I Am Legend; Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Unsane, Fab 5 Freddie) on 10 projects that scrambled his brain

BC35 is a project honoring the legacy of producer Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Hiram-Maxim, Angels of Light, Helmet, Unsane, Boredoms, etc.) and his Brooklyn studio, BC Studio. Celebrating BC Studio and the ethic it represents, the future of the studio where Bisi has operated since the early 1980’s is unknown. A new rezoning proposal seeks to reshape the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, incentivizing residential development and tall buildings. Meanwhile, a grassroots push to landmark certain historic buildings, including the former factory where BC Studio is located, is in motion.

A record release show is booked for April 25 at Market Hotel in Brooklyn, featuring Live Skull, White Hills, and more BC35 contributors:

Pre-order BC35, Volume 2 here.

Ghettoblaster had the distinct pleasure of catching up with Bisi recently to ask about ten records that he has worked on that that had a lasting impact on his soul, pushed his limits, or changed his understanding of music. This is what he told us.

The Dresden Dolls – Self-titled
This was a great record to work on because there was a lot of room to experiment with sounds -they’re a duo after all. And they have a dramatic flair, and wanted extra drama and stuff happening. Some cool experimenting in the mix, happens on “Coin Operated Boy.” The song
starts small, and thin, and right at the words “then he comes to life,” bam it’s suddenly full hi-fi and stereo. And for some extra concept, goes back to that, incrementally at the end. I also did somewhat of a solo with a Memory Man analog delay pedal, that normally a guitar plugs into. It’s in the middle bridge. I ran vocals and cymbals into it, and manipulated the feedback setting to get these swooping sounds that only occasionally sound like voice or cymbals.

US Maple – Talker
Here I really pulled out the stops on using a lot microphones. And it’s mostly because I didn’t know where things were going. They’d come from Chicago and I’d never seen them live. So I figured best to put up a lot of stuff, capture in several ways simultaneously, and we’d figure it out later. Luckily I soon found out some of them are dedicated gear nerds, so without even commenting they dug that there were varied colors to the sounds. I also learned that when the music, or arrangement is economical, make the sounds bold.

Ciccone Youth – “Into The Groove(y)” ( single / later on The Whitey Album)
Technically quite an armful. Sonic Youth laid down a version of Madonna’s (yes, she) “Into The Groove,” directly onto tape, then played and sang over it. We also painstakingly tried to sync up some drum machine elements. The whole thing is on the edge of being in control, and ended up with a very cutup vibe. We were all just going with the flow (the groove) and throwin’ out the preconceptions. I assumed at the end of the session that we’d failed. But they let me know the next day that it was not a failure.

Nicki Skopelitis – Ekstasis
The great experience here is having the great Jaki Liebezeit, drummer of Can in the studio. A great early version of trance and World music.

Material – The Road To The Western Lands
We had tapes of William Burroughs that we’d recorded separately. He was pretty much a philosopher hero to me. So to have his voice to add to music, and also mold the music around him, though it might not seem so unusual today, was quite an experience then. And I really found his words fairly scary.

Brian Eno – On Land
Going back to the beginning. The first sessions with Brian Eno at BC Studio – then called OAO, in 1981, Gowanus, Brooklyn. Well, Eno himself was the great learning experience here. He personally gave me a deck of his Oblique Strategies cards – that you pick from at random
for inspiration – and explained his take on them. Also, one day, he came back from the Museum of Natural History in NYC, with slides of the large stuffed animals in dramatic natural scenes (“on land”). And we set up projectors all over the room, so the musicians could watch as they performed.

Last Exit – Iron Path
The great drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson was a great lesson in feel and sound. We recorded the drums in the large bathroom we have, which oddly has a 20 ft ceiling – with Bill Laswell on bass and Sonny Sharrock (Pharoah Sanders, Miles Davis) on guitar. This record is wonderfully not jazz.

Material – Memory Serves
Again, it was elders that made it an experience. Guitar hero Fred Frith and again with Sonny Sharrock. This was a record where we were on the verge of having too much on tape. But reining in that kind of a beast was a skill I’d use and perfect my whole life. You can really appreciate Bill Laswell’s six-string bass, which he got some inspiration for, from listening to African, Saharan desert blues.

Fab 5 Freddie – “Change The Beat”  (B-Side)
Unbeknownst to us, this song ended up being one of the most sampled in history. At the end of the song, but only on the B side, you hear a vocoder voice (a voice going through a synthesizer) that says “this stuff is really fresh.” And that “fresh” is the moment used by turntablist DXT, on Herbie Hancock’s Grammy winning song “Rockit.” This was a very important moment for turntablism. Side B has a woman English-speaker, rapping in French – she ended up being called “B-Side” on the scene for many years. It’s worth checking out the A-side, which has Fab 5 Freddie rapping. Side A might have some of the weirder drum sounds.

Ultra Bidé – God Is God, Puke Is Puke
Well, this has everything. The band is Japanese, and I guess they were inclined to incorporate several American styles. It was my introduction to avant-garde mixing with hardcore and straight punk, something I’d see more of in later years. The lyrics are absolutely off the rocker – it’s worth finding the lyrics.