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Posted in: Christianity,Drumming,General,Lyrics,Practices by David Dault on December 28, 2012
Some recent posts have gotten my mind thinking. In particular, the posts by Tom Beaudoin and Maeve Heaney have raised the question of interpretations that are not lyric-oriented, but are instead interested in thinking about the meaning of the music. We get so used to thinking that the only aspect of a song that matters is the worded expressiveness, and we pass over the “material substrate” of the music itself.
For me, this raises a really interesting set of possibilities. I think of Peter Gabriel, during his musique concrete phase in the early 80s (n.b. Melting Face and Security?), telling interviewers that he was trying to process primal screams through filters so that they became part of the texture of the songs–the sonic landscape. I think of Ween, Geza X, my beloved Brainiac, and the almost unlistenable moments of NEU!–each is pushing beyond the “meaning-content” of the lyrics to the point of using the voice as an instrument in itself.
Which makes me think about the points where voice and instrument are literally melded–autotune, vocoder, and talking guitar. Let me take this backwards in three steps: the contemporary example, of course, is T-Pain. But isn’t he just using new technology to build on the ground laid by Roger and Zapp? And Roger was riffing with synthesizers, using technologies popularized by Peter Frampton and his guitar. But in these examples, the “instrumentalized voice” is still capable of being examined for meaningful lyric content.
So what of the artists that used voices but refused to offer intelligible lyrics as content? Dave Thomas of Pere Ubu once wrote that (more…)
Posted in: General by David Dault on January 24, 2012
Thanks to everyone who commented on my first post about poaching, from a couple of weeks back. Those comments sent me back to the drawing board with regard to this “series” — I thought I had a handle on what de Certeau meant by “poaching,” but the commentators pointed out some areas where I needed to do some more explaining.
In other words, this present post was not part of the original plan, but arose as a response to those responses. I will still get back to the other posts I intended, but let’s linger here in this space for a bit.
First of all, Tom observed that “once we start talking about better and worse poaches, we are either displaying our own ‘tactics’ or enforcing a larger ‘strategy’ — or both.” I want to think through Tom’s point in conversation with a point made by Alec that “[p]oaching is not about what happens to the text, but rather to its reader.” The way I want to think this through is by asking: What happens when artists–successfully or unsuccessfully–poach themselves?
I’ve been thinking of late about Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the claim de Certeau makes in his introduction that “everyday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others” [xii].
Elvis Costello swiped the quotation from Lionel Trilling (or was it Picasso?) to the effect that immature artists imitate, and great artists steal. As I look back at the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll, from Pat Boone to Elvis to the Beastie Boys, I’m struck that the genre has moved forward by hefty amounts of creative “borrowing” — Page and Clapton borrowed blues riffs, Captian Beefheart borrowed from Howlin’ Wolf, the Police borrowed Reggae. To borrow a phrase, “it goes on and on and on and on.”
So, for the next few days, I’d like to reflect on some aspects of poaching, on the various ways the economy of Rock ‘n’ Roll depends upon various forms of borrowing (or stealing). Along the way, I invite your responses and comments, as well as your own thoughts and examples about how poaching works.
Probably the best known style of poaching in Rock is the cover song. However, the practice is not consistently rewarding. Often, covering a song becomes an exercise in a bad sort of repetition. Aping a style or a sound, and adding little to the puzzle in the process.
I’m going to start here with a controversial example, Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” — partly because it’s one of the most-covered songs of all time, and partly because it’s a song that I really have little appreciation. Three chords and twenty-three words. It’s a dirge (in my humble opinion). It’s a bore.
And yet, it lives on, like a Frankenstein monster. I’ve picked three versions here to illustrate this first type of poaching — versions that borrow and add little, if anything, to the artifact. Just copies and copies and copies of a lost original.
To prove the point (about the lost original part, especially), let’s start out with Dylan, basically covering himself:
Clapton managed to redeem it, for a season, with (in my opinion) the most palatable poach to date:
And then there’s the version that just kills the song dead in its tracks (and, in my humble opinion, perhaps the least interesting cover in the whole history of Rock):
In subsequent posts, I will take up examples of covers that are actually challenging and worthwhile reinventions of songs, among other issues. For now, though, I invite your thoughts. And feel free to steal mine.
- David Dault, Memphis, TN
Posted in: General,Is This The New Face of Rock?,Musical Performance,Recommended Reading by David Dault on December 11, 2011
Audie Cornish interviews the band Miracles of Modern Science, and the lead-off to the story deals with the fact that they don’t look like a rock band (nary a guitar in the group), but they play “rock.” At one point, a member of the group notes that — because of their instrumentation — they often get mistakenly booked with folk acts, and when they take the stage they completely destroy the quiet vibe of the room.
“There’s sort of a thaw in the music community now between people who play classical music, or whatever you want to call it — concert music, art music — and what we do in music clubs,” says Geoff McDonald. “And that’s a really great thing. You see lots of people doing imaginative things from both sides of what was [once] a divide.”
What do you think? Are they a “rock” band? A “folk” band that plays with rock-like intensity? Something else entirely (like performance art)?
Take a look at this video for their single, “Eating Me Alive,” and let us know what you think.
David Dault, Memphis, Tennessee
Posted in: Christianity,Fandom,Musical Performance by David Dault on October 7, 2011
HuffPo writer Paul O’Donnell has an interesting post about Wilco up, over at the Commonweal-sponsored blog called Verdicts. According to O’Donnell, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy’s perspective on the whole religion thing pretty much functions as the voice of a whole disaffected generation:
Tweedy’s music is as Christ-haunted as the American landscape itself. Christianity comes up on nearly every Wilco album—in the voice of a skeptic, in words that sound like genuine praise, and in closely observed moments from the pews.
O’Donnell highlights the character-driven nature of Tweedy’s writing. His songs “sound like more like quoted matter than Tweedy’s own theologizing.” Still, even this second-hand faith rings true and heartfelt to O’Donnell’s appreciative ears. “Tweedy’s thrashing out of religious themes sounds like a genuine discussion, one you’d have with your kids or close friends. His spiritual self waffles, pushes back, despairs,” O’Donnell writes, “Tweedy is not selling Christian religion or, it doesn’t seem likely, buying it. But he’s certainly dragged it and its issues out to the places where it all started.”
Unfortunately, Commonweal has a rather draconian website policy, often firewalling most of its good content, so I don’t know if you’ll be able to get to the post if you’re not a subscriber. If you’d like to try, though, the full post is here.
If nothing else, try to get over there and leave some comments. The one lone commenter this afternoon, who wrote, “My goodness. This is popular music? Are all young people sour, angry, resentful, confused, whiny?” seems to be missing the point. It might be worth someone’s time to correct the misconception that genuine religious questioning is indicative of resentment and confusion. I mean, think of Thomas, after all. One can doubt even when standing next to the Lord himself.
Posted in: Dialectic,Drumming,Fandom,General,Interviews,Musical Performance,Recommended by David Dault on June 23, 2011
I just stumbled across this wonderful BBC documentary that chronicles the rise of the post-WWII German avant-garde music scene. The film features interviews with a host of musicians, including members of Faust, Can, Kraftwerk, and NEU!
In particular, I was interested to learn about the explicit desire on the part of many of these musicians to imagine a music that was based neither in classical motifs or in blues-rock chord structures. I also was not aware (though, thinking back, I should have been) of the influence these German musicians had on the likes of Brian Eno and David Bowie, as well as on the development of the ambient and electronica movements.
Finally, I just really dug watching the interview with Damo Suzuki. An old favorite of mine, still crazy after all these years.
Viel Spass! Enjoy!
One follow-up to the earlier post on Zoe Keating. Here she is giving a five minute “tech talk” about the lifestyle of a touring rock musician. Her advice, in a nutshell, is “don’t do it, become a songwriter (or an iPhone app developer) instead.” How she gets to that conclusion, though, is quite fun (and informative) to watch:
Posted in: Christianity,Recommend,Recommended by David Dault on June 4, 2011
I was listening to the most recent episode of WNYC’s Radiolab a couple of days ago, and was struck by the music I heard throughout. It’s the work of cellist Zoe Keating, and after doing a little research, I came across this video of her performance of her composition, “Escape Artist.”
(My apologies for the advertisement in the beginning. The video is worth the wait):
There may be some who view this who will assume she’s playing along to overdubbed tracks. In a sense, that is true, but in this case the tracks are being created in real-time, as you watch. She is not pretending to play over a pre-recorded track. At around 4:00 into the video we get a close-up shot of the software running on her Mac that allows her to sample and hold the various tracks she is creating. She controls the recording, playback, and mixture of the tracks through pressing a combination of the programmable bank of foot pedals in front of her.
What she is doing is nothing new, of course. The use of delay and sampling technology to create multi-layered musical compositions is by now a well-established practice. One of my favorite bands currently, El Ten Eleven, makes this the basis of their entire sound.
That got me thinking, though. Here Keating is playing in an ensemble — or at least creating the sound of an ensemble — but her ensemble partner(s) is/are Keating herself. More specifically, they are multiple Zoe Keatings that have, through the provenance of technology, been brought forward from the past into the present. They are different Keatings, in that they are displaced in time from the “present” Keating, and yet they are all “present” in the moment of the performance.
Without getting too Derridean about all this, I started to think about this self-being-present-to-displaced-self idea in terms of the ancient idea of perichoresis — a concept by which the Triune God (if you’ll forgive the Billy Idol reference) “dances with itself.”
In Keating’s performance, we get as close as possible to this concept with regard to a being bound to time. That is to say, the various Keatings are all “present” for the performance thanks to a trick of digital technology, but we understand that only one “Keating” is actually there at the performance at any given moment.
In perichoresis, however, the temporal limitations do not apply. As Christian doctrine has come to understand it, the Triune God is fully present to itself through the three Triune Persons — traditionally known as Father, Son and Holy Spirit — simultaneously one and multiple.
So I am pleased to present this video to Rock and Theology readers who may be unfamiliar with Keating’s work (as I was before this week). Not only is it a great performance, but it is a performance that can excite our imaginings of the divine. What could be better than that?
Still following up on my previous post about Major Tom. Netherlands-based scholar Dr. Alexander Badenoch sent me a link to this video. It’s a version I hadn’t heard before, and the visuals are really interesting. Thanks, Alec.
In Search of Major Tom: A Theological Reading of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and “Ashes to Ashes” (Part 1 of 3)
Posted in: Bible,Christianity,General by David Dault on April 12, 2011
You may not believe, livin’ on the Earth planet … Astronauts get played, tough like the ukulele…
~ Dr. Octagon, “Earth People”
Chris O’Leary, for better or worse, summed up Bowie’s first true hit, 1969′s “Space Oddity,” with a single phrase — not a dismissal, but a matter of fact: “it’s a gimmicky folk song dressed up in extravagant clothes.”
True. But just about every science fiction franchise, and certainly every member of the peculiar genre we call the “space opera,” is subject to this same summary judgment. Star Wars, for all its lasers and roaring spacecraft, is basically a spaghetti western, part shoot-em-up adventure, part Bildungsroman. The Matrix trilogy, with all its post-punk Baudrillardisms and cave-rave excesses, is essentially a meditation on the Christus Victor atonement model, as read through a mixture of equal parts Lewis Carroll and Bruce Sterling. And don’t even get me started on Tron.
“Major Tom’s fate is a resignation of sorts to the cosmos,” O’Leary continues. “Bowie had intended it to be the technocratic American mind coming face to face with the unknown and blanking out—but the song wound up being a harbinger of our cultural resignation, predicting that we would eventually lose our nerve, give up on the dream, and sink back into the depths of the old world. Perhaps we aren’t built for transcendence, and the sky sadly is the limit.”
“Major Tom’s fate” is precisely what interests me here. Though I find O’Leary’s analysis brilliant and quite well-informed, I have a different trajectory in mind — for this post and the two that will follow. I want to go hunting for Major Tom through his erstwhile appearances in and around the Bowie oeuvre, reading them not so much as harbingers of “cultural resignation,” but with an eye firmly on that question of transcendence. What, if anything, can David Bowie’s enigmatic rocket man tell us about God?Next Page »