Cork Marcheschi and the Fifty Foot Hose

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The electronic rock band Fifty Foot Hose emerged from San Francisco’s iconic 1960s music scene. Its music, including its sole album, Cauldron, issued in 1967, was influenced by a mixture of jazz, rhythm and blues, rock, and electronic music. The latter genre’s current popularity was sparked by pioneers such as Cork Marcheschi, a Bay Area local and 30 year Mariposa Street resident.

Fifty Foot Hose was formed in the mid-1960s with guitarist David Blossom and Marcheschi. The original lineup included Blossom and Larry Evans on guitar, Nancy Blossom as vocalist, Kim Kimsey on drums, and Marcheschi on bass and various analogue electronic synthesizers. The band quickly landed a record deal with Limelight, a then subsidiary of Mercury Records. At the time, record companies were signing as many acts as possible, according to Marcheschi.

Marcheschi’s passion for electronic music began with his introduction to Edgar Varese’s Poeme Electronique in 1962 by a high school girlfriend. Poeme Electronique was written for the Phillips Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. The song played inside an art installation that consisted of “about 400 speakers. The song would end by the time you were finished walking through it,” said Marcheschi. His fervor ultimately led him to create an instrument made from a Theremin, fuzz boxes, and a World War II navy speaker.

Blossom and Marcheschi worked with composers at the San Francisco Tape Center, which later became the Mills College Music Tape Center. The center, with Don Buchla, helped create the Buchla Box synthesizer, one of the first analogue synthesizers able to modify and create new sounds using pitch modulation and filters.

When asked about the contemporary electronic music scene, Marcheschi said, “I just don’t think much about the stuff that comes out of a laptop.” Analogue is always better, he said, because it’s like a real instrument, “You’re never really in complete control.”

Marcheschi’s music taste was influenced by his experience growing up in a Burlingame neighborhood populated by Italian, Mexican, Russian, Greek, and Japanese immigrants. He was swayed by what he describes as general dissidence in the San Francisco music scene; the songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s, and the punks in the 1980s. He feels that sense of dissent has been culturally lost in recent years, in part because of the tech industry’s promotion of a zeitgeist of conformity and unabated consumerism, “This is a generation in which everyone wants everything, but you can’t have everything because it’s only a concept,” said Marcheschi.

After Fifty Foot Hose disbanded in 1969, Marcheschi shifted to a career as a public and fine artist. He’s worked for fifty years as a sculptor and installation designer, with countless shows held across the country, as well as in Berlin, Germany. His public installations vary in size and shape, and don’t have a definitive style. Each unique situation provides inspiration for his public work.

Marcheschi distinctly remembers his first inspiration for light-based art: the soft intensifying glow of cigarettes in smoking sections in the last two rows of movie theatres in the 1950s.

When asked about his fascination with the medium of light, Marcheschi explained, “I’m interested in prelinguistic human experiences, such as light and sound. Any mother or father can tell what their child needs simply due to the sounds they make, there is no language involved. We pre-cognitively understand sounds and light… I aspire to that. My relationship to light is totally non-technological…I was absolutely heartbroken when the City allowed the Bay Bridge to be covered in this poor display. It’s not artwork, it’s not design; it’s only a display on a major piece of architecture.” He posited that advertisements might eventually be programed into the lights.

According to Marcheschi, the process of making music and fine art is quite similar. Looking back on his exposure to Poeme Electronique, he said, “I knew it was music but I experienced it as art. The way I approach my fine art and electronic music is the same…When it feels really good in the studio, it feels like a solo.”

Marcheschi described his current projects as “quieter” compared to his earlier work. “I like to make work that has a gentle focus, something that you could put under a chair or in the corner, but still maintain a presence as something on its own. Something that has the quality of fire; energy within its structure,” he said.

Marcheschi is disappointed with the City’s current art scene. “In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s the collectors were very well informed. But now collectors act as buyers, they buy art as if it were a car or a house. And in many cases, the only thing they have to guide them is how expensive the art is. Art should be larger than just visual candy that’s on a wall. You can buy eight Marcel Duchamps for the price of one Jeff Coons, and that should be illegal,” Marcheschi joked.

Alongside a fruitful career as an artist, Marcheschi has taught art at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the San Francisco Art Institute. He’s published two books, Louis Wain: Lucky Futurist Mascot Cats and Camille Fauré: Impossible Objects, about artists that Marcheschi met at a show in New York in 1971. “I was so impressed that I was never able to shake their work. A lot of people bought their work, but no one researched or studied them,” he said.

A documentary is currently being filmed about Fifty Foot Hose, and a new formation of the band will perform on November 7th at Roccapulco on Mission Street.

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