Angus MacLise

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Angus MacLise
Background information
Birth name Angus William MacLise
Born (1938-03-04)March 4, 1938
Bridgeport, Connecticut
Died June 21, 1979(1979-06-21) (aged 41)
Kathmandu, Nepal
Genres Avant-garde music
Occupation(s) Musician, poet
Instruments Drums, bongos, tabla, percussion
Associated acts The Velvet Underground

Angus William MacLise (March 4, 1938 – June 21, 1979) was an American percussionist, composer, poet, occultist and calligrapher probably best known as the first drummer for the Velvet Underground.


MacLise was a member of La Monte Young's Theatre of Eternal Music, with John Cale, Tony Conrad, Marian Zazeela and sometimes Terry Riley. He contributed to the early Fluxus newspaper VTre, edited by George Brecht, and was also an early member of The Velvet Underground, having been brought into the group by flatmate John Cale when they were living at 56 Ludlow Street in Manhattan.

MacLise played bongos and hand drums during 1965 with the first incarnation of the Velvet Underground. Although the band regularly extemporised soundtracks to underground films during this era, MacLise never officially recorded with them, and is often considered something of a shadowy, legendary figure in their history. Demos recorded during this period are featured on the Peel Slowly and See box set, but MacLise plays on none of them because (according to John Cale) he did not appreciate the need to turn up on time. Cale describes MacLise as "living on the Angus calendar", causing him to fail to show up to the venues for gigs until hours or sometimes days after the rest of the band had finished performing. When the opportunity of the band's first paying gig in November 1965 arose, MacLise promptly quit, suggesting the group were selling out.

MacLise was replaced by Maureen Tucker, resulting in the "classic" lineup of the Velvet Underground. In 1966 when Velvet Underground singer Lou Reed was in hospital with hepatitis, MacLise rejoined the group for a 5-day run of performances at Poor Richard's in Chicago, June 21–26, 1966, sharing duties with Gerard Malanga, whom Angus had taught to play tabla. By this time the Velvet Underground had found some notoriety (if not great financial success) and MacLise was anxious to rejoin the group, but according to the notes of the box set Peel Slowly and See, the VU's primary songwriter and de facto bandleader Lou Reed had specifically prohibited MacLise from rejoining the band full-time due to his erratic behavior.

Later in the 1960s, Angus and his wife Hetty[1] traveled around between Vancouver, Paris, Greece and India, finally settling in Nepal. They also had a son, Ossian Kennard MacLise, who was recognized by Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa, as a reincarnation of a Tibetan saint, or tulku, and at age four became a Buddhist monk.[2]

A student of Aleister Crowley (he was working on a script for a film version of Crowley's Diary of a Drug Fiend before he died), he began to blend Tibetan mysticism with his music to create sound through various drone techniques.


He died of hypoglycemia and pulmonary tuberculosis in Kathmandu in 1979, aged 41.[3]

Recorded music[edit]

MacLise recorded a vast amount of music that went largely unreleased until 1999. These recordings, produced between the mid-'60s and the late-'70s, consist of tribal trance workouts, spoken word, poetry, Brion Gysin-like tape cut-ups and minimalist droning and electronics, as well as many collaborations with his wife Hetty. In 2008, Hetty MacLise bequeathed a collection of her husband's tapes to the Yale Collection of American Literature.

Selections can be found on:

  • The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda (Siltbreeze, 1999)
  • Brain Damage in Oklahoma City (Siltbreeze, 2000)
  • The Cloud Doctrine (Sub Rosa, 2002)
  • Astral Collapse (Quakebasket, 2003)
  • The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda (DVD, Bastet/Saturnalia, 2006)

MacLise also collaborated with Tony Conrad, John Cale and La Monte Young on several other recordings:

He worked on soundtracks for several underground films by Piero Heliczer, and appears in at least two: Venus in Furs and Satisfaction (1965).[4][5] He also worked on the soundtrack for Voyage, a short film by Jerry Jofen.[6]

Book titles[edit]

  • Straight Farthest Blood Towards. (The Dead Language, Paris, 1959)
  • Year. (The Dead Language, New York, 1962)
  • New Universal Solar Calendar. (George Maciunas, New York, 1969)
  • Dream Weapon/Aspen #9. Edited by Angus & Hetty MacLise (Roaring Fork Press, New York, 1970)
  • The Cloud Doctrine. Limited edition with facsimile Angus MacLise holographs and hand-tinted cover by Don Snyder (privately published by Snyder in 1972 and reissued in 1983, New York)
  • The Cloud Doctrine. (Dreamweapon Press; Kathmandu, Nepal; 1974)
  • The Subliminal Report. (Starstreams Poetry Series; Kathmandu, Nepal; 1975)
  • The Map of Dusk. (SZ/Press, New York, 1984)
  • Ratio:3 Volume 1. Ira Cohen, Angus MacLise, Gerard Malanga - Media Shamans (Temple Press Ltd., 1991) ISBN 1-871744-30-X
  • Angus MacLise Checklist. Edited by Gerard Malanga (Limited edition, privately published, 2000)


Even though his music was largely unheard, the experimental group Coil have mentioned strong influences from MacLise in both sound and lyric form. His poetry can be heard recited on the track "The Coppice Meat", and his mystical droning techniques influenced such Coil releases as Spring Equinox: Moon's Milk or Under An Unquiet Skull (Eskaton, 1998) and Astral Disaster (Threshold House, 1999).

As co-founder of the Dead Language Press with Piero Heliczer, MacLise published works by influential writers, including early work by the Beat poet Gregory Corso.[4]


In May 2011 a major retrospective exhibit Dreamweapon: The Art and Life of Angus MacLise (1938-1979) was mounted by the Boo-Hooray Gallery in Chelsea, New York City. The exhibit features the contents of a recently discovered suitcase containing photographs, notes, poetry, and 100 reels of music. In addition to the gallery exhibit there are sound installations at Boo-Hooray’s second location in Chinatown and film screenings at the Anthology Archives.[7][8]

In 1965 a work by MacLise titled Rites of the Dream Weapon was included in the New Cinema Festival (also known as the Expanded Cinema Festival), an extensive series of multimedia productions in New York presented by Jonas Mekas and featuring the work of such artists as Robert Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenburg. Mekas was impressed with MacLise, writing in the Village Voice, "The first three programs of the New Cinema Festival – the work of Angus McLise [sic], Nam June Paik, and Jerry Joffen [sic] – dissolved the edges of this art called cinema into a frontiersland mystery."[9] MacLise's entry also made a lasting impression on the playwright Richard Foreman, who praised it years later in an interview.[10] According to Sterling Morrison, Andy Warhol's multimedia shows (Andy Warhol Uptight and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable) were based on similar works by MacLise and Heliczer, which they called "ritual happenings."[11]


  1. ^ allmusic "Hetty MacLise"
  2. ^ Namtar of the Wee Lama Boy
  3. ^ allmusic "Angus MacLise"
  4. ^ a b Unterberger, Richie (2009). White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day by Day. Jawbone Press. ISBN 978-1-906002-22-0. 
  5. ^ Raworth, Tom. "Piero Heliczer Web Page". Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  6. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Angus MacLise Artist Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
  7. ^ Marina Galperina (May 9, 2011). "The Life and Art of the Velvet Underground’s First Drummer". Flavorwire. Retrieved 2011-05-10. 
  8. ^ BEN SISARIO (May 9, 2011). "The Velvet Unknown, Now Emerging". New York Times. Archived from the original on 13 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-10. 
  9. ^ Comenas, Gary. "Expanded Cinema?". Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Davy, Kate (1981). Richard Foreman and the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre. ISBN 978-0835712200. 
  11. ^ Landemaine, Olivier. "The Velvet Underground Live performances and rehearsals". Retrieved 1 November 2014.  See Morrison quote.

External links[edit]