moments before the wind.

May 1, 2007

but i’m gonna stay

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, folk, live shows, music, news, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 9:51 pm

Here’s something cool. So last week I spent all this time at the EMP listening to lectures and pondering music, and this week I get to play my own music in the same space.

And I thought I was getting better at the whole world collision thing, but now they collide in the same space in the same fortnight. That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Details:
Thursday, May 3
6:30PM
EMP SKY CHURCH, Seattle, WA
FREE

Not only is the show free, but the whole EMP and SFM are open to the public from 5-8PM. Also the Old Bay Warblers, my old-time outfit, will be making a brief appearance. Check it out!

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April 30, 2007

by the stars of the southern hemisphere

The Pop Conference has this way of subsiding but never really ending, because all of a sudden I start to see everything as this reflection of some kind of culture war being played out in the musical arena.

Anyways, I have a big list of other blogs from EMP speakers. It’s almost done, and I think close to comprehensive, so stay tuned for that. I just need a little more motivation to sit down and finish it.

For now, something different. I’m reviewing this book called Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus, who is this classic American songwriter that I’ve never heard of before who seems to have worked with anyone important who ever existed(Elvis, Billie, B.B., Dylan…). More on that in the actual review when it comes out at www.rivetmagazine.org.

What I am responding to most immediately has nothing to do with the book or the story of this particular guy’s life. It’s the format of the book. The litany of people, dinners, run-ins, venues, the teeming masses of unheard of musicians that form this amoeba-like body of artists and businesspeople what somehow every now and then spits out music that we’ve grown to know and love. It’s just an endless catalog of conversations and half-remembered, half-reconstructed memories. Doesn’t matter who the book is about. I think about Wall of Pain, the Phil Spector bio, or David Hadju’s one about the burgeoning 60’s folk scene, Dylan/Baez/Farina-style. It’s like there is no way to expose the complex network of assoications that add up to a career, so all there is to do is make these lists.

And then we read the lists. Abandoning all expectation of narrative for the moments where we come upon certain obscure names, have a private moment of recognition at this odd factoid of history revealed. It’s sort of like scanning the wedding announcements in the paper and, like I do every few weeks, recognizing someone from high school or somewhere else.

And then the names all start to overlap. They’re all in each other’s biographies, all the same cast of characters. It’s like reading the same story over and over again, told from a slightly different angle.

How else can you write a book about such a big thing? I think about what Rushdie wrote in Midnight’s Children: “To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world.” True. House of Leaves is also like that, and it’s not a list. Biographers aren’t novelists, I get that…but still…show me a music biography that goes beyond. Please.

April 23, 2007

EMP Pop Conference #16 – End Bits

One thing that I continually find entertaning is the feedback loop at the conference, presenters quoting writers to help support their point, and those writers are literally sitting in the audience listening to their own words spoken back to them. This kind of validation (or cancellation?) is a kind of black hole, a weird moment in time when the reasoning behind an argument starts to sound circular. For some reason the fact that the original writer is in the room listening sort of serves to render the intellectual capacity of the argument null and void. Like anything that is circular, you have to wonder whether it’s useful to end up where you started. Of course it can be. And of course it can’t be.

Also.

There seemed to be an exceptional amount of political commentaries built into the arguments I saw. The theme of the conference, “Waking Up From History,” propelled many writers to arrive at the concusion that we should actually wake up TO history, to learn from history, and to draw conclusions between the cultural sphere that our work covers and the political sphere of which we are citizens.

Some examples:

-Robert Bennett on the Jazz Diplomacy program and the things we should learn from it.
-Scott Nelson’s timely mention of “abortive gun policies” in the paper about John Henry’s exhumation – I’m not sure how he managed to reference the VA. Tech shootings in that conversation but at the time it made perfect sense.
-Brendan Greaves’ talk of Terry Allen’s border politics and the ways in which the Texas/Mexico border is treated by the government versus the inhabitants. 
-There was also an entire panel about New Orleans, as well as a smattering of other related papers throughout the weekend, all of which contained a fervent expression of the power of music and solidarity and the essential character of the city.

In general, as there seems to be in more and more things these days, there was a real sense of urgency that was more palpable than in previous conferences. It may have been the effect of the theme, but in general people’s research was very much rooted in the grim realities of life and music’s ability to help maintain and even create hope where all seems quite hopeless.

EMP Pop Conference #15 – Analog as Analogy

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, digital, distribution, folk, indie, marketing, music, recording, writing — alimarcus @ 2:18 pm

Erik Davis brought a decidedly esoteric (in a good way) perspective to the issue of the analog/digital divide. He quotes Joanna Newsom speaking of her analog aesthetic as a reaction to the “crispy mosquito of digital sound boring into your brain.” Fantastic, in both ways.

Enlarging the divide into a debate about Analog Ethics (could be the name of the best graduate seminar EVER), Davis proceeded to codify the opposing notions of analog and digital in a larger framework, ultimately reducing it to the phenomenological difference between the wave and the particle. If you are me, then this is incredibly interesting considering that you believe the ultimate meaning in paradox is that they collapse each other into one and the same thing, though you don’t know what to name that thing or whether to liken it to religion, existence, life, or anything more mundane like music.

Also, if you are me, you will find yourself up against a kind of wall, because if digital and analog are all part of it, whatever it is, then what the hell is real and what is fake and what is worth arguing about anyways?

Well, here’s a thought. Davis spoke of the freak folk genre (boy, I dislike that term!) as a crowd that generally seeks authenticity in their musical experience. But I have to wonder about seeking authenticity. Is seeking authenticity akin to seeking good karma? I always thought that someone seeking good karma is totally missing the point, because then they are acting in complete self-interest. So if one is seeking authenticity, then are they truly false as a result of their hyper-conscious (postmodern) decisions?

But gah, authenticity!

EMP Pop Conference #14 – Van the Man

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, country, distribution, folk, music, recording, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 1:51 pm

A note about a song. Charles Hughes said that “Dark End of the Street” (1967) should be America’s national anthem. I didn’t previously know the song, but the part of it he played was beautiful. It made me think of Van Morrison’s “Bright Side of the Road,” released in 1979 on Into the Music, because of the obvious lyrical relationship.

Where writers Dan Penn and Chips Moman write:

I know time’s gonna take its toll
We have to pay for the love we stole
It’s a sin and we know it’s wrong
Oh, our love keeps going on strong
Steal away to the dark end of the street
You and me

Van says:

Little darlin, come with me
Wont you help me share my load
From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road

In my mind, there’s no other possibility except that Van is responding to this hugely popular song of the previous decade. It’s just too explicit. I wonder what Hughes would say about the racial politics surrounding Van and his music, with the mixture of a serious anglo-saxon background and a decidedly soul, R&B musical influence. Maybe he would say that the exact kind of hybrid that Van exemplifies is a direct product of the mishmash love triangle in the south. See this for more on that.

EMP Pop Conference #12 – Guthrie’s Heroic Dams

Filed under: architecture, business, folk, marketing, music, writing — alimarcus @ 12:42 pm

Carl Zimring spoke of Woody Guthrie’s conservationism through an analysis of the Depression-era politics and the songs Guthrie wrote, particularly the ones commissioned by the Bonneville Power Administration like “Roll On, Columbia” and “Grand Coulee Dam.”

With a clever framing of Mermaid Avenue, the album where Billy Bragg and Wilco put Guthrie’s long lost lyrics to music, Zimring suggests that the sociopolitical agendas of these contemporary liberal folksters do not overlap with Guthrie’s sentiments about nature. Consistent more with the Bush Administration’s agenda to “work the land,” to use it’s resources to their fullest capabilities (i.e. logging in national forests, drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), Guthrie’s beliefs are so clearly part of the populist 30’s ethic that this is obviously an unfair comparison.

Zimring posits that had Guthrie lived through Carson’s Silent Spring or Hurricane Katrina, he may have changed his views on the place that nature should occupy.

But neither can you say with any certainty that Guthrie would have ended up a staunch liberal in this day and age, Zimring was sure emphasize. It was a clear message, that we should not be so quick to adopt presumed agendas from historical figures.

An audience member’s comment on Guthrie’s treatment of Native Americans (he had a very derogatory attitude towards them) brought Zimring to a brick wall. Unable to avoid the fact that even Woody Guthrie had his prejudces, he said that for Guthrie, “Indians, like the salmon, are in the way.”

Speaking of salmon and dams, check this article in today’s New York Times.

EMP Pop Conference #11 – County Lines

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, business, country, folk, music, producers, recording, writing — alimarcus @ 11:28 am

A recurrent topic at the conference is the black reclamation of a southern identity, namely, southern hip hop. Countless papers brought this up in conversations about racial politics and pop culture, which makes sense due to the huge and growing popularity of african-american musicians re-forging their southern roots and identities.

To talk about Leadbelly here would be going in the wrong direction, because the idea is that this new generation of hip hop is fueled by a kind of empowerment and self-conscious purpose. But to talk about Cowboy Troy might be entirely appropriate? Or maybe just bizarre. Jon Caramanica was so giddy to get to be talking about Cowboy Troy, I can only imagine the sorts of things that might be going on at Vibe Magazine.

But I think there is something else to this element of absurdity. Charles Hughes gave a fantastic presentation on the love triangle of Nashville, Memphis, and Muscle Shoals – namely, the particular symbiosis of country and soul (and disco?), black and white, that largely determined the mainstream sounds of both genres in the 70’s. And when someone asked him what contemporary artists could be compared to the genre benders Billy Sherrill, George Jones, Ray Charles, etc etc…he said Bubba Sparxx’s album Deliverance. Now that to me is absurd. Not that Hughes is wrong, but that I never took Sparxxx seriously – I think one too many frat parties may have tipped the scales for me in that respect (one?! okay, maybe 20). And then Hughes himself addressed this, as if he’d read my mind, bringing up artists like Solomon Burke and Allen Toussaint, lamenting that “they’re all so damn serious.”

Lightbulb! I get the “too damn serious” comment a LOT, so I get what he means here, though I may be on the other side of the coin. Bubba Sparxxx? Definitely not. Fans of Bubba Sparxxx too – POPISTS! Which is the whole reason why we’re at the Pop Conference in the first place.

We all draw our own lines between what’s pop and what’s serious. Different for every person. This makes me think of a little tibit that Meghan Askins taught us yesterday, that Nevada County, CA, drew their county lines in the shape of a pistol aimed at Nevada State, angry for stealing their name. The way that we all draw our lines tends to have a kind of larger metaphysical purpose as well, aimed with a certain discourse in our sights.

EMP Pop Conference #10 – The Pure Land

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, digital, distribution, folk, indie, live shows, music, recording, writing — alimarcus @ 10:46 am

Phil Ford quoted an old professor of mine, Scott DeVeaux – so much UVA love this weekend. DeVeaux taught a really wonderful class, Music and WWII, where I thought about many things for the first time and will never forget. The quote he read, I wish I had been able to record it, was so typical of the way DeVeaux spoke – it was perfect.

Ford’s presentation was about some obscure acetate recordings that the Beats made. I sort of lost track of the talk, just a personal ambivalence about the Beats – it’s hard for me to really pay attention to it. He made a general point about the purity of experience though, which is what they were striving for, and all of a sudden the quality of the recordings became an issue, then extrapolated to the larger circumstance of all recorded music. Ford talked about the expression of a particular kind of inability to attain this purity, which he then likened to “the melancholy of recorded sound itself,” a loaded and entirely plausible statement.

Recording brings a kind of distance to the musical experience. Yes, OK, well, this is an obvious point, however existential you’d like to make it. The physical distance between the room in which the sound was made and the room in which it is heard cannot be stressed enough. Is this distance detrimental to the musical experience? On both ends, for the musican and the listener, I think something is lost. Other things stand to be gained, of course, but some people may never be able to reclaim the visceral experience of proximity.

I learned about a different kind of music that seems to be entirely about the visceral experience of proximity in Lorriane Plourde’s talk about a kind of Japanese experiemental music mainly performed at a gallery called Off Site. I can’t remember the Japanese term for the genre, but it involved cramming a bunch of listeners into a typically small Tokyo apartment space, where they listen to a performance that consists mainly of sounds that you must strain to be able to hear. These performances are so quiet (made up mostly of sine waves and feedback noise from a mixer), that apparently you must strain to stay awake as well. What Plourde took away from her study of this music was the sense of physical tension, explaining the palpable sense of stress and, well, strain, among the audience members and their relation to the performing artist. More of a happening than a concert, it illustrates a lot about what remains to be sought out in a lot of American commercial recording. Conceptually, this experiemental form seemed to me to be sort of a reactionary form of art, forcing the kind of particiption and recipriocation that hardly any popular music asks of us anymore.

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