Here's how I got there:
January 31st/February 1st
Rested from 8pm until midnight; finished packing and left at 1:30am for the 3 hour drive to the San Francisco Airport. Loud music and high quality green tea fuels the driver.
Flying American Airlines, SF to New York to Milan. I rarely if ever fly American so not used to looking out the terminal window and seeing rows upon rows of giant A As, colorful, luminous branding letters atop the tails of these aeronautical beasts.
Same seat assignment for 3 of the 4 flights, 23J. Having the same seat on successive flights, of any number, is a first for me. Maybe that's how they do it at American.
Begin reading Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow as the plane swings around the Bay and begins its ascent. The opening "doh" note, a quote by Werner von Braun resonates deeply:
Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death.
A disembodied voice informs us that we are flying at an altitude of 37,000 feet. Have to take their word for it, I left my altimeter in my other suit. I choose the lasagna for lunch.
"23 minutes until landing" the Captain announces as we descend into Milan. I'm reminded of the 23 conspiracy.
The flight arrives early in Milan. Standing by a pillar outside the arrival doors waiting for my ride, I patch into an earlier loop of time, ten years or more before, when waiting in this exact same location I see George Clooney arrive looking spiffy and jovial but suprisingly shorter than expected. A large sign with my name on it pulls me back to the present.
The sky looks cold, dark and grey. Overcast and drizzling. Comfortable ride in a black town car to a comfortable hotel in Milano's moda quartiere. Lunch with Gianni, the colorful promoter I wrote about last year, James - Laswell's stage tech, and Asai - Krush's manager. Conversation ranges from reports on life in Japan, California and New York to the Japanese influence in Brazil and growing up in pre-civil war Beruit.
4pm rehearsal at a smal studio a few miles away. Some hard core fans have driven in from Germany to meet us there. Also some old friends - Eraldo Bernocchi, producer, musician and collaborator, and Giacomo Bruzzo, a self-described "Co-conspirator" at Rare Noise Records ( he runs it).
Krush looks surprisingly fresh considering he played a concert at the Forum in London that went into the early hours then caught a plane in the morning to rehearse this afternoon. Bernie also looks good for someone hopping around the globe - gigs with Steve Kimock in Northern California and Japan, then back to LA to play with Stevie Wonder at the NAMM show, back to Japan, forward to Italy. After this show, he'll jet over to Paris to play with Melvin Gibbs, Bernard Fowler, Nona Hendryx and others to perform Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.
Bill told me about a fairly recent show he did with Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, and John Zorn that sounded interesting. I told him about an apocryphal story of Laurie Anderson wanting to turn Gravity's Rainbow into an opera. She asked Thomas Pynchon for permission and he consented as long as she did everything on one instrument - the banjo.
It takes about 90 minutes for the 5th Column to work out song arrangements for a 75 minute set.
Krush generates beats, atmospherics, turntable scratching, and some melody figures. He uses his machines ( two turntables, a small dj mixer, a Macbook, and fx pedals) to undulate forth a series of parallel Universes made up of sound, mood and texture. I hear crickets, saxophones, drums, wind, noise, rhaitas, female Japanese singing, flugelhorns, basoons, acoustic basses, handclaps, cowbells, goatbells, aardvark bells, church bells, string orchestras, chamber symphonys, locomotive trains, steam whistles, bansuri flute, ocean waves breaking against a coral reef in the South Pacific, and a piano forte a coda among other sounds. Krush tunes to Bernie.
atonal is ok sometimes ... throw in some dissonance...
While they are working out the set, I ask Giacomo if Rare Noise Records has a mission statement. He says it's finding the right thread for things that are not associated, searching for the common language. The nostalgic fusion of future traditions. Seems like he's in the right place as that describes MOD 5th Column perfectly as I find out after the concert.
7:30 am lobby call. It's an unusually early concert, 11am. Part of a series called Aperitivo (aperitif) in Concerto that runs from the end of October to the beginning of March. The idea is draw shoppers in from the suburbs with a reasonably priced concert of high quality international musicians. The show gets out by 1pm giving the concert goers all afternoon to spread economic joy to the area.
8 - 10 am. Set up and soundcheck go smoothly. A silver-haired elderly Swiss audio inventor named Corrado Faccioni is in the house. He has these devices he calls resonators, small steel spiral gizmos that are supposed to smooth out errant harmonics. They are not powered. He places them all over the stage, on Krush's mixer, Bernie's keys and a small set that clamp on to Bill's bass headstock. James later informs me that he even put one on an AC power cable. How an acoustic resonator can smooth out the harmonics of an electrical current is beyond me. I don't get a satisfactory explanation as to how they work. Also, no information exists about them on the web, their site, Cor Fac 2, remains under construction.
Corrado reminds me a bit of the legendary Magic Alex, audio guru to the Beatles, who helped them spend their money on an attempt at a futuristic recording studio as head of Apple Electronics. He suprises me by asking if I miss my floatation tank when I travel. I tell him that I always had wanted to build an orgone box around my tank. He emphatically replies, "my resonators are much better than an orgone box" which makes me smile.
Corrado also supplied one of the vintage Ampeg SVT bass heads for Bill's backline which he bought from AC/DC in the early '70's. It reminds me that this concert isn't an isolated event but part of an ongoing, ever-changing living tradition to help nudge humanity along. AC/DC and MOD have little in common except that both, in their own ways, strive for music that breaks down barriers, that cracks or shatters the emotional armor that keeps the average person from knowing their true voice. Music that transcends the flatland view.
The grande signora, chief of the promoters, has a discussion about the volume with me a few minutes before showtime. She said that last year the volume was too much for the people sitting in the first row in front of the speaker cabinets. I'm sure it was. However, I'm here to tell the world, and give everyone permission to alter their own decibel levels if necessary with two simple suggestions.
1. Don't sit in front of the speakers. Like the old blues song says: you got to move...
2. If that can't be helped, or if it's too loud for you wherever you are, then use earplugs. Earplugs are to louder concerts what sunglasses are on a ski slope during a clear day - sensory attenuators. Sometimes you have to use them. If earplugs aren't available, a moist tissue will have a similar effect. How you postion them in your ears will determine how much sound pressure level they block.
11:15 am - Showtime. The theater is sold-out. Bernie starts with a solo that seems to reference, recapitulate, and encapsulate the entire history of Western music up to Ray Charles' Georgia. I don't get the classical music nods, maybe snippets of Bach or Mozart. The quotes I do recognize besides Georgia are Hark the Herald Angels Sing and Winter Wonderland reminding me more of Illumanti puns than X-mas carols. Krush ambiently lifts off while Bill begins the dialogue with moody melodic phrases and the group voyage has begun.
I've been trying to find the words to describe this music for about two weeks and they still remain elusive. The language of this experimentally expansive music won't reduce to words for me right now. I have a recording. I had an experience. The unique synergy of this triad in the 5th Column methodically defies comparison in any meaningful way. I can't reduce it.
I resorted to a chance operation to at least find some poetic semblance of a description. At the Materialized rehearsal last week Dave showed me a copy of Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 which I hadn't read or seen before. Pynchon, clearly a musically inspired visionary writer, seemed a good possibility for finding those words so I randomly opened the book landing on p. 74 and immediately saw the following sentence:
She looked around spooked at the sunlight pouring in all the windows, as if she had been trapped at the center of some intricate crystal, and said, "My God."
Change the word "trapped" to "positioned" and this description works for me though it hardly encompass the whole experience. To my observation, the audience seemed as equally enraptured. Their response indicated close attention. The space had a glow about it afterwards.
Spent the afternoon banqueting on Italian cuisine and catching up with old friends. Eraldo brought la bella madonna, his wife, Petulia Mattioli. Petulia, an incredible visual artist in her own right, had visually produced and choreographed the montage of images that accompanied the Somma (Sacred Order of Music Magic and Art) shows Eraldo and her put together which included Bill, Nils Pettar Molvar, and a gaggle of Tibetan Monks amongst other stellar musicians playing improvised music. The Somma link goes to a page featuring an audio sample of the track 23 Wheels of Dharma.
I stayed up most of the night writing.
Night begins to lift as Bill, James and I board a coach at 7am to go to the airport. By the time we get there sunlight pours through the windows. An ambulance with the name Rosa Croix passes without emergency sirens. It's one of the clearest days I've seen here in all the visits. The Italian Alps look large and closer than ever.