It's been called "nut music," "a music circus" and, most kindly, "experimental music." Instrumental ability is irrelevant, melodic form absent. All styles are go, and the improvisation is free, leading to an ear-bending mix of rock, jazz, classical, avant-garde and the kitchen sink. Eric Ziarko, a classically trained pianist and saxophonist who is the spiritual leader of Cool and the Clones, says, "What we're trying to do is create a sound that's different from anybody right now. We don't mind playing with energy and intensity, and what we try and do is use the sounds of different people we know in a style inspired by the free music advances of the last 20 years. Because of that, we seem to bother purists of every kind."
Including critics, who, when they've said anything at all, have tended to be acerbic. "A nuclear blast would have provided welcome relief," wrote one, adding that "some of the people in the audience may have been wishing during the piece that it was taking place in Kennesaw, Ga., where citizens are required to carry guns." Which doesn't bother Ziarko one bit. "We usually get some people that laugh and leave and others who stay and enjoy it. Hopefully they will laugh, because some parts are meant to be funny." The challenge is to know which parts.
Ziarko, who with his wife, Janice, runs the Glen Echo Experimental Music Workshop, will be the host of today's Glen Echo Experimental Music Day. Besides the Clones, there will be performances by blues-rockers Yamma Zamma, the Irish folk duo Second Story, hard-core punkers The Stand, the free-music Ejaz duo; there will also be special guest performances by internationally renowned clarinetist Perry Robinson and reed man Marc Whitecage. The free concert runs from noon to 5:30 p.m. in Glen Echo's Spanish Ballroom.
The workshops, which meet weekly year round, provide an improvisatory format for any and all, a place to test the waters of immediate invention. Participants, who float in and out, range from teen-agers to adults, from amateurs to professionals, and sometimes the atmosphere gets downright Dadaist. "We're trying to use any and all styles and players to blend in an intense vision and get away from public attention being focused on one band or style for a whole show," Ziarko says.
The Clones, who have been vaguely together since 1979, have made two 90-minute tapes ("Another Band on the Run, Volumes 1 and 2") that have been sold through the mail (about 50 of the first and 15 of the second have been sold so far, Ziarko says). "We're trying to get some money together to go over to Europe," he adds. "People have said we'd be a lot better off over there." Whether those people are fans or music lovers is anybody's guess.