New (to) me.

by waxbanks

In mid-October I resolved to listen to lots of music that I knew nothing about. Having overdosed on Phish during the writing of the 33-1/3 book, I’d already begun pushing deeper than usual into my iTunes library, which is full of albums and artists I’ve only dipped into, never dug. But even that felt like too small a change. So here we are.

I’ve already written about a bushel of albums (and a radio show), mostly in the prog/psych/ambient region of musical N-space.

The ‘weirdest’ chapter (not to me!) of the 33-1/3 book is a meditation on ‘psychedelia,’ which I treat as a broad umbrella under which you can fit everything from the enveloping weirdness of They Might Be Giants to Teresa of Avila’s spiritual-erotic vision, the Dead doing ‘Dark Star,’ the Legendary Pink Dots’ antagonistic ambient gloomscapes, David Lynch’s films, Thomas Pynchon’s paranoid sign-seeing… (And Phish, of course.) I’m not particularly interested in early garage/psych; gimme art that ramifies deliberately, that touches on a complex symbol-system, in addition to whatever spur-of-the-moment stochasms open up in its making.


I was never much for illegal drugs, but because I don’t take any drugs at all nowadays (modulo an occasional glass of wine or splash of bourbon at our Wednesday game nights, or antibiotics), I get my dissipative psychedelic transformations experientially, in particular musically. But I don’t require mimetic representation of altered states to alter my state; weird echo effects are nice at the right time, but you don’t need your music to sound like drugs in order to feel like drugs. Global Communication’s 76:14, Bennie Maupin’s The Jewel in the Lotus, Bernard Xolotl’s Return of the Golden Mean, Keith Jarrett’s Spheres: all over the map stylistically, but when I approach my listening with the right mood of unself-conscious acceptance, they all send me out/in along the spaceways.

My musical sense has a huge effect on my understanding of writing — my own and others’: what I want from my extended listening experiences is to experience a purity of focus and intention, an openness to accident, generative complexity (not complication for its own sake but a sense of possibility). In Lovecraft’s phrase, I’m after a sense of ‘adventurous expectancy,’ which I get most often from certain kinds of ensemble improvisation. I used to think that the objective of any improvisation was to generate a ‘well wrought’ piece of music, but I’ve put that aside now; I’ll settle for a purity of expression, which by my private definition will always be collective, empathetic, filled with longing (openness) rather than certainty.

My teacher Professor Thorburn, who like me adores David Milch’s art, suggested to me in an email that part of my sympathy for Milch’s excesses, his sometime inscrutability and narrative malformation, comes from a willingness to value ‘rich, ramifying beginnings that, alas, never arrive anywhere’ (like the theater plot in Deadwood Season Three). I think he has it, and God knows my own writing veers plenty often toward ramification and free-associativity, not to mention tiresome self-ironizing, when it should be getting on with the story. But then, if art is a means by which individuals separated by space and time are able to effect psychotropism at a distance, even in the mind of a stranger, then ‘adventurous expectancy’ as such might be a perfectly sensible end for that work; and God knows, too, it’s strongest at the beginning…

Given the choice today between the Iowa-approved artfully clenched sphincter of the ‘well wrought’ realistic sad-academic-experiences-minor-revelation novel, on one hand, and the delirious ellipsis-spawning excess of Pynchon at his most paranoid (or Philip K Dick’s ham-fisted psychedelic ambivalence, or the doofy fuckery of Phish’s mid-90s prog comedy routine, or the hilarious nonsense of The X-Files‘s ‘mythology,’ or the impenetrable thicket of Charles Fort’s redoubling ironies, or Ornette Coleman’s ) on the other, well, there’s no contest. Give me a universe in motion, a restless (group)mind, and let me find serenity through my openness to it.

Airless art speaks to people who live airless lives.

You and I don’t have time for that, do we?

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