moments before the wind.

May 5, 2007

can still burn your fingers

Filed under: authenticity, country, folk, indie, live shows, music, news, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 8:00 am

Last night’s Elvis Costello show at the Sunset Tavern was a benefit for 826 Seattle, the quirky, fun, and incredibly dedicated tutoring center fronted by a Space Travel Supply Store.

Quirky, fun, and incredibly dedicated? Sounds like 826 has found their musical counterpart. I’m not sure if the idea for the benefit came from 826 or was a secondary decision, but there could not have been a better chosen figure for celebration in their presence. And I feel like I am qualified to say this because not only am I a huge Elvis fan but also I am an 826 volunteer.

Think about it this way. What would you expect the audience to look like at an 826 benefit? Bookish, plastic frames, slightly less casual clothes, clean-cut-yet-subtly-hip seriousness of people who appreciate serious art. Add a tie and there you have it – the audience you’d expect at an Elvis Costello tribute concert. A marriage made in heaven.

It was a packed house, sold out in under an hour. There were 15 bands, each doing one to three songs. Even the selection was hyper-indie selective, only rarely would a group allow the audience the pleasure of doing one of Elvis’s smash hits. Highlights:
-both versions of “Indoor Fireworks”
-“Living in Paradise” sung in octaves with an acoustic guitar
-“Miracle Man,” because it’s currently hanging on my wall also
-The intense wordiness that I hear as Costello’s magic touch, filtered through all these other bands…it was like American Idol, seeing how the various singers would attempt to do what seems to come so naturally to the writer. Some did a really awesome job. It reminds you od Elvis’s brilliance, because you don’t realize how complex the music is until you try and perform it yourself.
-This beautiful Gibson guitar that one of the performers used. I think it was a Hummingbird.

By the way, 826 Seattle is one of the best things. Period. If you don’t know much about it or what they do, please visit their site and check it out. Space travel is just the beginning. They are always, always looking for volunteers in one way or another, and I have never had a more rewarding experience. I was not asked to make this statement. It’s really true.

May 3, 2007

some day he will live to regret me

Filed under: folk, indie, music, recording, reviews, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 1:49 pm

Aimee Mann’s Bachelor No. 2 is playing at Victrola. I happened to be walking by and could not stop myself from coming in to listen to the rest of it. Whatta great record. I think it’s her best one. Perfect thing to hear on this sunny/windy/freezing in the cold Seattle spring day. WHen you can get sunburn and goosebumps at the same time.

Me and my friend Hanon have reconnected. Oh, it’s been so long, and such a joyous double return.

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 #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.

April 20, 2007

EMP Pop Conference #5 – On UVA

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, digital, distribution, folk, indie, labels, marketing, music, writing — alimarcus @ 10:12 pm

I had to make a stop to see the talk of an old college professor. Actually, he was never my professor, but he did administer a sightreading test once, and he also rejected my idea for a thesis on the grounds that there was no faculty member who would be interested in supporting it. (For the record, it was 2003, and I wanted to deconstruct the process of record labels as we knew them, and through a re-evaluation of the digital possibilties and available communication outlets, redesign the record label model for the 21st century. Heady topic for a 20-year-old intern, but I’ve always had big eyes.)

And so, I graduated without honors, but am a living example of the doomed thesis, or at least trying to be, so I am not sure yet whether he was being flippant about it, or if my career, like the thesis, is doomed as well.

His talk on the Pet Shop Boys, I dutifully report, was enlightening in the sense that I learned a little bit about them, and wonderfully pedantic in the sense that the combination of an old professor and some harmonic analysis brought me back to the basement of Old Cabell Hall. I could feel the chalk dust in the air, the creaky door panels, the musty classicism. I heard they are rebuilding the whole music department over there, which is triumphant but also a bit tragic as well.

EMP Pop Conference #2 – Hallelujah

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, distribution, folk, indie, music, recording, reviews, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 9:19 pm

I’m always a big fan of song analyses through cover versions. The psychology behind cover songs is so fascinating, so when the versions drastically change from version to version it’s like a cosmic game of Telephone. Cosmic in the Gram Parsons sense. (non sequiter: Can anybody tell me why 4 is cosmic?)

Michael Barthel’s chronology of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” was entertaining and very much of-this-era, in the sense that his focus on the song was about where in TV and film the various versions have been licensed. The validation of the popularity of the song, and implicity, the meaning of the song, depended on the media outlets which employed it’s services. I would have appreciated a more poetic approach, really looking at the lyrics of each version, but I was satisifed with his witty, sarcastic and humorous approach.

The basic gist is that Cohen’s original recording is very different from the later, more popular covers. They are most likely based on a 1988 performance of Cohen’s, which John Cale covered, and the subsequently Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, and everybody else and their mother. Nobody that Barthel brought up has bothered to do a cover of the original version which is strikingly dissimilar to the 90’s, 00’s versions. Cohen’s original was wry, ironic, dour. The others are one-dimensionally sad, and Barthel illustrated this, what he called “emotional flatness,” by showing the repetetive overuse in shows like “The OC” and “Scrubs.” He clearly felt that the song, in it’s newer versions and particular placements, had been reduced to a cliche. His actual words were that the TV shows were, in effect, “reducing a song about the varieties of grace to a mere lament.”

A few things.

Did you know that it was John Cale who switched the word “broken” in for Cohen’s “lonely”? That’s my favorite part of the song. Interesting.

Barthel’s delivery was in the spirit of the absurd, mirrored in his opinions about the licensing choices as well, eliciting loud laughter when he said that the song makes “even the shallowest character seem tragic,” showing a picture of Shrek on the screen. I wish that he had gone beyond laughter, beyond mocking, and made a larger point about the song itself, about the versatility of Cohen as a writer, or the nature of the song that has allowed it to perpetuate such a strong lineage of associations. Because even if it has been reduced to a cliche, it’s still an extraordinary achievement, and is, few would disagree, an extraordinary song.

Speaking of cliches, Charlie Kronengold made a necessary point about cliches in his talk today as well. Through a series of examples of music I’ve never heard, he arrived at the truism that cliches are part of human nature, that they themselves are truisms. People should not be so negative about them.

Kronengold’s talk left me wondering about the cliches that enter the lexicon because of a popular song. He spoke of the other way around, the cliches pulled from life or experience that are in song, but I went off on a tangent in my head. Phrases like “knockin’ on heaven’s door,” “shelter from the storm,” “the times, they are a’changin’,” and any reference to some sort of knowledge or peace found in the blowing wind always, always make me think of Bob Dylan. And I think that these songs sort of created the cliches that we use in regular talk. Only strange and curious characters like myself use these phrases as direct references in regular conversation; I assume that most people just use the phrases because they express something particular.

So we know how popular culture informs the language of our art, but have we really thought about how our art informs the language of popular culture?

i heard there was a major chord – introduction

Ahhhhhhh. So nice to be back. The continual decline of the EMP’s institutional gravitas only makes this conference all the more sweeter. Oh, how imminent demise doth make the heart grow!

But in the lovely Seattle springtime, everything feels like a rebirth, and so this weekend we embark on the eternal journey of speculation and debate, insight and confusion. Does this stuff matter to anyone else? If it doesn’t, does that matter? And if it does, then what are we doing here?

We are analysts, we are critics, we are artists: I cannot think of a more potent combination of inspired and cynical people who must against all odds maintain faith in this crazy work we do. For me, the conference feels like a yearly pep rally. So lets get to it. Thanks for reading!

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.