Saturday, October 07, 2006

October 6, 2006: Big City Orchestra

October 6, 2006: Big City Orchestra

This week's feature is on Big City Orchestra - stay tuned for this week's podcast (episode 115), featuring a track by BCO and 15 other sound collages by artists from around the world...


Big City Orchestra

My first Big City Orchestra record was probably the rather violently titled CD, The Beatlerape (the name simply refers to the fact that the record samples and extensively rearranges songs by The Beatles). Since then I've played quite a few of their countless records, most notably their CD Chimpy, which approaches George W. Bush with the same kind of respect they had theretofore reserved for The Beatles...

Big City Orchestra
is one of those bands that has a million albums and twice as many members, over the course of an ever expanding number of years. They are the standard bearers of noncomformity in that they often refuse to promote their albums, title their tracks or (god forbid) take themselves too seriously. Thank god for Big City Orchestra. If they aren't already a pseudo-religious order of some kind, just give them some time!

Reading over their response to the SAR Q&A, I feel compelled to inject a bit more information into this week's intro...

An online search reveals the following information about Big City Orchestra: They're quite often referred to as anti-art and avant garde. Although I believe they're currently assembled in San Francisco, they would appear to have their origins in Los Angeles, California - in the South Bay area. The Wikipedia entry for Big City Orchestra currently says that the group formed in 1979 as a house band for a network of artist residences. I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I'm assuming they drew from these various residences for their membership. This might explain the project's longevity and long list of past and present participants.

The band was a major part of the "cassette culture movement" of the 1980's and 1990's, with well over a hundred hour-long releases on as many labels. In addition to these cassette releases, there are more than 300 compilation appearances, five 7" singles, one 8" single and four video collections. There are also about 10 CD and close to fifty CD-R releases to look for. And you thought you and your band were prolific...

Big City Orchestra currently holds the record for most creative response to the SAR Q&A. If you didn't know this was a contest; now you do. I've had responses which could fit on the back of a quarter, and those which threatened to exceed the limits of this blog, but the BCO sent their responses in on audio CD, as a performance piece featuring any number of their many rotating members. Their answers are vague and absurd, but you have to give them credit for creativity!

Below is the transcription of Big City Orchestra's response to the SAR Q&A. Their recording consists of several disembodied voices answering the various questions all at the same time. I've simply typed them all out, in the best order I could approximate. Keep in mind that these answers are from several different people, often speaking all at the same time... If it seems confusing, that's only because you are confused. Without further ado...

*Name: Big City Orchestra. Big City Orchestra. Big City Orchestra. Big City Orchestra. Big City… Somethin’ or Other. Big City Orchestra. It could be also, Pig Kitty Porkestra.

*Do you use a pseudonym? Several. All at the same time. Univac. Yes, but it is top-secret. I don’t think so. Yes: Mr. Hate. I am known as Nina Pixie. Professor Warner V. Slack.

*Members: To date, I think there’s about 4oo. I’m not even joking. Most of ‘em - most of ‘em are in it. Most of the members are in the band. Well, at some point, there might be as many as 40 members - It depends on how far back you want to go. I would say over the span of around 20 maybe more years, there are probably at least 200 by now. That’s my guess. 18,000 last I counted. I have no idea. Something more than like 10. Counting fingers and toes, perhaps you’re also a member. The number is infinite and ever-changing.

*What are the full names of each member? Come on, man. There’s too many to list. There’s mom, nina, Alyssa, dad, Jessie, Cheryl, Ann, Mr. Hate, Otis, Nina and a band of miscreants, Josh, carrie, nina, cliff, Jessie, dave, Cheryl, anne, fausto, that one guy who sleeps a lot, some other people, phil, Edward…

*Founding Member: Oh, there’s only one. He’s incredulous, huge, and I don’t know his name. Spiteful, but he always pinches. Mr. Ube Ibi, Das, Mike, Julie, Worm, Mark, Relentless, Hyperbole, and another who sleeps a lot, and a series of mysterious underwater elves.

*Tape manipulations, digital deconstructions or turntable creations: All of the above. I’m not a number. And then some. I’m a free man. Occasional digital deconstructions of sorts, but primarily none of the above. All three. Plus combinations of the three. All of the above, plus other.

*Another genre descriptor: Folk collage art, acoustical experimentations. Weak. Big City Orchestra is beyond classification and always changing and, its just instrumentation, direction – all these things are basically scattered to the wind at the end of each project. Superfluous. And, uh – I couldn’t begin to describe exactly what it is that is going on here. Interesting.

*Is there a story behind your name? I was born with a couple of them. In a dream. The other ones were accidents. My story’s far too complicated. Big City Orchestra, is what we’re talking about here. That’s the name that we’re talking about. Big City Orchestra. That name. It has so much depth, so much meaning, that I can’t put it into words. Where did it come from? Well, there was this house… Well, that was simply a nick-name given to me by an ex-girlfriend many years ago, basically because of my scathing sarcastic nature. Sometimes. A bunch of trash cans. Set that oil on fire. And they called it big city. My name is Nina. That’s where it came from. I’m very short. I’ve always been told I look somewhat like a Pixie. The name just fit – Nina Pixie. Well, there was an ocean and a small boat that had lost its sail and then there was a tidal wave and an entire island was submerged and then it started hailing and dead whales floated to the surface of the ocean and we saw a giant squid, alive, which noone’s ever seen except us. And then, I think that’s when he came to me.

*Location: I’m basically from the Army. I was born here. Yep – born there. I was born in San Mateo, California. I could show you on a map. Followed my dad around until he died. Some twenty minutes south of San Francisco. The left side of over there. Some Army guy. Followed them around until I got out of school. The north pole. Got arrested and joined the army. They gave me a choice. I could join the army. Its all I’ve ever known. I’m still searching for that answer. About three quarters of the way through the western spiral, of the milky way galaxy. Originally from Chicago. Barn raised, transplanted to Arizona and migrated to California. Space dust.

*What is your creative/artistic background: It all started with a hand held tape recorder as a child, when I was supposed to be playing outdoors. Then I got into the fingerpaints and made quite a mess. Interrupted dad’s closet were his clothes. The next thing I knew, I was making noise. Getting up their in your brain, circulating around in your capillaries, back down through the venal system. Crayons. In the good out with the bad. That’s where the art is – it's in your blood. When I was little, I liked to bang on the piano and write my own songs instead of playing new ones that were put in front of me. Mostly trees and ripped paper, but there’s a painted wall that’s a little bit textured. That’s all behind me. My artistic background lies chiefly in music, performing, writing, recording and I’ve been involved with radio.

*History: This project, anyway, has been going on since the early 1980’s. Probably late ‘70’s, before I got on. For some twenty-three, no twenty-five years. Oh. Hey, I pay my taxes. I was a baby. I don’t remember. Since the work created me. Depends on what day you ask that question. Could be either two hours or more than a quarter of a century.

*Motivations: Because otherwise I would be dead. That’s easy man, what else is there to do? Why? Why do they do what they do? Why indeed? How can I but not do what I do? Because noone else is doing it.

*Philosophy: I need to get my inner stuff out. I breathe because I must. I create because I yearn. There’s some stuff, and then there’s some other stuff and it gets mutated by some other things and then we stick it in a computer sometimes or we play it in front of an audience and things happen. I live because… I’m still getting to that. Philosophy usually doesn’t my creative outbursts. For camaraderie, communication, creativity, what you hear. Its more simply that release of inner ideas and energy in an external fashion. Euclidian.

*How would you like to be remembered: In pieces. By who? And louder than usual. Upside down and full of colors. Yeah, just listen. The sounds that you’re hearing – they came from me - that’s what I want to be remembered for. I would like to be remembered as an able collaborator. Who I am, what my person is, all that human drama bulls*** – that’s just a means to an end. The sounds themselves ought to speak for me. Mostly for the melodious, tonal qualities, of my sound footprints on recordings. As a Viking.

*Web address: Ubu www UBU Ibi dot org www dot org www UBU, IBI, dot org www dot ubu ibi dot org UBU ubu IBI www dot org www dot ubu www dot org… Can I get a cup of coffee here? A guys been asking me questions all night and uh I could really use a cup of coffee… all these questions, kinda making me a little, just making me want a cup of coffee or something. Could you do that for me?


Thanks again to the many and mysterious members of Big City Orchestra, for all frantically waving their hands in the air, in response to every question asked, and then all speaking up at once, in one mad informational burst. I can't imagine a more suitable response. Be sure to check out the Big City Orchestra website, once you've downloaded this week's episode...

Thanks again for tuning in! If you're in the Twin Cities' area, be sure to save October 26th on your calendar this month, and plan on meeting me at First Avenue to see Negativland, as they come through town on tour. Some Assembly Required is proud to sponsor the event in the Main Room that night. More details forthcoming. In the meantime, visit First Avenue's website for more information.

Until next week - Thanks for listening!
Jon Nelson

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