Sleepytime Gorilla Museum


March 01, 2005

John Kane was an early 20th century American mathematician that developed the idea of "Black Math." He proved that 1=0. Here's a related story:

Physicist Andrew Stirling started dabbling in Black Math, and after he spent six unsuccessful months trying to disprove algebraic expressions that proved 1=0, he had a breakdown and was admitted to Louisville's Central State Mental Hospital. After shock treatments Stirling started successfully applying Black Math to complex physics problems. These problems dealt with the relation between the physical and spiritual world, though, so they were ignored because they were on the fringe of physics. Stirling was deemed a lunatic. He died in 1999 of a stroke after extensive work applying Black Math and para-physics to the problem of the existence of God. He was found slumped over his table in his room at the hospital with the words "so bright" carved thousands of times on the walls.

Just like everything I write, I found that on the Internet, so it's heresay. Moving on with more heresay:

Kane associated with a group of Dadaists called The Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. They published his art and writings. Here's a definition of Dadaism I found at

"DadaDada or Dadaism--[French, from dada, child's word for a horse] Nihilistic movement in the arts that flourished chiefly in France, Switzerland, and Germany from about 1916 to about 1920 [and later -ed.] and that was based on the principles of deliberate irrationality, anarchy, and cynicism and the rejection of laws of beauty and social organization."

Late in the century, in the later '90's, Californian rock group Idiot Flesh drew protesters outside one of their gigs. The protesters spoke out against the band's Black Math theories and their potential effects on the youth. Unphased, Idiot Flesh spent the concert's song breaks working out an elaborate proof of the formula 1=0.

San Francisco rock band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum formed in 1999 out of Idiot Flesh's ashes. They played their dramatic, courageous, and menacing music Tuesday night at Twiropa. The Museum said in interviews they're followers of Kane and the original museum. With their onstage defiance against technology and American ideas of freedom and democracy, I saw how they connected to the Dadaists in the original museum.

The five members were supreme individualists. They played homemade instruments and wore black and white makeup, along with Victorian undergarments.

Nils Frykdahl spoke carney style, sang, chanted, and screamed. He also played six and twelve string guitars. Frank Grau played the drums and the xylophone. Electric violinist and vocalist Carla Kihlstedt also played the bulbul. According to her, it's "a Pakistani instrument about equal parts guitar and typewriter and cigar box. I think itís one of those new hybrid instruments that was born out of the detritus of Western civilization, the waste products of traditional instruments." She and Frykdahl played the percussion guitar. Carla, again: "Itís kind of like a slide guitar that you actually drum on with drumsticks, rather than strumming it and using a slide thing, you use drumsticks and play it that way." Moe! Staiano was surrounded by a percussion enclave called the Vatican. It included razorblades, trash items, wood boxes, a bass drum, a timpani, and other items. Dan Rathburn, the main inventor of instruments, played the electric bass, pedal-action wiggler, and a slide piano log. Carla: "Thereís this thing that he calls 'the log' which is a big piece of wood with piano strings on it, with a moveable pickup, which grabs different tones when you hit the strings. When you move the pickup, you get these different harmonics on it."

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum used these intruments to create trance robot nightmare music. The songs were characterized by swiftly changing offbeat meters. The push and pull of the strange beats created a circular, dizzying effect. The band altered the character of a song many times. The music was shcizophrenic, but it still functioned well.

The music was more important than the lyrics, which came and went. Frykdahl's manic mumbling seizure-spit screaming was offset by Carla's sweet, operatic voice.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum created orchestral pieces in a Rock shell. Some of the songs built from a drone as grating sounds fell in little by little. For these the band hung their hat on Carla's voice or a creepy xylophone melody. The songs were twisted lullabies floating in black, free space. Just when everything was calm, the band went right into some prog thrash driven by a ride cymbal bell.

Composition was key with these guys, but they didn't let their propensity for it get in the way of the music's emotion. I saw a lot of crowd members dancing all weird-like, and a few "Hell Yeahs!" and extended applause followed each song. The crowd was really into the band's music and their cabaret-ish presentation. There was a line at the merchandize booth after the concert.

Designed by Tchopshop Media