with resentment from ‘serious’ musicians who could not understand why, when giving the chance to put out a record, we had pressed something so bad. However, one night coming home from playing  music  with the Doodooettes at their studio in the Raymond  Building I got very, very excited. Sitting alone in the backseat I felt like we were onto something. Our confidence was growing and we were really having such a good time in the process that I blurted outloud. “Some day everyone’s gonna be doing  this!” Juan Gomez and Dennis Duck wanted to know what I was blathering about. So, I repeated “Some day everyone’s gonna be doing  this!” which prompted another, “Rick, what the hell are you talking about”. I babbled “You know… like making sounds and  recording it and making records and stuff… you know.” Somehow it felt like if WE were having so much fun, other people would find out about it and someday it would spread everywhere. Pretty farfetched. Over the course of twenty  years enough interest grew so that Gary Todd and Ron Lesard (Cortical and RRRecords) did the unimaginable and compiled a ten  CD box set of our recordings. That really surprised me. That helped a lot.

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

My dad had stacks of 78 rpm records. Besides the typical Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller hits there were discs of Fats Waller playing the organ, ‘Stompin’ the Bug’, Ambrose and his Orchestra playing ‘Powerhouse’ and ‘Toy Trumpet’ by Raymond Scott and Spike Jones and his City Slickers. I liked my Dad’s Hadda Brooks and Pinetop Smith’s  boogiewoogie piano discs, too. I’m 5 and 8 years younger than my brothers who have pretty adventurous tastes in music. When they weren’t around I’d play Yellowbrick Road and Abba Zaba from Beefheart’s Safe as Milk, Spirit and Moby Grape. My brother, Tom Potts, who was also in Le Forte Four would shop out of the bins labeled “Miscellaneous”  and brought home the first Songs of the Humpback Whale record, Subotniks “Silver Apples of the Moon” and “The Music of Harry Partch”. Joe brought home vintage jazz collections, Cage , Xenakis, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Stockhausen plus Nonesuch Gamalan records . I was a Zappa fanatic heading into 9th Grade when I met Chip Chapman.

He always has a knack for being creative and making the most of the situation. An ability to make things happen. He got our school to buy an Arp Odyssey, Echoplex and Amp for an afterschool electronic music class he dreamed up. My tastes were guided by these guys. I feel pretty luck they were so eclectic.

Can you tell me about Chip Chapman and about Joe and Chip and yourself putting together your first spontaneous concerts? What happened? What was the reaction?

Chip was in 12th  grade and i was in 9th grade when we met. He was creative and helped by a gift of  gab was able to get student body to let him put on a day of lunch time  concerts in the auditorium. He knew how to have fun orchestrating creative situations and taking advantage of the equipment and instruments at our High School They were basically free improv freak outs. He  got some  of  the more talented music students to join us. I was a  student of the Motorhead Sherwood school of  sax  and  our pal Steve Nash  squawked with  me on  his alto sax. We dragged orchestra  chimes  and  timpani’s in from the  music  department. By the third installment, I started hyperventilating from blowing  my brains out on my tenor sax and laid down behind the curtains and breathed into a  paper bag. I remember seeing a smattering of kids out  in the audience but was glad the bright lights  blinded me from seeing much.  I had a blast, though, playing without  trying  to reenact a song.

Chip set up an installation in a classroom using a large weather balloon with slides  and 16 mm films projected on it.

Our friend, Dan Weiss, had a band called The Patients.  Dan on  beginner bass and his friend Jay Ross on bedroom drums. Dan,is a writer and had imaginative plans for the band. He wrote a proto-punk song “Tuna fish” The verses repeat. “I hate it, I hate it, I hate it tuna fish!” and then the added chorus “Oooo Baby, I hate it!  He and I shared improvisational conversations that were absurd and generally involved squids. The Patients got a gig at a youth night in the auditorium of their Temple. Somehow we were invited to play. Chip on guitar, Joe on bass and myself on sax. Chip’s girlfriend Susan Farthing played flute. She had band experience having  played  in the High School marching band. We tried to play some  songs. . We gathered in the Potts family livingroom and discovered it wasn’t working. We could sort of play Dan’s song wren we tried a Zappa tune and the Who’s Boris the Spider none of us knew what we were doing and frustration ensued. Joe switched to guitar tuned to an open chord and tried to block out some songs with a finger-across-the-frets rhythm guitar style. We could now make it through a tune but  the results were ludicrous. We tried to lure back-up musicians for us but they all seemed to sense disaster and stayed back. Another pal, Bill Dunn, when asked to sing with us avoided the question after a tryout fizzled. The day of the show Chip rented some gear in Hollywood and we brought Joe’s box of  doll heads to  dress the stage. Jay’s bass drum pedal was rigged to a switch that turned a light on in his kick drum and as a bonus, added a loud pop through the amps because of a grounding problem. I felt like I was preparing for the firing squad as I smeared some raccoon mascara around my eyes and donned a torn thriftstore leopard print polyester shirt. Joe wore a trashed gown over his t-shirt and jeans and a sideways matador hat with a jockstrap over the bulge with a stalk of  celary shoved in it. Maybe if we looked the part we could fake our way through. A few kids started to show  up and tried to figure out what was up. ” Are you guys gonna play some Alice Cooper?”.

At this point I went into a mild state of shock. We quickly ran through the songs we’d rehearsed. I remember trying to sing ‘Little Queenie” at Chip’s prompting. I held the lyrics in front of my face and mumble-read the song as Joe led the straggling band with his bar chords. The fifty or so kids who showed up kept their distance and soon filed out into the parking lot. The juke box at the other end of room started playing “Smoke on the  Water” and we packed it up. No one heckled us. It wasn’t necessary. Somehow they took pity. In a whirlwind we cleared out of there and got the money to cover the  rented  gear and a  four foot tall bag of popcorn as we escaped.

Structurally, “songs” sometimes remained part of what what we used and abused but not long after The Patients ‘Temple Show’ we got access to Cal Arts electronic music studios. We moved away from the idea of being a rock band.

It must have been pretty amazing hanging out at Cal Arts back then, can you describe what it was like?

Once enrolled at Cal Arts, Chip started getting studio time with the Buchla modular synthsesizers. The largest one was a curved wall of lights knobs and  switches, soon festooned with a tangled layer of multi-colored patch cords that draped and  looped across it’s front like a choatic Candyland garland. Over the next several months Chip invited Joe and myself to plug in during his studio time. We all played while he  patched and processed. Soon every Sunday night Joe would drive Chip the hour or out to Cal Arts from his weekend visits back home. From ten until one am. Joe , Chip and myself  recorded  whatever we felt like. For me, at 16-17 fears old, the place was like an alternate reality. The gear was state of the art and it seemed like everything was there to help students be creative. i was fascinated by the gamalan orchestra that reheased near  the animation studios where some of our friends  drew and worked on their films. The faculty was a who’s who of cutting  edge  artists. Morton Subotnick, Ingram Marshall, film maker Pat O’Neil to name a few, The school had a Nam June Paik video synthesizer that created live  colorful, LSD-like TV images. The school was like a giant  futuristic maze. A labyrinth of hallways, classrooms, studios and performance  spaces. You got lost on your way too the toilet. This was in 1973, ’74 and ’75 and things were still trippy. There was still a lot of grooviness in the air and the cute art chicks fascinated me, from a distance. The vibe was pretty ‘free’.

Can you tell me about the recording of Bikini Tennis Shoes?

Sunday night recording sessions became a ritual. We brought some stuff with us. Chip’s Silvertone guitar, my sax, our Univox piano and a growing collection of junk. My Dad acquired some 55 gallon drums that had contained cyanide. “Don’t worry. They got  cleaned out real good” . We wrapped a chunk of bamboo with strips of rubber to  make a  mallet for the cyanide drum. We had a kalimba and a bass and a bunch of toys. The film school had free reels of donated film stock where Chip picked up some educational films  and a Clutch Cargo children’s short. He checked out a projector and we added those and some thrift store LPs in the mix. Chip would run things through the Buchla and modulate them. We’d have those moments, sometimes, where the chaos melded into a layered matrix where everything fit in a synchronous orchestration. That description is a failed attempt  to explain the experience. There isn’t a word for it. If you haven’t  felt it then you might not understand improvisation completely.

It’s a personal experience but you feel it with the group. It’s the musician’s fix. To me it feels like a lucid dream or a different kind of deja vu. It may sound cheesy to say but it was magical when that happened. Admittedly, we could go hours at a time without one of those moments and often it wouldn’t last long, but over the months I felt it more often. Some nights things got pretty silly. I wasn’t thinking in terms of other people hearing our recordings back then. Chip was working on music for his classes at the time. Sometimes he had studio time alone during the day. He’d edit things together. He played us the  reconfigured Bikini Tennis Shoes, a remix of a previous session, and I was shocked. What he did made us sound good.

The goofy song we made up now had speed up voices in parts and was intercut with some dark intense Buchla sounds. It builds up and gets a franticness that feels like a machine gearing up to explode. We’d often start our Sunday session by listening to what we’d recorded the week before as we set up. I’d be surprised how things sounded a week later. Parts I disliked when we played it might sound great and occasionally the parts I was keen on at the time sounded lame to me. We realized the mood at the time it was recorded sometimes deceived us. Soon we never reused  tape because we didn’t want to erase any moments that would be irreplaceable. To listen later was to hear it with better, unbiased ears.

You have spoken of the 1975 gig in the ballrrom 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?

When the idea of the Los Angeles Free Music Society got rolling, shows was one of the things we wanted to try.  Tom Recchion knew about the semi abandoned hall above the Poobah’s and the storefronts. It was behind a the Spaghetti Works restaurant on the second floor where hippie chicks served budget plates of pasta. Above it, an artist had a studio. The space was abandoned and dusty. There was wood paneling and built in benches along the walls. Joe and I arrived in the late afternoon in from suburbia in station wagon full of our junk. There was strange debris, mannequin parts, giant air ducts, some abandoned plywood set pieces,  a 12 foot high pile of old theatre chairs.  We swept a little and dragged stuff on stage.

Ace and Deuce played a Beefheart tune and it sounded great. I remember Ace had a scaled down kiddy drumset at the front of the stage. His extended toy drum solo was my favorite part of their set. Doodooettes came up next and they augmented their drums with the giant sheet metal air ducts we’d found. As their set wore on I worried. I’d only played live a couple of times and improvisation is uncanny and was still hard to control. Le Forte Four had created a fort out of our gear and we crawled like commandos behind the cyanide drum, amps, plywood cut out of a stack of TNT barrels and a folding cardtable with a bunch of toy instruments and a keyboard laid out on it. We had some prerecorded racket going to distract the audience and I recall looking to Chip and Joe for a cue or clue even. Being on stage without a plan was an adrenaline rush. Time was lost.

Pretty some everyone’s clapping and whistling and it was all over.

What was your first encounter with the Doodooettes? How were they regarded locally? How about Smegma? Ace and Deuce?

There wasn’t a scene only adventurous friends and Poobah Record Shop.The first show was an introduction for everyone. It was Le Forte Fours first real show and Bikini Tennis Shoes was a studio album so we were nervous. We didn’t know Ace and Deuce or Smegma but trusted Tom in his authorization of those groups. It was fun to play with other people who ‘got it’.  We had jammed a bit, casually at the Raymond Building  but  the show was my first Doodooettes  and Ace and Deuce  experience. Over the next few years the Doodooettes became a really amazing live act but that first night I was too distracted  by Le Forte Four’s upcoming set, trying to calm down, to really listen. I felt like the first two groups played pretty well and felt pressure not blow it. A small crowd of friends and friends of friends with a couple curious bystanders. The show had a BYOB party vibe by the end of the night and people seemed to have an OK time. Shows were  so few and far  between, none of us had a reputation to of any sort to speak of.  Le Forte Four got some flak from Cal Arts music students who called Bongo Madness shit and turned off the tape machine at  an on campus ‘Tape Night’. I loaned my electronic music teacher our first three discs and she called them “crap”. Only friends seemed interested. There was a smattering of positive feedback from a few like minded individuals. Seems like plenty of people hated our records. Friends avoided telling you. Other people laughed. That was a better reaction. One other common reaction was a recitation of the Beatles Revolution #9. “Number 9, Number 9, Number 9…”.

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

The Raymond Building was in the same rundown neighborhood as Poobah Record Shop. Tom had been renting an office to use as a studio. The funky place was mostly empty. The manager, Joe Patti, ran a junk shop in one of the storefronts. Above it was three floors of vacated office space. Mexican ladies ran sewing machines all day on the second floor. The top floors were for rent cheap. The spaces had pebbled glass windows in the doors and transom windows above. It had an eerie film noir feel. I remember running down the stairs at night with the lights off was a thrilling way to end the evening.

Chip left Cal Arts and moved into 2 rooms near Tom’s space. A little while later it became Le Forte Four’s studio. Local bar band, Snotty Scotty and the Hankies rehearsed and partied across the hall. Ace and Duce had a room and the Doodooettes rented a separate ‘studio’ from Tom’s. Harold Schroeder, an early Doodooettes member had a room.  Paul McCarthy, John Duncan, artist Kim Jones and Poobah pal, Greg Neutra were there. Anton Kaprow, artist Allan Kaprow’s kid, rehearsed with his band below our studio. There were others whom I didn;t know or can’t recall. I’m told Phranc lived there. It was great having all these friends running from room to room checking out each others latest creations or jamming with who ever happened to be around.

Did you use the term noise music to describe early LAFMS? What did you mean by it?

Noise music is a term some of us used along with non-musician to shed expectations and approach music with different rules.

We were using sound without the typical musical restrictions. It put it in a different context that made it easier to explore sound as a medium. We were saturated and surrounded with music so it helped us define our focus. Music always tried to sneak back in and sometimes we played with that. Noise music was a way of saying, this isn’t trying to be what most people call ‘good music’. It’s something different so listen to it differently then you would music.

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?

We were all trying lots of ways of working. Tape composition, free improvisation and electronics were a part of what most all of us were doing. That’s one of the confusing things. It started out that the groups were separate. We intermingled as time went on and some sub-groups developed. Sometimes a new band emerged for one recording or one track on a record. I would need several months and a room of blackboards to diagram the details but I guess I’ll try a general rundown of the early participants. I’m bound to miss someone.  The first person listed is who I consider the main instigator of the group.

The first groups:

Le Forte Four: Chip Chapman, Joe Potts, Rick Potts and then Susan Farthing (Chapman) and Tom Potts.

Mostly studio with more shows later on. Electronics when available with tape composition and found sources. Sometimes free improv. and sometimes goofy songs.

Doodooettes: Tom Recchion, Harold Schroeder, Juan Gomez, Dennis Duck and Fredrik Nilsen

eventually a Recchion, Duck, Nilsen trio. Lastly a Recchion/Nilsen Duo. Originally a duo The Two Who Do Duets. Usually they played free improv.

live and in the studio. Fluxus. A european influence? Instrument builders.

I don’t know the full member history of Ace and Deuce or Smegma.

Ace and Deuce:  Ace Farren Ford, the Professor, Dennis Duck aka the Quackback Kid, plus Rick Snyder plus ????

Beefheart,  free jazz, rock forays.

Smegma: Ju Suk Reet Meate, Dr. Id, Cheezit Ritz, Dennis Duck aka ‘the kid’, Chucko Fats aka DK, Amazon Bambi aka Erph-Puss aka Amy DeWolfe

then Oblivia aka Rock and Roll Jackie, later Stan Wood, Richard Meltzer plus ???? Free jazz rock. Live jams. tape compositions, record manipulation.

Other early LAFMS participants included; Jerry Bishop, Billy Bishop (no relation), Mr. Foon aka Tom McFarland, Electric Bill, Dan Weiss and his band Patients. There are numbers other guests and friendly bystanders.

Then there was Airway which started out a blend of Doodooettes and Le Forte Four.

Joe Potts, Vetza, Chip Chapman, Rick Potts, Tom Recchion, Dennis Duck, Juan Gomez then Fredrik Nilsen.

Around 50 different people have played in Airway at shows. Here’s a few who have been regulars. Kevin Laffey, John Duncan, Joseph Hammer, Mike Kelly, Ace. Noise rock wall of sound. Always live and loud. Screaming over a roaring vortex.

Can you recall the circumstances of the pyramid headphone gig?

A local public library in a donated Moorish influence mansion had a great collection of classical LP including many avant-garde ones that we would check out. We ended up setting up a show there in July of 1976. They’d added a lecture-performance space

A big carpeted curtained room. Le Forte Four decided to playback our recent 4 track records in quadraphonic sound. We decided to get fancy and build 44 quadraphonic headphones. Chip and Tom Potts designed and built a few prototypes and then we worked longer than we wanted constructing and soldering them in the weeks before the show. They were pyramid toped cardboard boxes that fit over the head, obstructing vision. A speaker in each of the four corners around the base provided the sound. Lot’s of wires. They were spray painted flat black and also wired with a tiny light bulb at the top point. A lot of our tapes were recorded on a four track deck I had. We put together 40 or so minutes mined from our sessions. For the show we had JBL speakers in the corners which was fortunate. Channels dropped out on the headphones during the show. The Doodooettes played a series of duets that were great. They finished with a long group improvisation that was amazing. The small group of friends and the curious liked it. The weird thing was being in a library it had that reserved, don’t-talk-loudly feeling afterwards. It was so different then the Spaghetti Works show. It was successful so we released it a a Le Forte Four/Doodooettes double album, “Live at the Brand”.

What brought the whole downtown Pasadena scene to an end?

The biggest factor might have been the redevelopment of the area. Gentrification

Poobah Record Shop relocated when the building it was in and one whole city block was demolished for a big office building.

That was the first step. Nearby, another several blocks became a shopping mall.  Over the next 15 – 20 years ‘Olde Town’ was transformed into a shopping, dining and entertainment area for normal people. They peeled off layers of rundown storefront signage and facade additions to reveal the swell old buildings. They dolled them up to look as they were in their heyday. The site of the Free Press bookstore after being vacant for decades became a Crate and Barrel store.

As new restaurants and name brand stores started opening up, bums, hookers and other unsavories were run out. In slow motion. Rents went up and the artist types started losing their studios, too. It has been gentrified but there are still some quirks.

Recently, the Raymond Building, or Brailey Building as it’s most well known was remodeled and reconfigured again after being gentrified in the eighties. It’s the new home of the Church of Scientology’s Pasadena Center.

Starting mid-1976 Le Forte Fours Raymond Building days were winding down. Chip Chapman and Susan Farthing got married and they moved into a small house. Le Forte Four still had the studio but after awhile recordings were worked on at home. Someone did some damage throwing debris off the rooftop or out a window on to parked cars below. This sparked a rumor that lead some of the landlords thugs to bust into a band rehearsal. I think this was in 1977. Juan and Dennis were in a punk band called The Monitors, (not related to the World Imitation group, Monitor, who we palled around with later). and these guys burst in claiming the band was somehow involved. Juan asked these guys who they were. That set them off. One of the guitarists, our friend Billy Bishop, said that the Sheri Breau, bass player faced up to these dudes but they meant business. She said something like “Why don’t you answer him? A tense situation got serious one guy shoved her. Juan stepped in to protect her and Bill saw that things were escalating quickly so he calmed him down. After a display of a gun tucked in the waistband the band was ordered to vacate the premises with their belongings immediately. Juan rushed to the local Police station to report the situation. Back at the Raymond Building the cops chatted and joked with the bad guys while the band dragged gear out to the sidewalk. They borrowed Poobah’s van to haul it off.

The summer of ’77 I was out of town. Everything moved to blander quarters in downtown Alhambra while I was away.

By then, Poobah Record Shop had moved to a neighborhood outside of Olde Town.

Also, during these years and continuing through 1996, many of us lived in a nearby neighborhood. The state bought houses to destroy for a freeway project that hasn’t happened.  They were rented rather then left vacant. Tom Recchion, Fredrik, Juan Gomez, Billy Bishop, David Wiley, Kevin Laffey, Bill Noland, Dennis Duck, Gerald Bole, Dave Nold, Chuck Saldombide and David Loehr lived there and all participated. One address with a big house and a smaller back house 894 S. Pasadena Ave., became a meeting place, a recording studio and a visiting musician hostle. Tom and Fredrik were pen pals with other noise-isans. Those who I can recall visiting or crashing there: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, John Duncan, Einstürzende Neubauten, Monitor, Moritz from Der Plan, Keiji Haino, Jad Fair, Christian Lunch, Joseph T. Jacob, Mark Motherbaugh and director Tim Burton. Tom and Fredrik could add dozens more to the list. I lived there from 1985 until 1996.

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

Joe Potts is the instigator. He put out a single called Airway that was a collage of tape loops of rock music layered up to create a dense whirling noise wall with Vetza’s vocals and a hidden message that instructed the first step of the emergency resuscitation method, C.P.R. The first live show had a combo of Le Forte Four  and Doodooettes plugged through a homemade processing system through stomp boxes. Vetza vocalized and Joe played tapes and processed using live tape delay as part of it. LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions) is an art gallery run by artists. At the time it was in downtown LA in a big old building with large rooms. Airway has to be loud and the sound ricocheted around of the flat barren walls. Joe’s main instruction to the instrumentalists in the band was  to create a wall of noise. It chugs along in harsh minimalist krautrock fashion. It grows ferocious at times and collapses in chaos only to grow new limbs before imploding again and continues in that  fashion. It sounds a bit like the way some rock bands end a song and goes from there. Honestly I can’t recall if it was an art opening a party or what the occasion was that first time. Airway played at LACE on several occasions.

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

It atrophied in the early eighties as people got busier with jobs and such.

Meanwhile the punk DYI revolution was spreading. The idea of putting out your own records caught on.

At one point Fredrik was pretty much the one running it as a label. He started his own label “The Solid Eye” and LAFMS as a label went dormant.

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

Tom and his pals said they were cool so that was good enough for us. The tapes they sent us sound similar to our recordings.

They were out of town so that meant we hardly knew’em but they felt like kindred spirits. We could count on them for good submissions to our compilations and when they started their own label that was cool, too. They’ve been great allies and it helped it feel more like a collective to have them with us, even from a distance.

You began to pull in collaborators and fans from outside of the scene, for instance how did John Duncan get involved? Who else did you attract?

We were putting out compilations and there was a ‘Mail Art’ scene some of us were loosely affiliated with. A lot of it came down to friends and friends of friends and so on and so on. A snowballing effect. Compilations were funded by collecting percentages of the cost of manufacture based on reserving time on the LP. Then the pressing was  divided among the participants accordingly. So if it cost $600 dollars press 200 records with 30 minutes of time on them.

That’s 20 dollars a minute. $120 would buy 6 minutes and 1/5th of the pressing or 40 LPs.

It was up to the participants to distribute their records. Few were sold. Most were given away to friends. Freaks of a feather.

It just grew.

John was a friend who was working with sound and performance art. He did a radio show called Close Radio. Several LAFMS participants ended up playing live over the air. He got absorbed by osmosis like everyone else. He  recorded and pressed his first records while still in LA before moving to Japan. Tom Recchion was in the BDR Ensemble with him and John has participated in several Airway shows and collaborated with Joe Potts.

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

Well the actual Telethon aspect was a farce. Joe had the Otis student gallery for a week for a solo ‘show’.

He decided to open it up for use an ongoing performance, captured on video and fed onto a TV in the student lounge.

We weren’t having people call in to pledge money for a charity but it was a bit of a marathon.

We did a week of 12 to 16 hr. days with students, faculty, friends and invited bands performing. The place was filled with costumes props instruments and weird junk. It was all improvised except for bands like The Screamers and The Monitors. Usually we’d start at 10 am and go until at least 10 pm. It was like running a pirate TV station.

Can you recount any particular key performances?

What in your mind are the quintessential LAFMS documents?

L.A.F.M.S. ‘Lowest Form of Music’ Box Set

‘Bikini Tennis Shoes’ by Le Forte Four

Doodooettes ‘Look to This’

Airway “Live at LACE”

Bloorp Esette 4 CD ‘Collector’s Edition’

Smegma’s ‘Glamour Girl 1941′

Blub Krad ‘Various Artists’ LP

Darker Skratcher ‘Various Artists’ LP

How do you feel about the upcoming retrospective festival? Do you see it as a reformation or more like a continuation of what you were doing? Some non LAFMS groups are also playing, do you feel they have much in common with your aesthetic, for instance the Japanese noise groups Hijokaidan and Incapacitants?

I’m a bit flabbergasted. I feel really happy that there is so much of an interest in us. I’m grateful there’s an audience now.

It feels like a continuation. An extra special continuation.

I was really surprised when I met  Incapacitants in Tokyo in 2002 during  Solid Eye’s tour. After a show where both groups played, Mikawa told me that the Airway’s Live at LACE LP had been an  influence on Hijokaiden.  They are Japanese noise legends of course so I felt some pride having played on that record. Really though, Joe Potts  was the master behind that  project and he created that  sound quite intentionally. I was lucky to have been  included.

It was amazing seeing Incapacitants. A transformation happened back stage before the show. Like a Jekyll to Hyde transformation. They become entranced and entered into a hyper-world. Out on stage the were fighting invisible demons. It sounded like a Godzilla exorcism. Frightening but absurd.

Being in Tokyo and Japan in  general gave me a theory  about how the Airway sound  may have mutated in Japan.

With Airway, all instruments were fed into a homemade mixer and morphed into one signal. By the time the signal came out of the mixing box, the notes we played were canceling each other out. Only parts of each instrument made it through. The homoginized signal was sent  out into guitar pedals and  into our amps. It took several station wagons  full of  gear (we had our  own homemade PA  system) to put on a show. It seemed to me that maybe in Japan the gear had been reduced to the essential elements… the guitar pedals, which could be carried on a train in a suitcase. You didn’t need so many sound sources or musicians either because the pedals obliterated most everything. Really, the Japanese Noise scene is an inspiration and I’d be really happy if LAFMS influenced it even a tiny bit. This would be thanks, in great part, to our friend Takuya Sakaguchi. He is a friend and fan who reviewed all our releases in the underground music magazine G-Modern. His enthusiasm helped generate interest in what we were  doing.

Been thinking about something else – listening again to Bikini Tennis Shoes parts of it remind me of the first Faust album, the way you usurp commercial and pop music and nursery rhyme tunes.. exploding The Ballad Of John & Yoko like they did with Satisfaction… was there an element of cultural critique here? I know Faust saw it as destroying everything that went before in the form of some kind of attempted year zero but with LFF it seems less like a critique and more celebratory – how do you feel about that? This ties in with a question about how you felt about being championed/resdiscovered/embraced by alla these cold interrogating European Industrial groups – could you relate to that at all? Sorry to keep bombarding you…

I think we were mocking pop culture for the most part. There were remnents of a postwar euphoria that seemed ridiculous in the era. It was a cynical time. Rather then destroying the past I think we wanted to twist it in on itself by changing the context. Sometimes we made fun of it but actually like it. We have references to Japanese cartoons that were dubbed and shown in LA. We loved them and the odd quality they took on. So sometimes we had fun doing our versions of the theme songs to Speed Racer and Amazing Three (or Wonder Three in Japan). The records and films we lifted from seemed so outdated even though they weren’t that old. It was like drawing a mustache on a person in an advertisement. Creative juvenile vandalism. I’m grateful for any fans or interest.  A lot of it has been made in sort of a vacuum. It’s great we made it on the Nurse with Wound list. Then I realized our records were starting to get to the right audience, that there even was an audience. I wonder how many found us that way? How ever people find us, if they’re at all inspired to make sounds and put out records and do shows themselves then that’s fantastic.

Rick: please feel free to fill in any holes I might have missed, I also wanted to ask you about the survival of the LAFMS through the 80s and 90s when activity was a bit more diffuse and under the radar – what were those years like? How did the LAFMS ethos survive the times, did you pick up new supporters and like-minded artists, did you feel more or less accepted? What has it been like connecting with a whole new generation of players working in a similar way to LAFMS – I’m thinking of gatherings like Colour Out Of Space in Brighton, contemporary noise music, the cassette/CD-R underground etc…

In 1982 I met Joseph Hammer and soon we were collaborating. Joseph was in an ensemble called Points of Friction and they were like minded soundscape builders and film makers. He and his friends had starting to use tape loops.

By the end of 1983 Joseph and I had hours of home recordings. We put together a cassette tape and that’s how Dinosaurs with Horns started.

By then LAFMS was inactive. We met Brad Laner and Spencer Savage and their pals in the mid eighties. Brad was about 17 or 18 and was assembling  noisemakers for his Debt of Nature shows and making home recordings. Joseph and I played at a couple of those events. We started using the Le Forte Fours space in Alhambra and recorded a record with Brad under his Steaming Coils moniker. Meanwhile, a club on the outskirts of Hollywood called the Anti Club developed a adventurous booking policy. There was an actual venue to play at! Spencer Savage became a Dinosaurs with Horns player. It was great working with younger guys who were enthusiatic and had there own ideas. Except for my contibutions on the Steaming Coils LP and some regretable rock outtings the eighties were dry of actual releases. Live shows were few and far between. We did a lot of recording. By then, people were tuning in to the LAFMS records that were floating around but the group had dissipated. In 1989 and 1990 Joseph and started working with artist Bill Leavit, who has a homemade modular synth. and a 2-by-four cello. Steve Thomsen from the World Imitation/Monitor cult became a friend and collaborator around this time. Dinosaurs with Horns morphed into Solid Eye. At first we worked on layering tracks at Steve’s downtown loft.We spent a year or so trying this out and building up tracks for our first CD. After we finished I was antsy to start improvasing again. We started playing live shows.  We would play a few pieces that were based on things we worked up in the studio and ended with a free improvisation. Everyone seemed to like the last piece the best. We became strictly ‘free’ and most sets became one continueous journey with vague beginnings that mdae people wonder if we’d started yet. After some shows in San Francisco that Bill couldn’t attend we liked the way the trio worked so much we reluctantly asked Bill to let us continue with out him. He is still a collaborator and friend. Solid Eye played was very active from 1994 until 2000 and then we lost some steam and Steve got wanderlust. Meanwhile the ‘Lowest Form of Music’ box got put together and released and Solid Eye was seen as a continuation. Extended Organ had been together awhile, too so things were becoming active again. Throughout the eighties and ninties many of us worked on solo projects and collaborations, especially Tom. It just wasn’t under the LAFMS umbrella. I’ve never stopped recording and playing music with people since the Bikini Tennis Shoe days. Even though I had a gut feeling it would be contagious I’m still in a bit of disbelief that there seems to be a growing audience for us.

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One response to this post.

  1. An interesting history of LAFMS and an accurate depiction of the Patients fiasco at the Temple. All that was left out was the competition of the lounge act (Stein & Ira) and Joe Schlagel slicing open his hand at the last moment.

    Reply

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