And these will wrap up the conference!
Tim Lawrence, “Musical Relationships: Interrogating the Digital with Arthur Russell,” read by Ken Wissoker — “This is How We Walk on the Moon” played, brings together a set of sounds that might not ordinarily meet, given time to work out their relationships to one another, cello, trombone, congos, players from different backgrounds all pulled together by Russell. Looped cello allows others to enter into an open space, new elements accomodating the old and vice versa, transition and integration. A childlike fascination with the lunar, fun, crazy, learning, building up skill over time. Jim Thomas: title lyrics first delivered in alien voice, a bridge for the other musical voices. Russell would not have used a Vocoder, effects were added. Wouldn’t have been recorded in a single take, process could be elongated. Russell would walk around listening to tapes to work out what versions he wanted, reluctance to release as idealistic relationship to music. Version played might not be ‘the’ cycle. Russell was short on money so many recordings done cheap at night, often on full moon nights, Russell’s favored night. Julius Eastman’s own moon fascination noted. “Big Moon” and “Antigravity Soap” discussed. Russell integrated the lunar. “This Is How” appeared on Another Thought, seen by many as a tamed Russell, but not successful. Audika/Soul Jazz reissues prompt new attention and praise, new articles on his wonderfulness. Message from Spanish backpacker on “This is How” quoted to show impact on others. More systematic introduction to Russell needed, biographic overview provided about growing up in Iowa, escaping, studying, moving to NYC, compositional work and various projects discussed, scene hopping on a daily basis. Few musicians and listeners who liked him fully followed his course at the time, the breadth seen now in the scene was still marked by limits. How has he managed to become a reference point? The reissues, his genius? More likely, the development of the digital, instant playback and the sharing of information widely, something he did not have access to at the time. File sharing isn’t perfect but does provide something, less important to listen by tribal loyalties. He didn’t make sense then, makes much more sense now, but let’s not congratulate ourselves too much, no musical nirvana has been reached, too much casualness and haste, decontextualized listening. Lots of recycling, less working together in real time, more file exchanges, speed and disconnection. Examples, not full problem, but the slow and enduring can still produce good music, difference can be appreciated by visiting it on its home territory. Russell would work for long times on ‘spontaneous’ sounds, not merely a forward thinking artist but one of the present.
Charles Kronengold, “Hearing (Thinking) Digital People” — this paper is frontloaded text, then music! Recognition of studio musicians as thinking subjects in black music, hearing music is some contexts but not others. When are we convinced we hear people in electronic dance music? People are surplus, who are they? Producer/DJ provides a subject but there are others, heard in breakdowns, songlengths, more, heard via sampling, captured and reproduced. They are read into the sound, before asking if there is someone there. Nonspecific sorts of cultural knowledge, what forms do claims of attention take? Voices in the musical texture, hearing many people thinking, thinking by means of the senses and communally, exposing fragilities. Encouraging listeners to react. Example played of Detroit house (more history needed) “Throw” by Paperclip People aka Carl Craig plus the sample source Loleatta Holloway’s “Hit and Run” — what does the use of the sample provoke, the repetition of this bass sample? Holloway track played, in context only a very short part. In “Throw” it provokes organ parts, percussive additions. Another excerpt bringing out vulnerability, a male falsetto channelling Holloway, only on the vinyl 12″ version. More humanized/performed than sequenced?70s musicians still fighting for recognition in “Throw”? Disclavier can capture full performance of piano, original recording via Disclavier playback, original has the incidental sounds and is generally preferred, yet not specifically preferred because of that. Field recordings of percussion played, turned out to be icicles dripping on paint cans but sounded ‘human’ to listeners. Always other stuff going on when a musician is working heard on a less than conscious level. What sort of things are happening? We want to hear people trying to do something. Theo Parrish’s raw/gritty house cited, physicality of making different to physicality of dancing, what sorts of physical comportment do we imagine particular sounds incorporating? Trumpet sample focused on, heavily repeated in the song, song called “Reaction to Plastic,” note squelching midrange loop/pulse, shift to more…ethereal/percussive section, near complete breakdown to the loop. Played by a human, what is it? At sparsest moment, face to face with something strange, amateur that can’t quite hang with the pros, DJ that is not a musician. Different elements suggest different modes of care, examples cited, even white noise can work as breathing. Multivocality as more plausible frame, asked to care by many people, black thinkers in the mix.
Michaelangelo Matos, “The Digital Glossolalia of Todd Edwards and DJ Koze” (Matos has since posted his full paper but I’ll let the notes stand so you can see where I compress and edit as I hear something!) — glossolalia, speaking in tongues. Edwards and Koze make such voices work in unexpected contexts, tweak, distend, microedit voices. Edwards from New Jersey, tracks are all very similar, manipulates voices and instruments, catches the ear and tugs you toward it. Remix of Mantra feat. Lillian Rhodes’ “Away,” original lyrics/performance described, more recent Jon Creamer/Stephane remix played first, known in hard house circles, big room pumping stuff, drugs aren’t working, original vocal was straightforward. With Edwards, quick microcutups of syllables, reassembled, arranged out like a painter’s packet, a distinct difference, cut to bridge transforms the vocal line completely, glossolalic lyrics! “Oh essa eh uh ah ooo.” Edwards influenced by Masters of Work, Todd Terry, hip hop brought into house. Also, Enya! Vocals as musical instruments. ‘Todd the God’ laid the groundwork for two step garage, famously and outspokenly a devout Christian. “Saved My Life” played, approximation of a gospel choir, “Saviour Tonight” even more straightforward sentiments, original St. Germain “Alabama Blues” played, dub mix played, note vocal interplay, highhats, snares, swings! Main vocal line can’t be heard aside from a changed “Alabama” and a “Jesus loves me/you, it’s alright.” Edwards provides a specific pleasure each time, Koze veers all over the place, sound versus sensibility. Koze will do anything — “We Are the World” by Adolf Noise played. Just amazing. Vocal imitations just insane. “We ARRRRE the world!” No reverence to source material. Matthew Dear’s “Elementary Lover” original played, Talking Heads groove, Brazil in the percussion accents, Bowie in the vocals. Then Koze got a hold of it — painting and echoes, chittering vocal lines a call and response for Dear, vocals gather mass like a flock of birds, cutting a word apart. Koze as silly symphonist to Edwards’s sample orchestrator. “Thank you!”
Paul Farber, “Selections from History’s Jukebox: Rebuilding and Remixing the Berlin Wall” — part of a larger project about the Wall in American culture. Passing Strange clip shown, protagonist shown reaching an impasse, loses track, no resolution, but Stew will repurpose this, songwriting like building a wall, and if the song never stops? PS history discussed, fueled by displacement, actors and band both present on stage, in what ways is music real? Stew moves to Amsterdam, then Berlin, desire to write the perfect song. The song pushes Youth to the brink, piano notes quoted, stage transformed to show the Wall but also a sonic reconstruction. A rebuilt Wall is a site of American cultural opportunities in the mind, steering away from Cold War nostalgia. Wall as audiotopia, negotiating black male identity in music. Paul Beatty‘s Slumberland also discussed, similar biographical details though Beatty is a DJ. Berlin as ideal stage for encounters and implications. Beatty’s DJ builds jukebox of timeless tunes that still sound fresh. Traces of classic hip hop beats in both works, Stew and Beatty steer from hiphop to other possibilities than hiphop as historical construction. Beatty quoted in detail, listen for difference, Josh Kun quotes from Audiotopia on pieces of music, small momentary lived Utopias. By routing through Cold War Berlin, Beatty and Stew’s work takes note of its liminal possibilities, ideas of authenticity do not have to be bracketed. 1989 as moment of closure? Not necessarily, Joshua Clover quoted, fall of the Wall as congealed event, hiphop approaching 1989 as Golden Age apex, deposited in cultures past, dissonance emerges with larger ideological payload. Coheres into singular narrative of bygone triumph and emerging ‘smooth’ commercial success. Musical styles in Berlin noted, guitars, neo-cabaret, Youth’s projection of “passing” for black/ghetto discussed, his song about building a mask noted, piano part suggests “The Bridge is Over,” sonically constructed from fragments, question of reinforced geographic division. Borough of bifurcation. Song and songwriter work to protect the entertainer, requires something more than real to fill the void, echo reveals new directions about a song to escape a song. Beatty’s satire fueled by consciousness, protagonist wants to create the perfect beat and make blackness passé, hunting for the avant garde jazz composer the Schwa lost in Berlin. The Schwa found wanting to rebuild the Wall — “how can we read the writing on the wall without it?” Create a sonic wall, the Black Passe tour. Connections to black music history via jukebox, must accentuate but not throw off a certain balance, no hiphop because it needs claustrophobia. Concert event described as overwhelming, violinist quotes Eric B and Rakim “My Melody,” a new remixed Wall of sound. Schwa as restored link to musical past, wall as monumental but less permanent, beat erased, black is the new black. Way to bracket realness via the Wall in both Stew and Beatty.
Shana L. Redmond, “Bandung Holograms: Paul Robeson on Tape” — 1956, Robeson v HUAC on his passport revocation, HUAC dealing with an uphill fight thanks to the Fifth Amendment, a political statement. No acknowledging, talking instead about his persecution due to his work, educating listeners about injustices. Quotes given, a confession of radical/global activity. While he could not travel, new ways were found to spread his message during the time of Cold War imperialism and resistance. Focus on his tape for 1955 Asian African Bandung Conference in Indonesia. Singing body, passport as technology, holograms as his tools. In performance, took advantage of the physical/corporeal body, sound technology discussed, vocalist’s body is first and final lines of defense. Waves test/challenge of the walls containing them, distinct voice of Robeson discussed, early review quoted describing it, education and race up for debate giving the choice of language and categorization. Singers’ qualities to reduce separation discussed via quotes, Robeson celebrated for interpretive/inhabitive abilities, uniting through music and communal listening and questioning. Feared by State Department, thus passport. Passport as technology discussed as helping secure the ideas of the state. Military’s role of power discussed, Robeson critiqued it, saw himself as a global citizen versus the nation-state’s drives. Robeson exposed inequality disguised in the name of family. Restriction meant counteraction in domestic circles and elsewhere. Bandung Conference and his note to them discussed. Recording sent along with three songs to be sung, “No More Auction Block,” “Hymn for Nations,” “Old Man River.” Song selection strategies in general discussed, song choices studied as linked to Robeson’s work and projects. Shorelines and rivers mentioned in his note, a tying together of cultures. Hearing his voice means hearing the physical limits. Struggling against limits, being unable to join the third world and his work there. As Bandung listened to Robeson the beginning of the reconstruction of his body begins, a hologram in the assembly hall. Because we can hear him, we can hear the limits. Quote on books as forged passports, recording as similar, a reaction to the silent nation state.
Salamishah Tillet, “Black Sonic Revivals: Cassidy and the Strange Samplin’ of Nina Simone” — Simone on the ugliness of “Strange Fruit,” the violence done, graphic images shown. Her career and repetoire discussed, reworkings and virtuosities and enacting her ideals and interests. Through genre mixing she rejected the segregation of sound, unified via her theatricality, “that Nina sound.” Wanting to stay out of any category, defying the social contract of the genre, like Toni Morrison’s Sula, metaphysically black, a new world black/woman sound. Post-liberated artists listed, including Cassidy and John Legend. A story of remixes and revivals, knowing how it sounds to be free. Simone’s Pastel Blues discussed, its various experiments noted, with Holliday covers as the big ones including her version of “Strange Fruit.” The importance of “Strange Fruit” in general noted. Simone on Holliday — sharing a disillusion in the former’s eyes, but Simone distanced herself more with time (preferred a Callas comparison!). Reinvention as struggle against the past, Lena Horne quote on SF noted. Simone’s recapturing connects past to her present, her ultimate borrowing of the torch song for the idea and ideal of democracy, a polemic against second-class citizenship. No lead-in, active subjects not passive listeners, Simone jumps right in, plays with tempo and temporality, Holliday’s outburst short, Simone’s a protest over octaves. A political rite of passage. Despite the shift from Holliday to Monk and Bach, Simone still acknowledges her anyway, while resisting the tragic end. Mary J Blige — not a Holliday fan much but loves Simone (and is playing her in the movie!) Simone enters hiphop — Cassidy releases “Celebrate,” John Legend’s riff on “Dance Little Sister” and a sample of Simone’s “Strange Fruit” included. Wanted to create a melodic song, wanted Simone’s blacker voice as Devo Springsteen noted, wanting the grain, the tone and timbularity. An uncharacteristic song for Cassidy, heterogenous via samples, a politics of the past partially inherited via Holliday, of disenfranchisement then and now. Samples used to achieve sonic unity/ambiguity; Cassidy wraps himself into a matrilineal tradition. The bad mothering stereotype discussed/critiqued. Simone not only a standin for Holliday but a shout-out to the female singers of the past and present (Kanye West’s “Bad News” and John Legend’s grandmother as music teacher discussed.) Sample provides link to past, ushering in a new sonic space, mixes genres and geneaologies, black pleasure through black pain.