John Cline

John Cline is completing his Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Texas; his dissertation covers the development of experimental music collectives in the 1970s and 1980s, parallel to but separate from both punk and more traditional avant-garde institutions like the Kitchen in NYC. His work has appeared in The Oxford American and the Grove Dictionary of American Music, among others.



"The Other Side of the Garage: The Los Angeles Free Music Society and Suburbia"

The Los Angeles Free Music Society was established in the early 1970s, and consisted of a loose federation of musician friends who congregated at the Poo-Bah Records store in Pasadena. Organized into an ever-expanding number of groups with shifting membership—including Le Forte Four, The Doo-Dooettes, Smegma, and Airway—they operated as a collective enterprise, whose activities included largely improvised performances and self-released recordings where, as the group stated, “The music is free, but you have to pay for the plastic, paper, ink, glue, and stamps.”

This paper examines the ways in which the LAFMS was a product of the southern California suburban experience in the 1960s and 1970s. The title, “The Other Side of the Garage,” is a nod towards the prevalence of teenage rock and roll combos in the region. However, rather than performing generically similar music with conventional, mass-produced instruments, the LAFMS represents another aspect to the California culture of the carport: D.I.Y. projects, from the mechanical to the electronic. Instead of building hot rods or proto-PCs, they created a variety of homemade musical instruments.

Some of this impulse originated in members’ experience at then-new CalArts, where they learned about the historical avant-garde and had access to early modular synthesizers through Morton Subotnick. (Postwar arts programs at new, suburban universities like SUNY Stonybrook and CalArts often employed working artists; rock critic and future Smegma member Richard Meltzer’s experiences at Stonybrook with Allan Kaprow are comparable.) In total, the LAFMS utilized the unique conditions of the southern California suburbs to craft inimitable music, consequently providing a model to be followed from the Sun City Girls to Animal Collective.

My Speakers Sessions

Sunday, March 25

9:00am EDT