Amy X Neuburg

I don't know how many other artists whom I "discovered" by going to a live show of theirs. Amy X Neuburg might be the only one. (EDIT: I'M SO DUMB, JUKEBOX THE GHOST, BUT I ALREADY WROTE ABOUT THAT IN 2010)

In college, I wound up assisting electronic musician Joshua Fried as a roadie for a number of gigs at weirdo electronic showcases in NYC - I was writing a paper on experimental radio station WGXC, saw his name on their website and that he was playing a show, and contacted him asking if I could somehow attend despite not being 21. He was like "maybe if you are working for me, no one will ask," which was the nicest possible thing he could've said.

Joshua Fried is a genius. If you are like me, you may have heard of him as a collaborator with They Might Be Giants - he remixed a couple of their songs back in the day, and he did a bunch of tracks with John Flansburgh under the name "Hello The Band." But he has been an experimental electronic artist on his own the whole time, and in the 00s (possibly earlier?) he began a live-remix project called Radio Wonderland. He sets up a boombox and tunes into the local radio of the area and remixes it on the spot into house music. He does it with custom software AND hardware of his own designs, including a giant steering wheel as a pitch controller/general-use potentiometer (I cannot believe Skrillex or whoever do not have gigantic knobs to visibly turn when playing Coachella or whatever. It seems like such a no-brainer of musical spectacle.) and four upturned shoes with piezos in the heels that he hits with drumsticks to trigger samples. This is amazing.

He records every show he does, including the ones he does weekly on WGXC (he still does them!) and a few years back, he met up with producer Marcelo Anez to distill them into the choicest cuts, which makes his debut album SEIZE THE MEANS technically a live album, in the way that anything made in this configuration is live, it's all improvised, dependent on the whims of the radio. But I was told there was a significant amount of post-production involved as well.

I sent some emails & records to press for him, but mostly I helped him schlep his old old technology all over the city to gigs. I probably did like a dozen shows with him, and I got to meet all sorts of amazing electronic weirdos, like Chris Ianuzzi, Max Clarke, sylcmyk, and Blipvert. I formed semi-professional associations with some of these people, which was amazing as a 20-year-old and intimidating as a musician who is afraid to call himself an electronic musician, for fear that implies some sort of knowledge I do not have.

Anyway. The gig was at a little country-themed bar in north Brooklyn whose name I don't remember but I do recall their piano was an upright with tacks on the hammers. It was down the street from Rafia's apartment, they came and so did my partner OK. Terry Dame was the host/presenter of the concert series, I realized I had seen her a few years earlier at a Maker Faire where she played with her amazing electroacoustic band Electric Junkyard Gamelan. This was off to a good start. She played a set with her "horn of plenty sounds," a sculpture/midi controller she built that somehow divined Bach-like runs out of light-sensing diodes. I might be combining two Terry Dame performances but I believe she also had a keyboard made out of typewriter parts and bottlecaps that she triggered samples from dolls with cassette tapes in them ("do you want to come to my party?") and said it was an instrument for a toy piano festival that I did not get to attend. Great start.

Amy X Neuburg played next. Her setup was quite similar to Joshua's actually - hardware mixer (though Joshua's was I think largely a controller for his custom Max/MSP environment), electronic drum pad, but - a microphone. She sings like Kate Bush and Russell Mael and Laurie Anderson and the fucking guy from Mr. Bungle & Faith No More combined. She would play drums and trigger samples and synth bass on the pads, but also use them to sample/loop/manipulate/retrigger her voice. She did a song in 7/4 where the percussion was her brushing her teeth. Her songs were verbose and eloquent, musical in the most surprising ways (extremely operatic, frequently), entirely self-contained little worlds where you get to see her build them up on the spot out of layers. She did a Cardiacs cover but I cannot for the life of me remember what it was. OK bought her CD for me because I didn't have any cash, and it is the greatest gift I have ever received. I remember I helped her carry some piece of equipment downstairs after her set and I was trying to explain how musically earth-shifting her performance was, and she was like "do you make music?" and I was like, um, kind of, I don't know, I can't do anything like you, I just play piano and she said "well that's a great place to start!"

And then Joshua went up and tore it up. Of course! He always does. Very similarly to Amy, you get to see all the elements come together before your eyes, but Joshua does not have anything written. He has some like, MIDI patterns he wrote once that he sometimes feeds his live radio samples into to begin building a groove. But it's all improvised, and kind of transactional - it depends on what he gets from the radio, and the energy he gets from the crowd.

I remember often he would lament to me that he primarily gets booked to play experimental venues and never EDM shows, like he feels like his music is at its strongest when there is a crowd of people actively dancing to it. Artsy experimental types just like to sit and stare and ponder and go up to him at the end to ask what version of Max/MSP he's using. I am no exception, but I was able to relate - at the time, I had an improvised Wesley Willis tribute band where we played variations on the same track over and over but all lyrical content was suggested by the crowd - I don't remember if it was one of us or someone else who described it as "youtube comments, the concert." We played a number of weirdo shows but the best ones were when we were just in between other rock bands. We didn't need a conceptual-art-minded crowd, like Joshua, we were trying to tap into a much more Dionysian energy, just with more esoteric mechanical means.

At the end of the show, the three artists jammed with each other, Joshua on the track, Amy on vocals (mostly just speaking in tongues), and Terry on her little inventions. I don't remember when this was, 2013? I did a bunch more shows for Joshua, including the Hackers On Planet Earth conference which was a total blast. Eventually I wound up subletting a rehearsal space from Terry (who is also a proficient saxophonist - when she found out I was there to practice clarinet, she took down a metal clarinet from her loft shelf, and showed it to me - she said she found in the trash and said "you should play it!!" There's a song on my forthcoming record that has some of that metal clarinet on it.) Amy X Neuburg I think is based on the other side of the country and I have not known of any recent public appearances in NYC since, but she did just release a new song and she replied to my Bandcamp purchase message, which was very sweet of her. Musicians rule.