Lou Reed/Zeitkratzer Metal Machine Music

When Metal Machine Music (subtitled The Amine ß Ring) crashed into the scene in 1975, it was received almost universally with shock and disdain. To even the most dedicated Velvet fans it was one of the most room clearing, party destroying pieces of vinyl ever pressed and entered the record books as having the most returns of any release ever, as well as the quickest trip to the cut out bins. It also nearly ended Reed's career, until he made nice with his label with Coney Island Baby. Quite a pedigree and one that maybe makes you recollect the reason why Zappa was so hot to sign Alice Cooper, having witnessed an entire auditorium of people walk out on one of Alice's shows. You just have to respect that level of response and history has, it turns out, been as kind to Reed as to Alice. This release on the Asphodel label has taken the LP and subsequent CD release to the next level. When approached by Zeitkratzer to perform the transcription, Reed remarked, "it can't be done," but when he heard the samples sent to him he was floored and not only gave his approval but brought his gear and engineers to record it and accepted Zeitkratzer's invitation to provide guitar on the tail end of the last section. The DVD is well shot and edited and gives us a beautiful document of the staging of the concert, which was held at the Berlin Opera House. There are some tight views of the musicians as they attack this piece and deal with the demands required of them. Some of the string players have to alter their playing position to make their parts work and this adds intensity to the performance aspect of the video. Curiously enough, the nature of the composition renders an odd disconnect between what you hear and what you see. Even when the camera is focused on any given musician, the sound is so dense that, with the exception of the percussionist and Reed, one rarely witnesses an instrument having any specific identification with the sound produced. While this puts the DVD in a somewhat surreal position to the music, it also places the CD in a unique context when listened to. The music is coherent and extremely well executed, and one can immediately hear the connection between the sonic properties of acoustic instruments, particularly bowed strings, and the frequency bath that is analogue feedback. Reed's assertion that there are melodies and rhythms inherent in the density is borne out and the original intent to create an almost "classical" instrumental work is made even more pertinent by the orchestration. In that light it should be noted that this release is not a validation of the original so much as it is a fully realised extrapolation of it. The only glitch, and a minor one at that, is the short cameo that Reed provides on guitar. While his credentials as a guitarist and composer are unquestioned, the fact that he comes in for a few minutes in the last section of the concert makes for a rather odd anomaly in the sound of the ensemble and the work. In addition to the concert footage on the DVD, there is a great interview with Reed, conducted by a rather rambling German interviewer. Reed is articulate, precise and gives valuable insight into his aesthetic and process, as well as providing some pretty funny moments with his recollections. This is a stellar release that covers all the bases, in terms of concept, presentation and execution. This is highly recommended. (Asphodel)