Thursday, February 13, 2014

Meeting 2/11/2014: Rocktronica

The (as always, unplanned) theme of this month’s meeting: groovin'. Almost every selection rocked in one way or another. ...and, I've decided that the titles of electronica songs don't really mean anything.

What was played:

Charming Hostess: Street of Tabing
1980’s-tinged hard rock with a hint of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and a fair amount of dissonance.

Idiot Flesh: Blue Heads
Late 1970’s-tinged hard rock with a hint of Queen and processed vocals that give a massive, almost choral, sound.

Thinking Plague: The Gyre
The name of this band is particularly disturbing if you ponder it. Is it a plague that causes people to think? (After all, thinking isn’t really acceptable in contemporary American society.) Or is it a plague that’s able to think and plan its attack? Musically it’s a twisting braid of atonal jazz-rock fusion – what might have happened had Return to Forever played Milton Babbit compositions.

Stick Against Stone: The Private Sector
This sounds immediately familiar but I can’t place it exactly. Beat-driven rock with sarcastic political lyrics: “For people in need of food and housing, for people in need of medical care, if unemployment is high where you are – the private sector will care for you…” It’s obvious where that’s coming from; and maybe it’s time that rock music reclaim its political agenda.

Ekova: Todosim
Clannad meets Stephan Micus. It seems to be a mysterious and beautifully modal traditional Gaelic tune with a little Mediterranean music in the accompaniment; but it’s actually a made-up “language” without any real words. Fascinating. And, like Micus’ work, the listener wonders whether the “words” are composed beforehand or whether they are a form of scat singing. (I’ve been known to “scat” in a similar manner when walking from one place to another, though of course without the beautiful voice.)

Dntel: Loneliness is Having No One to Miss
Despite the title, this is one of the happiest bits of electronica that’s been put out there recently. All major chords and primary colors and with a subtle beat, it seems to float on a cloud of its own cheeriness.

Steve Peters: The Very Rich Hours (part one)
With this, we dropped the “beat” for a little while. Nature recordings from New Mexico intermingle with spoken voices telling of a personal connection to the land, and singing voices chanting (in various styles) the scientific names of assorted species from the same area. Gorgeous and introspective.

Mars iLL: Who Will Answer?
Another “spoken word” song, though obviously very different from the Steve Peters piece. Chinese cheng (“jung”, a metal-stringed cousin of the Japanese koto), inside piano, snippets from an unidentified 1940’s soundtrack, and one repeated note of Xenakis’ "Occident-Orient" – all combine with a heavy bass beat to create a dark soundscape under the percussive spoken voices of these (Christian) rappers.

Heinz Holliger: Intermezzo I from “Lider ohne Worte II” (“Songs without Words”), played by Thomas Zehetmair and Thomas Larcher
A scratchy, skitterish prestissimo for violin and piano, like a beetle scuttling in a box. The melody, harmony, and rhythm are fractured so that the music seems to have a groove and simultaneously not have one.

Squarepusher: Square Rave
Danceable but surprisingly dark electronica, with hints of The Future Sound of London.

Amon Tobin: Proper Hoodidge
Somewhat slower danceable but dark electronica. The beat is fairly subtle, and some of the sounds floating over the top are orchestral samples: violin tremolo, oboe and flute solos (the former in an intentionally stereotyped “Indian” mode).

Tyondai Braxton: The Violent Light Seen through Falling Shards
The son of experimental jazz legend Anthony Braxton brings us this beautiful madness. A dense electronic soundscape begins, with drums and bass (both electronic) creating a complex additive meter. Guitar solos emerge from the fray. These are looped and recur up to a minute later, though unpredictably, and gradually build up layers of complexity – only to disappear and be replaced by others. Near the end, microtonal siren-like wails dominate, created by guitar again. This is vast, loud, epic music that somehow also sounds contained and concentrated.

Along the lines of Plunderphonic, this band creates sound collages that challenge the idea of intellectual property and copyright. In this untitled piece, samples of the (actual) Beatles screaming gives way to more obviously melodic and harmonic material by the same band. (“Hey – I recognize that voice!”) But everything happens with split-second timing; it almost becomes a party game “Name that Tune!”.

Amina: My Man
True eclecticism. This sultry, tango-flavored jazz standard is given an Arabic makeover, complete with sliding strings, winding vocal melisma, and an oud solo at the end. Not for purists, and I believe that’s the point. Let’s have some fun here.

Ray Pizzi: My Funny Valentine
The meeting wrapped up with another jazz standard played in a way it “shouldn’t” be. A bassoon solo, sometimes deliberately off-key, plays almost all of the song (including the chords) one note at a time, in a laboriously slow tempo. A fragmented rendering results, which is both hilarious and strangely calm.

Next meeting: 3/12/2014