John Cale Reveals Roots in Petersburg Performance
By Sergey Chernov
Living legend John Cale - godfather of punk,
avant-garde artist, classical composer and ground-breaking producer - will be
performing in St. Petersburg on Thursday, April 15. Cale's concert is based on "The
Falkland Suite," a set of songs after poems by Dylan Thomas which formed the album
"Words for the Dying," recorded in Moscow in 1989 with the Gosteleradio Orchestra
of Symphonic and Popular Music.
With Lou Reed, Cale was a founding member of the Velvet Underground, and became
closely involved with Andy Warhol's Factory art commune. In 1968, he began a solo
career which yielded over 20 albums. As a producer, he was involved in benchmark
albums by artists such as Patti Smith and The Stooges, and has also composed for
films, including "Something Wild," "I Shot Andy Warhol" and "Basquiat."
In a telephone interview from New York, Cale shared his thoughts on the upcoming
concert, his Welsh roots, and his lifelong work as an artist and a producer.
Why did you choose to set the poetry of Dylan Thomas to music?
It was part of a much larger process. I was trying to reassess my background in
music, which I really began as a composer in Wales. I got to a point where I had
been living in America for a long, long time, been involved in many different kinds
of music, and I wanted to go back to my roots and find out exactly what it was that
originally made me fall in love with music and composing.
One of the things that you always have as part of your childhood in Wales is a very
strong background in Dylan Thomas' poetry and his contribution to literature. I
started thinking about writing an opera on Dylan Thomas, and I thought all sorts of
funny ways of writing it - from the point of view of his umbrella, for instance,
since it was raining all the time; or that you would go from pub to pub and meet
all these different people ... all sorts of interesting ways.
But then you have to put the poetry into this mix, and I started off by going
through the collected poems and trying to set every poem to music. It was
difficult, because the poetry itself has so much in it - it is very self-sufficient
and strong on its own. The idea of adding mixed sound to it was not an easy one to
come to terms with.
So I thought, "Well, I'm gonna crack this one, let's see if we can just go through
all the poems, and try and try and try to write different moods for every poem." It
was a very long week, a lot of hard work in this little studio at a friend's
apartment. We came out with maybe six poems that were really finished, and put four
of them into "The Falkland Suite."
What will be the main difference between the live performance of this particular
work and recording the album?
The orchestration of this piece is for a fairly orthodox chamber orchestra with a
choir - nothing strange. But the orchestration is only as good as your song. So
doing it without an orchestra just strips it down. And it also makes it a much more
personal performance - you have nothing but your instrument and your voice, and in
that way people can identify your personality more easily. It's a much more honest
presentation of the material.
Recently you published a book, "What's Welsh for Zen?" ...
The book is an autobiography I wrote with Victor Bockris, and it has been very well
received. I tried to make it a balanced account of the whole journey from my
childhood in Wales to New York, of the art community we were involved with during
the Velvet Underground years, and after in the music industry.
I still feel I stand astride both the art world and the music industry. It's a
strange position to be in, but it's something that I'm quite comfortable with.
That's probably why I still live in New York; here, I have all my hi-tech toys, but
I read the English newspapers on the Internet every morning, I listen to the BBC on
the Internet every morning - I even listen to the BBC in Welsh on the Internet in
Though most of my work and efforts are in Europe, New York still has this
connection to me because of the art community here, and how it's still a source of
a lot of inspiration for rock'n'roll or however you care to describe the kind of
music I do.
As a producer you worked with many different artists, some of whom you brought to
the attention of the public for the first time. Which projects are you especially
Well, there's Patti Smith and Iggy Pop [of The Stooges]. A lot of bands I've worked
with had something that really put them outside of rock'n'roll. When I came to work
with The Stooges, although they were a rock'n'roll band what I was really
confronted with was a startling performing group - James [Osterberg, Iggy Pop's
real name] is such a unique individual on stage. ... The puzzle was, how do you
take the visual element of a performance and incorporate it into something that's
just a record?
And in the end there was nothing we could do about it, it was just a very
straightforward, very professional recording.
With Patti, it was an entirely different case of a poet who was involved with the
William Burroughs' "cut-up theory" and we incorporated that, and that was very
important because we really set a record outside the norm.
Many of your projects are collaborations. What attracts you to working with other
people, and who has it been most interesting to work with?
I learn a lot from collaborations with other people. I really enjoy what happens
when two people get together, because sometimes, when you get to a certain level of
relaxation, something else happens that has nothing to do with the ideas either of
you first started off with. When the two of you have gotten to that place of
relaxation, then there's a certain automatic thing that happens, which neither of
you have control over. That's always really rewarding.
Throughout your career, you have always been open to different musical styles,
including classical, when many musicians concentrate on just the one.
Well, I'm sort of impatient, and I do my best work when I change, when I deal with
different materials. You know, some artists like to work in clay, some artists like
to work in marble, some artists like to work with paint, and I think in my case I
like to switch between all of them, because that way they stay fresh in my mind.
John Cale will perform at the Theater of Opera and Ballet of the St. Petersburg
Conservatory, Thursday, April 15, at 7 p.m. Tickets cost from 140 to 400 rubles,
and are available from the Conservatory at 312-25-19 and from city ticket kiosks.
P.S : - popravka - poslednij abzac sleduet chitat' tak :
John Cale will perform at the "Noga" Theater, Friday, April 30 at 11:30 p.m. and
Saturday, May 1 at 10 p.m. Tickets cost from 179 to 119 shekel,
and are available from the Next festival offices at "Marmorek 14" and from city ticket
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