Robert Poss Solo
Robert Poss fell in love with electric guitars and basses in 1964 at an age when he still believed one plugged them directly into a wall socket. He memorized the Fender Guitars Catalog and passed through a succession of rock and blues bands before discovering punk in the late ‘70s and staring to write, record and release his own material. He joined Rhys Chatham's ensemble in the early ‘80s and remained a core member for several years. He also began performing and recording the music of eclectic electronicist Nicolas Collins, whom he had known since the mid-1970s. Eventually Poss realized that the sound of feedback, distortion and ringing overtones was "the cake, not the frosting" and began trying new ways of writing songs by layering simple chord patterns over drones and looped riffs. It was his initiative that gave rise to Band Of Susans in 1986, and his early experiments became the foundation of their sound. Band Of Susans went on to release two EPs and five LPs (all produced by Poss) before disbanding in 1995. Interviewed in The Wire, Steve Albini stated that “I think Robert Poss...is an enormously underrated guitar theorist. A lot of his approaches to the density of guitar are completely overlooked in any discussion about guitar.….The way he structures the song around the drone instead of finding a drone to fit into the song I think is wholly unique." In 1986, he formed the wall-of-guitars group Band Of Susans, which Rolling Stone Magazine described as "adamantly arty, brainy, visceral and bracing." In 2002 Poss, released two companion solo CDs Distortion Is Truth and Crossing Casco Bay on Trace Elements Records. At the time, Tape Op Magazine described him as a “guitar genius, drone meister …the master of treated and manipulated guitars.” Since his 2002 releases, Poss has composed and performed music for choreographers Sally Gross, Alexandra Beller and Gerald Casel, has worked with ex-Band Of Susans member Susan Stenger on a 96-day musical installation for the Musée d’art Contemporain in Lyon, France, performed at the premier of composer Phill Niblock’s piece "Stosspeng" in Krems, Austria and contributed music to an Albert Maysles/Kristen Nutile documentary, Sally Gross: The Pleasure Of Stillness. In 2009 he performed with Rhys Chatham and Robert Longo at a Metropolitan Museum of Art retrospective and participated in Chatham’s Crimson Grail project for 200 guitars at Lincoln Center. He has collaborated with Austrian visual artist Margret Wibmer and filmmaker Cat Tyc, and has written guitar-centric articles for The Leonardo Music Journal and The Tone Quest Report. He has also performed and recorded with David Dramm, Ben Neill and Bruce Gilbert (Wire) and produced records for The Meat Joy, Combine, and Seth Josel. He resides in New York City and continues to perform his guitar and electronics pieces in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe.
Robert Poss: Distortion is Truth (2002)
In the beginning there was Burl Ives, Camelot, The Bangalorey Man, Pete Seeger, and the overture from West Side Story. My electric guitar obsession started in 1964 -- with the look of Rickenbacker, Hofner, Gibson, Gretsch, Vox and Fender. I started playing bass in 1968. I think I had started to play “lead” guitar by the time I, a rabid fan, met Mike Bloomfield backstage one night in Buffalo, New York. He gave me some good advice about keeping it simple. It was the rich, complex simplicity of the blues that had the strongest pull. And along the way came the musical/spiritual guidance/inspiration of Ledbetter, McDaniel, Morganfield, Butterfield, the almost Biblical importance of Albert King’s guitar playing, the stately grandeur of Mick Taylor ‘s legato lead melodies and the anarchic yet perfectly poised fretwork of Johnny Thunders on a good night. I loved the Stones’ Satanic/Banquet of mellotron pedal points and shehnais droning like tape loop tamburas -- as if Charlie Watts had been a tabla player, and Nicky Hopkins had been listening to Steve Reich -- while Keith and Brian repeated their rhythm and slide guitar mantras. I loved the way recorded music could have the aural equivalent of geologic layers of sediment, crystal, stone and fossil; I loved the sonic density of mysterious, half heard overdubs and subliminal musical suggestion....
Later there was the Clash in that first fleeting moment of glory -- or was it allegory -- and Pink Flag-waving Mission of Burma and Gang of Four and the connections I came to feel, often with the help of Susan Stenger, existed between Fred Rzewski and Fugazi, Tom Verlaine, Sam Lay, Joseph Conrad, LaMonte Young, Chuck Berry and David Tudor, David Bowie, Julius Eastman, Blind Boy Fuller, Garth Hudson, Javanese gamelan, Patti Smith, Poly Styrene, Bollywood pop, the Standells, the Kinks, Ma Rainey, Joan Jett and the lives of Ava Gardner and Malcolm Lowry, not to mention the magical syntax of Zimmerman/Osterberg or the fractured poetics and overloaded mic pre’s of Mark E. Smith or Willie Dixon.
Alvin Lucier stuttering the standing waves in a tape loop room changed my life in 1974; I never heard “silence” the same way again. Nicolas Collins added his pea soup fog of phase-shifted feedback, tutored me in the history and mysteries of musical electronics, and played me recordings of “In C,” “It’s Gonna Rain,” and “Violin Phase.” Phill Niblock’s dense sonics filled the room with a palpable ocean of radiant energy -- a soundtrack for flowing blood and beating hearts; turn one’s head a few degrees and the universe shifts. Years later, after my blues/punk sojourn in Tot Rocket (three 7-inch records) and Western Eyes (one LP), Rhys Chatham graciously showed me the way back to the essential, to grabbing the guitar by its roots in order to worship at the alter of its overtones. We toured Germany by bus.
What later became Band Of Susans started in 1985 as my own solo experiment -- three layered looping delays, a drum machine and a new take on riffing, distortion, controlled feedback and the architecture of rock guitar. I enlisted some close friends and we formed a band. In 1987, music journalists and colleagues would scratch their heads or roll their eyes when Susan and I mentioned John Cage or Rhys Chatham or Phill Niblock or Christian Wolff. We offered touch stones; they wanted Blarney. I think John Peel probably understood it all.
In 1989, Leo Fender took Band Of Susans out to lunch; he had our Love Agenda poster on his office wall. For me that moment was twenty years in the making, a private audience with the Pope after years of devotion in the wilderness.
Band Of Susans broke up in 1995. We never quite got the hair and makeup part right -- we could not take a good band photo to save our lives -- nor did we strike the requisite underground hipster poses socially or intellectually, but we put more electric guitar on record than any band before or since. We followed our own musical instincts and they served us well....
Until recently I had nearly forgotten what it felt like to manipulate, trigger, sample and hold cascading oscillators, gates and resonant filters like I had first done in the mid- 1970’s (musical experimentation and patchcord macrame on a keyboardless Arp 2600, along with four-channel skipping record repeat pieces and putting contact microphones on pocket watches, electric motors and water fountains). Now, spending time once again in the thicket of patchcords and the blinking lights of temperamental analog modules is like a reunion with a long-lost lover...or pet.
So, now is now. This CD represents facets of my recent musical interests, some of which catch the light more than others, and is also a kind of retrospective of my post- B.O.S. experimentation and performance. Ultimately, it’s just another dream in which I stand before you at the end of the term -- with a long history, a wealth of experience, but somehow still naked and unprepared.
- Robert Poss