Thursday, June 6th, 2013
La Sala Rossa
Lee Ranaldo, co-founder of avant-garde rock group Sonic Youth, was born in 1956 in East Norwich, New York. In addition to constant touring with Sonic Youth, Ranaldo has been extremely active in the New York music scene for the past 30 years, recording and collaborating with numerous acts, producing discs, and publishing several books of poetry and journal entries.
Ranaldo attended SUNY Binghamton in Binghamton, New York, where he played in an experimental punk outfit called the Fluks (named after the Dadaist art movement, Fluxus). His early influences include many psychedelic California bands from the late ’60s, including the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Hot Tuna, as well as early New York City punk units like the Ramones, Television, and Talking Heads.
After moving to New York in 1979, Ranaldo briefly attempted to revive the Fluks before playing in a series of acts including Rhys Chatham and Plus Instruments (with whom he recorded an LP in 1982). Through Chatham, Ranaldo met the charismatic composer Glenn Branca, who created avant-garde pieces for electric guitar ensembles. Through the burbling downtown no wave scene of the early ’80s, Ranaldo met future Sonic Youth bandmates Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon.
Throughout the ’80s, the band worked hard to sustain themselves, recording and touring constantly. The early years of the band are documented in a book of road journals written by Ranaldo and published by Soft Skull Press in the mid-’90s. In 1987, he released his first solo album, From Here to Infinity, on SST Records, a vinyl release with locking grooves at the end of each track.
By the early ’90s, after the completion and subsequent canonization of their seminal Daydream Nation (and probably partially by dint of sheer survival), Sonic Youth were looked up to as elders in the fledgling alternative music scene, acting as mentors to dozens of younger bands (including Nirvana). In this role, Ranaldo has produced albums for Babes in Toyland, You Am I, Deity Guns, and others.
Ranaldo’s role in the ever-experimental Sonic Youth has been an important one, acting as a textural axis for Gordon and Moore. Though he typically only contributed a handful of songs to each Sonic Youth recording, Ranaldo quickly developed his own songwriting style — throbbing beats topped with beat-influenced, half-spoken/half-sung poetry delivered in Ranaldo’s reassuring, gently confident voice, such as “Eric’s Trip” on Daydream Nation and the title track off of 1999’s NYC Ghosts & Flowers.
Ranaldo also has an ongoing collaboration with jazz drummer William Hooker. The two create dissonant music — Hooker on drums, Ranaldo on modified guitars, synthesizers, and other electronics — while taking turns reading and improvising poetry. These collaborations include 1998’s heavily edited live album Clouds as well as 2005’s Music for Stage and Screen, which featured excerpts of a score Ranaldo produced for Dania Saragovia’s film Jealousy, as well as music for plays by Gil Kofman and Michele Salimbeni. Ranaldo continued to collaborate throughout the 2000s with avant luminaries, as on Christian Marclay: Graffiti Composition, which also featured Elliott Sharp and Vernon Reid, and also released solo forays into the fringes of guitar work while also working with Sonic Youth. When that band moved to Matador Records to release The Eternal, Ranaldo also signed on as a solo artist. His debut album for the label, Between the Times and the Tides, featured familiar faces such as Alan Licht, Nels Cline, Steve Shelley, and Jim O’Rourke, and arrived in March 2012.
Nick Kuepfer is a guitar player who weaves nylon string and electric guitar pieces with live-sampled tape loops, recordings of animals, and drones from various sources. His predominantly wordless music ranges from subtle and static to frantic and abrasive, with a methodical, vigilant sense of experimentation guided by the search for consonance and dissonance with the sounds of “nature”. He began performing solo, under his own name, in 2009 and occasionally invites guest players to join him.
Kuepfer recorded several hours worth of solo material on a field-recorder while traveling through rural Argentina in 2007-2008, assembling an audio scrapbook of guitar and percussion pieces along with environmental sound, He subsequently worked these into a finished album of sonic travelogue and audio collage called Avestruz, which was included in the first edition of the Musique Fragile series issued by Constellation Records in 2010.
Kuepfer has continued to work in this vein from his Montreal home base, recording to 1/4″ 4-track in his practice space and to laptop on various excursions into the Quebec and Ontario hinterlands. He contributed a 20-minute EP to the Rural Route 3″ CD series on Standard Form Records in February 2011.
Alongside his increasing activity as a solo performance, Nick also plays in Hrsta andNo Nature. He has previously played in countless bands, including Lungbutter, Aids Wolf and L’Embuscade. Other notable recent activity includes participation in Rhys Chatham’s Lincoln Center performance of A Crimson Grail for 200 electric guitars and the inclusion of material from Avestruz on the soundtrack for The Woods by filmmaker Matthew Lessner, alongside The Dirty Projectors, Sun Araw, Indian Jewelry and others.
Kuepfer was born and raised in Stratford, Ontario and has made Montreal his home since 2003.