Unedited WIRE article
The following article was printed in The Wire, and appears here in its original, unedited form.
Thanks to Jim Dorsch!
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
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
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
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
Doctor Nerve Main Menu