Ordinary language is all right.
One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.
I didn't mention it when it went up but you should check out my friend Ethan's first Pitchfork review even if the only rock band he likes is the Who. Hopefully Ethan will continue to write, even if he has to mail in the reviews on goddamned postcards thanks to his busted computer.
"Unarchitectonic": Tim also said something about how he's tempted to discuss jungle using a Marxist base/superstructure metaphor - "the presumption that the character (and quality?) of the track is defined by the interplay of bass and beats, and that the 'added on' melody/arrangement/vocals are merely consequential mirrors of this initial and crucial starting point."
I think it's kind of odd that Tim would pick this Marxist metaphor, but then again I don't really want to criticize his choice - aside from the Marxist connotations which I think are irrelevant, the idea involved makes sense. But I can't think of a better way to make it more immediately clear how the structural relationship he's talking about works. (I bet they have terminology for it in music?)
Anyway, about this base/superstructure: I've been listening to Spring Heel Jack's Treader recently. I had wanted to hear some SHJ proper for a while, but after hearing Masses, their record as producers slash manipulators of sounds provided by contemporary free jazz people, I thought it would do to hear what they could do on their own, to help make sense of the free jazz record. The first few listens didn't help much (but then how often do they, really?) - largely cacophonous. When it started making sense, it still felt very very neutral. New-music encounters aside, I can't think of a kind of music that interests me that I'm more neutral toward than jungle. I haven't heard much. I like Amon Tobin's take on it, and Photek has given me pleasure on occasion (though it took a while). The last Roni Size album bored me, which I regard as being slightly worse than being very very neutral to me, but only slightly. Sometimes this SHJ album bores me too, but for some reason I keep listening to it. (The connection to New York minmalism that they make explicit by titling a track for La Monte Young seems to me to be an important enough one that I should withstand boredom by seeing it as a source of potential interest, as in lots of other "boring" music that I like, but I'm not sure how yet.)
Er anyway yes superstructure. Base. I'm sleepy, I have to go to bed so much earlier now than before. Main point is that regardless of all the wooshy noises and whatnot, jungle feels like all base to me - sort of what I meant by "unarchitectonic". Even though I can hear some layering going on and can tell that there's plenty of interaction between the "layers" (quotes because they don't really feel like layers), it never feels like it adds up to anything, like all the little details accrue into a solid enough structure for me to latch on to. So maybe I don't even mean "all base" - it could be worse than that. Sometimes when listening I think I might, it's not clear yet. In some tracks the main rhythm seems overriding, not in the sense that I can't see my way away from it a la a driving house beat, but in the sense that it's just all there is - the other stuff doesn't matter. (Not in Taylor Clark's sense of the "stupid" two-step beat sinking tracks. And I think it's a bad sign when your answer to a record you don't like is just a whole bunch of stuff on a different record label which all happens to sound boringly self-similar from time to time anyway.)
Is this a trenchant criticism? No it is not. I can't really make sense of the record at the moment, but I don't really expect to be able to. I don't have my jungle bearings. (And I've barely listened to any "real" jungle in the first place!)
Tim offers as always some interesting thoughts on jungle, but he does say one thing I want to take issue with: "... reaching for the isolationist spirit (if not necessarily the specific sounds) of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock at the beginning of the seventies."
I think both the music and the notes (with lots of comments from Herbie circa the early seventies) on Herbie's Warner Brothers albums speak to the contrary. I'm not sure if the notes are completely consistent - you might be able to poke a hole in what Herbie says if you try - but they paint the picture of a music focused on group interaction, a communal sort of thing. He also talks about how at the time he thought music was supposed to "make you high, to give you an experience so that you can transport yourself from wherever you are and that whole physical contact with the world so that you can gain a little more consciousness - inner consciousness. ... [My new music] is set up to make you high." And at the end he says "I'd go to friends' homes and see my albums on the shelves with lots of other people's records, and they'd play all the others except mine. My intention at the time was to play music to be listened to with undivided attention; but how many people have the time to approach music that way? Before, I was so interested in spirituality that I didn't recognize that a person puts on a record with his hands and not his spirit." (This was meant to explain the shift from the Mwandishi-era material to the Headhunters-era material.)
So the reason you could maybe poke a hole in this is clear: the spiritual high that he talks about sounds awfully personal, awfully isolated from other people. But I think that's a pretty literal reading. He doesn't say so explicitly but the impression I get from his stated preference at the time for a group-dominated (rather than individual, or soloist-dominated) dynamic is that music as a spiritual experience was supposed to bring people together - maybe because of the greater consciousness attained, even if it is individual consciousness, even if the music transports you from "physical contact with the world."
I think the Mwandishi-era music bears this out quite well, even aside from the added interpretation the liner notes give. Yes, the music (including that on Sextant, though it's on Columbia) is strange and otherworldly, so perhaps in one sense it's isolationist in spirit. Appreciating music like that might require you to sort of disengage yourself from the "normal" world that everyone else is involved in, figuratively (and musically!) speaking. But once that jump is made, the music is so much group-driven music, music where everyone is listening to and responding to everyone else, that it's exactly the opposite of isolationist.
I suspect a similar case, based on the music, can be made for a lot of electric Miles as well. But it would work differently. (The word "separatist" rather than "isolationist" might turn out to be useful.)
Mark wrote in asking me about what the hell I was talking about the other day, regarding the Coltrane album with Johnny Hartman. He also wanted to know if I liked it, since I didn't actually say. Here's what I said:
I've only heard it four or five times (it's short!) but I like it quite a bit.
I guess what I meant had something to do with appropriateness. You know how some music, when you play it, just seems to be perfectly suited to be on, in that place, at that time, with the people listening who are listening, or doing whatever? You could take some Baroque chamber music as an example, have it playing at a posh reception (only there might be a problem with it like I pointed out, namely that the people holding the reception would be playing Bach because they have high opinions of their culturedness and think that's what they should be playing). Or, say, a good 'party joint' as the kids call it, playing at a college party with the right crowd. Not only could that be perfectly appropriate, but playing 'Ascension' or Renaissance village-idiot music or whatever would NOT be appropriate. So, with that in mind: it seems like this Coltrane album is so special, so out of the course of most people's lives, that no one could ever play it and have it be appropriate in this sense, because it would always present a kind of ideal world with sophisticated lovers in it that would be incongruous with the one the listeners are actually in.
Does that make sense?
I listened to the first Soul Coughing album on the bus today and though I knew they were all there, hearing a lot of the lyrical elements in sequence took on new eerieness: the plane flying into the Chrysler building, "schools he bombs he bombs", the NOI references, "you get the ankles/and I'll get the wrists", and others.
The Charm of the Highway Strip feels reassuringly quaint at first.
John Coltrane with Johnny Hartman: is there actually anyone in the world who is currently truly elegant enough - not just putting up a front of elegance, surrounding themselves with it, because that's what their social station sets them to do - to play this and not have it or the world it reflects (projects?) seem optimistically imaginary?
Whenever I listen to drum-n-bass I seem to be disappointed by how unarchitectonic it is. Why does Bitches Brew always sound a million times better in that respect?