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 third 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.

Thoughts: “Fast Car” by Jim O’Rourke

I’m of the opinion that Jim O’Rourke is one of the most talented and versatile musicians of our time. He’s played with and produced countless bands, including a lot of well-known acts like Sonic Youth, Wilco, Will Oldham, and Joanna Newsom. His releases range from pleasant jazz pop to noisy free improvisation to soothing folk to meditative glitch and progressive electronic, and he shows no sign of slowing down with his eclecticism or prolificity anytime soon.

The section of O’Rourke’s catalog that most appeals to me, however, is his work with drone, mainly the warm acoustic style pioneered by legends like Tony Conrad, La Monte Young, and other members of the Dream Syndicate. A prime example of this is 1997’s Happy Days, a 47-minute composition that blends O’Rourke’s penchant for minimalism-influenced guitar playing with calming, meditative violin drones. This was my favorite thing he had done – up until yesterday, that is, when I first heard the song “Fast Car.”

It’s taken from an unofficial recording of a live set in Japan in 2002, during which O’Rourke was touring in support of his 2001 record Insignificance. The first five songs of this performance are great, mainly consisting of solo guitar and vocal renditions of tracks from Insignificance and Halfway to a Threeway, an EP from ’99. But nothing can prepare for the sheer beauty and happiness that permeates the closing track, “Fast Car.” Opening with a looping sample of Tracy Chapman’s iconic guitar motif from her song of the same name, it features O’Rourke’s own version of the lyrics as more instruments build behind the repeating sample. Subtly, to the point where I barely realized it was happening, the lively acoustic melodies are overtaken by impossibly lush layers of comforting drones. Nowhere else has music so perfectly captured the feeling of a warm blanket and a cup of hot chocolate after a long day in the cold (it could just be that it was freezing cold yesterday; I’d imagine this song would also be applicable during a sunny summer day). Towards the end of the piece, the melodies return, with O’Rourke beautifully tagging the chorus of Chapman’s classic before bringing everything to a close with soft guitar meanderings. It’s a perfect marriage of his folk pop sensibilities and his more abstract inclinations, and in the process it creates probably the most uplifting sounds I have ever heard. Highly recommended (click the picture next to this paragraph to go to a youtube upload of the track).

News: Northside Record Fair!

 

The event this Saturday the 11th celebrates the fifth anniversary of the Northside Record Fair, one of the largest (and best) record fairs in the Midwest. Organized biannually by Jon Lorenz, the fair brings together local brick-and-mortar stores, independent vendors, and collectors to the North Church in Cincinnati, OH. It’s a music head’s dream, with foldout tables stuffed end to end with boxes upon boxes of records, tapes, CDs, and other trinkets and oddities. There’s something for everyone here; the wide variety of sellers means that anyone can find what they’re looking for. I’ve seen countless quantities of oldies, country, pop, hip-hop, experimental, rock, alternative, folk, and pretty much anything else you can think of. If you’re in town and have the time (and the funds) definitely stop by, help support a fantastic event, and pick up some new wax. (Click the above picture to see the Facebook event page.)

Thoughts: Claustration by Vomir

Harsh noise wall is a pretty controversial genre. The main argument I’ve heard against it is that it takes no effort or musical talent to fill up a tape with an unchanging, dynamic-less wall of sound. And I’d partially agree with that. But the thing that makes this music (yes, I’d definitely call it that) so fascinating to me is how unique its preparation is, even compared to other types of noise music. For most HNW artists, almost all of the creativity put forward to make walls is used to set up and make the sound, and not actually to sustain or change it. And these artists are judownloadedfile-15st as creative as any others, so they make some pretty amazing stuff.

Vomir is probably the prime example of this, at least for me. He has no ulterior motives, no pretentious explanation of what his music means; he just makes it to make it, because he enjoys it and hopes other people do too. And the process is much more involved than naysayers would lead you to believe. It’s almost dizzying the amount of pedals and effects he utilizes to meticulously craft hypnotic, psychedelic, crushingly heavy noise. The lack of dynamics isn’t a disadvantage; instead, I find myself getting lost in these darkly lush walls.

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This is taken to an extreme on 2008’s Claustration. Originally released as a 6-CD box set, which comprises five parts of the titular piece as well as five untitled tracks, the album runs for over five hours. Yes, five hours of unrelenting harsh noise wall. Is there anything more intimidating? I’m not sure, but I can definitely think of worse ways to pass the time I spent listening to the entirety of Claustration. The album was in my ears from 6:02 to 11:27 yesterday, accompanying me through dinner, homework, grocery shopping, almost getting run over by an idiot driver in the pouring rain, and sitting outside in the dark. It was a unique, confusing, captivating, and, ultimately, enjoyable experience. I’ve never felt so isolated by music before, the rumbling, warm noise wrapping itself around me and not letting go until the end.

I can’t say it’s something I’ll do very often, but I also can’t say I regret it. Maybe I convinced you that HNW is a viable art form. Maybe I didn’t. Either way, hopefully you’ll try out Claustration sometime. (If it really is too long I recommend either Black Bag or Portrait Series #6, two other excellent Vomir projects.)

Episode 4: New Music Roundup Part 1

Setlist (Episode4.csv):

1. James Holden & The Animal Spirits – “Thunder Moon Gathering” (from The Animal Spirits)

2. Converge – “I Can Tell You About Pain” (from The Dusk in Us)

3. Small Leaks Sink Ships – “Subtle Sadness” (from Golden Calf)

4. City – “Pain/Power” (from A Goal is an Image)

5. Elodie – “Le Temps d’Antan” (from Vieux Silence)

6. Sissy Spacek – “Other Restrictions”(from Slow Move)

7. Sugai Ken – “Okera” (from UkabazUmorezU)

8. Yellow Eyes – “Blue As Blue” (from Immersion Trench Reverie)

9. Le Fou – “Mania Function” (from Hanover Deicide 1973 and the Black Priest)

10. Gasp – “Region 2: Tiny Wingman, Decaplex Solar Tempest” (from Ghost In Scow Out)

If you missed the show, listen here: