Monday, November 28, 2005

beta finally feels feels for real

Animal Collective
@ Webster Hall
Sunday, November 20

Finally able to get a few words in edge-wise regarding Feels, under the clever title I done conjured up, "Through the Grass Darkly." Few pieces mentioned the female presence on the album, which I may have been a bit too explicit in naming. Ran out of room to tie the epigraph from the Graves book back into the record itself, so perhaps that is just implicit. It's cheating somewhat, as Avey Tare and I had discussed the book some months prior to the album's release. It was by mere happenstance that I stumbled upon a copy of The White Goddess myself some few weeks back, and have been dipping into it ever so slowly, like some sort of chilly moonbath, the kind described by Anais Nin in Spy in the House of Love. Was this what they were up to, conjuring the beloved through the slow ripples of sound and their poesy?

Live, I am always astounded by three things: how the crowds grow at each return to a New York stage, how much more gear they have each time, and how strange the band is. They are always ahead of the album released, and tonight was no different. Many new songs were between the familiar tones and jangles of songs from Feels and Sung Tongs (and at least three songs that mention getting nekkid), and whoever might have been there for the hits had to wiggle and squirm through large swaths of the show that featured no guitar whatsoever, just layers of embryonic voices and ebbing tides of noise. Word is that the group is moving away from using the guitar at all, and watching how both Avey Tare and Deakin approach that thing, you can sense that technique is secondary to the generating of energy on the open strings. The next album may be more like the back half of Feels, meaning voice and piano, drifting further from the entrapping isles of both 'rock' and 'free-folk.'

Not from the show, but from the live disc accompanying the first 1000 copies of it:

"Loch Raven (Live)"

Konono No. 1
@ S.O.B.'s
Thursday, November 17

While Animal Collective always overwhelms the senses with the unexpected, the trance-inducing, this stateside show by Congo collective Konono No.1 was underwhelming, to say the least. Anyone who has become enamored with Konono's backstory (a good review here) of amplification via car batteries and percussion made from jeep parts, their voices broadcast by loudspeaker would've surely expected something far more hypnotic, distorted, and LOUD for the live experience. Expecting a pineal-pummeling of likembe trepanning into my skull, I instead got something far more pedestrian and politely-mixed. There was a slight trance element to the three half-hour songs that comprised the main set, but it was at such a low volume that it never once threatened to overwhelm the senses or make me forget the uptight bald guy who insisted on putting his forearm into my low back when I got within a foot of his 'space.' You know it's a bad sign when the NPR sector turns out (not to mention dudes from Pavement, Boredoms, Oneida, and Christian Marclay's djTrio in the crowd), but much as it is in their native country, their own people care little for the music they conjure.

My initial flush at seeing the show not abated, here is a link to a Moistworks post I did about mbira/likembe. Ears may connect the sounds of the Ituri pygmies and Francis Bebey back to the Animal Collective, something I wouldn't discourage. An early working title for Feels was African Speaker, a reference back to the raw, mesmerising sound of that Congotronics record.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

heep see

Long-unlistened-to records I dragged back from Texas...

Throbbing Gristle - DoA

This pressing has that infuriating banding, so that the little noises segue without warning into Genesis's violin dirges or the sound of crumpled found cassettes. Meaning that as much as I'd want to spin it between Ilitch or Tolerance records, I can never figure out where that lump of Hambuger Lady quivers. The Cosey pic reminds me back when my old roommate had a few early-eighties skin mags with Cosey sprawled out; he made a mint from them horny goths on eBay.

Rockers Almighty Dub
Dreads shoota magenta lightning from fingers, turning the title to magma and the island to the more-to-the-point name of "JAM." I haven't listened to this set in a good five years and am pleasantly blown to realize the first side features excellent outbound dubs on Horace Andy tracks like "Money." Vagaries abound, with names like Bullwackies and Joe Gibbs tossed around, as well as piano by Agustis (sic) Pablo.

The Saints - (I'm) Stranded

My copy still skips on "Kissin' Cousins," but the opening notes of the furious "Nights in Venice" slays me.

Public Enemy - You're Gonna Get Yours
b/w Miuzi Weighs a Ton, Rebel Without a Pause 12"
Made more classic with the 98 Posse chillin' in a Strong Island parking garage on a freezing night sleeve.

Red Krayola - Coconut Hotel

This remains one of my favorite free music documents, just for the fact that this odd stuff was being cooked up in Texas. A huge influence on my concepts of what can be played, be it abrupt organ snores, poured water, or just what sort of possible sound you can attempt on a one second song. The Les Blank portraiture that captures Mayo Thompson's beatific smile on the back is just exquisite.

Paul McCartney - II
This record keeps blowing minds. James Murphy plays out a sick edit of "Temporary Secretary" that actualizes its electrocoeur, but I have to constantly warn everyone that it's not as hot as the proto-drill'n bass of "Drakroom" would lead you to believe. There's that patented lack of quality control prevailant in the man's catalog.

P16.D4 - Kuhe in 1/2 Trauer
The record clerk scribbled in Sharpie about "Classic 1984 Experimental Noise! Awesome!" and spinning it again, my only wish is that I had about three more of these Selektion titles, so as to trace the progress of Ralf Wehowsky in the early days. What strikes me the most is how personal and intimate this still sounds, sensical to the self first and foremost, meshing dadaism and industrialism via home-taping, damn the outside and its imposed organizing operations.

J.J. Cale - Naturally...


Monday, November 21, 2005

beta missing link

It took forever for this news to come back to the Carolina hills from Copenhagen. Better tribute has already been paid by odd fellows that spent their formative days looking for that true fire of existence in a world of horrific absurdity and prosaicness, guys named Pete Townshend, Neil Young, Bob Dylan. Some fine words going at ILM too (including all sorts of live trax getting posted).

I have spent a good three months with a two-disc set of the man's self-revival in the early 70's, when the music of Dylan, the Band, and the Rolling Stones made the man go, "Shit, these Canucks and Brits keep taking on the guise of the American hills, whereas I came up in the back country and can beller it ferreal." Link then proceeded to do so in a little wood shack, excavating a music that draws from the underground currents that such deep wells as gospel, folk, country, and hillbilly stomp all take as their source. Dig some of this coal, black and ever-burning, much like Link will be up in the skies beyond:

Link Wray "Fire and Brimstone"
Link Wray "Right or Wrong (You Lose)"
Link Wray "Take Me Home Jesus"

Saturday, November 19, 2005

beta in tx pt. 3

Granny is crestfallen that I don't regularly attend church. I gingerly avoid such discussion and divulging of my life details when I go to visit her on these occasions, as my life as critic of secular music in "that awful New York City" that she recalls from her visit here in the fifties certainly doesn't help her sleep any better at night. One reason I avoid talking to her about music has to do with my uncle, who has recently returned to live in her attic once again, after a scant six months away from the nest in Austin.

It's 1997, my last year in San Antonio, and every Tuesday morning, at that most unholy hour of 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., I have a DJ slot at KSYM. I spin records into the void, with nary a call light or other DJ in sight. Imagining no audience (sort of like now), I loose peculiar, amorphous mixes to drift into the ether. Yes, I am into long pieces and dronescapes anyhow, but I also play such twenty-minute pieces so as to have ample time to plow through and plunder the unused stacks hidden throughout the station, looking for hip-hop twelves and other unmentionables. Scores include everything from Eric B. and Rakim's Follow the Leader to an effervescent Sonia Pottinger rocksteady comp to the Robert Johnson LP box set.

Hoping to reach back into a remote corner of my brain that still retains my piano lessons (and perhaps my recital of "Blue Danube Waltz") from so long ago, I have asked my Granny to start giving me piano lessons once again, perhaps getting a free dinner in the process. It's a weekly affair, and somewhat grueling as my fingers haplessly try to evoke the past patterns and melodic structures that have since crumbled away. Try as I might, they are never to be retrieved, and that guilt of failing both her and my self weighs heavier with each passing week, as practice at home falls away for other, more miscreant activities, which unfortunately take precedence.

So as I sit at her kitchen table one day, awaiting that inevitable piano session, my uncle walks in, and says that he wants to "play me something." He punches in a cassette and a woozy drone fills the air. "Do you know what this is?" he inquires. Of course I do, it's Charlemagne Palestine and his weightless electronic dreampiece, "Three-Fifths," a piece I played on my show earlier that week. Realizing that he taped my show, a sense of dread crawls over me, as I know what's coming next.

"Listen, you're a good kid, but there are forces out there that you may not know about. Have you ever heard of the New Age?"
"You mean that thing that Face from the A-Team now preaches?" I reply, hoping to diffuse the situation.
"Listen, they preach such things as dream control and crystals and whatnot, and it's all a guise for Lucifer. You know his name means light, right?"
I nod with dread.
"Now this music may not affect you, but do you realize that by playing this hypnotic, droning music over the airwaves, you may be imperiling peoples' lives? If someone were on LSD and they heard this, they might go into a trance state, during which a demon could take possession of their body and damn their soul."

And so now I keep my mouth shut about such things, so as to not stir up conversations I'd rather not fall into. My uncle is back around, and I'm curious as to why he didn't make it in Austin. This leads to a lecture about the traffic patterns of Austin, how fast everyone drives and how everyone is a snob in their fancy cars. It's almost the exact same complaint I always hear from my father, despite the fact that they are in two different countries. It's then I realize that my family make for terrible conversationalists, bogging down in the pettiest of gripes and details. His story quickly digresses into talk about a certain hill at 2222 and how fast he had to drive up or down it. Now I don't care what his point is.

What I'm here for is my Granny, to spend some precious time with her. How many more moments we will have together, I am never certain. Since I never go to church, much less the church that she plays organ at every Sunday, I ask her if she will give me a personal recital this Saturday afternoon. The striking news she told me upon my arrival is that she has partial paralysis in her hands, making her unable to perform on the piano any longer, as her pinky can't reach for the higher octaves. Meaning she can only play the more plodding organ. It's strange to think that I haven't heard her play in ages, and yet it's what I recall of her best.

She demurs, but I finally convince her, and so I spend an afternoon in her front parlor, listening to how her swollen, stockinged feet depress the foot pedals to loose the shuddering bass tones, to how her fingers tremble as she carefully traces out the patterns of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," the resulting music so fragile, hesitant, fissuring, and most incredible.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

beta in tx pt.2

My granny just had all of her teeth yanked and replaced with new dentures not too long ago. Such a thought lodges deep inside my subconscious, as a few nights back, I dream that I am washing her silver teeth, the mercury polished like little pebbles in the stream of a faucet.

I fear that my teeth may be rotting out of my head, that unseen cavities are gathering force and slowly drilling deeper. When worrisome, my tongue worms for the holes. No dental plan aside from floss and toothpaste in my bag, and having paid for an emergency root canal two summers back, that Marathon Man pain still burns bright in my nerve memory. But when I pay my irregular visit to a Dallas dentist, I am told that there are no problems. Except the mantra of every dentist I have ever opened wide for: "Floss more."

Teeth and suit dry-cleaned, I pack everything to head down to what would be considered my hometown, San Antonio. I keep forgetting that I left the place nearly a decade ago, first for school and then for whatever it is I do now as an adult. Stuck in the labyrinth maze of Gotham, I admit to a small amount of mal du pays, of estrangement and endearment for the River City and its occult currents. My oldest friendships were all formed along its banks, and I return now for a wedding of someone I've known since he was a freshman in high school. Shoot, I still root for the Spurs, trying to block out that the city's dominance extends beyond the hardwood with such lovely entities as Clear Channel and the biggest business of them all, the US military.

While the city is one of the top ten in terms of US population (and a huge target during the Cold War), culturally it barely registers. Despite its swelling college campuses, there's barely a pulse to the city come nightfall, and the city struggles for a decent live music venue (my married friend is trying his own hand at such an endeavor, which should be interesting). But the majority of the city always seems to be tucked into the outskirts, due to the outlying Air Force bases and military hospitals, which make up a huge portion of its population.

Meaning that there many different realities of my home that I have distanced myself from. It's still hard to wrap my head around its loyalty to the meat-grinder of the military. As the rest of the country fails to meet its new recruitment goals, SA exceeds its quotas. Reading that Times article, I'm not sure why these statistics so surprise me, since my best friend from high school, unable to pull himself out of the gutter of drink, signed up for six fucking years, nearly getting himself stationed in Iraq. He's out now, but only after they found a tumor on his pineal gland and dug it out.

As much as I want to forget about the military complex that powers the city, I am reminded of it. Just trying to get to my grandmother's house, a police officer stops our car and we are made to idle under the hot November sun. Fanfare can be heard in the distance, and the next thing you know, there's a military parade marching past on a Saturday afternoon through downtown San Antonio. I get out to start documenting the surreal nature of this thing.

And while tears of laughter are veritably streaming down my face, I see that this one has everything: Women in blue wigs with star-spangled red dresses! An organ grinder gilded in gold perched atop a flatbed! Marching bands making an undisciplined clamor! Beauty pageant losers waving from a funny car with bows on its wheels! ROTC troops that march in place right in the middle of the intersection! Shriners in their fezzes riding around in humvees! And the cherry on top is the Navy Band Octet (pictured) jamming out some Blink-182 and the theme from Dawson's Creek for the derelict crowd that's supporting and hooting at the troops.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

beta in tx pt. 1

The first thing I notice when I arrive in the airport is the amount of critters. Flies, gnats, crickets, either in flight or invisible in mid-chirp, they are prevalent in the air here. Their song rings out, as audible as that of Dallas traffic from the bedroom window.

Dallas has never really been home, despite the outpost that my mother and cat keep, but as my roots shrivel up in the Lone Star State, this remains my most stable place whenever I return. A real bed, a car to gobble petro in as I cruise to the under-plucked used bookstores (hauling in DVDs like Suspiria and Two-Lane Blacktop, but also finding Caetano Veloso's tropicalismo book), a fridge full of Shiner Bock, 500 channels of DirecTV gobbledygook, it's all those comforts of "home."

Gone almost nine months, I'm shocked when I arrive. My cat has lost a good half of her weight, and is as tiny as I've ever seen her. She looks fragile, as if picking her up might crumble her into fur and dust. Running my hand along her back, I can feel every ridge of her bones, can see how her fur has slightly more grease on it, having not been so throughly tongue-bathed as it would've been in the past. She looks old, something I forget with such distance, and who can say what the situation will be like when next I return?

My mom breaks the news that my step-father is being run out of his job after twenty-plus years of service. Meaning their house is going on the market and everything is uncertain, in turmoil. I can only guess what he's going through, as I long ago gave up hope of dedicating myself to some corporate entity, much less having steady employment, not to mention the fact that he's in an inconsolable mood, to where almost nothing can be said to him without setting him off. So I shy away from any mention of the situation. He's fallen victim to the politicking that goes on in any sort of social human interaction, and despite his company's very well-broadcast happy employee image, he's getting run out on a rail, to where he's toxic among his allies still in the company. Everyone has to distance themselves so as to not go out on his leaving train.

The house must be shown to agents, so it's scrubbed clean. If I set a drink glass or a magazine down, take off my shoes, or just turn my back, it's quickly whisked away out of sight. I feel like I'm forgetting everything, misplacing every bit of my paraphernalia, as it moves out from under me. In terms of location, I'm not even sure where I'll be flying into next. What will be "home" when I come back home?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

beta cooks, thanks, and ketchups

Apologies to the three of you out there checking back to see me doing no updates to my blog the last few weeks. Been busy with lots of deadlines and upcoming assignments, not to mention going back for a wedding last week (hopefully my comments on Texas will be forthcoming). Much thanks to those offering condolences on Tupac, too.


Fiery Furnaces live at Town Hall in the Village Voice

LCD Soundsystem and the Juan Maclean in the Nashville Scene

And on the racks, my first appearance in SPIN, writing about, of all people, Pugh Rogefeldt, Svensk psych guitar god. It was somewhat thrilling to be national, and to stand at the airport kiosks and read myself, rather than thumb the newest issue of Leg Show.

Since the disc seems to be hard to come by (try Aquarius), I'm posting two choice cuts from Ja, Da a Da!. See if the first ten seconds of "Love, Love, Love" doesn't sound familiar:

Pugh Rogefeldt "Love, Love, Love"

Pugh Rogefeldt "Har Kommer Natten"

(much obliged to DB for the trax and Stephen, my resident Swedish interpreter (who helped me translate titles on Ta Det Lungt earlier this year))

Tupac R.I.P.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

beta opening night

Through a combination of two assignments discussing outre jazz labels, I have been brought to re-think, re-consider my ideas about improvisation. Or more to the point, why I have abandoned it, in terms of my own music as well as in just listening pleasure.

Maybe that's why I wound up re-watching John Cassavetes's Opening Night. This is the film that Alan Licht once told me should be requisite watching for improvising musicians (he mused if Derek Bailey had ever seen it). And not for that mistaken assumption that Cassavetes's movies are improvised, which they most certainly are not, but crafted to feel as if they are in the actual and as spontaneous as life. The crisis for Gena Rowlands character, as she puts it, is that "I somehow lost the reality of the reality." It's an existential crisis kin to that of the actress in Bergman's Persona, but of course John doesn't package it as such. Instead, it nestles its crises amongst the double-scotch tumbler upending and its resulting slurred "I love you"s that get uttered that the film concerns itself with, of breaking down in public, of no fourth wall as Rowlands continually crumbles on-stage and eschews her scripted lines to instead remind the audience of their role, and the actor fact of this stage (the film is famous for its theatre scenes being shot in front of a real audience). "It's so simple, you just don't see it," she implores, which could correlate to her own aging self, with heavier and heavier doses of drink, she refuses to come to terms with this fact. She imperils the entire play and teeters on the edge of disaster. But who wouldn't toy with the strings, tear the curtains down, as the dialogue of the actual play is fucking atrocious?

The key tenet of improvised music is that it is more real, more actual, more like life is, interacting with people, engaging in dialogue and the moment at hand (maintenant, the French word meaning now, breaks down as "holding in hand"), not in the lock of script or notation or the past. That it is alive somehow, a proper reflection of life. When Tonalamotl played this music, it was the only way that felt natural to us. It was the only way for players of every level, be they strangers or friends, it was the only way for everyone to communicate equally. Trying to script it, to conscribe it in anyway, rang false, and worse than that, it sounded like a disaster when contrasted with anything of the past. It had to keep moving, keep changing. Which is a fine lifestyle, but one at conflict with routine, patterns, and stabilization via simple, rote moves and concision. What good is the ever-present when your show comes on at 7:30pm or when you have to work at 8am?

While improvisation is about social openness, about forum and equality, listening to it becomes its own cult. Most improv is in fact exclusionary, not for the laypeople or the uninitiated. The amount of concentration needed to focus on such music is too demanding for most people (this one included). Not able to give ones senses over to it fully, when it demands all your attention, or to spend the time necessary absorbing it when there's all sorts of new tracks to hear on shuffle. Rather than reflect the random noise bursts and chaos of the world surrounding, I've instead taken to the overlay of shape, meaning, divisible rhythm, the illusion of order and sense in a world that shares little oof these traits by and large. If I can hear the outside improvised, how it devours the orderly stream of reggaeton radio, then why listen for it inside?