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Download Bob Ostertag MP3s

July 2011

Listen to a compilation of tracks selected and introduced by Bob Ostertag, author of this month's Collateral Damage article on giving away his back catalogue online and how the web is changing the way we listen to music.

Above is a compilation of tracks from various points in Bob Ostertag's career. Alongside his music, Ostertag is a film maker and author. His recent book Creative Life: Music, Politics, People And Machines is a musical and political memoir collecting together a selection of Ostertag's essays. His fifth (as yet untitled) book is about to be published.

"Arms And Legs"
from Motormouth: Bob Ostertag Plays The Buchla 200e (2011)
Released this month, Motormouth: Bob Ostertag Plays The Buchla 200e is a collection of tracks played on a Buchla 200e, Don Buchla's re-issued modular patch cord-based synth from the 1960s. Ostertag says: "I first started playing a Buchla 200 at the Oberlin Conservatory in 1976 at the age of 19. Two years later I dropped out of school with a Serge synthesizer, first to tour with Anthony Braxton, then I moved to New York City where I formed what became known as the 'downtown music improvisation scene' with John Zorn, Eugene Chadbourne, and others. At the time, modular synthesizers were considered studio devices, and the fact that I was taking one on stage and attempting to improvise at the frenetic pace and turn-on-a-dime style of the downtown scene meant that I was off on a tangent all my own.

"Playing a modular synthesizer like the 200e requires that one think about music in a very particular way. It is a very different experience from working with notation, timelines, MIDI, or keyboards. But it's also very different from working with music software, even software that is specifically designed to mimic the behavior of old modular analog synthesizers. Essentially, one has to think geometrically: each module generates certain shapes, and then you make the music by overlaying shapes in different ways."

"Getting A Head" (with Fred Frith)
from Getting A Head LP (1980)
"Getting A Head was made 31 years ago, with Fred playing table-top guitars and me playing three reel-to-reel tape recorders linked by helium balloons and and a variable-speed motor (part instrument and part sculpture). The record marks one of the first, and to this day one of the only times, that tape manipulation techniques developed by the early generations of electronic composers for use in the studio were adapted for live performance and improvisation."

"Voice Of America Part 1" (with Fred Frith)
from Voice Of America LP (1982)
"It was the beginning of the 1980s and from my apartment on the Lower East Side of NYC, the world seemed to be going crazy. Ronald Reagan was being sworn in as President of the United States, something that at the time was nearly unthinkable. The hostages who had been held in the US Embassy in Tehran were coming home to a tumultuous welcome that would unleash a malignant wave of patriotism to sustain the country through the wars of the coming decade: El Salvador, Nicaragua, Angola, Mozambique, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, and more.

"I had just returned from my first trip to Nicaragua, and was experiencing severe readjustment trauma. I turned on the TV and started recording cassettes. All you got that week-end was Reagan's inauguration, the hostages' return, game shows, and American football's Superbowl, an annual extravaganza showcasing everything that is ugly in the culture. Fred Frith had just come to NYC and I had a concert with him that night. Without discussing it with Fred, I took my TV tapes, as well as others I had brought back from Central America, and played them through my synthesizer during the gig. This was before the days of samplers or even affordable digital delays. I assembled a series of cheap cassette recorders, each modified to malfunction in a particular way. I also had a stack of looped cassettes of various lengths from telephone answering machines which I used for sampling live, then manipulating by playing them back on the screwed-up tape decks. As the 1980s wore on, rappers and others developed a whole new form of music out of sampled fragments of politically charged media clips, but this was before that."

"Sooner Or Later Part 1"
from Sooner Or Later CD (1991)
"This was the first music I made after leaving the NYC music scene to spend a decade working with the revolutionary movement in El Salvador. The source is a recording of a young boy burying his father, who like thousands of others had been killed by the Salvadoran National Guard. The only sounds in the piece are the voice of the boy talking about his father, a woman next to him crying, the shovel striking dirt and rock as the grave is dug, and a fly buzzing around the mic."

"All The Rage" (with the Kronos Quartet, text by Sara Miles)
from All The Rage CD (1993)
"All The Rage was developed from a recording I made of a queer riot in San Francisco in October 1991. The string parts come directly from the riot: screaming, windows being smashed, chanting slogans, and people shouting "go for it" and "burn it" as the California State Office Building was set on fire. In some parts this took the form of a minutely detailed transcription of the pitch inflections of the recorded sounds. In other sections, the process from tape to string parts was more complex, and the relationship between the two less obvious. Much of the peculiar sound of this music comes from the whistles that many queers carried as a basic self-defence tool, which emerged from people's pockets by the hundreds during the riot. The whistles used in performance by the Kronos Quartet are provided by Community United Against Violence, a San-Francisco-based organization which assists victims of queer-bashings. All The Rage had its world premier at the Lincoln Center in New York City. It was a nice feeling to have a queer riot night at Lincoln Center."

"Say No More" (with Phil Minton, Mark Dresser and Joey Baron)
from Say No More CD (1993)
"I began the Say No More project by asking each player to record solo improvisations separately without communicating, and without any instruction from me. I then took the resulting tapes and, using a digital editing system, broke the solos into fragments and assembled a "band" piece by piece from the splinters, resulting in this recording. Probably the first group in the history of music to release a CD without having played a note together or even met.

"After the release of this music the project continued. The group got together and toured performing the compositions I had created on the computer using the fragments of their improvisations, and we released a live CD. I then put the live ensemble recording back into the computer, blew it apart into fragments, and created another CD. The group then learned that material, toured, and recorded another live CD. So this was a cyclical project, alternating between virtual and human, virtual and human. It was another project that was almost impossible to find work for. Computer music venues said it "wasn't computer music." Jazz venues thought I was destroying human improvisation with a computer. I suspect that if I was doing this now it would receive a warmer reception."

"Feet So Low" (with Justin Bond and Otomo Yoshihide)
from PantyChrist CD (1999)
"This is one of my favorite projects, featuring transgender chanteuse Justin Bond, who was relatively unknown at the time but has gone on to take drag performance to heights formerly unheard of, playing Carnegie Hall and other major venues. One critic wrote, "To say that this has made me radically rethink my use of the word 'queer' is an understatement." That comment made me very happy. It was almost impossible to book concerts for it at the time."

"w00t"
from w00t (2007)
"w00t was my first free download recording. It is a collage made exclusively from fragments of computer game music, all of which I shamelessly and honestly said I had pirated. It comes with beautiful artwork by John Cooney: a collage with images from all the same games from which I took the music."

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