Friday, December 31, 2010

Tonight's Music Selection: "Night8" By NightCat

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night8 by NightCat
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By MARC McDONALD

Tonight's music selection is a track called "Night8" by, uh, me. A word of caution: it's not easy listening. In fact, if you've never heard music in the experimental "electronica" genre, you might well hate it and not regard it as "music" at all. (I'd suspect that most Baby Boomers will fall into this category).

I myself have yet to decide if this track is rubbish or if it is something worthwhile. I do know that over 1,000 people, from Europe to Japan, have listened to this track since I uploaded it to SoundCloud, the popular German music distribution site. If you've listened, I thank you for your time.

I've long been a fan of "electronica" music, ever since I heard a various artists album called Modulation & Transformation, Vol. 4, released in 1999 by the German label, Mille Plateaux, which specializes in this sort of music.

I have to admit, when I first heard this sort of music, I wondered if (A) it really was "music" at all and (B) if it wasn't just a bunch of random, aimless noise. It then occurred to me that I'd felt the same way when I first heard Free Jazz.

It also occurred to me that each new generation of music listeners can always be depended upon to condemn the next generation of music as "rubbish" (and even question whether it is "music" at all).

Recall how in the 1950s, traditional music lovers criticized rock'n'roll and called it rubbish. (What's amazing is that the music they were condemning at the time---from the likes of prime Elvis, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly---is now recognized as some of the greatest rock'n'roll ever recorded). And before that era, jazz lovers often had their music ridiculed by classical music lovers, who maintained that jazz wasn't really "music" at all.

Anyway, back to the Electronica genre. I have found that, the more I listened to this new music, the more I enjoyed it. I began to seek out and listen to the leading artists in the genre, ranging from Pan Sonic of Finland to Germany's Ekkehard Ehlers. Don't be surprised if you've never heard these artists: this genre's popularity is mostly in Europe (and, to a lesser extent, in East Asia, particularly Japan).

If you're tired of the current Top 40 chart pap and you'd like to hear something risk-taking and adventurous for a change, I urge you to give the Electronica genre a chance. It's not easy-listening, but I find that the best in this genre does reward patient listening. In that sense, it's a bit like jazz: it does not come to you, you must go to it.

(Indeed, when I first heard Electronica, it occurred to me that this music did indeed seem to share a few things with Free Jazz. I didn't know if that idea was heresy, or simply lunacy. But since then, I've noticed that there have been a number of highly successful collaborations between Electronica musicians and jazz musicians. One example of this was the acclaimed Masses album in 2001, which was a collaboration between British Electronica artist Spring Heel Jack and avant-garde jazz players from the Thirsty Ear record label.

If you'd like to explore this music further, here are a few of the best Electronica recordings I've come across recently:

1. Clicks & Cuts Various Artists, volumes 1 through 5, German label Mille Plateaux's showcasing of the best Electronica/IDM artists from Europe, North America and Japan.

2. Kesto by Pan Sonic. A massive 4-CD set from 2004 from Finland's prolific and relentlessly experimental Pan Sonic. Sadly, this record appears to already be out of print and copies fetch steep prices on eBay.

3. Confield by Autechre. One of my favorite Electronica artists, Autechre hails from Britain. I've enjoyed pretty much everything they're recorded since 1993, but the adventurous Confield is a notable highlight.

4. Ohm: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music: 1948-1980 Various Artists. Electronic music, of course, is nothing new. Here's a well-done roundup of the leading artists that inspired today's generation of Electronica artists. For my money, this is some of the best music of the 20th century.

10 comments:

Jack Jodell said...

Definitely different, Marc. I don't know quite what to think at this point. How did you create this?

LarryE said...

I'd suspect that most Baby Boomers will fall into this category

Hey, bro', we baby boomers invented electronic music.

I still have vinyl of several albums produced in the '60s.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Larry, thanks for your comment. Yes, a lot of great electronic music came out of the 1960s. But I think it goes back earlier than that---Stockhausen was a bit old to be a "Baby Boomer." :)
In any case, in my comment about Baby Boomers in this article, I was referring to the fact that (at least in my experience), they don't seem to be very open-minded to new music, particularly experimental and adventurous electronic music. At least that's the case in the U.S.--the Europeans seem to be more open-minded to new forms of music.

LarryE said...

they don't seem to be very open-minded to new music

I seriously doubt that's truer of Baby Boomers than of any other equally vaguely-defined generation. Every such generation seems to have its own style of music, some overall, generalized notion of a style with which it's associated. And each seems to prefer its own, that with which it grew up, over others.

I dunno, maybe I'm just a little sensitive to the now-popular parlor game of "Bash the Boomer," but I have say on behalf of fellow Boomers that the folks I knew growing up were a hell of a lot more eclectic in their individual musical tastes than our parents were and also more than a lot of those younger, whose musical horizons often seem to extend all the way from rap to rap.

Over Christmas I was directed to a story about a group of carolers who sang "The Christmas Song" to Mel Tormé. The guy telling the story said he "wasn't horrified" that the leader of the group, who was about 25, had no idea who Mel Tormé was.

Well damn it all, when I was 25 I would have been "horrified" if someone my own age had no clue who, say, Benny Goodman or Count Basie was - or even Glenn Miller, who at that point had been dead for about 30 years.

So yeah, I do find the idea that Boomers are less "open-minded" about new music as opposed to generations before or since pretty thin gruel.

LarryE said...

It occurs to me now after a second listening that I never commented on the piece itself.

On the whole, not bad at all. One thing I appreciated is that it's electronic music, that is, it had a rhythmic structure and even a couple of recurring themes, a sort of leitmotif if you will (and yes, I know I'm not using the term in its correct musical sense). It's a composition, not just a string of "hey, dig this cool sound" bits, which too much of electronic music past and present is.

I think in a couple of places, particularly in the course of making transitions, you kind of lost track of that rhythmic structure and had to rebuild it, but on the whole it's got a good beat and I could dance to it. ;-)

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Larry, thanks, I appreciate your comments about my piece.

re:
>>>So yeah, I do find the idea
>>>that Boomers are less "open
>>>minded" about new music

One example that sticks in my mind is the hostility that Dylan faced in the mid-60s when he first "went electric."
Then, there is the hostility that Yoko faced with her music in the late 60s and early 70s.
I recall John Lennon practically pleading with his audience to give Yoko's music a chance. He called her a "genius" and urged people to listen to her work. But very few people did, much to John's disappointment.
I recall a lot of people then were thinking that John was only praising Yoko because he was head-over-heels in love. Most people assumed his judgment was clouded.
Well, here we are three decades later and frankly, as far as I'm concerned John was right all along. The best of Yoko's music, while deeply and defiantly non-commercial, WAS genius, in my opinion. I think of all the New Wave artists who ripped her off over the years
I realize a lot of people will always hate her for "breaking up the Beatles" (which is highly debatable in any case). But that aside, I find her music has stood the test of time better than most of the stuff that clogged up the music charts in the early 70s.
Having said all that, I agree that it's unfair to single out the Boomers and label them as not being open-minded to new music.

LarryE said...

I'll make this my last on this, since otherwise it'd just trail off into trivia.

The "hostility that Dylan faced" was pretty much limited to the bad reaction by one audience at the Newport Folk Festival. That got a lot of attention, but it in the overall range of his career and popularity it was just a blip.

On another point, consider Ayn Rand's books. People have built entire philosophies around them, have centered political movements on them. Despite that, they are still crappy books that, on my one attempt, I found to be almost completely unreadable.

It's in that same sense that I say that I did listen to Yoko Ono's music and frankly I thought it sucked. The point is that there may have been a lot of people in the time since who have taken the concepts and run with them (or ripped them off, if you prefer) and made much better, even really good, stuff - but I still think hers sucked. (And now, it wasn't just because it was new or avant-garde: I liked John Cage before most others at least of my generation knew who he was.)

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Larry,
re: Yoko.
Frankly, the first time I heard Yoko's music, I too thought it sucked. Same goes for the first time I heard free jazz. But I eventually acquired a taste for her work. I'd be the first to admit, though, it can get grating after a while. It's also wildly uneven in quality. Some records are truly terrible, while I believe others are inspired.
But I have to admit, I've always enjoyed music that breaks down doors and takes risks (like the Sex Pistols and the Clash) and I've always despised safe, blatantly commercial music that is cynically created to shift as many units as possible (like Norah Jones).
Say what you want about Yoko, but you do have to admit, she followed her own muse and she put her art over any commercial considerations (unlike the vast majority of musicians, who only care about selling records).

Manifesto Joe said...

Good soundtrack for a sci-fi movie.

The continuum on which people "dig" music can be either narrow or wide. On one end, I've developed a belated taste for Handel and Brahms. On the other, I've got many vinyl LPs of the later John Coltrane (free jazz), and an LP of Edgard Varese (a big avant-garde influence on Zappa and Captain Beefheart). I find them all and each to be individual creations that, like, either work or they don't.

As I mentioned before, I have a lot of Coltrane, and I like Eric Dolphy; but I just never could "dig" the free jazz of Ornette Coleman. Whatever it was he was trying to do, they just couldn't grow weed good enough for me to understand it. And I would actually count pot-smoking as a breakthrough for a lot of people in music appreciation, because it slows down perception of time. Then, later, you find that you can "dig" a lot of the music without it.

A lot of it simply has to do with individual taste. Some of the music I love, you would probably find too cheesy and old-fashioned. But then, I would surprise you with a few selections. One should back off from categorizing according to age. Varese was born in 1883, and his compositions from the 1930s would still blow a lot of minds.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Manifesto Joe,
re:
>>>Good soundtrack for a sci-fi
>>>movie.

Thanks for the kind words. I didn't think of it that way before, but you're right.

re:
>>Some of the music I love, you
>>would probably find too cheesy
>>and old-fashioned.

Yes, I'm the same way. I have a weakness for much of Abba's work. I think Bjorn Ulvaeus was (and is) a pop genius. And a lot of critically acclaimed artists (Nirvana, R.E.M.) leave me cold.