A precedent of sorts to, erm, Armand van Helden vs Fatboy Slim’s 1999 bout, ‘The Heavyweight Sound Fight’ takes pride of place among iDEAL’s hall of oddities with one of the zaniest recordings by three international leaders of the avant-garde. Double LP with an LP-sized 12-page booklet designed by Sean McCann of Recital.
Adapting all the pomp and ceremony of a boxing match to ludicrous ends - including a flier depicting each artist with their dukes up - they produced what sounds like a great night out for NYC’s experimental cognoscenti with Charlie Morrow (USA) vs Carles santos (Spain) each backed by a band - Soho Baroque Opera Company with the assistance of the New Wilderness Foundation - while Sweden’s Sten Hanson acts as referee, and Armand Schwerner takes the role of announcer in thick, nasal New York brogue. It’s brilliantly daft and subversive but accomplished in a witty way that maybe escapes too many solemnly po-faced avant-garde conceptualists nowadays, and remains a strange outlier in the history of NYC avant garde and beyond.
“Operating as an aural window into an happening that occurred more than 40 years ago, “The Heavyweight Sound Fight” unveils a different context of experimental music than is not often encountered today. Running across the album’s four sides, within all the seriousness of art and technique, is the unmistakable presence of humor, play, and the absurd. The audience can’t help but laugh and cheer as the announcer - effecting a deep New York accent and nodding toward notable attendees like Allison Knowles, Dick Higgins, and Jackson Mac Low - takes an active role in the fight, each artist delivering an array of vocalizations - from extended technique utterances to rants - against the next, with the bands weighing in and engaging in their own battles, ranging from big band dirges and marches, to outright experimental electronic madness. It’s a trully raucous affair that brings that radicalism carried by its sounds into entirely new zones.
According to Marrow, he was deemed “winner” in an “off-script” move by the judges, and Santos never spoke to him again, continuing the wild and wonderful mystery and humor of the performance into the present day. Who knows what Santos, who sadly passed away in 2017, would say.”