I found the artist Second Storey while browsing through a huge BBC new music playlist put together by DJ Mary Anne Hobbs. Second Storey’s track “Reserved” has a few compelling things going on: tightly syncopated percussion sounds playing individual start and stop patterns that dovetail; a sense of ambiance created through a combination of dry and echo-y in the mix; a bass part that is all sustain and volume swells; and best of all, a beguiling four-chord progression played on a strange hollowed-out pad sound that glues everything together.
Are you listening on good headphones?
Here is a video interview with Storey who describes how he works with Ableton Push:
“The timing of each individual note is dependent on every single note that both players had already played – a minor timing hiccup near the start of a piece will continue to affect every single note after it, up to the last notes. And when you play a duet every note your partner plays affects your playing, and every note you play affects your partner: a two directional information transfer is happening.”
“Some neuroscientists think that rhythm – not just in music but in movement and speech – is how we spot the ‘uncanny’, the unnatural, even how infants recognise other animals of the same species. In short, human timing is very important.”
“So, will misophonia exist decades from now? As knowledge of the brain improves, sensitivity to sounds may be included among other psychiatric or neurological conditions. But for now, the diagnosis remains a godsend to many.”
“A drone in music is a sustained note held for most or all of a piece. It’s an essential part of musical traditions around the world, from the continuous bleat of a bagpipe, to the om-like hum that gives Indian ragas their spacious feeling, to the cavernous burr of a didgeridoo. Classical composers have used it to evoke sounds of nature and a sense of something ancient, rustic or outside of time: Think of the gentle hum that opens Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, the almost inaudible whine at the beginning of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 or the E flat at the bottom of the Prelude to Wagner’s “Rheingold,” which seeps into the listener’s consciousness like water.”
“I’m into swing. I get that from the American Indians like the Sioux, the Arapahoe and the Apache. They have this drum-beat, heart-beat. Bom, Bom, Bom…I got that influence when I was six years old in Wyoming. My father took us to an Arapahoe Indian reservation. The chief let me sit on his lap and beat the tom-tom for the Sun Dance. So, that goes back to the early ’20s for me.”
– Moondog (interviewed by Jason Gross, 1998)
Moondog (1916-1999, born Louis Hardin) was a mysterious composer, percussionist, and musical instrument inventor known as the “Viking of 6th Avenue” because of the Viking costume he wore as he walked the avenue from the late 1940s until the early 1970s. Moondog was blinded in accident when he was a teenager and although often mistaken for being a homeless man dressed in costume, he wasn’t. He was a skilled artist whose rhythmic, modal, and contrapuntal music influenced New York composers, including two who would become infinitely more famous, Philip Glass and Steve Reich. In fact, Glass is quoted as having said he and Reich took Moondog’s work “very seriously and understood and appreciated it much more than what we were exposed to at Juilliard” (quoted in R. Scotto, Moondog: The Viking of 6th Avenue, New York: Process, 2008, p.12).
I recently came across Moondog’s 1979 recording of organ music, A New Sound For An Old Instrument. (I loved the title.) The audaciously-titled recording sounds somewhat odd and out of step with the modern era–as it were the soundtrack to The Hobbit or Lord Of The Rings–but also because it truly does its own (timeless) thing. The pieces on A New Sound are mostly built out of multiple melodies set up as canons. (Moondog was a huge fan of the discipline of canon writing.) These organ melodies are rhythmic and percussive, singing in short tones, which gives the music a light, dancing feel–unlike so much lugubrious and somber organ repertoire. Accompanying the organ is Moondog’s distinctive stomp and jangle homespun percussion parts, which are sometimes in odd and complex meters and filled with their own layers of accents and patterns. How did Moondog record this album? Did he overdub all the parts himself? I’m not sure but the music has a great feel to it.
Anyway, listening to Moondog’s music is fascinating because it’s as if in it you hear faint traces of other more well-known composers and styles, as well as intimations of musics that could have been, might have been, but for some reason never were. It’s as if these organ pieces trace a stylistic path that leads us down a forest trail that suddenly ends at an old locked gate. What music was/is/could be sounding beyond that gate?
Here are two of my favorite pieces from A New Sound, “Single Foot” and “Mirage”:
“A lot of people who use computers are gonna come up with junk; most of the people who use notation came up with junk, too. But there are the Brian Enos – people who have imagination for a new way of working that fits with their intuitive gifts – that come up with great stuff. A few things will turn out to be enduring. Well made, and in a new way.”
Here is part one of Reich’s “Radio Rewrite” which is based on a song by Radiohead.
“Hardcore was born as a double-negative genre: a rebellion against a rebellion. The early punks were convinced that rock and roll had gone wrong and were resolved to put it right, deflating arena-rock pretension with crude songs and rude attitudes (…) The idea was to out-punk the punks, thereby recapturing the wild promise of the genre, with its tantalizing suggestion that rock music should be something more than mere entertainment—that it should, somehow, pose a threat to mainstream culture.”
4. A trailer for an upcoming documentary about the xylophone music of the Sambla Baan people of Burkina Faso.
“The piano and its sound are as much a part of the music as the notes.” – Lubomyr Melnyk
I recently came across some piano music of Lubomyr Melnyk. He makes what he calls “continuous motion” music which involves playing rapid and continuous patterns up and down the keyboard for very long stretches while keeping the sustain pedal down. The effect is a hypnotic, waterfall-like sound wall. The music is very tonal and consonant harmonically, and has a steady, if somewhat frantic, 12-beat pulse. The continuity, consonance, and length of Melnyk’s pieces create a kind of heightened state. As you listen you hear little inherent patterns within the patterns as your ears latch onto different note combinations, and if you’re like me, feel non-musical things. (Isn’t that the point of music?)
Here is a three-minute excerpt taken from three-quarters of the way through a 17-minute performance of Melnyk’s “Cloud Passade No. 3:
A few observations about the music. First, despite its speed, Melnyk’s playing doesn’t feel physical or strenuous–it just feels flowing, which is itself a musical-technical accomplishment. Second, his chord choices are subtle and unusual–they don’t seem to follow the conventional logic that this style of music would suggest. Third, the music is reminiscent of some classic minimalist fare–leaning more towards Philip Glass’s romanticism than Steve Reich’s asceticism–yet Melnyk’s work has its own agenda too. Fourth, this piece raises the question of musical canons and repertoires, and insiders and outsiders vis-a-vis musical traditions–specifically about how it comes to be that some composers rather than others have their voices widely heard, and how it is that some musical gestures rather than others are spread far and wide and ultimately accepted. Finally, as I listened to this piece I found that I wasn’t thinking about music per se, just enjoying a waterfall sound wall. As the music constructed an array of emotions in me, I stopped thinking about its precedents or its stylistic brethren. That’s often a sign that a music is doing what every music aspires to do: create a space in which feeling and intellection can celebrate together over the sounds’ meaningful fire.
“Working at Spotify has taught me a few things, one of them being is that it’s really, really, really hard to build something that a human will genuinely feel is shuffled. People still constantly come up to me at parties and tell me that the shuffle functionality is not random.”
“The latest findings add to mounting evidence that musical training not only gives young developing brains a cognitive boost, but those neural enhancements extend across the lifespan into old age when the brain needs it most to counteract cognitive decline.”
“This gift that we are born with – to reach out and hear things hundreds of metres away, all these incredible sounds – is in danger of being lost through a generational amnesia…There is a real danger, both of loss of auditory acuity, where we are exposed to noise for so long that we stop listening, but also a loss of listening habits, where we lose the ability to engage with the environment the way we were built to.”
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