Michael, it's really great and inspiring to see your postings here!
I was just beginning college at the time, and I bought the Material "Memory Serves" album the day it came out, largely because of the presence of Fred Frith. I was a huge Henry Cow fan at the time (and still am). That record was a real touchstone for me, it was my introduction to the NY downtown jazz scene, and the first place I heard Henry Threadgill & Sonny Sharrock, as well as you and Bill Laswell. I spent much of the next decade digging forward and backwards through the discographies of the players involved, and it was what led me to a lot of my current interests in music.
So I have a couple of questions about that record and that era, and it's influence on your subsequent career. First, I'd love to hear any memories you care to share about that era, and that record in particular. Secondly, both you and Laswell have gone on to have amazing careers as producers, albeit with very different aesthetics, and very different sounds. How did that band produce 2 such singular talents? Thanks in advance for any thoughts.
I guess people come into a creative situation (or any relationship) because of their similarities and leave because of their divergences. Working in Material provided us both with a lot of freedom and the opportunity to grow in a very unique way that no other situation would have afforded. I left because I gradually felt like we were becoming formulaic and I wanted to do other things.*
The period in New York that we were active (1978-1983) was one of the most artistically fertile periods in popular art and the most fertile I've ever experienced. It was a real renaissance- people from every different for of expression and media literally colliding daily and exchanging ideas. If you went out anywhere in Chelsea or below, within two hours, you'd have run into about 5 people you knew, you'd meet at least one new person and everyone was incredibly excited- either about what they were doing or what was happening around us. You couldn't help but be inspired.
Memory Serves was recorded a long time ago, hence, I only recall snippets. I think everything was recorded in our studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn which was near an old coffee factory. We'd take the subway from Manhattan every day and the walk to the studio was always enlightening. The blocks were very long and about 3 blocks down, on one side of the street there was a coffin manufacturing company (which was next to the Gowanus canal) and on the other side was a tiny, unauspicious looking Italian social club. One day, on my way to the studio, I noticed there was a long line of limousines with their engines running sitting outside the social club. It didn't take much to figure out what was going on.
The degree of talent on that record is pretty amazing. Unfortunately, the only thing I can recall apart from the social club experience is how uncomfortable I was singing. Since no one else in Material wanted to do it, the job was mine.*