My early fascination with adventurous music exploded in 1968 when I attended a concert by Jimi Hendrix and had my 13-year-old mind blown by the opening act, England’s Soft Machine. Growing up in an artistic family in Lexington, Massachusetts, I played drums in what was literally a garage band, and taught myself piano and guitar. By the time I attended Rhode Island School of Design, I was organizing free-improv ensembles, playing jazz piano, composing chamber music, and singing songs. After graduating with honors from RISD, I moved to New York City and for ten years supported myself as a graphic designer and illustrator, freelancing for pianist Paul Bley’s Improvising Artists Inc. record label, La Monte Young, and others.
In 1980 I joined bassist Bill Laswell, singer Shelley Hirsch, and others, in Nigel Rollings’s band Ad Hoc Rock, as drummer and later as guitarist, keyboardist, and singer. The band played many venues, including The Kitchen, CBGB, a benefit at Carnegie Hall, and the seminal 1981 “Noise Fest” at White Columns. In 1985 and 1986 I was one of five improvising vocalists, with Arto Lindsay, Shelley Hirsch, David Moss, and Sussan Deihim, in “Dead Stories” and “Tower of Babel” — concert and theater projects by turntable pioneer Christian Marclay.
Also in 1980 I wrote the first of my Control Songs, a genre I created to contain my otherwise uncategorizable songs, which combined my interests in melody, noise, and the song form, with lyrics addressing the elusive but necessary sense of control that helps us function. Instrumentation ranged from mediaeval bowed psaltery to the then-brand-new Fairlight CMI, one of the first digital samplers. I performed these songs solo in the very first music series at The Knitting Factory, at New Music America Festivals, and on tours in Europe. My first album, Control Songs, was issued in 1987 on the German label Review Records, and included musicians John Zorn and Christian Marclay. That album was recently described by the National Sawdust Log as one of the “foundational documents of New York’s downtown music scene.” Since Control Songs I’ve been gradually and steadily releasing albums of my music while presenting other peoples’ music on the radio.
Listen (and buy the albums via Bandcamp) on my music page.
Recently I’ve entered a new phase as a composer. Using a 12-string guitar specially modified by my son Kenji Garland, as well as many other instruments, my music has moved into previously unknown territory, and I’m excited to share the results on my four-hour album Verdancy.
In 1983 I began presenting unusual music on the radio, first as a volunteer at WKCR, Columbia University’s station, and starting in 1987 professionally on WNYC New York Public Radio, America’s most-listened-to public radio station.
Over the years my on-air guests have ranged from John Cage and John Zorn to Paul McCartney and Sufjan Stevens. My show Spinning On Air, now a podcast, aired for 28 years (1987–2015) on WNYC, produced by a staff of one (me) along with talented recording engineers for the in-studio sessions. The program championed music that’s personal, adventurous, uncategorizable, neglected, and brand new.
I also programmed and presented wide-ranging classical music shows on WNYC. From 2009 to 2015 I presented classical music on WQXR, and produced weekly programs on film scores (Movies on the Radio) and early music (Old School).
Currently I’m a freelance audio producer. Contact me to discuss your audio project.
© david garland