Smog Veil Records’ ongoing project of discovering and exhuming Northeast Ohio’s lost proto-punk history is chugging along rather nicely. As a native Clevelander myself, I must confess to having skin in this game—this is the legacy of the scene that mattered most to me in my formative years, so every time another missing piece of that puzzle comes into play, it feels personal to me somehow, though the discoveries of long lost documents like French Pictures in London and Terminal Drive are good for everyone’s souls, really.
The latest item of interest to emerge into the light from this fabled grey city is The Mysticism of Sound and Cosmic Language by Hy Maya, an experimental collective that spawned future Pere Ubu founders Allen Ravenstine and Scott Krauss. Even among deep-digging cognoscenti of Midwestern proto-punk, Hy Maya’s existence has until now been hardly more than a rumor, a footnote in Pere Ubu’s backstory. But that footnote may be where much of the “avant” half of Ubu’s “avant-garage” strategy came from. Per CLEpunk historian Nick Blakey:
Hy Maya’s undeniable and pivotal influence upon Pere Ubu (and, for that matter, related bands that came in between such as Fins and The Robert Bensick Band) became merely an abstract reference. It seems no one had any recordings or photos of Hy Maya, no one could tell you how many shows they had played (if any), and no one could describe what they sounded like. Hy Maya’s legacy appeared to be nothing but some faded and blurry memories in the minds of a handful of witnesses.
The band/collective/revolving door was loosely “organized” around Robert Bensick, and its core also included bassist Albert Dennis. They performed six shows between 1972-1973, their sets mostly consisting of long freeform explorations inspired by Sun Ra Arkestra, Miles Davis, Islands era King Crimson, the Velvet Underground, and Krautrock artists like Tangerine Dream and Cluster. The Mysticism of Sound and Cosmic Language is culled from recently discovered recordings of live sets, studio tracks, and rehearsal tapes from various Hy Maya incarnations. Several of those incarnations are alluded to in an early Cleveland punk document called “Those Were Different Times,” written by Charlotte Pressler, a CLEpunk O.G. and also the wife of Pere Ubu founder Peter Laughner. The piece is quoted extensively in The Mysticism…’s liner notes, as it’s practically the only extant near-contemporary documentation of Hy Maya’s existence.
…I went in 1972 to a gala art opening at the New Gallery. Among other events there was an electronic band called Hy Maya scheduled to play. Natasha and I were walking along, looking artistic, when suddenly there was a blood-curdling scream from the floor above. We, and everyone else, stopped dead and stared at the tall, beautiful girl who then leaned over the upstairs landing and said in a quiet voice, “The Hy Maya performance will take place in ten minutes.”’
So we, and everyone else, went upstairs to hear them. I liked what they did: broad, free sound constructions flowing into each other. But…the main interest was Cindy Black, the girl who had screamed. I decided to find out how I could get in touch with her, and after the Hy Maya performance, went up to talk to the band. There were two members, one, a tall guy with a long black beard, looked too scary to get near, so I talked to the other one, whose name, I found out, was Bob Bensick. Bensick gave me his phone number, and invited me to get in touch, which I did not do.
Hy Maya seems to have been a very loose band. It’s hard to pin down the membership, let alone the dates. There was an electric and an acoustic Hy Maya; at various times, Bob and Allen; Bob, Scott and Albert; Bob, Allen and Albert were the members of the band. Perhaps it’s truest to say that Hy Maya was Bensick’s name for his way of doing music; and that if you shared his style at the moment, you also were in Hy Maya. It is certainly true that all these people were very adverse to tight formations. They were young, and still learning; Scott Krauss in particular was wary of commitments because he doubted his abilities. They preferred loose jams; they were not anxious to pin down things any further.
Continues after the jump…