What characterized the first phase of Bob Ostertag's musical career -- his N.Y.C. Lower-East Side days of the late '70s and early '80s -- was ingenuity. The man had sounds and sampling ideas in his head that would only be possible to produce a decade later. So he resorted to the strangest contraption, co-devised with Bryan Medwed: a sound loop device made of three reel-to-reel tape recorders and helium balloons to maintain tension as he altered recording speeds. Getting a Head is Ostertag's first album under his own name (he appeared on one previous document, Fall Mountain's 1979 LP Early Fall). Basically the idea is the exact same as what he did much later on Attention Span and Say No More: to record an improviser and alter his music. Each side of the LP presented an extended piece. The title track features guitarist Fred Frith. Ostertag assigns his jagged chords and harsh textures to the two available loops and operates speed changes. By doing so he creates a warped mirror image, strange and unsteady. "In Tundra" is much better, thanks mostly to the source material percussionist Charles K. Noyes provides. He focuses mainly on bowed cymbals and junk metal. Speed variations distort the image once again, but the already eerie performance now becomes nightmarish. The whole thing is a bit crude and doesn't match the level of complexity and excitement Ostertag's music of the 1990s reached, but Getting a Head remains an interesting document. It was reissued in 2001 as part of Seeland's metal-boxed limited-edition CD series.
Getting a Head Review
by François Couture