Lou Reed’s sixth solo album was released in 1975 and it freaked everyone out. Many thought it was a middle finger to his label – a way to fulfil his record contract. But they were wrong. Metal Machine Music boasted no songs, rather it was a real Walk on The Wild Side, 60 odd minutes of brutal distortion laden barely controlled guitar. Reed set up a number of amps, with repeat and tremolo units, tuned and placed his guitars at various intervals from the amps where the feedback sounded nice. With the feedback systems interacting and harmonics colliding creating new tones, Reed then played more guitar over the top. It was ahead of its time, a ballsy move that has since spawned a legion of Japanese noise artists.
Yet it surely came as some surprise to Reed when decades later Reinhold Freidl, Dutch bandleader of Zeitkratzer got in touch and asked permission for his modern classical/ experimental ensemble to play Metal Machine Music live. ‘It can’t be done,’ was Reed’s blunt response. ‘Too late,’ offered Freidl, ‘its already been transcribed.’ This month they’re released the results, all four parts of the piece for clarinet, trombone, piano, bowed guitar, violin, percussion, violincello and double bass. The results are quite remarkable, the timbre of the instrumentation softening the brutality of the original, and the diversity of the instruments fully articulating the harmonics previously barely hinted at. Grandiose and ridiculous, surely it’s a work of futile madness, but then again aren’t most great pieces of art?