Cultural appropriation is a funny bit of business. Things get taken, recycled, reused, modified and eventually become the norm. No one using a twelve-bar blues format thinks that they are stealing a bit of ethnic music. But they are.
A couple of weeks ago I went and saw Huun Huur Tu – a group that plays ancient Tuvan music – at the Mod-Club. I thought that the deep reverberations of Tuvan throat-singing and a down-town dance club that referenced London in the swinging sixties was a strange pairing. I had no idea what was going to happen next. Huun Huur Tu came out and played with a New York vest-wearing producer called Carmen Rizzo. Rizzo put screen-savers up in the club and added canned beats to the music, turning this unique group of musicians (Huun Huur Tu) into glorified spa sounds. The “World Music” crowed seemed to love it.
I was not impressed.
“World Music” as a genre is one of the most confusing and misleading entities in all of mislabeled music. What does Ali Farke Toure have to do with Jorge Ben Jorge? Where are Java and Sumatra anyway? Isn’t gamelan a blend of Starbucks coffee?
In the 1970s the krautrock group Can produced a bunch of recordings they called their Ethnological Forgery Series. An honest title for what happens when a rock group puts a sitar in a song.
Another element fallen by the wayside in my music was the quest for an organic/primitive minimalism. Here are two tracks made (for sure) with the Tascam:
Making minimal music – my own personal definition is maximum effect through minimal means – takes a little bit of courage. I don’t know if I would have the grit these days to strum just one chord on the guitar for three minutes. But I did back then. And spring has sprung…
As winter winds its way down and the spring itch sets in, I’ve been more interested in going through some old projects than making new ones. I’m a little disappointed to find themes that I never took past their nascent stages, forgotten sonic spaces, influences left behind and directions left unfulfilled.
One area which I obsessed over years ago was creating northern sounds – tones and timbres that would immediately call to mind images of the windswept boreal. Here is one from almost two years ago:
Northern Sound Archive 1
I wish I had kept notes on how I made these recordings. I was either using my Tascam porta-studio MKII:or my younger brother’s Boss digital 8-track:
Please excuse any hisses and pops. This is from the early days of my home recordings.
The Cubase interface changes the way you make music:
Neither of these machines let you see your wave forms, so the only picture you have of your music is auditory. I think I’ll get the Tascam out and start using it again. No fades. No cuts. No pastes.
Ok. Let’s be honest. The last piece of music I posted owed very little to David Darling & Ketil Bjornstad. It owed a lot to Harold Budd. I admit it.
But did you know that Harold Budd and Albert Ayler were in a military band together? Ambient piano or other, that is a serious piece of credibility. A big hunk of it.
I’ve wanted to do a series of recordings of Albert Ayler songs in a Fahey-esque guitar style. Ayler’s lovely, folksy melodies perfectly match the pastoral Americana of Fahey’s finger-picking. But I thought this week I’d try to do it first in a new-age style, because I’m on a new-age kick.
Here is ambient piano, double-reverbs, harmonic stasis and a guitar theme inspired by Alyler’s lovelier moments:
A New Age Tribute To Albert Ayler
It turns out I’m not the only one who thinks Ayler and new-age are not incompatible. A simple google image search revealed this:
This morning I had to prove that I could snap out of this reverb-drenched funk. I recorded the Theme for Albert Ayler without allowing myself a single digital effect:
For Albert Ayler
Pat Metheny made a record with Ornette Coleman. Harold Budd served in the US Army with Albert Ayler. Sometimes the distance between avant-garde and easy-listening is only a reverb button.
I’m working my way through the TIFF-Cinematheque’s best of the decade list. So far I’ve gotten through two movies, both of them late and elegiac films from darlings of the French New-Wave; Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I, and Jean-Luc Godard’s Eloge De L’Amour.
Both of these movies are interesting, to say the least. And, like most art-films, not unbearable to say the most. I was particularly struck by the beautiful music in the Godard film.
There are two things we haven’t talked about yet. The first is that I hate hearing my music described as sounding like movie music. The second is that I love ECM records. Let me explain.
ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) is a truly wonderful label. It has a strong aesthetic. Its catalogue and artist roster are diverse. Its albums are filled with some of the most hauntingly beautiful and some of the most tumultuously avant-garde sounds on record. ECM is commonly slogged with the descriptive non-entity of being new-age. If it is, I don’t care. I love their reverb drenched sounds.
“Movie music”, usually given as a compliment and always taken as a pejorative, is the easy way to describe music that doesn’t have lyrics. And while I revolt at this description, it really is apt. In fact – like the music from the Godard film – movie music has been an enduring source of inspiration. But I digress.
The Godard film features the incessant and repetitive use of a strain of music taken from David Darling and Ketil Bjørnstad album Epigraphs, released on ECM. And even though I refuse to concede the point, I was inspired to mic the piano and record some ambient improvisations:
I continue to shock myself with my love of reverb, floating melodies, harmonic stasis. I was also shocked to find that I now love the look of digital video (something I thought was in profound bad taste when I was younger) and neon lights.
What’s happening to me? New age? Neon lights? Cheap over-saturated digital video? I’m scared I’m becoming an adult.