John Oswald

Grayfolded: Mirror Ashes

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In the early '90s, the Grateful Dead allowed Plunderphonics creator John Oswald access to numerous performances of their psychedelic masterwork "Dark Star." From nearly a quarter century of live tapes, Oswald was able to generate a completely new entity that he dubbed Grayfolded -- a phonetic word play on the band's name. In some ways, this third-party sonic manipulation forecast the type of "mash-up" or pastiche -- via cut-n-paste -- that artists as diverse as Negativland to the KLF had incorporated to varying degrees of success. The primary difference was that Oswald was using the same song. "Transilience" takes the listener from the end of the first verse -- as the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia (lead guitar/vocals) is lifted from multiple years as he sings "the transitive nightfall of diamonds" before lunging forward into the "73rd Star Bridge Sonata." This title is a sly reference to an instrumental "theme" Garcia occasionally steered into that sounded similar to the carefree Simon & Garfunkel ode "59th Street Bridge Song" aka "Feelin' Groovy." One of the best-known apparitions of this phenomenon occurred during the February 13, 1970, Fillmore East show that can be experienced in its purest form on the essential Dick's Picks, Vol. 4 (1996). Caveat emptor for listeners with sensitive ears -- or sound systems for that matter -- as "Cease Tone Beam" will rattle anything that isn't bolted down. The exceptionally low frequencies are derived from an amplified instrument with piano-like strings that Bill Kreutzmann (percussion) or typically Mickey Hart (percussion) would strike, scrape, pluck, and otherwise manipulate within the context of their Rhythm Devils/"drums" section of latter-era Grateful Dead concerts. The formal structure of "Dark Star" resurfaces during "Speed of Space." The second ("mirror shatters") verse emerges with different layers fused together into a singular disturbing and ethereal vocal expression. "Cryptical Envelopment" is referred to during "Dark Matter Problem/Every Leaf Is Turning" -- replete with a heart-palpitating smear of drumming that launches headlong into "(That's It For) The Other One." In many ways the delivery resembles what had been attempted on Anthem of the Sun (1968) by syncing up numerous readings at the same point and then letting them run simultaneously. No sooner than that, an aural corner is turned leading into a "Feedback"-like dissonance prior to the concluding "Foldback Time" -- condensing the entire effort and wrapping the whole thing up with applause no less.