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Reed Fires Up ‘Metal Machine Music’ Again

There are few albums in rock history that single handedly alienated an artist’s following as quickly as Lou Reed’s 1975 release “Metal Machine Music,” which consists of front-to-back improvised white noise.

But over the years, more and more experimental noise-based bands voiced their admiration of the album, and now, “Metal Machine Music” is considered an ahead-of-its-time release, and an important stepping-stone for such subsequent bands as Sonic Youth. This led to German saxophonist Ulrich Krieger transcribing the entire set, which he presented to Reed.

The German chamber music ensemble Zeitkratzer “gets in touch with me, ‘Can we play Metal Machine Music live?’,” Reed recounts in a press release. “I said, ‘It can’t be done.’ They said, ‘We transcribed it. Let us send you a few minutes of it and you tell us.’ They sent it, I listened to it, and the results were unbelievable. I said, ‘My God! Okay, go do it.’ They said, ‘Will you play guitar on the third part of it?’ So ‘Metal Machine Music’ finally got performed live at the Berlin Opera House. It’s extraordinary, because all those years ago it was considered a career ender.”

Recorded live in 2002 by Reed and Zeitkratzer, the project will arrive Sept. 1 in Germany, Sept. 3 in the U.K. and Sept. 4 in the U.S. via Asphodel as a CD/DVD set. The CD portion provides the audio, while the DVD will include the concert video, as well as a near 30-minute-long Reed interview (and stereo/5.1 surround sound audio options).

“I always liked the piece,” Krieger said. “It is the perfect juxtaposition of rock and contemporary classical avant-garde music. I like its depth. Every time you hear it, you hear something new. I love its rawness. Some of the contemporary orchestra pieces are sonically not so far from it, but neatly played by classical trained musicians. So I wanted to bring this together.”

And just how exactly did Krieger transcribe what many consider to be just noise? “The transcription is in musical pitches for the most part,” he says. “It uses musical staff system, but also new signs for specific sounds and other special notation. There surely is a similarity in the interest in sustained sound, and drones, and an interest in loud volume and long durations. If there was a direct influence, you have to ask Lou himself.”
(Greg Prato, N.Y.C.)