So You Want 10 Albums?

Ok Bob. You asked for it. With one caveat.

In no particular order, post 10 of your favorite albums, one per day, which made an impact on you. Post cover, no explanation, nominate someone each day to do the challenge.

I think these games are fascinating windows into peoples’ aesthetic, but because of FB’s sorting and selection criteria, I see maybe TWO of a particular friend’s ten-albums-once-per-day series. So, if I am taking the time to compile, I want to make sure you see them all. Plus I’m all into the cross-platform sharing thing and doing this on my blog helps me spread the word of good music (and keeps me writing). And being a DJ there are plenty of previously posted lists, check out previous blogs for more of my listening habits and recommendations.

One final note: this was fucking hard, and I had to mostly stick with certain genres (I can’t even begin to describe the numbers of vocal music recordings that have influenced me, for example). To cull influential albums down to 10 is worth the challenge alone… indeed, mine goes to 11. It could be an entirely different list tomorrow. Nevertheless, every one of these has a story (and not necessarily musical ones), but in keeping with the guidelines of the challenge, they will remain untold… for now. 🙂

Pink Floyd ::: The Dark Side of the Moon
Jethro Tull ::: Stand Up
Sound Track ::: The Cooler
Miles Davis ::: Kind of Blue
Naked City ::: Grand Guignol
Autechre ::: LP5
Shpongle ::: Are You Shpongled?
Peter Gabriel ::: Us
Squarepusher ::: Selection Sixteen
Lusine ::: Serial Hodgepodge
John Cage ::: Sonatas & Interludes for Prepared Piano (Joshua Pierce, piano)

Ubuweb posts Greenaway’s 4 American Composers

Back in the mid 90’s before I ever got into techno music, I owned the original VHS copy of Peter Greenaway’s 1983 release 4merican Composers (natch, “Four American Composers”) and watched it constantly while in music school; I think I probably saw the Cage movie no less than 10 times.

As a honorable musicologist is want to do, I lent my copy out to a friend who had never heard of any of them, but then never got it back because of moving across the country. So I’ve been searching high and low for higher quality versions of these videos.

It is way out of print, but you can still find the VHS version… they’ve been released on DVD in Europe, but only in PAL format. In the digital age, this is unacceptable for me, so I finally came across someone who ripped the videos and I now have – albeit in relatively lowres VHS-sourced AVI files – all four on my iPod. The quality is what you’d expect from a 30-year old VHS tape, but it’s not horrible.

I’ve been struggling about whether to post them myself, but today Ubuweb has answered my prayers and posted all of them for me (lo and behold, the quality is no better than my collected AVI files, I suspect they may have procured them from the same source).

So here they are, I highly recommend… they are the greatest films about avant garde music you’ll ever find anywhere:

Why am I silent?

Incredibly, when I was a young boy I assumed everyone was supposed to know everything. It wasn’t until I was probably 30 that I realized things are meant to be learned and practiced, never known outright or assumed to be perfect.

But I spent a long time growing up thinking the opposite, that because I didn’t know something meant I couldn’t belong.

When I was thirteen, between finishing The Lord of the Rings and discovering Playboy, I locked onto a character in David Eddings’s The Belgariad; a wizardly type bloke who espoused silence and the ability to listen, leaving speech to those who knew not how to think. I locked step, it made sense. There wasn’t ever a time I felt like speaking up in a crowd, my opinions didn’t seem that important, and for some reason my brain always seemed busy doing other things, so speaking up is never a real priority for me.

What does this mean in the long run? There are a lot of times when I think I am incubating some genius, that there is buried deep within my soul a discovery I could only make by living this long… up until now nobody has caught on, if I am truly guided by intuition. Or am I? I wonder if I have already encountered my own Fitzcarraldo, or if it has yet to come; my instinct is that it is in the near future.

Even so it scares me to jump into something as if it were the last promontory of the final peak of some long meandering cliffside where I haven’t learned anything but where to go next, can I reach that handhold just beyond my grasp. There are moments where I can see clearly into the future, precisely recognize a moment or passion, but it soon falls away into a sense of loss, where I cannot understand the pathway to that end.

creating obsessive beauty

I happen to be a voracious reader. I would probably write more if I didn’t read so much. One thing I’ve noticed is the tendency to obsess on a single writer’s work: someone or something will turn me on to a specific author, I’ll read one of his or her works, and immediately want to read everything they’ve ever done. On occasion I accomplish this, but sometimes the task is simply too great.

Currently I’m on an Arthur C. Clarke (CBE) trip, embarking with Childhood’s End after recently finishing Rendezvous with Rama. To be honest these purchases were inspired by Clarke’s death in March of 2008, when I remembered how he changed my life while a freshman in high school.

It’s pretty interesting how we remember things, especially points in time that present themselves as an immediate recollection, almost painting-like in their clarity. When I first was assigned the task of reading the novel 2001 as a freshman in the remote western mountains of North Carolina, there was some sort of stencil work done on my brain. I recall a very specific day in that classroom, noticing the green of a fresh blackboard, where I was so incredibly thrilled with this fantastic view into the Universe, that I immediately picked up 2010 and kept reading. Probably it was two or three years before I saw the accompanying films.

Then there was William Gibson. I read Neuromancer and was completely hooked: I went through a barrage of Gibson novels right in a row, staying up late into the night when I should have been practicing, but instead being sucked into fantasies of Black Ice and the fast paced action of transient networks and cyberpunk, reality TV and a California civil war, popular meme-based advertising and terrorist plots – the language and ideas all resonate with me strongly.

But perhaps this was all an extension of my admitted affairs with the art and writings of William S. Burroughs and Paul Bowles (his Wikipedia entry curiously devoid of photographs); authors whose catalog I have yet to extinguish but to whose prose I am drawn. Bowles holds a special place with me because I really got into his compositions for voice, singing many of them in recitals. My next multi-book adventure will be The Red Night Trilogy, parts of which I’ve read and even adapted to music.

I’m not sure what it is, but perhaps others have the same sort of drive I do, to explore authors and artists to whatever extent necessary. This leads me to wonder whether these types of minds will always exist, regardless of what we think ‘technology’ is doing to our ability to appreciate non-technical forms of expression. Just because our mediums change doesn’t mean the human spirit has lost the ability to create beauty.

The Importance of Computer Silence

It’s been a while since I’ve sincerely blogged, as I’ve been somewhat obscured by computing lately. You’d think with all these computers around me, I’d be blogging all the time; but what I really want is less of them around me so that it feels like something more special than just another thing I do on the computer.

For example, this weekend was my birthday weekend (born in 1971, for those counting), and it felt very good going on “computer silence” for two days after the Friday night party. In fact, I didn’t do much of anything except plan my set for next Saturday, play Super Mario Bros Wii, and work through the pileup of recorded Showtime serials with my wife.

A good deal of people I know that make music on computers do so as a second life to their work day on them. Multitasking on computing problems at the same time as applying yourself creatively – and otherwise using software, interfacing with recording gear, attached hard drives, sound drivers, etc… all while you’re also concentrating on finishing that perl script for your job (if you’re lucky enough to be in an environment where your work computer can double as a creative tool), and of course keeping up with “the scene” in blog format or forums or twitter and social networks, not to mention keeping up with what feels like an exponentially growing volume of album releases – is not a very sustainable way to work.

Switching between brain processes like this often makes me feel fractured, like I am not quite in touch with the things that I identify with creating art. The myriad problems of computer technology are an infinitely complex layer of interaction which I can frankly do without. The irony of this is that before I went into a highly disciplined performance school, I had a “designed” undergrad major in music, focusing on Composition and Music Technology (a type of degree that’s now been heavily formalized in many universities, and is no longer rare at all). From that point forward, technology became a very important part of my musical description.

At some point, however, technology took over. It’s taken me many years to see in retrospect that what I was doing isn’t quite what I loved to do as a performer and an artist, and splitting my attention between things wasn’t helping my attempts at doing great things. As an extension of that, I believe my will to do original things was diminished by the layer of complexity and confusion brought on by an intervening computer operating system. Pretty soon, the issues I faced in my day-job became the same issues I faced in music making on the computer, and it wasn’t long that I couldn’t handle that union of cognitive space. I’ve now found myself not wanting to open a computer at all after I get home from work.

This may have a lot to do with circumstantial things: my day-job work environment isn’t great (bright fluorescent lamps, no privacy, high stress when on-call, poor management, general chaos), and I’ve had to sideline my musical activities in lieu of getting back up to speed on things I need for this job. When I get home, I don’t want to do much except unravel from the day, my motivation to create is low – not necessarily because I don’t want to make music, but because the enormous task of what to do with it after I’m done isn’t something I feel like dealing with any longer.

So I’m looking forward to this week in particular: in the coming days I’ll continue preparation and practicing for my set on 12/12, where I can just play music and not worry about computers in the process. I have some hurdles to overcome – fixing/patching the new modular so that at least *some* of it works, paring down the complexity of my instruments – so I will be forced to focus on music in the way I love: brainpower in the pursuit of creativity.

i don’t know how to do anything

at times i get overwhelmed by possibilities. the details drag me down, and i lose sight of the path. what causes this?

for instance, what music do i choose to write? do i use electro-acoustic elements, or do i stick to raw sound design? do these ways of working always produce the same results, even though i cannot hear them? do i limit myself by focusing on a working method that could easily shift into tunnelvision? why is it i think like this in the first place, because i hear opportunities of sound in what others are doing? because, hey, that’s a great sound, why didn’t i think of that?

we artists ask these questions. it takes a lot of self-confidence to go out there and sell yourself, but i’m still not sure what it is i do that makes my music what it is. i certainly try to find unique, DIY, individual ways of doing things, but i turn the corner and find someone building it better. some of the electronics instrument/effects building going on around the electronica community blows me away.

but what makes the music change? how does it develop? we’re moving into a world where musical styles – and listening – is more and more splayed, there are almost as many “genres” as there are individuals making music.

there is still something in the music that grabs the mind. it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what “inspiration” or “genius” a particular piece contains, to different folks these mean completely different things. i usually can’t locate it in my own work, i certainly don’t know where it happens or how to identify it. regardless, it shows up.

so, in a very real way, it doesn’t matter what it is i do, or how i do it, just that it is me doing it, in the most genuine way i can.