Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We're moving!

Well, just me, actually. This blog is soon to be no more. It will exist as an archive, but all the exciting blog action will be happening at Zombielectroniq.tumblr.com. So update your bookmarks and head over there! I've posted more in the last day on Tumblr than I have in like the last three months on here. I HIGHLY recommend it, if you're looking for ways to blog more often. Well, that's about all for this blog: see everyone over at Zombielectroniq!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

oops!

I forgot to post for like a month. Things have been mega-busy in real life: I'm working on a new piece, teaching on the weekends (and during the week), and basically trying my best to stay afloat and keep that P.M.I. that HR from the Bad Brains likes so much going strong. Nevertheless, I apologize to you, the loyal few, who read this blog, as I feel that I've left you in the lurch for the last month or so.

So let's talk about new metal releases. Specifically, the most exciting non-Metallica developments in metal this month (OK, and maybe some Metallica too, who am I kidding).

First off, the new Cynic album, Traced In Air. SHIIIIIIIIITTTTTT. These guys have picked up right where they left off with their 1993 opus, Focus (get it? opus? focus? hocus pocus? PUNS) and continued to make unconventional death metal in a way that only Paul Masvidal, Sean Reinert, and Sean Malone can. The robo-vocals are back, but the former harsh vocoder textures have been discarded in favor of a smoother, almost T-Pain-esque sound. Altogether, this album does not remind me of anything so much as the last Between The Buried and Me album. I know I'm probably going to catch a lot of flak for this, seeing as how BTBAM are basically a hodgepodge of Cynic and Cryptopsy riffs with some breakdowns and Queen-style choruses thrown in for good measure, but it seems to me like Cynic have been carefully dissecting the stylistic choices of their successors and consciously attempting to create something genetically similar, while still pushing the envelope. High points: the first fast riff of "Evolutionary Sleeper, the Fripp/Holdsworth-isms of "Integral Birth's" first riff and the solo in "King of Those Who Know", and all of "Adam's Murmur". The mix is great on this album: the vocal balance is a bit of a weak point, with the death growls pushed too far back, but this is more of a compositional problem than anything else. The balance of sections between growled, vocodered, and clean vocals seems off to me: I wish that there was more brutal growling and less melodic contribution; although it's not inappropriate given the melodicism of the riffs, I just want more death metal. Won't somebody PLEASE think of the death metal?


Thankfully, Bloodbath have thought of the death metal. There's nothing new to speak of on the latest Bloodbath release, The Fathomless Mastery. Not to say that Bloodbath have ever been concerned with pushing the stylistic envelope, and why should they? They crank out the best Swedish death around, taking cues from Entombed and Dismember, two worthy predecessors. Mikael Akerfeldt is back for this go-around, which is great for me (I love his growl, and I never get enough of it on his oftentimes tedious Opeth releases). The riffs are thick, the guitars cut like proverbial buzzsaws, and the cover art is bad. This is a group of men who are dedicated to the concept that death metal has never been better than it was in 1993, and, while they aren't entirely right, they aren't entirely wrong either. There's nothing wrong with not pushing the envelope as long as you're setting the bar for the status quo so high that no one else can reach it (whoa, mixed metaphors much? Somebody rephrase that for me.).

High points: I would list high points, but, honestly, it's all just the same shit, but done with different and better riffs and Akerfeldt back behind the mic. Bloodbath is the mark of quality. That's all you need to know.

The most surprising leak of the last month, however, has been the new Gojira record, The Way Of All Flesh. I will be the first to admit that I thought, and still think, that From Mars To Sirius was slow, plodding tripe. There weren't enough fast riffs to satisfy me, and the slow riffs weren't crushing and destroying; they just sat there. Gojira have heard my cries, apparently, and responded in kind by creating an album that is all over the map, fast, and heavy as hell. At times recalling Trendkill-era Pantera, the group also covers ground well-tread by Strapping Young Lad and Mastodon. The brothers Duplantier have stepped up their game, improving upon the muddy production of From Mars To Sirius with a phenomenally-well-notched mix. Every instrument is clear and crisp. The riffs are faster and heavier (there's Dimebag riffs in them thar hills), and Joe Duplantier's voice is rawer than ever, moving farther away from the Sepultura worship of their early work, and into some very interesting territory reminiscent of Phil Anselmo gone death metal. Most exciting to me, however is Mario Duplantier's continued resolve to eschew the conventional trappings of death metal drumming (blastbeats, fast double bass ostinati, etc) in favor of a more funk/fusion-oriented approach. While sometimes the compositions do demand those stylistic conventions, Duplantier avoids using them as a crutch, as do so many death metal drummers. This might be the metal album of the year.

High Points: OH MY GOD THE BEGINNING OF "ALL THE TEARS" IS SO HEAVY YOU WILL POOP.

And, lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least MENTION the new Metallica release, Death Magnetic. I didn't have much hope for them, after seeing them earlier this summer (great show, but the new songs sounded lame), and catching the initial single releases. However, things started looking up with the release of "My Apocalypse", and, by the time the full album dropped, I'll be the first to admit that I was enthused. My impressions? Rubin's mix is terrible. The man has made a career out of eschewing reverb, but you know what? When your drums sound so dead that they might as well be countertops, you have not produced well. The goal of production is to accurately recreate the sound of the band playing live, like they're sitting in front of you in your living room blowing you away, except you can hear everything with perfect clarity. Rubin/Ulrich's drum sound is atrocious. It's time to get rid of Lars and replace him with someone like, oh, say, Derek Roddy. Sure, it might be a band of ringers, but who cares as long as they thrash? Oh, and by the way, they DO thrash. And it's glorious. It's the fastest and thrashiest that they've been since Ride The Lightning, which is their fastest and thrashiest album (and my personal favorite). I could do without the late-stage James Hetfield vocal histrionics, but Kirk's leads are gold, and James can still write one hell of a rhythm part. In grand Metallica traditon, Rob Trujillo's bass parts are nominal, uninteresting, and shoved back in the mix, but this is really part of their sound.

High Points: umm, the return of thrash Metallica. Bang your heads, assholes.

Friday, August 29, 2008

HAHAHAHAHAHA LOOK AT WHAT YOU'VE DONE REPUBLICANS

The first thing I saw when I woke up was "McCain picks Palin for Veep". And I was thrilled, for a minute. You see, for a brief, fleeting moment in time, my woozy, sleep-addled brain genuinely believed that the "MAVERICK" McCain had actually picked THIS guy:



Wouldn't that be just incredible? Michael Palin as our nation's second in command?
However, this was not to be. McCain actually has picked THIS woman:



Naturally, my few Republican friends think that this is a brilliant and crafty choice for a Republican candidate to make. I imagine they think it's brilliant and crafty because the strategy here is that McCain/Palin will reunite a fractured Republican party dissatisfied that the McCain brand of batshit social Conservatism is different from the one offered by the party line. Sarah Palin, by contrast, tows that line like a goddamn tugboat. Creationist? Oh yeah. Pro-life? You bet. Corrupt and nepotic to the point of gubernatorial ridiculousness? Most CERTAINLY. She's even pro-drilling, something that you'd think someone born and raised in the natural beauty of Alaska would fight tooth and (immaculately manicured) nail.

And, lest we forget, she's a former beauty queen. Now, I'm not one to attach unfair stereotypes and stigmas to people: I'm positive that most beauty queens wouldn't want to be associated with conservatism, even though they might not know how to spell that word.

I'm not going to assail Palin's credibility by focusing on her MILF-hood (although it's a serious blow to an record already devoid of credibility), but instead focus on how McCain's vitriolic accusations of Obama as being utterly inexperienced are now completely, totally impotent. McCain, once an interesting figure in Republican politics, someone who, before it became evident that he was completely crazy and incompetent, gave me hope for the restoration of reasoned debate in American politics, has finally shot himself in his own gun-crazy foot. Palin's experience is limited to governing the least population-dense state in America for two years; before that, there was a smattering of town council appointments and a mayoral position in a town of 5500 people. Does this really strike anyone as the voice of authoritative experience? Picture this: if the ailing McCain is, by some unbelievable stretch of the imagination, actually elected, he might die in office. Then it will be up to crazy-ass Sarah Palin to run the country. Does anyone think that she's competent to make policy decisions? I would argue that if the administration of George W. Bush, a former Texas Governor and Yale graduate, is basically controlled by his administration, a Sarah Palin administration would, in effect, be a Karl Rove presidency. If that happens, Dems, you might as well just dig your passports out and head north for good (that is, if the borders are open that long).

So, I ask you, blogosphere, do you really think that Palin is going to reunite the Republicans, Bad News Bears-style, and whip them into shape as a fearsome fighting machine? Do you think that the magnetic strength of her MILF-itude will translate into assertive and effective policy-making and execution? Or, rather, is her experience limited to assertive and effective breakfast-making and execution? Maybe, if this whole thing doesn't pan out, she could be the White House den mom.

WHOA

It's Friday, and I miss the discovery channel, and I don't wanna talk about it. Here's some videos that remind me of sitting in my boxers watching crabshow and eating buffalo wings. Enjoy!

http://gizmodo.com/5036052/traffic-from-space-videos-blow-our-minds-pants-and-socks

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Demographic Inversion

This isn't about metal at all, but, then again, there IS more to life than metal, after all. It's just that nothing else rocks as hard.

Anyways, check this article out. What do you guys think? I'm certainly living in a poster-child neighborhood for this sort of thing, and it's pretty hard to argue with the numbers. Do you think that rising oil prices will drive the suburban youth of our generation back to the neighborhoods our grandparents left? Or will they slowly die in tanning beds, listening to warmed-over Ashlee Simpson and Daughtry rehashes?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Genre Study 1: Black Metal (Part 1)

Starting a genre dissection, is, in heavy metal, a curious thing. Underground metal is so fragmented, incestuous, and semantically charged that it’s a ridiculously daunting task to define a specific genre to the uninitiated. Add this to the fact that many underground metal genres share the same roots, and you’re more or less stuck with an impossible-to-write article.

Nevertheless, I’m gonna give it a shot here.

As with any genre definition, these studies run to the arbitrary and are sources of heated debate among metal “scholars” and devotees. I will remain firmly unapologetic about any genre classifications I make because of the subjective and oftentimes unnecessary confines of genre. Additionally, although I’d like to think that my flowing and immaculately constructed prose is so descriptive that you can not only hear the nuances in sound I’m talking about, but actually TASTE them, I realize that some people don’t necessarily have the tools to appreciate my skillful criticism. So, as a rule, the best way to get a feel for this stuff is to listen, listen, listen.

More specifically, don’t just listen: immerse. Music is language: think of genre as specific dialect. The only way to truly learn a language is to immerse yourself fully, so DO THIS. Find the albums listed in the “Essential” and “Starter” lists. Compare them to other gems you might have found. Show them to your friends. Trade them for other metal albums; re-read the genre studies and find others. Immerse yourself in the music here. Most importantly, GO SEE IT LIVE. Metal, like any other high-energy rock and roll, THRIVES in a live setting, and it’s a total blast to go see metal shows. Figure out what you like and what you don’t (hint: you won’t like everything in every genre; maybe not ANYTHING in certain genres. I certainly don’t. Give everything a chance, though). And then, once you’ve got a grasp on the subtle nuances and the extreme undergrounds of the specific genres…well, then start your own blog, if you think you know so goddamn much.

With all THAT out of the way (also, you’ll need to sign a pain waiver, Dethklok-style), now we can get down to business.

BLACK METAL.

The very name alone strikes fear into the hearts of preachers, politicians, and my mom everywhere. This fear is not necessarily unfounded. There’s a lot of hoopla surrounding black metal; church arsons, cannibalism, murder, hate crime, an entire GENRE of Nazi metal (which is almost all absolutely ABHORRENT stuff, even when taken out of the woefully ignorant and hateful dogma retreads that pass for lyrical content), prison breaks…you get the idea. There abound documentaries, books, photography collections, and the like on the subject of the drama SURROUNDING black metal, so I won’t bother to go into it here, although some of that stuff is worth checking out if you’re really interested. What usually gets overlooked is the music, and this is honestly a crime.
Black metal has its roots in the same few bands that helped spawn almost the whole of underground metal in the last 25 years. The NWOBHM movement (which stands for the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal), which originated in the late 70’s and early 80’s with bands like Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Motorhead, and Judas Priest, spawned the four most important styles of underground metal today: Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Black Metal, and Power Metal. While there are infinite variations upon these four themes, and while the four major genres diverged quickly and to staggering extremes, they all have their roots in the NWOBHM. For the purposes of our discussion of black metal, the bands Venom, Bathory, and Celtic Frost are vitally important, but it is worth noting that these same bands are also cited as major influences upon death and thrash metal.

The name “black metal” itself comes from the Venom album of the same name. Venom was a pioneering British outfit that defined the sound of black metal with one singularly imposing slab of vinyl. Unapologetically lo-fi, breakneck in tempo, and fiercely Satanic in context, “Black Metal” is so important as an album that it remains the blueprint for many bands today to emulate so precisely, it is as if the last 25 years never happened at all. This album, along with their previous “Welcome To Hell” release, turned the metal world on its ear. The inimitable growl of lead singer Cronos was similar to the gruff voice of heavy metal contemporary Lemmy Kilmister (of Motorhead fame), but taken to its logical extreme, stripped of any melodic context and rasped in the tongue of some primitive, Pazuzu-esque demon. This vocal style would become the default in both death and black metal (although death metal does sport several different vocal influences and the “cookie monster” growls which are unique to that particular style).

By 1984, there were several European bands taking cues from Venom’s unique metal output. One such band, Tom Warrior’s (seriously, dude legally changed his last name to Warrior) Celtic Frost, proved themselves as musical equals to Venom’s legacy. Warrior’s anguished rasp, lyrics about paganism and death, Teutonic horn lines, badly drawn corpse facepaint; all of these remain black metal staples to this day. Celtic Frost were really a flash in the pan, releasing two hugely influential albums and then descending into avant-garde metal confusion, but they were a HUGE flash in the pan.

Following hot on the heels of Venom and Celtic Frost were the Swedish ensemble Bathory. Named for the seminal Venom single “Countess Bathory”, Bathory’s eponymous 1984 debut further defined the signature sound of black metal. Owing largely to the poor recording environment of Heavenshore Studios (a converted garage), this first record, and its successor, 1985’s “The Return”, are so primitive in sound that they seem to flaunt a defiance both of conventional moral values AND conventional production values. This rejection of rock and roll convention/commercialism, coupled with a dogmatic sense of individualism and an unwavering sense of cynicism, is central to the ethos of black metal; in black metal, one-man projects abound; in every other metal genre, they are virtually non-existent. Part of this is also that most black metal musicians are pessimistic pricks.



Anyways, Bathory. Bathory took the early, raw sound of Venom and Celtic Frost and refined it into the sound we understand as black metal today by focusing on an element previously uncharted by proto-black metal bands: atmosphere. Even on their early, primitive recordings, Bathory take pains to create not just songs, but sonic landscapes; aural wastelands of brooding, anguish, and fear. In this respect, they would prefigure not only the entirety of black metal, but also much of ambient electronica, shoegaze, and post-rock. Bathory also proved important in their later albums, moving away from the lyrical content of their first few recordings (basically, Satan, and how awesome he is) and towards a more Pagan/Viking-oriented lyrical message (basically, Odin, and how awesome he is). This culminated in the landmark 1990 recording “Hammerheart”, considered by many to be the watershed moment between the first and second waves of black metal.

Tomorrow (maybe) I’ll continue where we left off tonight, starting with Mayhem and moving forward through the second wave of black metal and on into where black metal stands today. The problem? It’s kind of difficult to make a leap from these early pioneers to Emperor and Mayhem, because the styles are so disparate and because Emperor and Mayhem are responsible for SO much of what we hear in black metal today. So, tomorrow, I’ll try to figure this out. If you want, you can imagine me beating my head against a wall, staring for hours at Encyclopedia Metallum until I figure out some crucial missing link in the black metal evolutionary chain. I confess: black metal is not my specialty, and I know death/thrash far better than black metal. Nevertheless, I’ll try not to disappoint! Enjoy, and keep on bangin’ those heads!

Monday, August 11, 2008

DRANK: The Final Frontier

Here it is, kiddos! The official DRANK liveblog, powered by our friends at CoverItLive. This is a super-hip web 2.0 device that allows you to liveblog with multiple contributors in real-time, and allow real-time moderated comments, polls, Q&A, etc. And, the best part (at least for me) is that it's FREE! This is good stuff, bloggers. Check it out below. Everything we're liveblogging is going to be on this blog, in that nifty window, in real-time, for your enjoyment. You can set up a reminder by entering your e-mail address, and it will remind you that Maddy and I are going to slow our roll in real-time whenever you want this reminder to occur. Also, there's a little button with a ? on it that y'all should read, just so you know how CoverItLive works, and how exactly this guy is gonna work.

By the way, this is all going down at 8 PM Eastern. Mark your calendars. Gosh, I feel like a real live blogger now.

POSTSCRIPT:

Drank has been consumed. We are SLOWED DOWN. Videos will probably follow tomorrow. A note about Drank: This particular variant of the beverage is non-alcoholic and devoid of any illegal or non-prescribed substances, unlike the "real" drank. This beverage is a mass-marketed "anti-energy" drink and there is nothing illegal or unsafe about this liveblogging experience. Just so you all know, and so I don't get fired from my job or an angry phone call from my mom.

Barack Roll

This is shamelessly lifted from Bryan McKay's excellent blog. This might be the greatest video on the Internet right now.



Also, just so everyone knows, tomorrow will herald not one, but TWO updates: the first genre study (which is turning into a MAJOR article), and a once-in-a-lifetime-don't-miss-it LIVEBLOG, wherein Maddy and I try the mass marketed "Anti-Energy Drink" Drank in an effort to see if anything marketed as sizzurp but lacking in the coedine with which it is generally (illegally) augmented with can actually slow one's roll. Don't miss it!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

GENRE STUDIES

...are coming. This is how this is gonna work: I'm going to pick a metal genre. Then, I'm going to write about the genre. Then, I'm going to make two lists: one of "Starter" albums and one of "Essential" albums. Why two lists? Because oftentimes, the must-have releases in a genre, while pinnacles of form and truly essential releases to know, aren't always the easiest ways to introduce unfamiliar listeners to a genre, or to foster their enjoyment thereof.

Just so we're clear, this is going to be a regular feature. In fact, I think that I'm going to try to write an article every day (we'll see how THAT goes). Writers are supposed to write every day; musicians are supposed to practice every day. I've got one foot in both disciplines, and I don't really do either task on a regular basis anymore, so I'm going to do what I can to solve this problem step by step. Anyways, I think that's where I'm going with this blog. I also think that I'm going to start reviewing albums on here, because I used to really like doing that, and it's been a while, and I want to see if my chops are still there for that kind of thing.

So, by request from reader Bryan Mckay, the first Genre Study will be: BLACK METAL. Get your corpse-paint, kiddos, and get ready to hear about the frozen Norselands, because it's coming Monday.

Monday, July 21, 2008

This just in...

John McCain can't use the Internet by himself.

In related news, John McCain is an incontinent, doddering old fool who is quite possibly either in the middle stages of clinical dementia or is, in fact, from Mars.

In fact, I suppose I can say anything I want about John McCain on this blog, and he won't know. So I think I'm going to start attaching a wild, baseless McCain claim to the end of every blog post until he loses the election (fingers crossed) in November.

I suppose, though, unlike the current president, if an aide printed off a copy of this, McCain would PROBABLY know all the words I use, AND how to pronounce them. Maybe even SPEL some.

Dammit.

DUBIOUS MCCAIN FACTOID OF THE DAY: Like Michael Vick, John McCain breeds pit bulls for dog fighting. Unlike Michael Vick, however, McCain breeds them for fighting fluffy baby bunnies.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Slow Down, Captain Insano

Listen, I know that two blog posts in like a half-hour is probably overkill, but two things need to be brought to public attention.

A: This man is crazy and wonderful. If you don't like Mike Patton, you really have no place being on my blog. Get off my e-lawn, you damn kids.

B: Nachtmystium is now the band that I will recommend to people when they ask me "So, if I wanted to start listening to metal, what should I listen to first?" Now, if only someone would ASK that question, I'd be set.

Seriously, Nachtmystium is the weirdest, coolest metal band I have heard in ages. There's saxophones, and weird electronic blips and blorps, and classic black metal blastbeats, and sweet orchestral stuff that borders on George Crumb string works, and then occasionally there will be like a screamo chorus in the middle of things. I can't explain what's going on, other than to say that it's so awesome it hurts. Who would have thought that the most conventionally accessible metal record I've heard this year would be some underground Black Metal?

Ok. That's all for now.

OKAY JERKS

you convinced me, more or less. Inasmuch as I convinced myself, b/c I can't stand being left out (the scars of my childhood, scraped across my body hither and dither, yadda yadda yadda, nobody wanted me to play 4-square that's why I like shopping instead of MEN'SFOOTBALLWITHMENYEAHMENWHOOARGHMEN)

twitter.com/zombielectroniq

There. Happy now?

Cuz I am.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Metal and Ritual

...Ritual sacrifice, actually. It's a Nachtmystium song. You should check them out. They rock.

All joking aside, I got a couple of new Zombi albums today, which I am TOTALLY stoked about. Zombi aren't REALLY metal; they're weird, spacey synth-rock that has more in common, musically speaking, with Jean Michel-Jarre or Vangelis than with Agoraphobic Nosebleed or any of their Relapse Records labelmates and contemporaries. Nevertheless, you have to respect a band who are dedicated to reviving the sound of early 80's Giallo horror soundtracks their due as being totally metal, just because they love a genre of horror that is SO weird, you KNOW that they have to be metalhead geekbots.

Anywas, like I was saying, rarely am as excited about new music as I am when I get new vinyl. There's something about purchasing vinyl, especially the way I do it, that is more exciting to me than buying albums on iTunes or even going to Best Buy to pick up a new CD. I think that the experience of vinyl, for me, is about the specific ritual involved with its purchase.

My typical vinyl order starts with a mail-order catalog. Vinyl still exists; it just hides in funny places. Some of these catalogs don't even have an online store, meaning you either have to fill out an old-fashioned catalog mail-order slip (something I haven't done since I was a kid and ordered things out of comic books), or you have to call and speak to a (GASP) actual person, who is inevitably a huge vinyl geek and is as excited, if not more, than you are about your impending vinyl purchase. A representative conversation between me and a mail-order guy follows:

"Hi, I'm calling to order a couple of LPs. I'm looking for Pig Destroyer's 'Prowler In The Yard' and the gatefold Glow-in-the-Dark version of Zombi's 'Cosmos'."

"Oh, really? BITCHIN! Dude, you are going to love this Zombi record. I saw them in Pittsburgh right after 'Surface to Air' came out and the were AWESOME."

"Great man! I also am looking for the red and black spatter pressing of..."

"...'Painter of Dead Girls?'"

"Umm...Yeah."

"I knew that when you said Pig Destroyer, you'd be looking for that. Everyone is."

"Great! Do you have it?"

"Nope! But I have this sweet purple vinyl pressing of..."

And so on and so forth, until both parties collapse under the crushing pain of nerd aneurysms brought on by too much excited bloodflow to the brain.

Anyways, following this there ensues a period of intensely excited waiting. This is sort of like when you are a kid and you send away for a toy on the side of a cereal box. When that box finally gets there, you rip it open eagerly, discarding packaging materials willy-nilly to get to the precious cargo contained within.

Seriously, I go nuts over new vinyl. It's immediately removed from its shrinkwrap sleeve (which, over time, will shrink and warp the vinyl), and placed lovingly in an upright position next to my vinyl player.

A word about my turntable: The turntable and amplifier that I have are fixtures of my youth. Both belonged to my father and have been around my house in positions of honor since before I was born. As a child, because I was three and basically broke everything I came in contact with, I was absolutely FORBIDDEN to touch the turntable, following an incident wherein I broke the needle while attempting to emulate my father, who regularly played albums by Dire Straits or Bob Seger in the days before CDs were the norm. I was not allowed to touch this piece of equipment again until I was 12, and no longer broke things regularly, and was looking for music that hadn't yet been re-issued on CD. These were years where my father and I would scour record shops looking for first-pressing Frank Zappa LPs or mid-period Rush discs. Hence, the amp and turntable, then relegated to the basement, replaced by newer digital equipment, became a fascination during the awkward throes of my early adolescence.

So now these happy remnants of my youth are in my home, where they are treated with the utmost respect and care, given that they're burgeoning antiques by now (I also have a sweet pair of Koss headphones that have been around since roughly 1975, but those are literally falling apart as the foam surrounds disintegrate with age). Cueing up a new record is always a thrill: carefully placing the disc on the turntable, gently putting the needle down, watching expectantly as it catches and then softly backing away to avoid skips.

And then, the glorious sound of it all! Crackles and bumpss, giving way to a brilliant and vibrant spectrum of sound, the likes of which digital can only emulate, at best. The little imperfections are endearing, like a three-year-old who can't pronounce their "R"s correctly.

I could easily jump on iTunes right now and grab the entire Zombi discography in minutes, but the feeling just isn't the same. There's nothing to hold, no ritual involved, just the click of a mouse and the clatter of keys as I enter a password. The thrill of vinyl is in the ritual: the hunting, the feeling of finding something only a select few know and love, the practiced motions of cueing a record, are all things that I have seen done by my parents and emulated myself for years. This is ritual in the classic sense, handed down from generation to generation.

I've been thinking, though, that maybe why I love metal so much is because of the set of rituals involved with it; that the acts of going to a concert, of buying a new album from a mail-order distro, etc. are all intensely ritualized actions. In the next couple of blogs, I'm going to write about some of these other rituals and attempt to dissect the nature of ritual in metal*. Right now, though, I'm going to go listen to my new Zombi albums.

*Anthro people, feel free to help me out on this one; I'm sorta in the dark here, but I'll do my best. Don't fault me if I'm completely off-base in my observations; I went to music school. I barely know how to spell.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

My Metal Testimony

One of the things I said in my last post that I was going to write about was heavy metal, and, dammit, I meant what I said. This will be the first of many posts about heavy metal, but I want everyone to know where I've been (musically speaking), where I am, and where I'm going.

I used to gig at a Methodist church in Lexington, where I experienced something that, being raised Catholic, was wholly unfamiliar to me: the "testimony". For the uninitiated, this is, in essence, a speech given by a member of the congregation that discusses their life, the challenges they have faced, and their realization/affirmation of their faith. Well, my faith is metal, and this is my testimony.

I've experienced this curious teleological regression of musical taste over the past few years. I started college with the tastes of a fairly typical college-age intellectual. Actually, this is probably inaccurate. I started college listening to equal parts emo and neo-soul (a cursory glance at now-defunct Xanga from 2004 lists Erykah Badu, Van Hunt, and Brand New carrying equal weight), and, had it not been for a single momentous album purchase, would have probably continued to dig into aimless genre-dabbling well into my early twenties until I found myself buried underneath the indignant weight of a social networking profile laden with disparate and uninteresting albums, or, even worse, terrible pop-punk schlock like The Early November (who I actually saw live, embarrassingly enough).

Anyway, the point of the previous (seemingly interminable) sentence was to introduce the album that changed my life. Now, usually, when people talk about watershed albums in their lives, they talk about an album that saved them from a life of despair or opened up a whole new realm of spiritual beauty or really, REALLY sounded cool when they dropped acid (Pink Floyd fans, I'm looking at YOU, you unwashed and tasteless sons of bitches). This was not the case with me. The album in question was Mastodon's Leviathan, and the reason it changed my life was because it simply kicked more ass than any album I had ever heard. I bought the album based on the fact that pretty much every online music publication said something to the effect of "metal is for losers but not this album go buy it". However, my interest in Mastodon had less to do with Pitchfork's hyper-intellectual tastemakers and more to do with the fact that I am, at my core, a huge geek, and I thought that a concept album about Moby Dick, replete with a thrashing whale on the cover, was about the most kickass thing ever.

And guess what? I was right. I bought The Mars Volta's Frances The Mute and Leviathan on the same day, and took them home to my dorm room, where I immediately cued up the former. Now, let's not make any mistake here: Frances The Mute is a hard-rocking sonofabitch, and it's a great album, but, like everything else the Mars Volta does, when it hits song number four or so, it gets pretty esoteric and you have to be either extremely patient or extremely stoned to catch the rest of the kickass moments on the album. So, being neither, I decided to give Mastodon a try.

I will tell you this, loyal readers: if you have never heard "Blood And Thunder" before, and you have spent most of your last four years listening to Dashboard Confessional and his ilk, and then you hear Brann Dailor's opening fill and the line "I THINK THAT SOMEONE IS TRYING TO KILL ME" screamed at the top of Troy Sanders' lungs, it is like being revived with a hospital crash cart. Leviathan is the first album that I can remember buying and listening to all the way through on the first listen, absolutely transfixed. Leviathan made my world make sense. It was like I was alive for the first time, and my world was absolutely electric.

And then, I forgot about it. Well, that's not exactly true. "Blood And Thunder" made a regular appearance on my iPod that summer as preshow "Hype Music", but it was sandwiched between "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails (unbelievably, this got me hyped up), a couple of DKM songs, and "Helena" by My Chemical Romance (hey, we all make mistakes. And "The Black Parade" is the best album Queen never wrote, and if you think you're too cool for Queen, then FUCK YOU). Other than this, and an occasional hankering to suss out one or two of the absolutely soul-destroying riffs on Leviathan, I mostly shelved the album. It was a dark and trying time.

Fast forward to the beginning of my sophomore year of college: bored with the same old music I had been listening to for a couple of years, I asked my friend Brian to burn me a couple of albums. The albums I got were "All's Well That Ends Well" by scenecore favorites Chiodos (OK, their fans are lame, and Craig Owens is a huge tool, but this album remains a guilty pleasure of mine) and "Gutter Phenomenon" by Every Time I Die. Every Time I Die were the second band to change my life.

There's not much to Every Time I Die: Basically, it's five guys from Buffalo trying to make the music a bar fight would make. Every song, every riff, every note, is stripped lean and turned up as loud as it will go. There aren't soft, tender moments on "Gutter Phenomenon". There's no ambient sonic exploration or acoustic meanderings. You know why? Because no one gets drunk and starts a fight while listening to Explosions in The Sky, that's why.

I stress the import of Every Time I Die because they played in Louisville soon after I got "Gutter Phenomenon", and, uninitiated and unaware, I went to my first metal show (partly because hometown favorites Haste The Day were opening). The thrilling experience of live metal cannot be truly done justice in writing, and, at the least, merits its own post (probably its own book, but who has the time?), but suffice it to say that it was enough to hook me into dragging two similarly minded friends to go see Mastodon that next month.

Remember when I said that I experienced a regression in musical taste? I wasn't always an ignorant third-wave emo twat. When I was in middle school, I LOVED thrash metal. Sure, I listened to nu-metal; we all did, and it was embarrassing, and we'd all love to forget that it happened, but that wasn't really my scene. What I loved, in those savage days before the Internet made instant gratification reality, was seeking out late-80's American Thrash: Megadeth, Metallica, Armored Saint, Anthrax, Lizzie Borden, et al. I was young, and had no idea that mail-order existed, and so, for me, every album that I longed after and then found was a gold nugget, an exciting treasure that I didn't have to share with anyone because, honestly, who gave a shit about OLD metal when a) NU metal was exploding, and b) puberty was making a savagely exaggerated mockery of our most embarrassing physical characteristics?

So, instead of bothering to learn appropriate social interaction, I turned into the world's youngest vinyl prick. And, when I finally got a girlfriend in high school (and was subsequently dumped), who was there to pick me up and cry with me but Chris Carraba and his ilk? I shelved my copy of "Rust In Peace" and didn't look back.

That is, until I saw Mastodon live. On the way home, sitting in near-catatonic amazement at what I had just seen, I put on my copy of Danzig II, and I realized that it rocked too. I found my copies of Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets, and, guess what? They rocked. Rust In Peace? Duh. Rocked.

I realized that all the time where I had been lost in a sea of shifting musical sands, I was really just trying to come to grips with who I had been all along: a geeky metalhead. I was tired of liking bands for status, or for credibility, or because I felt I was supposed to. I liked Mastodon, and I didn't care who else liked them.

So this takes me to where I am today. After months of scouring the Internet, I finally found a CD copy of Pig Destroyer's first release; I have no less than three copies of this month's Relapse Records Mail-Order catalog (the one that ships with every vinyl order you make), and I'm listening to Electric Wizard while I type this. I'm very much still the same dork I was in the sixth grade: I get the same thrill from finding an out-of-print Agoraphobic Nosebleed split as I did from the Armored Saint album I found at a used record store when I was twelve.

But it's not about the collecting; I mean, that's a blast, but what it's still about is the music. Ultimately, metal makes something inside me come alive; like a sixth sense that only feels when I'm listening to metal. Why do I love metal? I love it because it can be so many things, but, no matter what, from Doom to Death to Grind to Sludge to Thrash to PowerViolence to whatever the hell genre you can think of, you can still bang your head to it. Let's face it; a whole hell of a lot of indie rock doesn't rock anymore, and the entire movement (if you can categorize the various fragments of indie rock as a singular movement) seems to be headed towards this over-orchestrated, lo-fi, chamber/twee/cutesy-pop bullshit that is so far away from rock and roll that the only people who could possibly love it are boring hipster pricks.

The most ludicrous argument against metal that I have ever heard is the argument that it is bloated and pretentious. This argument is usually leveled by the same hipster trash that stand, arms crossed, in front of you at every show you have ever gone to that is not a metal show. I don't know how this argument got started, but it is, for my money, the most hypocritical argument I have ever heard. What's pretentious about strapping on a gauntlet made of nails and singing about killer robots and broadswords? The very thing that I love about metal is that the pass-the-mic enthusiasm of hardcore has filtered down to the underground metal community; the unabashed, exuberant energy of playing and enjoying music is still alive and well in metal. After all, what's so fun about standing stock still and watching some prickly third-rate Nick Drake play a shitty sounding student glockenspiel while fifty other people make snarky comments about the jeans he's wearing? The whole point of rock and roll is to make you dance. If you think at the same time, that's great! If you can listen and think and analyze and dance? Even better! But, the bottom line for me is this: I love metal because it reflects the same headstrong enthusiasm that I find myself exhibiting for everything I love, from zombie movies to White Castle to kayaking. Metal is the TRUE geek rock, because it's not afraid to be excited about itself. What more is geekery than being excited about the things you love? I'm excited about metal, and I don't care who knows it.

Also, just so we're clear, this Pig Destroyer album is AWESOME.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Blog Abandonment

So, spurred on byMaddy's new blog (and the pursuant charges of my supposed "Blog Abandoment" that accompanied it), I'm going to try to keep this guy afloat. I don't have a a whole lot to write on here right now, but I will soon. I just need to get some sleep. And some White Castle.

And then?

IT'S BLOGGERIN TIME.

That's not even a slant rhyme. Dammit.

Anyways, I'm probably going to keep writing about electro. And contemporary composition. And, I'll probably write about heavy metal here too; who's gonna stop me? You? You don't stand a chance! You're trapped in the Internet!

In fact, I think from now on, I'm going to refrain from making this blog focused on a single topic and, instead, just write, and see if people read it. Who knows.

I think I'll also make some lists, because, y'know...lists.

Also, just because I know you're all jealous (well, maybe not YOU, mom, but maybe other people read this, and THEY might be), my 25th anniversary edition of ZOMBI 2 came in today. It's going to be a zombie splatter-fest at my house tonight.



And maybe a White Castle-fest too.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Blog Phase

I learned how to phase! IIlleeaarrnneeddhhoowwttoopphhaassee!! I learned I how learned to how phase to ! phase!

Ok, got that part down. Now, go write resultant patterns for this post.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Winding down? Yeah right...

First, let me talk about how much I HATE my headphones. Let this be a warning to all of you: the Koss headphones with the great earpieces that always stay in when you're playing with a click track? Yeah, they still make those, but they put this damn killswitch inline now (ostensibly because a huge, and stupid, percentage of the populace fail to grasp the unspoken social cue given by wearing something in your ear to BLOCK OUTSIDE SOUND, and will approach you on the bus, subway, etc, wishing to initiate inevitably banal small talk...gosh, I'm beginning to sound like David Foster Wallace!), and they don't solder the connection well, so instead of the nice, full stereo sound that the old Koss phones put out, you have to yank on the damn thing like it's a piece of floss to get a good connection.

As you can probably tell, my headphones are in right now, and I'm sitting at my local coffee purveyors', basking in the free Wi-Fi and enjoying my iced latte while I try to recap the events of the last week. WHOO hectic. Robin Engleman from the esteemed NEXUS percussion ensemble was in residence all week here at the good ol' U of K (Kentucky, not Kansas, although the basketball tradition of the former seems to have invaded the latter), and had lots of good things to say about listening to silence, the wisdom of Takemitsu, and the correct interpretation of doo-wop.

On Friday, we played the inaugural SOUND/VISION chamber concert, and it was magic. This concert was really the summation of everything I wanted to study in college, and I couldn't have been more pleased. The mallets I finally decided to use for Red Arc/Blue Veil worked great (who knew that following the composer's instructions to the letter would actually work out for once?), and Drumming was fantastic. Jason Corder and Jordan Munson did an absolutely breathtaking job of the visuals, and I wish I had a picture of the A/V table (a fold-out table, strategically hidden behind the piano, that sagged dramatically under the weight of two computers, two projectors, two PA amplifier racks, and assorted odds and sods that define performing modern music- all in all, it looked something like a pawn shop shelf). The highlight of the night, for me, was watching the video for the equally breathtaking sounds of Crumb's Vox Balaenae shift and throb organically in perfect sync with the music. Jason and I found that we could get a perfect mix for the Jitter patch to run by taking the monitor mix from the PA and running it in to his computer- notable only in that it was the first music technology challenge that I effectively surmounted the first time I attempted it!

Corollary to this event, the Drumming quartet (now officially christened the Sound/Vision Quartet) has been invited to perform at WRFL's FreeKY festival on April 26, at the Downtown Lexington Transit Center. We will be playing not one, but TWO movements of Drumming, and it's free, and the Apples in Stereo are playing too, so BYOB, B, LC, F, AS (Bring Your Own Booze, Blanket, Lawn Chairs, Frisbee, And Snacks) and enjoy a day of great free music!

Sunday was my last percussion ensemble concert at UK- what a weird feeling, to be done with four years of percussion concerts. I stood in the "graduating" picture with Jim and Robin and suddenly felt very old. It seems like yesterday that I was loading in for our first percussion concert. Eh- I could run down these "graduating senior" cliches all day, but I'll spare you, dear reader, the embarrassment and boredom.

In other "Full Circle" news, I got my grubby meathooks on a copy of the long-out-of-print Frank Zappa Guitar Book: it's a veritable treasure trove of some of Zappa's weirdest, full of notational oddities and fiercely complex rhythms that I always just assumed were the slurred interpretation of a blues-based guitar tradition. I suppose, after spending the last ten years committing much of the repertoire in this book to memory (mostly stuff from the "Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar" sessions, with some other late 70's-early 80's guitar work thrown in), I thought that I knew what was going on in some of these songs, but following the score to some of my old favorites has proven that I know my Zappa WAY less accurately than I thought. Ultimately, though, this is some of the music that drove me to study music at a collegiate level in the first place, and it's a tremendous feeling of accomplishment to FINALLY find these transcriptions and get a glimpse into Zappa's warped compositional processes. The fact that the man could improvise in so many weird scales, navigating an impenetrably dense polyrhythmic language with effortless efficacy, is a testament to Zappa's strength not only as a composer, but also as a tragically underrated guitarist.

So, with all this activity, you'd think that the rest of the semester would be cake, right? HAH. Juries loom large on the horizon (Reflections on The Nature of Water and the Takemitsu Beatles Transcriptions, hooray!), and I still have to conduct interviews with the seven or so remaining musicians who have so kindly responded to my interview requests. Oh, and then I have to transcribe their answers and write a 25-40 page response. Oh boy.

And I have to find a job- if only blogging paid...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Internet is a series of tubes.

I have a YouTube channel now! Check it out here!

The Zen of Drumming

Hah. That's a pretty ambitious title for a blog post, especially for someone who has no clue about zen (or drumming, for that matter). However, after having spent a few hours playing the same four notes in the same rhythm tonight, I came to some pretty startling conclusions about music, and about life, and I'd like to share them with you, loyal reader.

To explain further, I have been rehearsing the third movement of Steve Reich's "Drumming" for an upcoming chamber recital. Of the four players in this piece, I play one of two parts that are rhythmically "static". This means, in short, that they do not "phase", or accelerate out of rhythm, during the course of the movement. This position is arguably as difficult as the position of the players who DO phase, however, because the two players who do not phase are forced to keep mathematically perfect tempo and not adjust to the other players, as is typical in small ensemble settings. With that in mind, these are the insights that I have gleaned.

The phasing sections are a bitch. I mean, a REAL bitch. They are hard to play. I tried a number of different strategies to try to play these correctly. First, I ignored everyone around me. This didn't work. I could never block everything out completely, and, even on the rare occasions where I could "trance out" and achieve a state of focus, I found that my tempo would falter dramatically, usually slowing, as my body and mind relaxed. So, that was no good. Next, I tried listening to the other player who was playing a static part. Again, no good. While we were doing the same thing, we reacted and fed off of each other's tempo inconsistencies and, eventually, our mutual lack of confidence in a single tempo resulted in failure. Next, I tried listening to the patterns of the two guys phasing, trying to discern where their downbeats would eventually line up. This didn't work either. I would end up anticipating where they were going to place the downbeat, and, when I adjusted myself to line up with them, I would screw them up and the whole thing would fall apart.

Finally, in frustration, I just gave up. I said to myself: "You know what? To hell with this. Nothing I listen to is going to work, so I'm just going to hope that my tempo is right and let things go." And you know what happened? Everything worked great. I played in time, the guys around me played right, and everything came together perfectly. What's more, I experienced the phasing sections in a whole new way: whereas I had struggled with them before, when I just let go and let the cacophony of complex rhythms reign, I was introduced to a whole new beauty, one of radiant, glowing timbre.

As a percussionist, one of the hardest things for me to let go of is my sense of rhythm: from day one, percussionists have the all-consuming concept of "time" beaten into their heads. However, it was only when I let go of that concept that I really understood Drumming, and, to an extent, minimalism, for the first time. When I thought about it, it seemed like maybe my experience drew some parallels to real life, too.

Remember when I tried to ignore everyone around me? It failed completely. In just the same way, you can't ignore your peers, no matter how hard you try. They'll always be doing something different, something more interesting, something that challenges you. If, by chance, you do manage to exclude them, your own shortcomings become so self-evident as to consume you with error and doubt. That's no way to live.

What about when I listened to the guy who was playing the same thing? Our mutual inconsistencies fed off of each other, and, eventually, the things that neither of us realized brought us down. In life, you can't just hang around people who think and act the same way you do. If you do, your shared shortcomings, whether you're aware of it or not, will be amplified by your shared presence, and bring you down. It's not bad to have like-minded people around, but you can't have them around to the exclusion of others.

And when I listened to the phasing players? I failed there, too. I absorbed their work, and tried to anticipate their next moves. Inevitably, I failed to predict accurately, and, in turn, my plan collapsed. I wasn't focused on myself at all, and so my playing failed as well. In real life, you can't ever predict what someone else is going to do, nor can you shape your actions around what other people are doing. Eventually, you'll guess wrong, and the whole thing will come tumbling down, or you'll realize that your intense attention to their actions has diverted attention away from your own work.

So what worked? It was when I decided that I was going to be responsible for my own playing, and just let things happen. Note that I didn't just decide to let things happen entirely of their own volition. I made sure that I was doing my job, but, removed from that, I didn't try to influence or pay undue attention to any one thing. When I took a step back, I realized that the world of sound around me was amazing, and, when I learned to appreciate the chaos around me, everything fell into place. I experienced the piece in a whole new light than I had before. If we just all did our work to the best of our ability and then took a step back and observed the totality of experience around us, not trying to exert influence, but merely trying to exist in symbiosis, we would be able to appreciate so much more, AND we would achieve our goals, both personal and mutual. And, the best part of it is, we would get a whole new, fantastic perspective on the world around us.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Wrap it up, B!

Oh, man! It's been a while since I've posted- for this I apologize profusely. Things have been busy in the real world, and I'm afraid the blogosphere has suffered as a result. In any event, the last few days have been hectic, but, overall, spectacular. So, here's a wrap-up of what's been going on.

I have, as of last week, accepted an offer to attend NYU's Steinhardt School of Music, Culture, and The Arts to pursue graduate study in Music Technology. This is, of course, assuming that the costs to live in NYC are not so exorbitant as to leave your intrepid blogger penniless, destitute, and disheartened. So, we'll see. The Zappa concert went well, all things considered- the lion's roar, which I had just FINALLY gotten to speak vociferously during the dress rehearsal, broke during the performance. However, the thumbs up and enthusiastic applause from Gail Zappa, Joe Travers, and company, was enough to bolster the spirits of yours truly.

Travers, the drummer for Zappa Plays Zappa and the ZFT vaultmeister, also entreated that Varese's Ionisation was a "pretty bitchin' piece of music", and, despite the flu, found enough energy to instruct fellow percussionist and piano player Brian Archinal that "THERE'S NO ENO IN HERE" (in response to an abentmindedly noodled version of Music for Airports). A man of great humor, indeed (check out his dance for birthday boy Steve Vai- extremely funny if you're familiar with Vai's onstage histrionics).

Speaking of Vai, check out this cool article he wrote about polyrhythms- this is a great primer for a student who is ready to take the next leap in his or her rhythmic training, or a nice refresher for the musician who has let their skills with polyrhythms lapse.

We've started work on Part III of Drumming, as of Saturday. Stay tuned to find out if we can actually phase or not.

Sorry, there's no new thinkpiece this time around- I've been too busy stressing about my fiscal well-being, playing with some cool new software, and grooming my beard to engage in some deep thought, music-wise. But I DID get some rad new Hi-tops- that's gotta count for SOMETHING these days.

Monday, March 3, 2008

ZAPPA

What can I say about Zappa that hasn't already been said? Well, not much, but there are plenty of people who can, and many of them are descending upon Lexington next Friday (March 14) to discuss and perform his works. The American Musicological Society is having its South-Central Chapter meeting at the University of Kentucky, and the highlight of the symposium (the summit of the summit, if you will) will be a keynote address by Zappa's widow, Gail, and performances of both Zappa's work and the work of his inspirations (a particular highlight will be the UK Percussion Studio's performance of Varese's Ionisation, on which I will be performing the siren and lion's roar). Also of note are presentations on Danish Modernity, Avant-garde jazz, the Rutles, the Rolling Stones, P.J. Harvey, Bjork, and "Modern (Electronic, Jewish, and Gay) Motherless Children". Whatever that means, I have no idea, but I am certainly excited to find out! More info can be found here, and a complete program of events can be found here. Try to attend if you can! I'm sure it will be a slammin' time for all involved!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Sine Waves, Serialism, and Slasher Flicks



What is it that draws us to horror movies? I'm a huge horror movie geek myself; from the big budget Lion's Gate slashers to the so-bad-it's-genius Troma horror comedies, I love em' all, and not at all ironically (I even harbor a legitimate affection for 80's grind-horror, so lovingly satirized/paid homage to by Robert Rodriguez with his Planet Terror). For me, there's really no way to ruin a horror movie: even the crappy ones are, at worst, mindless fun.

However, the best ones have an ability to do something completely different: rather than letting us suspend our disbelief and lose ourselves in a movie for a couple of hours, these films send a message to some oft-dormant receptor inside of us that our fears are real and valid; that things like we see in the movies CAN actually happen. These films are the ones that evoke real emotion, and it's these same films that, understandably, attain classic status.

So, what's all this about my horror movie fetish doing on a music blog? Well, as any horror buff knows, half of horror is in the movie score. Horror movies have always pushed the envelope, score-wise: from Bernard Herrmann's classic Psycho score, to Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" in The Exorcist, to John Carpenter's eerie electronic textures in The Thing, horror movie scores have kept abreast of contemporary composition trends, rather than wallowing in a morass of outdated and uninspired (if not often plagiarized outright) Neo-Romantic tripe (I'm looking at YOU, John Williams). Let's look at the three scores I mentioned and place them contemporaneously with their respective compositional movements. The famous Psycho stabs would be equally at home in Penderecki or Xenakis' mid-1960s output; "Tubular Bells" could easily be a Rhys Chatham or Philip Glass composition, and Carpenter's Thing score? Well, Carpenter's work is weird enough that it probably deserves recognition among 1980's electronic musicians independent of its merits in film.

However, all hoopla about horror scoring aside, horror movies take us to a different side of emotion. Horror reminds us that sometimes, we WANT to be scared; we WANT to take a few hours and walk on the dark side, knowing full well that we can retreat into the safety of our locked houses when the movie is over. This is where I find the real parallels between horror and contemporary music. Horror movies aggressively challenge their viewers to suspend disbelief and invite emotion in the same way that contemporary music challenges listeners to suspend preconceived notions of musical precept and invite emotion from that which is new and different. Contemporary music, like horror cinema, is not afraid to explore the darker emotions of the human psyche. Because of this, many listeners and viewers retreat into the safety of that which is not so challenging. This isn't to cast judgment upon that which has established mastery already; certainly, both Brahms' 4th Symphony and Lawrence of Arabia are masterpieces of unparalleled beauty, but do either of them challenge us to explore our most difficult and uncomfortable emotions? If the purpose of art is to explore the realms of human emotion, then shouldn't music (and cinema) seek a total understanding of emotion, not excluding the darker side?

Contemporary music is often marginalized in much the same way horror movies are: people unwilling or uncomfortable with the experience of challenging emotions often reject the art that evokes them outright. It's a good thing that composers and filmmakers with integrity continue to soldier on under the banners of expanding the human experience. As for myself, you can find me in the basement with a copy of Phantasm and my Xenakis recordings.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

BEST INTERNET EVER

A FICTIONAL DIALOGUE B/W MYSELF AND CONAN THE BARBARIAN:

"Conan, what is best in life?"

"To crush your enemies; see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women?"

"No, Conan. Too passe, and misogynistic to boot. This is the 21st century, you know."

"Oh. Well, then. There's always L O S T."

"Closer, but what about music?"

"Hmm. Good point. What if there was music about L O S T?"

"THAT, Conan, would be what is best in life."


" PRAISE CROM."

THUS CONCLUDES A FICTIONAL DIALOGUE B/W MYSELF AND CONAN THE BARBARIAN.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Future Music?

So, those of you who read this blog (basically, my mom and my girlfriend) know of my predilection for music that aggressively questions the notion that rock and roll is "just" popular music. Certainly, the rock and roll that I listen to is anything but popular: if I heard the Dillinger Escape Plan on the radio, I'm pretty sure that even I would shit my pants. But, nevertheless, through thick and thin, rock and roll as art music soldiers on: from Zappa, to Sonic Youth, to Tortoise, there are always rock musicians who are interested in creating music for listeners and thinkers, not just for the unwashed masses.

In that spirit, I am proud to bring you two of my newer discoveries in this regard: JerseyBand and Basilica.

JerseyBand are a collective of musicians from the Eastman School of Music who are attempting to pursue rock music from their own skewed perspective. Fusing the sound of horn-driven third-wave ska revival bands like Reel Big Fish and Mustard Plug with the highly technical and uncompromisingly dissonant aesthetic of mathcore and math metal bands like Meshuggah and Botch, JerseyBand treads upon the same spastic sonic ground tentatively explored by Candiria, but inject their own brand of off-kilter humor and their classically-trained view of new music to create something more energetic and complex. As tempting as it is to call these guys the next iteration of math metal, these guys are really something completely new.

On to my next discovery, and, perhaps, the more interesting one: Basilica. Founded by two students at the IU Jacobs School of Music, Ben Jacob and Derek Johnson, Basilica seeks to chart a tenuous sonic landscape they have termed "Chamber Grind", informed in equal part by the bleak and terrifying soundscapes of Penderecki and Xenakis and the similarly frightening
grindcore experiments of Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Carcass. In doing so, this multi-instrumental ensemble has created a monster: music comprised of the most aggressive and challenging music in both art and rock music, played by musicians of the highest standard with the aim of exploring the darker emotive qualities of music in the grand tradition of both art music composers like Mahler and rock musicians like Napalm Death. This is some seriously difficult music, not just to perform, but to listen to. However, don't for a second assume that this is bad; it's just intensely challenging. Contemporaries Behold...The Arctopus draw on much the same set of influences, with similarly complex results.

I'm pretty sure that this fusion of art music and rock music represents the future direction of serious music: we see, in both cases, trained musicians drawing upon both their backgrounds in experimental art music and in experimental rock music to create what I believe is the next front of the avant-garde. I think we're standing at the precipice of a brave new world for art music, wherein compositionally forward-thinking musicians can create interesting and visionary pieces of music that transcend genre and defy pigeon-holing. This new attitude towards art, I believe, might be the most exciting development in music in the last 50 years.

EDIT: I didn't realize this until looking at my older posts, but nearly every blog entry I have written commences with the word "So..." I apologize for this grievous literary transgression, and I pledge, in the future, to take pains to ensure that the variety of introductions to my missives are commensurate to the diversity of music contained therein.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Generative Systems

So, once in a while, the Intertube spits out something so awesome that it reminds me of why people branded it the "Information Superhighway" when it was new, instead of branding it the "Porn and LOST spoilers Superhighway" (which is really probably a more apt description). Today's evidence that the internet is more than just cat macros and cult apologists: Fora.tv's awesome lecture by Will Wright and Brian Eno on generative systems. This totally rocks- it bounces from music, to technology, to music technology, to basically everything in the physical universe. Here it is, embedded, all 1.5 hours of pure academic glory, for you lazy shlubs to bask in instead of leveling up your Night Elf Mohawks.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

1.21 Gigawatts of Upcoming Funk


So, it's cold outside, which means one thing: time for some hot electro beats. Well, not quite. But, nevertheless, some hot electroacoustic stuff is going down at the University of Kentucky. First, I will be playing Cort Lippe's "Music for Hi-Hat and Computer" tomorrow at 12:30, during the UK Percussion Studio Magic Hour of Lovin' and New Music (Studio Class). Then, on Tuesday, February 19th, from 3-6 AM (that's right, AM) , direct your radio appliances to WRFL 88.1 (or, check it out streaming on the web), where I will be teaming up with DJ Brian Archinal to spin the freshest electroacoustic club bangers from hot producers like Mario Davidovsky, Pierre Boulez, Javier Alvarez, and maybe, just maybe, some phat electro. No promises, except for these: it will rock, and I will be tired on Wednesday. Also, approaching quickly on the horizon is the UK Chamber Ensemble concert on Friday, April 5th. More details will be forthcoming, but, as of right now, I can tell you that Clint Davis and I will be playing John Luther Adams' "Red Arc/Blue Veil" for piano, percussion, and electronic soundscape. There will probably be some other bleep-blorp non-music electrofoolishness on there as well, so all of you Haydn Haters know where you need to be on the night of Friday, April 5th. Yeeah boooyyyyyyy.

So, I'm not much for blog worship...

But holy hell, DiscoDust is awesome. It's basically just what I needed: after gazing, longingly, at pictures of the ridiculous parties that Valerie throws, I was growing despondent. You see, Valerie might be the raddest disco house record label ever, but, for all their claims to being a record label, they don't seem to have any actual record RELEASES. Thankfully, DiscoDust remedies this by basically offering tons of free disco house singles on their blog. Hooray for the Weird 80's!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

French Connection/UK

So, I've decided to scrap the idea of making this blog entirely about electronic music, although electronic music will still be an area of predominant focus. I think I'm going to try to take this in the direction of providing a clearinghouse for any and all reviews/think-pieces I might feel compelled to write.

On the subject of reviews, Kyle Gann, one of the foremost scholars in the realm of contemporary music, was in residency at the dubiously beautiful University of Kentucky last week. I say dubious because, the night before Kyle arrived, the storm of the century decided to abscond with part of my apartment complex's roof, as well as taking various and sundry gutters and light fixtures as sacrifice. All that aside, Kyle was fantastic, and it was a true joy to spend some time with someone who knows so much and is so well-versed in so many areas of music scholarship. He is a consummate musicologist, critic, and composer, and it was great to have him here to share his insights on all these disciplines over the course of the week. Be sure to check out his blog on the regular!

On the subject of other blogs, I've added a handy-dandy link table to the blog. Be sure to check out these links- of particular note are Valerie and 20jazzfunkgreats. Valerie never ceases to amaze me- it's a collection of weirdo Frenchmen making the best house music that 1982 has to offer, only in 2008. 20jazzfunkgreats is what The Onion's AV Club would be if it had spent its formative years playing tabletop war games instead of wearing tight jeans and smoking clove cigarettes. Both of these blogs are excellent. Europeans have their finger on the pulse of the 1980's (and anyone familiar with me should be well aware with my obsession with the "weird 80's"), while the extent of American 80's worship is this tripe. God help us all.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Less Sass, More Blasts

So, this isn't really significant or anything like that, but I just think that everyone needs to see this. This is probably the most important video on YouTube right now, dare I say, on the whole InterTube. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Noble Triangle

So I went home to Indianapolis over the weekend to see my parents and my girlfriend, pick up my guitar/some recording equipment, and, although I didn't know it at the time, develop an absolutely paralyzing addiction to LOST.

The reason that this is relevant? This weekend, my G/F and I devised and celebrated a new holiday, borne of being mutually strapped for cash and Christmas gift ideas. We call it January Doldrums, and we celebrate it in January, after all the holiday madness has died down and everyone is miserable because January sucks. It gives us a chance to both get some decent gift ideas and to cash in during the post-holiday sales. So, anyways, for your January Doldrums
enjoyment, here are Todd Meehan and Doug Perkins playing Nathan Davis' "Diving Bell" for amplified triangle and Max/MSP accompaniment. May you have a reasonably-priced Doldrums!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Escaping patterns

I'm not going to masquerade this fact: I'm a metalhead. An unabashed and long-term one at that. Not the metal you see on Vh1, nor the metal you hear on terrible Top 40 stations. I subscribe to various and sundry sub-stratified metal movements that, if they ever get any airplay at all, are found late at night, ferreted away on MTV2 where no one will have to be troubled by the unkempt hair, growled lyrics, and distorted guitars.

Troubled: now there's an interesting word. When I hear troubled, I think of a lot of different things. Frustrated? Sure. Offended? Possibly. Confused? Oftentimes. In short, the same emotions we often hear discussed when wrestling with contemporary art music. One of my greatest interests in regards to musicology lies in the convergence of what is traditionally termed "art" music with what is traditionally termed "popular" music. Now, I would make the argument that the metal I listen to is no more popular than much of the art music I listen to, but, nevertheless, it's still rock music, so it's still saddled with the (often derisive) label of "popular". So, what is it that drives people away from both metal and contemporary music? Are they the same emotions?

I would argue that, yes, in fact, they are. Listening to Dillinger Escape Plan (a band which I feel should be taught alongside new complexity in contemporary curriculae) requires much the same skill set as listening to any other complex music. To anyone who would argue otherwise, I would encourage a thorough examination of DEP's output: what sounds, to the uninitiated ear, like disorganized noise, is, in reality, fiercely technical, precisely notated and executed, and highly complex notated music. Bloated, self-indulgent wanking this is not, however. This is lean, aggressive music for the 21st century. I hesitate to even call it rock music: it reaches into electronic music, soundscapes, free jazz, new complexity, and even into mid-century conceptualism! I'm serious! Intensely layered polyrhythms recall Cowell's Rhythmicon, and "When Acting As A Particle" off of their new album, Ire Works, sounds like Cage or Feldman! Elsewhere, in the song "Baby's First Coffin", there is a 32-bar section comprised of alternating 8th and quarter notes (around 2:42 in the video linked above) that not once repeats a rhythmic scheme, tricking the ear into listening for patterns where there are none.

But, I digress. This is not so much a defense of Dillinger as it is a comparison to the way we listen to and understand complex new music. Just as Dillinger's output sounds disorganized and unstructured to the untrained ear, so does the music of Ferneyhough or Reynolds. The same listening skills are required to listen to both New Complexity and "mathcore". In similar fashion, the emotions evoked by difficult and discordant music (for example, Penderecki's "Threnody") are much the same as the emotions evoked by "extreme" metal. This is about as far from classical tradition as you can get, really. This is music intended to provoke the "unhealthiest" of emotional humours: anger, aggression, sadness, discomfort. Is there a place for these emotions in music? Does art have the right to make us feel "bad"?

So, if the results are similar, and the skills required to listen and perform are similar, why are Reynolds and Ferneyhough in New Grove and not DEP?

To conclude, here's a pretty sweet video of DEP playing in the Virgin Megastore in Times Square. I'll take sweaty, bruised, and enthused any day over sitting in a concert hall wearing ill-fitting dress clothes and listening to old men play Haydn.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

First Post! Hooray!

Certainly, there's no better way to begin this blog than with a great recording of its namesake. Presented by the fine folks at ubu.com, this is the recording of Varese's Poeme Electronique from the Philips Pavillion at the 1958 Brussels World Fair. The building was specially constructed to house Varese's work, and was designed jointly by famed French architect Le Corbusier and his apprentice (although certainly a genius in his own right) Iannis Xenakis.

Hopefully, this blog will be a repository for thoughts, ideas, and arguments about electronic music in the 21st century. I don't plan to restrict my discussion purely to "classical" music, either, but rather to undertake a more thorough examination of where electronic and electroacoustic music came from, where they are right now, and where they are going. So, without further ado, here's some colors and some noises by Edgard Varese.