Monday, August 27, 2007

Metal Machine Music Rises Again

On paper, the very idea of transcribing Lou Reed's 1975 extreme opus of analogue guitar feedback loops and distortion, sounds impossible. Leave it to Berliner-based avant-garde sax player, Ulrich Krieger, who quite literally transcribed Reed's original score into sheet music, and gave it a new lease of life for today's digital "I want it now" generation.

The result is a scorching, frenetic, physically compulsive and highly explosive live rendition feverishly performed by an 11-piece classical contemporary chamber music ensemble.

The pay-off?

A non-stop 50 minute plus roller coaster slab of industrial rock reinvented as a serious acoustic score which has to be seen and heard to be appreciated. If Lester Bangs were still alive today, I wonder what he would make of it.

The cool thing about this unique CD/DVD release is the DVD footage enables you to watch the original 2002 concert (performed live at the Berlin Opera House) with no slick cinematography. It's an arthouse affair.

For anyone that remembers Reed's original RCA album, you can't help but marvel at how precise Ulrich Krieger transformed the original feedback into a riveting avant-garde music performance.

The fascinating bit comes towards the end, when Reed ambles on stage to sit in a chair playing electric feedback guitar. Together with the chamber music ensemble's instruments (viola, cello, accordian, trumpet), you suddenly get a flashback to early Velvet Underground, when John Cale played the viola and Reed played drone guitar.

When Reed first formed the Velvets, Cale had already worked closely with experimental music composers John Cage and La Monte Young, but was also interested in rock music. Young's use of extended drones were a direct influence on the early Velvets' sound. Cale was pleasantly surprised to discover Reed's experimentalist tendencies were similar to his own: Reed sometimes used alternate guitar tunings to create a droning sound.

This drone guitar sound is evident on the third movement of Metal Machine which Reed performs with Zeitkratzer towards the end of the live album.

One of the highlights on the DVD is the 25-minute interview with Reed. It's a no-nonsense straight-forward Q&A. Reed goes into great detail talking about how he originally recorded Metal Machine Music in his New York City loft apartment. He explains how analogue feedback and loops created different sounds which were impossible to create with today's precise digital recording technology.

The big question is why has it taken five years for Zeitkratzer's live CD/DVD to get an official release? This is is an exceptional collaboration that transcends Reed's original '75 album.

Fans of Sonic Youth, John Cage, Glen Branca, Xenakis and La Monte Young, will marvel at this live recording. It's powerful, physical music that hits you in the gut, turns your head and knocks you for six.

Zeitkratzer have definitely pushed Lou Reed's musical envelope. This is dangerous avant-garde music territory. It's even more relevant today than it was upon first release 32 years ago.



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