“Beethoven’s Fifth Nightmare”
and other sound montages of Alexander Hirka
I began my creative life by doing drawings, but by my late teens had converted to montage as the primary method for creating visual works. This has continued to the present. (Samples here.)
In 1969 I first experienced the audio version of this creative method on The Beatles’ White Album, in their composition Revolution No.9.
While living in Chicago in the early 1970’s, in the draft-evasion underground, I spent an absurd amount of time creating my own sound montages. I did not have Abbey Road Studios – in fact I only had a 3-speed reel-to-reel stereo tape recorder, and two other small tape recorders, creating overdubs by literally playing two things at once.
Beethoven’s Fifth Nightmare was the only full length piece I completed – which although only about 15 minutes long, took over a year to complete. You can hear it here.
(In early 2011, while listening to “An Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music” I discovered a piece that sounded so much like my composition that I wondered if someone had heard it – and to some degree copied mine. Uncanny. But it was in fact John Cage’s “Rozart Mix” – recorded years before even The Beatles “Revolution No. 9”.)
Towards the end of my piece there is a section I think of as The Beatles Big Bang – a mash-up bombardment of snippets of dozens of Beatles’ songs (including their by then solo work). This idea of an aural Fab Four attack must have been in the cultural subconscious as the band The Residents released a similar concept recording in 1977, entitled “Beyond the Valley of a Day in the Life”.
Hot Dog, You Bet! – a much more sophisticated montaged piece with good sound quality and smooth segues, was made with technical assistance in a friend’s multi-track home studio in 1979. It was composed for and released as a flexi-disc insert in the third issue of Smegma the magazine, with the creative camaraderie of my co-editor, artist Scarlatina Lust. All 4 issues of the publication now reside in the Museum of Modern Art library’s permanent collection.
HD,YB! was voted as a favorite by noted music critic Lester Bangs in the November 1980 issue of the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll.
(Eva-Tone, at that time the only domestic manufacturer of flexi-discs, refused to produce the disc because of its content. Thus, the flexi-disc had to be pressed in England and shipped back to the U.S., risking problems with importation. Thankfully, all went well.)
This track includes an entire song by the local New York City band Tina Peel, a dada sound-poem by Raoul Hausman read by the late artist Buster Cleveland, Theodore Chipmunk manually “sampled” chanting the title, Beatles’ tidbits, a subtle reference to writer Thomas Pynchon, a fragment from a multi-album vinyl recording of somebody’s actual wedding found in a trashcan in NYC and, as usual, the audio kitchen sink.
You can hear “Hot Dog, You Bet!”, in its entirety, in the WFMU radio archives. Simply go to Tony Coulter’s show archives and click “listen” to the 14 January 2003 show, which begins with “Hot Dog, You Bet!”
Ludwig Going Down For The Second Time – as its title suggest, was an outgrowth of “Beethoven’s Fifth Nightmare”. Having learned how to put snippets of sound together, this was an attempt to construct an actual musical piece from music fragments. I refer to the technique as Neanderthal Sampling©. (The sound quality of the cassette tape this is transfered from was badly deteriorated.)
What Will Your Baggage Hold (When The Train Pulls In)? – now strikes me as a good title for a gospel song. This short piece was an attempt to make a sound montage with home-produced sounds rather than taking samples from other recordings. My attempt at music concrete.
Bubbles On The Surface – As “Ludwig [was] Going Down For The Second Time” these sound bubbles came to the surface, completing the trilogy.
Ending the CD is Obsession – the first attempt at “music making” beyond montage. Featuring musician DisloKate Klammer on “amplified box”, and recorded in a totally darkened room (for inspiration? out of shame?), me on the guitar (yet another instrument I do not know how to play), and a sound loop (done by putting a piece of tape on a vinyl record to create a skip – more Neanderthal Sampling©) – of Bob Dylan’s voice.
[This track was to be the beginning of a many-year venture into making non-montage music, which featured not being able to sing and not being able to play any instruments, the results of w hich will have to wait for another CD for those who don’t want to hear it.]
While researching information recently about The Beatles’ Revolution No.9, I came across a statement that this was the “most skipped track” on any Beatles album…that the piece was the result of the growing relationship between John & Yoko, the emergence of John’s “avant-garde” experimentation.
I loved this stuff, delighted endlessly in the creative energy in John and Yoko’s relationship, and was numbered among those who enjoyed Yoko’s vocal pyrotechnics & artistic imagination.
Hopefully these few words will prepare you for the sounds that will emerge from the CD. Enjoy.
– aleXander hirka • 22 December 2002
“Y’ know, you can’t please everyone/ so you got to please yourself.” – Rick Nelson (Garden Party)