I remember past decades, when a whiff of wood smoke on the breeze carried only good feelings.
I’m thinking about the legacy of David Berman. That casual nineties indie-rock shagginess that I found so attractive on the surface masked some deep and careful craft. On a close listen, every line shines with quirky, personal humor and beauty.
I used to be fine using a metaphor I didn’t fully understand in a song lyric, just because it sounded right. No one really understands anything, I reasoned; who am I to say what this lyric does or does not mean? Perhaps meaning hides behind it, all the more powerful for being initially elusive. I am less and less willing to take this chance. I am more and more insistent that my music tell the truth. I am grappling with the fact that this might mean working slower and saying less.
I’m finding my way back to “pre-composition,” something I learned about in school and had to jettison for a while. I’m doing my own sort of planning and conceptualizing right now, waiting for things to click before the notes start to hit the page.
Here’s something I learned about in school that I haven’t yet managed to reclaim: editing. Particularly this idea from European composition of revising old pieces. Editing an old piece makes as much sense to me as proofreading old journal entries or photoshopping old pictures. This isn’t to say the music is simply autobiographical, but it does reflect what music meant to me at one specific moment—how I wanted it to be—perfect, in this way, as a record of aspiration and distance.
New from Two Labyrinths Records: 2LR 013, Kong Must Dead - Mashup.
"The mountains out there are beautiful, sure, but look a little closer. There are stories running in those creekbeds, songs buried in the hollows. Some are scary, some are funny, some will bring tears to your eyes without you even knowing why. That’s the risk you take going to the mountains: you might find something there.
There’s a guitar in the woods, but it isn’t tuned like any guitar you’ve heard lately. Around it are words, mostly. But also more guitars, and drums, and pedal steels, and even a few steel pans. A wash of color, a sweep of wily chord structures. And the faces of a few friends. Here is Ben Hjertmann’s latest edition of Kong Must Dead, a core trio instrumentation with a rotating cast of personnel surrounding. They are increasingly seen onstage in Asheville, North Carolina and thereabouts, sometimes in masks.
This is the fourth Kong Must Dead release, and each one has taken two steps forward and at least two steps out: more stylistic breadth, more ambition of songwriting, more virtuosity of composition. There are only six songs here, but don’t be fooled: they cover a lot of ground, and they interconnect in deep and surprising ways. Here are Ben’s latest songs. Come have a listen. You might find something there."
I went to Meijer Gardens, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is an impressive place.
Let me say that (1) it’s weird to be in a place emulating the public space of a museum or botanical garden that is not actually a public space but a monument to private wealth; also (2) if this is such a great country, and such a rich country, why can't we make all such spaces free for everyone? and (3) as though the art world isn’t elitist enough, it’s hard to imagine any medium more inaccessible and undemocratic than bronze sculpture.
With that out of the way, let me now admit that I loved, loved, the giant horse.
This must be some sort of transition point in my personal appreciation of art. For so long I’ve gravitated toward the abstract, the mysterious, the esoteric. Today I prefer a multi-story horse. Here is a piece of art that is not seeking to confuse anyone. This piece will tell you exactly what it’s about, and I admire that.
Still though, there are problems with accessibility and aims. Certainly it is a far cry from the avowedly non-commercial art I saw on the walls at the Grackle Gallery in Fort Worth.
Sometimes you think you want a little bit of silence, but that isn’t what you actually want. You don’t really want silence.
Evidently Louis Andriessen would tell his students not to measure a grand pause by seconds in notated ensemble music. Keep in time: metered rests only. This maintains the tension.
A pickup is not the same as a silence.
An inhalation is not the same as a silence.
Sometimes you think you’re hearing silence, only to be surprised by the disappearance of a very quiet texture you didn’t realize was there. Now, you think, now surely I am listening to silence. But you still aren’t.
I was delighted to participate in Infinite Futures, a two-cassette compilation out today on Full Spectrum Records. The releases celebrates the label’s tenth anniversary. It’s a lovely concatenation of weirdos, placed together in collaborative pairings. I played some piano with Shaun Sandor, aka Promute. We booked out Keller Hall on a Monday morning and he brought a prepared guitar, a bass, and a zither board. Full Spectrum is good music and it’s good people. Give it a listen next time you’re on a bus, train, or airplane.
• Gone Walkabout
• Music as Drama
• Crossroads II
• 10 Best of 2014
• January: Wyoming and the Open
• February: New Mexico and the Holes
• Coming Up
• Notes on The Accounts
• Crossroad Blues