Thursday, December 8, 2011

ugEXPLODE Artists #2: Cellular Chaos

above: Cellular Chaos at Death By Audio, Brooklyn on December 6, 2011

Cellular Chaos began on the West Coast in late 2006. Around that time, I was just beginning to refocus my energies on the craft of free improvisation after a long layoff, and I had begun to meet some really interesting characters through the graces of bass player Damon Smith. I was itching to play some savage, wild guitar and needed to put a group together to showcase it. The band name came from the opening track of the lysergically apocalyptic Flying Luttenbachers album "Systems Emerge From Complete Disorder". I believe it is a legitmate medical term in its own right, but it originally sprung purely from my subconscious. It's a phrase which simply evokes to me the blind, fractal madness of the universe. 

At a gig earlier that year with Damon, saxophonist Josh Allen (who would appear on my out-of-print "Revolt Music" CD) and guitarist Henry Kaiser, I met the notorious William Winant. William came up to me after the set and said he liked my drumming. I said, "Well, then let's play sometime!" and eventually we did. I first caught wind of his prowess in the early '90s on a fucking insane live demo tape by the Glenn Spearman Double Trio, where the band raged for 90 minutes straight at a pace which made Coltrane's "Ascension" sound like Kenny G. William might be best known for his work with John Zorn on various classical tinged projects as well as a stint as auxiliary percussionist with Mr. Bungle. Needless to say, he is a voracious, bloodyminded technician and performer who is more than ready to go off at a moment's notice. When you need some really ridiculously complex shit played on drums, you call him. He gets thrown on a plane and flown to Switzerland to play Stockhausen and Xenakis and then comes right back home and gleefully stirs up a ton of racket with a sleazy scumbag like yours truly. Mr. Winant is an adherent of the highest and lowest brows possible. He can also play precisely in two different tempi at the same time, and I have it on pretty good authority that his favorite movie is "Jackass 2".

Later on, Damon called me and said, "Hey, remember that guy Mark Miller? He's playing a gig with Fred Frith and Larry Ochs." Yes, I did remember Mark Miller. He was one of the great drummers on the classic, early John Zorn and Elliott Sharp records. In fact, years earlier, I ran into Elliott in New York at a record store and asked him, "Whatever happened to Mark Miller?" He did tell me Mark was on the West Coast, but it didn't concern me much, considering I was still living in Chicago at that point. Mark was a bit of an enigma but we quickly made friends with him and he was clearly relieved that there were some local people interested in what he did. We got along well because we all craved unhinged outbursts of cacophony and artistic violence. You see, Mark had a bit of a reputation for being a crazed wild card of a player back in the old days. He was notorious for (literally) playing with fire on stage and even went as far as lighting off a quarter stick of dynamite at a legendary gig at the Kitchen in the early '80s. Mark's avant-rockist sensibilities helped him cross over into the early New/No Wave and he had played with many of the key luminaries in the New York scene. I eventually wound up compiling the extant recordings of Mark's old NYC improv/no-wave/what-the-fuck band Toy Killers.

The first Cellular Chaos gig was an unrehearsed affair which took place at 21 Grand in Oakland, California on November 17, 2006. We just cranked everything up and went for it. The two drummers bashed away against the bleak, disjointed modernist scrapings of the bass and I raged on top of the whole mess, fingers flying recklessly. It may not have been a great success musically, but rather a basic statement of intent: a salvo of blind, weird rage delivered at claustrophobic volume and density.

This quartet would play four more gigs over the course of 2007 before falling by the wayside. I tried to incorporate a bit of structure and conduction into the fracas, but it seemed that this pack of wild animals was beyond any notion of "rehearsal", tightness or order. We made a lot of noise, but it seemed like the thing had run its course. It didn't seem like anyone really considered it to be a particularly good band, but we did it for the fuck of it and left it at that. As such, Cellular Chaos laid dormant for a while. Mark, Damon and I would do some similarly incendiary gigs in 2008 under the Toy Killers tag . . .

An excerpt from the final performance of Cellular Chaos Mark One in San Francisco, CA on September 25, 2007.

I relocated to New York City in the Winter of 2009, thoroughly bored with the waning West Coast music scene and looking for new challenges. Somehow, somebody asked me if I wanted to do something on a gig with modern black metal band Liturgy, Providence grungesters White Mice and local cult heroes Little Women and I immediately said yes, despite the fact that I didn't really have a band yet. I figured a week was enough time to do so! I had sat in with the nutzo jazz-spazzes Talibam! a few times after my New York arrival and figured their rubber-limbed drummer Kevin Shea had what it would take to bolster my guitar outbursts, so I asked him to sign on. I needed a bass player - quick. I racked my brain trying to think of somebody interesting or out of the ordinary, when I remembered that a friend from my early Bay Area days had been living in NYC for a while. I called Ceci Moss and said, "Ceci, you own a bass, don't you?" She replied, "Yes, but . . . ". I said, "Don't worry about it! Just bring it and I'll tell you what to do!". Ha ha ha. She hadn't touched the thing in years, but I knew she was smart, had good taste and would get the point. I was right.

The three of us got together and I managed to spontaneously spit out eight loose, cue-based structures for us to jam constructively on. I think we had one more brief rehearsal before the big gig. It was moving fast, but we were making the decisions and moving, with no trepidation. On January 15, 2010, Cellular Chaos Mark Two hit the stage at Death By Audio in Brooklyn with a new manifesto. The end result was raw and underdeveloped, but got the point across. Were initially mining some kind of explosive fusion of no-wave deconstruction and free-jazz energy spew . . . this approach would become much more defined later on.

I was hankering to get to work and start developing a real set, so after the debut I asked Kevin when we'd be able to practice next. He quipped, "Um, let's see . . . May!" Yes, dear reader: four months later. I love Kevin and his scrappy, bizarre sticksmithy, but I knew he would be way too busy to commit to the kind of research and development I knew could make this concept bear out, so I started trying to think of a replacement. Andrya Ambro from Talk Normal was suggested to me by somebody for the slot. She was interested and had the right sensibility, but she was similarly preoccupied with tour duties so it didn't work out. I then realized the answer was right in front of me. I needed somebody who could deal with tight structure as well as rabid freedom. Somebody who would show up at least once a week and put in the time. Somebody who wanted to kick ass. I had been playing with Marc Edwards for years in the idiom of free jazz, but would he play in a "rock band"? It turned out he thought it was a good idea, so the three of us began to formulate the next step.

We re-emerged on April 8, 2010 at Silent Barn in Queens, louder and more vitriolic than before. Initially, Ceci really wanted to push the volume level, so we cranked it up beyond comprehension creating a serious wall of white noise. At certain points during the show I became so manic that I actually lost my mind briefly and began the tradition of our invading the audience, gleefully obliterating the line between performer and onlooker. We were still very raw musically, but once again, we issued our manifesto without fear. I knew part of our role in the scene would be to do the shit nobody else was doing. We needed to be crazier, more confrontational and more in the moment than the rest. We had to offer sounds and structures nobody else would touch. We were going to push beyond mere "competence" into a riskier, less defined realm. What we were going to attempt was messier, bloodier and more uncertain than what the competition was offering and we knew it. We were going to dare to fall flat on our faces in an attempt to break some barriers.

During the summer and fall of 2010, we stepped up our performance schedule, annihilating various dumps like Shea Stadium, Matchless, The Charleston., Death By Audio, Coco 66 . . . basically any shithole that would let us play, taking absolutely anything we were offered. We went up to Easthampton to open for the newly reunited Arab On Radar and opened a bill with Thurston Moore and Bill Orcutt in Brooklyn. Ceci and I both started making vocal noises at this point, her, muttering feline gibberish and me, grunting and groaning like a caveman. We started tightening up our early material and trying to hit all the marks with more clarity. I struggled to work out various issues with my equipment - The amp I used early on really wasn't cutting it tonally or volume-wise, so I disasterously burned through a few others before settling on the ballsy, crude rig I use now.

Almost a year after our New York debut, we played another gig with Liturgy topping the bill and all the hard work of the previous year began to seriously come to a head. We had played a lot of shit gigs to nobody and we mercilessly ground through our songs over and over force to them to grow. Finally we were beginning to emerge as a serious contender. Still, something was missing: we needed a lead singer. I felt like neither me or Ceci could really commit to being a dedicated front person - we needed to really focus on our playing. We wanted somebody to focus all this power and energy and hurl it into the audience with all their might. This search would turn out to be a much more difficult task than I ever dreamed of. There was only going to be one right person and finding her proved to be neither quick or easy.

During the first half of 2011, our sound began to morph away from epic guitar-solo-ridden freakouts to more succinctly structured post-punk-type song forms. It just felt right, so we did it. I was starting to envision Cellular Chaos as a kind of pop trojan horse: what if a glam rock band came from an LSD universe where all the notes were wrong and the effect was more nightmare than dream? Sounds like a plan to me! The Sweet as managed by Jodorowsky! ABBA on DMT! What could possibly go wrong with this?

The more we progressed, the more I craved a lead singer for the group. I had put the word out, but I knew exactly what I didn't want: male "extreme" vocals. You know, angry white guys yelling at the top of their lungs. I'm OVER IT. Of course, I've been in bands with some of the best angry yelling white guys in the business, but these times demand something a bit different. How about some actual singing? How about decipherable words? It's what I need and want badly to hear right now. Many angry white guys offered to yell in front of our band, but they were all kindly declined. The search continued. We asked a few random women to try out, but they were all either too busy to bother or too disinterested in our volatile aesthetics.

In May 2011, German filmmaker Nicole Wegner contacted me to appear in her documentary "Parallel Planes" as a subject. She wanted to interview me, but also desired to make footage of one of my current projects in action. I arranged for a live recording session at Colin Marston's Menegroth studio in Queens on May 12, 2011 and her crew shot us raging through a short set of our best compositions. I took four tracks of those tracks and released them as the demo which streams above. This reflects the apex of our pre-singer live sound rather well. We simply tore up the place like a gig and I'm sure the upcoming film footage will confirm this.

I had been looking even more actively for our leadperson, even resorting to that traditional cesspool of kooks and losers known as CRAIGSLIST. Originally, I tried to tell just it like it is, something to the effect of 'No Wave band looking for appropriate female singer. You are smart and think the music scene sucks and want to do something different'. Nobody bit but a few guys who obviously knew what I was talking about, but didn't fit the bill for obvious reasons (dna-related). I dumbed down the ad description even further and the floodgates of cluelessness flew open. I don't know why, but the majority or people responding were either: 1) more guys, 2) egregiously tasteless soul-mama-acoustic-guitar-coffeehouse hippies or 3) completely talentless people who neither had any ability to convince me they even could be in a band if they wanted to or any evidence that they should be taken seriously. Essentially, I humored most of the candidates and said, "Go ahead and listen to the demo and get back to me if you're interested." Nobody did. Ha ha ha. Good! I'm glad they didn't. I fantasize that some of these people become famous some day so I can say, "Oh yeah, Lady Gaga? She answered my ad for a Cellular Chaos singer."

We slogged on during the fall of 2011, rehearsing, writing new material and playing some rowdy, devastating gigs locally. At one point I was added to a Facebook group called "Ladies of Experimental Music NYC".  Being a non-lady, I was curious why I was added and emailed group leader Thermos Unigarde to ask. She responded saying she knew I was in the scene and that if I could pass along an invite to anybody I knew who would be interested, that would be great. Of course I would oblige. Suddenly I realized, "Wait . . . I'm looking for an experimental NYC lady to be in my band, so I posted a weary solicitation for a singer there. A week went by and my post was met with radio silence. I bumped the thread with one simple word: "crickets . . ." Within minutes, somebody named Admiral Grey brazenly retorted "Let's jam, hippy." A challenge! It turns out that Admiral and Thermos used to play together in the chilling synth-punk group Glass Lamborghini. I was immediately intrigued. Not only did Admiral get the aesthetic, but she had a real voice and musical talent to boot.

Needless to say, after some minor delays, Admiral Grey finally got together with the three of us and we set about revamping our musical agenda. Her debut leading the band took place a few nights ago (video at the top of the page) and we are looking forward to more mayhem in the near future including a show at Cake Shop in Manhattan on December 16 with Child Abuse, Controlled Bleeding and Little Women. We will soon record an ep which will be released next year. Watch out, because Cellular Chaos is going to get you.

- Weasel Walter 12.08.11


Serena WmS. Burroughs said...

I know what you mean by being over angry yelling white guys. Would you have considered an angry yelling guy with a different ethnic background?

Weasel Walter said...

yes. we did have a semi-angry latino guy for a few minutes. didn't work out!

what i really wanted was the bizarro world ann wilson from heart, and i found her.

Anonymous said...

Sheriff Gonna Getcha!