Born: August 20, 1953
Country: United States of America
Composer and guitarist First may be the perfect "downtown" musician in the inventive way he has resolved for himself the many currents and materials of contemporary music into a unique voice.
While still in his late teens, First was recruited to join an ensemble assembled by composer/pianist Cecil Taylor that presented a legendary concert at Carnegie Hall in the spring of 1974.
First has also been active as a producer/arranger, asRead more an experimental music DJ on radio station WBAI, and as a music curator, presenting musical events at HERE, Context Studios, bOb, Exit Art, and the Soho Arts Festival, for which he organized the programs Sensual Intelligence and Swirled Music.
Many of his concert and installation pieces begin with the gradual establishment of a centralizing resonance, an engaging drone or sustained chord. This sound is then modulated by combining with other sustained tones, bent very slowly.
An especially good example of this type of piece is The Good Book's (Accurate) Jail of Escape Dust Coordinates, a continuous work in four sections -- "Drift," "Contact," "Gallop," "Assemblage" -- for winds, synthesizers, many types of guitars, and percussion. "Drift" is a lovely meditative piece with slowly changing synthesizer drones which are added to by other instruments and soft percussion, while a muted bass guitar plays a quasi-random staccato line. "Contact" features synthesizer alone with slow de-tuning beats and other waveforms. This evolves into "Gallop" which adds Indo-Arabian drum beats and guitar stereo rhythms to the synth drone. A center channel guitar, and winds and trumpet play a rhythmic descending modal pattern. "Assemblage" slowly grows into a multi-rhythmic, gloriously dense combination of material from the previous sections. This is probably First's most successful integration of his conceptual and rhythmic music interests.
In his opera The Manhattan Book of the Dead, strange demonic/angelic choruses are combined with instrumentals with hints of jazz and rock yet go way beyond the usual functions of those styles into a poetic, mystical world.
First continues this fascination with re-interpreting or skirting the usual implications of sounds and styles when he performs with other musicians, such as William Hooker, a performer on Korean string instruments (especially the koto-like komungo) Jin Hi Kim, the elegant and very avant-garde saxophone and wind player Ulrich Krieger, and Marc Ribot. First has also led many of his own groups including the World Casio Quartet, the Koan Pool, and the Joy Buzzers.
His most recent pieces and projects include A Bet on Transcendence Favors the House which is a large scale drone piece for mixed ensemble and computer; the music for Optic Fever, a multi-media production created and directed by Theodora Skipitares; and his new ensemble called the Universary Orch, which presents his latest experiments in drones and song structures.
In July 2001, First was awarded the Philadelphia-based Neupauer Conservatory's highest honor, the Order of the Shield, for his musical achievements. Read less