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Z'EV in 2008
Z'EV in 2008
Background information
Birth nameStefan Joel Weisser
Born(1951-02-08)February 8, 1951
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
DiedDecember 16, 2017(2017-12-16) (aged 66)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
  • Poet
  • sound artist
Years active1966–2017

Z'EV (born Stefan Joel Weisser, February 8, 1951 – December 16, 2017)[1] was an American poet,[2][3] percussionist,[4][5] and sound artist.[6][7] After studying various world music traditions at CalArts, he began creating his own percussion sounds out of industrial materials for a variety of record labels. He is regarded as a pioneer of industrial music.[8]

Z'EV was a strong presence in the New York City downtown music scene in the 1980s and 1990s, performing with Elliott Sharp, Glenn Branca, and doing solo performances at The Kitchen, The Knitting Factory, Danceteria, and other venues where experimental music flourished.

In 1983, critic Roy Sablosky wrote: "Z'EV doesn't just break the rules, he changes them."[9] Journalist Louis Morra wrote in 1983: "Z'EV is a consummate example of contemporary performance art, as well as modern composition and theater." and, "Z'EV realizes many of modernist art's ultimate goals: primitivism, improvisation, multi-media/conjunction of art forms, the artist as direct creator."[10]

His work with text and sound was influenced by Kabbalah, as well as African, Afro-Caribbean and Indonesian music and culture. He studied Ewe music, Balinese gamelan, and Indian tala.[11]


From 1959 to 1965, he studied drumming with Arnie Frank, then Chuck Flores and then Art Anton at Drum City in Van Nuys, California.

In 1963, he abandoned Judaism and began his lifelong relationship with world religions and esoteric systems.[11]

From 1966 to 1969, he performed in a jazz rock band with Carl Stone and James Stewart. After auditioning for Frank Zappa's Bizarre Records, the band ceased activities and both he and Stone began attending the California Institute of the Arts.[11][12][13]

After studying at CalArts from 1969 to 1970, he began producing works using the name S. Weisser, primarily concentrating on visual and sound poetries.[2][3]

In 1975, he was included in the "Second Generation" show at the Museum of Conceptual Art in San Francisco.[14] He also became a member of Cellar-M, a musical project of Naut Humon. He would continue to work with Humon on various projects, such as Rhythm & Noise, until 1988.[15]

In 1976 he moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. A primary reason for this move was his association with the San Francisco alternative exhibition space La Mamelle, run by Carl Loeffler and Nancy Evans.[12]

In 1977, he presented his first solo percussion performance at La Mamelle under the project title 'Sound of Wind and Limb'.[12]

In 1978 he began developing an idiosyncratic performance technique utilizing self-developed instruments formed from industrial materials such as stainless steel, titanium, and PVC plastics. Initially these instruments were assemblages of these materials, used with a movement-based performance style that was a form of marionette, although with the performer visible. He has since come to refer to this performance mode as 'wild-style', a term originally related to graffiti.[8] At this time, he first began to perform outside of the fine art context, initially at the Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco.[12] In the fall of 1978, he began performing under the name Z'EV, which comes from the Hebrew name his parents gave him at birth (Sh'aul Z'ev bn Yakov bn Moshe bn Sha'ul).[11][12]

In November and December 1980, Z'EV opened a series of UK and European concerts in the first headlining tour of the British group Bauhaus.[3][6] On that tour, and his first solo tour of Europe immediately afterwards, Z'EV introduced intense metal based percussion musics to the UK and Europe. Critic Jason Pettigrew (current editor-in-chief of Alternative Press magazine) attests to Z'EV's pioneering use of metal found object as percussion, writing: "Consider your music collection. Neubauten? Test Department? Z'EV's been there first.' [16]

In 1981, 'Shake Rattle & Roll', a VHS video documenting his first wild-style performance on the East coast (produced by video artist Jon Child), was released by Fetish Records in the UK and was the first 'music' / art video to be commercially released. In 1982 he worked with Glenn Branca for Branca's Symphony No. 2 in which Z'EV had a solo segment swinging with metal can overhead, and rattling chains and sheets of steel. After 1984, he concentrated on performing in a more traditional mallet-percussion style, albeit with highly idiosyncratic and "extended" mallet percussion techniques and his self-made or adapted instruments. In point of fact, Z'EV doesn't actually consider[6][7][11] the results as "music" per se, but more as orchestrations of highly rhythmic acoustic phenomena.

From 1986 to 1990, he was a Guest Teacher in Composition and Improvisation at the Theater School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam. With dancer Ria Higler, he mentored a group through their entire four-year course of study.[17]

In 1990, he began working with Amsterdam house musician, DJ Dano. Their work, also in conjunction with Austrian media artist Konrad Becker, was instrumental in the emergence of the genres known as gabber and hardcore.[citation needed] His recordings have been released by C.I.P., Cold Spring, Die Stadt, Soleilmoon, Tzadik Records, Subterranean and Touch.

Z'EV was injured in the 2016 Cimarron train derailment which took place near Dodge City, Kansas on March 14, 2016.[18] After this incident, he continued to have health problems, but continued working. He lived for three months in the guest room of his friend Boyd Rice in Southern California.[19] Afterwards, Z'EV traveled to Europe and was an artist in residence at the Porto-based sound lab Sonoscopia, where he built a number of percussion instruments.


He died on December 16, 2017, in Chicago from pulmonary failure.[18]

Published works[edit]

  • Wheels On Fire #'s 1 And 2
  • Rhythmajik, Practical Uses of Number, Rhythm and Sound
  • Face the Wound[20]
  • The Sapphire Nature[21]


  1. ^ "American percussionist and poet z'ev has died". Wire. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  2. ^ a b Sanders, Rens (1981-06-01). "Z'EV Geluidstyfoon". Vinyl (in Dutch) (4): 20–21.
  3. ^ a b c Bohn, Chris (1982-05-08). "Sixophrenic, The Six Faces of Z'EV". New Musical Express: 15–16.
  4. ^ Re/Search (2006) [1983]. No. 6/7 Industrial Culture Handbook, Limited Hardback Edition. San Francisco: RE/Search. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-889307-16-9.
  5. ^ Atkinson, Terry (1985-01-16). "Z'EV: Percussion as Performance Art, A Lonely Road". Los Angeles Times.
  6. ^ a b c Chris Toenes (2007-05-16). "Sound artist Z'EV's long, lonely path to innovation". Indyweek.com. Retrieved 2011-07-04.
  7. ^ a b Glenn Dixon (2007-05-24). "A Sound Experience: Z'EV'". Express Night Out. Retrieved 2011-07-04.
  8. ^ a b Re/Search (2006). No. 6/7 Industrial Culture Handbook, Limited Hardback Edition. San Francisco: RE/Search. pp. 106–117. ISBN 978-1-889307-16-9.
  9. ^ Sablosky, Roy (March 1983). "Review of Production And Decay Of Spacial Relations". OP Magazine.
  10. ^ Morra, Louis (1983). "Review of Elemental Music". [East Village Eye].
  11. ^ a b c d e Dmitri Kolesnik (June 1999). "Z'EV – Acoustic Phenomenae". Drugie Here. Retrieved 2008-07-25.
  12. ^ a b c d e Re/Search (2006) [1983]. No. 6/7 Industrial Culture Handbook, Limited Hardback Edition. San Francisco: RE/Search. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-889307-16-9.
  13. ^ Mike Hovancsek. "Z'EV: Swords into Plowshares". Retrieved 2008-11-12.
  14. ^ Loeffler, Carl Eugene; Tong, Darlene (1980). Performance Anthology: Source Book Of California Performance Art. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press. p. 126. ISBN 9780931818011. Kent, Tom. "Second Generation," Artweek, v.6, March 29, 1975 p.5. Review of MOCA's fifth anniversary celebration entitled, MOCA: Second Generation, which included works by Richard Alpert, Jim Pomeroy, Darryl Sapien, Irv Tepper, and Stefan Weisser.
  15. ^ Hovancsek, Mike.Z'ev: Swords into Plowshares. Adventures in Sound. Retrieved on November 30, 2012.
  16. ^ Alternative Press, Issue #59, June 1993, p.35
  17. ^ "Aktuelles - Thomas Lehmen (de)". Thomaslehmen.de. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
  18. ^ a b Pareles, Jon (26 December 2017). "Z'ev, Percussionist and Industrial Music Pioneer, Dies at 66". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
  19. ^ "RIP : Z'ev - industrial music legend and supreme percussionist". Louderthanwar.com. 17 December 2017. Retrieved 2020-03-14.
  20. ^ "ARTIST: Z'EV: Face The Wound: Label: Soleilmoon". Soleilmoon.com. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
  21. ^ "Welcome to Tzadik". Tzadik.com. Retrieved 2013-08-15.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]