Notes for Data Dump 2

I've followed David First's work for quite some time. I've attended concerts and listened to records. I've written about it and interviewed him about it. But there's a question that has sometimes stuck in my craw. 

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Music is, of course, a sonic event. That is – or is supposed to be – its nature. So I'm not sure why it is that so often with First's music, hearing it has often left me wanting more. In particular, it’s left me wanting to see. Part of it, no doubt, was just wondering about the origins of the ethereal sounds. But more than that, I think, was the fact that First can sucker you in with a great name. Is four people playing Radio Shack keyboards something you need to watch? No, but the World Casio Quartet is. I mean, they're the world one!

This all-video Data Dump 2 lets us peer in on a variety of First's projects, starting right off with what us Firsters (I just made that up) call the WCQ in a remarkable 70-minute, multi-camera, multi-drone recording from close to 30 years ago that still looks and sounds great.

Waiting to be found inside the dump is footage of a truly beautiful piece for strings and electronics First performed with the Flux Quartet and a chance to view his opera, The Manhattan Book of the Dead, about the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York City. There's also an exciting duo with Kid Millions (Oneida) and a hyper-exciting set by the Notekillers, recorded at the still-missed club Tonic. And then there's a lovely duet with the great Pauline Oliveros and some further settings of extended tones.

My only complaint is that I still haven't gotten to see any Dave's Waves footage. I want at least to know what his drone diner looked like. But maybe that's for another dump.

                                                                                                                                                 - Kurt Gottschalk



Notes for Data Dump 1

David First has been a busy man. On top of working on a half dozen new albums (all scheduled for 2016 release), the guitarist/composer/innovator/endless-tinkerer has been sifting through three decades of unreleased recordings and preparing a massive online archive. It's been a way for him to look back at his career but also for listeners to discover – or rediscover – a body of work that's remarkably varied yet consistently focused.

"I just realized that there's all this stuff people don't know," he said with a laugh when I met him to discuss the project at a diner in his Greenpoint, Brooklyn, neighborhood. "I don't know if that's my fault or the fault of the world or a collaboration. I just decided it was time to start filling in some of the gaps."

And here is the first filling of those gaps. Data Dump #1 is over six hours of material and a good hint of what's to come. The music, all available for streaming or free download, moves through guitar/drum machine experiments to pieces for Casios, radios or oscillators to processed piano and works for solo cello and toy organ, and ranges from the blazing to the ethereal. The first volume also contains plenty of surprises, and not only for the listener.

"I've been looking through all these things and finding things I forgot," he said. “The Flatland Oscillators piece #2ABC – I remember it, though I hadn’t heard it since probably 1985. But the version here seems to be from an actual recording session that I have no memory of doing – there were different takes and everything on this tape I found.  And Transistor Radio Quartet was a particularly lovely find. Though I’d been messing with radio modulation since the 70s, I hadn’t realized I dove so deeply into exploring that terrain during this period. But the craziest find in this first batch is Low Path for Cello played by Jane Scarpantoni. Recording engineer, Garry Rindfuss, played it for me a few months ago. We did it on his Teac reel-to-reel 4-track machine. I was blown away – it was a really good piece. I just don’t remember it at all. I was constantly churning out ‘paths’ at that time, for various instruments. Very few – maybe no other – got the recording treatment this one got, though, so it must have somehow struck me as worthy of all of our time. I can’t really explain why it so utterly disappeared from my consciousness other than to say that I treated everything as a work in progress and that I was very rarely satisfied with the results of any of my experiments for one reason or another. 

First's interest in combing the closet for forgotten artifacts may have been spurred by the 2004 release of late-70s recordings by his aggro-surf power trio the Notekillers on Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace label. The release caught a perhaps unanticipated wave of attention, leading the high school friends to start performing again and to cut a second album. There may be some unheard Notekillers tracks in upcoming Dumps, he said, and even recordings predating that storied band.

In addition to over 1,000 cassettes of live, rehearsal, home and studio sessions in his own archive, First has obtained recordings from longstanding New York City spaces Experimental Intermedia and Roulette and has reached out to venues from Connecticut to Belgium to collect tapes. He's also been contacting players on the recordings to ensure they're OK with the free releases - at least when he can remember who the players were. Along the way, he also had to pick up a used cassette player and 4-track recorder to play back the tapes while sending old reels out to be digitized. Some of those live recordings he is now hearing for the first time.

“I haven’t heard any of these things for decades. Some of them were parts of early demo/proposal tapes I’d make to send to performance spaces and it was real nice to hear them again. But, by and large, I hadn’t heard these recordings. Turns out I was seriously conscientious about documenting pretty much every show I did back in those days. I just never listened to them. Why? As I said before, I was always moving on. Also, performances were always such charged, inflamed rituals for me – I think I couldn’t bear to hear the flattened, mundane audio regurgitation of them. Now I can, though, and it’s largely been a very pleasant experience. Needless to say, I’m very thankful to my obsessive, earlier self.” 

It's clear from the #1 that there's a lot to discover in these recordings. If there's a method to the dumping madness, it's left to the listener to discover. The sequencing might be personal, even mystical, and the impact may just overwhelm. The hours and hours of music are being offered buffet-style so end-users can create their own playlists; First isn't crafting his catalog into digestible bits.

"It wouldn't be a very good data dump if each one was just album-length," he said. "It's supposed to be too much by definition."

- Kurt Gottschalk 



Data Dump 1


Beatbox 1&2 (1981)

Borrowed Black Les Paul & Maestro Rhythm King drum machine (2 tracks)



Rider Horse (1981)

Halkin on drums, me on borrowed Les Paul and borrowed Echoplex (1 track)



Rock Orch Thing (1981)

A bunch of guitars & drums doing something in the basement (1 track)



Besieged Show (1982)

Ambient music for a show of paintings by Patricia Smith (5 tracks)



Low Path for Cello (1985)

Jane Scarpantoni/cello (1 track) D.F./Casio drones



Transistor Radio Quartet (1985)

AM radios beating against each other down into the audio range (1 track)



The Flatland Oscillators (1985-87)

Large mixed ensemble pieces (2 tracks)



Earth Organ (1987)

Casios overdubbed on a Tascam 144 Portastudio (1 track)



Echoes of God (1989-91)

Free-jazzy-noisey-rocking-improv band (2 tracks)



Solo Performance @Logos (4/6/89)

Ebow guitar/Casio CZ1000/Electric guitar in Ghent, BE (4 tracks)



First/Kaplinsky live in Köln (1990)

guitar/synth-controller & synthesizer (2 tracks)



Joy Buzzers/Jew Boyzers (1991-94)

Free-funk-noise-drone unit (2 shows/tracks)



The Upcell Dog Parades (1993)

Essential Music @Washington Sq Church (5/6/93 - 1 track)



First/Krieger in Berlin (1996)

Ulrich Krieger & D.F. @Klangwände Festival



Data Dump 2


The World Casio Quartet (1988)

The World Casio Quartet performing live at Real Art Ways (Hartford, CT)



JSTDoRW (3/18/93)

Jade Screen Test Dreams of Renting Wings live at Merkin Hall (NYC)



The Manhattan Book of the Dead (1995)

The Manhattan Book of the Dead - a ritual opera live at LaMama (NYC)




ABoTFtH (10/29/98)

A Bet on Transcendence Favors the House live at Merkin Hall



ABoTFTtH Louisville, KY (5/20/99)

A Bet on Transcendence Favors the House solo version



MVED; MVDE; MVID 1&2 (3/21/02)

Live at Merkin Hall (two versions)



Notekillers at Tonic (11/30/06)

NKs w/special guests Daniel Carter, Shoko Nagai & Katherine Liberovskaya



Elegies for the Afterland (12/10/09)

Flux Quartet w/David First at Roulette (NYC)



David First & Pauline Oliveros (10/9/10)

Live at the Dream Festival/Deep Listening Institute (Kingston, NY)



Matter Waves (6/27/11)

David First & Kid Millions live at Issue Project Room (NYC)



Data Dump 3