CA: The Birth, Life, and Death of a Postmodern Social/Aesthetic Experiment in Tallahassee, Florida (ca.1983-1988)
CA: The birth, life and death of a postmodern social/aesthetic experiment in Tallahassee, Florida (ca. 1983-1988)
The most hated band in the land of all of hippy inclusions (Chapter 2)
I don’t know why we were so hated; we were just sitting in our apartment and suddenly the villagers approached with torches and pitchforks. Somehow we had made ourselves the most hated band in the region.
In all actuality, here is where the tale of The CA Band truly begins: the local hippy community, The Tallahassee Land Co-Op, sponsored the first officially documented public CA performance. This was some kind of fundraiser around 1983 where the local punk rock kids of hippy parents who lived at the Co-Op were producing a benefit to save the hippy orange grove from land developers or whatever the fuck the event was. CA simply showed up, we wrote our name on the roster and inserted ourselves between other acts. We had a set, props, and a bunch of other shit. At this time CA was Claudia Bucher, Bill Quinn and myself. The hippy chick organizing this event was incensed that we injected, interleaved ourselves onto the bill. Infuriated also were some of the other acts but we simply didn’t care. Somehow we had already established ourselves as a performance art noise band and were not well liked in the music community. Very early on in our history, we decided that we would do whatever we wanted to, regardless. Love us or hate us we did it all for you. One of the bands performing at the event (Sector 4, whose drummer became CA’s bass player) had invited us; we were going on stage nevertheless. CA landed somewhere between Communism, Nihilism, Anarchy and an amalgamation of other focused slop: No one was going to stop us from performing. We lived on post-modern conceptual-ism and a serious punk rock aesthetic. While our music may have appeared to been improvisational chaos, it was heavily planed and rehearsed. For this recital, we built a set that looked like a large alien bubble: An asymmetrical geodesic dome encased Bill Quinn in plastic wrap, sitting inside and blasting on his bass. Claudia Bucher with props in her hands, stood in front of this structure in a Dadaist costume screaming into the mica like Diamanda Galas with the flu. I was wailing on my fiddle standing off to the side of the stage, dressed in some kind of costume. Most of the young punks loved us, many others in attendance didn’t “get” us, the hippies hated us and we simply didn’t care what anyone’s opinion was. This was a CA Performance. We felt like we were suddenly moving forward but had no idea what to expect next.
What was it like to be? It was like living in a tiny room below your gallery/theatre/punk rock social club. This minute chamber had a double wooden barn door that swung outwards on both sides, not fully connecting to the floor or ceiling… So much for environmental isolation. This became our (Claudia and my) bedroom; it had a red-clay dirt floor. The gist of total anarchy in our personal lives was remarkable: Home became a literal “hole in the wall” where we could live and produce counter-culture events. This, our bedroom was also CA’s workshop where we kept out tools, workbenches and did fabrications. Our partners (Bill Quinn and Charlton Williams) lived in the ceiling crawl space of the main building, above what became the gallery/performance space. Soon after acquiring this location, our friend Steve Devine joined CA’s core group as science adviser shortly thereafter moving into the colossal ceiling crawl space to room with Bill and Chuck. Over time, other artists became involved in limited capacities. The ceiling living area had had two industrial fans on either side of the edifice; these devices provided some idea of cooling to the building below by moving air through the structure. The issue here was to be in the crawl space when the fans were operating was like living in a very noisy tornado; air-conditioning be dammed. This was the CA Chapel, an industrial building that before we arrived had been an abandoned black revivalist church titled “Calvary Chapel”. As we were moving our collective gear from our original venue into this, Paul Suhor from the punk band Sector 4 suddenly appeared on the roof of the Chapel. He was painting out the letters “lvary” so the sign on the side of the building now read, “CA Chapel”. We, CA were very much into the Cult of the Personality so this was perfect. But, lets first back up…
What was it like to be…? It was like living in an open warehouse loft, 15’ above the polished concrete floor of your gallery/theater/punk rock social club complete with a skate ramp. Our first building, the CA Warehouse had no actual heat or air conditioning. This was a huge open and gutted structure devoid of comfort with no electricity. Our friend “Wild Bill” created electricity for the building and well, lets first back up again and return to The Most Hated Band in the Land of all of Hippy Inclusionism.
Very Early recordings
I had access to the electronic music studio at Florida State University (FSU). Claudia, Bill and I would arrive in the middle of the night to create sound scrapes recorded on a four track TEAC ¼” reel to reel tape recorder which was in all honestly I have to admit, truly horrible music but we didn’t believe this at the time. We created a number of recordings that have vanished over the years; some of these sessions do survive on cassette tape. The studio had a monophonic Moog 900 series studio synthesizer, an (original) Echo Plex tape delay that produced more tape hiss than sound repetition, a top of the line (in 1983) Yamaha electronic keyboard and other recording equipment. We brought in guitars and junk to bang on. I became very good at tape looping. Claudia always had some surrealist text that she recited as we played off of it; this was all about experimenting and deconstructing the idea of what constitutes a “song”. During these sessions and having done a number of public performances, CA discussed forming a more traditional band and it was decided that we needed a drummer. Claudia was the voice, samples, noise, Bill was on bass and making noise, I was doing the loops, playing fiddle and guitar, but we needed a drummer. This couldn’t be simply any drummer and Bill had a friend: Charlton Williams. I called him “Chuck”.
Charlton wasn’t a drummer in the Jean Krupa sense. He had a better sense of rhythm than any one of us even though at same time he seemed to have none. He knew any time signature; any subdivision of a beat but seemed to refuse to keep a steady one. While we were rehearsing, writing a song I remember arguing with him: His point was, “Why does this need to be in a 4/4 time signature?” My response was always, “How do we know where are in the track?” Perhaps, CA didn’t need a timekeeper; conceivably, he was right. A huge man, tall and obese with a commanding presence even though he was so gentle and kind, he wouldn’t kill a butterfly. We needed a drummer and no one had a kit.
The Water Cistern
Following the Land Co-Op gig that we invaded, Claudia Bucher, Charlton Williams, Bill Quinn and I met to discuss becoming a more serious band/collective while sitting mid day on top of what appeared to be a bazaar architectural abomination. Claudia and I met Chuck for the first time meeting at a buried, partially exposed forgotten city structure with Bill. After a long conversation, Chuck was “in”. We were convening on the upper structure of an underground water cistern burred in the middle of what appeared to be an empty grassy lot, surrounded by governmental buildings in the heart of Florida State’s Capitol. I’m not sure who of us knew about this location but it was suggested that we meet/interview Chuck and rehearse in this structure. Suddenly, the most hated band in the region was a quartet and we had a rehearsal space: “So… You say that the hatch is not locked, we can climb in that thing and get down there?”
The four of us had no shame; we met at the structure in the middle of the afternoon on a workday. Opening the hatch, a ladder descended into a dark abyss. One could not see into the structure more than a few feet seeming as if we were descending into a black hole; light from the afternoon sky was simply absorbed by an abandonment of illumination into nothingness.
I was the first to descend to the bottom of the structure and shouted to the others, “HEY GUYS, THIS THING (the ladder) IS ONLY CONNECTED AT TWO (not four) POINTS!” As you climbed into the blackness, the rusty ladder swung, torqued back and forth, left and right with each step descending into the abyss. The ladder had also lost a few runs due to rust and decay so when you missed a step and almost lost grip, this made the downward climb even more interesting. While climbing down the ladder, one couldn’t actually see the “floor” until one was standing on the lowest part of the structure; eyes being so dilated that they filled your face. The bottom of the edifice was arched upward in a convex direction so that the center curved upwards, remaining dry. The lower part of the structure around the edges captured a troth of rusty water, about a foot deep. The interior walls were covered in oxidation, corroded, it was beautiful, this became our monastery. We couldn’t see the exterior of the structure because well… The cistern was 300’ underground.
By our second rehearsal, we had brought some rope that I borrowed from work to lower in whatever instrumentation we were hammering on, we hadn’t considered electrical power for lighting or guitar amplification for our first meeting; this one was simply a jam session, an exploratory expedition plus, we hadn’t yet realize how easily we could steal needed power and utilities from the State Government. Beginning now, CA turned out to be a bunch of little thieving bitches with no conscious; what we needed to take in order to make something happen, we simply took it from whatever source was convenient. We never stole from an individual but the State, corporations, businesses, these were free gain and the liberation of our needed materials was executed with no sense of guilt. Entitled? We sure were.
One thing that people never knew about us is how fearless we were. We fully understood the consequences of getting caught but the stress of this drove us. If we wanted something, needed something that we didn’t have in order to make an event happen, we found a way to obtain what we required. This was like what it was to be: A post-modern artist; this was post-punk industrialization. What was it like to be CA? There was a legitimization, wanting to be respectable citizens, a legal non-profit collective that applied for state grants, city licensing and at the same time saying, “Fuck you…” to governmental authority and sociological etiquette because our means did justify the end. Lets again return to the most hated band…
The cistern structure was hidden by an empty grass covered lot surrounded by unsecured government buildings. For the remainder of our time there and after borrowing some high-density extension chords form my work place, we simply walked into a government building, plugged our “stingers” into an outlet and ran these cables a few hundred feet across the grassy noel. Suddenly we had electricity for the cistern. We had an odd, inflated, baroque, perhaps naive sense that we would never get caught in these nefarious actions because we were doing something aesthetic, for a greater cause, for art. I know as messy as this sounds, “for art”, we believed in this ideal and simply put, we were lucky. I don’t truly feel this was a sense of entitlement, we clearly understood the consequences but it was more an idea of knowing what we needed to risk in order to make something happen, we were willing to take that chance. In reality everything we did, we did it for us.
Our first rehearsal at the cistern after hazarding the ladder and arriving at the nethermost of this thing, we were in shock; once eyes adjusted to the darkness, it was like being inside of a forbidden hermitage. We explored the furthest recesses of the cistern, slowly walking in concentric circles. Someone started chanting, we all began making verbal noise. In this moment, Joan La Barbra would have had an organism. Someone instigated banging on something percussive. We had one of those shitty 8 bit portable cassette recorders and this became our first official “band” recording: Just press play and see what happens. Now, lets rehearse that same thing over and over again. With no sense of the passing of day into night while caught up in the process, we were in the structure for at least 8 hours. Suddenly we were a quartet, the most hated band in Tallahassee, Fl. not because we were a bunch of thieving jerks but were unknowingly in the wrong geographic location at the wrong point of time.
Before CA (with later cistern rehearsals and performances) pirated power from the State Capitol, we were working in the dark with the only illumination coming form the porthole at the opening of the structure and a few candles paced throughout the apex at the bottom. This truly was our underground monastery. Little did we think that some jackass could have simply closed the hatch and locked us in, forever. We would have been eternally gone, forgotten, the most hated band in the region never to make a noise again. Four unidentified mummies discovered when the cistern was years later dug up and replaced with another useless government building. These were the unknown risks we took.
By the next second cistern rehearsal, we realized that there was always an open window in the state administrative structures adjacent to our meadow covered rehearsal studio. We simply hoisted ourselves through an administration window, located electrical outlets in an empty office or hallway and with a few hundred feet of extension cords, now had power for lighting and amplification. Being careful to avoid the water in the lower crevasse where a troth of ageless moisture remained, we lowered in a small guitar amplifier and hung a few lights. We somewhat secured the ladder and started having afternoon concerts with an invited audience. We now seriously established ourselves in the art/music community. The only complaints at this time were not that, “We were the most hated band in Tallahassee” but, “That we had no chairs for our concert attenders.” I remember Paul Rutkovsky (a friend of CA and art professor at FSU) commenting to me after one of our afternoon cistern performances that we should, “Better secure the ladder…”
One of the precepts of conceptual-ism is to put your audience in the conscious mind-set of the event. This event or to simplify it, “art” does not have to have bodily substance or physicality but there has to be a psychological effect on the attendees; those in witness to a said event. A lasting idea, readdressed by those in witness long after they have exited the event. Having spectators transverse the process of descending a rather dangerous ladder and joining CA in the experience of performance, it worked.
After abandoning the site for some time we went back with the idea of creating another public concert at the cistern. Arriving at the structure, we found the hatch now bolted shut as were the windows in the surrounding government buildings, no longer allowing entree to our first rehearsal studio or access to appropriated lights and power. A few years later some Land Co-Op hippy approached me in an aggressively confrontational manor. I was greeting the band 7 Seconds as they arrived the CA Chapel for their show that same evening. The hippy rushed me screaming, “CA has screwed up access to the water cistern for everyone!”, and wanted to know why we, in his mind, we had purposely had done this: “screwed it up for everyone…” Well too fucking bad, that was our performance workshop, not anyone else’s. However, there were many other post modernists who explored the cistern well after we left our monastery, before the hatch to CA’s stupa was forever locked. One can’t really blame us for the reservoir being anchored shut; this was most likely a very good decision on the city’s part. CA had already long known the end of the bliss of having access to this transformational and very dangerous underground crypt. I do have to say that it was a bit disappointing when we went back to the structure the last time in all good intention and left with a “No Access” stamp across our foreheads.
The CA Band…Yes, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: We never used “The” or “Band”, but for some idiotic reason our punk/post punk community did. To us, we were CA which according to Claudia was the name of the snake in the Jungle Book, or some Eastern term for “Life” or according to others half of the word “Shit” but never an abbreviation of the name California. CA began as music collective with the idea of pushing “Pop Music” to an absurdist level and presented this within a theatrical context.
We had all of the traditional rock and roll elements: A singer, bass, guitar and drums. Being informed by John Cage, New York No Wave, Harry Parch, non-western and industrial music, post-modernism and base deconstruction, our percussion battery did have a snare drum, roto toms but also: a banjo became a side drum, two racks of tuned vehicle break drums and other found objects (usually metallic) were also percussive elements. These and a detuned/prepared bass were the rhythm section. A good deal of our music-incorporated samples, tape loops and prepared electronics. The guitar was discordant and the singer was…how do you describe noise so beautiful that it is impossible to understand? Some of our music that people would sit through were de-constructions of current pop songs: CA’s redefining of Madonna hits such as Like a Virgin became “hits” for us. People would actually request these soundscapes, from the most hated band in the land of…
Chariton Williams (drums/percussion) and Bill Quinn (bass, percussion, film and visual effects) were truly two of the worst musicians I have ever worked with. Claudia was our front person so whatever she did was pretty goddamn interesting. For a time Paul Suhor, a physically tiny guy with a remarkably gigantic intelligence who could play any instrument with a determined passion became CA’s bassist, shifting Bill to percussion. Then there was me, a classically trained music conservatory dropout who was at this time was studying theater/film production and playing fiddle in punk bands just prior to the birth of CA.
What it was like to be… Bill was the greatest bass player I ever worked with. He had absolutely no concept of meter, rhythm or tonality. His is bass was never tuned to any logical eastern or western intonation. Regardless of how much we rehearsed, I was never really sure what in key we were playing in (according to Bill’s bass tuning) and this worked for us. He put paper clips on his strings, intertwined drumsticks between strings and either thumped in a “funky way” or only played harmonics. At times he would break a string and not replace it. Regardless of how much we rehearsed, I never really knew what to expect from his performance, it was never exactly the same twice. He was a brilliant bass player.
I will never forget a night where Claudia and I were dozing off to sleep, listening to Bill improvising. This was pre-CA; he and I were roommates at the time, our bedrooms sharing an adjacent wall. It was then that I knew listening to his non-tied, funky noise based discordance that I needed somehow to play with this guy. The three of us became CA, which lead to our first documented performance at the Tallahassee Land Co-op. “The CA Band” began as a three piece and shortly Chuck became our percussionist. As mentioned when Paul became our bassist, Bill shifted to join Chuck on “found” percussion. Claudia was the voice and I provided the substance. In performance we went for a full multi-media onslaught: Bill edited together and projected found 16mm educational films from the 1950’s that were projected onto us, there was always some type of “set” or environment on stage. Paul and Claudia were in the front, the remaining three of us in the background. I always seemed to have equipment milt-downs during performances and in raging frustration smashed my equipment “Keith Moon style” on stage as the others continued performing. The destruction of my equipment became part of our show as Bill and Chuck would step over to help me destroy my gear. At the first CA Festival, Paul walked upstage and began whacking my amp with his bass as the beat went on. The five of us drove this car like a drunken guy racing to pick up a prostitute. This was a CA performance, the most hated band in the land of all of hippy inclusion-ism.
The Swans first record had just hit the streets of Tallahassee and based on a review, I bought it. Their song, “Raping A Slave” became an anthem to us. We, CA, were listening to a lot of at the time was considered post modern experimentation: Stockhausen, Cage, Bird, Crumb, The Pop Group, The Birthday Party, The Raincoats, Galas, Partch as well as a lot of non western music. For us, “anything went” because anything that could make a sound became a musical instrument and any sound was a beautiful angelic song. Suddenly, we were the most hated band in the region but people who did not even like us personally showed for our events. They brought torches and pitchforks but like any beautiful fiend, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolman and so on, we could aesthetically kick anyone’s ass. I loved it when we would finish some noisy assault and the audience would just glare at us, not responding. When this happened, we looked at each other and smiled. We had succeeded at, something. The more people hated us, “The CA Band”, the more we had accomplished because as mentioned, we simply didn’t care what the audience thought. We always did this first for us and if someone “got it” (there were many who did), well… aren’t you lucky.
CA Laboratories International
Vice president, Music Director, Event Programmer
CA: The birth, life and death of a postmodern social/aesthetic experiment in Tallahassee, Florida (ca. 1983-1988)
Birth: CA Labs International/CA Productions (Chapter 3)