New York in the 1960s Box set
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John Cale's great credit, both inside and outside The Velvet Underground, was to have found the inoculation dosage that would addict the music industry to sound without alienating one world from the other. But outside the "official" VU there was also an uncut version of the virus, incubated behind the slum walls of the 1960s Lower East Side, and maintained live in the liquid nitrogen of these insolently recorded reel-to-reel audiotapes, recorded and produced by Tony Conrad and now available in this massive Table Of The Elements 3xCD boxed set.
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Originality, as a concept, as an example, is borne out by precious few cultural artifacts. The aggressive experimentalism demonstrated by Cale and his peers is without precedent in rock and roll. It is no exaggeration to state that Cale, in these works assimilated and digested all the disparate sources of prior inspiration and influence--European symphonic tradition, serialism, Indian classical raga, American pop and blues, as well as Cageian modernism--and formulated them into stunning new realizations of what pop music could be.
No one outside of this small enclave was making sounds like this, in any genre anywhere else, and no one would until years later. Certain distant echoes surface: Alan Watts's 1962 "This Is It" from California, long called the first psychedlic record, is intriguing but not terribly similar and lacking Cale's feral drive and epic sensibility. Obviously many others were active in experimental jazz and classical forms, but shut off by choice from the world of rock and roll, and cloistered away from pop culture entirely.
These private recordings reflect an inner soundworld of such depth and richness they offer a completely new framework for hearing. One's approach to music is affected irrevocably. The notion of intense listening commences here--with Cale and the contributions of MacLise, Conrad, Jennings and others. After 45 years, the tapes of "Stainless Steel Gamelan" (a four-handed hammering/arpeggio of an electric guitar) or "Hot Scoria" (an enveloping, frenzied wash of sound) invite awe. The keyboard drones of "Sun Blindness Music" and "The Second Fortress" retain a mesmerizing quality of both the ancient past and distant future. Surely among Cale's best work.