There wasn’t supposed to be a “theme” for the pieces played at this meeting, but one (actually two) soon appeared. The basic one was how music has evolved and changed, but there was a definite nostalgia for 1960’s and 70’s recordings (particularly the Beatles) – the Harry Partch was even older, from the early 50’s. The question also seemed to be floating around, “When is kitsch not kitsch?”
What was played:
Bill Dobbins: Evolutionary Etude
A perfect way to start off the eclectic mix that is the “Seattle Listening Club”, this goes through fifteen styles of music in ten minutes. It ranges from Bach to Stockhausen to Basie, with a brief interjection from Ozzy; and all for solo piano (oddly, it seems to skip both Bartok and Monk). The sections freely flow into one another without any cross-references or development, so it doesn’t really work as a “composition” – but it is a fascinating excursion into the history of classical music from Bach to George Crumb and then jazz (backwards) from Cecil Taylor to Count Basie with a little ragtime and boogie-woogie in the middle.
I no longer curse the sun
for the day it rose my frozen valley
for the day it warmed my frozen heart
the endless chill has ceased
I’m safe in his bright light
the eternal winter is over
I’m a creature, I’m a creature of the light
…so in life is light a friend.
Pretty-sounding “Celtoid” (not exactly Celtic) ambient electronica, with lyrics that turn the usual “pop” metaphors (creature of the night, “demonic” metal, etc.) on their head. Also, have you ever heard “rise” as a transitive verb?
Caku Daeng Baji: Ati-ati Raja (excerpt)
Throat-singing is apparently not limited to countries that begin with “T” (Tuva, Tibet). This is an Indonesian example. The nails-on-a-rough-chalkboard aesthetic is completely the opposite of anything we’re familiar with. It's definitely not for the musically unadventurous, though, as I commented at the meeting, it's maybe not all that alien: it might relate in some way to the American tradition of non-singers who are nonetheless great artists (Bob Dylan and Captain Beefheart of course, but I might also include Harry Partch in there too).
Judy Collins: In My Life
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young: Blackbird
John Denver: Mother Nature’s Son
Herb Alpert: All My Lovin’
A set of “Lennon-McCartney compositions” played by non-Beatles but contemporaneous with the Beatles. Fun, nostalgic, and once again proving that the Beatles belong in the category of great melodists. As was stated at the meeting, the melancholy tranquility of Judy Collins’ rendition may be closer to the spirit of the song than the Beatles' original version.
60’s kitsch sampled and then reincarnated as millennial pseudo-kitsch. The surface is quite different from the deep structure. Electric organs and percussive bwowng!s don’t disguise the fact that this is actually an interesting composition.
Sshe Retina Stimulants: Crowded Vending Automatism
This puts a new light on ambient music. It’s as if early Brian Eno had been remixed by Merzbow. It’s loud, with lots of noisy high end distortion and static, yet overlaid on a tranquil base of restful chords and a recurrent bell-tone. (Yes, a "base", not a "bass" – this continual background/foreground sound is a foundation on which the rest is built, but it is not always in the lower registers.) In your face in a very pretty, laid-back manner.
Classic ambience, with impressionist/jazzy chords slowly fading in and out of the haze, and not a touch of “new age” schlock.
John Oswald: Btls
As with most of Oswald’s “Plunderphonics”, the theme of this is recombination of everything familiar into something that is not familiar at all. This is nostalgia with considerable alteration. A single chord by the Beatles is played three times, re-tuned to different keys (and also twice dissonantly with all three together), followed by a quickly-truncated jumble of crowd noise and a TV broadcast. A brief minimalist invention that is based on the Beatles but has absolutely nothing to do with them.
The Moody Blues: Procession
More musical evolution (not particularly linear this time), with strange vocal interjections and a touch of early 70’s kitsch.
Harry Partch: Ring around the Moon
Mumbo-jumbo, hocus-pocus, hoity-toity, hotsy-totsy, acey-ducey, hoochy-koocky, hinky-dinky, heeby-jeeby, harum-scarum, helter-skelter, honky-tonky, plasy-walsy, lovey-dovey, pitter-patter, teeter-totter, tootsie-wootsie, boogie-woogie, piggy-wiggy.
Razzle-dazzle, rosy-posy, georgy-porgy, roly-poly, walkie-talkie, namby-pamby, wishy-washy, twiddle-twaddle, tittle-tattle, fiddle-faddle, shilly-shally, dilly-dally, silly-willy, willy-nilly, fuddy-duddy, hunky-dory, teenie-weenie, itsy-bitsy.
Look out! He’s got a gun!
All microtonalism aside, that’s about all that needs to be said.
Pat Metheny: Tharsis
From an album of John Zorn tunes played by the guitar master; this was akin to the jazz standard “Caravan” with a fusional underpinning. There’s a little Al Di Meola in there too. The beginning returned at the end, faster, and then slowed down and came to a resolve to end the first Listening Club meeting.
Next Meeting: 8/13/2013