Despite recording during the cusp of a heat wave in San Francisco that’d make Colin Moulding describe one’s hair as having been boiled, Bren’t Lewiis’s four-day session in early June concluded with only modest afflictions and casualties reported (index fingers under attack from both spiders and sloppy blade work, the battery of a vape pen, gastrointestinal activity, hardening spinal cartilage). The survival rate is currently projected at 100%.
The City Councilman and Lucian Tielens departed from their central valley Fluxus Enigma studio, where they record on a near-weekly basis, and converged upon No Spray 205 to off-gas as much structure and anti-structure as possible. Portable record players spinning scuzz-covered platters from the children’s section shared the table with an array of effects pedals. Debauching of violins also figured prominently, in the style pioneered by Joan Of Art, a robust scrape voicing enough sadness and defeat that it recalls non-consensual coitus with a wild canine. Texticians Lindy Lettuce and Tom Chimpson were onhand for one day each, adding their voices and word labyrinths and unnatural congress with toys and kitchen objects to the caterwaul. Attempts by Gnarlos to amplify vinegar and baking soda on tin foil yielded less than compelling results.
Evidence that some or all of the above really happened should become irrefutable during the second half of 2019. A title has yet to be decided upon, but there’s a good chance the artwork will be by Steve Marquis, last seen on a BuFMS release in 2011 – Bren’t Lewiis’s A Real Nice Clambake.
Visits to the No Spray 205 canteen rivaled Pompeii-era Pink Floyd. The menus included Korean barbecue with jackfruit, okra, corn, firm tofu, and brown rice; lasagna with kalamata olives and crimini mushrooms; red and golden beet salad with Bulgarian sheep feta and roasted pine nuts; crabless crab cakes; taquitos with avocado-greek-yogurt guac; rosemary-sesame crackers with Irish cheddar; toast with pistachio butter and chopped concord grapes; muesli with diced blood orange; blueberry crumble with lemon sorbet. Mu Shu vegetables and red Twizzlers had to be smuggled in.
The soundtrack during times of caterwaul respite:
Roky Erickson And The Aliens The Evil One (Restless 1987)
Olivier Brisson Horizon Capiton (Nashazphone 2018)
Salvitore Martirano L’s GA – Ballad – Octet (Polydor 1968)
Marino Zuccheri Parete 1967 Per Emilio Vedova (Die Schachtel 2005)
Various Die Abartigen (Slowscan 2016)
Johnny Stewart Secrets Of Successful Varmint Calling (Johnny Stewart Game Calls 1967)
Xenakis Terretektorh / Nommos Gamma (Candid 1969)
Faust The Faust Tapes (Virgin 1973)
Darksmith Of California Hatred Of Sound (Second Sleep 2018)
Various Wire Recorded Pieces (Sound Miracle 2019)
The Saints (I’m) Stranded (Sire 1977)
Is-In-Unsamble Is The Belly / In The Belly (Gilgongo 2019)
Various Timara – Electroacoustic Music At Oberlin (Hanson 2019)
Alberto Boccardi & Stefano Pilia Bastet (Nashazphone 2018)
Melanie O’Dubhshlaine Deformed Vowels (Club Papers 2015)
The Good Missionaries Pylons (Color Tapes 2019)
Various Open Strings – Early Virtuoso Recordings From The Middle East, And New Responses (Honest Jon’s 2009)
Anthony Moore Arithmetic In The Dark (Touch 2019)
Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (Warner Bros. 1978)
On the tube when everyone was too exhausted to do anything but pass out:
It Came From Hollywood
Casino Royale (1967)
Butthole Surfers Blind Eye Sees All
Jean Painlevé Science Is Fiction
Bill Perrine Children Of The Stars
Another Chance to see Bren't Lewiis Ensemble in 2018:
The NORCAL NOISE FEST
October 7, 2018
Main show starts at 3:00 p.m.
Arrive early for a special pre-performance.
3520 Stockton Blvd.,
More info and tickets here:
The Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble has been on multiple mini-tours throughout 2018. Many of the performances have been captured on video for some unknown reason.
Click on the button to see other videos on our YouTube channel. Tour notes are below in The Hideous Truth.
Hold on to your trilby! Here is the complete, eyeball-popping set as it was streamed live from The Space Concert Club. What a night. Three men bathed in blue and purple light, sitting at a table, looking down.
"Recorded at the Bell Memorial Union building California in 1984 it captures the sound of Lucian Tielens, Tim Smyth and someone going by the name of Gnarlos picking up various objects and dropping them to the floor."
Danial Spicer of Wire Magazine UK in conversation with Seymour Glass & Lucian Tielens. Seymour and Lucian had performed the night before (under a sheet) as the Brent Lewis Ensemble – their first gig together in 27 years.In the interview they discuss their friendship and the origins of the Brent Lewis Ensemble in 80s California, as well as the provenance of the Butte Country Free Music Society, and Glass’s work as one half of Glands of External Secretion and as founder/editor of the influential Bananafish magazine.
"The fabled Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble provide the high-water-mark for sheer sonic oddness. With their Bananafish passport and Guru Gnarlos guidance this troupe of varying bodies are dab hands at tweaking tapes, throats, minds and other unmentionables to create a new psychedelic moraine."
As they were driving north from No Spray 205 in San Francisco toward Chico, on a particularly unremarkable section of the freeway — I-505 to be specific, a rural thirty-three-mile stretch running from Vacaville to Dunnigan — Babuna Virus and Gnarlos decided to phone Tom Chimpson, also en route to Chico from Berkeley, and attempt to determine their relative positions. After a couple minutes comparing notes about the most recent signage passed, the three realized they happened to be in the same cluster of vehicles with just a single pick-up truck stacked high with chicken crates between them. Virus insisted Gnarlos speed up and pass the chicken truck so she could moon Chimpson. They were still ninety or more minutes away from their old college town and had already regressed to cliché Hellenistic shenanigans. They honked and waved at Chimpson as they sped by. For the next ten minutes Virus berated Gnarlos for passing too quickly and demanded that he slow down. For ten minutes after that Gnarlos understood she was not kidding. Calmly and rationally he explained why it’d be physically impossible to complete the maneuver in the relatively tight quarters of the passenger seat of a 2017 Toyota Corolla. A teenager on a school bus, sure, but creaky and bloated crutzers inside the best-selling compact sedan in history can’t realistically believe their contortions could exceed nodding along to favorite Buzzcocks tracks. The mechanics of garment divestiture from her south forty seemed impossible, and her head would have to be all the way over into his field of vision during the actual mooning. It was just a bad idea, he told her, about which he was shocked, quite frankly, that she was seriously considering it in the first place. To prove him wrong, Virus shucked her bottom half and pressed her naked derriere against the window; the entire process was smooth, efficient, and, aside from the Pete-Shelley-esque alarm tones insisting she re-fasten her seatbelt, surprisingly undisruptive to maintenance of safety standards inside the vehicle. The only other witnesses, a couple dozen hill cows grazing just beyond the guard rails, were clearly impressed. Gnarlos drove even faster and refused to leave to right lane until they reached their destination. Virus was appalled by his prissy prohibitions. Chimpson was grateful.
Two hours later at the Thunderbird Lodge, a shabby but convenient motel in downtown Chico, Virus and Lenore were accosted by a man in the parking lot. “Would you want to stay in a room that smelled bad and had dirty sheets?” he yelled at them. The query coming pretty much out of the blue, they regarded it as an ill-advised invitation to party and declined. “Well, that’s what I’ve ended up with,” he continued. “I don’t see why I should have to pay for this.” As always, it’s easiest to simply agree with complaining complainers and try to extricate oneself fast. Which is what the ladies did, but he continued his pursuit and bellowing his grievances. Legit as the amenity deficiencies may have been — black spots all over the bathroom mirror, a head of moldy cauliflower in a garbage can under the desk — Virus finally shut him down thus: “We aren’t the housekeeping crew! If you have a problem, go talk to someone who actually works here!” It’s so hard finding people who are willing to pretend to be good help nowadays.
The ensemble decided to rendezvous at One Mile, the bucolic man-made swimming hole near the entrance to Bidwell Park. There they encountered a snaggletooth hag with a belly bloated from malnutrition, spindly arms and legs peppered with tattoos, her upper calf wrapped with plastic to protect the fresh homemade set of jabbings from the water as she lowered herself in.
Following an immediate about-face, they came upon a magic buffoon, self-described as a “gospel illusionist,” whose act included jokes that were so square and cringe-worthy, even little kids were groaning. A couple examples: What do you called a cow with no legs? Ground beef. Where can you find a dog with no legs? Wherever you left him. He seemed to traffic heavily in animal mutilation humor. His tricks were standard, right out of the box. Rings, cards, arm-chopping, ta-da! He also announced winning raffle ticket numbers and dispensed prizes to the children (five-dollar gift cards from Starbucks). Ladies with metal trays tried to walk between the groups of families sitting on the grass and distribute free hotdogs, but they were swarmed by grabby parents within seconds. All around were damaged shirtless men, teeth missing from methamphetamine, voices permanently hoarse from alcohol abuse, laughing at every lame joke told by the magic buffoon as if it was truly the funniest thing they’d ever heard. Eventually he got around to the “gospel” part of his Abraca-Jesus shtick and compared faith to sticking a pin into a balloon without popping it, which he did. Gasp, a miracle, ooo, aaah. He noticed the group was moving on and switched his tone to disapproval. He could be heard trying to faith-shame the ensemble all the way to the cars.
Once one has had one’s fill of lovely natural vistas, there’s not much bona fide sightseeing to be done in Chico, just visiting places of personal significance and fond memories. And averting one’s eyes from the once charming architecture that has been mercilessly converted to bland cubes proclaiming the timeless superiority of corporate efficiency. Having arrived in a separate vehicle departing from Fluxus Enigma in Fair Oaks, Lucian Tielens refused to look out the windows of the vehicle piloted by The City Councilman. Eventually he put his head down, held his hands over his eyes, and quietly moaned.
Double Happiness Farm in Los Molinos hosted a mini-noisefest which served as a very small coda to the previous day’s memorial service for Don Lewis, member of BuFMS recording artists Dilwhip (aka Educated Mess) and more famously My Three Sons, Uh-Moncst, and Brutilicus Maximus. It was Easter, April Fools day, a full moon, and something else. Even the air itself felt like a weird fucker with an agenda.
The Marques performed a piece called “Offender Bender.” It was so brief it ended before any of the slow-moving BuFMS bluehairs could finish their rambling conversations and snap a pic or two with their phones. Cole Marquis’s guitar-playing couldn’t have been more restrained and understated; his adherence to a particularly idiosyncratic conception of what constitutes rudimentary strips music down to the almost nothing. Anyone familiar with his playing in The Snowmen, The Downsiders and 28th Day would be surprised and impressed. Raw and practically formless electronics remained in the background. Steve Marquis’s fragmented and ambiguous monologue was made no less worrisome by the incorporation of a couple black yoga moves involving slamming books on the ground, chugging carbonated beverages, and trying to eat a sandwich already in Babuna Virus’s mouth (which inflicted a rashy-looking wound on her neck that looked like herpes and a thistle infestation). It was a powerful performance about intimacy and regret that left many witnesses deeply moved, especially the quasi-abduction conclusion.
Termite’s set was likewise an inspired take on absence and hazy authority. Amplified egg timer and keyboards screeched simple, slow pulses, modulated howls, and amorphous, shrill warbles. Bob Howard left the designated performance space (the interior of the garage) repeatedly to sit in the audience, tend to the needs of Labrador Retrievers, and fetch a circular saw blade four feet in diameter, which he mounted on a metal pole and played with a hammer. It brilliantly capsized the seemingly rudderless nature of the set just as he pulled it into port.
Lucian Tielens and Gnarlos performed the impromptu requiem in memory on Don Lewis, a duet for weather-damaged piano, snare drum, high hat and wood scrap. The piece was external to the performance proper and in all likelihood recognized by no one else.
Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble was a quintet, though it easily could have been at least twice the size had Fuzzy, Limphoma, Joan Of Art, Alison Gude, Lindy Lettuce, Mr. Dolphin, Asskicker Bob, The Fair Lass, or Doug Roberts decided to jump in.
Tom Chimpson was in charge of randomized texts (lyrics, speaking toys, and poetry / instructionals cut-ups), The City Councilman played guitar and electronics, Tielens switched between electronics, guitar, voice, and Theremin gifted to him by Steve Marquis moments before, Babuna Virus was on synthesizer also acquired the day of the show, and Gnarlos operated prerecorded song fragments and texts about the mechanics of the human jaw, wind-up toys on amplified glass, and electric guitar played with a drumstick and a fishing rod.
With the sounds of neighborhood dogs and nearby lawnmowers merging in and out, it was a heavily layered set, like much of their contemporary recording, but also utilized ramshackle complexity and rural signifiers that have been largely under-represented in the ensemble’s work since the early 1980s. Brian Kehoe reportedly fell asleep during the set, but in a good way. Doug Roberts compared it to getting massaged by a bunch of monks.