Happy Intransitive New Year:
An Interview with Howard Stelzer
This New Year’s Eve some of Boston’s more adventurous First Night revellers will be treated to an evening of experimental music. Featuring a crack line-up of musicians, such as New Zealand drone luminary Birchville Cat Motel, the Dutch electronician and former Kapotte Muziek-nik Frans de Waard, and Boston sound artist Brendan Murray to name but a few, this very ambitious and idiosyncratic first night of avant-garde music is curated by Boston musician Howard Stelzer of Intransitive Recordings. For the past ten years (give or take a month) since Intransitive’s founding, Howie has published a wide variety of unusual music and noise, ranging from the the strange analog synth sounds of Japan’s Nerve Net Noise to the highly disciplined musique concréte compositions of Lionel Marchetti. He is also an integral member of Boston’s experimental music scene, performing both solo and in various groups and improv ensembles, using his own unusual conglomeration of cassette tapes, players, and effects. In addition, he is an indefatigable concert organizer in and around Boston, putting together numerous shows spotlighting both local and international artists. Two years ago he organized an amazing, three-day festival of experimental electronic music at MassArt, with an outstanding group of musicians from the northeastern U.S., including William Basinski, Taylor Deupree, Jason Lescalleet, Brendan Murray, Jessica Rylan, Keith Whitman and Dion Workman. Howie will be stopping by RF along with UK sound artist Murmer to spin some Intransitive rareties and forthcoming releases on Thursday, December 21. Earlier in the week, we sat down over beer and food to talk briefly about this year’s Intransitive First Night, as well as Howie’s plans for the label in 2007.
How did the whole First Night show come about?
Well, two years ago I did a First Night show just because, well, I asked them! I told them what I do and what Intransitive was and they said yes to the idea. So I put together this show with Birchville Cat Motel, Black Forest/Black Sea, Jay Sullivan and me, and it went really well! There were a LOT of people in our little room in the Hynes Convention Center for the entire night. There were clearly people who had bought their First Night tickets just to go to my show, which was awesome. People were excited about the music and we got a great response. There were people that came for the music, but there were also a lot of other people who were there just to go to First Night, wandered in, loved what they heard, stayed, bought cds, and afterwards wanted to talk about the music they’d heard.
At the end of the night, one of the people who organizes First Night went to my room as the last thing that she did during First Night and she was really pleased that there were all these people and she said to me, “This is great, you should do this again!” And I agreed, “Yes, I should do this again!” So I asked them last year and they didn’t respond, but this year I asked them again and they requested a proposal; and I said, “Okay, I’m going to give you an EXPENSIVE proposal (laughs). I’m going to ask you for a lot of money,” which I did. Now, they didn’t give me QUITE what I asked for, but they DID say yes.
The bill, even if not quite so expensive, is still really ambitious and has got some great people on it. There are some longtime Intransitive favorites like Frans de Waard to Brendan Murray, who is releasing his first full-length on Intransitive this year. How did you put the bill together?
I thought, if I’m going to do a New Years’ Eve show, it’s going to be a big deal. Since they’ve given me some money to work with, it’s going to be something citywide with a lot of promotion, something really good. I thought, who do I want to spend New Years’ Eve with? Now, Frans de Waard — I really like Frans a hell of a lot. He’s just great and I’ve been in touch with him since I used to live in Florida. He’s brought me to the Netherlands, we’ve toured together twice, once with Kapotte Muziek and once with Beequeen, and I just really like him and his music a lot. And then Campbell (Kneale of Birchville Cat Motel) is just awesome. I’m a big, big fan of his music, so I asked him and he was doing a tour anyway. He’s a high school art teacher in New Zealand, so our summer is his winter vacation and he always does a tour around this time and he was going to play a duo show in New York with Lee Renaldo, so I convinced him to come up here too. It turns out that First Night will be the only solo Birchville Cat Motel in North America for all of 2006!
Brendan (Murray) is one of my closest pals. I just published that new cd of his (Wonders Never Cease) and I really want to help get him and his music better known. I think it’s just world-class and I’m just such a supporter of him. I don’t think there’s anyone else quite like him: he has a really unique musical voice. I’ve known him for eight years now and his music has become so powerful and beautiful and visceral and great. I also learned when I did the Intransitive Festival a couple of years ago that if I asked Brendan to headline a night, he gets really nervous and at first he demures — “I can’t play after Birchville Cat Motel!” — but then he rises to the occasion and does something incredible. Like when he headlined one night at the Intransitive festival. To that date, I think that’s the best performance he had ever given. So I thought, right after publishing what I think is his best album, and a really mature step forward, I want him to headline a really high-profile concert, because I know he’s going to rise to the occasion and just kick ass. It’s going to be great.
Also on the bill is Murmer! Murmer’s great. He’s from Marshfield, but he now lives in England, in London. He happens to be in town, visiting his parents. Richard Francis from New Zealand [aka Eso Steel] is also playing with Skeleton’s Out, which is me and Jay Sullivan, who I love playing and hanging out with. At some level, this is about having a really great night of music with my friends, but at another level it’s about bringing people from out of town and people from Boston and presenting what I think is a really strong night of music. But it’s also one which is also accessible. Nothing is going to be too abstract or too much for people who haven’t yet been indoctrinated into the scene. It’s all stuff that’s likable basically, except for my set, maybe (laughs), but Jay will even things out… hopefully. If you’re a family with some kids and you walk into a room and, say, Campbell’s playing it’s not going to be totally alienating, because it’s an emotion you can relate to, or if Keith Whitman’s playing, there’s a lot to relate to other than the sounds that he’s making. He’s got his elaborate synthesizers and the big beard and you can talk to him afterwards, ask him questions about what he was doing. I think it’s just going to be a nice night.
The night is kind of an extension of what Intransitive is, really. It’s very much my taste, so if I think something’s really exciting and fun, I can’t be the only freak who thinks so.
We should talk a little bit about Intransitive and the history of Intransitive, because there’s a long history. You started it when you were still living in Florida?
Yeah, 1997 was the first release, almost ten years ago.
Wow, you’ll have to have a big party to celebrate the anniversary.
Oh, well, actually, in honor of it, I’m going to put out my dumbest release. Ok, dumbest is perhaps the wrong word, but I swear, I’m not going to sell a single cd in 2007. I’m doing another Nerve Net Noise cd that only five people will love, but…IT’S SO GOOD! It’s called Dark Garden. I just listened to it last night and, God, it’s good — I’m not going to sell any of those. And then I’m going to put out a double cd of Kommissar Hjuler und Mama Bär — a double cd!
Who are they? I don’t know them.
Well, Kommissar Hjuler is a cop—
—so he really IS a Kommissar!
He really is Kommissar Detlev Hjuler from Hamburg. He’s a policeman and he and his wife, but he especially, has been a fan of avant-garde music since he was young; and then, later in life, I think he’s in his forties now, he started making music. He’s also an artist and makes these amazing, limited-edition LPs in handmade packaging, just like a hundred copies, as well as small-press cd-rs with really elaborate packages. The art is just incredible and the music is really visceral, funny, powerful, bizarre, personal, singular sort of stuff. I started picking up some of his records up and then realized that a lot of it was not available, so I contacted him and said to him, “All right: a thousand copies, double-cd, full-color artwork. Pick like the best of your catalog that no one has heard, except 99 other people in Hamburg, and give me a “best of” overview of your career.” And that’s what I’m doing. I’m also putting out a cd by the composer Magali Babin from Montreal.
Really? She’s really interesting…
Oh, yeah. She’s been working on that album for two or three years. She says she’ll be finished this year. I’ll see her at New Year’s, so we’ll find out then!
So, Nerve Net Noise, Magali Babin, and Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Bär in 2007?
Yeah, Mama Bär is amazing. I have this CD where she’s just yelling over an REM record… It’s just great!
Brendan Murray, Wonders Never Cease and Seht & Stelzer, Exactly What You Lost are both OUT NOW on Intransitive records.
For more information on First Night: An Evening of Experimental Music curated by Intransitive, visit the Intransitive events page.
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