On this episode of Strings and Things, Angela Babin drops by to work on a Melody Maker that hasn’t been out and about in years, while our host Patrick Grant restrings his studio-weary Les Paul. They’ll swap stories about the weirdest gigs they’ve played in New York City, and talk about how numbers and math inspire Angela’s current compositions. Then they’ll amp up for a special Strings and Things duet.
Since picking up the electric guitar at 14 years old, over the years Angela’s performed in a wide range of venues, from Folk City and CBGBs, to BAM and the Berlin Jazz Festival. She entered the downtown New York music scene with the band Off Beach, and played guitar in the nine-piece experimental rock group The Ordinaires. The Ordinaires were compared to Philip Glass, Captain Beefheart, Henry Mancini, Husker Du and Stravinsky – all at the same time! You may remember their cover of “Kashmir” was all over MTV at the time:
All musicians have a few pieces in their lives that, when they heard it it for the very first time, it was an epiphany, it was something that said to them, “This is what you were meant to do,” almost like a memory that had been implanted since birth had been awakened. One of these moments for me was when a friend popped in a cassette tape (look it up kids) of “Who’s Next” by The Who and I heard the opening synthesizer part to “Baba O’Riley” only to end when more of the same on the albums closer “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” How surprising it would be, years later, to learn that Pete Townsend’s sequencer-driven, phase-shifting rhythm track was in turn inspired in part by Terry Riley’s minimalist manifesto “In C,” itself a study in loop-based composition though played on an indeterminate ensemble of acoustic instruments.
Previous to this I had been learning the classics through the side-door of Wendy Carlos’ and Isao Tomita’s transcriptions via the Moog. The other shoe had dropped. I could be cool now amongst my peers, always a primary concern to a teenager. The Who keep me going until, without the help of MTV or today’s internet, new bands started catching my attention on the late night Detroit airwaves (shows like Radios in Motion and The Electrifyin’ Mojo) and I moved sharply away from classic rock into a New Wave.
The personal note above has been added to show that things change quickly, one cannot get stuck in a rut. This is especially true if one wishes to stay on top of innovation. To illustrate this, here are two videos of Pete Townsend. This first one shows how the electronic rhythm track to that “Who’s Next “ album came into being:
Now compare this to the very same, if not heightened, enthusiasm he shows in a recent video, almost a tutorial really, that, camera in hand, he made himself in the studio (still his fascination of loop-based composition is thriving):
I can only hope that I’ll retain the same open mindedness 30 years down the road when I’m confronted by whatever means of music making we’ll have then.