He pushed the envelope on music
In wake of Rod Poole’s tragic death, friends recall ‘a true artist’ who loved sonic exploration.
Guitarist Jim McAuley had no trouble this week recalling his first meeting with fellow guitarist Rod Poole. It was at the home of Nels Cline, well before the three recorded their “Acoustic Guitar Trio” album.
“I was standing in Nels’ kitchen, sipping coffee, when these amazing crystalline tones emerged from the living room,” McAuley said. “Rod Poole was just tuning up, and already I was mesmerized by his sound.”
Cline, a key player in L.A.’s experimental music scene and now a member of Wilco, described Poole as “a true artist, probably a genius” in a note on his website, posted after Poole was stabbed to death on Sunday in the parking lot of Mel’s Drive-In.
His wife, Lisa Ladaw-Poole, was there when it happened.
The couple was walking toward the restaurant, after attending a concert at the Dangerous Curve art gallery downtown, when a car nearly struck them and other pedestrians. The musician spoke up; the vehicle’s driver and passenger both got out, the latter allegedly with a knife, according to police. A half hour later, Poole died.
A security camera provided images that led to the quick arrest of Michael and Angela Sheridan. They were arraigned Wednesday.
Ladaw-Poole fielded a lot of phone calls this week, many of them from the parents of Poole’s guitar students who hadn’t gotten the news and were wondering why he didn’t show up for their children’s guitar lessons.
“These children loved Rod,” Ladaw-Poole said Wednesday. “He was really kind with them.”
Poole was a highly unusual guitarist, equally drawn to the distorted sound bombs of Jimi Hendrix and the spontaneous microcosmic tracings of Derek Bailey.
“I never could quite figure out how one man with one guitar could generate such an all-enveloping aural space,” said Devin Sarno, an electronic drone artist who recorded Poole twice for Sarno’s W.I.N. label.
Having left his native England in 1989 to find a more exploratory climate, Poole fell in with a devoted cloister of Los Angeles pathfinders that included Kraig Grady, Brad Laner and Motor Totemist Guild.
Grady, who composes in microtonal scales that employ the frequencies between Western music’s traditional 12 tones, introduced Poole to his own mentor, Erv Wilson. Wilson is a pioneer in microtonal music and “just” intonation, which tunes to vibrations’ natural mathematical ratios rather than the tempered scales used in orchestras.
Never one to take halfway measures, Poole lived in Wilson’s house for more than five years and emerged with his own way of hearing.
He had a Martin guitar refretted to 17 tones and, using his already precise, shaded fingerpicking technique, began impro- vising trance-bound variations on spacious arpeggios that could extend until time vanished.
Poole’s solo, group and bowed-guitar recordings have appeared on the W.I.N., Transparency and Incus labels (the last being Bailey’s imprint).
Poole’s music was the first and last thing heard Wednesday on KXLU-FM’s (88.9) “Trilogy” show, this night hosted by old Motor Totemist friends Emily Hay and Lynn Johnston.
Pinging and plucking, gently contracting and expanding, with “just” harmonies fluttering their intangible physicality throughout, the improvisation exuded an uncanny sense of peace. In contrast to its quiet beauty, it was titled “The Death Adder.”
Earlier in the day, Johnston described Poole as “a low-key guy — he was only in your face about music.”
Two words that surfaced repeatedly when people talked about Poole’s artistic temperament were “passion” and “intensity.”
Experimental guitarist Jeremy Drake, a curator of the “Sound” concerts at Schindler House in West Hollywood, wrote on a Poole tribute site: “Rod was always fully present. Good mood or bad, you got the full Rod Poole experience whenever he was in the room.”
Cindy Bernard, a primary “Sound” series organizer, said Poole was extremely meticulous about the many recordings he engineered for the series’ archive: “It’s rare to know someone whose enthusiasm for music is so pure.”
Instrumentalist and composer Vinny Golia, long the most pervasive influence in this city’s edge-music community, agreed. Poole once recorded a performance Golia had done with German bassist Peter Kowald. When Golia wanted a copy, Poole broke down his equipment, carried it over to Golia’s house and made the transfer there, not wanting to take any chances that the copy wouldn’t be perfectly compatible with Golia’s system.
Guitarist Carey Fosse, who knew Poole mainly in Poole’s transitional period of the early ’90s, called him “a wonderful improviser, very disciplined, and with beautiful articulation. I think his technique led him to areas he hadn’t imagined.”
Poole had been disappointed by the lack of opportunities to play forward-thinking music in Los Angeles. Though he had made few live appearances for several years, Bailey’s death in late 2005 inspired him to help fill what he felt to be an artistic gap.
Poole’s wife said he had been working on “just”-intonated interpretations of Irish folk songs, and that the noted film sound mixer Giovanni Di Simone had made new recordings of him.
Grady recently received an invitation to perform at a microtonal festival in Germany and was asked if he could help extend the offer to Poole. He will be there in spirit. Ladaw-Poole said she will take her husband’s ashes back to England. A memorial service is being planned.
VICTIM: Rod Poole was stabbed outside Mel’s Drive-In.