Back to the Futurists

In his famous 1913 manifesto “The Art of Noise,” Italian futurist Luigi Russolo wrote: “We must break out of this limited circle of sounds and conquer the infinite variety of noise sounds.” In recent years, these visionary words have been said to predict everything from contemporary classical music to techno. But so scarce is recorded material from the futurists’ era that very few people have actually heard exactly what Russolo and his pals had in mind. “You hear about its role in the development of experimental sound, but few people have really been able to encounter it and make their own judgment,” says Dawson Prater, who last spring launched the Chicago-based Ampersand Records.

Later this year the label, which Prater runs in cooperation with an Italian partner, Filippo Salvadori, will release a compilation of hard-to-find early Italian futurist sound and writing by artists like Russolo, F.T. Marinetti, Francesco Balilla Pratella, and Silvio Mix, among others. Ampersand has also reissued six experimental-music titles originally released by the Italian imprints Cramps and Multhipla, including albums by legendary British guitarist Derek Bailey, composer John Cage, and the great Italian improv unit Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, which featured trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini and composer Ennio Morricone, best known for his sound tracks to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns.

Prater, a 28-year-old sound-art aficionado with a background in anthropology, says he plans to focus less on reissues and more on archival material in the future. “We don’t really want to be a label that’s just shadowing another label’s catalog,” he says. The eight releases slated for 2001 include works by European sound artists Christina Kubisch, Milan Knizak, and Wolf Vostell; the controversial British composer Cornelius Cardew; and the New York Fluxus artist Henry Flynt. Many are previously unreleased. For future updates on Ampersand’s activities, visit

New Advancements

Flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell, one of the most active and promising young members of the venerable Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, has finally released her first album as a leader, and it’s as original as it is pretty. On Vision Quest (Dreamtime), credited to her Black Earth Ensemble, her playing is rhythmically fluent and melodically potent–and, delightfully, never florid. With Savoir Faire and Edith Yokley on violins and viola, she weaves hypnotic lines that glide and collide with warm, imperturbable grooves carved out by drummer Hamid Drake, percussionist Avreeayl Ra, and bassist Darius Savage. Mitchell’s compositions really move, but they never fall into predictable patterns, thanks in part to subtle African polyrhythms that create good tension with the gentle but steely timbres of the front line.

Mitchell works in numerous other groups, including the David Boykin Outet, whose leader has also just released a new duo recording, with drummer Bakari Davis. With his brash, knotty style and brawny but sensual tone, the young tenor saxist is an obvious devotee of 60s free jazz, and on The Nextspiritmental Musics (Dreamtime) he blows tender, slightly sour melodic arcs and furiously busy variations on simple themes as Davis metes out cymbal-splattered circular rhythms. Although the album isn’t as well conceived as Mitchell’s, its energy is infectious.

Feedback and Philosophy

Interviews with Noam Chomsky and members of Voices in the Wilderness–a local humanitarian group seeking to end U.S. sanctions against Iraq–might not be the sort of stuff you’d expect to read in a punk magazine, but both appear in the new anthology We Owe You Nothing–Punk Planet: The Collected Interviews (Akashic Books). The book compiles 25 Q & As originally published in the seven-year-old Chicago-based magazine. Many of the lengthy, in-depth interviews are with highly opinionated, frequently politicized music types–including Jello Biafra, Steve Albini, Ian MacKaye, Kathleen Hanna, and Thurston Moore–but like the magazine, the book paints punk as a philosophy more than as a style of music, emphasizing ways to resist popular culture’s prevailing winds and promoting the DIY ethic as applicable to more than making records. Interestingly, though, with the exception of Chicago’s semilegendary Latino punk band Los Crudos and Dez Cadena from Black Flag, all the artists interviewed are white.

Delta Force

On Tuesday, Smithsonian Folkways will reissue Mississippi Delta Bluesman, the 1979 solo album by local bluesman David “Honeyboy” Edwards. At age 85, Edwards is one of the last living links to the classic Delta blues of Charlie Patton, Tommy Johnson, and Robert Johnson–in fact, he claims to have been with Johnson on the night he was fatally poisoned, in August 1938. His cracked, ravaged voice is distinguished by a noble soulfulness, and his guitar playing, punctuated by percussive string snapping, is nimble and spare; together they make for a concentrated goosebump-raising intensity that has little to do with the grimaces and wanky pyrotechnics that pass for passion on the contemporary blues scene. The reissue includes extensive liner notes and lyrics.

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