Unedited WIRE article

The following article was printed in The Wire, and appears here in its original, unedited form. Thanks to Jim Dorsch!

Doctor Nerve

The phone rings and it's Nick Didkovsky, leader/composer/guitarist of the avant metal/mutant jazz/thrash combo Doctor Nerve, calling from New York. Fresh off a European tour with the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, the 37-year-old Didkovsky is ~ like always ~ overloaded with energy.

Before touring with Frith, Didkovsky was gigging in Europe with Doctor Nerve. Ironically, the band plays more in Europe than in the United States. "It's easier for us to tour Europe than our own country," he says. "Europe supports the arts strongly, and has a rail system that makes it really easy to get around."

Hearing the suggestion that Doctor Nerve is a "fusion" band, Didkovsky counters: "We're more like a collision." He's right. Brash, intense, intelligent and loud, Doctor Nerve's music is nothing less than cataclysmic. The band negotiates torturous, constantly changing time signatures. The music often teeters on the edge of deconstruction, but the musicians reign it in before it derails. Sometimes factions of the group seem to go off in different directions, but with repeated listening, one hears unity in what seemed to be chaos.

The band has the ability to lure listeners primally, then keep them on board by appealing to their minds. "The first thing you react to is on a total, physical level. Once the body is open, the mind follows," says Didkovsky. Most satisfying, he says, is reaching out to people who never heard of Nerve and winning them over, like when "people wander into our gig because it's cold outside and end up buying all our records," which is exactly what happened one night in Troy, New York.

Didkovsky found undergraduate college music courses incredibly stifling, and didn't flower as a composer until he studied electronic music. "It was so open; there were no rules," he recalls.

After college he spent a year in New York City, working at The Kitchen and the Experimental Intermedia Foundation. In the early 1980s he quit his job as an actuary and moved to the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York, where the concept that became Doctor Nerve was born. The band came together in earnest when Didkovsky returned to New York City in 1985. The line-up has remained fairly constant, and consists today of Didkovsky on guitar, Greg Anderson on bass, Leo Ciesa on drums, Yves Duboin on soprano sax, Rob Henke on trumpet, Michael Lytle on bass clarinet and Marc Wagnon on MIDI-vibes.

In 1987 Didkovsky started writing composition programs in Hierarchical Music Specification Language (HMSL) and found that the results shook up his thinking. In a paper on the subject (published in "Proceedings, Ninth Symposium on Small Computers in the Arts"), he said, "I suspected that the completed program would generate music that my own prejudices could have overlooked, and I was interested in seeing how much of the resultant music would work its way into my own personal aesthetic."

Doctor Nerve's repertoire includes several computer-composed pieces, one of which elicited the following comments from Kyle Gann of "The Village Voice": "Raw and raspy, it was cogent and so musical that I was shocked to read in the program notes that he had used his computer software to compose it." Didkovsky says the computer is a tool that reflects the artist, and so, neither guarantees excellence nor leads to the clich~ of a mechanized, boring sound one might expect from a computer.

Analytical techniques play heavily in Didkovsky's work, and even show up in the names of his compositions. Titles such as "Take Your Ears as the Bones of Their Queen" and "In His Feet Were Burned Because Of Many Waters" were created by feeding prose into a computer program that outputs phrases in which pairs of adjacent words always make sense, but the whole probably doesn't. The resultant titles are interesting, but Didkovsky says, "They're diabolically difficult to remember."

Released in fall 1995, the latest Nerve CD, SKIN, brings the band to a new level of intensity. Didkovsky's guitar resonates with chunky, metal power chords, and is mixed farther up front than in the past. Where to from here? "I've got some grants to compose music for Doctor Nerve and the Sirius String Quartet," says Didkovsky. The band will probably release a second live album as well.


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