Saturday, September 14, 2013

Meeting 9/11/2013: Collage and Experimental Folk Music

Again, no “theme” was planned for this meeting. And again, two “themes” soon appeared. 1. Sound collage. 2. “Avant-folk”, that is, traditional music with experimental touches (or vice-versa). There were also a lot of retro-60’s sounds floating around, though those might have snuck in from previous meetings.

What was played:

End: Mr. Gunns
The 60’s retro feel got underway immediately with this funky Peter Gunn semi-remix. It never directly quotes the Peter Gunn music, but seems to have everything to do with it (including “Gunn-shots”). As far as I can tell, it has absolutely nothing to do with “Gunns” ‘n’ Roses, though it was fun to begin the meeting with a song by “End”.

Goldfrapp: Pilots
This dates from before Goldfrapp went pop, though it has elements of mellow 60’s lounge music. Nice use of synthesized panpipes(!), and even nicer (and very expressive) vocals.

Hedningarna: Hoglorfen
Like a several other traditional musics I can name, this Scandinavian dance rhythm apparently rocked before coming into contact with actual rock and roll. (There’s a form of Thai folk music that has the same beat.) There’s quite a lot of power in the hurdy-gurdy, jaw harp, and hardanger fiddle; amplified, and with that heavy bass beat, it sounds like electronica…

Vladimir Estragon: Seine Register
Charles Amirkhanian: Chu Lu Lu
The Grateful Dead: That’s it for the other one anthem freakout
John Zorn: tre nel 5000

Four, mostly short, pieces showing the art of sound collage. Three derive from recorded music, though the Zorn piece (in classic Zorn style) is overlaid with “live” guitar, trombone, inside piano, and percussion. The Grateful Dead piece sounds like a collage of recorded sound, but it’s probably a group improvisation in the manner of the “space” performances released on their “Infrared Roses” album. One can hear it begin and end out of other songs.

Yoko Kanno: Theme from “Cowboy Bebop” (played by The Seatbelts)
A high-energy retro-funky jazz cartoon theme, featuring a lot of groove, smokin’ trumpet riffs, and one of the most dissonant chords that’s ever been heard on this planet.

Winter/McCandless: Eagle
Anthony Braxton: Behemoth Dream

Two different takes on freeform improvisation. The piece by the two Pauls (on a vinyl album credited to Paul Winter) uses the recorded sound of an eagle as a starting point, then spins off in its own freeform direction with an oboe (Paul McCandless) and a soprano sax (Paul Winter). The Braxton piece contrasts low and extremely high pitches on the contrabass clarinet, with occasional synth interjections by Richard Teitelbaum.

Smithsonian Folkways recordings comparing Delta Blues with Senegalese Song
Small snippets (or individual phrases) are juxtaposed in this ethnomusicological study. Since they have the same roots, these two traditional styles should sound similar. When compared back to back, though, they don’t sound all that close; though some of the melodic contours carry over to the American from the African music. The first note in each phrase is usually the highest, and it is followed by successive drops to lower and lower pitches. This may be connected to the “downstep” intonation employed in certain sentence types in some West African languages (linguistic phrasing influencing musical phrasing) but one wouldn’t necessarily expect the American singers to use the same melodic curve. Perhaps musical memory lasts longer than linguistic. Or perhaps this type of melody is merely one type found frequently throughout the world (such as the pentatonic scale); Tchaikovsky often uses phrases that would not be out of place here.

Xenakis: Mika (“Small”) – played by David Alberman
This sounds like another take on freeform improvisation, but being “classical” rather than “jazz”, it’s actually strictly notated. I once thought that my nephew, who was learning violin, might like to play this piece because he would get to make all of the violin sounds that his teachers would have told him not to.

Savina Yannatou and Primevera en Salonico: Za lioubih maimo tri momi
Savina Yannatou and Primevera en Salonico: O Yannis kai o drakos

Two “avant-folk” tunes from Greece and the Macedonia: the first (“I have loved three girls, each more beautiful than the last”) is a catchy 5/4 with a spasm of free improvisation in the middle. In the second (“Forty dragons have I killed, and only one remains”), string bass, accordion and (later) kalimba create a spacey ambience over which float some of the most mind-bending vocal pyrotechnics I’ve heard.

Champion Birdwatchers: Callisto
"To be on Perelandra, the milk-warm wind blowing over the golden sea...
It must be beautiful; the true color of peace softly bleeding through all its hues of shimmering warmth; thriving, like a tumult of waters sundering upon shells and crystal sands..."
Named after one of Jupiter’s Galilean moons, and part of a longer piece about the same, the words to this rough and unrefined indie-rock excursion (with added cello and flute) are actually about the mythical world of Perelandra – the planet Venus in the classic sci-fi trilogy by C. S. Lewis. I’ve referenced this particular universe in some of my own compositions, and I still find it relevant despite being written decades before we found out that the planets Venus and Mars aren't really like that at all. Lewis’ specter of Weston/Un-Man, the earth-born serpent in this Garden of Eden retelling, is as horrifying today as it was when it was written, partially because we here on the earth (“Thulcandra”) are still going down that same baleful road (led in no small part by our politics), and the threat is virulent enough that we could infect another inhabited planet if one were found...
"and yet, it seems so distant...
.and the vision is passing
.and the moment is lost."

Next meeting: 10/9/2013

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