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    Table of the Elements Festival No. 2: Yttrium

    Tony Conrad at Table of the Elements Yttrium Festival, 1996.
    Tony Conrad et all, 1996. Photo by Rich Jacobs.

    The Empty Bottle
    Chicago, Illinois
    November 7, 8, 9, 1996

    Since the early 1990s, the Atlanta independent label Table of the Elements has been very busy issuing many important minimal, drone, noise, improv and other experimental recordings from the past, present and future. They hosted their second gathering for like-minded individuals at The Empty Bottle, a small club right across the street from an ultra-sketchy area of Chicago.

    Thursday, November 7
    Gastr del Sol, Tony Conrad

    Over 30 years ago, Tony Conrad was, along with John Cale, La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, a member of the seminal minimal drone group The Theater of Eternal Music, who splayed out some seriously extended, consciousness-floating dream music. Since La Monte’s been hoggin’ the tapes from those performances ever since, Tony’s been bustin’ out with new material lately based on ideas he contributed to that group so long ago. On Thursday night, “Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain” featured Tony Conrad on amplified violin, Jim O’Rourke on electric bass, David Grubbs on a six-foot long-string instrument with a guitar headstock on one end and a pickup on the other, and Alex Gellencser on a bodyless cello. With dream machine-like film images flickering behind them, they supported an immense nebula of loud, dense, shrill, beautiful sound for an hour or two. Locals Gastr del Sol followed with some sprightly yet somber acoustic guitar duos courtesy of David Grubbs and Jim O’Rourke, who also contributed some free-floating noise-organ work on the first song to form a nice little storm over David’s minimal, melancholy guitar work.

    John Fahey at Table of the Elements Yttrium Festival, 1996.
    John Fahey, 1996. Photo by Rich Jacobs.

    Friday, November 8
    John Fahey, Jim O’Rourke, Loren Mazzacane Connors

    From New York, Loren Mazzacane Connors played solo “lead” guitar over a tape of himself playing “rhythm” in his very own unmistakable style of Venuisan blues, a simple, fractured form of traditional blues with carefully placed notes and overwhelming silences. This night’s performance was filled with the fuzz Loren’s been laying all over his mountain of CDs of the past few years. Jim O’Rourke offered another single long track of droning acoustic guitar over some nice soundscape noise. Starting over 30 years ago, Earth’s John Fahey has, on and off, made many acoustic guitars ring out the sounds of sanity, insanity and beauty. His performance was so relaxed and informal that he didn’t hesitate to stop and tune in the middle of songs. Heck, at times, I felt as if the man was just kicking back in a living room, soothing us with a few lengthy ditties. Also nice was the ghostly electric laptop slide work that sent us adrift all over the night sky.

    Loren Mazzacane Connors at Table of the Elements Yttrium Festival, 1996.
    Loren Mazzacane Connors, 1996. Photo by Rich Jacobs.

    Saturday, November 9
    Tony Conrad, Bruce Gilbert, Fushitsusha, Bernhard Günter

    Bernhard Günter kicked off the final night of Yttrium by playing some CDs of distant, crackling, rumbling ambience in the dark. The performance was so quiet, audience members had no trouble making out the wide array of lush conversations over at the bar, which brought John Cage’s 4:33 into full effect. Since 1978, Tokyo’s Fushitsusha have translated spiral galaxy hub / black hole reality into electronic sound via the most immense guitar, bass and drums storms imaginable. Their guitarist Keiji Haino has established himself as the most original, intentionally sloppy, free, loose, soul-soaring and deeply felt guitarist ever. With simple, plodding bass by Yasushi Ozawa and drums by Jun Kosugi acting as a foundation, many uncharted territories of serenity and chaos, lightness and dark were explored through a way overloaded half stack with much true abandon and freedom. In the middle of the 90-minute set, Haino wildly taunted the drummer and bassist further on into the depths of improvland with bells, cymbals and a cane.

    Fushitsusha at Table of the Elements Yttrium Festival, 1996.
    Fushitsusha, 1996. Photo by Garry D.

    Next up, England’s Bruce Gilbert (ex-Wire) fooled everyone by setting up behind the soundman as a lone stool stood in dim light up on the stage. A lot of people eventually figured it out and, surprisingly, stood and watched intently as he tweaked knobs, changed tapes and pressed guitar pedals (no guitars were used) to create an hour’s worth of electronic noise collage. Tony Conrad closed out the Yttrium Festival with a reprise of Thursday’s performance, minus David Grubbs, with Jim O’Rourke moving to amplified violin, as well. Another 90 minutes of massive drone activity ebbed forward, backward, in all directions of space. The band sawed on behind a giant white sheet as their silhouettes mixed and twisted together in random beauty. (Is anything ever really random?) At 2:30 a.m., all of the sound finally abruptly stopped. Everyone looked super fried and went their separate ways. Thanks to Table of the Elements for adding another episode of raw experienece to my life.

    Bruce Gilbert at Table of the Elements Yttrium Festival, 1996.
    Bruce Gilbert, 1996. Photo by Rich Jacobs.

    Note: This article originally appeared in Lou Zine (Lou’s Records newsletter) in November 1996.

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