Monday, November 22, 2010
Friday, November 19, 2010
+DRAWING+MODEL+MUSIC+BEER+: Cowbells, 12-String Guitars, Vocoders (kinda)
|Drawing by Dr. D.|
And, technically, Talk Boxes, too.
Y'all sweet ~ we had our largest turnout to date last night. And, once again, y'all were game. The theme was admittedly formal. But, like most of the themes to date, a great excuse for me to dig into ideas I haven't had the motivation to research on my own. So, selfishly, I thank you for indulging me.
The idea to pick specific instruments came from the sense of texture apparent in the previous session's Eno soundtrack. A lot of those works were less about songs and more about moods or atmospheres. Nice way to reflect or refract a group's energy.
There are a handful of producers or musicians that I want to explore in a similar manner: Daniel Lanois, RZA. We'll return to that approach in the future, but for last night's session I thought I'd try instruments or production techniques that create a certain atmosphere. Sound a little abstract? Think of the wah-wah pedal. Does this come to mind? Naturally, the guitar effect pops up in countless derivations of sleazy, porntastic funk. Helpful for creating a lighthearted mood or to break tension -- a "moment of levity," as they may say. It's also been used in a variety of ways, from ballsy, bombastic rock to gentle, psychedelic flourishes. Well, there's another possible theme for a future session...
Anyway, I focused on these three instruments/technologies because they afforded a range of moods. I've been joking with Nate about doing a cowbell theme for a while. Pretty fascinating to hear such a prominent percussion piece being used as everything from a literal metronome to an accent within a drum solo. And mostly during a certain period from the late '60s to the mid-70s. For anyone that complains about dance music and its incessant 4/4 beat, how is the cowbell in "We're An American Band" any better or worse? In seriousness, peep the playlist above as there were a bunch of jams I didn't get to. Dig the o.g. version of the Bad Brains' "Pay To Cum" -- completely forgot about the insane cowbell part on the verse!
I have been thinking about the 12-string guitar of late, because I've seen it cropping up in a variety of other bands: Led Zeppelin, R.E.M., Tim Buckley. I didn't know much about it aside that Roger McGuinn rocked one and used it to get that shimmery tone on all those classic Byrds records. Was very pleased to learn that that same jangle could by a variety of artists ranging from some bright Beatles sides penned by George Harrison and even the Cure and the Smiths. Was especially surprised about the latter two groups because I attribute a lot of their sound to guitar effects. Nice to also think about the impact of which instruments they used on which records. By the way, Smiths fans will geek on this post breaking down the various guitars that Johnny Marr used.
Last up is the Vocoder. Won't say much about this b/c I'm not done with Dave Tompkins' excellent tome on the technology. In summary, it's the device that transforms your voice into that quintessential late '70s/early '80s robot sound that we all associate with Electric Boogaloo 2 and JCVD actin' a fool to Ollie & Jerry on Venice Beach. It's fun, it's silly... and it's such a literal representation of what we once thought was the future. What a pure form of expression.
PS: I really wanted to play some Zapp, which is why I pulled out some talk box cuts. A talk box is that tube that guitarists and keyboardists stick in their mouth and allows them to play/sing in a way that sounds like a Peanuts gang adult. And Roger Troutman was a stone genius. WHAT.
The net result? There were a lot of familiar cuts last night. Maybe that's why Nate and I felt everything go so quickly? The mood was pretty light and energetic throughout. And, again, everyone was sociable. But what did you guys think? Do you prefer the music to be more present or more in the background?
Looking forward to seeing you again in 2 weeks on Dec 1.
Thursday, November 04, 2010
Thanks again to everyone that came out last night. Brian Eno served as our literal muse. Meaning: songs by or produced or co-written by him. I'm not terribly versed in Eno -- Geeta's tome is still on my to-read list and, well, I simply don't know much about dude -- and the initial idea for picking him was because he released a record Small Craft on a Milk Sea earlier this week; it's actually streaming in its entirety at his site, at least for the time being.
Eno turned out to be a fun choice. Most of his music has a distinct textural quality that can either inform or accompany drawing shapes, shades, lines, etc. His approach to instrumentation and composition feels less tied to traditional theory (e.g., guitar-bass-drums for rock, verse goes here, chorus there, etc.) and more about creating moods or shapes; is it any wonder that he has used instruments like a "snake guitar?" So, whether he's adding subtle flourishes to another band's monster pop hit or stretching and bending a single chord for several minutes on one of his own compositions, he seems more interested in making tangible, sensory experiences than familiar verse-chorus songs.
At this point I'm relegated to mention his Music for Airports album (it's all in the title, people) and the endlessly recounted factoid that he "invented" ambient music. I'm somewhat relieved that I couldn't find my copy of Airports and pulled a broad selection of his catalog -- not just the ambient stuff. In truth, the aforementioned textural quality is a through-line in his work, from his early skronk on Roxy Music's "Ladytron" to the quiet hum floating through the otherwise abominable "Beautiful Day." So, in a way most of his music has an atmospheric quality. Not so much wallpaper, but more intimate and close to the skin, like an ever-present blanket or sweater... gads, Eno makes slanket music. Shudder.
How this relates to the drawing? I'm unsure. The other day Nate and I came to the conclusion that the music at these sessions has been present, but hasn't necessarily informed the drawing. So, we're exploring whether we can make that connection. I think it's happened at times, like last night during the last 20-minute poses when we had jerky cuts from Devo and Talking Heads in the first pose, then moved to the gauzy Slowdive and Eno's Apollo album (music for space!). There was an arc starting with the light mood of the crowd after the break that transitioned into a flow state during the second pose. I still don't think the music made anything in particular, but it certainly helped guide the shape of that transition.
Sidenote: I remembered yesterday that as a teen I used to listen to U2 records when I was sick. At the time I was most into aggressive music, but Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby and Zooropa were in rotation when I was bedridden. At the time I didn't have a clue who was Brian Eno, let alone how he, Daniel Lanois (another great guy for a theme) and Steve Lillywhite crafted U2's sound from the mid-80s to the present. Looking back it makes sense that these albums were a part of a recovery process. What more can I say? Thanks, Eno!
Oh, and I'm going to limit embedding all the videos b/c it takes too long for the site to load when I have 20 videos. Instead here's a YT playlist with the songs that were used last night. Feel free to holler if you have any questions.
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