New York-based turntablist David Shea (1965) established his reputation mainly in
John Zorn's ensembles.
His first major composition was the 20-minute title-track of Shock Corridor (january 1992 - Avant, 1992), a 20-minute collage
inspired by Sam Fuller's film of the same name and performed by
an all-star cast: Anthony Coleman on piano and organ, Shelley Hirsch on
voice and electronics, Ikue Mori on drum-machine, Zeena Parkins on electric harp, Jim Staley on trombone and didjeridoo, Jim Pugliese on percussion, and Shea on turntables, sampler, jaw harp and harmonica.
Samples and instruments weave a frenzied kaleidoscopic universe of
military marches, ghostly female chants, Rossini opera,
lounge jazz, chamber music, Chinese music, revolutionary anthems, funk,
and, of course, electronic noise; something that winks alternatively at
Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Zorn,
Frank Zappa and all the other eccentric
artists of collage art.
The same album contains a simulation of cartoon music,
Cartoon For Scott Bradley , and a Trio for Samplers
that is no less restless, multi-stylistic and demented.
His interest in sampling technology rapidly increased.
Prisoner (august 1993 - Sub Rosa, 1994), inspired by the British tv series, contains seven untitled pieces between three and twelve minutes long for a similar line-up (Shea, Coleman, Parkins, Pugliese, but Hideki Kato on bass and Marc Ribot on guitar).
I (Sub Rosa, 1995) contains the
24-minute four-part Alpha, the
14-minute Film, the 11-minute Trio II,
all of them real-time collages of record snippets. This time Shea is alone
with his sampler.
The Chinese-influenced stylistic cauldron of
Hsi-yu Chi (january 1994 - Tzadik, 1996) returned to the ensemble format
(Sim Caine on percussion, Hideki Kato on bass, Zeena
Parkins on harp and accordion, John Zorn on saxophone,
Alex Tobias on harmonica,
Kato Hideki on bass,
Wu Man on pipa ,
Rebecca Wilson on vocals,
Jim Pugliese on
drums, Marc Ribot on guitar) with samples based on Hong Kong films.
Shea likes to surprise the listener with sudden shifts in style, mood and tone.
The temple ritual sampled in the five-movement Temple gets submerged by electronic drone but remain the scaffolding for the magniloquent orchestral percussive feast that follows; and the closing movement is a hybrid Indian-Chinese jam.
The delicate Chinese chamber music of Three Elements is subverted by
a lengthy percussion solo.
The tone turns to comical and parodistic and the style to nocturnal jazz-rock
in Five Fingers, that mocks film soundtracks.
The four-part Fits of Fury is a collage of different things:
a frantic folkish jam, another magniloquent parody of jazz-rock soundtracks,
and a lengthy coda of white noise and vocal sounds.
The Woodcutter And The Fisherman has a blues harmonica and a Chinese
opera singer compete in a sinister guitar-penned swamp.
The three-part Silk Road is a rip-off of
Ennio Morricone's western-movie music,
followed by a tribal Balkan dance, followed by a minimalist piano sonata
and ending in a Hollywood-style shootout.
The jovial skit Mara offers an unlikely fusion of Indian and Irish
Orchid Tree, one of the standouts, is carnival music that basically achieves the same
pan-ethnic feat but in a more demented manner: childish drumming,
obsessive bagpipes, free-jazz saxophone.
There is even time for a romantic sax ballad, Rouge (with counterpoint
of Chinese female singer).
Holy Mountain closes the album with the ultimate fusion: Gregorian monks
duetting with Buddhist monks, both defeated by traditional Chinese strings
and a majestic female choir.
The Tower of Mirrors (october 1995 - Sub Rosa, 1995),
or "Hsi-yu Pu" in Chinese, the title of a Taoist novel,
contains 24 short pieces for
another ensemble that expanded both in terms of instruments
(Erik Friedlander on cello, Dave Douglas on trumpet),
in terms of electronics (David Morley on synthesizer) and in terms of style.
This is perhaps the most encyclopedic of his collages.
In all of these records Shea displayed a unique flair in harmonizing
samples and live instruments. His collages are not cacophonous cut-ups
of unrelated sounds, but elegant and cohesive narrative structures.
The mini-album The Land of Pure Illusions (Sub Rosa, 1996) contains three remixes of the title-track and a new track.
Down River Up Stream (Downsall Plastics, 1996) is a collaboration with DJ Grazhoppa on turntables, samplers and beatbox, and one of his most abstract
Satyricon (Sub Rosa, 1997), another imaginary soundtrack, this time
for the ancient Latin
masterpiece, is a collage symphony scored mainly for piano, sampler and synthesizer that constitutes both a temporary peak of his
technique and one of the most linear pieces of music he's ever done.
After the ominous electronic rumble and gong of Opening,
Shea moves to an alien disco with the pounding and arpeggiated techno locomotive
Q, an idea later replicated on the samba-tinged Wheel.
Shea embraces his legendary turntable to squeal in
Trimalchio next to Anthony Coleman's jazzy organ,
Zeena Parkins' harp and a regular rhythm section of bass and drums,
the jam quickly exploding into a psychedelic freak-out.
Shea even plunges into Afro-tribal drum'n'bass at breakneck speed with
The Waves, the bacchanal that ends the album.
However, there is another mind at work throughout this concept album, a mind which is
much more influenced by Western classical music.
The eight-minute Psyche is a
forceful piano sonata in the repetitive minimalist manner.
The ethereal, floating Eros feels like a flute solo against a backdrop
of vibraphone drones.
Giton's Theme is an even simpler piece of music, a cyclical
carillon-like elegy with wordless female vocals.
The brief Circe is a fantasia for string quartet.
Even stranger is Ars Nova II, that harks back to Medieval street music
with clarinet, bagpipes, psaltery, lute and flute.
The Dream recreates a similar landscape but at a more oneric level,
with a dense layer of obsessive female voices.
The Wife Of Epheseus (with waltzing accordion, dancing piano and
wordless female "la-la"s)
is another of Shea's incursion in film music of the 1960s.
This is music that has several souls and several meanings, none of which is
rational enough to prevail.
The Poem de Nuestra Signora (november 1996 - More Music, 1997) works with a set of
Italian traditional folk songs.
The project was continued on El Ritual de North et Sud (september 1997 - More Music, 1999)
and Exstasis (More Music, 2002).
At the same time, the eclectic Shea slowly began to approach the formats
preferred by classical music.
Classical Works (Tzadik, 1998) contains two works for chamber ensemble,
samples and turntables: Chamber Symphony #1 and The 'Voice' Suite.
Classical Works II (Tzadik, 2002) contains more works for ensemble
(Chamber Symphony #2), duo and solo interacting with sampler.
An Eastern Western Collected Works (recorded in 1997 - Sub Rosa, 1999) includes the 17-minute Elegy For Mario Bava.
Free Chocolate Love (Sub Rosa, 2000) is a collaboration with
Scanner, four tracks each dedicated to the
exotica and muzak of the 1950s.
Tryptich (Quatermass, 2001) contains three pieces for solo sampler:
Sita's Walk Of Fire (21:34), one of his most ingenious,
One Ride Pony (10:38), a tedious movie soundtrack, and
Satyricon 2000 (22:58), a revised version of Satyricon.
Book Of Scenes (december 2004) toys with a chamber format of viola and piano.
Eight Etudes For Duo Sampler (2007) is a collaboration with Daniele Ledda.
Weasel Walter, Kevin Shea (drums, percussion, electronic drums and vocals) and Matt Mottel (synthesizer, electronics, vocals) collaborated on Keep Your Laws Off My Body (2009), later re-released as Polyp (2009 - MNOAD, 2014).
Rituals (Room40, 2014) collects compositions of the 2010s
inspired by East Asia's ritual music.
Piano I (Room40, 2016) was an experiment for solo piano.
It Is Dangerous To Lean Out (august 2013 and december 2014) collects two lengthy improvisations with Matt Mottel (synthesizers) and Alan Wilkinson (alto and baritone saxes).
Shea also played in
Mostly Other People Do the Killing (aka MOPDTK), a quartet formed by bassist Moppa Elliott with Jon Irabagon on saxes and Peter Evans on trumpet:
Mostly Other People Do the Killing (july 2004), Shamokin (august 2006), This Is Our Moosic (january 2008), Forty Fort (january 2009), the live The Coimbra Concert (may 2010), Slippery Rock (2012), the live Hannover (february 2014),
Hannover (february 2014),
Loafer's Hollow (Hot Cup, 2017), the first one without Evans,
Present Disasters Vol 1 (fall 2019).
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