Confounding Stoner Mountain (By Strategy)
by Byron Coley


Seastones: Set 4 and Set 5 LP



Release Date: August 29th 2020

Buy at your local participating store, found here

OFFICIAL RSD 2020 release. Important Records announce the release on vinyl LP of Ned Lagin's Seastones Sets 4 and 5. Ned Lagin's Seastones is a pioneering electronic composition interweaving metaphors from nature, science, art and music and the origins of music. Reflecting the technology, science, modern art, new ecological awareness and optimism of the times and culture, Seastones embodies the history of electronic music by taking full advantage of tape music, analog synthesizers, and computer technology to create pieces that are dynamic, rich, and deep.

Originally released by the Grateful Dead's Round Records in 1975, Seastones' reputation as a gem of electronic music was further enhanced by the celebrity of the musicians who contributed to the source material. Seastones musicians include Ned Lagin (processed piano, clavichord, organ, prepared piano, electric piano, synthesizers), Jerry Garcia (processed electric guitar, pedal steel guitar, voice), Phil Lesh (processed electric bass), David Crosby (processed electric guitar and vocals), Grace Slick and David Freiberg (processed vocals), and Mickey Hart and Spencer Dryden (percussion).


Confounding Stoner Mountain (By Strategy)
by Byron Coley

Ned Lagin, 1974

The last time I ever saw the Dead play was August 6, 1974 in Jersey City, NJ. My good friend, Kevin Riley, had suggested getting tickets right when they went on sale. At that time, the Dead had not really achieved the massive success they soon would, but they were already pretty damn popular. As was witnessed by the fact they were playing a stadium in Jersey, rather than a theater or somewhere in NYC. Although, in my memory, they kinda eschewed NYC for a while after the Fillmore East closed. But even before then, they had played better shows just outside the city, like the string of nights at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, where I'd first seen them, back when I was in prep school.

Regardless, by '74 the Dead seemed to be a bit anachronistic. If you don't remember, '74 was really the year where glam started to make inroads, at least among the exurbs of NYC, which is where I lived. It's hard to explain how fast things changed after the first NY Dolls album came out in spring '73, but they did.

New York Dolls never really got much airplay or anything. So it didn't have the kind of general societal impact as records like Transformer, Ziggy Stardust and All the Young Dudes had in '72. But the Dolls were almost local, and a whole musical generation younger than Reed, Bowie and Hunter. Hip local Jersey bands had mostly been doing that Dead/Allmans/Band sorta boogie (a trend which hit its apex at Summer Jam, where just those three bands traded sets, in July '73). But as we got deeper into 1973, a bunch of these bands switched teams toot-fuckin'-sweet.

I was enjoying some lax time between high school and college right then, traveling the world and working shit jobs. I remember a club in North Jersey we used to hit called the Log Cabin. It was out in the sticks and the bands tended towards the Beard Rock scheme of things. But one weekend, T. Roth & Another Pretty Face played (many miles north of their regular gig down around Packanack Lake) and they were totally duded-up Dolls-style. I'd seen Johansen & Co. at the 82 Club and Mothers, and this Jersey knock-off version was easily as good as Brat or Teenage Lust or any other of the other bands who were mining the same turf. And the bug bit. The very next week, one of the local bands who'd been all overalls just a week before had switched to painted nails and Velvets covers. Kevin and I didn't really care. We rated Reed as an excellent songwriter (Kevin's band had been doing cover of songs from Loaded since it came out), and we were both partial to the slob side of the dandy/slob binary, so style mattered not a whit. We could enjoy glam as music, but the lifestyle was another thing.

Kevin actually had maintained a soft spot for the Dead I no longer shared. Although I'd initially liked Workingman's Dead, assuming it was an anomaly. When I discovered this was not the case, I lost interest. I saw the band in early '71 and was really off-put by the hick songliness of their new direction. I never bought American Beauty (1970), and despite Lester Bangs' surprisingly glowing review, I found Skullfuck underwhelming. By the time Kevin suggested going to see them in Jersey City, their new LP was Wake of the Flood (1973) — an album I'm still not sure I have ever heard.

But what the hell. I was about to head to college, tickets were cheap and my girlfriend, Paula, was interested. Kevin said he'd drive, so we piled into his old VW bug and headed out. I suggested a stop at Sam Goody’s so we could buy some cut-out cassettes to listen to. I bought a copy of Beefheart's Clear Spot (1972) for $1.49 and, even knowing Paula's distaste for Van Vliet, reasoned this was a safe choice. Her loathing was based on Trout Mask and Decals, which I played incessantly. Who could deny Clear Spot? Thankfully, not even Paula.

These were the days of the Dead's Wall of Sound set-up, so people showed up early to get in the exact right spot to hear the show. We didn't really care that much, but Kevin had been to some Dead shows the year prior and explained to us there was a “ring” of tapers who set up a certain way back from the stage. Behind them might be a seething mass of fat and sweat, but if you could get inside the tapers ring, there was room aplenty. So that's what we set to do, and darned if Kev wasn't right. Once we got past those Nagra-toting fucks, there was breathing room galore. Can't remember exactly what we were high on. Some lighter weight hallucinogen, I imagine. We figured the show would be four hours, so we dropped about an hour out, and we were starting to feel it just a little before the band started.

Not having seen the Dead for a while, I was startled by the appearance of those Godchaux people. To me they looked like refugees from a Leon Russell tour. And once I heard what they added musically, I really really wished they would just go away.

Eventually they did, leaving only Phil Lesh and some other dude up on stage. I looked at Kevin questioningly and he just shrugged. The music that filled the air for the next half hour or so was pretty fucking nuts. I'd vaguely known that Lesh had studied with Berio (or someone) at Mills, and that was why Tom Constanten (my fave Dead auxiliary member) had been aboard for a while. But what I was hearing was stone electronic weirdness, like Columbia/Princeton Electronic Music Studio stuff, which was one of my few real models for such music right then. I was nicely fucked up, but utterly taken aback. And while I could hear people cat calling from the crowd out back, up where we were, people were actually trying to follow what was going on. Well, not Paula and Kevin so much. They left to piss and try to find some food or something, but I was kinda stuck in my place. It was just such a brilliantly fucked up thing to witness, I was gonna relish every Godcahux-free minute. There were I dunno how many thousands of people behind me, somewhere in the dark, hoping to hear the opening notes of “Casey Jones.” And here were these two maniacs on stage making random goddamn noises. It was so beautiful I wanted to cry.

Thankfully, Kevin and Paula got back before I could start weeping. They had some sort of food, which was okay with me. And pretty soon the Dead started their second set. When they began playing “Uncle John's Band” a whole lot of people burst through the tapers ring, so Paula (who was petite) couldn't see, and asked if I'd put her up on my shoulders. I said, “Sure,” and so she rode there for the 90+ minutes that remained. I was so tired after that, I didn't even ask her if she wanted to fuck (perhaps up by the public pool near her house?) before we dropped her off at her parents' house. We were all tuckered!

Tom Constanten

original front cover (left) and back cover (right)

I had little idea what I'd seen that night. But the following year the Seastones album came out. And I bought it as soon as it was cut out (about three weeks). It was pretty cool. Although by that point I'd heard Steve Reich's vocal pieces, which completely destroyed me, and lots of other tape and electronic insanity. But there was something weirdly neat about Seastones, and I would generally keep a copy of it handy from that moment until today.

I'll admit it was not a record I played often, but I always thought the cover art on the original version (sadly not recreated here), was a highlight of magic marker drug art. And I took perverse pleasure in saying it was the only Dead-related record I had from after Live/Dead (apart from Bear's Choice, which is really part of the pre-Workingman's flow, if you ask me.) And a lot of Seastones has a semi-academic feel to it, as though it emerged from a university's electronic music studio. But the second side, which features most of the people who also played on Paul Kantner's Blows Against the Empire (1970) and David Crosby's If Could Only Remember My Name (1971), is a key piece of hippie/electronic fusion. That side also bears passing resemblances to some of the Dead's 1968 electronic breakdowns. It's just a mysterious tank of acid-laced gumbo, as trippy as the day is long.

There was a second Seastones album planned for United Artists in '75 (which is kind of interesting, since that's also who released the album by Touchtone, Tom Constanten's post-Dead outfit), but it was not issued at the time. Ned Lagin put out a 2-CD version of the entire piece (consisting of 83 segments) that compiles everything, but I'm happy enough with the fragmentary version as it was originally presented. You probably will be too. And I wish you would have been with us to witness this shit go down back then. I would not have carried you on my shoulders, but I might well have gotten you high.

Byron Coley

Listen to samples from Seastones here:

Side A
Side B