“I’m interested in exceptional, I’m not interested in the standard or regular, I’m interested in the one-of,” he said in a recent interview with Nicole Disser of Bedford + Bowery. It was headlined ‘Helen Keller Was an Asshole,’ and Other Things You’ll Learn at the Acker Awards. By way of explanation, he points out that Keller was an “undisciplined wild child who nobody could contain, and that’s what makes her heroic.” Acker, who died in 1997, fits the same heroic mold for him. She was a “radical outsider, the up-against-it, fuck-you kind of person.” Her books — among them, Blood and Guts in High School; I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac: Imagining; Algeria: A Series of Invocations Because Nothing Else Works; Kathy Goes to Haiti; Hannibal Lecter, My Father; Great Expectations; and Pussy, King of the Pirates — were controversial and uncompromising.
Another artist in the mold and a 2017 Acker Award recipient, the composer-musician Keith Patchel will perform with his band The Venus Ensemble at the 2018 ceremonies at Theater80 on Sunday night (Jan. 21, 6 p.m.). The band has “a surrealist, multimedia Velvet Underground spin,” he says. (His chamber opera about the US secret bombing campaign of Laos during the Vietnam War, “The Plain of Jars,” played last year at NYU.) Here is a précis he wrote about his musical development.
By Keith Patchel
My story starts as a kid from the suburbs of Buffalo who loved music and playing guitar. I attended SUNY Buffalo, where I was performing/studying classical guitar and fusion. I had the great privilege of studying electronic music with Lejaren Hiller, and met many extraordinary musicians while I was attending concerts, classes, workshops offered by The Creative Associates, who included such luminaries as Lucas Foss, Morton Feldman, and John Cage.
I moved to NYC to pursue a career in music, as I was deeply inspired by Punk Rock and all the New Music I had absorbed at college. I received an MA from Queens College / Mannes School of Music (studied composition with George Perle), and at night was performing rock music with Richard Lloyd from Television at CBGB and at other venues.When I returned to NYC in July 1985 after touring Scandinavia and recording “Field of Fire” with Richard Lloyd, never in my life would I have imagined that my roommate who had recently graduated from Columbia University would become the President of the United States. His name was Barack Obama.
Throughout the late 80’s and 90’s I recorded and performed with numerous rock bands of mine — The Spell, Count Zero, Solar, and Solarkane in New York, England, and Colombia. In 2007 I began scoring films, which included “Finishing Heaven,” a documentary about Ruby Lynn Reyner (HBO) that was nominated for a Emmy Award in 2010. I also scored “Crumble,” for which I received Best Composer awards from The Manhattan Film Festival and The New York International Independent Film Festival.
From 2011 to 2013 I attended Juilliard, studying composition and orchestration. In 2015 I co-created The Marsband at the Hayden Planetarium for which I wrote “The Pluto Symphony.”
When I was in Bogota Colombia, in 1996, “Adios Pablo” (a song I wrote about the death of Pablo Escobar), received an enormous amount of airplay. It created so much controversy that the label FM Discos/Warner Bros pulled the plug on the entire project. The video will be re-released in 2018.
The year 2016 saw the composition and performance of my experimental chamber opera “The Plain of Jars.” All of this has lead to the creation of The Venus Ensemble.