David Firstʼs musical life is filled with opposites and extremes. At the age of twenty he played guitar with renowned avant-jazz pianist Cecil Taylor in a legendary Carnegie Hall concert. Two years after that he was creating electronic music at Princeton University (an LP of which was released in January 2014 on Dais Records) and leading a Mummerʼs String Band in Philadelphia parades. He has played in raucous drunken bar bands and in pin-drop quiet concert halls with classical ensembles. As a composer First has created everything from finely crafted pop songs to long, severely minimalist drone-works. His performances often find him sitting trance-like without seeming to move a muscle, unless he is playing with his recently re-formed psychedelic punk band, Notekillers, at which time he is a whirling blur of hyperactive energy. First has been called "a fascinating artist with a singular technique" in the New York Times, and "a bizarre cross between Hendrix and La Monte Young" in the Village Voice.
A 45 single released in 1980, The Zipper, by Notekillers, was cited by Sonic Youthʼs Thurston Moore as one of the songs he played for the rest of the band when they were starting out. Moore called it a "mind-blowing instrumental single" in the British rock magazine Mojo and “a big influence” in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Notekillers have released an archival CD on Ecstatic Peace and participated in the All Tomorrowʼs Partiesʼ Nightmare Before Christmas Festival in Great Britain. Recent releases include Electronic Works (1976-77) on Dais Records, The AM Radio Band (Robert & Leopold), a 3-CD compilation of Firstʼs droneworks, Privacy Issues (1996-2009), on Phill Niblockʼs XI label, and Weʼre Here to Help an LP by the Notekillers on Prophase records. Upcoming releases include Same Animal, Different Cages vol1: Études for Acoustic Guitar on Fabrica Records.
Firstʼs music has been performed in the USA at The Kitchen, Bang On A Can, Central Park Summerstage, the CMJ Music Marathon, Union Pool, Secret Project Robot, Trans Pecos, Joeʼs Pub, SXSW, The Stone, The Knitting Factory, Tonic, Issue Project Room, The Silent Barn, Deep Listening Institute, Monkey Town, Merkin Hall, CBGBʼs, and The Spoleto Festival. He has also been presented extensively in Europe - appearing, at Podewil, the USArts Festival, Institut Unzeit (Berlin) as well as at De Ijsbreker (Amsterdam), the Heidelberger Festival for Experimental Music and Literature (Heidelberg), ZwischenTone Festival (Köln), The Impakt Festival (Utrecht), Het Apollohuis (Eindhoven), and the Brugge Concertgebeouw (Brugge). First has also presented sound installations at Kunstforeningen (Copenhagen), the UppsalaKonstmuseum (Uppsala), Exit Art (New York), Voorkamer (Lier) and Studio Five Beekman (NYC). An installation – Daveʼs Waves, a Sonic Restaurant - ran during the summer of 2006 in the Sonambiente Festival of Sound Art in Berlin and in Leeuwarden (the Netherlands) in 2013...
Other projects include SWATi (Spherical Waveform Audio Trance Induction), a collaboration with acupuncturist Isobeau Trybula at Worksong Chinese Medicine in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. SWATi is an outgrowth of his prior project Operation:Kracpot which was an internet collaboration with geophysicist Dr. Davis Sentman of the University of Alaska (Fairbanks). Both involve the sonification of the atmospheric phenomena known as the Schumann Resonances and human brainwaves. He is also a member of Matter Waves which features Kid Millions (Oneida) on drums, Bernard Gann (Liturgy) on bass and himself on guitar and laptop. He was a founding member and participant/organizer of the New Party Systems Collective which released a song and video, We Are, written by First and featuring TV On the Radio's Kyp Malone on vocals, that received much acclaim in the Occupy Movement. First's most recent project include The Western Enisphere, a drone and micro-pulse acoustic-electric ensemble featuring violist Jeanann Dara, trombonist Sam Kulik, laptop & audio mixer Will Stanton, saxophonist Jeff Tobias, percussionist Danny Tunick as well as First on ebow guitar, and Folksinger - instrumental works for acoustic guitar and harmonica.
First has also been featured in numerous publications. There have been articles about him in both Guitar Player and Keyboard Magazine as well as in White Fungus (Taiwan), MusikTexte (Germany), Arude, Atlantica (Spain) and Tape Op . There are chapters about his music in the books American Music in the Twentieth Century (Gann/Schirmer) and La Musica Minimalista (Antognozzi/Edizioni Textus), Music Downtown (Gann/UofC Press) and Rifugio intermedio - Il pianoforte contemporaneo fra Italia e Stati Uniti (Arciuli/Teatro di Monfalcone).
First received Honorable Mention from Leonardo/ISAST for his article The Music of the Sphere: An Investigation into Asymptotic Harmonics, Brainwave Entrainment, and the Earth as a Giant Bell. He has received grants from the Foundation of Contemporary Performance Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Copland Foundation, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust and the Meet the Composer Commissioning USA program. He was most recently awarded a grant from NewMusicUSA to release Same Animal, Different Cages a series of albums for various solo instruments, including acoustic guitar, analog synth, and harmonica.