Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Dub and NYC

Just finished reading Michael E Veal's fantastic Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. What is so impressive is how many perspectives Veal manages to approach the subject from in such a relatively short space (338pp) i.e the social, political, aesthetic, technical, religious, historical, economic and cultural. Along the way contextualising dub in relation to the theories of, among others, Jameson, Deleuze & Barthes. Among the most interesting ideas Veal suggests are dub's fragmented narratives as a response to the collective Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of the African diaspora and dub's privileging of space and absence providing a meditative insight into the divine. I particularly enjoyed the comparison between dub and classical Japanese music by way of wabi-sabi and Zen Buddhism. This may all make the book appear rather dry and academic and though it is certainly is both academic and scholarly in the best sense of the terms it is also clearly written by a fan and enthusiast (also in the best sense of the terms) meaning that as well as being intellectual and thorough it is always interesting and engaging. Along with the theories and histories of dub and it's influence on other genres you get the low-down on all the leading players such as King Tubby, Prince Jammy and Lee 'Scratch' Perry. My only criticism is an underplaying of the Jamaican/NYC connection. I don't feel it is an exaggeration to state that the birth of Hip Hop resulted directly from the recontextualization of the Jamaican Dub format - outdoor Sound System, DJ Toasting (Rapping) and the stripping down of records to their essential of drum and bass elements - to NYC and applied to funk as opposed to reggae by Jamaican emerge Kool DJ Herc in the late 70's. House and garage (emerging form Chicago as well as NYC) where also born of stripping down to the essentials of drum and bass of, in this case, disco records. Francois Kevorkian has attributed Larry Levan, resident of the legendary Paradise Garage, of bringing the dub sensibility to disco. If you listen to the early raw house and garage 45s by the likes of Adonis (Marshall Jefferson), Raze and Phuture at 33rpm what you hear is essentially electro dub reggae - flying symbol and all. By underplaying this vital connection I feel dubs influence may have been done a slight disservice especially when there is quite a lot about such less paradigm shifting genres such as trip hop and minimal house which are really just sub genres. I would like to have seen an exploration of the liminal post-disco/proto-house period when writer/producers such as Daryl Payne and Paul Simpson started releasing dub mixes on the flip side of vocal versions - the first time this had happened outside of the reggae context. It would also have been nice to read about dub inspired projects such as Levan's NYC Peech Boys or the Padlock ep featuring a disco/funk/soul/reggae supergroup comprising Gwen Guthrie, Wally Badarou, Daryl Thompson and Sly and Robbie mixed by Levan which I feel is the greatest dub (not dub) album of all time. Anyway, this aside, Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae is along with Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner's Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music the most informative and engaging book about music I have ever read and I highly recommend that you do too if you have any interest in not only dub but hip-hop, house, d'n'b, grime, dubstep or whatever - none would exist but for dub.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Roni Horn

If Roni Horn was an ice cream what flavour ice cream would Roni Horn be? Though Horn's work is often spoke of in terms of identity and memory the experience of walking around her recent show at Tate Modern was essentially visceral. Ice, water and Iceland are recurrent motifs in her work and even when her subjects are bathed in light it is the cold light of day rather than a melting Mediterranean heat. Her use of doubling in photographs, sculptures and drawings with minute differences between pairs casts a light on the space opened up between them. It is this cool, sublime, ethereal space that is ultimately the real art object. The discreetly differentiated pairs that it emerges from are ultimately it's frame in the same way that the physical space is the art object created by the threads in a Fred Sanback installation. If Roni Horn was an ice cream Roni horn would be an ice flavour ice cream.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Ornette Coleman: Meltdown

Ornette Coleman is going to be curating this year's Meltdown festival at The Southbank. This is a fantastic choice!!! - so much better than another faded pop star. 78 year old Coleman is still vital today, I was lucky enough to see him play at the Royal Festival Hall last year and it was one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Plastic saxophone wielding Free Jazz pioneer Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come not only reinvented Jazz but re-imagined what music can be. If you have never heard Coleman play it at times feels like being blasted in the face by sandpaper, cats on heat scratching each others eyes out and garbage trucks colliding but always in a good way... always in a very, VERY good way.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Sound & Traffic

John Cage talks here about the nature of sound and listening. I was reminded of this clip a few days ago when sat in front of this screen on a warm night like this experiencing the sounds outside my window. The sirens of two police cars in hot pursuit - two notes and glissando going in and out of sync as the distance between the cars alternated between getting slightly nearer and slightly further apart. This created a fluid merging and dissolving effect similar to Steve Reich's use of phasing but with a fluid pulse; plus the Doppler effect as the tones smoothly shifted in comparison to the distance between the cars. This in turn reminded me of the turntablist technique of mixing with pure sine wave records using only the turntables pitch control to vary this otherwise constant tone - a technique first deployed in Cage's 'Imaginary Landscape No.1' composition of 1939. Everything begins and ends with John Cage.

Friday, 3 April 2009

More Brilliant than the Sun

I am currenntly 're-reading' Kodwo Eshun's More Brilliant than the sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction which explores the black music/technology/sci-fi interface. The term 'explored' is particularly apt with Eshun as this is not a dry academic thesis, nor a piece of (oxymoronic) 'music journalism', whereby music and/or its history and surrounding culture becomes the object viewed from some pseudo-authoritative POV. Eshun writes from inside the sounds he is physically immersed in - transcribing what he hears in synaesthesiastic maelstrom of hyperbolic neologism and Baudrillardian postmodernism. 'Re-reading' implies I have read and have started to read again but this would be a bizzare book to read from beggining to end. It is a book to jump in and out of at random - to read from start to finish such a book would be as absurd as listening to your entire music collection alphabetically. It is text as sensurial experience - a transcendental experience Roland Barthes would would have described as BLISS. If writing about music IS like dancing to architecture this is text as performance, linguistic gymnastics and Krumping!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Summer of Riots

So the arrival of G20 saw the first riot (okay quasi-riot) of what promises to be a summer of unrest in this green and pleasant land. As this may be the first wave of major rioting since the 80's it will be interesting to see how the 24 hour news coverage that we now have will not only cover the riots (lots of hanging around waiting for 'something' to happen I would imagine) but, and more importantly, how it will actually effect the nature of the rioting itself. Tom Wolfe wrote a nice scene elucidating the symbiotic relationship between protest and press coverage in Bonfire of the Vanities. The pic above is a video capture for the BBC's 24 hour news channel and shows an RBS bank being attacked by two protesters/rioters/looters/soap dodgers(revolutionaries?) while what appeared to be around 50 photographers photographed, and that was from the BBC camera's POV so presumably there would have been another 50 or so on this side. So a ratio of 100 camera men to two rioters??? What will be interesting this summer is that most of the footage that ends up in the public domain will have been shot by members of the public and/or the rioters themselves. As sites such as google video and youtube exist to make a profit via advertising it would be interesting to see what targeted advertising could appear next to such footage. Interesting times ahead...