Alternating Currents features new and experimental music from the 20th century into the present: from electronic to acoustic, from composed to improvised, from high tech to ad hoc, from analog to digital, from local to global. Alternating Currents is our weekly search for the needle of creative music in the haystack of 21st century radio.
Get to Know Your WMSE DJ Profile:
How do you spend your days and nights when not hosting your radio show?
I devote as much time as possible to various projects like designing and building musical instruments and figuring out how to play them. I build cameras, mostly pinhole, and still do a lot of printing in my darkroom (not so interested in digital photography). Obviously I listen to a lot of music but at home I prefer listening with headphones and no distractions except for sips of some strong coffee. My favorite films are film noir from the 40s and 50s like Detour and Kiss Me Deadly. My favorite writers right now are William Maxwell and Willa Cather. They’re older writers but when they write about the Midwest I know those voices and I’ve been in those rooms.
Do you remember what band, album or song took you from being a casual music listener to a passionate music lover?
I got interested in jazz when I was in high school, but there were few opportunities to dig into the history. Radio was all mainstream though Jimmy Smith’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was a hit at the time and also my first ‘favorite’ record. None of the people I read about and was curious to hear like Monk or Charlie Parker got airplay. It was all Ramsey Lewis Trio all the time. Then (summer 1965) Downbeat Magazine booked a festival at Soldier’s Field in Chicago. My buddy Rick and I went three nights in a row and had front row introductions to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and Monk’s Quartet. But nothing prepared us for Saturday night when John Coltrane’s quartet with special guest Archie Shepp walked on stage. Coltrane and Shepp went from a very (very!) short intro of the head into stratospheric harmonics for the duration of every long solo. Rick and I couldn’t believe the intensity and fell passionately in love with that music. Our passions were amplified by the surrounding Woody Herman fans (the headliner that night who was to follow Coltrane) who responded to Coltrane and Shepp with extremely hostile shouts and catcalls. It was the 60s in a nutshell. This was what music was all about and the fact that all these squares around us reacted that way it made it even more significant.
That night, I witnessed these musician’s total commitment to their art, total all-consuming physical, emotional, and intellectual commitment. Not all music has to be that loud, high energy, or extreme in any physical way to demonstrate that commitment. (A few years later I saw a very frail Coleman Hawkins take the stage with the same authority.) However, I have measured every music experience I’ve ever had since against the standards set for me that evening.
Is there a memory associated with that experience?
What band have you heard or discovered in the past six months that reminded you why you want to continue being a WMSE DJ?
The first thing that comes to mind is Henry Threadgill’s new Tomorrow Sunny / the Revelry, Spp. I’ve followed his work since first seeing him with Muhal Richard Abrams Sextet in the late 1960s (a band that sadly never recorded). He’s led his own astounding groups (Air, the Sextet, Very Very Circus, etc.) for many decades and Zooid has been his most recent long-term ensemble. This new disc brings all the painstaking work of Zooid’s previous records into crystal clear focus: Threadgills’ sense of high drama, exquisite pacing and interplay, sudden shifts of mood and color. It all makes complete sense in the light of his other bands but here it is again in wholly new light. And it is gorgeously recorded. Put on headphones and you’ll hear their fingerprints. It breaths with such intimacy and life.
Who is your favorite non-you WMSE DJ and why?
I live just on the northern edge of WMSE’s signal so my listening is limited to car and, oddly enough, basement, where the reception is loud and clear. If I’m home on Tuesday morning I plan some woodworking and catch Dr. Sushi. Sunday morning is my favorite time in the darkroom and I never miss Dewey’s show. I am forever grateful to all the DJs who spin some Curtis Mayfield as I drive home from work at 3 p.m.
What do you want to be when you grow up?