Q&A: Northern Spy Records' Tom Abbs and Adam Downey On Guitarist Tom Carter, Working At ESP-Disk' And Running Their Own Label

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Peter Gannushkin/downtownmusic.net
Chicago Underground Duo play Roulette on July 15 as part of Spy Music Fest.
This week, the Voice sat down with Northern Spy head-honchos Tom Abbs and Adam Downey to talk about the second installment of the label's Spy Music Festival, which will engulf this city's landscape from Friday through mid-July.

But in typical unselfish fashion, Abbs and Downey weren't in a self-congratulatory mood over their ascendant label, the impending celebration, and the lineup of killer shows. Instead, Abbs and Downey were not only intent on fixing the wrongs they encountered at their former label, ESP-Disk', by paying back decades-old royalties to that label's artists, they were itching for the same rep AUM Fidelity label head Steven Joerg has: to be as completely fair to their artists as possible.

That righteous ethos extends into being there 100% in support of musicians in need like Brooklyn guitarist and N-Spyer Tom Carter, who is facing an uphill battle after falling ill while on tour in Germany. Read on for outtakes that didn't make it into this week's piece.

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Q&A: Rhys Chatham On Playing With Oneida, Taking Up Trumpet, And The Survival Of New York

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Even via Skype, Rhys Chatham remains profoundly, permanently enthused. The giddy 100-guitar maximalist/minimalist yin to Glenn Branca's foreboding 100-guitar maximalist/minimalist yang, Chatham's '70s/'80s innovations—rounded up by Table of the Elements on 2002's An Angel Moves Too Fast To See—remain a cornerstone of contemporary music. But, give or take performances like 2007's mammoth 400-guitar Crimson Grail (staged with 200 guitars at Lincoln Center two years later), Chatham has moved on. Born and raised in Greenwich Village, studying with avant-garde stalwarts like LaMonte Young and Tony Conrad, Chatham, 59, famously discovered the power of electric guitar after seeing the Ramones at CBGB. In recent years, he has returned to trumpet, for a series of albums that tip into tender, third stream improv.

This Saturday, he will take the stage with Oneida—and guitar in hand—as part of the Ecstatic Music Fest, which spotlights music that seems poised to reconnect his two modes of music. Paired by festival organizers, the night won't be the 10-hour Ocropolis extravaganza that he and the O-brahs originally proposed, but—with a half-dozen new collaborative pieces between them—it'll be assuredly be something new. Though Chatham moved to Paris in 1989, he remains a New York musician in absentia, befriending successive generations of underground Gothamites passing through Paris. When he caught Liturgy on a recent trip to New York—where he also played violin with Kid Millions' Matter Waves—he was surprised to see guitarist Bernard Gann, who he'd last seen as a 15-year old crashing on his Paris floor.

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Live: Neon Marshmallow Turns Up The Volume At Public Assembly


Grouper at Neon Marshmallow.
Neon Marshmallow NYC
Public Assembly
October 14-16

Better than: Bumming about Kim and Thurston.

"Yeah, he was pretty much just sitting there, watching his .wav files," somebody noted to a late-arriving friend, recounting a Friday set at this weekend's Neon Marshmallow festival by composer Phill Niblock. A hackneyed variation of the same canard, of course, could be (and probably has been) snickered at every performance involving live electronics since John Cage and his pals dubbed it "tape music." But while the 78-year-old Niblock certainly did appear to just sit there, watching the .wavs roll by as fairly generic slow-mo/macro/etc. nature footage burbled behind him, he did so while his music played at an absolutely pants-rattling, euphoria-inducing volume, overtones dancing in the registers where sound turns physical.

Throughout three evenings at Public Assembly, the Chicago-based Neon Marshmallow organization presented nearly two dozen artists in such a manner, through the very-non-human-megaphone-like PA of the not-entirely-public Public Assembly. With another speaker stack at the rear of the venue's floor for good measure, it was all deliciously, ludicrously loud—and while rock bands have routinely based their lives on this virtue for decades, it's all too infrequently applied to the heady and often difficult music championed by Neon Marshmallow. Those artists who made the best of it—the better to drown out Williamsburg weekend bar chatter and a raging dubstep dance party in the back room—were positively thrilling.

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Rhys Chatham's A Crimson Grail Does Not Disappoint on Replay

Oh wow--Lonely Cubicle posts gorgeous audio from Rhys Chatham's A Crimson Grail performance at Lincoln Center. "Note acts of religious fervor beginning at 7:29," dude writes, which yeah, that's easy to imagine. [h/t The Daily Swarm]

Reminder: Rhys Chatham's Crimson Grail

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The weather forecast for tomorrow looks uncertain, come the evening--shades of last year, when the New York premiere of Rhys Chatham's epic, maximalist, 200-guitar-featuring Crimson Grail was scratched at the last minute in a torrent of rain and dangerously exposed wires. First commissioned by the city of Paris for their 2005 La Nuit Blanche Festival, Chatham's piece originally sported an orchestra of 400 players, who performed in and outside the Sacre-Coeur for something approaching 12 hours straight. The piece was broadcast on French national television, and later excerpted on a stellar and frankly moving LP on the Table of Elements imprint. This year, Lincoln Center has all sorts of contingency plans--this thing is coming off, rain or shine--but at the moment, it looks like it won't come to that, and thank god. Skeptics or people indifferent to the virtues of a free, once-in-a-lifetime performance should maybe check out the audio currently streaming at Chatham's site. Or, you know, just swing by. The festivities start tomorrow at 7:30pm, when Liquid Liquid (!) open.

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