Loading...

Noise Ecstasy 

Wednesday, Oct 31 2001
Comments
Photo by Fredrik Nilsen

At approximately 5 a.m. on September 9, Gary Todd, 38, founder of the Malibu-based Cortical Foundation and its record label, Organ of Corti, fell from a third-story balcony at a friend’s home. Rushed to UCLA Medical Center, he underwent brain surgery for eight and a half hours. He remains in a coma and is listed in critical condition at UCLA, where he’s watched over by friends and relatives who pray that Gary can hear their words of encouragement and comfort. This article was written a few months ago, when Gary was working hard to complete several new Cortical releases before embarking on a much-anticipated trip to Vienna. It offers a glimpse into the atmosphere of feverish artistic activity that Gary’s life was, and, we all hope, will soon be again.

An ecstatic clangor of church bells joined by a cacophonous blast of trumpets bounces off the high-ceilinged walls of Gary Todd’s mixing studio, discreetly tucked away in an old storefront building on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. It’s midnight, the ocean’s only a few yards out there, and I’m taking in the gratifying wall of art and music books crammed floor-to-ceiling in this, Todd’s one-man creative hothouse — the headquarters of his uncompromisingly avant-garde record label, Organ of Corti, and the Cortical Foundation.

Sitting at the mixing board, Gary gets out of his soft chair and swivels it around. “Why don’t you have a seat here and listen?”

Related Stories

  • Do This 3

    Autumn in L.A. is nothing to get depressed about. The weather's still gorgeous; the sun still shines. We'll enjoy plenty more 80 degree days as August turns to September. And yet ... you can feel the days getting shorter, the nights getting cool. There's a bittersweet note in the morning...
  • Rule Change Could Spell Disaster for Malibu's Burgeoning Wine Region 6

    In recent months, there's been a lot of excitement around the burgeoning wine scene in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains. The Malibu Coast has just been approved for its own AVA (American Viticultural Area) by the U.S. government’s Tobacco and Tax Bureau — meaning that the wines coming out...
  • Great Food in Malibu (Yes, Malibu)

    It's a question for the ages: Why isn't there any good food in Malibu? The query is based on a generalization — certainly, there are some good things to eat in Malibu — but the pickings are notoriously slim. (VICE recently dubbed the place "a culinary wasteland.") For such a...
  • Picnic Shopping

    The word "picnic," fittingly derived from the French, evokes summer and leisure - and, most crucially, food. A beach picnic may just be the best kind of picnic, especially in L.A., where the options are plentiful. A picnic brings a level of festivity that is difficult to resist, whether on...
  • L.A.'s Best Beaches to Suit Your Mood 2

    What's the best beach in L.A.? Depends what you're looking for. Los Angeles County is blessed with 75 miles of coast, and beyond that, easy access to even more miles of oceanfront sand in Orange County. That leaves us with great spots for swimming, for surfing, for nature-watching, for cute-surfer...

As I lean close to the speakers and take in the pealing blast, Todd hands me a freshly minted copy of the gatefold cover for the new Cortical release we’re listening to — a limited-edition vinyl LP plus CD-ROM of Austrian composer/artist Hermann Nitsch’s Orgies Mysteries Theater, a six-day-long ritualistic bacchanal drenched in music, “noise ecstasy,” bull sacrifice and crucifixions. The album’s cover is a gorgeous color portrait of a young Germanic woman beaming beatifically, her face covered in a watery red mess that Todd informs me is a mixture of “tomatoes, blood, grapes and water.” Both Todd and photographer Fredrik Nilsen went to the composer’s castle in Prinzendorf, Austria, in August of ’98 to record the event in sound, video and photographs, but it occurs to me that those who might be put off by the idea of bull sacrifices and stomping on animal intestines to achieve Dionysian ecstasy can enjoy Nitsch’s fascinating, Teutonically severe music without lingering too long on the spattered goings-on depicted in Nilsen’s photos. I have a feeling, though, that for Todd that would be lame.

“A lot of people seem to react to it in some kind of cowardly way,” he says. “I very rarely meet anybody who understands the depth of the work. But this is what I’ve been immersed in for the last year, just reading and reading, ’cause I want to represent what he’s really about.” He mentions Friedrich Nietzsche’s book The Birth of Tragedy as a helpful guide to the composer’s Greek-myth-informed Gesamtkunstwerk.

Leaving the room, he returns with a stack of recent Cortical releases by major avant-garde composers such as Terry Riley (You’re Nogood — an early-’60s tape experiment in which a catchy Motown-ish tune gets phase-shifted and looped beyond recognition), John Cage (the first-ever CD issue of The City Wears a Slouch Hat, a 1942 CBS radio drama featuring Cage’s spooky percussion- orchestra mood music), and Charlemagne Palestine (Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone, a pipe-organ recital performed by the pioneer minimalist composer at the Hollywood Methodist Church in ’98 as part of the Beyond the Pink festival, a citywide, 13-day cluster of experimental music and performance initiated by Todd).

It might sound corny to use the word mission to describe Gary Todd’s tireless one-man cultural enterprise, but that’s what it is; hence the persistence with which he’s managed to track down aging reels of magnetic tape containing historically important works of experimental music, some of which had never even been heard. The most spectacular example of this was when Todd’s inquiries to Terry Riley — about some early pieces he’d only read about — ultimately resulted in the discovery of long-buried tapes, including The Gift, a prototype tape-loop piece from 1963 with jazzman Chet Baker (!) and a precursor to the more famous In C. “They’d been down in his barn for 15 years in this garbage can. They were on their way to the dump, essentially.” (They’re now on Organ of Corti.)

In his quiet but intense voice, Todd distills all of the hard work, enthusiasm and excitement of discovery to a simple goal: “To get this material out there.”

Before I finally leave at 6 a.m., a notion in my head sharpens into an awkward question, and I ask it: “Gary, since you’re always working on such fascinating stuff, are you in a kind of constant low-level euphoria?” He looks away and gives some kind of lateral response, but later says he likes the question.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • Porter Robinson - Shrine Expo Hall - September 13, 2014

    Porter Robinson The Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall September 13, 2014 It was clear from the minute his set started that Porter Robinson's performance at the Shrine was going to be more than just your typical EDM event. Robinson is on tour in support of Worlds, his first album and...
  • The Best Concerts to See in L.A. This Week

    Be sure to check out our constantly updated concert calendar! Monday, September 15 Mia Doi Todd BLUE WHALE Calling her an “L.A. singer-songwriter” doesn’t quite do the job when it comes to describing this local jewel. Mia Doi Todd is a valuable presence for her gracefully conceived, wonderfully intimate songcraft,...
  • Kate Nash On Her L.A.-Based Girl Gang

    Now a fixture on the L.A. punk scene with her all-girl band, Kate Nash is a London born and bred singer. She was just 20 when she released her platinum-selling debut album Made of Bricks in 2007, shortly after being discovered on Myspace and championed by Lily Allen. Then chubby-cheeked with...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets