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 don't feel like digging out my Adorno right now to clarify what I'm thinking about, but I have him in mind. He has a very specific concept of "material", the stuff that composers are supposed to work with. The way in which he makes it a historical concept seems to me to make music something more explicitly like math or science, where notions of the fields' progressing toward greater knowledge carry more currency. The "material" is something like all the formal junk at hand, plus the historical implications forced on us by the current body of music. I guess. Like I said, I don't feel like clarifying this right now. I'm sure this isn't what Adorno meant by "material", but I'm only thinking about it roughly. I'm interested because this notion of "material" is supposed to mean that a composer after Schoenberg's time, for example, couldn't just write a Classical-period sonata. He had to answer to twelve-tone and atonal music, somehow.
Whether or not that is so, I think there's a similar but less sophisticated idea running rampant through pop music discourse. Individual artists are supposed to "advance" on their own past work, always come up with something new. It's supposed to be more valuable or interesting when an artist makes big new stylistic changes, when genres form around them, when their records are taken as models for others to follow, and so forth. So individual artists are also supposed to take those records into account.
So if Labradford, for example, make music that "aspires to a kind of stasis", they're in theory expected to take into account, like, all the art music minimalists (Glass, Reich, Riley, etc.), as well as people like Eno and his million trillion followers and knockoffs.
This makes me uncomfortable for lots of reasons. One is that it can make people tend to be bored by or ignore music - maybe actively devalue it or the choices others make by listening to it - just because it's not the music made by the ground-breakers. So, say, since Eno's already been there and done that, long droney go-nowhere music made in a pop-related setting is no longer worth your time. Now, that view is extreme, and maybe a caricature. But it's more plausible when the music in question is harder to get a handle on. I think most people are more sympathetic to the view when its expressed about something like late-70s punk, or hard bop, when we have sort of a clear idea what the genre in question is like, and have some reasons for thinking that it can be improved on or at least modified or added to in significant ways that also seem pretty good. (One way of seeing if this is true of a kind of music would be to look for sub-genres, if it's big/old/influential enough. Another would just be to look at what other well-regarded music comes after the early 'successes' - is there a lot of it? Does it sound very different from the early stuff, even if it's obviously related?) But drone music is hard to simplify in those respects. I guess. I mean, I know there are plenty of sub-genres out there, but they seem less precise to me than the kind of divisions I'm thinking about. (Less based on the musical materials, and not in Adorno's sense.)
Maybe another reason is that this kind of thinking explicitly treats music like a big race to find the next big thing, not in terms of a search for what will catch on next, but a search for some expansion of the mythical, mysterious borders of musical knowledge (which are probably pretty different depending on which musical know-it-all you ask). I sometimes get the feeling that people who act like this reserve their accolades for boundary-pushing in certain fields only, not just because of their limited attention to the variety of music, but because they choose to be more interested in the small stuff in other genres. For example, it might be more OK to make a not-very-innovative guitar rock record, than it would be to make a not-very-innovative minimalist record. Or even a really good one. This kind of bias by itself is just a side concern anyway - there's still the conflict between big things and little workings-out of big ideas.
Anyway, obviously the reason I'm thinking about this is that Labradford make music that's pretty special to me, in some way. Perhaps because it's distinctive to me, even if I know people might argue against its extreme originality. The fact that that's possible makes me want to try harder to get a handle on them. It's, like, hard, though.
I haven't seen lots of reviews of Pan American's 360 Business / 360 Bypass. But they all seem to hover around a loose collection of critical tropes that are kind of depressing to see employed, even if it's understandable why they would be. Pan American is a side project of Labradford's Mark Nelson, so they sound kind of like Labradford. The main different is that there's dance music involved somehow in Pan American. Some of the reviews cache this out as Pan American being "ambient dub", because of the thumping, but this doesn't make it clear enough how different they are from Labradford in lots of places, since Labradford too is often described as having "dub influences" (Anthony Carew points out how casually the phrase is invoked, though I'm not entirely satisfied with his nice try at being more precise). Maybe a couple of the Basic Channel, etc. references I've seen get closer, since a lot of the record sounds to me like ambient house (with the requisite dub influences thrown in there, don't worry) - for ambient music, the beats are fat, steady, pumping. Something like what shows up intermittently on the last Labradford album (which was released after the Pan American one), only more determined, faster, and not made lazy-sounding by Morricone guitar.
Besides the dub stuff, and the house (though sometimes they sound more like techno, and yes I know that maybe there is ultimately not much difference) beats, other references show up in various reviews. Lots of people mention the vocals from Mimi and Alan from Low, and the trumpet from Rob Mazurek. Lots of people say something about world music. And about coldness. I wonder if the large number of things from different sources just automatically makes people think, "mishmash," and thus makes them not want to think too hard about the recipe for the mishmash. Not that it's easy or obvious - because this is one of those records that works with the musical material in less obvious ways.
Oh, and other listening last night after I got home: "Here Comes the Sun" and "Because" by the Beatles (because there was a question at the tournament that mentioned in a clue that some think the latter is based on Beethoven's "Moonlight" sonata), then the previously mentioned William Parker and the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, then the second Pan American album. Today, more Pan American.
Now, Pan American mixed with the last three Labradford albums.
I went to Madison this past weekend to play quizbowl. Things I chose to play on the van's CD player: Weezer and the Wu-Tang's first albums. (Latter was derided by one team member as "violence", I note with glee.) Things I chose to play on my headphones: Saint Etienne, Burning Airlines, Outkast. Other things I heard: Metallica, NIN, the Run Lola Run and Big Lebowski soundtracks, the Violent Femmes, and Swans (!).
Cool audio bonuses I answered or helped answer this weekend: a sound processing question where we had to identify the filter that had been applied to a sound; identify-the-artist-and-album with clips of Busta and Public Enemy; name-the-artist-from-spoken-clips with Kraftwerk and Pixies. There were some applied music theory sorta things too but they weren't asked of my team.
The stuff on the second disc of the William Parker-involved record Mayor of Punkville (as I remember it disc one is more planned-out sounding, but I've not heard it much yet) doesn't just sound like "big band doing free jazz", but "big band doing minimalist free jazz," "minimalist" in the repeating-a-lot-and-changing sense. At first it makes it seem pretty dumb compared to most jazz, because of the rhythmic and harmonic sophistication being stripped away, while it still sounds vaguely jazz-like. But - the builds! Especially on the last track. Once the band gets going, it's like an entire high school bandroom playing Philip Glass playing New Orleans jazz... or something like that. Which kicks ass and makes me smile.
Over Christmas I was at my parents' place; I stole away with my sister's old clarinet. So the other day I bought a book so I could learn how to play it proper-like. The book starts with pages full of stuff like:
whole note A, whole rest, whole note A, whole rest, whole note A, whole rest
OK, listening. I think I missed something. But probably more AAS, Nirvana's live (not unplugged) album, the Dismemberment Plan's Change, then the same thing again on the way home. Now, DBC233, one of 999 joy-inducing objects.
"Teenage Wasteland" is playing faintly behind the talk show on my alarm clock radio.
Last night I listened to Coltrane's Meditations a couple times, then some AAS to sleep to; this morning some more AAS (louder hah), then Pink Flag on the way to campus, and Roots Manuva in the afternoon and on the way home. Tonight, Low's Secret Name and now good ole American Analog Set again.