Z'EV (1951-2017)

EyEar (2011)

US percussionist, poet and sound artist z'ev has died. His death was confirmed by Touch, the London based label with which he had had a long association. “It is with great sadness that we learnt that z'ev passed away on 16 December 2017,” reads Touch’s statement. “His long collaboration with Touch outlined for us a way of staying fiercely independent – he was and always will be a true original.”

Though the exact cause of his death is unknown, in March 2016 z'ev had been involved in a train accident that left him hospitalised with critical injuries. Though he had started working again - he’d undertaken a two month residency at the Porto based sound lab Sonoscopia, for instance – the accident had left him with health problems.

Z'ev was born Stefan Joel Weisser on 8 February 1951. He performed under various aliases, such as Magneet Bond or S Weisser, and began performing as the percussionist z'ev (also written as Z'EV) in 1979, a moniker derived from his traditional birth name Sh'aul Z'ev bn Yakov bn Moshe bn Sha'ul. Though he was born into the Jewish religion, by 1961 he had stopped referring to himself as a practitioner.

Z'ev first played percussion at the age of three when his mother would place “pots and pans and some silverware out on the kitchen floor” in order to keep him and his sister occupied. “According to her,” z'ev remembered, “my sister would play at cooking, and I would use the spoons to drum on whatever pots and pans she hadn't already taken over.

“When I was five the family went to an ice cream parlour – my father parked in back and on our way in I saw stacks of empty thick hard cardboard drum like containers – so I asked him to ask if I could have some – which he did, amazingly, and so three of them went home with us in the trunk of the car, and so these became my first 'drum set' using chop sticks as drum sticks.

“I grew up listening to dixieland jazz [preservation hall provenance] which was my father's, and still one of my favourite musics -- so that was the music I would have been drumming to.”

In 1964 z'ev got his first copy of William S Burroughs’s Naked Lunch , which inspired him to write poetry. He learnt to listen and improvise between 1967–69, a period of major importance for him, when he, Carl Stone and James Stewart formed The Hog Fat Blues Band, which later became The Silent Arts Group (renamed in homage to The Sonic Arts Group/Sonic Arts Union). Nothing was ever released under that name, however. Z'ev went on to study at CalArts, having successfully auditioned for a place with a tape recording of a duet with Stone.

At CalArts he met Emmett Williams and learnt about Fluxus. In 1976, spurred on by his association with San Francisco's La Mamelle (founded by Carl Loeffler), z'ev moved from Los Angeles to Oakland, where he presented his first 'solo' performance in the 1977 project Sound Of Wind And Limb. But z'ev stated he didn’t really consider any of his performances to be a solo production. “In practice,” he said, “I'm up there as part of a sextet embodying the unique inter-reactions between: me, the instruments, the physical space, the particular time, the geographic location and the energies of the audience.” He also didn’t consider the majority of his works as music – “but more as orchestrations of: rhythmic acoustic phenomena [instruments and physical space] + elemental [time and location] + biological [audience] energies”.

The following year he began his explorations of self-made instruments made from industrial materials such as stainless steel, titanium and PVC plastics, while developing a mode of performance he referred to as wild-style, a term also used for graffiti. Around that time he also held a research post for the Society for the Preservation of Occult Consciousness in San Francisco, studying with Rabbi J Winston, founder of the Jewish Meditation Society. He also met Hougun Rico Joves and was initiated into Haitian Vodou drumming.

Z'ev collaborated or played on bills with musicians, atonal, industrial and otherwise, as diverse as Bauhaus and Glenn Branca (he performed on Branca’s Symphony No 2). His association with Dano Leeflang and Sandra Dames has been cited as a meeting that anticipated the creation of gabber – z'ev apparently introduced the DJ pair to the Viennese musician and artist Konrad Becker. The meeting resulting in the track “Trance-Former”, which came in at 150 bpm.

Z'ev’s work has been released by Touch, Important, Cold Spring, Sub Rosa and Monotype, among other labels.