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Now Hear This #004 - Miles Davis, Four Tet, Max Richter, BGM
Under the category of Discovery, I am much more into exploring music now that I have a pretty decent sound setup on my primary machine. (Schitt Modi + Magni -> Klipsch ProMedia 2.1, Hifiman Sundara). In fact I have decided, rather lately that I enjoy music more than I do gaming. It sounds stupid because I always have and always will - my problem was that I didn’t have a reliable prompting service for my discovery. This is something I cured. It was a mystery that I thought was a puzzle. I didn’t know where to look for something I honestly considered moribund, critical highbrow listening tied to streaming. The other aspect of this problem had to do with an execrable experience I had with Pandora that is burned into my mind. I searched 3 times in a row for Jazz and the top return was Adele. Adele! The solution, by the way, was Qobuz. So let me add a few things to prompt your discovery; you might find something compelling.
Bitches Brew, I Get It
I woke up at 3:47am. The blanket had fallen off my butt and I was finally aware of the cold. I went to take a piss and stumbled back into my bed lying face up and thinking. I hate when this happens. I turn to my phone and decide to play Miles Davis. I start in the middle with Spanish Key. It’s too fast. Now I’m more awake. I start with the first track Pharoah’s Dance.
After the intro I am able to find a beat in my mind. I close my eyes and decide to keep that beat. I cannot determine the chords. Nothing I’ve learned from Rick Beato was helping me out here. Then as I keep the beat I find that everything synchronizes. There is not so much a melody, everything is an improvised off-harmony, a different phrasing, but it all respects the beat. Not the explicit beats of the drummer and percussionists, but the simple beat in my head. As long as I can keep that consistent, the song no matter where it goes, respects that consistency.
As I get to the next song, Bitches Brew, it turns out to be easier, because the bass line is so simple and clear. I am sensing the genius at work here.
The Appeal of Ambient
I have not been so testy all of my life when it comes to listening to singers. Sometime around 1999 in the era of Lauryn Hill & Neko Case on one hand and the rediscovery of Nancy Wilson on the other that I suddenly found everyone else unlistenable. But I must confess here also that my decision was tainted by the inescapable lyrical mediocrity of India Arie (as compared to Sade, for example but let’s not get into the weeds here). My point is that the best music I was into was Bill Laswell who kept putting out excellent Asian jazz fusion, enough for me and now that I mention it, especially Panthalassa. I was thrilled by the guitar of Tuck Andress at the time and as I had babies I kept discovering that the only simple pop-like music I could stand to share in our car rides were in different languages, like Raggasonic and Gipsy Kings.
I had an early version of they now call a DAW. At some point I think it became Sony Vegas, but at the time it was called Acid Music. Thus began the career of Sixoseven, my one man band. I was determined to make dance and hiphop music my preschool children could enjoy. Some of that music I have published over on Soundcloud decades after the fact, and I’ve even started composing again this year. This was the moment that MP3 began to take over from MIDI and kids all over were making stuff I could play on my computer. It reminded me of the new wave of electronic and synth music that started for me back with my love for Larry Dunn, George Duke, Larry Fast, Billy Preston, Wendy Carlos (nee Walter) and of course Bernie Worrell.
There was no way I could explain my love for songs like those by Yellow Magic Orchestra and Cat Stevens’ Was Dog A Doughnut?, or how I could keep playing the bridge from Strawberry Letter 23 over and over. In retrospect it’s easy to see why. My head was in space. I would play the spaciest music I could find, generally Sequence 14 and daydream about interstellar travel staring at pictures like these from the Terran Trade Authority:
That romance yielded to the first New Wave synthesizers of the 80s starting of course with Georgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, Tom Tom Club and Afrika Bambaataa. It was all full blown and somewhat overblown by the middle of the 80s where I settled into a full overdose of Art of Noise and Herbie Hancock’s hiphop electrics. Yet there was something calming about Moments In Love and something peaceful about the minimalist beauty of Windham Hill that was never fully realized. I had this desire to cut and scratch a loop from Steely Dan’s Hey 19. I can’t remember a moment when all of these things came together in the kind of mellow ambient that I love the most today, and there are all kinds of flavors and influences that are a bit too numerous to mention or catalog here. But I know it when I hear it.
Music of the Now
I hear it in two particular albums I would like to introduce you to that are sweet all the way through even though there is a hint of vocal in the first. Out of nowhere but Qobuz’ editors recommendations is Parallel from Four Tet. I just found it Christmas week and I can’t tell you much except that it reminds me of what kind of music I think Bill Frisell might make if he played keyboards instead of guitars.
The second is an extraordinary recording called Sleep by Max Richter. There is something transcendent about its ability to keep you awake trying to measure the measure and yet defies your doing so by being so blessedly peaceful. I can literally play it for hours and never tire of it which is easy to do because the album is over eight hours long. It’s better than Koyaanisqatsi by Phillip Glass, an album I was never able to find when I longed for it and have only rarely played since. Again, I was disappointed by all of the Glass I bought on DVD in the 80s. But Richter is a miracle here for both sleeping and working hard.
So I’m finding interesting background music in a new genre of lo-fi that works for me in different ways. I’m digging the goofy Japanese animations on ChilledCow. I’ve rediscovered Aphex Twin and kept up with very talented, melodic and underrated Aaron Cherof. I also recommend Disasterpeace.
I expect to find many more in this direction. I’m looking for something very melodic and I don’t mind rough-edged excursions into the dirt as I have found with The Future Sound of London. I also truly enjoy dramatic modernizations in the direction of E.S. Posthumous and Paul Schwartz. But what I have found sublimely rewarding is the recent collaboration of Roger Eno & Brian Eno which is newly out this year. Towards that end I am triangulating with the classical roots of ambient, which I have found in Elgar.
So much beauty.
At the end of the year, I have worked to maintain my own even keel. Almost every day people ask me if I see the world coming apart as they do. There is so much confusion with the increasing choice and decreasing certainty. The metaphor is finding the rhythm amidst the spontaneous improvisations. The rhythm is unstated, it is in your mind. When you find it suddenly you will understand that which has eluded you for decades; a sophistication that sounded like random noise when you were listening for something to dance to. There is always beauty to be found if you are engaged in discovery.