Along with Throbbing Gristle, SPK, and Cabaret Voltaire, Z’ev pioneered what we now call industrial music. Today, most people associate the term with nineties faves such as Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. Things were very different in the late seventies, when the movement began.
The reference to industry was literal, and the music often sounded more like a sheet metal factory than songs. When the one man percussion orchestra known as Z’ev came along, this idea was taken to a whole new level. His “drum set” was a huge construct of oil barrels, PVC tubing, gongs, chimes, and junkyard finds, all suspended around him on ropes. Watching Z’ev perform is an amazing sight, a blur of motion as he improvises his way through each piece.
The new As/ If/ When collects three vintage examples of his percussive chaos. “As” (19:13) was recorded at the Los Angeles radio station KPFK in 1978. Of the three tracks, this one best represents his interests in non-Western musical forms. Incorporating various world rhythms and instruments, “As” is anything but noise. There is a definite structure to the piece, yet the delivery is as “free” as anything Z’ev’s hero John Coltrane ever did.
“If” (25:32) is where things get noisy. Recorded in his adopted hometown San Francisco in 1982, this is a raucous performance before a wildly enthusiastic crowd. Z’ev has always considered his appearances to be interactive, with the audience a vital ingredient in the mix. “If” is a vivid example of how well this approach can work.
The limited edition vinyl version is features “As” on one side and “If” on the other. The CD adds “When” (11:02) from a 1983 show in Amsterdam. It is another powerful piece, a little more cerebral than the others perhaps, but always intense.
There has never been much of a commercial appeal to Z’ev’s music, it is far too brutal. But for those looking for something a bit more adventurous than the usual fare, As/ If/ When is a worthy candidate.