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Bill Orcutt & Zachary James Watkins

On the next edition of Latitudes—an album release show on the occasion of Bill Orcutt and Chris Corsano’s new record Brace Up. Join Other Minds’ Blaine Todd at the Center for New Music as he presents two singular voices in the world of experimental guitar music. Bill Orcutt performs his convulsive blues on four-string electric, while composer and former Black Spirituals guitarist, Zachary James Watkins sketches an aural map of the C4NM through walls of feedback.

This concert took place on November 15, 2018 at the Center for New Music in San Francisco.

Artist Bios

Bill Orcutt


As one of experimental music’s most influential guitarists, Bill Orcutt weaves looping melodic lines and angular attack into a dense, fissured landscape of American primitivism, outsider jazz, and a stripped-down re-envisioning of the possibilities of the guitar. Whether he’s playing his decrepit Kay acoustic or gutted electric Telecaster (both stripped of two of their strings, as has been Orcutt’s custom since 1985), Orcutt’s jagged sound is utterly unique and instantly recognizable, compared with equal frequency to avant-garde composers and rural bluesmen. The New York Times has called him a “powerful musician… a go-for-broke guitar improviser,” and described his sound as “articulated sprays of arpeggiated chords and dissonance.”

Orcutt originally appeared on the underground scene as a co-founder of Harry Pussy, whose explosive music combined ‘70s no wave, the ferocity of ‘80s hardcore, and the acrobatic intricacy of Cecil Taylor. Seemingly single-handedly, and over the course of dozens of releases, Harry Pussy built the prototype for noise-rock in the ‘90s and beyond. Throughout, Orcutt (aided occasionally by a second guitarist) wove incandescent, treble-heavy lines through the maelstrom of Adris Hoyos’ percussion. They toured extensively, performing or traveling with bands like Sonic Youth, Sebadoh, The Dead C, and Guided by Voices, before screeching to a halt in 1997. Writing about a 2008 compilation of their work, Pitchfork described Harry Pussy as “just about the most abrasive band America has ever seen.”

After a hiatus of over a decade, Orcutt reemerged as a solo artist, at first performing solely on acoustic guitar. Drawing influences from Cecil Taylor (again), Dylan’s Basement Tapes, and the recursive voice of Gertrude Stein, Orcutt began exploring the invisible threads linking free improvisation to the forgotten crevices of the American songbook, from blues to minstrelsy.

Upon his return, recognition was immediate. His 2009 album A New Way To Pay Old Debts, originally released on Palilalia and reissued by the acclaimed Viennese electronic music label Editions Mego, was named 3rd best recording of that year by WIRE magazine, who praised its “tense muscularity.” Orcutt went on to work extensively with Editions Mego, issuing a total of four records under their auspices. NPR named Orcutt’s 2011 album How The Thing Sings as the 3rd best avant garde album of the year, commenting that his playing would “make Derek Bailey do a double-take”. His 2013 album of standards, A History of Every One, made NPR’s list of the year’s best new guitar records, and was singled out by the Guardian, who described it as “covers of traditional American songs, deconstructed in lurching flurries of twanging metal.” Most recently, Orcutt’s 2015 album Colonial Donuts was ranked #14 on Rolling Stone‘s Best Avant Garde Albums of The Year.

Orcutt maintains an active tour schedule, performing in North and South America, Asia and Europe, and appearing at festivals world-wide, including Hopscotch (Raleigh), Incubate (Tilburg), Le Nouveau Festival du Centre Pompidou (Paris) and Unsound (Krakow). Rolling Stone described his performance at 2014’s Big Ears Festival as “savage.”

In recent years, Orcutt has resumed his paint-peeling electric guitar attack, best represented by his collaborations with drummers (Chris Corsano or Jacob Felix Heule), guitarists (Loren Connors and Sir Richard Bishop), and others (including cellist Okkyung Lee and vocalist Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux). His newest work continues the guitarist’s signature interrogation of his instrument, yet signals a new phase of cautiously-employed conventional melody and song structure. With each recording and performance, Bill Orcutt continues to invent a sonic vernacular built around raw and tortured tones, ragged minimalism, and seemingly inexhaustible improvisational stamina.

Zachary James Watkins

Photo by Victoria Marie Bee

Zachary James Watkins studied composition with Janice Giteck, Jarrad Powell, Robin Holcomb, and Jovino Santos Neto at Cornish College. In 2006, Zachary received an MFA in Electronic Music and Recording Media from Mills College where he studied with Chris Brown, Fred Frith, Alvin Curran, and Pauline Oliveros. Zachary has received commissions from Cornish College of The Arts, The Microscores Project, the Beam Foundation, Somnubutone Radio Series free103point9.orgsfsound, and the Seattle Chamber Players. His 2006 composition Suite for String Quartet was awarded the Paul Merritt Henry Prize for Composition and has subsequently been performed at the Lab’s 25th Anniversary Celebration, the Labor Sonor Series at Kule in Berlin, and in Seattle WA, as part of the 2nd Annual Town Hall New Music Marathon featuring violist Eyvind Kang. Zachary has performed in numerous festivals across the United States, Mexico and Europe and his band Black Spirituals opened for pioneering Drone Metal band Earth during their 2015 European tour. In 2008, Zachary premiered a new multi-media work entitled Country Western as part of the Meridian Gallery’s Composers in Performance Series that received grants from the The American Music Center and The Foundation for Contemporary Arts. An excerpt of this piece is published on a compilation album entitled The Harmonic Series along side Pauline Oliveros, Ellen Fullman, Theresa Wong, Charles Curtis, and Duane Pitre among others. Zachary designed the sound and composed music for the plays I have loved Strangers produced by Just Theatre, which listed “top ten of 2007” in the East Bay Express and the 8th Annual ReOrient Theatre Festival. His sound art work entitled Third Floor::Designed Obsolescence, “spoke as a metaphor for the breakdown of the dream of technology and the myth of our society’s permanence,” review by Susan Noyes Platt in the Summer 05 issue of ARTLIES. Zachary releases music on the labels SigeCassaunaConfront (UK)The Tapeworm, and Touch (UK)Novembre Magazine (DE)ITCH (ZA), Walrus Press, and the New York Miniature Ensemble have published his writings and scores. Zachary has been an artist in resident at the Espy Foundation, Djerassi, and the Headlands Center for The Arts.

Performance Video

Bill Orcutt and Zachary James Watkins
Live Performance @ Latitudes

Improvised performance by Bill Orcutt and Zachary James Watkins at the second Latitudes concert on November 15, 2018. Latitudes is a new series of concerts from Other Minds, in cooperation with the Center For New Music in San Francisco. Latitudes focuses on music by musicians and composers working on the cutting edge of the underground new music scene.

Bill Orcutt
Live Performance @ Latitudes

Excerpt from the live performance of guitarist Bill Orcutt at the Center For New Music, San Francisco, on Thursday, November 15, 2018.

Zachary James Watkins
Live Performance @ Latitudes

Excerpt from a live performance by guitarist Zachary James Watkins at the Center For New Music, San Francisco, Thursday, November 15, 2018.

Performance Audio

Bill Orcutt
Live Performance @ Latitudes

Excerpt from a live performance by Bill Orcutt, recorded at the Center For New Music, San Francisco, on Thursday, November 15, 2018. The performance was part of the Latitudes series of concerts, produced by Other Minds in conjunction with the Center For New Music.

Zachary James Watkins
Live Performance @ Latitudes

Complete live performance by Zachary James Watkins, recorded at the Center For New Music, San Francisco, on Thursday, November 15, 2018. The performance was part of the Latitudes series of concerts, produced by Other Minds in conjunction with the Center For New Music.

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