Michael Stirling

‘Extradition’ review: difficult on purpose

Creative Music Guild concert embraces experimental, aleatoric, multiphonic, ritualistic, electronic and ultimately rewarding sounds

Story, photos and video by MATTHEW ANDREWS

Below you’ll find an extended video recap of some highlights of this show. Read this before watching the video, or afterwards, or both, or at the same time, or not at all. In case of confusion, consult the I Ching, the Tarot, a sack of runes, or your pineal gland—whichever is closer at hand.

When John Cage is the most mainstream composer on the program, you know you’re in for something out of the ordinary. When Creative Music Guild is putting on the show, you know it’s really going to be something you haven’t heard before. And when it’s Portland percussionist and experimental music impresario Matt Hannafin’s Extradition Series doing their quarterly show, then it’s time to put away all your expectations, get comfortable, take whatever drugs or do whatever meditation exercises you need to, and open your ears for the most exigent listening experience you’re likely to have this season.

Last time I covered an Extradition concert, Hannafin and his crew ended a two and a half hour concert with rocks in their hands, rubbing and clacking them periodically with sine tone and pink noise accompaniment over the course of something like 30 minutes (Michael Pisaro’s Six Stones)… and this was the conclusion of a concert already overflowing with very slow, sparse music. It was mesmerizing, and haunting, and to be honest it was a little hard to sit through (or stand through, in my case, since I was filming). Ultimately, though, it was totally worth it.

Extradition’s April 22 concert was just as demanding and even more rewarding, as the community of CMG regulars and guest artists worked their way through experimental works by Cage, Alvin Lucier (the second-most “mainstream” name on the bill), G. Douglas Barrett, and two Japanese composers: Takehisa Kosugi and Toshi Ichiyanagi.

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Where sound meets vision

Eric Isaacson's Mississippi Records Music and Film Series unites the music film with live performance

Pick an art form, any art form: Eric Isaacson could give you an enlightening, hilarious impromptu lecture on it. The proprietor of the Mississippi Records store and its accompanying record label is an encyclopedia of cultural knowledge; music, yes, everything about music, but also visual art, literature, film, and all their cross-disciplinary fringes. Last year, the Hollywood Theatre wisely tapped his labyrinthine brain for the Mississippi Records Music and Film Series, a monthly event curated and hosted by Isaacson.

On January 22, the series kicked off its second year of programming with a screening of the 2004 documentary, Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story, a profile of Portland’s most venerated grassroots punk band.

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Mississippi Records Music and Film Series poster

In their day, Dead Moon (husband and wife team Fred and Toody Cole, plus drummer Andrew Loomis) was popular in the Pacific Northwest, but cultishly adored in Europe, where they were fervently embraced by the European festival scene as emblematic of a certain breed of fiercely individualistic, self-determined American artist. As an Austrian rock journalist explains in a broken English interview in the documentary, “No one who wants Dead Moon can buy Dead Moon.” They chose against affiliating themselves with an outside label – ever. Fred and Toody live in a rambling self-built house in the wilds of Clackamas. They infamously cut their own LPs on an ancient, precarious record lathe once owned by the Kingsmen.

The film, by Kate Fix and Jason Summers, explores the multifaceted musical career of two artists for whom ‘against the grain’ is a massive understatement. It’s the unlikely journey of four decades of Portland-based rock devotion, chronicling Fred’s roots as teenage rocker ‘Deep Soul Cole,’ to decades of psych/garage/bubblegum band involvement, to founding Dead Moon with Toody in the ‘80s as they both edged up on their 40th birthdays. By their own admission, they missed the Summer of Love – they were too busy homesteading and raising a passel of kids. When the kids were grown, they dove back into music, embracing stripped-down punk rock and the touring life. One of the most impressive things about Fred and Toody is how deftly they defy expectations about advancing age. As another European fan says in labored English, “They give me hope about being old. Because they are old, but they are still cool.”

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Toody rocks.

It’s also the tale of Toody’s inspiring transition from the stay-at-home wife of a rocker, to a reluctant stand-in bassist, to a musical force in her own right. A longtime friend describes her timidity on the stage in the early days of Dead Moon (and its precursor band, the Rats). But in Unknown Passage’s present-day footage, Toody out-Patti Smiths Patti Smith as a savage punk rock priestess, with a wiry frame, a snarl of dark hair and mesmerizing stage presence.

And finally, it’s a love story. Married couples are not exactly uncommon in rock, but it feels special to see creative chemistry that flourishes unabated over decades. Watching Fred and Toody, I was put in mind of another punk rock power couple: Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of the Cramps. Like the Cramps, Dead Moon lays its foundations on a lifelong love affair chiseled out of the living rock of art and performance. The Coles stand out as a pair of freaks whose freakishness completes one another, who fan one another’s creative flames into a towering inferno. Post-screening, they took the stage for a mellow two-person set, plucking highlights from their 40-odd years of musical collaboration to a sold-out crowd.

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Isaacson – photo by Jill Samish

I talked to Eric about his abiding love of Dead Moon, his plans for future installments of the Mississippi Records Film and Music Series, and his mainstream movie tastes:

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