Week in Pop: Ed Askew, José Díaz Rohena, LUKA, Midnight Opera

Sjimon Gompers

The prolific José Díaz Rohena steps out from behind the mixing board to showcase new material; photographed by Sarah Macreading.

Ed Askew

The art life of Ed Askew; photographed by Brian Ferry.

Visual artist & tunesmith Ed Askew has been creating a variety of crafts since well into the 1960s. Returning to the painter & songwriter’s late 60s/early 70s era that saw the prodigious Ask the Unicorn album released through ESP-Disk, Ed’s residency at Yale Art School saw the artist amassing a collection of songs, some that would appear on Unicorn & Little Eyes along with versions being broadcast via Yale Radio over the course of a two year span. The result of these legendary recordings & renderings have now been collected together on the compilation A Child in the Sun: Radio Sessions 1969–1970, available November 17 through Drag City where Ed Askew would elevate his own paintings to the musical portraits for the ear inspired by French Imagist poetics, the work of Federico García Lorca, progressive & traditional Mexican aesthetics & more. The Radio Sessions offers an intimate view of the artist standing in the middle of the tumultuous turning points of the twentieth century where international arts, politics, activism, disciplines, mediums & more witnessed a new potent kind of wine too potent for the glass bottles of classicism. Ed’s honest & stripped down approach as the artist & their instrument illustrate the ushering in of the contemporary age of aesthetic enlightenment that all too many of us take for granted today.

Presenting the premiere for “Marigolds”, we are treated to a view of Ed Askew working on a self-portrait introduced via an interview segments that goes into the artist’s own rustic musical painting. Seen sketching an image of the self, while an evocative & minimalist song plays; the audience witnesses the principle core of the artist & their crafts that works in an economy of the instrument & the individual in their own constructive habitat. With visuals supplied by El Triunfo, we see & hear the result of the artist’s life work that spans from Stamford, Connecticut, to New Haven, to Mexico to NYC (where Ed currently resides) where the intersection of focuses & mediums collectively arrive at one fascinating perpendicular point. From the brush to the Martin Tiple; the view & listen to “Marigolds” presents a privy view to the world of Ed Askew’s world where we can observe the work in progress as the sounds & visions fill the mind with narratives that one would typically associate with the stimuli responses from modern art museum encounters where multitudes of stories, feelings & thoughts emerge from the individual’s engagement with the art piece being explored. Ed utilizes charcoal to set the foundation for the portrait, as “Marigolds” fills the mind with wandering paths that walk past spinning carousels, wishing wells, a wealth of colors & elements that paint visuals through song that emerge like happenstance passages that reflects a day out of life & the inward negotiations of the unconscious. From the illustrated canvas to the strumming river brook of illuminated-like strings; Ed Askew offers something more than a conventional retrospective but rather an up-close & earnest view of the ever-evolving work of multidisciplinary art forms & their expansive development here in the new modern age.

Ed Askew took the time to chat with us in the following insightful & candid interview transcription:

Interested in hearing your own reflections on the processes & praxis that informed A Child in the Sun: Radio Sessions 1969-1970.

Previous to 1969 I built up a collection of songs that I made while working at a private school. I stopped making art for maybe two years and focused on making songs on my newly acquired Martin Tiple. When the school closed I moved to New York for a short time where I met Bernard Stollman of ESP-Disk and was invited to make a record.

After the LP Ask the Unicorn came out I was asked to play and be interviewed on Yale Radio because I was a local singer-songwriter who had a record out. Also I had been playing shows in the area.

The songs themselves are chord based constructions, with verses and a chorus or two, in various arrangements. I was always trying to come up with a different combination for each song. I think this is pretty typical songwriting. I think the most interesting thing for me are the words and the phrasing suggested by the music, a kind of dance of words.

Also, I had read a lot of Lorca (in English) and some French Imagist poetry (in English) when I was in Mexico on an art scholarship in 1961, which had a big impact on me.

I was impressed by how much strings of images could convey, in feeling and meaning. So I suppose when I wrote my first songs this had some influence, since I use images to convey subject more often than not. Also I am a painter so this is natural.

Jamming with Ed Askew, circa the late 60s; press photo courtesy of the artist/Drag City.

Insights on the sketches & botanical aesthetics of “Marigolds”?

“Marigolds” is not about plants. One could say it is not about anything in the sense of a painter making a picture of a subject. It’s more like a painter conjuring up an imagined world and filling it with colors and objects (flowers) and spaces (the lawn and the sun, the sky) and sounds that give the impression of a real—but unknown world. Of course none of this was premeditated but rose in my mind as I was working on the song.

Chilling back with Ed Askew; photographed by Drew Dominguez.

Thoughts on the connections between sounds & visions?

We are surrounded by sounds. John Cage liked that the sound of traffic outside his NY apartment was always changing; always present. Yet never imposed any meaning on the listener. It isn’t about anything.

Of course that doesn’t apply to me. I make songs that are stories, at least by implication. When we talk (or sing) we say something, and that saying congers up stuff in our minds. And singing is like a train that bypasses your thought process and goes straight into your mind because the music that carries the words is so seductive.

Ed Askew at the Ace Hotel; photographed by Michelle Buswell.

Further reflections on the evolution of process through the years?

I don’t know. Everything changes. I don’t think it follows an evolving pattern in my case. I still make songs the way I always have…except I once sat with my Tiple in my hands and played until I came up with a progression. And then played some more until I had a song; and I wrote it down.

And now, I sit at the harpsichord or the synth and make chord progressions that I record and listen to until words come into my mind. Though, because I am using proTools I do a lot of cutting and pasting. And the progressions are more like repeating loops.

Now when the band decides to learn something we make a new arrangement and record it, maybe. And of course the content of these things changes in response to the changes in my life.

Ed Askew, self-portrait, as seen being created by the multidisciplinary artist via our video debut for “Marigolds”.

Insights & hopes on the future?

To keep my relatively good health. To play in Paris again—I’m not sure why…we had a good time when we were there on my birthday a few years ago. And French people keep asking me to come.

Anyway, to keep having enough money to live on. And all that. In a way, my present life is the future of which I’ve dreamed. Doing shows with a band. Seeing people occasionally. Good beer and coffee. Going to a diner for breakfast sometimes. Working on music always. And making paintings.

—Ed; November 1, 2017

Ed Askew’s A Child in the Sun: Radio Sessions 1969–1970 will be available November 17 via the prestigious imprint Drag City.

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