Sunday, December 4, 2016

New Track: For The Mystic Pioneers (Evelyn Underhill 1875-1941)

Features samples of a LibreVox recording of "Mysticism" by Evelyn Underhill, originally published in 1911. Mysticism, generically, is thought of as peaceful and solitary, but in reality mystic practice can involve the full range of emotions and can be intimately involved in human relationships. I preserved Underhill's words and sentiments, and surrounded them with sounds that provoke, in me anyway, excitement and questions, rather than placid thoughts and feelings. Although successful and more or less happy, Underfull's life was peppered with tension, doubt and disapproval from those closest to her when in came to her spiritual interests. I like to think she would approve of this work.
185bpm. Entirely done with editing in Ardour on Linux; no drum machines or synths were used. Similar results could be achieved by mapping and triggering sounds with a sampler, but the edit/copy/paste/edit process allows me to easily modify individual instances of a sound, even if it is used repeatedly. Non-vocal samples are from collections by Peace Love Productions and DJ Chaos.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Supporting References For Friday's Dinner Conversation

A few musical and related topics discussed over dinner with a delightful group of people this past Friday.

Robert Johnson

Melt Banana

A Tribe Called Red
Wikipedia Article
Official Website -- Be sure to check the videos page!

Steely Dan
Not jazz fusion, in my opinion, but you could make that case.  In some ways, it is prog-rock and pop songwriting taken to a weird, highly produced extreme that happens to include some jazz elements.  

Jazz Fusion

How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll by Elijah Wald
Move from swing and dancing to solo performance in jazz, among other things I wrote about the book in my blog,  
The book at BN

Miles Davis

One of many types of jazz played by Miles Davis.

See also, Robert Johnson, among many others.

Kanye West

"Weird Al" Yankovic
The most successful musical parodist in the English language, probably of all time, he is also an extremely talented musician, songwriter and bandleader in his own right.  He is also smarter, funnier, and more principled than you might expect.

Tanya Tagaq

Country Rock  Forged in the 1960's, if you are my age you probably associate it with records from the 1970's and 1980's by The Eagles and Alabama.  In the 21st Century a lot of the rock elements that made those records notable are simply accepted as "country."

Country Rap   So far as I'm concerned, the country music world needs to do a lot more than make a few novelty records with hip-hop elements if they want to prove they aren't part of the problem when in comes to racism. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

ZEITGEIST MUSIC FESTIVAL at Des Moines Social Club Sunday, August 7 2016

The sixth annual Zeitgeist Music Festival, "Iowa's Epic Noise & Experimental Music Fest/Jam," is Sunday, August 7 2016 in the Kum & Go Theater of the Des Moines Social Club, starting at 1:00 PM.  According to the Facebook event page  ( I (as Beautiful Radiant Things) go on at 2:50.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

We Need a Better Name For "Noise Music"

Musicians struggle endlessly with musical genres and their names.  We need them as a shorthand for describing our music and the associated scenes and subcultures.  The other side of the coin is that we endlessly chafe under their limitations.  Whenever an artist changes his or her style a little bit questions arise about whether or not last year's genre labels still fit, as do protestations that this does not, or should not, matter.

Every time I upload a track to Soundcloud I need to decide what genre label to put on it and I am never happy with my choice.  In recent years the word "noise" is almost always in there among the tags somewhere.  The eternal conversation about the definitions of "noise" and "music" are interesting, in their own way, but I'm increasingly convinced that using "noise" to define genres of music benefits nobody and confuses everybody.

I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend about whether or not what I've recently been doing with spoken word recordings is "music."  While she agreed that it was of value as art, and very much worth doing, it did not do what she expected of music.  To her, I was producing conceptual sound art, or something of the sort--not music, but also not noise.  That my music stretched my friend's definition of music is not what it is interesting here.  The interesting thing is that although she did not think it was music, she was quite certain it was not noise.

For the rest of this essay when I say "music," I define it broadly.  I accept the "organized sound" definition, but also think human intention is important to distinguish music from non-musical language and other sound.  We present music [1][2] in a different way than writing or speaking a human language like English or Hindi, even when it is not played on an instrument or performed.

Although I like the oppositional, transgressive and rebellious connotations of "noise," when applied to music, including my music, I think it often does not fit because of the literal meaning of the word, "noise," unwanted sound.  Likewise for a lot of the music I listen to that gets the label, "noise," or some other genre descriptor including the word ("noise rock," "noise pop," "power noise," "noisecore," "harsh noise," "noise metal").  The problem with describing any music with the word "noise" is that it invariably misses what might be interesting about it.

Clearly, if a sound exists as any part of a "noise music" recording or performance, someone wanted it enough to create and or present it.  Thus, the conventional, generic definition of noise does not fit.  Yet, we, and I include myself in "we," say it over and over.

When describing music, we say "noise" to make one of two points about an artist or genre.  It could be that the music significantly contains sounds not commonly thought of as musical.  It could also be that the music is extreme or experimental enough that it challenges common definitions of music.  In either case, it takes the form of both a warning and something like a political dog whistle.  To lovers of relatively conventional music it is a warning that it is not for them; something about it is inherently unmusical in mainstream terms.  To lovers of other music tarred with the epithet, "noise," it is a dog whistle.  It lets us know it may very well be for us, but only because it is probably unpalatable to others.

This is contrary and exclusive, but the larger problem is that the word "noise" does not describe what anyone might actually like about any musical work.  It isn't like a regular genre descriptor like "heavy metal" or "techno."  Although there is no shortage of debate about whether or not this or that recording fits, there is a general agreement about what heavy metal and techno are.  Noise, on the other hand, really just means "normal people don't like it."

Not very informative.

Heavy metal is loud, aggressive rock music featuring distorted guitars and powerful, steady drums.  Techno is mid-tempo (by EDM standards) dance music featuring simple arrangements of exclusively electronic sounds and effects.   Noise music is...  Ummm.... Ya.  There are definitions, but they are not very good or specific.  How about something more specific, like "power noise?"  Wikipedia helps, but aside from examples the definition boils down to "noise music with a beat."  If you look at the web site for Ant-Zen, a record label oft mentioned in the same breath as "power noise," you will find very few instances of the term.  Why?  Because it doesn't tell the reader much.  "Power noise" isn't descriptive.  It is limited by all the problems of using the word "noise" to describe and differentiate music.

I mentioned techno and heavy metal before to help make the point that I'm not just talking about the problems of describing and discussing music.  Nor am I just talking about unusual, culturally unfamiliar or obscure music.  Techno really isn't that popular.  The term gets incorrectly applied to other electronic music quite a lot, but it has a real definition.  If you correct someone, pointing out why The Prodigy isn't a techno act (too dense and busy, too many vocals, breakbeats, live rock instruments), they will get it quite quickly.  Applied to music genres, "noise" provides no such clarity, either by itself nor in conjunction with other words.

So, that's the problem.  We rely on a term that doesn't tell us, or anyone else, much about the music we are trying to discuss.  The only solution I have is to find better words for whatever specific music we are talking about.

Sorry.  As of today, that's all I have.