On Our Hi-Fi

Apr 302006

Eno, Byrne, Hassell — My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts

“Au Sein De La Famille”

There are few things we find “at the heart of the family”—a familiar prayer, a piano, a cherished piece of furniture, a story told over and over so that anyone can mouth along with the highlights, a favorite holiday, a piece of music.

Growing up in the Vermont Koniuto home, that anchoring piece of music may have been Ravel’s Bolero, which my father would bring out now and again—ceremoniously, to my memory—on his old reel-to-reel. Or Art Blakey’s Drum Suite: this one frightened us as children, then got us dancing. There are others, but few.

There is a record at the heart of the Red Sun Soundroom family that gets this clan dancing and dreaming of other possible worlds. We’ve been living with My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts for some time, and just this month it’s been re-released with a new (and much improved) mastering job, as well as previously omitted tracks now included. Brian Eno, David Byrne, and Jon Hassell stacked found-object percussion into driving, pounding, hypnotic rhythms. Arranged over these beats are some of the earliest examples of sampled voices—from radio and archived field recordings—edited and treated to explore an entirely new world of story-telling through sonic manipulation. Before the ubiquitous use of digital samplers these artists worked with razor blades and countless splices of magnetic tape. The results, to this day, are spellbinding.

This seminal recording clearly has had its impact in the Soundroom, both aesthetically and in terms of performer attitude. From the production chair there is sometimes heard the imperative, “More Africa! Less office cubicle!”—though, admittedly, there may be more Africa to cubicle community life than what first meets the eye. “More barn, less high rise. More wood, less linoleum.”

These are by no means calls for anything like less sophistication in favor of something more “primitive”. Quite the opposite. They are appeals that stipulate—in the creative world—the mind must connect with muscle, the atmosphere need converse with earth, the spirit will know the beating heart when most awake.

On My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts technology looks archetypal rhythm in the eye and nods. There is an intrinsic agreement in these pieces, an understanding that the parts do not make the whole without innovation and soul searching alike. This is a precedent that holds a sacred place within the walls of the Soundroom. Music-making here requires the awareness of both the pulse of pumping blood and the flow of active electrons.

“The body is the big brain,” indeed. It’s about creating with your everything.

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Mar 192006

Hazel Scott – Relaxed Piano Moods

Delicate, by-the-fire music. Your heart just wants to wrap itself around these sounds, keep them close, promise to take care of them because they are so precious.

Put Ms Scott—Trinidad-born, Julliard-trained prodigy of the piano—in Rudy Van Gelder’s recording studio on a cold winter night in 1955 with Charles Mingus and his bass, Max Roach and his drums, and the freedom afforded her by the record label founded and owned by these two eminent members of her rhythm section, and what you get is magnificence.

The trio converses so effortlessly with one another. Hazel Scott—also a classical pianist who has soloed with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and others—leads the exchange with musical intimations so breathtaking and inviting that Mingus and Roach can’t help but dive right in and support what she has to say with their own musical expressions of strength, humor, and subtlety.

Years later, Mingus would play quite a bit with a fellow named Pullen. I’m no musicologist, but as a big fan of Don Pullen i have to think he must have spent some important wee hours in his formative years with this Hazel Scott record.

So thank you to Hazel Scott, a shout out of thanks to one with the capability and courage to lead leaders.

Have a listen. A good deep one.

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Nov 202004

Heather Duby – Post To Wire

There are some things that move us far more than we can remember until the next time we meet up with them. Certain paintings, a poem, that look on one particular person’s face that makes us blush or want to stare. These put us in a place where we are at once thinking outward and feeling inward; or, thinking inward and feeling outward.

There is that axis that passes right through us from above our head to below our feet, from high to deep. A pillar. We feel ourselves traveling this axis, swimming about and looking in awe at the rest of what is in us. We see the things of which we are capable: they terrify and seduce.

All of the songs on Heather Duby’s debut, Post To Wire, have this affect on me.

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Oct 062004

Tom Waits – Real Gone

I remember bumping into my former college roommate on that campus green in Syracuse. It was the early 90s. He was from Erie, Pennsylvania. We shared a room for two consecutive years, switching sides halfway through to give the illusion we’d moved, and finally we bonded over 40s of Haffenreffer, five-card draw (we played with pennies), the music of Tom Waits of course, and the last days of our teens we so desperately wanted to escape.

So when i ran into him after a long time, there on that green, first thing i told him was i’d heard the brand new Tom Waits, Bone Machine. His eyes widened, thinking glorified sweeping-up sadness, narrators in urban shadows.

To his surprise i said, “I think he’s dying.” I remember this clearly.

That was my take on hearing that record. It was the only understanding i could make of it, the aesthetics of harsh conflict–some kind of electrochem-mechanical asphyxiation–and lyrics about failed attempts to surrender to the ocean depths. It was not good news i felt i was delivering to my old companion. (”Old” seemed justified: we’d hit twenty.)

There had been deformity before, see. In the characters, in the lyrics, in the twisted knuckle guitar lines of Marc Ribot. But never so much in the sound, like the whole record was gasping for its last breath, wrenching the final bit of air out of the stench left over from everything that came before it. I couldn’t handle the sonic deformity then, beautiful sound waves turned into barbed wire. I always wanted to snicker with Tom; i never wanted to bleed.

More than a decade later, Tom Waits is still very much with us, and i’m not in my twenties anymore. If i were i might have a very similar take on first listen to this new record, Real Gone. Though it isn’t an easy listen right off, it is compelling, in part because it is so truthful. I realize now how hard Waits works at expressing a meticulous honesty, even if, at first, the picture presented seems too mangled to be true. He harnesses the acoustic space he’s working in (an abandoned schoolhouse)–as he did with Bone Machine–this time with the help of Mark Howard, who recorded and mixed Real Gone.

Waits notes in a recent interview in Magnet that most of the songs were written a cappella (sound familiar?)–barking rhythms and incantations in the bathroom into a Fostex four-track via a Shure SM58. He likens the process to automatic writing.

“Recording for me is like photographing ghosts.”

I’m not clever enough with words to describe these pictures. You have to look–listen–for yourself. I, myself, will be doing so for a long, long time.

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Sep 222004

The Dining Rooms - Numero Deux

Brand new in these parts, and yet if feels oh so familiar.

I like to avoid descriptions such as Ex meets Why they had a bastard child named Zed. It’s tempting here, though. Names like Lakuna, Portishead, The Beta Band, and especially the greatest of the Australian pace-setters to my mind (The Necks, and Paul Kelly’s score to the film Lantana) muscled their way right up to the fore, on first listen.

And that’s just it: It’s the pacing, stupid.

The ideal pacing for those moments in our everyday lives: preparing a meal, making love, shaving, sifting through the mail, grinding away at a keyboard or with a shovel or on the back of that big John Deere or setting down the briefcase at the top of the stairs. I know this music has been or will be co-opted by the forces that call themselves automobile commercials for the upwardly mobile, wipers all alive and swinging. The music on this record bleedin’ resonates.

At the same time, from the music-making point of view, it’s so simple and so clear. I don’t hear a single track on Numero Deux that couldn’t be completed, start to finish, inside of an afternoon.

For us in the Soundroom, the combination there is its draw.

And hey, it prompted Ms M. to encourage me to–impromptu-like, as if on the dance floor–”pretend to be a woman pretending to be a man.”

Much fun was to be had.

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