American Contraband: Alternative Rock and American Experimental Music

American Contraband: Alternative Rock and American Experimental Music

RealAudio Sound Sample

Guitarist and composer Nick Didkovsky describes his band, Doctor Nerve, as “an avant-rock ensemble,” a position that encompasses aspects of being a rock band as well as those associated with a new music performance ensemble. “We sweat a lot on stage and have a loud audience, so we must be a rock band,” Didkovsky relates, “but our music gets covered by chamber ensembles, for example NewEAR, and extremist folk/art bands like Volapuk. And Nerve’s scores are analyzed and discussed in contemporary theory classes. So I guess it’s new music?”

The band’s music can be as pulverizing as thrash metal and as intricate as chamber music, mind-bogglingly complex and infused with a giddy rhythmic vitality. Didkovsky sees this split personality reflected in Doctor Nerve’s audiences, as well. “I remember playing to a crowd in Switzerland that was clearly split down the middle: the artsy folks on the right and the punks on the left. Visually quite distinct. Each half came alive during different pieces, and sometimes the action switched during a piece. It sounds a bit fairy tale-ish, but by the end of the show both halves shared a similar state of something like true satisfaction.”

Didkovsky’s background illuminates a clear progression to Doctor Nerve. “My earliest musical experiences were in hard rock and heavy metal. So when rock shows up in my music, I don’t think of it as working in an idiom; it’s more a reflection of my musical DNA.” In college Didkovsky became more interested in more experimental rock, including Frank Zappa, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno. Studying electronic music led him to the work of Subotnick, Xenakis, Oliveros and others, and it was this, rather than formal composition classes, that led to his own musical style and the founding of Doctor Nerve in 1984. “It’s more directly linked to my tape/musique concrete work than it is to studying, for example, contemporary orchestral scores for live musicians. I think the fast changes in Nerve’s music, for example, is directly linked to tape slices.”

The way in which Didkovsky straddles the worlds of rock and new music begs a final question: is he a rock musician performing primarily for his contemporary audience, or a serious composer creating works to be performed and analyzed for posterity?

“I don’t think that rock musicians don’t care about posterity. I think that impression comes from our relationship to the printed page. There is, for the most part, no need to notate rock music, at least not the rock music I played when I was young. The aural tradition of recorded rock is what will carry it through posterity. And that is more difficult for us to embrace as a lasting medium. We prefer paper, catalogs, and libraries, and we think of paper as a researchable, lasting item for posterity.”

“Similarly, it is an artifact of having to write material down that may conjure the illusion that so-called serious composers write for posterity, since we naturally think of things that are written down as being ready for future: fileable and catalogable. But writing a score is required by the relationship between the composer’s demands and the performers, and the score is generated out of the immediate need of that relationship. You cannot get an orchestra to play your piece by handing out dozens of demo tapes and expecting them to learn their parts off the tape. So here’s the composer’s score: You can touch it, photocopy it, file it away in a library. That certainly does feel like something for posterity! But I am suggesting that feeling just precipitates from our relationship to the printed page.”

From American Contraband: Alternative Rock and American Experimental Music
By Jason Gross and Steve Smith
© 2000 NewMusicBox

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