On Instrumental Music – Old and New
Teaser: I’m working on a review of “Winter Garden”, the new instrumental CD by Eraldo Bernocchi, Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie on the RareNoiseRecords label.
In a recent broadcast of the American Public Media program “On Being”, Krista Tippett was talking with the late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue who noted, “Music is what language would love to be if it could.” It’s a fascinating interview on what O’Donohue explored throughout his short life (he died at the age of 52 in 2008) and called “the invisible world” and ties to spirituality, mysticism, beauty, and ties to his Irish homeland and history.
While I don’t necessarily think written or spoken language is inferior to music, instrumental works can evoke instantaneous memories or emotions that are often indescribable. Certainly, spoken words or sung lyrics can elevate, or make more familiar, the emotion of a piece, but I have always been fascinated by instrumental music, from early to modern as well as current forms (either as pure electronic or combined acoustic, found-sampled sound coupled with electronic music).
I often return to familiar musicians for new work and to revisit their earlier works. Many long-established artists continue to explore and reinvent themselves. Brian Eno and his many collaborators is an example of such an artist. With the demise of so many traditional record shops (especially in rural and suburban areas), I have found it increasingly difficult to find new music. Time was when I could walk into my local record shop and “Bob” who I had known for years knew my tastes in music, but also knew I was open for new explorations. If I was on the hunt for something new, “Bob” always had great ideas, but now he’s gone.
It has taken me some time, but slowly, I am finding new sources for music (in addition to word-of-mouth from friends), whether it’s direct from independent music labels, music related websites, podcasts or referrals from musicians. I have also found the (almost instant) crowd-sourcing aspect of Twitter to be very helpful for finding legal sources for artist’s works when some outlets are out of stock.
Music comes from unlikely sources too. Recently I was listening to an NPR Heavy Metal (not my usual haunt) genre podcast from NPR’s All Songs Considered, and NPR Music’s Lars Gotrich paused between Metal songs to refer to a young electronic/drone musician from the Chicago area named, Nicholas Szczepanik. The piece that Lars sampled was a short excerpt from NS’s mid-2011 release “Please Stop Loving Me”, a single 48 minute track, a portion of which is here:
Certainly, some people will react differently, but my reaction to “PSLM” was instantaneous and visceral. The layering of the sound, the reaching for something and when almost at the point of contact the music shifts slightly to another layered emotion, feeling or color. Yet, I found the piece incredibly relaxing and comforting despite its density. It took me a few tries to find a CD of the work, but thanks to that instant crowd-sourcing at Twitter, I found a copy in France from: http://www.bassesfrequences.org/ Jerome, the owner of the website, could not have gotten me the CD much faster. “PSLM” is a really remarkable work. I look forward to Nicholas’s forthcoming releases.
Nicholas has two LP releases coming soon (that’s right folks, vinyl) : “The Truth of Transience” available at: http://www.isounderscore.com/ and “We Make Life Sad”, soon to be available at: http://www.mewelesite.be/ (and it looks like the LP will be pressed with clear vinyl).