The Upshot: Synth mania and tape manipulation from the Pere Ubu mad scientist, plus accessorized string bass by a fellow Cleveland-ite. It’s the now sound of 1975!
BY FRED MILLS
Longtime Clevo watchers surely know the Allen Ravenstine name, from his pioneering protopunk as synth player/resident mad scientist for Pere Ubu to his solo work and contributions to the likes of the Red Crayola and David Thomas & The Wooden Birds. Terminal Drive is a single 16-minute track recorded in Cleveland during April and May of 1975, with Ravenstine on synth and tapes, plus Albert Dennis on string bass; the two had previously worked together in short-lived experimental/improvisational outfit Hy Maya, a project of artist Robert Bensick that also featured Ubu drummer Scott Krauss. (Stay tuned for more on the latter: Smog Veil is next releasing a deep-archive Hy Maya 2LP set.)
Smog Veil, of course, has long championed all things O-HI-O, and this nicely appointed red vinyl/one-sided 12” EP is the latest in the label’s “Platters Du Cuyahoga” series, which to date has included titles from the Schwartz Fox Blues Crusade (reviewed HERE), the Mr. Stress Blues Band, the Robert Bensick Band, and, coming later this month, aforementioned Hy Maya. The label never cuts any corners, either, specializing in meticulously researched liner notes—here, a full-sized 8-page booklet boasting lengthy notes from Clevo scene authority Nick Blakey and essays from both Dennis and Ravenstine. Plenty of vintage photos are included as well. (The record is also available on CD and digital download should you, for some strange reason, not desire a sweet slab of red wax.)
Ravenstine’s comments are delightfully deadpan, describing what downtown Cleveland looked (and smelled!) like in the mid ‘70s, living in a fourth floor walkup in a reliably seedy, ruined neighborhood, and talking about the gear he used to record Terminal Drive: “I repurposed a kitchen hutch to hole my EML 200, a 300 which was a sort of mixing and switching unit that had a telephone style keypad with sixteen keys and post for assigning a pitch to each one, and the Teac [3340 reel to reel tape recorded w/10” reels] and set it up in the bedroom.” As these things go, a 6:43 excerpt of the recording wound up on an odds ‘n’ sods disc included in the ’96 Pere Ubu box set Datapanik In The Year Zero, but for years since then it appeared that the tapes had been lost. Then in 2016 a cassette surfaced in a friend’s archives, one side labeled “Allen Ravenstine April-May 1975,” and voila! here we have Terminal Drive.
It’s challenging, mesmerizing, and at times downright haunting stuff, a soundtrack to the urban decay Ravenstine must have witnessed on a daily basis from his apartment window. Long, groaning, bowed chords from Dennis are abetted by Ravenstine’s synth belches and drones; at times he creates clinking sounds that suggest a machine plant in operation, others a kind of airy whooshing that could be a sharp breeze whistling down a deserted street, and sometimes just white noise aimed at creating a profound sense of unease in the listener—like that feeling one might have gotten decades ago, in the pre-24-hour-cable-television era, when you’ve fallen asleep in front of the TV only to be jerked awake by the sound of the station abruptly going off the air at 2 a.m. Random distant mutters (or are they synth hiccups?) punctuate the recording as well, adding to the claustrophobic vibe.
Definitely uneasy listening, and probably not for the timid of heart. But for Ravenstine fans, Ubu completists, and Clevo devotees in general, a must-own.
DOWNLOAD: It’s a single track, dummy! (Below, check out a radio edit of “Terminal Drive”)