sonic youth - syr4: goodbye 20th century

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.:: The fourth release on the SYR label was not designated to new material or studio improvisations, but instead a double-disc set of Sonic Youth's interpretations of various works by other composers. A truly ambitious project, it's one of their most diverse releases yet, featuring a selection of guest performers and some extremely interesting recordings -- from the seemingly random yet very calculated half-hour Cage piece "Four6" to Coco's shrill delivery of Yoko Ono's "Voice Piece For Soprano", from the torturous yet compelling "Pendulum Music" to the perplexing yet amusing 88-key destruction of "Piano Piece #13", the album offers a vast sample of Sonic Youth chasing us down musical paths we might not otherwise have ever visited.

.:: For information on the history and evolution of the record itself, look no further than head project co-ordinator William Winant's extensive notes reproduced below, originally published in Bananafish #13. To discuss the live history a bit, we need to go back to April 1st, 1999. It was a special show at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC, Sonic Youth's first attempt to perform the SYR4 material live.

To make this possible, SY brought Jim O'Rourke, William Winant, Takehisa Kosugi, and Wharton Tiers onstage to assist in the performance. The show was opened by three sonic solo events: the Thurston Moore/William Winant/Tom Surgal trio, the Kim Gordon/Ikue Mori/DJ Olive trio (who would go on to release SYR5), the Lee Ranaldo/Leah Singer duo, and UK noise terrorists Prick Decay. The set consisted of 5 pieces from the SYR4 record, including "Six For New Time" "+-" "Having Never Written a Note For Percussion" "Four6" & "Voice Piece For Soprano", the latter of which was sung by Kim (rather than Coco) in 3 parts, one scream between each piece.

A program with scores for the pieces performed that night was handed out before the show. Following this gig, only "Having Never Written a Note For Percussion" would reappear in a set list that year, at the June 13th NYC show. Less than a month later, all of the band's gear was stolen on a brief west coast tour -- but that incident is covered in the write-ups for "A Thousand Leaves" and "NYC Ghosts & Flowers".

Following the "NYC Ghosts" tours in 2000, Sonic Youth decided to take the SYR4 material on an exclusive tour in Europe in June 2001, finally getting a chance to premiere the pieces they had not yet performed live, including "Burdocks" "Six" "Treatise" and even "Piano Piece #13", which was performed 4 times and yes, that means 4 innocent pianos had to die.

The band also debuted some non-SYR4 material in the same vein as those compositions -- "Clapping Music" (another Steve Reich piece, comprised entirely of Steve and William Winant clapping their hands) and a one-time-only rendition of Konrad Boehmer's "Echelon", written specifically for Sonic Youth, and conducted live onstage by Konrad himself in Amsterdam. In addition to SYR4 material, "She Is Not Alone" "NYC Ghosts & Flowers" and "Side2Side" were performed at every show.

Two shows on the 10-date tour were "rock gigs" -- ie, standard SY set lists. They did one festival set in Barcelona, opening with a lengthy improvised version of "She is Not Alone", centering around the full half-hour performance of "Four6", and finishing with "Side2Side". At this point, Jim O'Rourke was already an official member of the band, and he performed at every show -- also along for the ride was William Winant, and the sextet was joined by various guests in every city along the way.

It was a truly unique, remarkable tour that unfortunately didn't extend to North America -- reportedly, some of the European crowds were less than enthused by what they were witnessing. Oh well... sonic youth

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