Thoughts: Marika Papagika’s Greek Popular and Rebetic Music in New York

Setting aside the music itself, compilations like these are incredibly interesting because they provide a window into a completely different time. In a way similar to Washington Phillips’ The Key to the Kingdom or Robert Johnson’s The Complete Recordings, this collection of Marika Papagika recordings from the 20’s presents a portrait of an artist most likely unknown to many people in modern times. MI0000264383

Rebetika isn’t a genre with which I am at all familiar, so going into this album I really had no idea what to expect. I immediately noticed that many of the tracks were much longer and more developed than singles usually were at the time, often utilizing unique song structures. Papagika’s voice is captivatingly beautiful, mysterious and enigmatic in an enjoyable way. Interestingly, many of the scales and intervals used in her melodies were ones I personally associate with Eastern folk music, but they communicated a completely different mood than the spiritual mysticism often found in those compositions. The frequent use of harmonic minor intervals seems to contradict the friendliness of the music.

I’m probably going way too in depth with my descriptions here. Regardless of my analytical observations, the compilation was ultimately very enjoyable, and I’ll definitely be checking out more Greek folk music in the future.

Episode 7: A Momentary Lapse of Theme

Setlist:

1. R.E.M. – “Moral Kiosk” (from Murmur)

2. De La Soul – “The Magic Number” (from 3 Feet High and Rising)

3. Sonic Youth – “Unwind” (from Washing Machine)

4. Innercity Ensemble – “White 3” (from II)

5. Wire – “Pink Flag” (from Pink Flag)

6. Minutemen – “Fake Contest” (from What Makes a Man Start Fires?)

7. Creedle – “When the Wind Blows” (from When the Wind Blows)

8. Pussy Galore – “Understand Me” (from Dial ‘M’ for Motherfucker)

9. Reversal of Man – “Hollowbody” (from Revolution Summer)

10. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “The Mercy Seat” (from Tender Prey)

11. Kramer – “Thank You Music” (from The Guilt Trip)

Listen to a recording of the broadcast here:

Show: The Big Noise Show @ No Place Gallery (Dec 16 at 7 pm)

Don’t miss out on this killer show, which is headlined by harsh noise/experimental legend John Wiese (also known as Sissy Spacek, the all-time favorite noise project of yours truly) and Cincinnati skronk scoundrels Wasteland Jazz Unit. It’ll be a night of diverse sounds, with the abstract improvisations of Columbus act Wet Hands, the classic harsh noise attacks of Brad Griggs, as well as some other local performers whose work I am unfamiliar with. The cherry on top is that entry is only $10, and, in the organizer’s own words, no one will be turned away. The link to the Facebook event is embedded here. Come hang out with me and hear some extreme sounds.

Episode 6: Environments

Setlist:

1. Haptic – “Ten Years Under the Earth” (from Ten Years Under the Earth)

2. Yuji Katsui, Hiroshi Higo, & Yoshihide Otomo – “Sound 1” (from Visions of Japan / Sounds of Tokyo)

3. Henri Pousseur & Michel Butor – “Vietnamibie” (from Paysages Planétaires)

4. Joel Stern – “Fortitudes End” (from Objects.Masks.Props)

5-8. Max Eastley – “Aerophones 2,” “Motors and Metal Rods 1,” “Aerophones 3,” Serpentine Gallery Installation” (from Installation Recordings)

9. Áine O’Dwyer – “The Little Lord of Misrule” (from Music for Church Cleaners)

10. Graham Lambkin – “Amateur Doubles (Besombes/Rizet-Pôle)” (from Amateur Doubles)

Listen to a recording of the broadcast here:

Thoughts: No Sound Is Innocent by Eddie Prévost

The philosophy behind AMM’s music is usually somewhat controversial. Many people seem to be quite opposed to it, whether they object to the paradigm itself or to the fact that there is a paradigm at all. While I agree that music requires no intellectual backing or explanation, it is compelling that these musicians are so devoted to truly making their own unique form of music, and that they can justify it so thoroughly. This is what drove me to read AMM percussionist Eddie Prévost’s 1995 book No Sound Is Innocent, which collects several of the artist’s essays, articles, and musings about the group’s singular style of improvisation and the ideas behind it.

A main point of discussion across these various selections is Prévost’s concept of “meta-music,” a phrase that is often brought up when talking about AMM but is never really explicitly defined. As I see it, he essentially views every sound within a given performance to be important, even vital, to the overall impact of the performance. It follows from this that musicians who are participating in a collective improvisation should always be thinking about their sonic contribution, even if that contribution is extremely subtle or even just silence. In this way, the interactions between the musicians almost takes the form of a conversation of sorts, where no sound, including the absence of sound, is truly innocent. Also fascinating is the recognition of the audience’s impact on a performance, a view Prévost shares with guitarist Derek Bailey (whose book Musical Improvisation is also great). The people viewing an improvisation are just as crucial to its identity as the musicians or the sounds they produce. This identity is only partially maintained by making recordings of the event.

While Prévost’s prose is a bit arcane at times and he does tend to repeat himself, No Sound Is Innocent was incredibly interesting and provided very comprehensive insight regarding “AMMMusic.” He also comes across as much less arrogant than Rowe from what I’ve read (though they all have somewhat of a mystical attitude about them that occasionally elicits an eyeroll or two), and it was funny to hear him talk about their ideological clashes throughout the group’s career. A great book for sure, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s even slightly interested in the music of AMM or improvisational music in general.

Episode 5: Dance-Pop Favorites

Setlist (CSV):

1. Janet Jackson – “You Can Be Mine” (from Control)

2. Michael Jackson – “Bad” (from Bad)

3. Prince & The Revolution – “Kiss” (from Parade)

4. Pet Shop Boys – “Left to My Own Devices” (from Introspective)

5. Kylie Minogue – “Better the Devil You Know” (from Rhythm of Love)

6. Scissor Sisters – “Filthy/Gorgeous” (from Scissor Sisters)

7. Madonna – “Isaac” (from Confessions on a Dance Floor)

8. Justin Timberlake – “What Goes Around… / …Comes Around (Interlude)” (from FutureSex/LoveSounds)

9. Lady Gaga – “Alejandro” (from The Fame Monster)

10. Rihanna – “We Found Love (feat. Calvin Harris)” (from Talk that Talk)

Thoughts: Keith Rowe’s The Room Extended

Note: I promise it’s not going to become a rule that I only discuss abnormally long albums or songs on here. It’s just that a lot of times these works have a lot of content I want to examine. Maybe I’ll cover some abnormally short stuff next to make up for it (Yellow Trash Bazooka here I come).

British musician and painter Keith Rowe has recently become one of my favorite artists. I’ve loved pretty much everything by him that I’ve listened to so far, from his recordings with AMM to his various onkyo and free improvisation collaborations. But the records that have resonated with me the most are definitely his solo efforts, particularly The Room and its elder brother, about which this post is written. Rowe, commonly attributed to be the driving force behind the development of the genre of electroacoustic improvisation (EAI), works with an incredibly unique palette of sounds on these records. And when I say unique, I mean completely unique; there is really nothing else that sounds quite like it.

The Room Extended, like its predecessor, is an immensely intimate record for Rowe. The cover is a diagnostic scan of his brain, taken when it was thought he might have a tumor. Since then, Rowe has also been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. From this context, the personal significance of the album is certainly revealed, but not nearly as much as from the music itself.

Every sound within The Room Extended aches with loneliness and fatigue. It’s impossible to not consider silence to be an integral part of the music, as it occupies almost as much space on the record as the audible sounds do. Impossible collages and layers of unidentifiable frequencies, static, guitar, and objects breathe in and out of the quiet soundscape, rising to ear shattering climaxes before departing as quickly as they were introduced. Clocking in at over four hours, the record is quite long, but this dynamic structure makes it seem much shorter somehow – a phenomenon that puzzles me to no end. Then again, there are a lot of things that puzzle me about Rowe’s music, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Even more difficult to describe than the sounds themselves are the emotions they elicit. I found myself brought to tears multiple times throughout my initial listen, and I couldn’t really tell you why. It might be because the feeling of isolation is so palpable; frequently the bursts of sound are framed by distant recordings of human voices, cars pulling out of driveways, classical music, that all somehow serve to exclude the listener. It also could be the sheer exhaustion of the sounds themselves; the conclusion of the fourth disc is a prime example, where a piercing tone rises out of complete silence, growing louder and louder until it starts to waver and falter, eventually collapsing into nothingness.

Once again, Rowe’s music completely defies verbal description, so I hope I did alright. All I can really assert with confidence is that listening to The Room Extended was one of the most intensely emotional experiences I’ve had with music in a long time, and I certainly enjoyed it immensely. I hope you can too. Thank you, Mr. Rowe.

Further reading: Brian Olewnick’s fabulous review (certainly better than mine)an interview with Rowe by Paris Transatlantic.