Ron Geesin 'Pot-Boilers (Ron Geesin Soundtracks To Stephen Dwoskin Films 1966 - 1970)' LP
These superb unreleased soundtracks come from a fascinating, progressive and important period in British film history. They represent an intriguing collaboration between the lively Ron Geesin from Scotland and the American Stephen Dwoskin, who both met in London.
Musically they are minimal, charismatic and quite groundbreaking. Here is the story…
Steve Dwoskin arrived in London in 1964, aged 25, with several 16mm films in his trunk, shot in the cold-water flats of Greenwich Village. He had been on the fringe of the Factory scene, and some of his films starred Beverly Grant, ‘the queen of the underground’. But they had scarcely been seen, and they didn’t have soundtracks. For almost a year they stayed in the trunk, and stayed silent. Then he met Ron Geesin, somewhere around Portobello Road.
‘Slept last night, completely dressed after working over 12 hours on sound tracks at Ron’s,’ wrote Dwoskin in his diary for 29 July 1965. ‘My films are not anywhere near being anything. I need more energy, more concise and positive ideas and less inhibition. And of course space, money and people.’ Dwoskin, who taught and practised graphic design by day, had recently decided to stay in London beyond the term of the Fulbright scholarship that had brought him there.
Ron, living with Frankie in a basement flat in Elgin Crescent – they would marry the next year, with Dwoskin as best man – was about to leave the Original Downtown Syncopators, the trad jazz band he had joined aged seventeen-and-a-half, and was trying to go solo. On stage he would make vigorous use of piano and banjo; at home Frankie had bought him a new kind of instrument – a tape recorder. ‘Soon I had one tape recorder, two tape recorders, three tape recorders.’
Ron, wrote Dwoskin in his unpublished autobiography, ‘loved to record, and to cut and splice the quarter-inch recording tape to make new sounds. This triggered in me the idea of getting back to my films and finishing them’. Soon he was living in a dank basement in Denbigh Road, a few minutes’ walk from Elgin Crescent. Ron’s soundtracks for Dwoskin’ films, recorded in the Geesins’ flat, encompassed Ron’s very eclectic range of styles – madcap piano and fretted banjo as well as tape manipulation.
Aside from Ron’s soundtracks, some of which belong to films that no longer exist (including Pot Boiler), Frankie would act in one of the films that Dwoskin either lost or never finished during these years. He was disabled, having contracted polio as a child, and Ron and Frankie were both carers and collaborators; Ron had met him when he was struggling into his car.
There was no London equivalent to the underground film scene that Dwoskin had known in New York, and his films remained unseen until such a scene began to come into being, in the autumn of 1966. Some of them made their debut at the Mercury Theatre, near Notting Hill Gate, that September. Dwoskin wrote that Alone, starring Zelda Nelson (from Ron Rice’s Chumlum), and Chinese Checkers, with Beverly Grant and Dwoskin’s friend Joan Adler, went over best.
Soon both Dwoskin and Geesin became involved in the nascent London Film-Makers’ Co-op, which put on screenings in Better Books on Charing Cross Road – ‘if you can call them screenings,’ Ron recalls; ‘I’d call it fifteen blokes in various stages of disarray, peering through the smoke’. One or more of the films had been ‘striped’ with magnetic audiotape; with others ‘we had no means of direct syncing to the picture, so he started the film and I started the tape recorder’.
In the same autumn, Dwoskin moved into a flat almost opposite the Geesins on Elgin Crescent. More collaborations followed, including Naissant, on which Gavin Bryars, whom Geesin had met during a stint on the northern club circuit with novelty act Dr Crock and His Crackpots, played double bass.
Around the end of 1967 Geesin released his first solo LP, A Raise of Eyebrows, and Dwoskin won recognition the Fourth Experimental Film Competition, aka EXPRMNTL 4, an occasional film festival staged at Knokke-le-Zoute in Belgium. By now the films had optical soundtracks.
It was only after this that Dwoskin completed his first ‘British’ films, including Me Myself and I, with Barbara Gladstone, an American dancer who had appeared in Barbara Rubin’s Christmas on Earth, and with whom Dwoskin and Geesin had at one point devised a stage show, never produced. For Moment, a single-shot film, Geesin provided his most experimental score yet. At the time of its debut in 1970, Dwoskin and the Geesins were sharing a house in Ladbroke Grove.
By then, Ron was working with Pink Floyd, and soon afterwards he and Frankie moved out to the country, to be replaced by Bryars both in the house and as Dwoskin’s principal collaborator.
Until now these scores have remained part of the Geesin Archive and have never been issued.
Catalogue number: JBH087LP