Archive for July, 2009

Before Sleep…

Posted in music with tags , , , , , on July 30, 2009 by Tanner

I often listen to music before settling into sleep. I’ve been in Vietnam for almost a year now and live off of my ipod and it’s increasingly haggard and vicious looking ibuds– I hate the knobby little things; sound distorts and I’m not a big fan of putting anything in my ears except a q-tip. But you make do with what you have. All minor concerns really; first world problems. I wonder what people did in my position did before the ipod revolution. Did everyone schlep a few favorite cds around the world with them? Did they pack a couple battered tapes of Neil Young or Glenn Branca in with their clothes and pray they didn’t unravel in the humidity and exhaust? I remember taking a few discs with me for a month in Nepal to play in my cracked and brutalized discman; if I remember correctly one was an early Deerhoof Cd, not a good choice… Thank god for mp3s then, as much as I hate what they are doing to our listening habits and attention spans and understanding of music, they are making my life a lot easier and more enjoyable here. And I can still download stuff, Electric Wizard here I come (“Dunwitch” is awesome).

I’m not sure what the best music is to listen to when you drift off at night. I know I tend to listen to “difficult” music, stuff with little melody or harmony, ranging from Cecil Taylor to Jason Kahn. Often I find myself going to sleep listening intently, only to find myself waking up later in a start to find something alien pulsating through my ears. Sometimes it can be so disconcerting that I cast my headphones off in disgust. I’m not sure what that says about the music I like or me, but it’s almost a ritual at this point. One wonders why I continue to do it. But those moments before I sleep allow me to listen to music in a different way. It’s both background listening and a prod for my thinking, which gets increasingly abstracted the closer I get to sleep; it makes sense I listen to a lot of drone and electronic sputter before I sleep. But last night I listened to a couple new things that proved revelatory…

One being, Milford Grave’s “Babi” album. It’s an almost unbearably intense album. A young Arthur Doyle and Hugh Glover shriek away in thick distortion over a fantastically deranged pan-african rumble from Graves. It’s a live recording, starting inexplicably with an acapella version of a soul song I can’t be bothered to remember right now, but then it jumps in with the trio firestorm. This is definitely the epitome of fire music (as little as I like the term) but for a cassette noise age. I can’t tell exactly what I like about it so much, if it’s the unhinged chaos of the playing or the murky production that filters everything into some cheap and hypnotic dreamscape music. I don’t know another album that can sound this brutal but at same time utteraly soothing. Graves is a spectacular percussionist, none of the free players sound quite like him, not Cyrille or Murray or Ali (and especially none of the Europeans) have the same African tribal feel, which also lends an earthy authenticity to the music, his playing like a planet shifting in it’s skin. I’m less interested in Doyle and Glover’s playing on this one actually, which this recording seems noted more for in other forums– it’s great and powerful screaming, but nothing you haven’t heard before done better from Frank Wright or Albert Ayler or the Brotz. But it all combines to make a powerful outer space tribe music, but recorded on a boombox for the future generations of murk and tape hiss hounds. Shit-gaze music or whatever you call the stuff coming from Eat Skull and Psychedelic Horseshit has definitely got some precedents in the 70s free jazz movement. Surreal to say the least to go to sleep to. Apparently this very out of print but if you google it there’s several music blogs where you can download it from, and it’s most definitely worth it. Even if you aren’t into free jazz, music like this and from this time seem to transcend the staid bullshit labels, existing more as a pure music more than as some kind of footnote to a genre history; you don’t have to understand, you just have to listen and feel. And what it conjures inside you is not only a nostalgia for a time and place but a new atmosphere for the here and now. Cool.

More favorite bed-time listening: Georg Graewe”s solo piano album “Fantasiestucke,” has been giving me a woozy last few minutes of consciousness lately. “Fatasiestucke” is filled with beautiful improvised piano pieces that show a clarity not often found in improvised piano work. Unlike some of the more popular free improving piano players like Alexander Von Schlippenbach or Fred Van Hove, Graewe does not rely on simple velocity or crush for his power. While I dig the previously named pianists, Graewe is more like John Tilbury than Cecil Taylor; although he’s without the deftness of touch Tilbury lends to his Morton Feldman interpretations. Graewe conjures a beautiful atmosphere through sometimes deceptively simple motifs of notes, and displays a overall understanding of where he wants his pieces to go that is not as common as you would think. Sometimes I feel especially with free jazz pianists a lack of theme and structure in favor of pure kinetic, cascading energy flow, as though they don’t really care where they end up as long as they get there fast and with the most notes possible. That’s cool, but it gets tiring just as quickly. I don’t listen to much solo piano actually, but this album is one of the few that I have been returning to. It’s subtle, engaging and powerful in equal measure. Graewe’s imagination and creative powers seem at their height here, he never repeats himself, never falls back on tired cliche or meanders too far from the essence of the piece. I don’t know his working procedure or what it all means, but it’s beautiful, exquisitely produced piano, rarely rising to a tumultuous catharsis, but when it does it’s that more satisfying.