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May 27, 2011

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Silver Apples keeps fresh sound

AS much as I would hope it to be, this is probably not, dear reader, the greatest moment of your life. I bring that point up not to be an insufferable bummer, but to illustrate a larger point that is sometimes forgotten in civilization and especially music: sometimes what is happening "next" is in fact not the best.

This situation was personified last Friday, when electronic rocker Silver Apples performed at Mao Livehouse, a most curious event on many grounds. Here was a performer in his 60s from New Orleans, the United States, mostly performing music that he originally recorded in the late 1960s, in front of an audience of a mostly college-age crowd of Shanghai natives. I would go so far as to say that no more than five people in the audience of about 100 were alive when the Silver Apples' second album, "Contact," charted in 1969.

With that in mind, empty nostalgia is out of the picture as the culprit for their allegiance. This crowd was not looking to mine some golden memories from their collective past. No, they were looking to the past for something else. But what?

Silver Apples began as a duo in the mid 1960s in the famed Greenwich Village of New York City. Simeon Coxe, usually referred to by his first name, was the singer in a club band called the Overland Stage Electric Band. One day, something happened that changed the direction of his life.

"I was kind of hanging out with my buddies who were classical musicians or what you would call serious musicians," he says. "They were playing with oscillators. And one of them had one. And he let me play with it, and I got hooked. So one night I brought it to The Overland Stage Electric Band concert at the Cafe Wha? (a nightclub). I've never been the same since."

An oscillator is an electric generator that produces repetitious waves of sound; an example is a dial-tone on a phone. Simeon learned to "play" multiple oscillators utilizing an array of knobs and buttons to control their tone and frequency.

Quickly, the Overland Stage Electric Band split up. Simeon and Danny Taylor, the drummer from Overland Stage, formed Silver Apples and released two albums before calling it quits after being sued by Pan Am Airlines after a controversial album cover.

That seemed the end for Silver Apples, until the mid 1990s when Simeon learned of the cult status of Silver Apples as the founders of electronic music. He revived Silver Apples, eventually hooking back up with Danny Taylor. Since the death of Danny Taylor in 2005, Simeon has performed solo as Silver Apples.

The appeal lies in the unique sound Simeon is able to produce, despite of, or perhaps because of, his limited technology. Whether intended or not, the tone of his electronic music is much warmer than sounds produced digitally.

While many people are satisfied with the progress of music mediums from the big (records) to the intangible (MP3), others have lamented it.

One of those people is Li Qing, a young woman who plays synthesizers in Beijing-based band Soviet Pop. She's part of a collective called Rose Mansion Analog that presented the performances of Silver Apples in China.

Li says: "When I started to listen to vinyl, I found the difference (in) the sound: full of love."

That love was reciprocated to Silver Apples, who stood in the present, representing something of the past.


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