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DJ of the Month is the second volume in the series of solo improvisations which began with Like a Melody, No Bitterness. is Bob Ostertag's first solo release in five years. His previous solo recordings, Sooner or Later and Burns Like Fire, are both recognized as classics, if there can actually be such a thing in a field as new as sampling.
From the liner notes:
This music is quite of out step with most electronic musci made today. It is one continuous track, and it is not intended to be used as background for other activities. If you do not have 40:48 to focus on listening, we suggest you skip it altogether. It is intended as a sort of meditation. Like all meditation, it will require concentration and focus which may not come easily. But we hope that those who make the effort will the the results worth their while.
Though I ofgen perform improvised concerts, my inclination is always to leave improvised music on the stage. It does not generally translate well to recordings, and my niche of the music world is suffering from sever "CD clutter" due to the release of hundreds of improvised CD's that made nice concerts but pointless recordings.
So recordings are, to my ear, often an exception. The best examples offer a window into an artist's vision that is incomparably intimate and immediate.
This is my second solo recording. After working for 10 years with an Ensoniq sampler, I recorded Volume One, "Like A Melody, No Bitterness," as a sort of personal stepping stone from that period to the next. I then began developing and performing with my own software-based instrument, the results of which are presented in this Volume Two.
Like a Melody, No Bitterness is Bob Ostertag's first solo release in five years. His previous solo recordings, Sooner or Later and Burns Like Fire, are both recognized as classics, if there can actually be such a thing in a field as new as sampling.
While the previous two recordings are highly structured compositions created from pieces of politically-charged "found sound," Like a Melody heads in another direction entirely.
In recent years, Ostertag has performed most frequently as a solo artist, often playing improvisations. In this he has probably pushed the sampler further as a tool of live improvisation than any other artist.
Like A Melody, created from edited improvised performances, documents this work on recording for the first time. While maintaining the emotional intensity of his previous work, the measured pace of the previous compositions is exchanged for a more open and wild, even careening journey.
With entrance into Ostertag's world comes a severe attitude adjustment. You have to curb your brain, dump your 'common sense' judgments, and peel away the calluses that have built up over the vulnerable core of your senses. Listening becomes cultural time travel at warp speed. Time, however, jumps off its linear tracks. You have to accept both the simultaneity of your feelings and your hapless inability to control them. Scary stuff. -- San Francisco Bay Guardian
Burns Like Fire
In October 1991 gays and lesbians rioted in San Francisco when the Governor of California vetoed a gay rights law that had been ten years in the making. The California state Office building was set on fire. I, of course, took my tape recorder. The Kronos String Quartet had commissioned me to write a piece for them, and I decided to transcribe the sounds of the riot for string quartet.
I asked writer/artist/film-maker David Wojnarowicz to collaborate on the project by reading one of his texts. David is perhaps the best known of the queer American artists who have redefined gay American culture in an angry, politicized way. I was one of many who felt that David's work expressed my own feelings in a uniquely powerful way.
David was already sick with AIDS, and we waited for a time when his health would allow us to do the project. Time wore on, and finally poet Sara Miles stepped in at the last moment and wrote the libretto for the string quartet, titled All the Rage.
Soon after David died. His death triggered a spontaneous demonstration in the streets of New York City's lower east side. For my part, I decided to take riot fragments I had not used in All the Rage and make them into a solo piece I would dedicate to David. So this is Burns Like Fire, and this is for David. -- Bob Ostertag
David Wojnarowicz (excerpt from Close to the Knives: Losing Form In Darkness): In loving him, I saw a cigarette between the fingers of a hand, smoke blowing backwards into the room, and sputtering planes diving low through clouds. In loving him, I saw men encouraging each other to lay down their arms. In loving him, I saw small-town laborers creating excavations that other men spend their lives trying to fill. In loving him, I saw moving films of stone buildings; I saw a hand in prison dragging snow in from the sill. In loving him, I saw great houses being erected that would soon slide into the waiting and stirring seas. I saw him freeing me from the silences of the interior life.
The sounds in this piece come from a recording of a young boy in El Salvador burying his father, who had been killed by the National Guard. There is the sound of the boy's voice, the shovel digging the grave, and a fly buzzing nearby. In Part 2, there is an additional sound from a 3-scond sample of the guitar playing of Fred Frith.
Bob Ostertag did not simply create a political piece but a musical reality, in which sampling technology is used in a significant way for the first time. The music encircles reality, decomposes it into music and recomposes it until reality is no longer able to escape. It is this clarity that makes Sooner or Later great music, a music that has something to do with life again. -- Die Zeit
Bob Ostertag made his Canadian solo debut at Victoriaville an opportunity to showcase his formidable talents... It was remarkable to see Ostertag seated at the keyboard, alone on the CGEP stage, creating a massive sound sculpture, the mutated sound of a child's crying causing the listener to get a choking sensation in the throat. It is ironic that in an era where the technology of torture and death, smart bombs and their ilk, have allowed some in North America to look away from the obvious and terrible conclusions of war, an artist like Ostertag is able to use simple technology to create such a devastating portrait of human suffering. Frames flew by, hypnotic. -- Coda Magazine
Ostertag's music slices the boy's speech as thin as garlic cut with a razor blade, then blows each instant up into its own requiem. By examining each breath, each impact of shovel to ground under the audio microscope, he magnifies the pain so large as to engulf the listener with a wave of pure empathy while at the same time making art. Listening to this piece is like embracing someone who has no skin, as if the boy was a bare mass of nerves and guts and blood, which stain your own clothes when you touch him." -- High Performance
Original Program Notes
For the most part, the recording is played back with little electronic alteration or "processing." Rather, the music is made by breaking the original recording into very small events, and stringing these events into musical structures, creating shapes radically different from the original. To use a film analogy, it is as if the frames of a film were re-ordered so that the characters do altogether different actions. Or you might imagine the source sounds as physical objects viewed from different angles. I have placed you not only at different positions around the object, but have made windows of different sizes through which you look, and occasionally curved the galls into lenses of various types.
The choice of sound source comes from my experiences during the 1980s, most of which I spent working in or around El Salvador. During that time I saw a lot of death. And in that culture, which is both Catholic and highly politicized, death gets surrounded with all kinds of trappings that are intended to make it heroic and purposeful. Death is explained as God's will, or as irrelevant since the dead "live on in struggle."
But most of the 70,000 who died were simply in the wrong place at the
wrong time. They didn't want to die. There was no plan, no glory. Of course,
there are many Salvadorans who did die heroically fighting a brutal regime
against overwhelming odds. But even for the heroes, there is a starker,
more immediate side to their death.
Sooner or Later is about that side. There is a boy and his father is dead. And no angels sang and no one was better because of it and all that is left is this kid and the shovel digging the hole in the ground and the fly. If we want to find beauty here, we must find it in what is really there: the boy, the shovel, the fly. If we look closely, despite the unbearable sadness, we will discover it. -- Bob Ostertag, 1990
Text of Source Tape
Papito chulo. !Malditos! Viendo a mi padre, siento como que en el corazón tengo la bala, compañeros. Prefiero mejor morirme por uno lucha justa, compañeros, y no quedar abandonado compañeros. Mi padre decia... el combatia... era un cambatiente de este pueblo. Me decia que yo no fuera tan despijo. Que yo fuera... tuviera una creatividad and valor, para llegar al final de un triunfo de los compañeros que queden or que quedemos. Ay, compañeros, yo deseo esta sangre, tarde o temprano la voy a vengar.
Sweet Papa. Bastards! Seeing my father, I feel like I have the bullet in my own heart, compañeros. I'd rather die for a just cause than be left abandoned. My father told me... he was a fighter... a fighter for our people. He told me not to be a good-for-nothing, that I should be creative and brave until the final victory of those who survive. Ay, compañeros, sooner or later I will avenge his blood.