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“I never stopped making art but I also feel I never started.”

—David Stanley Aponte

“I can’t pretend to understand it … I can’t get into an artist’s brain. But I’m definitely impressed by them.”

—young man viewing the Matisse
cut-outs show at MoMA

Recently, composer/musician/curator Dan Joseph and I discussed Matisse and how with the simple action of the scissors he managed to blur the boundaries between color and image, almost literally obliterating the use of the “concretized” line. Similar to what Joseph does with his stunning minimalist compositions and playing. Joseph has been a tireless participant on the New York scene since his arrival in 2001, and is another creator who goes about his business without dabbling in business.

“... the international cassette music underground.” Illustration by Megan Piontkowski.
“... the international cassette music underground.” Illustration by Megan Piontkowski.

Joseph played piano, guitar, and ukelele as a kid and at 12 started playing the drums. By age 16 his career as a drummer in the D.C. punk scene began with the notorious (in D.C. at least) post-punk-southern-new-wave-metal band 9353. He played in numerous other bands, as a drummer, guitarist, and bass player, for the next three to four years. Throughout his teens he experimented with various kinds of recorded music using a four-track tape machine, noise, industrial, ambient, and what he calls “bedroom post-rock.” By 1988 he retired from playing in bands and immersed himself in the international cassette music underground. His tapes got around and he developed relationships with folks like Al Margolis (Sound of Pig Music), Gen Ken Montgomery, and Zoviet France. Some music of this period was recently released for the first time by the Ivory Coast-based net label Nostalgie de la Boue, while his 1987 C-60 release, Morpheus, is being released on CD for the first time by the Belgian label Forced Nostalgia. Both labels are run by long-time industrial music enthusiasts and collectors who knew his music back then.

By 1990 he left tape music behind and began a period of formal theory, composition, and piano studies with a private teacher in D.C., and in 1991 enrolled in the BFA composition program at CalArts. In 1997 he completed an MA in composition at Mills College, where he studied with Alvin Curran and Pauline Oliveros, and where he became involved with the improv and experimental music scene. He then took up the hammer dulcimer, an instrument he had used recreationally for years, as his main instrument, due in part to Oliveros’s influence.

Joseph states:

It wasn’t until the mid-1990s, while I was a student of Pauline’s at Mills College, that I began to use the instrument in contemporary music. I would later also spend several years studying Chinese and Near Eastern folk music and performing regularly with the Phoenix Spring and Flowing Stream ensembles of San Francisco. Inspired by Oliveros’s use of the accordion in an unconventional context, and by the general spirit of experimentation in the Bay Area improvised music scene, I began to explore a mix of new and traditional approaches to this uniquely resonant trapezoid. As it has become my primary instrument, I have developed a number of extended solo works, pursued numerous collaborations—including duos with saxophonist John Ingle, cellist Loren Dempster, and sound artist Andrea Williams—and composed a growing repertoire of ensemble works based around the instrument for the Dan Joseph Ensemble.

Joseph moved to Brooklyn in May 2001 with his wife Claudia and then one-year-old daughter Cassandra, after ten years in California. By 2002 he developed and performed with his chamber ensemble, the Dan Joseph Ensemble, as well as in various other projects with the hammer dulcimer and, sometimes, electric guitar and drums.

Joseph has worked with such longstanding and important non-profit music organizations as Thomas Buckner’s Interpretations/Mutable Music, Harvestworks, and Bernstein Artists. He now has his own monthly series in Brooklyn at the Old Stone House called Music Ecologies and continues to compose for a variety of ensembles and performers. To learn more about Joseph go to

Founded by Nate Wooley in 2013, Pleasure of the Text Records (POTTR) is, as Wooley states, “a move to create a space to publish new music in small batches and control the means of production and dissemination.” His first release was the double disc of Seven Storey Mountain III and IV, Wooley’s massive ecstatic song cycle (the title is from Thomas Merton’s autobiography). Both discs were recorded at various times at Issue Project Room with stellar players David Grubbs, C. Spencer Yeh, Paul Lytton, Chris Corsano, Matt Moran, Chris Dingman, Ben Vida, Ryan Sawyer, and TILT Brass Sextet. I’ve experienced both of these and can attest to their intenseness and uniqueness.

Wooley further states that “POTTR keeps the music, artwork, production, and distribution at home and, as much as possible, strives for a face-to-face interaction between artist and audience” and adds that “Pleasure of the Text is also the home of Sound American Records and publishing, a subsidiary of and the Database of Recorded American Music. Sound American makes available information about historic and experimental music that has been lost over a few or many generations.”

His latest project on the label is the stunning duo release with Chicago reed player Ken Vandermark, East by Northwest (POTTR1302). It shows the pair at their best, brandishing all manner of extended technics and a wide range of cerebral and emotional sounds, textures, and feelings. I’ve seen two live sets by the duo, one at Issue Project Room, the other at this year’s massively successful WinterJazz Fest, where more adventurous, often marginalized music like this is always in the foreground. The duo has been working together for five years, and for this project they play with and off each other’s “compositional and improvisational vocabularies … taking their cues from the under-appreciated work of John Carter and Bobby Bradford.” Vandermark and Wooley collaborate to create an organic combination of jazz tradition, free improvisation, and modern composition in this raw and intimate album that includes many original compositions, plus those of Bradford and Carter. I highly recommend these releases, which can take you on wild rides one minute and put you deep into contemplation the next, and possibly create both states at the same time. I also strongly recommend you catch Wooley live, whenever and wherever possible, as well as many of the musicians he has played with. He is a force of nature and, along with a handful of his contemporaries, keeps this music and its growth potential alive.

POTTR’s next release will be a solo Paul Lytton outing, his first. It will be electronics/percussion from one of Europe’s—and the world’s—long-time movers and shakers. Known primarily for his drumming with Evan Parker and Barry Guy, Lytton is “a groundbreaking electronic and homemade instrumentalist.” His work spans analog and digital technology and fits seamlessly with his lightning fast percussion work. This is a side of Lytton not many people get to hear and is sure to be special.

I’m still wondering as I listen to the radiator pipes spontaneously composing, was that young man I quoted talking about artists in general or specifically about ​Matisse’s cutouts?

As Gen Ken puts it “Happy New Ears” in 2015.

I dedicate this to all Charlies everywhere whatever side of the fence they may be on. May all resolutions be solved by the pen one day and not the sword.


Steve Dalachinsky

Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was a long time contributor to the Rail. His book The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse - 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His latest CDs are The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Roguart, 2014), and the book/CD Pretty in the Morning with the French art rock group the Snobs (Bisou Records, 2019). He was a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His most recent books include Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bissonte Prods, 2017) and where night and day become one—the french poems (great weather for MEDIA, 2018) which received a 2019 IBPA award in poetry.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2015

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