Thank you to all who completed the questionnaire included with last week’s Deep Voices. It has already helped me think about how to shape the newsletter and envision the ways it may live outside of this form. To those who have not filled it out, I’d be grateful if you did.
As an editor, the thing I have always been primarily interested in is tone. How does the way the language is being used shape a story? And thus how do a series of stories with the same tone define a publication? The way I often talk about that is thinking of all the work that goes into making stories as fitting through the publication’s prism. That means stories must be about the appropriate subject matter, of course, but that they also must share a similar set of values. At Fader, for example, that meant stories were largely about cutting edge musicians, but also those artists whose personal lives were reflected in their art. We looked for stories where we could illuminate the human engine behind the art. At Pitchfork, we may have covered a similar set of artists, but the experience we focused on was the listeners, not the creators. Those prisms had overlap, but they were not the same.
I thought about this idea of the prism recently while listening to a song included on this week’s playlist, “Wire Tap” by Earl Grey. “Wire Tap” is a jungle track. Jungle, as a genre, is typically fast and abrasive, centered around a crackling snare loop known as the “Amen break.” The genre is similar to drum and bass, but is perhaps characterized as having rawer production value. With its high BPM, drum loops, and stabs of rhythm, “Wire Tap” fit the definition for jungle. But it felt different. The brittleness that comes at the end of a note wasn’t there. It was as though every edge on the song had been sanded down. It was subverting the idea of what a jungle song should be, utilizing all its tropes but putting it through a much mellower prism.
I started thinking about what quantifies gentle music. Genre, of course, with quiet folk or delicate ambient music being obvious qualifiers. But it was about tone, not just genre. So for this week’s playlist, I looked for songs across the musical spectrum that felt gentle, especially in genres where that might not be the norm. Look Blue Go Purple are a guitar band with lots of jagged sounds. Their song “Grace” rounds the notes that typically whir. David Murray, a jazz saxophonist, trades that instrument for a bass clarinet. His rich approach remains, but as filtered through a breathier instrument it sounds like he’s creating fog. 0comeups uses the synthetic sounds popular in deconstructed club music, like metallicized vocals, but drops the drums entirely to create a new form of nebulously sculptural sound. Ulla Straus’ “House” framework may be electronic music, but if you listen to it a certain way, all you hear is the clang of a flagpole on a windy day.
Some artists featured, like Ephat Mujuru, who sings quietly and plays a thumb piano, naturally base their sounds around gentleness. Those approaches may be less radically gentle, but no less remarkable. Still, looking to subvert the idea of softness, I’ve tried not to rely on typically placid genres. In other words, this is not a playlist of ambient music.
You may not find every song to be gentle. This is my prism and, admittedly, a sharp moment sneaks in here and there. But I do hope the juxtaposition of disparate genres, thought of as sort of collection of kissing cousins, provides a new lens through which to hear.
Ulla Straus, “House”
Lamin Fofana, “The Ultimate/Outsider”
Ephat Mujuru, “Butsu Mutandari”
Las Palabras, “Pantallas”
Klangraum, “Small Jungle Life”
Anne et Gilles, “Le gnou”
Look Blue Go Purple, “Grace”
Alessandro Alessandroni, “Dialogues”
Florian Fricke, “Spirit of Peace, Part 1”
Baras, “Mba ferigneso”
Vitor Rua, “ED 15”
Rhythm & Sound, “History Version”
Tanga, “Eme n’gongo iami”
David Murray, “Lyons Street”
Cucina Povera, “ZOOM0001”
0comeups, “Try to Levitate Above it All”
Earl Grey, “Wiretap”
Emily A. Sprague, “Huckleberry”