By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Photo by Jack Gould
It happened again today. I got into Z’ev’s orbit, and reality was no longer real.
This time the instigator was a CD of two recordings Z’ev made in the early ’80s, as Uns. He was using a bunch of cassette players, a bunch of amps, a microphone feeding back, all really loud. Heavy, heavy noise, with unpremeditated rhythms sometimes breaking out.
There were moments when I realized that, for how long I didn’t know, the world had vanished; I had been sucked into a sound hole. Afraid of losing myself, I dimly figured I’d better think about something, anything. The cat. Wires. Windows. But no — no use to thrash against the current. I was in a place beyond thought, and it felt something like home.
The disc ended with a live performance, which concluded randomly, and Z’ev has some things to say about that in the notes. It seems the bass feedback was growing too intense; he felt he had to shut it down. Z’ev told the audience he didn’t want to blow the amps, which were borrowed. But in the CD booklet, he confesses the real reason he stopped: “I was not sure I would have been able to control whatever energy/ies was/were coming down the line.”
All this clarified why, in 1998, experimental-music purveyor Blake Edwards chose the Uns material as the “message of intent” that would serve as his CIP label’s first release. “I think,” he says, “it captures some of his most incredible — and some of the most incredible — audio ever.”
Yes. And it brought back memories for me. I remembered the first time I listened to Z’ev’s record of metallic nuggets, Heads & Tales (Avant, 1996) — I kept turning off lights until I was crouching in complete darkness. (I later learned he often chose to perform in the dark.) I remembered getting my head spun in some club circa 1980, as he summoned spirit howls by whirling a stretch of plastic ducting around his head. Some months earlier, I had first gotten splattered by the stage blood of the fantastical performance artist Johanna Went, and it was Z’ev whose percussive tribal clatter accompanied her. (After he moved on, I blared sax noise with Went for a good span.)
Z’ev has traveled a lot in the time since, and his base of operations has shifted often (San Francisco, Amsterdam, London). So early this year, when I heard he’d be visiting L.A. again, I thought I’d better talk to him, which I’d never done at any length. He had taken some long sabbaticals from his art, had even considered “learning a trade.” But he had recently come out with another otherworldly disc of distilled sound, The Sapphire Nature (Tzadik), an abstract sound-sample meditation on mystical Hebrew texts. And he was on a curve of increased visibility in Europe, where he has collaborated with Spanish found-sound composer Francisco Lopez, done Noh theater music with K.K. Null and Chris Watson, and taken a whack at interpreting Dante’s Inferno with Simon Balestrazzi and Silvio Linardi. A CD revisitation of some early work with sonic reconceptualizer Carl Stone should be coming out before long. And you can investigate his other recordings and ideas at www.rhythmajik.com.
Stubbled and smoking hand-rolled tobacco, Z’ev (a.k.a. Stefan Weisser) wears a black cap, small earrings and a row of string bracelets. He seems present and, simultaneously, not present. Bridging dimensions is what he’s all about.
Picture Stefan, age 2, in his mother’s L.A. kitchen. She rummages through the drawers and cabinets, dredges out a wire whisk, a metal bowl, a spoon, a can opener. Lays them on the floor. Stefan’s eyes light up. He begins banging things together.
“Not that many Americans have that experience,” says Z’ev, his voice nasal, quietly piercing. “But Europeans I’ve talked to, it’s very common — they put all the kitchenware down on the floor, and that’s what the kids play with.” He built his own little drum set at age 6, took lessons at 8.
In some ways, Z’ev thinks, he takes after his inventive and highly independent father. “When I was growing up, there were two ways to do things — the way the world did it and the way my father did it. So I thought, okay, that’s what one does — make his own way.” Well, not around Pop. “It wasn’t like he was saying, ‘Obey the rules.’ It was like, ‘Obey myrules.’”
Stefan was dyslexic, a condition he spent countless hours overcoming through exercises, and with which he still struggles somewhat; this may explain why much of his work deals with the written word as a mystic gateway to the unknown. When he attended CalArts in the ’70s, studying with concrete poet Emmett Williams, he came up with his own compositional mode, an example of which he shows me: thin vertical strips of type carefully pasted and layered on cardboard. It makes the desired impression of visual beauty, while offering an opportunity to consider the meanings of re-sequenced letters.