i was born in Los Angeles at Temple Hospital in Silverlake at 7:58 am on 8 february 1951 and given the vernacular name of Stefan Joel Weisser
my first vivid memory is watching the clouds – talking to my mother before she died i asked about this and she told me she first began to put me out on the balcony of their apartment in May — so this memory is from when i was between 4 -6 months old – because at that point they moved from the apartment on detroit street to the san fernando valley
and so sometime after that conversation with my mother, we were having to go downtown, and on the way back we drove by detroit street — well she pointed out the building, which was still there, and when i looked up at it i pointed to the third floor left side balcony and said, “that’s the one”, and she just looked at me and said, “yes, that’s the one”
when i was 3 years old, to keep me [and my 4 year old sister] occupied during the day, my mother began putting the pots and pans and some silverware out on the kitchen floor – according to her, my sister would play at cooking, and i would use the spoons to drum on whatever pots and pans she hadn’t already taken over
when i was 5 the family went to an ice cream parlor – my father parked in back and on our way in i saw stacks of empty thick hard cardboard drum like containers —
so i asked him to ask if i could have some – which he did, amazingly, and so three of them went home with us in the trunk of the car
and so these became my first ‘drum set’ using chop sticks as drum sticks
and they were very durable boxes because over the next two years the set got more sophisticated ,o —
with an orange crate added as both the bass drum and snare, and the containers relegated to being tom-toms and even a couple of lids from biscuit and coffee tins added as cymbals
as to what i would have been playing? well, i grew up listening to dixie land jazz [preservation hall provenance] which was my father’s, and still one of my favorite, musics — so that was the music i would have been drumming to
the research article story
1957 is my first memory of hearing rock and roll — my mother youngest sister, heather, was 10 years younger than her — so one day heather and her best friend cindy were babysitting me and they turned on KFWB [the la rock and roll & rhythm and blues station] and billy williams was singing i’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter, and then chuck berry’s ‘roll over beethoven’ came on and they started dancing and i remember cindy shouting ‘i love this song!’
and on one other saturday afternoon that year heather and cindy took me to the movies with them where they were seeing jailhouse rock — and the kids were dancing in the aisles — and i was hooked
1958 held yet another formative experience – beatnik breakfast
in 1959 i began formal lessons in percussion with Arnie Frank, then Chuck Flores and then Art Anton at Valley Drum City in Van Nuys CA
1963 was the year of my first professional performances — arnie frank hooked me up with two teen age guitar players who would get gigs playing at socials and private parties — the kind of jobs that i would later learn are referred to in the trade as ‘casuals’ — so the ‘band’ was them on guitars and vocals, me on drums, and a blond bass player with a crew cut whose mother would drive him in from simi and was the only of our parents who would stick around for the shows
and the shows? — no rehearsals — the ‘front men’ would just call out song titles that we would know from hearing them on the radio and we would just lauch into them – but basically we were playing surf music instrumentals – and some beach boys and early british invasion tracks for the songs with vocals
worth mentioning here is that fact that although i was, yes, born into the jewish religion, by 1963 i no longer considered myself a practitioner, nor have i ever considered myself one at anytime since that time –and more importantly, for the last i would consider myself as anti-zionist as any palestinian
here’s the initial impetus for this movement: in the jewish prayer books there are constant references to ‘meditating – meditation – and the burning of incense’ — so i went to see the rabbi at the synagogue my parents were members of – and asked the rabbi what the story behind these words were — and him being very traditional within the conservative tradition basically told me that they were just metaphors —
so one would think he should have known better than that, because this rabbi – Ben Zion Bergman is professor emeritus of Rabbinic Literature at American Jewish University in Los Angeles
for example, he should have directed me to the works of abraham abulafia — but he didn’t — and so i started looking for systems that DID burn incense and meditate — and so i went to the library – and spoke with a librarian who directed me to alan watts’ book the way of zen — and it was inwards and outwards since then, and in any event i eventually i found my to abulafia
1964 i got my first copy [hardcover] of naked lunch —
and thus began my initial attempts at writing Poetry and explorations of both Two and Three dimensional Art forms
janet sarver and poetry and
probably the hippest thing i did around this time were Smoke Paintings — created by manipulating pieces of paper over arrangements of candles to catch the carbon trails — and some of these still exist – and are awaiting scanning
1965-6 lacma venice beach beatniks and lsd
1967-9 was a period of major import in my Artistic development, for this was when I really learned to ‘listen’ and improvise.
together with my long time friend carl stone and james stewart we formed the hog fat blues band which eventually evolved into the silent arts group.
Note that this name was an homage to both the Sonic Arts Group (the original name of the Sonic Arts Union; Robert Ashley, David Behrman, Alvin Lucier and Gordon Mumma) and the first published book of John Cage’s writings, entitled Silence.
The s.a.g. was a trio with carl on farfisa ‘professional’ organ, vox echo unit [same as jimi hendrix used] and a wah-wah pedal and an ampeg scrambler pedal (upper-harmonic distortion and overdrive) , james on fender bass and ‘stefan’ on traditional drum set, performing proto-jazz rock.
auditioning for frank zappa’s bizarre records led to us being given time at bizarre’s rehearsal studios on la brea blvd.
however nothing came from this due to our inability to develop a ‘show’ to go along with our music
the band ceased activities and both carl and i eventually went on to attend calarts
in fact a duet recording of me and carl was my audition tape that got me accepted to calarts
at calarts: where i encounter emmett williams and fluxus
in 1974 i met the san francisco based analog synthesizer group cellar m (mark sprague, will jackson, chris greulich, perry spinali) — while mark and will had been at calarts that first year, we didn’t really meet up, although i was aware of their work they did there as crippled destiny [mark sprague, will jackson and sharon grace].
my first performance with them, at the center for contemporary music at mills college in oakland, april 1975, was in factcellar m’s last live performance
so the challenge of acoustically producing sounds which complemented the electronic sounds of cellar m led me to stop using traditional percussion instrument/materials and begin developing instruments whose materials were from the same technological “level” as circuit board based instruments – and voilà
part of the key here is that the amount of heat and pressure used in the creation of these materials gives them a potential to actually multiply/magnify the energy put into playing them and transform that into intense amounts of sonic energies
so through the mills college show chris had alienated will to the point that he left cellar m just before going to be a crew member on the first greenpeace anti-whaling expedition that summer — when he returned we met and, similar to the krautrock pioneers FAUST, cellar-m split into two units, me and mark and chris – and me and mark and will
so mark and will and i continued to work together doing at least one live performance at fort mason and then oliver dicicco came to hunter’s point and we recorded two tracks as cellar-m: azimuth and bleed fat
back in los angels i had an acetates cut of the tracks and once again paid a visit to bizarre records to give them an ear full — but while they thought there was some commercial potential to bleed fat’s bass line, overall they thought cellar m was too bizarre for bizarre
i did walk away with a great anecdote from that visit in that don van vliet [captain beefheart] was in the offices — and i was wearing a bright yellow silk coat with black vertical stripes — and as i was leaving don stopped me and said “if i had a packhard in those colors i’d get out of this business”… and we laughed
but by 1976 chris had managed to alienate me, so i stopped working with him and mark until 1979
and then on march 1st over breakfast, after an easter sunrise sound poetry performance of mine at la mamelle, mark told me he was stopping to work with us and only wanted to concentrate on working with chris
so will and i continued to work together but from that point on under the group name: TO
TO were based in san francisco at mary ashley’s studio on fifth street, the primary inhabitant there being sam ashely, the sadhu son of mary and bob ashley
for a while we were doing sunday shows as the ‘center for inter-species communication’– influenced by will’s work with the whales
TO performed in tokyo for the 1977 “save the seas” benefit at the harumi dome, as well as other cetacean ‘awareness raisings’ and support organization benefits in san francisco and mendocino
we also performed on radio station KPFK in los angeles and at la mamelle and fort mason and the blue dolphin in san francisco
late in 1976 i moved from los angeles to oakland.
besides working with will, the other reason for this move was my association with the san francisco alternative art space la mamelle, founded by carl loeffler, (later joined by nancy evans). i was pretty much a la mamelle artist for the remainder of my time in the bay area — as opposed to being associated with 80 langton street, the farm or any of the other early alt spaces in the area
but all things must pass and by august 1977 TO had dissolved and so i decided that rather than look for other musicians to perform with i would carry on by myself
i presented my first solo percussion performance at La Mamelle on august 19 under the project title ‘sound of wind and limb’.