Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Soothe Me, I'm Savage (Part IV)

Allen Ginsberg wrote: “A few individuals, poets, have had the luck and the courage and fate to glimpse something new through the crack in mass consciousness.” Is there a moment or moments in music that you would say the same? An artist or group or emerging style that changed the face of music?

Tijanna: Check out Mick Karn. He was the bass player for the band Japan, a much more sophisticated and polished version of Duran Duran. David Sylvian, The singer was pretty as all fck, but he sang like a man! All deep-n-shit. Mick Karn takes bass playing to a whole new level. He finds a pattern and expands it. He finds the sounds in an AREA on the bass. I saw him in support of Mark Isham at the Great American Music Hall once. The music was totally unfamiliar to me but Mick's playing was so......stch....mmmh!'re just like...he played
everything you wanted to hear on songs you'd never heard before. Such an
inadequate description but you just had to be there.

DJ Luna: Hip hop of course.

Lolo: In my lifetime, punk and hip hop. There was a time when some people thought electronica was going to take over the world—remember Prodigy?—but that didn’t happen. Personally, I love electronica in the broadest sense. I mean I’m not to into trance or rave music or other styles within the genre, but I still love IDM, house music, and d&b/breakbeat and nujazz, which has an electronic element to it. I really enjoy the way electronica has seeped into other genres (Radiohead, Madonna, etc.) but I’m not surprised the electronica didn’t win the commercial hearts of the consumer public.

In jazz it was constant from bebop to free jazz, each successive stylistic twist taking over and all the giants were true geniuses. Charlie Parker alone…. In popular music, you can’t overlook The Beatles even if you want to.

Actually this is too difficult a question to answer. I mean even Madonna changed the face of music in a way, if not the music itself then definitely the way it’s packaged and received and even by whom it’s received. Her initial audience was pretty different than the audiences of the other big name acts at the time that she became a household name and a lot different than what women were listening to in the decades prior. Why? Because nobody had ever done what she did.

And speaking of packaging, I’d say “world music,” too, because of course the rest of the world has always had its own musics but it’s never until we Westerners go out and discover it and get our grubby little paws all over it and comoditize it that it gets validated. And now, more and more, you find it seeping into places it didn’t used to be—just like electronica. Like how bossa nova became all the rage in the Sixties and suddenly the hippest thing in the world was for an American artist to incorporate some kind of bossa sound into their music. Nowadays it’s Cuban—you can’t go wrong inserting some Cuban elements into your shit. I’m not saying I’m against it; I just find it interesting to hear. And to whom do we owe this phenomenon? In a certain sense to people like Alan Lomax, who made sure it all got recorded.

Patty Boss: I think that John Cage's concept of incidental chance happening sounds as music, well, perhaps equal to anything else philosophical or musical, it has influenced my life in a dramatic way. I thank the spirit of John Cage every time the man out on Market Street echoes up into my window while he hollers and the car horns harmonize with him, and all at once it blends in with the song I'm singing to the stereo. It's a pinnacle experience that makes you feel like you're in the human soup of sound and potential. Similarly, in Dolores Park on a Sunday, watching the ice cream cart bump across the grass, when the jingle of the bells and the squeaking of the merry-go-round and swings move in a rhythm with the laughing girl playing Frisbee, and dogs digging in their claws, tossing mud up past your lunch, where their owners call them back and the airplanes move by overhead.

How / why did hip hop become the most popular music on the planet?

DJ Luna: See, even you know it! Stated as FACT right here in print! Hip hop is the shiznit beeach! For real, it's got great beats and people can relate to the lyrics, more so now then ever. It's not all about "shootin a nigga up" anymore. It's about the clubs, the parties, the fun times, the alcohol, representing your city, the beats, the vibe, the women. Shallow, yup. Fun, yup. That's why...because people don't want to THINK when they go out and party, they wanna dance & forget about shit.

Lolo: Beats me (pun intended)! Seriously, I think first of all, like the D.I.Y. ethic of punk, in the early daze it was something everybody could get into and have a soapbox. Then, just like anything else, as it become commercially viable it turned into a business and where there’s bait, there’s a feeding frenzy. Everybody wanted to get paid cash money. So on the one hand you have art, on the other you’ve got product and two hands rarely shake anymore. A ton of underground stuff exists that really floats my boat, but now that popular rap has hit it’s middle age, I can relate to almost none of the commercial stuff. Gimme the old school or gimme some underground sh*t, but it’s slim pickin’s for me when it comes to the stuff in the middle.

While it's not my favorite genre, I love the fact that it gives people a chance to get up and say something, which hopefully they use to say something intelligent and interesting. I think it's also popular because it's so dynamic. If hip hop had evolved only into "gangsta rap," I don't think it'd still have an audience. But underground/alternative hip hop is some of the most creative music around. And even some mainstream stuff has tripped me out from time to time. Like I love the idea of Bubba Sparxx, the good ol’ southern white boy mixing it up w/ Timbaland. Great concept. Ah, but there's a word that can be ugly in the context of popular music—"concept."

Can music die? Is jazz dead?

DJ Luna: Yes. House music is dead. What you still hear it in the clubs, you're just hearing a haunting echo of its ghost.

Lolo: I don’t know if it dies or not. I guess it doesn’t die so much as it gets gobbled up and regurgitated as something else. I was about to say that there’ll always be some diehard practitioners who will pass on their knowledge (and diehard listeners), but I just realized I’m writing words of wishful thinking.

I just remembered the first episode of Scorcese’s documentary series on the blues. They were talking about a fife-player who was one of the last of his kind though his grand-daughter was learning. It was tremendously sad; I mean this is music that harkens back to the early days of slavery. That’s when I realized that in a certain sense, music can die. Even if it’s preserved and can be played back, it dies when there’s nobody left who can create it from scratch. And going back to the question of generations, even if a new practitioner comes along 20 years after the fact, the music generated is never what it would have been at the time of its true genesis or heyday. Like remember that swing revival in the mid-1990s or the rockabilly revival of the 1980s? Those nostalgic movements were nothing compared to the real deal, I’m sure.

On the other hand, if a music has an audience, it lives. The heyday of jazz is long gone, but the mantle has been picked up by the Europeans and the Japanese and the Jews. I’m sure there are young black artists here in the states who are keeping it alive, but I wouldn’t know who they are aside from the generation that came of age in the 1980s—the Joshua Redmans and company. If there are any “brothers” (or sisters) younger than that, I don’t know about ‘em, but that’s just me, looking backward.

Patty Boss: Jazz is so not dead. It's the only original American art form. We just think it's dead here in America. In another sense, jazz has not evolved. It's the same that it was decades ago. But let's recognize the gem in our backyard. Music cannot die. It can only rest for centuries at a time.

Sipho: Music only dies when the part of you that music touched dies or goes dormant.

Who/what is your guilty pleasure? Should one ever feel guilty about music enjoyment?

DJ Luna: Frank Sinatra ;)

Lolo: Nobody should ever feel guilty about enjoying music. That’s what it’s there for—to be enjoyed. I admit sometimes I feel a little silly rockin’ my Hall & Oates, but hey, what’s a girl to do when she’s jonesin’ for some blue-eyed soul (which is a totally different animal from soul food people’s soul)? I’ll up the ante and admit to Duncan Sheik, Stone Temple Pilots and Wang Chung’s first album, too.

Once I was in a cab when Journey’s “Oh Cherrie” came on (or was that Steve Perry solo?). At first we both tried to pretend like we weren’t into it. He even asked if the radio was bothering me and made as if to turn it down or change the station but seconds later we were humming it and in minutes this cabbie—whom I’d never seen before in my life—and I, were belting it out and so wrapped up in it that we passed my destination with neither of us noticing. It was great! He drove me back the six or seven blocks and didn’t charge me for the trip at all.

Tijanna: Did I already mention Duran Duran? Yeah, I guess I did. Andreas Vollenweider too!

Patty Boss: Ohhhh! Guilty pleasures! I say, stand up for guilty pleasures. Mine? Joni Mitchell. Crosby Stills Nash and Young.

What has been the greatest decade for music?

Sipho: The 60s as an actual decade. Or a toss up of the ten-year periods 1965 to 1975 and 1988 to 1998. Both periods have had the largest impact on the growth of where music has gone as a whole. Does that make sense?

DJ Luna: 80s.

Patty Boss: It just keeps getting better. And luckily music isn't replaced, just accumulated.

Are there any albums you’d qualify as totally flawless in execution?

DJ Luna: Nobody’s perfect.

Tijanna: Believe it or not-side two of Duran Duran's Rio is PERFECT. As is side One of Houses of the Holy.

Patty Boss: Lucinda's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road comes to mind. So does the Mono album I have. I Don't even know the name. So do a few of our contemporary Radiohead, Bjork and Coldplay albums. Total crafted works of art, as a whole.

Sipho: Pearl Jam’s Ten.

Lolo: To me, a perfect album isn’t necessarily my favorite album though it might be. It just means there isn’t a single song I have to skip. I’ve got quite a few. Off the top of my head Mark Hollis’s Mark Hollis. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds. The Pretty Things’ Parachute. The Who’s Who’s Next. Midnight Marauders – A Tribe Called Quest. Hole’s Live Through This. Emmylou Harris’s Pieces of the Sky. Seals’ first album. Chet Baker’s Somewhere over the Rainbow. Super Furry Animals’ Fuzzy Logic. Zero 7’s Simple Things. Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Even on a great album though, there’s at least one song in there that will fuck it up. The closest one for me recently is Avishai Cohen’s At Home. The fourth cut barely makes it for me; sometimes I can listen to it, and sometimes I can’t. If it wasn’t on the disc it’d be one perfect disc!

Can you think of a soundtrack in which the music made the film, whether an original score or a compilation of tracks? Or a soundtrack that ruined a film?

DJ Luna: Made it: Cat Stevens soundtrack in Harold & Maude, Kurtis Blow, Fat Boys, & Run DMC in Krush Groove.

Tijanna: Blade! Well, I was into Blade anyway, but I had to go out and get the soundtrack. Not the one with Mark Isham but the hip hop one. And I'm not one for either movies OR soundtracks!

Lolo: Georgio Moroder’s soundtrack to Scarface w/ Al Pacino has NOT stood the test of time and makes that movie completely unbearable to watch now. Stewart Copland’s music for Rumblefish made that film. Gustavo Santaolalla’s music for The Motorcycle Diaries definitely contributed to the beauty of that film. Koyannisquati is, of course, classic. I think the soundtracks to Dead Presidents and Crooklyn were actually better than the films. Spike Lee's father's music for She's Gotta Have It was really nice. Cinematic Orchestra wrote great music for the silent classic Man with a Movie Camera and the music selected for the tv series Freaks & Geeks and created for The Prisoner definitely contributed to the greatness of those two shows. They wouldn't be the same without the music.

Is there any hope for radio?

Patty Boss: Hell yes, you serve it up, I'll consume it. Do my thinking for me, please! I love internet radio. I'm talking about random playlists served up based on genre. But what is happening to traditional, air-wave radio is sickening. The radio dj's voices become sound bites as stored clips, triggered when needed. The dj's are getting fired. I miss a real person talking to me late at night, between songs on the radio. It's the last bastion of reaching out and touching someone. But someone's gotta pay for the radio, and I don't want to hear any ads.

DJ Luna: Yes, if Clear Channel Entertainment doesn't buy every freakin radio station on planet earth!

Lolo: Pirate radio. And maybe Internet radio. Any format in which the djs aren't catering to the record companies and advertisers. That said, I haven't listened to conventional radio in nearly 20 years, reason being that I can't stand spending time listening to music I don't like. Why wait for a radio dj to play a song you like followed by five you don't, plus the incesscent chit chat, plus the stupid ads, when you can just go out and buy the damn album and be your own dj?

If you had the power to force feed the masses one song or album what would it be?

Lolo: That’s just not gonna work. Besides, that’s apparently the job of commercial radio.

DJ Luna: Deee-Lite – “Groove Is in the Heart!” This was the only hit for the group – members were: DJ Dimitry, DJ Towa Towa, and Lady Miss Kier. Kier and Dimitry were married. Before they recorded this, DJ Dimitry wrote to Bootsy Collins and sent him a tape. Collins liked it and flew in to play bass. He appeared in the video. The rap in the middle is Q-Tip, who was a member of A Tribe Called Quest at the time.

Tijanna: Carlos Santana's Supernatural. EVERYONE needs a copy of it. EVERYONE needs to listen to that album at least 10 or 400 times. In fact, I've never seen an album reach across so many different types of cultures. I've heard that album in some mighty weird and unexpected places. Trust me.

According to Stephen Nachmanovitch, in creating, "Sometimes what's needed is to crudely smash through the confusions and obstacles; sometimes the most delicate, patient, intermittent massaging of the problem. Sometimes it is we ourselves who need to be hit over the head or gently massaged." Do you feel this is so?

DJ Luna: Yes, but I relate that to “writer’s block” or “dj’s block.” Sometimes my head turns to mush and I can’t think of a damn thing to mix. I’m burnt, foggy, exhausted. I allow myself to relax, take a step back, and do something different. BUT….when I’m live, onstage it’s completely different. I get such an adrenaline rush that there’s no time for hesitation, fear, or doubt. It just flows. Partly because it has to, partly because something in me opens up, like a door, or a switch goes on. It’s hard to explain.

Lolo: I personally never like to be hit over the head, and I'm likely to hit back. But I can relate to the idea that sometimes giving birth to a musical expression necessitates brute force and other times you kind of just have to let it happen whenever and however it happens. I find it nearly impossible to force things out of myself, and I think it's partly because I'm not technically adept. I don't know music theory, and I'm on the beginning end of the intermediate range on my instrument of choice so it's really difficult to decide that I'm gonna come up with something. I might hear something in my head but getting it out is tricky business. However, these same liabilities also give me a certain freedom. I play around with no expectations and sometimes hit upon something that I can build on, which is always a nice, fun surprise.

Patty Boss: Definitely. Obstacles and limitations are our friend. We are animals of pattern and that detracts from creative evolution at times. It's true with any art form: paint monochromatically, using only red, black and white. Or shoot photographs, but only of brick. Or, “I had to record a banjo solo, but all I had was this mandolin, so I changed the strings, and tuned them down, and oh, mi god, that is where this majestic and unique sound came from!”

Do you need an audience?

DJ Luna: Yes. It’s way different spinning at home. Some people call themselves bedroom djs, that cracks me up and then just makes me sleepy. I’d rather be out there with my people, interacting.

Tijanna: Not all the time.

Patty Boss: Yes. I always need an audience. If I write a poem by myself, I still need an “audience of ONE”, meaning I need someone, at least one, to read it eventually. It's a conversation, the music or the poem. And talking to oneself is contrary to this. If I play the piano at home by myself, I hope someone walks by the hall and can understand my 'question' or my statement. If I am playing by myself, I play to the stars, and to the gods, I ask the ancestors to speak to me. I have a conversation with those passed on.

Lolo: Sleepwalkers’ glory ;)

Have you embraced the iPod revolution and digital music-file sharing, home recording, etc.?

DJ Luna: Yes. There is a little dive bar in New York that used to have iPod “spin-offs”. You could sign up to be a dj for a 15 minute spot. It’s not really like dj-ing because there’s no way to manipulate the music besides fading in and out of the songs. ipods are evil. Mine holds 10,000 songs but at iTunes’ price of .99 cents per song, sheesh! That’s one valuable iPOD. Imagine if I ever lost it! Apple doesn’t make it easy to take the music OFF the damn thing. God for bid you want to back up your music on your hard drive. They’re too worried about copyright issues, music piracy, etc. Hello!? What about convenience! That’s ridiculous, no, actually it’s just capitalism.

Lolo: Not yet. I am really into ‘albums’ rather than singles, and I’ve had a hard time thinking of iPods and other mp3 players as anything other than repositories for singles. Also they’re still pretty expensive and god forbid if you lose the shit. Plus, I guess I’m old fashioned but I really need to own the actual, physical, tangible good. I need the jewel case and the disc jacket, and I need to able to stack them up and reorder them and gaze at them. I just don’t get the same level of satisfaction when I buy a song online or download one from a file-sharing service. I wish I could get over it actually because I’m probably one of the few fools still paying for music the way I do even though I buy only used cds. The other problem I’ve had is selection. The commercial sites like Napster and iTunes don’t tend to have much of what I want. The free sites, like Kaazaa aren’t much better, plus you risk trashing your computer. As for home recording, I’m ready to embrace that wholeheartedly—both digital and analog.

Patty Boss: Yes. The only drawback is that we're losing the concept of the collection or album. 12 songs meant to go together take one on a journey hopefully, a trip lasting an hour. The album that does this with virtuosity is rare, but I have them in my collection. The other drawback is that we're losing fidelity, and therefore information. mp3 compression has subtracted some audio. But in the case of a muddy recording, sometimes and mp3 can take out some of the mud, making it thinner and easier to listen to. But in general, after returning to vinyl recently for an evening of Mendelssohn and Mingus, oh my god! I vowed while bathing in the richness to never give up my record player. We are in the interim of formats and fidelity. When digital bit depth and sample rates can begin to approximate the perception of real ears, then digital music won't have the drawbacks that it has now in terms of listen-ability. But all in all, the music still translates no matter what the fidelity or format is. A melody, the lyrics and the emotion of music usually translates though anything. Back to the power of love. The best, most incredible outcome of mp3's and online access is that we now have access to amazing hard to find music that we might never have experienced. Long live the internet. Long live audio compression!

Tijanna: No. If I did, I'd lose my job, any prospective girlfriends, and would probably grow a beard sitting around all day in my pajamas downloading and mixing stuff. I'd be a girl with 5-o'clock shadow.

How do you feel about sampling, mash-ups, etc. or artists who only make their music available by download?

Patty Boss: It depends upon the goal. All I ask is that we call it what it is. "Recombination technicians" or turntablist. Let's give credit where credit is due. Your 3-minute shitty short video sucks except that now you have put a Tina turner song over it, and the film festival audience is screaming. Let's remember why they're screaming.

DJ Luna: Sampling is an art in itself. It’s like a collage. You can take clips, phrases, or other bits of a song and create a whole new sound. Mash ups get on my nerves. They should call them Fuck Ups.

Lolo: I love a great sample if it’s not overkill, like Puffy’s sacrilegious overuse of “Every Breathe You Take” a few years ago. That is just wrong!! But in my mind, sampling was legitimized by the jazz artists, who would “reference” other songs or artists in the midst of their own playing.

I can’t comment on the mash-ups because I haven’t heard one in which I know both of the original tunes so it’s hard for me to get a feel for what’s really happening. I tried unsuccessfully to download Dangermouse's The Grey Album and and DJ BC's Beastles (Beastie Boys – Beatles mash up). Music by download only is a great statement—except for people who don’t have computers or all the crap needed for a proper download HELLO!! I like Fugazi’s idea better—just make the music affordable. Do both if you really wanna help the fans.

Who or what excites you most about music?

Patty Boss: That it is just as intense as making love, those rare moments when you play music with others and that particular intimacy and interaction clicks or shifts. You can't plan it, prepare it or make it happen. It's one of the most intimate things you can do, and if this is happening, and others are around, it's almost embarrassing. Like love making, music is a far better language for expressing the mysteries of the human experience.

DJ Luna: The way it makes me move, the way it makes me smile when I hear a great beat. Music is the international language! It conveys love, anger, sadness, joy, fear, and everything in between.

Tijanna: I don't know! It just does!

Lolo: Music encompasses every idea and range of emotion ever experienced and maybe even yet to be experienced by humankind. Music has even scared me, at least twice in my life. The first time was when I heard "Emotional Rescue" by the Stones. I was too young; I didn't understand the lyrics and felt there was something sinister in the music itself, especially because I had heard adults say they were "bad" people. Of course, when I got older—and became “bad” myself—it became one of my favorite songs of theirs.

The other music that struck me that way was an album by John Coltrane, who is hands down my favorite jazz artist. For me, he encompasses everything that music is and should be and his growth as an artist was astounding if you listen to his transitions from 1956 to 1967. Amazing. One of my favorite recordings of his is A Love Supreme, which is basically his spiritual homage to "The Creator." Later he recorded Meditations, which is a “sequel” of sorts. However, it's nothing like its predecessor. I found it absolutely terrifying, like if I listened with my eyes closed, something terrible would happen. My heart was racing, the oxygen went of the room, and the physical space of the room shrunk; it scared the living shit out of me. That was a couple years ago, and I haven't had the guts to listen to it since.

That experience tells me also that music is power. Music is said even to soothe the savage beast; Nero was supposedly quite calm as Rome burned! (Despite the myth, Nero couldn't have fiddled while Rome burned because the violin was more than 1,000 years from being invented). Music reflects everything around me and allows me to project aspects of myself into the world even just by what I choose to listen to. It helps me get through the daily grind of my work life, sometimes it tucks me into bed on a sleepless night when I miss my mom, it carries me to distant places even when I have no vacation days to spare, it expresses thoughts and emotions that for one reason or another I can’t, and every lucky now and then, it serenades me and another special someone. More often, it befriends me when loneliness eats its way into my heart. I can’t imagine my life without music. Honestly.

What defines an artist?

DJ Luna: “One who skillfully creates, performs, produces by virtue of imagination to create works of aesthetic value.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so “artist” is a relative word.

Patty Boss: Gee whiz. What's an artist. Maybe we are all painters and musicians and poets and writers. Maybe it's up to the following generations to decide if we're artists. In some way, I think an artist is able to show us something else—something that vibrates above the baseline energy of everyday living. We are all artists. When we make children and create platters of food. When we love the stranger at the bus stop. Who the hell knows. I sure don't.


Anonymous sfc ski said...

Great end to the series. A lot to consider, and being that music lovers are passionate people, a few things to argue about as well.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Chez said...

Hey! i 've been enjoying reading and bloggingthru the blob- Thanx

Y'know how one can feel a bit out of it in regards to music (and most anything current) on this island...i'm not a proficient searcher on da computer,so it's nice when it's sent directly to my table. Yarrows arrived recently and has much to share in the music dept. Got to say that the oldies station at work has been entertaining my memories,and my appreciation for old school is intact....thanks for the infusion....

1:43 PM  

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