As with most Big City Orchestra tapes and CDs, the personnel is a revolving door. Many members have passed through the portals and some continue to be involved. The tape above from 1986 ( I think ) features a quartet lineup of Cliff Neighbors, Pete Leeming, Robo and, of course, das. Released on Brook Hinton’s Subelecktrick Institute label from San Francisco.
I believe “Animal Religion” ( above) was one of the most widely distributed BCO tapes primarily because it was released on Ralph Records. An avant garde zoological mashup drenched in hallucination released in the early 90s. Crawling With Tarts makes an appearance on this one.
Big City Orchestra ( often spelled in unusual ways) has released an enormous amount of material on tape, CD, mp3 and video. To the right is a tape on the Canadian Doomsday Transmissions label run by Jim DeJong.
One of the uncountable releases from Europe on the Peulschille label from The Netherlands. Circa 1986.
In addition to the dozens and dozens of cassette releases, BCO has put out a staggering amount of CDs as well. From their well known “Beatlerape”, a bizarre send up of The Fab Four to “Greatest Hits And Test Tones”, on the Pogus label, to an album of all commercials and much, much more. Above, a release with Mike Honeycut’s Mystery Hearsay project.
A tape released on Chris Phinney’s Harsh Reality label. I cannot think of another ensemble that released material on more imprints than BCO.
I don’t exactly recall how I came into contact with das but it was inevitable. His enormous output and collaborations were well documented in the mags of the time and his local radio shows here in the SF Bay Area became legend quickly. I believe the first time I met him personally was at a radio station in Santa Cruz where he and GX Jupitter-Larsen were destroying vinyl and broadcasting the sounds. Later, in 1990, Eric Muhs and I performed on a bill in Santa Cruz with Randy Grief, The Haters ( who only sent a pre-recorded tape while BCO members dug with loudly miked shovels outside ) and BCO doing an entire set of songs by Kate Bush. There is simply no way to put das in a box. To me, he is the most important underground music figure on the west coast scene and, in fact, his influence and creative spirit resound worldwide.
How early were you using the BCO name? Were you involved in music before that?
1979 is the gestation year for the ork. house band for the 5 big city dwellings, arranged in the california south bay area of l.a. many of the residents of the house played in REAL BANDS, and some of the others also wanted to be invited to free beer at parties. we had been to plenty of punk & no wave shows and knew that talent or even owning an instrument wasn’t an impediment to making a noise. i was only a junior member at the time. and before that had only recorded/performed for credits at college.
What brought you to the Bay Area from southern California?
living at big city central was fun and crazy but also kind of dangerous and crazy. we really had few rules and pretty much demolished the house. all of the interior walls had been torn down, the power was being stolen from a power junction a block away, the refrigerator (actually the entire kitchen) was unsuitable for food storage. there was ALWAYS an open keg being drained. the whole thing a bit like animal house but with even less restrictions or morals. so when the chance came to watch over 20 acres on an old chicken ranch in the santa cruz foothills appeared, i was ready to go.
You have had a long radio career as well. Talk about getting your first show and perhaps a general overview of the other shows you have done.
my first radio program was on a TINY cable fm channel near my house in high school. next step was a weekly graveyard slot on knac where all that i would play were records pulled out of the dumbster in the back of the building. after moving to santa cruz in the 80’s i started the first ‘ub’ radio while robo ran ‘it’s been real’. since then ub has logged in at; kfjc, kpfa, kalx, peralta, and dfm.
You had a show at KPFA for a period. Were you ousted or did you leave on your own?
oh i’m still on the unpaid staff roster but as edward ka-spel said never go on tour with someone called “hate”
I’ve heard you refer to your music as “process” but you also do cover versions, songs, weird instrumentals‚Ä¶would you also consider these “process” in some way?
nope, as a curious monkey i’m constantly jumping from style to style. i refer to process pieces when objects are placed as to interact without much touching by the operator.
When I think of references for your sound I hear Eno, Xenakis, Cage‚Ä¶but there is also the song side with tinges of British music hall, pirate songs, perhaps The Residents. Who do you think influenced your sound?
sure eno in that he pumped out three of the most remarkable pop albums ever. and the rez a bit of course since i worked at ralph and because i use cheezy synth patches at times. other big influences would be daevid allen who would be my musical sage, zappa who we were just figuring i saw about 40 times live. spike jones, the haters, amon duul, partch,neil innes, muzak, b-people, gysin, can, firesign theatre, supersister, robert fripp, andy partridge, heino, bernard herrman, everything really.
You’ve done zillions of live performances and always seem to come up with novel approaches. When you get a gig do you think up a new way of expression or does the idea come first and then you arrange the show?
not all shows are presented or deliberated upon the same way, but we do tend to be very site specific. usually thinking of the space/audience/theme, before we select the material or players.
Who were some of your earliest tape trading partners?
prior to being part of the ‘cassette network/mail art’ MOVEMENTS, i was recording a lot of live shows and trading tapes all over the world, there are actually several vinyl boots out there that came from my lugging recording gear everywhere. so when bco started making music & magazines like op, arph, artitude, re(search), started having reviews, we would get in touch with everything that sounded interesting. ken clinger, minoy, al margolis, touch, lpd, otis fodder, thinking back i was spending about $30. a week on postage.
Your output is matched by very few that I know of. Your collaborations have been many. I get the feeling you like surprises when it comes to the final result. Surprises instead of perfection of an idea or something in your head. True?
well we have only a few times matched in my head what bco has played. so perhaps it’s best to play out of your head ??
What have you learned about yourself from music making?
trusting the inner muse to cough it up when needed.
You and your wife Ninah Pixie host the Ub Radio Salon every week on the internet. When I joined you guys for one afternoon I had a hell of a lot of fun. Is this the main reason to do any of this?
and flexing that improv muscle for two hours every week is good for any artist.
for downright evil