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Nov 3, 2012

Arthur Russell was a genius. He was a cellist, composer, singer, and songwriter. After he died of AIDS in 1992, there were tapes found in his home with over 100 different mixes of the same song. Nothing he did was ever quite finished - he was eternally tinkering with a mix, re-recording, trying to make sure it was all perfect. As a result, much of his music was released haphazardly, on singles and compilations under a variety of pseudonyms, and much of it only released posthumously. He was so dedicated to his craft that it was said that when he died it was as if he had simply disappeared into his music.

Russell was part of the New York "downtown" scene of the late 70s and 80s. He succeeded Rhys Chatham as program director of The Kitchen, and his forward-thinking booking style combined avant-garde and pop music with total freedom.

His first album was a recording of the orchestral suite Instrumentals. This album is a great example of poppy, intellectual post-minimalism.

Later Russell formed the group Loose Joints with other downtown musicians; their biggest single was "Is It All Over My Face?" The subversive, campy sexuality and groove exemplify the qualities that Russell, who often went to clubs to listen to music rather than dance or socialize, saw in disco.

Wikipedia posted:

With a stated ambition to create "the disco White Album", the group—under contract to leading underground disco label West End Records—recorded hours of music but only released three songs, "Is It All Over My Face", "Pop Your Funk" (in two disparate arrangements, including a no wave-influenced single edit), and "Tell You Today". D'Aquisto, a non-musician who favored such extemporaneous touches as off-key singing and the input of street buskers, repeatedly clashed with the perfectionist Russell throughout the sessions.

Next was Russell's "24-24 Music," another album of pop-influenced minimalism. The title comes from the fact that the suite changes rhythm every 24 bars.

Russell went on to release singles like mad throughout the 80s, including some work on hip-hop and electropop tracks.

Hilariously, Russell actually produced the debut single of a young man who we all now know and love as Vin Diesel:

In 1986, Russell released "World of Echo." It's an extremely stripped-down series of songs for cello and voice. Russell uses a ton of distortion, the eponymous echo, and other effects here to create a hazy, strange, and forlorn atmosphere in many of the songs.

In the past several years, a large group of compilation albums have been released, opening Russell's more obscure music to a much wider audience. One of my favorites is Love Is Overtaking Me from 2008, an unbelievably beautiful collection of love songs - some simple cowboy songs for acoustic guitar, some big catchy disco numbers, some 70s rock/soul epics, and everything in between.

If you're interested in Russell's life, I highly recommend the documentary WILD COMBINATION: A Portrait of Arthur Russell. To me it makes Arthur seem like someone fairly wrapped up in himself, almost callous in some of his relationships, but who nonetheless felt very deeply and was only able to express it through his music. The interviews with his longtime boyfriend are very touching.

acephalousuniverse fucked around with this message at 23:57 on May 23, 2014


Transistor Rhythm
Feb 16, 2011

If setting the Sustain Level in the ENV to around 7, you can obtain a howling sound.

Russell is one of my absolutely favorite musicians of all time. Thanks for making this thread.

Jul 23, 2004

Thread is long overdue. Excellent OP as well. 5/5

I just bought Love is Overtaking Me yesterday. Looking forward to having a listen tonight.

marilyn strife
May 25, 2013

sold. haven't paid him much attention because once in awhile his stuff rubs me the wrong way but this thread will see me junting through the last week of my Two Weeks Notice Fortnight.

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