Record Dork

Delving deeper than you ever wanted to go. This week: the "NWW List," Bay Area label Fire Museum Records, and The Songs.

In 1979, the British industrial trio Nurse With Wound released its debut LP, Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella. Accompanying this 12-inch was an insert -- resembling densely typed encryption code -- of the group's favorite "out there" rock groups, free-jazz explorers, and all-out noise freaks. The "NWW List," as it has come to be labeled, would help spawn a tiny but global network of zealous collectors who scour record stores, shelling out hundreds of dollars for rare LPs.

However, over the past several years this prized sonic knowledge, which was formerly held solely in the hands of a small "hermetic order" of music dorks, has been made available to the larger population thanks to a growing number of independent record labels that are reissuing out-of-print works by such "NWW List" legends as Brainticket, Comus, and Musica Electronica Viva. One of the latest reissues from the "NWW List" -- thanks to Steve Tobin and his Bay Area imprint Fire Museum Records -- is Alan Sondheim/Ritual All 770's The Songs.

Now, Tobin, who primarily releases music by current musicians, doesn't exactly know why the popularity of the "NWW List" is growing, but he believes that it has something to do "with more people being interested in hearing the music that influenced the people they listen to."

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Taking Tobin's point one step further, I believe more and more Americans find modern music (both mainstream and underground) painfully derivative and unimaginative, and they are seeking out artifacts from Western culture's last wildly creative period for underground music: '67 to '77. With the hippies and the punks as bookends, these are the years roughly covered by the "NWW List."

And The Songs -- a 40-minute group improvisation recorded back in '67 and employing no overdubs, no editing, and no digital programming -- perfectly exemplifies why the freaky, no-holds-barred music from this period continues to resonate. Fusing nervous free-jazz skronk, quasi-operatic chamber music, Indian drone, and a breadth of stringed instrumentation, Sondheim and his quirky ensemble pulverize every conventional definition of music as they explore the outer reaches of human expression as sound. And that's what modern music so desperately lacks: real human expression.

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