Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio
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For over 30 years, Martin Bisi has recorded music from his studio in Brooklyn's Gowanus neighborhood. After a chance New York encounter, the studio was founded with money from Brian Eno, who subsequently worked on the album On Land there.
Working with Bill Laswell and the band Material, Bisi recorded Herbie Hancock's hit Rockit in this underground space. This was the first mainstream, popular song to feature a DJ and a turntable, utilizing 'scratching'. Following that success, Bisi worked with many other influential musicians there, including Sonic Youth, Swans, Angels of Light, John Zorn, Foetus and the Dresden Dolls. He has recorded across many genres, from experimental music, to hip hop and indie rock in the old factory building by the contaminated Gowanus Canal.
However, the future of the recording studio is in question as it is squeezed in by the encroaching gentrification of the neighborhood. A new, massive Whole Foods supermarket across the street is the latest addition to this once out-of-the-way area, that Bisi fears will increase property values to the point of pushing out long-time renters and artists like himself.
Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio includes interviews with musicians such as Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Michael Gira of Swans, Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls, Bob Bert, who played on Sonic Youth's Bad Moon Rising, Bill Laswell of Material, JG Thirlwell aka Foetus, Grand Mixer DXT, Jim Coleman of Cop Shoot Cop and Michael Holman of Gray (with Jean-Michel Basquiat) and creator of famed 1984 hip-hop TV pilot Graffiti Rock.
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It is also about the many musicians who have recorded there, starting with his early ’80s Bill Laswell-helmed studio band Material (which Bisi joined at the tender age of 15) and ranging from ’80s/early ’90s underground heroes like the aforementioned Sonic Youth, Swans and Cop Shoot Cop to modern bands like Cinema Cinema. There is a lengthy segment about the recording of Herbie Hancock‘s “Rockit” and its victory at the Grammys, an unlikely early mainstream triumph for both hip-hop (albeit filtered through the lens of a legendary jazz pianist with an already storied career) and for Bisi and the studio. Additional musicians who have recorded with Bisi, including Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione of The Dresden Dolls, are also interviewed.
One thing it is not really about is the recent and ongoing gentrification of Brooklyn. This is perhaps surprising given the film’s brief account of the Whole Foods that has opened directly across the street from the studio. At only an hour and ten minutes, one senses that some time could have been added to address this issue with greater depth. As such, it is my only (very minor) complaint about this always compelling, extremely well-edited film.
However, the film instead chooses to focus on the music and on Bisi’s life story, ranging from his Upper East Side roots to his almost four decade plus embrace of bohemian life and participation in New York’s underground music scene. First and foremost, he is a constant presence in a Gowanus that is changing rapidly and for the time being, he isn’t planning to go anywhere.