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OSTERTAG, BOB: Creative Life
A well written, thoughtful apologia sua vita by composer, performer, experimentalist, instrument builder, activist, journalist, professor of techno-cultural studies and essentially decent human being, Bob Ostertag, which connects his approach to composition and performance with his life as someone who gives a damn. It's an examined life that moves between hands-on political engagement - with the guerrilla struggles in Nicaragua and El Salvador, with various movements of internal dissent in the USA and with political journalism - and musical experimentation, modalities of performance and meditations on the nature and implications of new technologies for the relations between people, and between people and things. This last bears directly on Ostertag's musical work, since virtually all his instruments - from sets of modified tape recorders and cassette players, through early synthesisers, samplers and finally computers - are used in such a way as to confront head on their nature as essentially dead delivery systems. Bob devises strategies and applications to control - and humanise - their output, and the larger part of this book describes and explains the very different musical projects Ostertag has undertaken to date - touring with Anthony Braxton; quickly becoming embroiled in the then nascent 'New York Scene' and working with John Zorn, Fred Frith and others (he has been a regular participant in ensembles with Fred ever since); hard travelling attempting to perform his Jugusloavia Suite in Serbia in the immediate aftermath of the NATO bombings; tours with Pierre Hebert, garbage and live animation; orchestrating an AIDS demonstration for string quartet; designing a (now forever lost) glass ensemble for Spiral; launching Pantychrist,) a trio with Otomo Yoshihide and drag extremist Justin Bond on an unprepared world, and a succession of collaborations with writers, poets, sculptors and painters (the chapter on Jim Magee and Annabel Livermore is extraordinary, and all too human). In the final chapters, Bob has pertinent things to say about the effects on culture of mechanised rhythms, quantisation, academic snobbery, copyrights, skill and the traps, inimical to the human spirit, set by electronic instruments today.
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