Scrolling through the set of images on the Boo-Hooray website from Dreamweapon: The Art and Life of Angus Maclise 1938-1979 presents a pleasurable kind of hell for any NYC underground obsessive who couldn’t drop coin and actually, you know, fly half way across the world to see it. There in glass cabinets are original posters for Jack Smith screenings and performances; footage and films scroll across screens; Maclise’s ornate, improvised Farsi-esque calligraphy is pinned up on the walls. The photo set is remarkable as a memoir of an exhibition, but also as a reminder of just how much has surfaced around said underground in the intervening years. If the ’90s saw the start of the excavation job in earnest, with Maclise bootlegs, the Tony Conrad-released Jack Smith CDs, and so on, by now it’d be easy almost to dismiss Maclise’s earnest beginnings as the first drummer with the Velvet Underground. Thirty years ago, by contrast, it was his sole claim to fame.
So these two limited-to-500 LPs, along with the beautifully produced Dreamweapon exhibition catalogue, serve as communiqués from the archival front. (There’s also a gorgeous direct repro of Maclise’s Straight Farthest Blood Towards broadside, printed by John Beacham of The Brother In Elysium Press, which you really ought to see.) Dreamweapon I stretches long and loose over two sides, opening with “Les Evening Gowns Damnées.” That this has already appeared on one of the Jack Smith CDs from back in the ’90s matters not a jot — it’s an absolute hoot to hear Smith’s liquid, lolling drawl simmering at a queer pitch through the mesh and scrum of Maclise and Conrad on archaic string instruments. But the real meat is “SOS,” which beds Maclise’s submerged rhythmic clatter and an oscillating, breathy shenhai down inside the silvery purr of the tambura. Like the best tracks on other Maclise discs (The Cloud Doctrine or the soundtrack to Ira Cohen’s The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda), this screams higher-minded Noo Yawk loft experience circa 1968, the melting pot of the age brought to brew equal parts temporally bled minimalism, Eastern mysticism, and meditative poet-seer occultism in a cold, creaked-out warehouse.
Dreamweapon III is dustier, with more dirt engrained in its grooves. The entirety of the first side is taken up with a barnstormer of a drone-and-scrape mantra from Conrad on violin, which has me thinking more of his colleague Henry Flynt’s own spiraling descents into the void, albeit without the revenant Americana turn. Early in the piece, Maclise swoops in, declaiming like an outraged tyrant, cursing the souls of the police force, pinning them as phallic marauders and ordering them to “Kiss the cunt of God.” Flip the vinyl and you have three shorter cuts, the most revelatory of which is the opening “Short Drum and Viola Part 1 & 2.” It’s great to hear Maclise on the drum spilling his polyrhythmic wisdom, and it’s on cuts like this, and the soundtrack to Ron Rice’s film Chumlum (where Maclise plays cimbalom) that you can really hear the complex way Maclise moves rhythm around, chasing it through and beyond time, latticing in ways both complicated and seemingly seamless.
Given a general tendency to privilege the group-mind/no-mind aspects of Maclise’s music — the Universal Mutant Repertory Company, etc — there’s something incredibly instructive about hearing him settle in and really stretch an instrument. Chumlum is still the peak, but “Short Drum and Viola” comes close. But mention of the Rice film also still begs the question: Where are the visual equivalents of the Dreamweapon series? Sure, you can get Chumlum, The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda, and a few Ken Jacobs films on DVD, but the field is clear for a really thorough collection of the miraculous body of film work that Maclise’s friends made across the ’60s and early ’70s. And with Jack Smith the dedicatee of a recent exhibition at the ICA, I daresay the time is just about here. I mean, all things are inter-related, right?