Wednesday, November 5, 2014

TMFW 61 - The Grateful Dead as Performance Art

[NOTE: Today I am in New York City doing some work.  I had an ambitious entry planned out but it will have to be punted to a future week.  So today's entry is quite to the point.  But I think it's a good gag.]

When I was in college, there was a fellow in our dorm who was a "tape trader," specializing in old Grateful Dead shows.  He had a little party trick where he would ask you where you were from, and then would name a Dead show that was near your town, with dates and setlist highlights.  He could often pull out a tape of the show if you wanted to hear it, too.  (In true Deadhead devotion, you often ended up hearing it whether you liked it or not.)

I can still remember being sort of amazed that he had such an attention span for audience recorded - and then redubbed several generations over - tapes of shows that sounded pretty bad and were largely the same.  But as I have met more and more people who get in for jam bands, I have come to accept that there are a number of oddballs in the world who get something from that.
Recently, I learned of a Grateful Dead recording that is at the extreme end of silliness (and as a result is one that I can get behind).  Called "Tuning '77," it is described by its creator as "a seamless audio supercut of an entire year of the Grateful Dead tuning their instruments, live on stage. Chronologically sequenced, this remix incorporates every publicly available recording from 1977, examining the divide between audience expectation and performance anxiety."  Put bluntly, the project is an hour and a half of continuous tuning sounds from Grateful Dead concerts in 1977.  That's it.  You can hear "Tuning '77" at the link above; it's surprisingly enjoyable to listen to and anticipate a song that never, ever comes.
While researching this week's TMFW entry, I found an interview with the editor/creator of Tuning '77; he is an artist and offers the tongue-in-cheek opinion that "listening to it is an act of performance art."  Or you can see him talk about the project on "Good Day Sacramento" here.  He seems like a cool dude. 
BONUS FACT: In the digital age, tape trading has gone the way of the dinosaur.  Those people who used to mail Maxell XL-IIs in cushioned envelopes and wait for weeks to hear a show can now go to the Live Music Archive at and hear it instantly.  There are currently 9,889 Dead shows available, completely free and with no loss in quality.
BONUS FACT 2:  There is a commercially-produced Grateful Dead compilation that is similarly-focused as Tuning '77 called "Grayfolded."  It's a 2 CD set with two one-hour long versions of the Grateful Dead epic "Dark Star."  Each version was layered and edited together using over 100 different recordings of the song between 1968 and 1993.  Allmusic reviewed the record and gave it 4 out of 5 stars.   The world is a strange place.

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