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On December 3 and 4, 1996, tape manipulator and sound collagist Phil Milstein got together with Sonic Youth guitarist, singer, and songwriter Thurston Moore to take a musical trip. They didn’t physically travel far to record their two duets, one at the Iron Morse Music Hall in Northampton, MA and the other at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA. But what they created might help send a listener to the inner or outer limits.
Their recordings stand as the ultimate in “Anti-Pop” music: There are no 3-4 minute chart-friendly singles, no twenty-something starlets singing passages from their diary, no breaks featuring this month’s hot rap star. What you do have is two middle-aged dudes who recorded two very long tracks (Vol. 1 is 42 minutes long and Vol. 2 is 44 minutes) that set aside verses and hooks in favor of an approach similar to drone and noise music, something they’ve both been doing for decades.
Moore layers his guitar improvisations and effects over Milstein’s found-object sound structures as musical themes and ideas drift by like clouds. Their interactions are not unlike what jazz musicians do when they improvise, listening and responding to each other through the sounds they make.
Both volumes of this 2-record set are the kind of music where you can put your headphones on, press “play,” and lose track of time for a while. It’s good stuff if you need to add some active yet low-key abstraction to your life.
He enrolled in a college in Connecticut, but split for New York City before he could attend. I’m sure his parents weren’t pleased, but it turned out pretty well for birthday boy Thurston Moore. Moore quickly immersed himself in the avant garde scene, but his first band in NYC involved a brief stint in the hardcore band Even Worse, with Big Takeover publisher Jack Rabid. A few years down the line, Moore and future wife Kim Gordon started playing together, leading to the formation of Sonic Youth. Lee Renaldo was pulled away from Glenn Branca’s guitar ensemble, and eventually, Steve Shelley took over on drums. Sonic Youth carved out a new path for rock music in the ‘80s and ‘90s, eventually making their music more accessible, but never straying too far away from something challenging. Moore and Ranaldo created new guitar sounds, with unusual tunings and an adventurous spirit. Moore was also a mentor for many artists and went on to make some fine solo records. And, I’ll always be a fan knowing that Moore and temporary Sonic Youth bandmate Jim O’Rourke used to sing Sparks songs in a karaoke bar in Europe. In honor of Mr. Moore, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 songs that come up.