Monday, June 06, 2005

Soothe Me, I'm Savage (Part II)

What is the source you tap into when you create music? Or does Michelangelo's theory of sculpture apply? He believed that the statue is already in the stone, and it's up to the artist to see it and release it?

Harmer: I don't create music. I respond to it.

DJ Luna: I see a song as that stone. I mold it into a mix. Those songs become the sculpture that was already there, but the next gig I do, there’s a whole new beautiful statue in the same stone just waiting to be created. Like Play-Doh, you just keep remolding, breaking, twisting, shaping the sounds.

Sipho: My heart and soul.

LaBlanc: No one ‘creates’ music. It's just out there, part of the human experience. Some of us are like antennas; we can, from time to time tap into the muses, or the collective unconscious, or whatever. Kind of like a psychic. I don't sit down and say, ‘I'm going to write a song about runaway brides.’ That's a different talent. And you'll notice that almost all of these clever lyrical parodies use a real song's music to carry them.

Patty Boss: The first source is the emotion, being moved or triggered by something else. It could be a chord progression someone else is playing. And if it is, I will hear the melody in my head, just little notes at a time, and in a way, I play as I hear it in my head. Like channeling? Sometimes it is energy, where you might just have energy to express, in a kinetic sense. This might be playing a scale, and this is why I love a fast jazz solo, as a listener, an admirer. When I watch a soloist busting out something incredible and kinetic at a live show, my nostrils flare, and I get a burning in my belly. I get nauseous and angry. This is one of the impetuses to study music, to attempt to gain some technique, because when the storm comes and you need to feel the storm come through you, this is when having skills really can come in handy. When there is no actual technically learned skill, there can still be one note. One note played monotonously, over and over like a ticking clock, or a jackhammer, or like the waiting for the return of a loved one. A second is an hour, and one hour is a day. One day is an eon. And so, the note is plucked over and over, slow and steady, monotonously.

The source I tap into when creating music is the tone. The tone is the mode. The mode is the moment of the state of your entire existence at that exact point in time. And if one note says it, one note plucked or strummed or played, then play that note. But if two notes cannot represent the truth of the moment, I can't play the second note. So, like an offering, I hope there is more offered, but it can't be forced. The source is the power of the moment, or the accumulation of the lifetime, or the hopes for the future. And the music serves as a mirror. So if my hair is not green, like a law of nature, I am not able or comfortable to play green hair music. It's about being true to yourself and listening to all of the inner voices and emotions and thoughts. It's about refusing to play that second note if the second note is not truly how you feel. And then all you can do is hope the one note evolves with you into a rhythmic motif and your other hand adds some other sounds, and like making love, it seduces you, and brings you with no sense of time to another place, after which you have been changed. It guess it is like a trance.

Lolo: I wish I knew. If I did, I'd bottle it and store it for the many times I feel blank or I look at a stone, and all I see is a rock.

"Do not fear mistakes. There are none." So said Miles Davis. How do you feel about that?

Sipho: In the music he was making, yes. It does not apply to all types though. I don’t want to split hairs and say there are varying degrees of a mistake. Simply put, a fuck up is a fuck up. The wrong chord by the lead guitar, the band being off in rhythm, the vocals being off from the music or noticeable to even a music novice. These things are not good and very unpleasant to most.

DJ Luna: None what? No mistakes? No fear? Both? Maybe they are just learning opportunities.

Patty Boss: Mistakes become motifs. If they've wormed their way into your playing, it's hard to erase it, even if you hate it. Since it is still ringing out, in memory and air, even as you go on to new phrases of the music, I can't help but try to make peace with it by reintroducing it, playing the mistake again, and working it in to the part being played. Maybe it's trying to tell you something. Maybe you can get it to play with the other children without fighting. Maybe it has something to show us.

Also, as Picasso said something to the effect of not being afraid to copy others, because in copying, you are likely to blunder, and in the blunder are being yourself. IN this sense, all mistakes are doorways to finding your voice. They are the pathway and suggestions to new routes and ideas, new combinations. It's like tripping in the forest and finding a dead body. Ha ha. No, not really. It's like tripping at the beach on waterlogged driftwood and looking up to see the face you have been dreaming about.

When I make a mistake and stumble upon notes that sounds perfectly mysteriously and unexpectedly right together, it is like 'discovering' these notes. All notes have been played. All chords exist. All tones exist. But I think that it is true that the combination of your tone, the softness or loudness played at that exact moment, the previous overtones mixing with the current notes, the room you're in, the others listening, all affect the sound of the moment. And I think, like individual snowflakes or fingerprints, or galaxies, these are unique, always unique. And yes, we trip on the preexisting sounds. But where melody is concerned, I feel that this element of what we call music is the most personal. The melody is the singing soul, and no one can ever have your soul.

Lolo: I don’t like to make mistakes, but they sure like to make me. Monkey, get off my back! Now scat!! And ain’t scattin’ beautiful….

How do you deal with fact that as Philip Toshido Sudo said, "No matter how well you play, no matter how large your spirit, no matter how much your sound speaks the truth, some people will simply not be moved. Your music will not appeal to their taste."

Patty Boss: That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. No, it's sad. Well, it just is a blanket statement that cannot be true. If someone hates your ass, you have moved them! You have moved them right out of the room. I think that Sudo could go into a room and ask himself why he plays music. If it is to play well, speak truth and move people, well then, that might be too extrinsic. Philip could go into a room and play what moves HIM and take a little time out. Count to one hundred and when he's ready, come back in with the other kids.

It's funny, I just reconsidered the question and I realize I may have misunderstood it. I thought he meant that "people" would not be moved. But when considering 'SOME people' not being moved, yes, I agree. I find once in a while, or more often than that, there are people that do not have a relationship to music. They don't own a stereo. They don't seem to miss it in their life, they don't seem to prioritize it or need it. And when I find this, I feel an analogy to a person who is born with a broken part, or something like not noticing your TV is in black and white until you buy a color TV. But this opinion is regarding the larger whole, about people in general. So back to his question about a specific music not moving a specific individual, yes, totally true. It's like you show the huge Picasso painting (on the horrors of war, 1937) to someone, and conceivably, they might not feel anything. Why might they not feel anything or have a response? My answer is a question.

DJ Luna: Reminds me of the saying, “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” It just isn’t possible. I try to focus on the people who are having a good time, it is a much more useful motivator.

Lolo: I wasn’t going to answer this one at all because I haven’t gotten to the point of making my music available for public consumption. However, I do tend to get a little bent out of shape when a piece of music that is really important to me gets dissed or dismissed by someone. I take it personally because music that touches me deeply becomes a part of me. Now I could care less if the masses are into it—they never know what’s good for them. But when a friend doesn’t get it the way I get it, it’s disappointing. I guess that’s it. It disappoints me because it makes me feel like there is something about me that they don't get or are missing or that is unappreciated. Whatever criticism they levy towards the song in question I inadvertently take upon myself.

Another great Miles quote: "You can tell whether [someone] plays or not by the way he carries the instrument, whether it means something to him or not. Then the way they talk or act. If they act too hip, you know they can't play shit." Comments?

DJ Luna: LOL ohhh yes. The louder they are, the bigger the ego, the less convincing.

Patty Boss: This is true. The roadie carries the instrument with a distant care. With an industrial care. The artist carries it like it's the I.V. on wheels, critical to vital functions. But then there are 'players' and there are 'listeners and thinkers' and there are people who might not play technically good, but have so much to say. As in all conversation, it is about meeting the other in a similar tone, creating rapport. If the player is obnoxious and you are obnoxious, it's a celebration! I think you can tell the best musician by how little they say. The quieter they are, better watch out. That is usually true in life.

Lolo: No better case can be made for this than by spending an afternoon at Guitar Center.

What’s more important—proficiency or emotion? Which do you try to cultivate?

Patty Boss: Definitely emotion is more important. If lack of proficiency is getting in the way of expressing emotion, then it's time to go acquire some chops.

DJ Luna: Proficiency. You have to be able to match a simple beat. If not, you cause what they call a “train wreck”. Emotion comes from within, I don’t have to cultivate it. It is the by product of proficiency.

Lolo: There’s nothing more boring to me than unemotional proficiency in anything but especially in art. In surgery, maybe you don't want so much creativity. No cross-stitching or anything like that, but in most everything else, I say go for the emotion. Even if it's kept under wraps.

Tijanna: Emotion when it comes to recording. It took us a couple of months to record our last CD because me and the guitar player wanted the emotion and spontaneity to come through, whereas the drummer and the trumpet player wanted each note in its proper place. Those two won out! I'd say proficiency, but I'm never at my best and I'm actually not that creative when it comes to thinking up new stuff or hitting the right note, so I gotta go with emotion. :-)

Is there still a place for rebellion in music?

DJ Luna: Of course. Always will be—unless of course the music is about rebelling against the record companies. Nah, can’t have that now could we? Could we rebel against the force feeding of crap that is cranked out every week and stuck up on the Billboard charts and Clear Channel Entertainment’s cloned radio station..., the saddest addition being KMEL. Although, it still keeps the name “The People’s Station.”

Lolo: Authentic rebellion? god, I sure hope so otherwise there is no hope for anything at all.

Patty Boss: Fuck you!

Which mixes better—politics and music or love and music?

LaBlanc: Wrong question. It's not an either/or proposition. Both politics and love are societal constructs that in and of themselves mean nothing. It all goes back to that primal human experience we call life. The best comics—Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Sinbad—are those who take everyday situations we all face and give them a new perspective of truth that we can all relate to and laugh at our human foibles. Honesty and truth in the writing and performance are way more important than transitory, illusory bullshit.

Patty Boss: Well, back to Picasso. He said that art was an instrument of war. You can choose where to direct your music. You can be an activist or sympathize with the heart. In the end, it's all the same thing. It is all some kind of lament or yearning, some kind of cry, or declaration. The voice, the guitar, the dulcimer, the drum. These are all ways to make a request; to stake a claim to taking up space on this incredible earth.

Sipho: Love and music of course. Love can affect politics while politics can’t effect love. If someone decided not to be with a person because of political differences, it’s because they love the political belief more than they love the other person. So assuming music affects love and politics to the same degree, the fact that love is involved to a greater extent makes music and love a better mix. Unless of course you’re part robot.

Lolo: Hey, love is politics baby. Love songs might be more popular, but political songs can rally the troops when nothing else will. I think the difference is that politics and the circumstances of life change so that the music rises to meet a need and then it is forgotten whereas we moan and groan (in ecstasy or despair) every day so love music never seems out of context and is always appropriate whether it’s about breaking up or getting’ it on or looking for it in all the wrong places or stealing someone else’s or simply basking in the afterglow. But look at The Clash, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, early U2, Stevie Wonder, Midnight Oil, MC5, Radio 4… hip hop from Public Enemy to The Coup and even “Party for Your Right to Fight”… in jazz we’ve had Abby Lincoln and Max Roach’s “Freedom Now Suite”… look at Gil Scott Heron’s “Revolution Will Not be Televised.” Listen to the “Red Hot” series. Today’s young feminists have Ani DiFranco. Within the classical oeuvre there’s Shostakovich … reggae has given us—Bob Marley, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Peter Tosh. And I think probably in other countries, where civil society plays a larger role in day-to-day life and people aren’t so disinvested, politics maybe goes more easily hand in hand with music.

In Chile, Víctor Jara’s hands were broken by the millitary who then taunted him to “sing your songs now.” He did, and he was killed for that music and buried in a mass grave, but he gave his people strength. Look at China’s dissident rock star Cui Jian, or Nigeria’s Fela Kuti, South Africa’s Miriam Makeba, Zimbabwe’s Thomas Mapfumo…. Save for these, most Westerners probably couldn’t name any other Chinese or Nigerian artists. The political artists make an impression far outside of their homelands because it’s music that moves.

Even in the U.S. if you think politics and music are unrelated look at what’s happened to Cat Stevens, the Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, and Linda Rondstadt since 9/11. And what was punk all about in the beginning? “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” should be our national anthem: bury your head in the sand, it’ll all be wonderful when ya come back up for air. Listen to slave songs, prison songs, gospel. Basically, I think politics and music are under-rated and sometimes unforgiven in the United States. Calling it political gives it an instant stigma. Yet we love the “the politics of dancing, the politics of ooooh feeling good” (with a nod to Re-Flex.)

Harmer: Love and music. Take U2, would you rather listen to ‘One’ or ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday?’ I'll take ‘One’ hands down. All the greatest music is written about love from Bob Marley to the Beatles to Frank Allison and the Odd Sox.

DJ Luna: Love and music.

* * *
Tomorrow: Rockin' in the free world.


Anonymous lolo said...

Luna, your point-of-view on the question about proficiency vs. emotion gave me pause. But dj sets are all about emotion--stirring it up and gauging and directing it from the dj booth. Maybe I take back what I said about profiency being boring. It all depends on how you use it, right?

11:14 PM  
Anonymous Cerulean said...

Who are these people? Who are they to mpho?

11:10 AM  
Blogger mpho said...

Cerulean, I'm not entirely sure why that's relevent. Basically, they are people who are accessible to me. If you want "credentials," their bios are included in part I. It's not really any more complicated than that they are people I know who have some connection to music who were willing to share their opinions on and experiences of what music is, what it takes to create it, and why it music touches (some) people so deeply even if most of us never get to be rock stars or concert pianists or reknowned virtuosos of one kind or another. They're my personal heros 'cause they're not in it for the money, though I'm sure none of them would be above it if it came their way, and not a few of them would deserve it if it did. Does that help? Thanks for reading.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Zenslinger said...

Mpho is qualified because she is the love child of Bitches' Brew-era Miles himself.

1:11 PM  
Anonymous HW Saxton said...

Interesting post, great reading. I just have to refute Lolo about westerners not being able to name any Nigerian artists. I LOVE African music especially that of Ghana & Nigeria (the best Funk & Hip Hop in West Africa).

Here's some of the Nigerian artists that this westerner likes. HipHop: Plantashion Boyz,Styl-lus,Remedies,Zakky and Sunny Nneji.

Other Asstd Highlife,AfroBeat,Juju & Pop - I.K Dairo, Oliver de Coque, King Sunny Ade, Majek Fashek, Celestine Ugwu, Mamman Shata, E.T. Mensah,The Funkees, Stephen Osadebe, Fela (+Tony Allen, Femi,The Oriental Bros, Ebeneezer Obey and Tony
Tertula to name a few.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Mark Saleski said...

i printed both of these out and will be digesting them tonight.

some of the stuff expressed here is related to a 'what is music'-kinda thing that i've been working on.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

You are a very thought provoking writer....

2:10 PM  
Anonymous HW Saxton said...

MPHO, Thamks for the reply. Refute might not have been the right word that I was looking for. I just wanted to let y'all know that some westerners got some soul.

Nigeria is totally a musical hotbed and Ghana too. African Hip Hop is the bomb. When they talk about politics it isn't just posturing or getting harassed by
racist cops. It's on the lines of your friends/family etc. disappearing, being killed in riots and so forth. Chilling is
what it is. Plus the beats are HEAVY as all hell drawing on samples of Fela, Femi and Manu Dibango (from Cameroon)amongst
others. Then throw in traditional tribal drumming patterns,pumped up bass and old 808's (a lot of their gear is old giving it that early/mid 80's sound)on top and
you got some FON-KAY ass music.JJC & The 419 Squad are Nigerian transplants to the UK and are great also.They mix Soca, Latin,Dancehall,Dub in with the funk and really go off.Worth checking out. I can tell by your posts you have a very deep
appreciation and understanding of music and the big picture so you would dig all that Nigerian stuff I listed (some is pretty old from the early 60's right up to the present and Hiphop guys like Tony
Tetuila (I misspelled his name earlier).

Nigerian music has sub genre after sub-genre like how Juju,Apala and Fuji are all similar but different. Juju & Apala are Yoruban with Cuban influence. Fuji is kind of a mix of Juju & Apala but it's without the latin influence and they are all related to Highlife music. Anyways thanks for responding. Your articles are
some of the best things I've read around here in a long long time.I hope to see much more. Peace out.

10:59 PM  
Anonymous HW Saxton said...

Speaking of other Nigerian musicians:::: I forgot to mention Orlando Julius. He's so muthaf***in' funky. Even funkier than Fela at times and that's saying a lot. If Fela is the the king of the Afro-Beat sound (he did basically invent it)then
Orlando is the Crown Prince. Orlandos's tune "James Brown Ride On" is as good as it gets.

10:59 PM  
Blogger mpho said...

Saxton, I don't know if your comment refutes mine. If anything it shows that you're a pretty hip guy when it comes to the soundz of Ghana, Nigeria, etc. But I don't think I have to tell you that the artists you've named are hardly household names in most American households. Meanwhile, thanks for the list. Other than King Sunny Ade and Femi, I'm not familar with them. I'll look forward to checking 'em out.

Youngster, actually Lolo and Patty Boss do know each other but neither of them saw the other's response until they were posted together. I didn't do anything other than pose the questions and a little lite editing, including ordering the responses. I liked the Patty Boss "fuck you" too!

Zen Slinger - I shake my head at you. My connection to Miles is supposed to be our little secret, remember? ;)

Mike -- thank you for the compliment.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Shark said...

mpho, nice series; thanks for the effort.

misc. Sharkian comments:

->Love to hear that [some] contemporary musicians still have an historical, eclectic perspective.

->In general, Patty Boss was my favorite: smarter that the other three put together -- and the one I wouldn't mind getting stranded with in an elevator. (my main criteria for judging the worth of bipeds, btw)

-> Some of the questions made me want to gouge out my eyes with a rusty melon baller, but you knew that -- right? And I understand writing questions about something as ethereal as music is a bitch.

Good work in general, tho!



PS: I was thinking: one could put together quite a musical roundtable from our locals such as...

HW Saxton
Duke de Mondo
Mark Seleski
Eric Olsen
Marty Dodge

...and a few others I can't remember at the moment.

Blogcritics has some pretty knowledgeable folks on board.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Shark said...

re: "...Michelangelo's theory of sculpture apply? ...statue is already in the stone, and it's up to the artist to see it and release it?"

And you've heard the joke, right?

A visitor asks the sculptor how he makes a giant elephant out of marble.

"You just chip away everything that doesn't look like an elephant."

== forgive me, kids! ==

9:35 AM  
Anonymous cerulean said...

It was a prefectly reasonable question but I knew it would be an answer like that.

9:36 AM  
Blogger mpho said...

cerulean, i should have just said "kindred spirits" and left it at that.

1:33 AM  

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