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CalArts' East of Borneo Books Releases Second Life: Light Bulb 1977–1981

UNDER THE RADAR: WRITING Noise

Chronicling the Chaos of DIY Media
by Doug Harvey

September 3, 2013
Artillery

The Los Angeles Free Music Society had its original heyday back in the 1970s, as much a dada and LSD-inspired piss-take on the high seriousness of experimental music—these were the days when Stockhausen was God—as a shaggy-dog extension of the Zappa/Beefheart/Wildman Fischer axis of dissonance that defined the fringes of “rock” music.

Coalescing around Pasadena’s legendary Poo-Bah record store, the LAFMS jammed, played out, issued cassettes and vinyl (in editions between 20 and 1,000, the average being 200), and published weird mail-art journals from 1974 to 1982, when they fell into a period of dormancy.

This hibernation ended with a bang in 1995 when Gary Todd’s Cortical Foundation/Organ of Corti label issued a staggering 10-disc retrospective box set of LAFMS archival material that was justly lauded by such international tastemakers as Thurston Moore and UK magazine The Wire. The LAFMS were hailed as pioneers of noise music (having allegedly jump-started the Japanese noise scene) and avant-garde deconstructionist turntablism (with the 1977 cassette Dennis Duck Goes Disco), but their collective range extended across the spectrum of experimental sound-making.

Since the “Lowest Form of Music” box set, the members of LAFMS have once again picked up steam, extruding reissued material and new product at regular intervals, and organizations like SASSAS and Nora Keyes & Don Bolles’ “Hush Club” have provided regular venues for their projects, while arts organizations like the Getty, REDCAT and Beyond Baroque have paid homage.

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