Aluminum Moments

April 16th, 2011

Aluminum Nights Poster, Robert Longo, 1981

Thirty years ago was Aluminum Nights, a two-night performance series celebrating the tenth anniversary of The Kitchen.  Fast forward: to celebrate the fortieth anniversary season, The Kitchen has reincarnated the event as Aluminum Music, featuring a selection of the Aluminum Nights roster.  On Friday, the first of two nights, avant-kabbalah percussionist Z’EV performed with the post-punk Bush Tetras.

Nick Hallett

“The master artists on the program were being invited back to The Kitchen to school the children, and the children needed to learn to buy their tickets in advance.”  Jocular event curator Nick Hallett was commenting on the healthy turnout of gray-haired (or bottle colored) followers, and the according absence of curious kids born well after Aluminum Nights.

“The old guard is well represented in the audience,” Nick continued, intending an optimistic embrace of wisdom and acquired prudence, yet stirring some jovial heckling.  He conceded, “I am not responsible for the forward motion of clocks.”

Said motion will bear lightly on the imminently immortal Z’EV, who, clad in black with shaved head, with earrings, with bracelets, looked shamanic as he settled in among a cordon of suspended, shining discs. Each of these percussive surfaces, found objects, had traveled with him in his journeys, inner space and terra firma.

Z'EV

Z’EV found the clattering stainless steel box in a trash barge on the Thames in 1989 and the largest hanging stainless steel flat disc, in the center, in a Los Angeles scrapyard in 2004.  Two of the smaller discs are Thali trays, one found in in a NYC Indian deli/restaurant supply store, the other in a London Salvation Army in 2005.  The wandering instruments were now united and suspended in a wreath of tethered portals to the aural ocean.

Like an alchemist, Z’EV conjured ominous rumbles and eerie glissandos and converted them to booming sine waves and pitchshifted shrieks, the sounds of the sinking Titanic, of J.G. Ballard daydreams, of Richard Serra vortices in hurricanes.

With felt mallets, Z’EV drummed out thundering beats and with rubber mallets, dragged over the drum surface, he unfurled soaring sound warps.  How does a musician find notation for dragging a rubber mallet across the bass drum head?  Z’EV works from themes from which he improvises, customizing his drumming to the space and the audience.  I wonder what cues he took from the crowd.  Most were like me, silent and in awe.  Some were rocking back and forth.  Experimental noise Revival!  Occasionally pausing to puff a cigarette that seemed to burn forever, he shook homemade rattles, clashed the Thali trays, and generated jittery soundscapes by holding a pocket-sized shard of metal to the vibrating, clattering steel box he pounded on the inside, like the faceless industrial shell of a reanimated dead puppet.

All I can tell you is what I watched.  I can’t tell you what it was about because Z’EV is on some “next-level” numerology, pagan, kabbalah inspiration.  So if it looked like a prayer, it probably was.

After a few minutes for us to come back to earth, Nick Hallett introduced the Bush Tetras.  They opened with Cowboys in Africa, then urged the audience to “unhinge” from their seats and start a punky reggae party.  Scratchy caribbean rhythms and Pat Place’s shredded wheeze got the kids dancing, and the not-so-kids.

“Thirty years is like five minutes!” shouted a blonde woman who danced from the first thump to the last shard.  “We’re glad to be alive” said Cynthia Sley.

Is that all?  Just alive?  They were more than alive.

Tetras founder Pat Place made her guitar shriek in the climbs to chorus, chirp through the twitchy verses, and holler at the climax.  She leaned into it till the whammy bar itself unhinged and clattered to the floor. For Punch Drunk and the encore Voodoo, she whipped out a bottleneck slide and stroked the neck with enough fervor to make me cross my legs and blush.  Cynthia Sley (Womersley), magically gaunt (and a near twin of Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes) and ready to hop, thrust, and shake, rapped out a dual gear vocal style combining rhythmic muttering and adrenaline howling.  Her sound seems suited to any survivor who was there, man – and any punishment-happy thrillseeker who would have wanted to be “there” in the first place.

“This song is about living in the East Village; we didn’t like when people came into our neighborhood,” said Cynthia Sley, chatting before “Stare You Down.”

“And they didn’t like us coming in to theirs,” was the dry rejoinder from drummer Dee Pop.   A rush of mystified incredulity curling his face, he added, “What were we doing there, anyway?”

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