Music Writing by Carson Arnold

 


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MATTHEW YOUNG REVISITED

 

"Reflective, dreamy music- very mellow & soothing- very good stuff, w/ a touch of folk". Who wrote that? Not me. This is the jet-ink phrase that was scribbled across the back of Matthew Young's 1986 release Traveler's Advisory when I found it rusting in a dumpy lp bin full of forgotten has-beens and other unknown heroes of the radio-days. Go now, find Young, he's kickin' around in the naked vault of twenty years worth of college-FM jam, millions of wrinkled faces all stickin' up at you like Leonard Cohen somewhere yellin' "please don't pass me by!". But can all that for now, Young is arguably one of the warmest promises straight outta the 80's yoke and one of the better-loved secrets ever whispered to date. A ghost-McCoy.

 

Close to little before him and an expression far too ahead of his time, Traveler's Advisory was a home-recorded masterpiece worn by the velvet-beam of electronic-folk and anywhere else the beyond could go. Young's twinkling and intimate dulcimer compositions and squirrelish voice backed by the limbo of synth-rye meanders into a thousand canyons of mysterious end with all ambient rhapsody calling back and fro. Feathered like Tangerine Dream's Peter Baumann chanting Pentangle's lost chord, whether Carl Orf, 12th century medieval strum, or a very astral Eno-fied rendition of Michael Hurley's "Werewolf" (described by Hurley as "one of the better versions"), Traveler's Advisory freezes our thoughts from all language, and bounds them into the tarnation of a sacred feeling of wind and hope.

 

But a perpetual eve would snow us in years before and years ahead with Young's untold story in his '81 debut, Recurring Dreams. Wordless, and roaring a dark tulip of swimming soundscapes and moving silence, the record journeys into the glacier of electronia resulting with such luscious, hyptonic meltdowns like the twelve-minute crystal "The Forest of Lilacs", which caresses a fertile zenith that we've never seen or heard before until Young removes us skyward and farther on into the raining hollow of a romantic synth-haze.

 

We find ourselves being drawn on out by Young's slithering gravity across the universe of one moment, wave and thought- a kind of Virginia Woolf garden of sound and second. So consider yourself lucky to have ever heard either of his two records -feels good- the instruments all sort of vapor-gone, dripping, lingering, moving...you, somewhere grazing. Young in Recurring Dreams paints eight hallucinations into a thawing zodiac that we too in the end desire not to part from, but instead wish and wander to be released out into the very impressionism. This is all somewhat of an entire exhale and inhale of what we love most about music and what we always feared it could possibly do and attempt while our backs were turned. But a whole other feeling lies in the plexus of both records. Young seems to be alive and foretelling, speaking to a new breed of runaways all fleeing from that time as he seems to tribute in his own weathered sound of the blossoming artificial and the vestiges of the acoustic. But runaway we do, travel with an advisory we must. Young plunges his breath of sound to all gypsies of the open road who have heard the quiet nocturne of midnight within the blur of flickering lamp-posts and all small-town blackout singing alive, Young, with his song "Objects In The Mirror", somewhere wavering in the shadow and fog of it all..."Night Music".

 

Yet on the road or not, it is to be sure nothing carries the same lone-flora like Young's humming, electrical heart. Since '86, he's released a full zero to the public hand, a disappearing note, a vanished face. Where is he? Dead? Obscure? Nah, he's out there, well, living. And with some time, granted many wrong phone numbers, I finally located him, contacting him at his New Jersey home late one Sunday night. "I'm glad the record's still kickin' around", he replied. "Where did you find it?"

 

And so forth, the next day between us arose a month long correspondence between April and May, 2003. Check it out.

 

MY: I apologize if I wasn't particularly talkative last night; end of a long family weekend, surprised that someone was calling about the record, etc. I'll be happy to tell you what I can.

 

CA: No problem, I should have probably known better to call late on Easter Sunday anyway...Man, why did you stop releasing stuff?

 

MY: I didn't release anything else because my business became so time- and  energy-consuming, and because I didn't get things I was working on to a finished form I was comfortable with. I never stopped being interested in the music. Some of what I've worked on I'd like to revisit, but I also want to begin some new things.

 

CA: A long time it's been. So when we talked it sounded as though Traveler's Advisory was your only release.

 

MY: The guys who mixed Traveler's Advisory and I re-recorded "Dummy Line", which they then released in a small pressing on their own label and distributed to college radio stations. Since then I have done some settings of poetry to music and some other odds and ends, but not released. As a full-time graphic designer and part-time rare book collector/dealer, I haven't found the time or focus to devote to a musical project in recent years, though I am getting back into it, including taking guitar lessons.

 

CA: Guitar lessons? Huh...You still play the dulcimer though, right?

 

MY: I rarely play the dulcimer because it takes a lot of time just to keep it in tune and also because I'm interested in other kinds of music, including blues and jazz, that are difficult to do a lot with on the dulcimer. Occasionally I do tune it up and hammer away, and I'll find a place for it in future work.

 

CA: Prior '86...what were you doing?

 

MY: There was an earlier release of electronic music, Recurring Dreams (1981) which I can send along, though it's different in style. It was cited by Greg Sandow of the Village Voice as one of his favorite records of that year. Both LPs were recorded at home and marketed  through the New Music Distribution Service in New York, which went out of business with the advent of the CD. At about the same time, I helped  plan and organize a concert of electronic music and projected images called "Either/Other" which took place at Princeton University, at MIT and at the New Jersey State Museum. Also involved were Paul Lansky, now head of Princeton's Department of Music, and Richard Cann. You can find out about them at: http://www.music.princeton.edu/paul

http://www.gratefuljazz.com

 

CA: So what was the average electronic show back then? What would happen?

 

MY: Apart from rock music, live electronic shows tended to be either recorded or highly improvisational. Ours titled, "Either/Other", was on tape except for an electronic band called the Scientific Americans who in played the show at the New Jersey State Museum.

 

CA: I had no clue you had another record. But as for the one I do know about, I imagine when people listen to Traveler's Advisory, they wonder "how'd he come up with the idea to record a sort of 12th century/folk/electronic album?"

 

MY: I had played folk music for years and fairly recently learned the hammer dulcimer. (The somewhat misleading notes on the back suggest  that Don Kowalek played on the record, but he was in fact the maker of  the instrument I own.) I had pursued electronic music since attending a summer session in computer music offered through the Princeton  University Music Department in 1976. So it just seemed a natural  extension of two musical interests and some music that I liked or was  working on. (For an interesting electronic take on folk music, try Paul Lansky's "Folk Images" on Bridge Records.)

 

CA: Ever perform the album live?

 

MY: I did perform songs from Traveler's Advisory on the dulcimer locally and also briefly in Massachusetts.

 

CA: And the audience would think...

 

MY: I think people did like the dulcimer music, though I'm not very comfortable performing.

 

CA: Well, it's like that radio show "Music You Can't Hear On The Radio" that you performed on. I believe you did a Dead number. I suppose most general people had never seen someone sing with a dulcimer before. Were your dulcimer compositions very hard to compose?

 

MY: I think nearly everyone liked the sound of the dulcimer, so that was not a problem. More a simple matter of nerves, I guess.

 

CA: I believe it. So roughly, it seems like college radio was overall what brought you out to the public eye? Attention, that is.

 

MY: When I released Recurring Dreams-- and later, Traveler's Advisory -- I sent records out to college and public radio stations and music publications. The New Music Distribution Service had its own mailing list and the attention of good alternative music reviewers and DJs. Both records got reasonable airplay and some nice reviews. Traveler's Advisory was even the #1 album in terms of airplay for a week or so on WXPN (University of Pennsylvania public radio). In 1987 I also appeared on John Weingart's long-running folk show "Music You Can't Hear on the Radio": http://www.princeton.edu/~wprb/shows/canthear.html I have a tape, and I'll send you a copy. It reflects what I was performing on the dulcimer at the time, and there was some conversation about the music. So, yes, college radio was important. For a long time, though, I got occasional tiny royalties for foreign airplay, Russia in particular for some reason.

 

CA: Huh, what do you think Russia was doing with your work? Air coverage?

 

MY: Radio, as far as I could tell.

 

CA: Actually, it just occurred to me, has anybody looked you up in the last seventeen years?

 

MY: Actually, another guy contacted me a year or two ago when he came across the record, and we corresponded briefly.

 

CA: What have people said about your rather hybrid version of Michael Hurley's "Werewolf"?

 

MY: Michael said he liked my version of "Werewolf," and I thought I might even have heard a hint of the electronic solo in his fiddle part in a later recording of the song that he did.

 

CA: I think this is the only one you've done of his, right?

 

MY: I sing other Hurley songs, but have only recorded the one. I have seen him perform several times, corresponded with him and own several of his paintings, but have not been in touch with him lately.

 

CA: On the move. If you were going to release something now, what do you think it'd be? I imagine it'd be different, but maybe not. Still somewhat electronic? What's that poetry thing you were talking about?

 

MY: Don't know what I'd release now. I'm studying and absorbing at the moment, but hope to get back to writing and recording sometime in the next couple of years. I'm enjoying playing acoustic music, but I'd certainly incorporate electronic technology when I do get around to it. The poetry is my aunt's, Marion Lineaweaver.

 

CA: There's that alternative version of "Dummy Line" which you gave me. You were telling me this was recorded with William Tucker who did the music for the film Pi?

 

MY: Andy Gomory mixed Traveler's Advisory at his Gabriel Farm Studio near here, and he and Bill Tucker were involved in a project recording people they knew and liked and sending a small pressing of singles out to college radio stations on a regular basis. I wasn't part of this circle of musicians (which involved the band Ween and revolved around the the Princeton Record Exchange, a great for hard-to-find CDs and LPs), but they wanted to do a version of "Dummy Line", which was fine with me. They recorded my dulcimer and vocals and then added the other instruments. I didn't see Bill again, but was aware of his work on Pi, and then heard maybe a year and a half ago that he had committed suicide in Chicago, where he was living. I don't know the circumstances.

 

CA: Very rough. As I remember Pi was pretty much trip-hop- new wave stuff. 

Had people wanted you to...what's the word?... sort of get involved with this "circle of musicians"?

 

MY: I know Ween is still busting about, is the rest of this scene still active? No, I never really knew those guys and wasn't interested in doing anything with them (nor was I asked).

 

CA: {I receive Recurring Dreams in the mail...} You're right, Recurring Dreams is a lot different from your other record...Electronic, no words, twenty-two years ago....

 

MY: In the early '70s I got interested in both "popular" electronic music and in "serious" computer music, a lot of which was being done at Princeton and released on CRI. A couple of doctoral candidates in the Princeton Music Department were then offering a summer seminar in computer music, which I took. Richard Cann was one of the instructors, and we have remained close friends. Most of that involved card-punching on the Princeton IBM mainframe and then taking the digital tapes to the digital-to-analog lab in the Engineering Quad in order to hear what we had done.

 

Shortly after that I got myself an EMS Synth (Eno's little suitcase) from Everett Hafner at Hampton College (who was the U.S. Representative) and a reel-to-reel, and started making music. I did want to actually play, in the traditional sense, some of the music rather than program or improvise everything, so I included some percussion, keyboards, guitar, whatever I could manage to play that seemed to fit.

 

CA: And you filtered this record out to the public how?

 

MY: As I mentioned, it was marketed through the New Music Distribution Service in New York. Yale Evelev- now a producer of world music recordings- was the manager then. I also filled orders I received from inquiries resulting from reviews, etc.

 

CA: You still have all your old electronic equipment?

 

MY: I no longer have the EMS Synth or the Roland I used on the first  record, or the Casio from the second. I do still have the tape recorders I used. I now have a newer Roland and midi setup with  Mac-based software.

 

CA: That's right, what are some crazy things you did with tape effects?

 

MY: I used my variable-speed Revox to feed the just-recorded signal back to the line-in to create different loop/echo/reverb effects and so that I could accompany myself as I recorded, so to speak.

 

CA: {Young by this time has sent by mail some unreleased material for me to listen hear. "Summer Girls" is one of the pieces.} Though you said "Summer Girls" was a little rough, it's actually my favorite piece. Especially with the faint tape-effect-voices where you have to turn up all the volume to really hear them all swimming... Now these are the only things you've been working on since '86? It must have been quite a long time ago cuz' I'm hearing dulcimer in a few.

 

MY: I felt that the original recording of voice and dulcimer was rough and added the electronics to flesh it out a bit. I guess I wasn't sure how successful that was. These were worked on in the mid '90s. They aren't the only things, but there isn't a lot, and the rest is in pieces, or just didn't gel. Some other attempts to set the poetry to music, in particular, just didn't work. I have played piano, dulcimer and guitar for my own pleasure, which is really all I've had time for in recent years. So I'm easing back into a more serious commitment with guitar lessons to gain some technique in playing and reading.

 

CA: Electronic music has become pretty noisy now, but for awhile there in the 80's, people like you and Eno expressed a rather eternal current of sound with it. Soundscapes, images, etc...People now get all muffiny over Radiohead never realizing once about all the stuff that was happening during the late 70's and the early 80's.

 

MY: I'm trying to think of people I like who did (or do) interesting things with electronics. Eno, Cluster, Harmonia, Popul Vuh, Can, Tuxedomoon, Riuichi Sakamoto (some of), Hector Zazou, the band Japan and some of the later work by its members, Dead Can Dance. I'm not very current, I'm afraid. I do like some of what Massive Attack has done, though not Mezzanine, and I haven't heard their latest. Going back to the '60s, the Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks collaboration still interests me. I think you can still download a pretty good reconstruction of what remains available from the "Smile" sessions at: http://www.thesmileshop.net/start.html

 

CA: Good ol' Klaus Schulze as well. Massive Attack has gotten way too drippy, definitely not as cool. The 70's you were mostly involved with electronic classes at certain places. Were you caught up in the 60's, as a teen?

 

MY: Never did like Klaus Schulze. Electronic classes, just for those two summers at Princeton. Yes, certainly I was caught up in the sixties, though not swept away.

 

CA: And what's "Objects In The Mirror" about anyway,? So we know.

 

MY: Sort of an all-purpose cautionary song, but taken verbatim from a couple of car manuals.

 

--Carson Arnold - May 31, 2003

 

For more information on Matthew Young, please write to:

Mt. Rose Records

P.O. Box 260

Hopewell, NJ

08525

copyright 2003 Carson Arnold


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MIDNIGHT ANGEL (An Interview With Joshua)

Calling Dudley Laufman (An Interview)

Sunday At One-Thirty ~ An Interview with Peter Siegel

Monday High Noon - An Interview with Dredd Foole

 

H(ear) Reviews and Essays

 

H(ear) is an online music column consisting of interviews, articles, and investigations written by Carson Arnold. As a freelance writer for various magazines and liner notes, living in the woods of Vermont with his family, Carson widely encourages one to submit their art, writing or any interesting piece of material that you would like to share. H(ear) is accepting both promos and demos for review or any other valuable music-related subjects. If you wish to make a comment or would like to receive H(ear) weekly by email please contact Carson at poetry@sover.net

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