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Angus MacLise

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Title: Angus MacLise  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Theatre of Eternal Music, Sterling Morrison, The Velvet Underground discography, Maureen Tucker, La Monte Young
Collection: 1938 Births, 1979 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Musicians, 20Th-Century American Poets, 20Th-Century Composers, American Avant-Garde Musicians, American Calligraphers, American Composers, American Expatriates in Canada, American Expatriates in France, American Expatriates in Greece, American Expatriates in India, American Expatriates in Nepal, American Male Composers, American Occultists, American Percussionists, American Rock Drummers, American Rock Percussionists, Bongo Players, Cimbalom Players, Deaths from Tuberculosis, Disease-Related Deaths in Nepal, Infectious Disease Deaths in Nepal, Musicians from Bridgeport, Connecticut, Tabla Players, The Velvet Underground Members
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Angus MacLise

Angus MacLise
Background information
Birth name Angus William MacLise
Born (1938-03-04)March 4, 1938
Bridgeport, Connecticut
Died June 21, 1979(1979-06-21) (aged 41)
Kathmandu, Nepal
Genres Avant-garde music
Occupation(s) Musician, poet
Instruments Drums, bongos, tabla, percussion, cimbalom, tambourine
Associated acts The Velvet Underground

Angus William MacLise (March 4, 1938 – June 21, 1979) was an American percussionist, composer, poet, occultist and calligrapher probably best known as the first drummer for the Velvet Underground.


  • Biography 1
    • Early years 1.1
    • The Velvet Underground 1.2
    • Brief return to the Velvet Underground 1.3
    • Later years 1.4
  • Death 2
  • Recorded music 3
  • Book titles 4
  • Influence 5
  • Dreamweapon 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Early years

MacLise was born Angus William MacLise on March 4, 1938, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the son of a book dealer. Despite some formal training as a percussionist, his playing style became so idiosyncratic that many assumed he was self-taught.[1]

The Velvet Underground

MacLise was a member of the Velvet Underground, having been brought into the group by flatmate John Cale when they were living at 56 Ludlow Street in Manhattan. Lou Reed recruited his friend Sterling Morrison, whom he knew from Syracuse University, and the initial line-up of the Velvets consisted of Reed, Cale, Morrison and MacLise.

MacLise played bongos and hand drums during 1965 with the first incarnation of the Velvet Underground. Although the band regularly extemporised soundtracks to underground films during this era, MacLise never officially recorded with them, and is often considered something of a shadowy, legendary figure in their history. Demos recorded during this period are featured on the Peel Slowly and See box set, but MacLise plays on none of them because (according to John Cale) he did not appreciate the need to turn up on time. Cale describes MacLise as "living on the Angus calendar", causing him to fail to show up to the venues for gigs until hours or sometimes days after the rest of the band had finished performing. When the opportunity of the band's first paying gig in November 1965 arose, MacLise promptly quit, suggesting the group were selling out. He was replaced by Maureen Tucker, resulting in the "classic" lineup of the Velvet Underground.

Brief return to the Velvet Underground

In 1966 when Velvet Underground lead singer and guitarist bass and MacLise drummed; by now, Tucker's idiosyncratic tribal style of drumming was integral to the group's music.

Still going by his own clock, MacLise showed up half an hour late to one show and carried on drumming for half an hour after the set had finished to compensate for his late arrival.[2][3]

By this time the Velvet Underground had found some recognition (if not great financial success) and MacLise was anxious to rejoin the group, but according to the notes of the box set Peel Slowly and See, the VU's primary songwriter and de facto bandleader Lou Reed had specifically prohibited MacLise from rejoining the band full-time due to his erratic behavior.

Later years

After leaving the Velvet Underground for good, MacLise moved to Berkeley, California, and married Hetty McGee[4] in a wedding ceremony at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, presided over by renowned LSD guru Timothy Leary,[2] and they had a son Ossian Kennard MacLise, who was recognized by Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa, as a reincarnation of a Tibetan saint, or tulku, and at age four became a Buddhist monk.[5] The MacLises travelled to Vancouver, Paris, Greece and India, before finally settling in Nepal.

A student of Aleister Crowley (he was working on a script for a film version of Crowley's Diary of a Drug Fiend before he died), he began to blend Tibetan mysticism with his music to create sound through various drone techniques.


A heavy drug user who was never particularly mindful of his physical health, MacLise died of hypoglycemia and pulmonary tuberculosis at the Shanta Bhawan Hospital in Kathmandu on June 21, 1979, aged 41.[2][3] The cause of death has also been attributed to malnutrition.[1] He was cremated to the traditions of Tibetan Buddhists in a funeral pyre.[2][6]

Recorded music

MacLise recorded a vast amount of music that went largely unreleased until 1999. These recordings, produced between the mid-'60s and the late-'70s, consist of tribal trance workouts, spoken word, poetry, Brion Gysin-like tape cut-ups and minimalist droning and electronics, as well as many collaborations with his wife Hetty. In 2008, Hetty MacLise bequeathed a collection of her husband's tapes to the Yale Collection of American Literature.

Selections can be found on:

  • The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda (Siltbreeze, 1999)
  • Brain Damage in Oklahoma City (Siltbreeze, 2000)
  • The Cloud Doctrine (Sub Rosa, 2002)
  • Astral Collapse (Quakebasket, 2003)
  • The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda (DVD, Bastet/Saturnalia, 2006)

MacLise also collaborated with Tony Conrad, John Cale and La Monte Young on several other recordings:

He worked on soundtracks for several underground films by Piero Heliczer, and appears in at least two: Venus in Furs and Satisfaction (1965).[7][8] He also worked on the soundtrack for Voyage, a short film by Jerry Jofen.[9]

Book titles

  • Straight Farthest Blood Towards. (The Dead Language, Paris, 1959)
  • Year. (The Dead Language, New York, 1962)
  • New Universal Solar Calendar. (George Maciunas, New York, 1969)
  • Dream Weapon/Aspen #9. Edited by Angus & Hetty MacLise (Roaring Fork Press, New York, 1970)
  • The Cloud Doctrine. Limited edition with facsimile Angus MacLise holographs and hand-tinted cover by Don Snyder (privately published by Snyder in 1972 and reissued in 1983, New York)
  • The Cloud Doctrine. (Dreamweapon Press; Kathmandu, Nepal; 1974)
  • The Subliminal Report. (Starstreams Poetry Series; Kathmandu, Nepal; 1975)
  • The Map of Dusk. (SZ/Press, New York, 1984)
  • Ratio:3 Volume 1. Ira Cohen, Angus MacLise, Gerard Malanga - Media Shamans (Temple Press Ltd., 1991) ISBN 1-871744-30-X
  • Angus MacLise Checklist. Edited by Gerard Malanga (Limited edition, privately published, 2000)


Even though his music was largely unheard, the experimental group Coil have mentioned strong influences from MacLise in both sound and lyric form. His poetry can be heard recited on the track "The Coppice Meat", and his mystical droning techniques influenced such Coil releases as Spring Equinox: Moon's Milk or Under An Unquiet Skull (Eskaton, 1998) and Astral Disaster (Threshold House, 1999).

As co-founder of the Dead Language Press with Piero Heliczer, MacLise published works by influential writers, including early work by the Beat poet Gregory Corso.[7]


In May 2011 a major retrospective exhibit Dreamweapon: The Art and Life of Angus MacLise (1938-1979) was mounted by the Boo-Hooray Gallery in Chelsea, New York City. The exhibit features the contents of a recently discovered suitcase containing photographs, notes, poetry, and 100 reels of music. In addition to the gallery exhibit there are sound installations at Boo-Hooray’s second location in Chinatown and film screenings at the Anthology Archives.[10][11]

In 1965 a work by MacLise titled Rites of the Dream Weapon was included in the New Cinema Festival (also known as the Expanded Cinema Festival), an extensive series of multimedia productions in New York presented by Jonas Mekas and featuring the work of such artists as Robert Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenburg. Mekas was impressed with MacLise, writing in the Village Voice, "The first three programs of the New Cinema Festival – the work of Angus McLise [sic], Nam June Paik, and Jerry Joffen [sic] – dissolved the edges of this art called cinema into a frontiersland mystery."[12] MacLise's entry also made a lasting impression on the playwright Richard Foreman, who praised it years later in an interview.[13] According to Sterling Morrison, Andy Warhol's multimedia shows (Andy Warhol Uptight and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable) were based on similar works by MacLise and Heliczer, which they called "ritual happenings."[14]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b c d
  3. ^ a b allmusic "Angus MacLise"
  4. ^ allmusic "Hetty MacLise"
  5. ^ Namtar of the Wee Lama Boy
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b  
  8. ^  
  9. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Angus MacLise Artist Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Marina Galperina (May 9, 2011). "The Life and Art of the Velvet Underground’s First Drummer". Flavorwire. Retrieved 2011-05-10. 
  11. ^ BEN SISARIO (May 9, 2011). "The Velvet Unknown, Now Emerging".  
  12. ^ Comenas, Gary. "Expanded Cinema?". Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  13. ^ Davy, Kate (1981). Richard Foreman and the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre.  
  14. ^ Landemaine, Olivier. "The Velvet Underground Live performances and rehearsals". Retrieved 1 November 2014.  See Morrison quote.

External links

  • Angus Maclise AllMusic bio
  • The Velvet Unknown, Now Emerging New York Times article on Dreamweapon exhibit.
  • The Life and Art of the Velvet Underground’s First Drummer - Illustrated feature on Dreamweapon exhibit.
  • Angus MacLise - Drum Solo (NYC 1968) on YouTube Video clip.
  • Angus MacLise "Humming in the night skull" on YouTube Video clip.
  • Angus Maclise - Heavenly blue pt.4&5 on YouTube Video clip.
  • Angus MacLise Sound Recordings at Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
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