* Edition of 300, Double LP in gatefold cover accompanied by a 12-page large booklet. * Every so often, an archival recording emerges that opens a window into a previously inaccessible world, reshaping our understanding of history with a single turn. iDEAL Recordings’ latest, “The Heavyweight Sound Fight”, a double LP documenting a remarkable, never before released 1981 performance of a work / happening created by the artists Charlie Morrow, Sten Hanson and Carles Santos, is one such case. As raucous and playful as it is creatively rigorous, its sounds and actions - vividly brought into the present day - entirely rethink the terms and interpretation of, as well as approaches to, experimental music in radical ways.
At the time of the staging of “The Heavyweight Sound Fight” in 1981, Charlie Morrow, Sten Hanson and Carles Santos had each been central figures in the international vanguard of experimental arts - working across multiple disciplines via hybrid forms - for decades. Morrow, emerging in New York during the 1960s, was a close collaborator of Philip Corner, as well as the creator of a body of solo work performed using conch shells, cow and goat horns, Jew’s harp, ocarina and homemade electronics, focused on breath, vocalization, and gesture. With the poet Jerome Rothenberg, he was the founder of New Wilderness Foundation, which staged concerts and released the legendary New Wilderness Audiographics cassette series between 1974 and 1989, while also publishing the celebrated magazine dedicated to avant-garde and experimental music, EAR, run by Beth Anderson, Laurie Spiegel, and R.I.P. Hayman.
Sten Hanson, hailing from Sweden, first appeared during the the early 1960s as an experimental poet and composer, developing a practice that incorporated tape, sound, text and image within live performances, in addition to creating singular electroacoustic, instrumental, and vocal compositions. During the 1970s, with Lars-Gunnar Bodin, Åke Hodell, and Bengt Emil Johnson, he developed the theory and the practice of "The electronic text-sound”, a new aesthetic field within that rested at the junctures of sound art, sound poetry, and experimental music.
The Spanish artist, Carles Santos, emerged during roughly the same period as a pianist devoted to an avant-garde repertoire, before moving to the United States in 1968, where he began working with artists like Philip Corner and John Cage, eventually going on to develop a fascinating practice that spanned musical composition, filmmaking, screenwriting, acting, scenic musical shows, graphics, montage, sculpture, photography, poetry, and prose.
“The Heavyweight Sound Fight” was staged and produced in New York, at Gleason's Gym - one of the most famous boxing gyms in the United States - by Morrow and Hanson, and co-written with Santos. Even from the outset of the LP capturing this never released performance, it’s apparent that the trio’s approach to experimental music has almost no equivalent today. A lampoon of a boxing match - with all pomp and bluster - the action pitches Morrow and Santos against each other, backed by two bands - Soho Baroque Opera Company with the assistance of the New Wilderness Foundation - with Hanson serving as referee, Amrand Schwerner acting as the announcer, and none other than Simone Forti displaying the round cards.
Operating as an aural window into an happening that occurred more than 40 years ago, “The Heavyweight Sound Fight” unveils a different context of experimental music than is not often encountered today. Running across the album’s four sides, within all the seriousness of art and technique, is the unmistakable presence of humor, play, and the absurd. The audience can’t help but laugh and cheer as the announcer - effecting a deep New York accent and nodding toward notable attendees like Allison Knowles, Dick Higgins, and Jackson Mac Low - takes an active role in the fight, each artist delivering an array of vocalizations - from extended technique utterances to rants - against the next, with the bands weighing in and engaging in their own battles, ranging from big band dirges and marches, to outright experimental electronic madness. It's a trully raucous affair that brings that radicalism carried by its sounds into entirely new zones.
According to Marrow, he was deemed “winner” in an “off-script” move by the judges, and Santos never spoke to him again, continuing the wild and wonderful mystery and humor of the performance into the present day. Who knows what Santos, who sadly passed away in 2017, would say.
Needless to say, iDEAL Recordings’ beautiful, first-time release of “The Heavyweight Sound Fight” is a revelation of the highest order and has totally blown our minds, rethinking the terms and history of experimental music, sound art, and performance in a single go. Issued as a double LP with a beautiful LP-sized 12-page booklet designed by Sean McCann of Recital, it’s impossible to sum up just how great it is.