Metal Machine Music

by Evan Sawdey

10 October 2007


Lester Bangs famously said this of Lou Reed’s 1975 anti-album Metal Machine Music: “If you ever thought feedback was the best thing that ever happened to the guitar, well, Lou just got rid of the guitars.” However, in all of Lester’s twisted fantasies, he could never have conceived of said album getting a note-by-note do-over by an avant-classical collective called Zeitkratzer. The original—for those who don’t know—was Lou Reed layering guitar feedback upon itself an infinite number of times, creating four 16-minute suites of chaotic, white noise. Critics hated it, fans hated it, and it almost killed Lou’s career (fortunately for him, his next release was the brilliant doo-wop revisionism of Coney Island Baby). Over 30 years later, it’s a cornerstone of avant-garde music. The Zeitkratzer ensemble has done the impossible: completely re-creating the sound of the chaotic original with nothing but acoustic instruments (and some drums and horns). Zeitkratzer couldn’t be more qualified: the just recently did an album of avant-classical “droning”, imitating noted Greek composer Xenakis (whom Lou was really into during the making of the original MMM). The audio portion is a marvel of live mixing, capturing the original’s feel of wanting to burst into a solid melody at any given second. The DVD portion—capturing the 2002 live performance in full—only enhances your appreciation for Zeitkratzer’s dedication. Cellists nearly rip their instruments to shreds, percussionist Adam Weisman draws a bow across a brick of packing-foam, and even Lou Reed himself swings by during the third movement to deliver a warped guitar solo that—while not sounding at all like the original work—still runs on its own fascinating, near-impenetrable logic (plus, the 25-minute interview with a smoking, laid back and surprisingly-funny Lou is an added bonus). There isn’t a large audience for this kind of thing, but for those who want to hear what the far edges of pop-music are like, then strap yourself in for another fine version of Mr. Reed’s Wild Ride.

Metal Machine Music


Topics: zeitkratzer
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