Lee Ranaldo

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Lee Ranaldo
A man performing live on-stage, playing a red guitar. A yellow light shines on him.
Ranaldo performing with Sonic Youth in 2007.
Background information
Birth name Lee Mark Ranaldo
Born (1956-02-03) February 3, 1956 (age 65)
Glen Cove, Long Island, New York, United States
Genres Alternative rock, noise rock, no wave, experimental rock, art rock
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter, visual artist, poet, producer
Instruments Vocals, guitar, bass, drums
Years active 1980–present
Labels Neutral, Ecstatic Peace!, Homestead, SST, Enigma, DGC, SYR, Interscope, Matador
Associated acts Sonic Youth, The Cribs, Text of Light, Plus Instruments
Website www.sonicyouth.com/symu/lee/
Notable instruments
Fender Jazzmaster
Fender Telecaster Deluxe
Gibson Les Paul

Lee Mark Ranaldo (born February 3, 1956) is an American musician, singer-songwriter, guitarist, writer, visual artist and record producer, best known as a co-founder of the alternative rock band Sonic Youth. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Ranaldo at number 33 on its "Greatest Guitarists of All Time" list.[1] In May 2012, Spin published a staff selected top 100 list, ranking Ranaldo and his Sonic Youth bandmate Thurston Moore together at number 1.[2]


Ranaldo was born in Glen Cove, Long Island, studied art and graduated from Binghamton University. He has three sons, Cody, Sage and Frey, and is married to the experimental artist Leah Singer.

Ranaldo started his career in New York in several bands, and joined the electric guitar orchestra of Glenn Branca. In 1981, he and David Linton briefly joined the band Plus Instruments formed by Truus de Groot. With this line-up they recorded the album February - April 1981, released on the Dutch Kremlin label.[3] After the release of the album, Ranaldo left the band and started Sonic Youth with Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon.

Solo records

In 1987, Ranaldo released his first solo album, From Here to Infinity, compositions which ended in locked grooves. The second side of the album also featured an unplayable engraving by Savage Pencil.

Among Ranaldo's solo records are Dirty Windows, a collection of spoken texts with music, Amarillo Ramp (For Robert Smithson), pieces for the guitar, and Scriptures of the Golden Eternity. His books include several with art or photography by Leah Singer, including Drift, Bookstore, Road Movies, and Moroccan Journal: Jajouka excerpt (from a full-length book of writings on Moroccan travels and music). Ranaldo has also published Jrnls80s (published by Soft Skull Press), as well as a book of poems, Lengths & Breaths, with photography by Cynthia Connolly. His most recent book of poetry, Against Refusing, was published by Water Row Press in April 2010 with cover artwork by Leah Singer. His visual and sound works have been shown at galleries and museums in Paris, Toronto, New York, London, Sydney, Los Angeles, Vienna, and elsewhere.

After Sonic Youth went on hiatus in 2011, Ranaldo released Between the Times and the Tides in early 2012 on Matador Records. The record was the first under his own name to feature comparatively straightforward, vocal pop rock songs. Contributors to the record include Jim O'Rourke, Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, former Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, Wilco's Nels Cline, Alan Licht, John Medeski, and bassist Irwin Menken.

In 2012, he performed a solo concert at La Maroquinerie, for which he was photographed by Jean-Pierre Domingue.[4]

To tour for the album, Ranaldo organized The Dust as his formal group, featuring Licht, Shelley, and bassist Tim Lüntzel. In 2013, his follow-up album Last Night on Earth was released, credited to Lee Ranaldo and the Dust.[5][6]

Collaborations and side projects

Ranaldo has produced albums for artists including Babes in Toyland, You Am I, Magik Markers, Deity Guns, and Dutch art rock-ensemble Kleg. He has edited a volume of tour journals from the 1995 Lollapalooza tour written by himself, Thurston Moore, Beck, Stephen Malkmus, Courtney Love, and others.

Ranaldo has worked with jazz drummer William Hooker on improvised music, and reading and improvising poetry and released several records together.

His main side projects are Drift and Text of Light.[7]

Drift is a duo with his wife Leah Singer, with whom he has performed many live installation pieces with improvised music. This collaboration, utilizing live manipulated 16mm film projections, electric guitar and recited texts, occupied the duo from the early 1990s until late 2005, when they re-created the performance as an art installation at Gigantic Art Space, a gallery in New York City. Since then the pair have been performing a new piece entitled "iloveyouihateyou", a combination installation and performance work that has been presented in the US and Europe. In 2005 Drift released a box set with a DVD and a book.[8]

Text of Light was founded in 2001 by Lee Ranaldo, Alan Licht, Ulrich Krieger, Christian Marclay and William Hooker. The core group is Ranaldo, Licht and Krieger with changing DJs (Marclay, DJ Olive, Marina Rosenfeld) and drummers (Hooker, Tim Barnes, Steve Shelley). The music is free improvised and mostly played along with, but not really referencing, films by Stan Brakhage. The name for the band comes from Brakhage's film The Text of Light.[9]

In 2007 Ranaldo collaborated with British rock band The Cribs on their third album Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever. Ranaldo performs a spoken word piece against the track "Be Safe". Ranaldo made an appearance in the 2008 feature documentary by Nik Sheehan about Brion Gysin and the Dreamachine entitled FLicKer.[10]

Besides working as a guitarist he has frequently produced sound, performance and visual art independently of Sonic Youth. He has released over fifty solo, band and collaborative recordings, and a dozen books, including travel journals, poetry and artists’ books. His work has been exhibited at numerous galleries and museums, including the Hayward Gallery in London, the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art, NSCAD in Halifax, the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Mercer Union in Toronto, and Printed Matter, Artspace and White Columns in New York.

Preceded by a 2012 event at Nuit Blanche,[11] on October 21, 2011, the Music Gallery, InterAccess and the Images Festival presented the North American premiere of Ranaldo’s Contre Jour, a performance piece for swinging guitar, with visuals by longtime partner and collaborator Leah Singer. This performance was also done in Paris, Rotterdam, during IFFR, and Madrid afterwards.

Glacial Trio is a band consisting of Ranaldo, guitarist David Watson and drummer Tony Buck. In 2010 Ranaldo released the solo album Maelstrom From Drift on Three Lobed Recordings with guest appearances of Tony Buck and David Watson. The band released On Jones Beach In 2012.


Ranaldo usually uses Fender Jazzmaster, Telecaster Deluxe electric guitars and sometimes Gibson Les Pauls, with radically alternative tunings, and modifications. One of his Jazzmasters has a single coil pickup installed between the bridge and the tailpiece to exploit the resonating chiming sounds on that area of string at these so-called tailed bridge guitars.

In 2007 Yuri Landman built for Ranaldo the Moonlander, a biheaded electric guitar with 18 strings: 6 normal strings and 12 sympathetic strings.

Since Ranaldo and Moore, together with Elvis Costello and J. Mascis, are known for being key figures in the popularisation and resurrection of the Fender Jazzmaster, Fender introduced in 2009 a special Lee Ranaldo signature edition of a transparent blue version, together with a transparent green one for Thurston.[12]

In 2013, Ranaldo played a Watcher guitar from the French company Custom77 during his last Lee Ranaldo & The Dust tour throughout Europe.[13]

Printed works

  • Bookstore and Others (Paperback) - Lee Ranaldo, Leah Singer, Hozomeen Press (April 1995), ISBN 978-1-885175-06-9
  • Drift (box set with DVD) - Lee Ranaldo, Leah Singer, Gigantic ArtSpace (2005), ISBN 978-1-933045-34-4
  • Ground Zero: New Yorkers Respond (Paperback) - Lee Ranaldo, David Amram, Frank Messina, Wasteland Press (August 15, 2002), ISBN 978-0-9715811-7-3
  • Hello from the American Desert[14] (Paperback) - Lee Ranaldo, Curt Kirkwood, Silver Wonder Press (November 2007)
  • JRNLS80s (Paperback) - Lee Ranaldo, Soft Skull Press (1998), ISBN 978-1-887128-31-5
  • Lengths & Breaths (Paperback) - Lee Ranaldo, Cynthia Connolly, Water Row Press (August 2004), ISBN 978-0-934953-79-5
  • Moroccan Journal (Hardcover) - Lee Ranaldo, Fringecore (1999), ISBN 978-90-76207-52-0
  • Moroccan Journal: Jajouka excerpt (Unknown Binding) - Lee Ranaldo, Leah Singer, Ring Tarigh for the Literary Renaissance (1997), ASIN: B0006RJF80
  • Online Diaries : the Lollapalooza '95 tour journals (Paperback) - Beck, Courtney Love, Stephen Malkmus, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Mike Watt, David Yow, Soft Skull Press (1996), ISBN 978-1-887128-20-9
  • Road Movies (Paperback) - Lee Ranaldo, Leah Singer, Soft Skull Press (Nov 30, 2004), ISBN 978-1-932360-73-8
  • Against Refusing (Hardcover) - Lee Ranaldo, Water Row Press (April 2010), ISBN 978-0-934953-84-9


Solo albums
Singles & EPs
Collaborations with William Hooker
  • Envisioning (1995)
  • The Gift Of Tongues (also with Zeena Parkins) (1995)
  • Clouds (1997)
  • Bouquet [also with Christian Marclay] (2000)
  • Out Trios Volume One: Monsoon (also with Roger Miller) (2003)
  • Oasis Of Whispers (also with Glen Hall) (2005)
  • The Celestial Answer (2005)
Collaborations with others
  • cover of Pink Floyd's "Money" on Martin Bisi's Creole Mass LP (1988)
  • MMMR (also with Loren Mazzacane Connors, Jean-Marc Montera & Thurston Moore) (1997)
  • New York - Ystad (with Thurston Moore, Steve Shelley, Mats Gustafsson) (2000)
  • New Life After Fire (For Tom Thomson) (With Dave Dyment) (2003)
  • Four Guitars Live (Ranaldo / Giffoni / Moore / Cline (2006)
  • Les Anges Du Péché [Jean-Marc Montera / Thurston Moore / Lee Ranaldo] (2011)
Live recordings
As a band member
See discography for Sonic Youth discography


  1. Fricke, David. "100 Greatest Guitarists: David Fricke's Picks: Lee Ranaldo". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media. Retrieved June 14, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Hopper, Jessica (May 3, 2012). "SPIN's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". Spin. Buzzmedia. Retrieved September 18, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Official Website for Plus Instruments". Tikibosko.com. Retrieved 2013-10-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. http://www.jeanpierredomingue.com/rockdept
  5. "Sound Check: Lee Ranaldo and the Dust working as a unit". Themorningsun.com. Retrieved 2013-10-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Mike Ayers (2013-09-27). "Lee Ranaldo and the Dust Release New Track 'Ambulancer' | Music News". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2013-10-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "text of light". sonicyouth.com. Archived from the original on August 8, 2010. Retrieved June 14, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Drift (w/ Art Book): Lee Ranaldo, Leah Singer: Movies & TV". Amazon. Retrieved August 28, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Hall, Glen (2009). "Text of Light". Musicworks. Musicworks Society of Ontario. #103 (Spring 2009): 18–24. Retrieved October 31, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "FLicKeR :: A Film By Nik Sheehan". flickertheflicker.com. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved June 14, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Scotiabank Nuit Blanche". scotiabanknuitblanche.ca. Scotiabank. Retrieved August 28, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Fender® Sonic Jazz Master Jazz Blaster". Fender. Archived from the original on May 27, 2010. Retrieved June 14, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Gumble, Daniel. "INTERVIEW: Lee Ranaldo talks gear, guitars and shops | Musical instrument industry news". MI Pro. Retrieved 2014-08-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Welcome to Silver Wonder Press". Silver Wonder Press. Retrieved June 13, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links