October 16th, 2017
Doors at 7. Music at 7:30pm
Clarinetist John McCowen and guitarist Alan Licht will perform solo sets, followed by a discussion about their music with Ken Vandermark.
Born in 1968 and raised in New Jersey, I took guitar lessons at the age of ten and went on to play in typical high school cover bands and to study jazz guitar privately with Buck Brown. In my late teens, as my interests expanded to the avant-garde, I attended a seminar on improvisation given by noted west coast guitarist Henry Kaiser. Enrolling at Vassar College, I studied electronic music with Linda Fisher and composition with Annea Lockwood and Richard Wilson. By the time I graduated in 1990, I had already published articles on Minimalist composers La Monte Young, Tony Conrad, Rhys Chatham, and Charlemagne Palestine, and had recorded with former John Coltrane drummer Rashied Ali (on Rudolph Grey's Mask of Light LP).
Relocating to New York City, I focused on pursuing free improvisation (with Rudolph Grey's group the Blue Humans and guitarist Loren Mazzacane Connors) as well as indie rock (the bands Love Child and Run On, as well as a brief stint with legendary 60s psychedelic rock band Arthur Lee & Love). I also began developing a repertoire of structured improvisation pieces for solo electric guitar, documented on a series of albums starting with 1994's Sink the Aging Process. These brought together my interests in reharmonization (from jazz and classical music), process, repetition, and extended duration (from Minimalism), and the textural vocabularies of rock and noise music. The albums also include tape pieces and organ works. In 1998 I began writing frequently for the British experimental music magazine The WIRE, doing several cover stories and other features. In 2000 I started handling bookings at Tonic, the estimable New York venue dedicated to showcasing a wide range of alternative music, from free improvisation to underground rock to electronica to the jazz and classical avant-gardes. This brought me into contact with numerous musicians, and I performed at Tonic myself countless times. In 2001 I co-founded the ensemble Text of Light with Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo, a project that brings together free improvisation with screenings of historic examples of experimental cinema. Text of Light emphasizes the chance correspondences between what is happening onscreen and what is happening in the music, as a kind of live, real-time mixed-media collage. Subsequently I have made audiovisual collaborations with video artist and long-time Merce Cunningham associate Charles Atlas and Emmy-winning painter, designer and comics artist Gary Panter, which operated under similar principles. 2002 saw the publication of my first book, An Emotional Memoir of Martha Quinn, an extended personal essay about coming of age as a rock fan and musician. In 2007 my second book, Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories was published - significant as the first full-length study of sound installations and sound sculpture to be published in English, and the first to examine the genre mainly from an art historical, rather than a quasi-philosophical, viewpoint.
Any free improviser is also an audience member, as he or she is hearing the music for the first time. I brought this idea to performances I organized under the name the Digger Choir at Issue Project Room in 2003-2004 that conflated the roles of audience member and performer. Everyone who attended was responsible for performing the music-singing John Stevens' Sustained Piece and Yoko Ono's John Let's Hope For Piece as well as my own pieces like Subway Piece, in which they were instructed to read a magazine or book they would ordinarily read to themselves in transit out loud. The idea of speaking texts aloud that are meant to be read silently also occurs in two of my recent sound installations: On Deaf Ears (2009), in which an article about the possible hearing loss incurred by listening to music on iPod earbuds at high volume was recorded being read aloud, and played as a loop on AVA Gallery's outdoor speakers; and Cross Promotion (2010), in which the proprietors of both AVA and Diapason read aloud their press releases for coming exhibitions, the recordings were then installed in each other's gallery space. These pieces play not only on sound art's investigations of latent sounds, but on my dual work practice as a musician and a writer.
In 2010 I started a project called Title TK with media artist Cory Archangel and curator Howie Chen. Cory, Howie and I are all guitarists. Considering ourselves a band, in live appearances we walk onstage with guitars but never plug them in or play; instead we simply talk to each other (mostly about music). These talks are improvised, and to me represent a negotiation between spoken and musical languages, underlining the linguistic implications of musical vocabularies and the conversational aspects of group improvisation. They also represent an application of "post- studio art" ideas to music, in removing what would be expected as essential content from the rock band format. Finally, they build upon my personal history, making a conceptual accommodation between my parallel existences in the 90s as a rock band member and free improviser. More recent activities include recording and touring with Lee Ranaldo & the Dust, an improv trio with Aki Onda and artist/filmmaker Michael Snow, a duo with Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase, and a book-length interview with Will Oldham, Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy (Faber & Faber (UK), W.W. Norton (US), Contra (Spain), 2012).
"Licht composes like the writer that he is. Ideas - simply stated and highly effective - emerge from a collage of everything from loops of raw guitar to radio weather reports." -- Christian Marclay on AL's double CD A New York Minute in Best of 2003, ARTFORUM, December 2003.
"Be it in indie rock groups, improv ensembles, or his solo compositions, guitarist and writer Alan Licht has spent his career smuggling ideas across the obscured bridge between harmony and noise." -- Matthew Wuethrich, the WIRE, June 2008
John McCowen has been an active musician/composer for the past decade. Originally hailing from the rural terrain of Southern Illinois, he currently splits his time between the bay area of California and the south side of Chicago. He plays amplified clarinet + electronics in the Chicago based avant-rock group Wei Zhongle (NNA Tapes, New Atlantis). John is also in a multitude of creative ensembles in the midwest and west coast. These include Vibrating Skull Trio (Eli Namay, Philip Sudderberg), Kokou (Tom Djll, Jacob Felix Heule, Kanoko Nishi-Smith), as well as others.
As a performer, John is a fan of heavy collaborations. He performs with Eb, Bb, & contrabass clarinets, as well as treble and bass recorders, utilizing an any-means-necessary approach to sound production. He has worked with Roscoe Mitchell, Sult, Fred Frith, Tool, Ned Rothenberg, and more. John has performed at various sites including Berkeley Art Museum, Guess Who Festival, The Smell, Constellation Chicago, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, The Stone, International Clarinet Festival, Death By Audio, and more.