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Joel Oppenheimer / Hans Plomp / Piero Heliczer
On Occasion / Intrepid Traveller / The Autumn Feast Nick Roseblade , August 21st, 2019 09:56

Three new tapes from the Netherlands' Counter Culture Chronicles, featuring the voices of poets Joel Oppenheimer, Hans Plomp, and Piero Heliczer, respectively, offer a set of intimate portraits, finds Nick Roseblade

In an age of disposable culture and virtual influencers, it’s exciting to be reminded that this wasn’t always the case. Dutch label Counter Culture Chronicles (CCC) was originally founded in 1997 as a music label, releasing Angus MacLise and Kim Fowley 12” albums. After a 16 year gap between CCC2 and CCC3 the began releasing private recordings, interviews and lectures on cassettes from key players of the counter culture movement including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Sun Ra, Ted Jonas, Timothy Leary and Fielding Dawson. The original source material is sometimes scratchy and muffled, but this doesn’t stop the visceral power of the subject coming through. The three most recent cassettes continue this tradition by featuring poet Joel Oppenheimer, writer and poet Hans Plomp and poet and filmmaker Piero Heliczer.

While nothing physically links the three recordings, apart from being on CCC, there is a theme that passes through each. The subjects were visionaries in their fields and documented their lives in a way that most of us don’t. When listening to Oppenheimer and Heliczer read their poems it is as if they are pulling back the curtain and showing us how the world should be.

Oppenheimer’s cassette On Occasion is a recordings of a lively poetry reading at Allentown Community Centre in 1977. His main themes are love, loss and redemption and the poems are intellectual and avant-garde, but chatty and tender. Despite some scratchy audio, Oppenheimer manages to keep us as enraptured as the audience he is speaking to.

On Intrepid Traveller, Plomp recounts his trip to America in the early 1980’s with nine other Dutch poets. They travelled to Allen Ginsberg’s house, got drunk with Gregory Corso and other leading lights of the scene including Bob Kaufman, and experienced American culture. The highlight of the tape is when Plomp encounters some monks walking along a road and joins them for a bit. In another’s hands the story could have gone very differently, but Plomp gives these pilgrims an otherworldly glow that is hard not to admire their beliefs and companionship.

The final cassette features Piero Heliczer reading his fifteen-minute poem The Autumn Feast, taken from the film of the same name. Rumour has it that the soundtrack for the 1961 film featured Heliczer, Tony Conrad, and Velvet Underground founding member Angus MacLise, but that recording was misplaced so Heliczer read this poem in its place. Without the films images, the poem takes on a new meaning and becomes something more powerful and mesmerising.

These cassettes, and the CCC back catalogue, offer private snapshots of the subject’s lives. On these three releases, in particular, there is an intimacy that is intoxicating. An older tape, now sold out, Jack Kerouac’s Northport Tapes is effectively just him being pissed up, going on long dire-tribes and singing along to Sinatra. It’s feels like the Instagram Story of its day, but exhilarating and insightful nonetheless. Here, on Oppenheimer’s cassette you can hear the audience moving in their chairs. During Plomp’s re-telling of his trip to America in 1982, the audience is captivated and transfixed, apart from when they laugh and clap. It’s through these insights that we start to get a better understanding of not only them as artists, but as people, which brings their work into a sharper focus.

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