Although all of the recordings on this three-CD box set had been previously released on other Table of the Elements discs, this brings together most of the avant-garde (i.e. non-rock, non-Velvet Underground) 1960s performances in which John Cale was involved that have been commercially issued. Disc one is identical to the material issued on New York in the 1960s, Vol. 1: Sun Blindness Music; disc two identical to the compilation Inside the Dream Syndicate, Vol. 2: Dream Interpretation; and disc three the same as Inside the Dream Syndicate, Vol. 3: Stainless Steel Gamelan, with the addition of two bonus tracks (on which Cale also participates) originally issued on the Jack Smith compilations Les Evening Gowns Damnees and Silent Shadows on Cinemaroc Island. Some of the cuts date back as far as the early '60s, and one is as late as February 1969. While this material is of enormous historic value for its insights into both early minimalism and the early recording career of Cale, it should be cautioned that most rock listeners -- even most Velvet Underground fans -- will find this hard going, and not much like even the most extreme Velvet Underground improvisations. None of the selections approach rock songs, or conventional songs of any sort, in structure; there's no singing. Cale's solo performances on organ, piano, guitar, and electronics are avant-garde/minimal in the extreme, taking exploration of dense droning, shrieking, distortion, and repetitive cyclical motifs to the limits. The droning viola that Cale employed in Velvet Underground pieces such as "Venus in Furs" also comes into play on some pieces, including some on which his viola is accompanied by Tony Conrad's violin. Of more interest to Velvet Underground fans, perhaps, is the presence of Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison on a couple of tracks, as well as original Velvets drummer Angus MacLise on a couple others. If you have the taste for this stuff, however, it certainly demonstrates Cale's appetites for probing the outer edges of music in a variety of contexts. The packaging, too, is elaborate, including a booklet with detailed liner notes, handsomely cased within a foreboding black box.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2
Track Listing - Disc 3
At About This Time Mozart Was Dead And Joseph Conrad Was Sailing the Seven Seas Learning English pt. 1, for wollensak, viola & guitar