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Conversations at the “Crack o’ Dawn”

Crack o’ Dawn, KPFA 94.1 FM
Berkeley, California
Hosted by Barbara Golden
Selected Conversations from 1984–2005

In 1979, an orange VW Beetle made its way from Montréal to Oakland, California, carrying ex-housewife/schoolteacher, poet, performer and soon-to-be “Joan Rivers and Mae West of the Bay Area experimental music scene”, Barbara Golden. She was about to start a Masters in composition at Mills College with Terry Riley and would soon also be performing, composing, writing and promoting the experimental music scene in the Bay Area and beyond.

At the time, Charles Amirkhanian was the Music Director of KPFA 94.1 FM, in Berkeley, California, and in 1984, he gave Barbara her first radio slot from 4–7 am, every two weeks. That was the start of Crack o’ Dawn, which she has been hosting ever since. Mark Trayle was her board operator initially (until he “got bored”, Barb tells us), and then she took over the controls herself.

The show features an eclectic mix of playback, commentary, conversations with guests and live performances, and over the years has featured hundreds of guests. Barb chats her guests up about music, politics, the Bay area scene, tech and performance, cooking / gastronomy and much, much more.

Some of these “conversations” are straight-ahead “interviews” (Maggi Payne, Mark Trayle, Susan Stone, Rhys Chatham, Chris Brown), others were telephone conversations (La Monte Young in New York, the seven-hour Rzewski-thon after a show he did across the bridge in San Francisco) and some included or were entirely based around live performances (Antimatter, Paul Dresher, Cenk Ergün).

For this issue of eContact! Barbara has scoured her archives — hundreds of cassettes, CDs and tapes — and presents some 40-odd conversations she has had with her guests over the years.

The orange Beetle is, sadly, no longer around, but Barb is still shaking down the experimental music scene in the Bay area. As for Crack o’ Dawn, it can be heard on the radio waves and the internet these days on the first Thursday night/Friday morning of each month.

To catch her show, tune into KPFA (show details here).

Barbara Golden and her orange VW Beetle, en route to Mills College in 1979. Somewhere in Arizona.
Barbara Golden and her orange VW Beetle, en route to Mills College in 1979. Somewhere in Arizona.

Crack o’ Dawn Promo Cart

The show’s theme. [dur. 1:30]

AA Bee Removal

AA Bee Removal is Sam Ashley and Ben Azarm

Even as experimental music goes, this band was extremely edgy. My listeners were and are very knowledgeable, but even so, one of the pieces on air was so white noise, that a listener phoned in and wanted to know if his receiver was broken. I told him, no this is the piece, and he said cheerfully, OK I’ll keep on taping. [1993, dur. 45:27]

Maryanne Amacher

She loved the old KPFA studio because you could actually mix on the board. And she did, she always rocked the house, her low frequencies would make you be thinking earthquake. She complained bitterly about the new studio, because, though user-friendly, you could not really do anything on it. After she spent the night with one of our mutual friends her comment was, in her low whiskey voice: “He has nice legs.” [December 1985, dur. 25:04]

Rest In Peace, dear Maryanne.

Charles Amirkhanian

The first and greatest music director of KPFA, he is responsible for all the live recording on radio: shows from the SF Tape Music Center founded by Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros, Ramon Sender, Don Buchla and Morton Subotnick in the 60s, plus from 1750 Arch Street, and many groundbreaking seminal early electroacoustic concerts in the SF area. He gave me my radio start with my first KPFA slot from 3am–7am, prime time, ha ha. Wonderful word text/concrete composer. [1985, dur. 11:26]

Laurie Anderson

Probably one of the most famous of all our EA people, who successfully bridged the gap between the avant-garde and the “in the know” mainstream.” Even in the early 80s she packed the Mills College Concert Hall, with her violin, millions of “toys” including vibrators, plenty of digital delay and thrilled us all. A sidebar: when I was interviewing Laurie at The Phoenix Motel in San Francisco, a guy came into the room, she told him to introduce himself to Barbara, and he extended his hand and said: “Hello, I am Wim Wenders”… [17 February 1990, dur. 29:00]

Antimatter and David Kwan

Antimatter (aka Xopher Davidson) is one of my all time faves as a composer of impeccable taste, plenty of hard edges, but not too much, just perfect. David Kwan joins him on this show, but Antimatter is a “regular” on The Crack doing lots of live/real-time pieces. [4 September 2003, dur. 4:47]

Kenneth Atchley

His music is thoughtful, ethereal, noisy enough at times, he works a lot with water/fountains both real and virtual, which I refer to as “water sports,” ha ha. This interview is from Smyrna, Tennessee, his family home, very very late at night, good Friday, Easter weekend. Kenneth and his pal Steve Lowry are recording live over the telephone. Kenneth has been a colleague and friend for years and has helped me immeasurably with many long seven-hour shows, with Fred Rzewski, Bob Ashley, he drove up to Grass Valley near Reno to interview Terry Riley, down to Aptos to visit Lou Harrison, where I got poison oak on the way, but we won’t go into that! (And Kenneth got slightly hit on). Collaborates a lot with John Bischoff. [28 March 1986, dur. 19:55]

John Bischoff

By now, one of the West Coast biggies, actually, make that international, he’s at the level where he’s thought of as one of the masters, though he is very mild-mannered and modest. In the 70s he formed League of Automatic Music Composers, one of the first computer music network bands, along with Jim Horton, Rich Gold, Tim Perkis. They would use Kim computers and plenty of homemade code and software (and get roasted in the newspapers by the critics especially during New Music America 1981, they were mocked unmercifully, but water off a duck’s back). Who’s laughing now, eh? [November 1988, dur. 11:24]

Chris Brown

Brought up in the Philippines and Chicago South Side, he has an eclectic easy feel for the beat of the world. Brown built many “weird” and wonderful instruments such as the “Hot Lunch”, and Gazamba, both fiddle-like instruments of his own construction. Plays with Room (William Winant and Larry Ochs), the Hub, Fuzzy Bunny and numerous musicians. Now one of three folks running the Mills Center for Contemporary Music and turning out a great roster of composers coming off the program. [September 1999, dur. 10:26]

Crack o’ Dawn programme listings and listener “fanmail” in <em>Folio</em>, KPFA’s programme guide.
Crack o’ Dawn programme listings and listener “fanmail” in Folio, KPFA’s programme guide. [Click image to enlarge]

Rhys Chatham

Major EA artist using guitars and shades of Duchamp. A denizen of the New York downtown scene since the late 70s, he’s worked very closely with dancer Carol Armitage, among others. His use of the guitar in EA music was pretty groundbreaking pioneer stuff. [Early 80s, dur. 13:41]

Jay Cloidt with Paul Dresher

A lot of collaboration with Paul Dresher, and the Kronos Quartet. Composing regularly, he works with Joan Jeanrenaud, etc. [7 March 1996, dur. 39:22]

Crawling with Tarts

Crawling with Tarts is Michael Gendreau and Suzanne Dicus

Very original, instinctual, and pure band. They used record players, found objects, loops, their voices, instruments, and brought low-fi to sophisticated heights. [1 September 1994, dur. 38:52]

Alvin Curran

With Richard Teitelbaum, and Frederic Rzewski, one of the founders in late 60s of Musica Elettronica Viva. Bob Moog gave Richard the first Moog synth. A lot of on-site pieces in Italy on bodies of water, and most notably, Sydney Harbour. [November 1991, dur. 42:36]

Paul DeMarinis

Located now at Stanford. Was one of the early 70s first crop of grads from Mills CCM, Center for Contemporary Music, studied with Robert Ashley, David Behrman, among others. Very brainy and original. [January 1988, dur. 32:52]

Paul Dresher

Like Laurie Anderson in that he was able to bridge the gap between extremely esoteric EA music and make it accessible to a wider audience. Worked a lot with Rinde Eckert, in a form of contemporary opera/music theater. Very good guitarist, uses a lot of natural sound. One of the more committed to our whole group, and extremely helpful to composers in general. When I was starting out, he’d lend me all sorts of equipment, or give me samples of lions mating that he taped on a trip to Africa in the 80s. He did a great live event on my show with a bunch of auto-reverse cassettes. [24 April 1987, dur. 13:56]

Paul Dresher with Jay Cloidt

See above. [7 March 1996, dur. 39:22]

Cenk Ergün

Born in Turkey, excellent hard edge, rhythm to his work. Often uses Turkish music as a base. He played live on the show, and brought others, and we did not talk much. [6 October 2005, dur. 5:17]

Fuzzy Bunny

Fuzzy Bunny is Tim Perkis, Chris Brown and Scot Gresham Lancaster

Great little iconoclastic group that is determined not to take itself too seriously. Comprised of Tim Perkis, Chris Brown, and Scot Gresham Lancaster, members of The Hub, and many other computer network band combos… This night, Tim Perkis was not present as he had had problems with his palm pilot, or whatever pre-cursor of the blackberry they were using at the time. They played live on the show, some really good music. In 2001, Helen Prince and myself were on a walking trip in the Luberon in southern France and journeyed (by car) to Nantes to hear “The Bunny” as I call them, play in Nantes at The Bunker — which was just that, you had to climb ladder stairs to get anywhere. Frank from Sonore Records was the presenter, I believe, and his granny had given him a basket of goodies — wines, coldcuts, cheeses — which we shared at the hotel till the wee hours. Good times with The Bunny!! [3 August 2000, dur. 46:00]

Diamanda Galás

OK interview, but of all these guests, Diamanda was the one with “attitude.” A great performer, and I’m thrilled to have the interview. [3 December 1984, dur. 46:00]

Guillermo Galindo

From Mexico, very theatric sensibility, good composer, a lot of performance art, humour, musique concrète, classical sources used as well in an ironic yet wistful vein. He collaborates with poets, actors, other composers. Was with him and Chris Brown for a few weeks in Newfoundland at Sound Symposium where we ate plenty of lobster and codfish. He and Chris put together a “Marconi” type of piece from the very spot on the high rocks where Marconi transmitted. [5 July 2001, dur. 14:38]

Barbara Golden interviewed by Dave Bidini [Part 1 | Part 2]

Barbara interviewed on CBC’s Brave New Waves.

My Dad drove me to the CBC building on what used to be Dorchester Boulevard, and is now Boulevard René-Lévesque. Dad was admonishing me: With your brains and all your degrees, you could be making so much money… why are you in music? Hmmm, good question, Dad. But Augusta LaPaix and Dave saw it differently and it’s one of the best interviews I’ve ever had. Was included in its entirety as a sidebar in my “cookbook”… [8 August 1990, dur. 38:26 / 46:43]

Scot Gresham-Lancaster [Part 1 | Part 2]

Wild brainy computer-oriented guy who plays great keyboards. Met him mid 80s Mills College Tech Room. He was on the floor, it was just before Labour Day, school was about to start, and every machine was in parts on the floor around him. He has collaborated with just about everyone in the Bay Area scene, and is invited to Haute Provence as we talk, to do some sort of residency. In the 90s he did a lot of work with Bill Thibault mapping and musicalizing terrain in Idaho. [Lancaster, 5 October 2000, dur. 19:11 / 10:22]

Phil Harmonic

(Deceased, this is a conversation with Mark Caldwell and Kenneth Atchley)

Attended Mills College CCM in the early 70s along with John Bischoff, Maggi Payne, Paul DeMarinis. We never got along because we were both in love with Sam Ashley, Bob’s son, but when I arrived on the scene, I won, because I could cook and had more money than Phil. Anyway he was an intrepid chronicler of the times in his compositions, which included a lot of real-time taping of events combined with editing plus Beethoven. Really captured the “times,” in “the day.” [February 1993, dur. 34:46]

Crack o’ Dawn programme listings and listener “fanmail” in <em>Folio</em>, KPFA’s programme guide.
Crack o’ Dawn programme listings and listener “fanmail” in Folio, KPFA’s programme guide. [Click image to enlarge]

Lou Harrison

Technical difficulties all around. My batteries were dying and Lou’s and my voices are getting higher and higher. So you can listen and see if you can work your magic because it’s a wonderful document. Though ends on a “chipmunk” note. The banging in the background is Lou’s faithful partner, Bill Colvig, who is hammering and creating an instrument in Lou’s very idiosyncratic gamelan. Lou is a conversational genius and was very, very informative, humourous and a great storyteller. So let’s try to use it. (Again, Kenneth Atchley accompanied me.) Harrison in the Debussy and Ravel tradition was captivated by the sounds of the Javanese gamelan and used them to great advantage in his work. He even built several gamelans out of metal with wood resonators, and this was the first gamelan I played in at Mills College in the early 80s, and was maybe the first or second that Lou and Bill Colvig created together.

We toured, and in LA, played at patroness Betty Freeman’s house, where an illustrious crowd, including Steve Reich, Earl Brown and Carl Stone, surrounded us. Later at Cal Arts, other people present were Morton Feldman (I told him I wouldn’t go home with him because he was too ugly), Morton Subotnick, Earle Brown (I told him he looked like a rabbit). Oh, how I shudder from those substance abuse days. My only consolation is that everyone was several sheets to the wind as well. [Mid 80s at his home in Aptos, near Santa Cruz, California, dur. 29:32]

Jim Horton [1992 / 1994: Part 1 | Part 2]

Dear departed Jim. Early League of Automatic Music Composers. Very æsthetic pure EA first analog, and then computer-driven music. Utterly beautiful. Always phoned my show if I ever deviated and put on some B-52s or Janis Joplin, telling me to take off that stuff and get the real music up and running again. Very sick the last couple of years of his life, and I organized Meals for Jim. Many of the composers here would bring him food/meals, conversation. I never stop thinking that in the middle of one of my shows, “The Hort” is gonna phone the station. [4 December 1992, dur. 27:06. August 1994, dur. 22:17 / 12:40]

David Kwan with Antimatter

Antimatter (aka Xopher Davidson) is one of my all time faves as a composer of impeccable taste, plenty of hard edges, but not too much, just perfect. David Kwan joins him on this show, but Antimatter is a “regular” on The Crack doing lots of live/real-time pieces. [4 September 2003, dur. 4:47]

George Lewis

Brilliant, versatile. Major composer, trombonist, plenty of computers, started off in Art Ensemble of Chicago, where he was a youngster compared with the founders Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors, Donald Moye plus. George has duoed with everyone, a notable concert I saw at UC Berkeley was with the late Steve Lacey. It’s always a treat to be at a George Lewis concert, because the performance is so strong, with a focused exuberance. Columbia University is lucky to have George Lewis there. Read his latest book, A Power Stronger Than Itself. [6 April 1995, dur. 34:00]

Matmos [Part 1 / Part 2]

Matmos is Drew Daniels and Martin Schmidt

Wacky, fearless, insanely wonderful, absolutely outrageous team of Daniels and Schmidt. They bring with them a plethora of interests, avocations and talents. Drew wrote a book on Throbbing Gristle and teaches at Johns Hopkins University. Their live appearances are a sight to behold. I was lucky enough to go on tour with them to Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto (on Canadian Thanksgiving night, the place was packed) as Valerie Solanas, the gal that shot Andy Warhol. [2 June 2005, dur. 13:29 / 13:20]

Miya Masaoka

Started out playing koto, straight, shortly segued into conceptual music, and then electronics involving koto. Very versatile, has done political theater pieces, addressing the incarceration of Japanese Americans in the US in World War Two, the commodification of sex workers, especially women, pieces with “body as landscape,” her body, plus insects all over it. Her latest creation is a Japanese type of kimono, embedded with sensors and LEDs, creating wonder. Miya is inspiring as someone who is always growing, using different aspects and angles of music, performance, visuals, and political statements in a myriad of styles. [6 May 1994, dur. 48:53]

Mills College Didgeridu Ensemble [Part 1 / Part 2]

Ensemble Members include Toyoji Tomita, Ron Heglin, Marianne Macdonald, Joe Doyle, Betsy Reardon, Judy Munson

Founded by the late Toyoji Peter Tomita, one of my great dear friends. Himself a prodigious trombone talent, he toured with John Cage in Europe, in the 70s, maybe even late 60s, did not want to go into an orchestra (which he could have easily done), studied at Julliard, may have jumped ship. Whatever he touched he did well, was a great dancer, especially for Margaret Fisher’s cryptic very abstract works. He used to come to all my WIGband concerts screaming happily: “This is not art!,” or granting Johanna and me great kudos for something he deemed good. On this show he appears with the “didge” group that he founded. [2 March 1995, dur. 58:43 / 6:08]

Ed Osborn [Part 1 / Part 2]

Conceptual sulptor, sound artist. Great talks with him on the conversations that are included in this archive, he gives clear explanations of what he is about. Now teaching at Brown University, he is missed in the Bay Area. I visited him in Berlin where he was on a DAAD, and then stayed on for a few years. We’d be walking and hear a carillon, and he’d say: Oh, yeah, that’s my piece we’re hearing. In around 97, 98, or so, I had a birthday party at the Oakland Coliseum, first we had a “tailgate” party where we drank beer and roasted hotdogs, then the game after which, Ed who lived nearby, invited my whole party to his house for more drinks. Even people who were not necessarily in the “scene” were impressed by his stunning light murals on the walls, emitting sounds. [5 January 1995, dur. 19:32 / 24:18]

Maggi Payne

What can I say? Magnificent, pure electronics. A flute player, she incorporates those sounds at times. Solitary trips to the high deserts, where she films and takes stills that are sometimes used in conjunction with the pieces. She currently teaches at Mills College, and helped me immeasurably, when I wanted to quit she would keep me going by telling me I was a great songwriter. In 1979, Maggi Payne taught me how to razor blade and splice the tape, only I did not have her long fingernails… [January 1988, dur. 32:42]

Tim Perkis and Wobbly [Part 1 | Part 2]

Tim plays about town the most of the EA composers around. He gigs. Collaborates with young and old, from MaryClare Brystwa to Tom Nunn, from Bischoff to Wobbly. Tim is in The Hub, played with Horton and Bischoff in The League, and with Bischoff, produced one of my fave discs on the Artifact label entitled “Artificial Horizons.” [7 October 2004, dur. 8:11 / 11:49]

Doug Quinn [Part 1 | Part 2]

Doug recounts on air his adventures in Antarctica with the penguins, recording them and the environs of cracking ice and the other denizens of the scene. A document that is so fragile that a mere decade later, some of this is gone, a devastating reality. [3 July 1997, dur. 9:15 / 18:27]

Wendy Reid

Minimal, crystalline, tasty. One of the first to use Buchla instruments immediately at their conception, specifically Lightning. Lots of birds, frogs, Twinkie the dog and Fibonacci sequence. [1993/94 and 2001/02, dur. 59:24]

Terry Riley

Wrote In C and Rainbow in Curved Air plus plus… The reason I drove to Mills College in 1979, he was my Advisor in the Music Department. From Kevin Austin to Terry Riley. Not too shabby. When you studied music composition at that time with Terry, you sang ragas… You played him your stuff… He came to your concerts… Heard all the nasty songs. Took me to his bedroom, not for anything nefarious, mind you, all his vinyl records were under the bed and he gave me one of everything, way early, early Terry Riley. Yay. Just heard him play piano at the Berkeley Art Museum one Friday evening, a huge room with people of all ages sitting and lying at his feet. One of the great listening experiences. [29 September 1987, dur. 32:36]

Sean Rooney

Nice sounds. Did not know him well, we have a mutual friend. I like his music. Listen to it yourself. [4 July 2002, dur. 22:25]

Frederic Rzewski

Pianist composer, one of the originals of aforementioned Musica Electtronica Viva. Had a seven-hour Rzewski show from midnite to 7 am, accompanied by Kenneth Atchely. Groundbreaking pieces, political (Attica Prison), concentration camps in Europe in WWII. Just heard Frederic do in its entirety, Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, turning the pages himself. [19 January 1989, dur. 38:39]


Sagan is Wobbly, Blevin Blectum, J Lesser and Ryan Junell (here without Junell)

Way cool, again, a not take themselves too seriously, but plenty of hard work and focus group of composer-performers in real-time. Blevin (Bevan Kelly) and Kevin (Kristin Grace Erickson) are the two Blectum from Blectum goddesses. [3 February 2005, dur. 19:01]

Kattt Sammon and Kenneth Atchley [Part 1 | Part 2]

They did some live pieces on the show. Not much talking because they played so much. Previously Kattt had done a lot of theatrical singing and performance art. She lately has been doing more electronics, and will be featured on Crack o Dawn in May 2010. [1 April 2004, dur. 7:18 / 1:52]

Crack o’ Dawn programme listings and listener “fanmail” in <em>Folio</em>, KPFA’s programme guide.
Crack o’ Dawn programme listings and listener “fanmail” in Folio, KPFA’s programme guide. [Click image to enlarge]

Laetitia Sonami

One of the first people that I met in California in 1979, in Terry Riley’s composition classes, much of which would be Terry teaching us to sing ragas. Right from the start, her music was intensely personal, intellectual, blending electronics with her exquisite speaking and singing voice. She is important in the EA community, because she’s interested in the process of creating and poses thoughtful questions that are provocative and supportive. [April 1996, dur. 8:58]

Carl Stone

Divides his time between L.A. and Tokyo. Was interested in hip hop from the get go, since 1989 uses primarily laptop and Max and does real-time performance and composition. Very engaging pieces, many are rhythmic, but a few, including one I just heard last week (March 2010), long beautiful tones utilizing sounds from a Tibetan woman monk (he was on my show the night before). A major foodie, all his albums and titles are names of restaurants. Are there “Au Pied du Cochon” or a “Meal Ticket” in the near future?? He owes me one fried oyster. [1 August 1996, dur. 40:48]

Susan Stone

Brilliant composer, radio personality. Has worked extensively with Susan Lacey in the late 80s, early 90s, won numerous awards for her sound pieces. [14 January 1987, dur. 46:50]

Mark Trayle

Mark was a fellow Mills Center for Contemporary Music pal o’ mine when we were students from 79–82 getting our MFA’s. He’s from Oregon, and his music is very elegant, dry, and cool, as is Mark. This is one of the few interviews that we taped ahead of time, and then I played his music on the show. Currently teaches at Cal Arts and performs everywhere. I’m jealous. [1999, dur. 7:45]

La Monte Young

This conversation is part of a seven-hour show I did playing hours of his major opi, and then a lengthy phone conversation, with him calling from Manhattan. He was very chatty and informative, explaining his tunings, compositional elements, his history in a very clear, erudite, yet uncomplicated manner. Again Kenneth Atchley was my companion through the long night and dawn. As usual, a great time… [7 November 1996, dur. 45:29]


Thanks go to: Kevin Austin for making me go to SMCQ (Societé de Musique Contemporaine du Quebec) concerts in the 70s; Charles Amirkhanian, then Music Director of KPFA, for giving me the slot to do Crack o’ Dawn; Kenneth Atchley, for being on air with me on many a show, specifically the seven-hour Rzewski, Ashley, Young, Ono shows, and for accompanying me to Terry Riley’s ranch and Lou Harrison’s place many times; Mark Trayle for doing board operating for a few years; Jim Bennett of KPFA for teaching me how to operate the Board when Trayle got bored with the job; Don Joyce of Over the Edge, for being there at 3 am, and leaving the station, always with some parting wisdom; and finally, thanks to my third and final ex, Bill Thibault, for all the “mercy tech” (especially Audacity)… and uploads to Yves and Jef.

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