He pushed the en­ve­lope on mu­sic

In wake of Rod Poole’s tragic death, friends re­call ‘a true artist’ who loved sonic ex­plo­ration.

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - By Greg Burk

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.

Lisa Ladaw-Poole

VIC­TIM: Rod Poole was stabbed out­side Mel’s Drive-In.

Loren Ham­mer

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