Deep Voices: Virtual reality vs music, a bassoon, desperate soft rock

Featuring Jaron Lanier, April Magazine, LA Timpa, Willow, Jeanne Lee, Khalil El'Zabar, Headley Bennett, and more

Deep Voices #51 on Spotify
Deep Voices #51 on Apple Music


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Playlist notes:

  • Jaron Lanier’s staunch criticism of the dehumanizing properties of social media was the subject of this 2011 New Yorker profile, though you’d not know it from the photo accompanying the article. Lanier’s at home, dreads down to his waist. He’s seated, holding a red pocket trumpet. Hanging behind him are what I believe are five different ouds, a traditional Arabic stringed instrument somewhat like a lute. The room also holds a harp, a piano, a zither, and various flutes. His young daughter is in the photo with him, eyes closed, either singing or screaming. 

    I’ve been meaning to check out Jaron Lanier’s music since this story came out, and I finally got around to it recently. His 1994 album, Lanier: Instruments of Change, feels like the product of immense focus, wild ambition, and perhaps—understandable to a fellow enthusiast—a total lack of reigning it in. There are so many different sounds fighting for attention, it can occasionally feel difficult to know where to settle your ear. Sometimes that’s unappealingly dissonant, but when things gel, you can feel his compositional giddiness. The album’s opener, “Come Along,” is my favorite piece on the album, and I’ve included it on this week’s mix. It sounds, at various times, like a video game soundtrack, a pow-wow, and The Gong Show. It sounds excitable if not revolutionary, not quite a musical analog to the potential of what he’d once proposed with virtual reality. “You can keep whole universes in your pocket or behind your ear and pull them out and look through them any time,” he said about VR’s nascent technology in a 1988 interview. “Perhaps you're sitting on the rings of Saturn. Whatever turns you on.” 

    Virtual reality never blossomed into the engine of possibility Lanier proposed—the most recent development in virtual reality was a recent Facebook announcement that they’d use the platform to make it easier for companies to hold virtual meetings. I like to think that Lanier turned to music as something incorruptible, another, better way to travel. “I think information in itself is a dreadful concept,” Lanier said in that same 1988 interview. “It robs us of the richness of life.” It’s a funny thing to say, but I kind of get it. He’s talking about his lizard brain. That’s why I love listening to music, why I imagine he loves to play it. It’s when I stop thinking in words and start thinking in colors. 

  • I adore “Backside of the Desert” by Geri Baird, from a 1980 album apparently of Christian rock, excellently titled Cool Age. The song is about finding yourself spiritually while you are literally in the desert. When she finds herself, she sings, she is not coming back to the desert. Did someone bring her out there and force her to figure her shit out? It’s kind of dark. Baird has a breathy voice, and her backing band is tight and simple, with the exception of a simple little guitar lick that comes in and out through the song. It reminds me a lot of the song “Seabird” by Alessi Brothers, a similarly styled soft rock track from a few years early where the narrator somewhat stalkerishly says “the word isn’t big enough to keep me away from you.” Soft rock is not a genre or style I’m typically invested in, but both songs improbably find gentleness to be close to desperateness. That may be the most melancholy, fucked up take on that emotion I can imagine in real life, but it makes for excellently melodic cognitive dissonance.

  • I made this playlist before I started watching Only Murders in the Building (no spoilers please, only a few episodes in), so it feels like a funny coincidence that one of the tracks, like the show, features a bassoonist. It’s not an instrument I know much about, but Rebekah Heller brings a pleasing jazziness to her performance of this solo track. Amy Ryan, playing the bassoonist on the Hulu show, has an even poppier take, flirting with Steve Martin by playing “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” out her window. Not a lot of heavy takes here, but bassoon synergy is pretty cool.

  • L.A. Timpa is my A&R tip of the week. No idea what kind of music this is. Modern? His varied sound reminds me of Yves Tumor’s first album on PAN, a cosmic slop of ideas that culminated in one visionary pop song. That same potential is in Timpa’s albums, someone get him some money and time and let him dream.

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