an implied violence. or: melody is a fascist
High Mountain Tempel - Pacific Sky Burial (Axaxaxas mlö) (lotushouse records) by Bruce McKenzie 6.4.7
there ain't no music in this music. i mean that in the best possible sense. it's not for everyone but it is for me. and while i don't think it's hard to listen to such stuff it is hard to answer the question why you might want to or why you should. but we need to ask ourselves more often these days, with the internet giving us practically everything thing we want in a crap mp3-quality kind of way, why are we listening to music in the first place. do you want to reinforce or eliminate a mood? to create a mood? do you want to use it to hide behind? to disappear? do you want to use it to lend meaning to an otherwise un-engaging walk? or to keep yourself from thinking about what, probably, you should be thinking about? are you even listening, really? listening is one of the great joys of life and some of the greatest listening can be done without an ipod nano clipped to your lapel. it gives the time and space to think. as does pacific sky burial. the burble and chirp of high mountain tempel's first release (on san diego label lotushouse records) establishes it's own language early on and that's hard to do friends, to use a rack of effects and an instrument or two and not play music for fifteen minutes at a stretch. this is precisely when and how this disc is so successful. when it approaches white noise. figuratively, not literally. cos it isn't a squall that's going on but it is abstract. there are some points - moments in 'harkonen veda' (track 4 i think), and most of the arpeggiated synth on 'the great transmigration of souls' (track 7)- the playing veers into almost a melody or a riff and it jars. these moments are thankfully few and far between. cos after several listens to this record it's not chord changes what brings me back. it's the opportunity that this listening gives me to go inward, to reflect.
i read in an essay about the late, great mark rothko an unpublished letter of his talking about a common misperception regarding his canvases, how people understood them as peaceful meditations without registering that as a painter he was marshalling all his efforts to restrain a great violence. it seems that these serene paintings' most potent aim was not to communicate peace but to tame the conflict and chaos within the man. the peaceful impression given by his other-worldly work in the non-denominational chapel in houston, for instance (you gotta go if you find yourself in that neck of the woods), is a by-product. of layers of visual feedback that coalesce into a floating yet tense color field. barnett newman's 'broken obelisk' out front actually gets at this in a very important, beautiful way and anyway, you know, the guy did ultimately slash his veins. at the elbows for fuck's sake. i feel that same shiver of violence is here on this record, and moving under the skin of the improvised compositions, like jagged marbles rippling the surface. there's nothing benign about this high mountain tempel stuff - the first track proper, 'tempel walk', is the most pastoral, the ring modulator making the guitar sound like micro-tonal gongs played by an all-sparrow gamelan band. understand, i mean all this as a good thing. the track encapsulates the way in which this record works at its best. a non-repeating, forward moving piece of music that is truly like taking a walk. but the walk leads where? the sparrows have left their instruments by the end of the record and seem to use their own voices on 'feast of the preta' but this is no bird-song like messaien woulda' done. this is white noise with birdy-ness keeping music at bay. musically. it's not necessarily celebratory (unless you want it to be; you can make it that) and it's not excessive in any way. it does feel dangerous to me somehow.
i wonder what would happen if you pointed this record at your neighbors' house and turned it up just enough so they didn't know what it was that was making them act the way that they were acting. this is a record to use like nerve gas. you get to a state listening to stuff like this. melody - and the mood control it inevitably imposes - ceases to be an issue. you're left only with the potenial for feeling, a kind of undirected state of attention. melody and lyric are meant (usually) to make you feel some way. and they generally won't allow/encourage/enable you to feel anything else. they save you the effort of searching for meaning in/with the music by providing it for you. melody especially. it makes you passive. now, lighten up, ok, cos i'm ain't saying that weird avant shit is somehow better or necessarily more serious than mary j. blige or the eagles and i can love me some sweet pop music or anything else with words for that matter, but i also really believe what i'm saying here. i mean, melody is a fascist by nature, carving lines of representation, definition, into the incohate clustering of sounds that disturb some people the way that abstract painting and it's elimination of a tradition of figure and ground (an identifiable depiction of objects in a three-dimensional space) really bugged a lot of people. this isn't bad or good it's just (to my mind) a fact. and i feel that such non-melodic sound clusters really are the mirror of the world. wind and wave. the scrabble of insects. the digging of earthworms. the fighting or fucking of neighbors. the mechanic at the bottom of the hill. the hum of the transformers on telephone poles that are giving us all cancer (i've been told). all together. why try to reduce that? why try to toss a net around that, or worse, try to paint over that (figuratively. and, yes, figuratively.)?
with pacific sky burial we are meant to feel anything and can and just might. here we look at ourselves; this music might be a tool for self-examination if we let it. we don't listen because it makes us feel good (even though it can), we listen because we love the act. of listening. it'll help you feel or see within yourself all kindsa shit hiding behind the shit you let yourself see or feel. that's one of the things that pure listening does, in my book. listening to water, listening to traffic, listening to the a.c., listening to the cicadas, listening to the crowd, listening to all the things you use your ipod to shut out. lighten up on soundtracking your lives with mp3s and spend some time listening to the one that's included in the original packaging, if you know what i mean. try tuning in brother, sister. and when you get home, listen to this record from time to time.
# and i think there's a difference in how one can use melody/lyric. certain pop songs can make a variety of people feel a variety of different things. 'we've only just begun' by the carpenters. for me, i almost always see that as an expression of romantic irony: we've only just begun but it'll soon be over and there will be tears. it's also a beautiful song of hope, promise. and i get that too. it's a polyvalent combination of potentially optimistic lyric and elegaic song-scape/arrangement. 'love will tear us apart' - same deal just reverse the polarity. on the other hand you have that vaguely philip glass-ish mega-hit with the repeating piano figure by coldplay. i can't imagine anyone in a stadium full of people feeling anything different from the person next to them, anyone not walking lockstep wearing the same emotional straitjacket. and honestly, many of those folks are probably better adjusted than i am, so whatever. i don't say this in a judgmental way. just making an observation. (and i wonder why i find it easier to forgive U2 for doing essentially the same thing. 'it's a beautiful day'. indeed it is)