Alexander Keefe: dream music of Malaya

Alexander Keefe

Dream music of Malaya: la Monte young and the 60s downtown scene, reoriented.

This is a listening session and talk in three parts, tracing the complex transmission and adaptation of music and influences from what used to be called the “third world” by a circle of musicians, artists, gadflies, freaks, and friends on new york downtown scene in the early to mid-1960s. la Monte young and his peers, including Terry Riley, Tony Conrad, jack smith, Angus Maclise, Marian Zazeela, and John Cale, together retuned American music, injecting it with viral, dissident strains of drone and improvisation, staging their performances as cosmic ritual theater, “going native” in search of liberation, or perhaps just after that most American of goals: freedom. That their music was deeply American and utterly modern goes without saying, despite the trappings of antiquity and essence with which they so often presented it.

Keefe will be focusing on specific examples of the music and theater la Monte young and his circle were making in New York in the mid-60s, with sounds from the theatre of eternal music, Terry Riley, Tony Conrad, Angus Maclise, and others. Neo-orientalism on the downtown scene ran the gamut from campy kitsch to fake gamelan music to yogic seance. Adopting a loosely ethnomusicological rather than a musicological approach to this scene allows him to draw connections between figures like la Monte young and jack smith in unexpected, illuminating ways. Is it possible to describe this most outré, lysergic fringe of the downtown scene as a kind of unintended side effect of the cold war? La Monte Young as a post-shaman for the post-war?

Alexander Keefe is a writer living in Los Angeles, California. His work has appeared in Bidoun, east of Borneo, and Artforum, among others. Keefe did graduate work in Sanskrit and Indian studies at Harvard University and later taught as an assistant professor at Ohio University. A 2010 grantee of the Warhol foundation arts writers grant program, he has also received a Fulbright for research in India and currently holds the inaugural Alan Erasmus fellowship in the unpopular culture at NYU’s colloquium for unpopular culture.