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Deep Voices #60
Songs for getting carried away by a river
The few entries of Deep Voices this year have mostly been about my son Renzo’s death and my relationship to music since he died and I suppose this edition isn’t going to be different. Listening to music had been tough until somewhat recently, and my desire for discovery has begun to return. I no longer hiss at joyful music. Depressing music doesn’t always suit my mood. My wife bought the Beyoncé album on vinyl and we listened to all four sides while playing a game of Scrabble. It sounded fun.
Really there’s no solid through line in my listening habits the last month or two, no more mandated 18 hours a day of Bill Evans because anything else is too dissonant, too overwhelming. In a way, that mirrors the way that my grief has changed. This summer I did EMDR therapy, which is designed to help lessen some of the pain of trauma. It worked. Before, it felt like I was imprisoned within four small walls of an electric fence. I had to be very careful with my movements in order to not touch it. My focus was basic survival: don’t get electrocuted. Now the fence is down. Some time has passed since Renzo’s death. It’s no longer a shock that he is gone. It’s just grief to be managed. It’s mundane, frustrating, sad. But it’s wide open, commingled with the rest of the universe’s day to day business. Without that pressure to survive, doing much of anything can feel impossible. Being able to go anywhere isn’t much of a gift when you don’t want to move.
I made this playlist a few months ago. I feel like, of all the 60 minutes of music I’ve sent out the last two years, this one gels most as a seamless collage, one unified piece of sound. That’s more about tone than genre. There’s folk, new wave, jazz, and a few different kinds of experimentalism. But across the songs there’s a moody humidity, a unifying loll. There’s urgency but no destination.
There’s life or death in Bill Evans music. It’s the thing that his music the only thing I could listen to for so long. The way he plays piano straddles the line between ecstasy and misery. It was like no other sound mimicked the stakes of Renzo’s loss. This playlist doesn’t do that. Not every moment can hold such weight. These songs move, sort of. They’re good for listening to while like standing on a moving walkway. You can listen to this playlist on the subway when you come home from your job. Listen to it while you walk your dog in the rain. While you fold your laundry fresh out of the dryer. While you do things you have to do. Not while you’re doing anything painful. But maybe not while you’re doing anything pleasurable. Listen to it while you’re on your way to something fun. While you’re putting in the work to reap the rewards. Whether or not they come.
There’s a phrase I remember someone using about media when they were giving me advice as an editor some years ago: “You can’t guard the waterfront.” What he meant was you can’t be all things to all people. Attempting to use your resources to be a publication that covers all topics in all ways is a foolish endeavor. Find your focus and filter your resources appropriately. It was smart thinking that I’ve taken to heart professionally for the last decade. But right now I prefer Michael Farneti’s water-based advice on “The River” better: “Some people get in a dither/Trying to hold back the river/But what else could carry us hither?/You can’t stop the river.” Don’t try to guard anything. Don’t even try. Jump in. Easier said than done, but it’s good to try to reframe your thinking every once in a while. I’m trying to take my own advice.
“Rumors of Bread.” What a bleak-ass short story name for a song. I love Valentina Magaletti. This is a very short track from her solo percussion album, A Queer Anthology of Drums. It’s an anxious piece of music. Maybe you’re anxious about a tornado shredding your town (“Words I First Saw”) or maybe you’re anxious about having to wake up the snoring guy in the aisle seat so you can pee in the middle of the night on a red eye (“Per Strada”). “Rumors of Bread” is actually probably the least anxious song. Whatever drum she’s clobbering has a bell-like resonance. It sounds like a number in a musical that takes place in a factory. Imagine everyone on the line suddenly harmonizes at once, rhythm and song breaking out of the most mundane of scenes. But what of the rumors of bread? You have to assume there is no bread for there to be rumors of it. No bread makes me think of war, famine, death. The song doesn’t make me think of that. Or maybe I just don’t want to. Right now, I’d prefer art of abundance. Consider this my petition to retitle the song. “Rumors of Bread (That Came True. There Was Plenty of Bread.)”
Sometimes I think about two conversations I had with DJs while I was working at Fader. One was with Jamie xx, who talked about painstakingly assuring that the audio files he played with were as high fidelity as possible. Another was with Venus X, who talked about ripping whatever discoveries she had straight from YouTube and playing whatever degraded MP3 arose from that process. On one mix, I remember, she literally used the sound of a submarine pinging. It was awesome. Maybe I could see the value in both approaches. But I’m pretty far from a purist. Recorded in a dumpster is better than not recorded at all.
Occasionally I hear a piece of music that makes me reconsider my laissez faire attitude. The album Isola by drummer Lawrence Pike and guitarist Cameron Dyell is one of those. It’s a crisp collaboration where the presence of the music feels as important as its substance. On “Thunberg,” you’ve got oscillating bloopies, something that sounds like paper being balled up and thrown into a fire, the detailed rattle of snares. Sometimes, when you see music performed live, you can see its tactility, the sine waves shooting through space. When I listen to music recorded, the science goes away. I get immersed in the mush. That’s not the case here. It’s pointillist music. Clever, yes, but maybe so what? It’s ok to sometimes love the dots.
Has anyone watched Irma Vep? The remake on HBO with Alicia Vikander. If you haven’t, there are these fantastic scenes of Vikander, a lanky Swedish woman with a background in dance, slinking around in a black catsuit. She walks through walls, across rooftops, tiptoes weightlessly up and down stairs. It’s an iconic setup from the original Irma Vep and Vikander doing her best Maggie Cheung with her feline prowl. The scenes, which repeat across the miniseries episodes, are all soundtracked by “Temple Dance of the Soul” by lutist Jozeph Van Wissem featuring Domingo Garcia-Huidobro. Van Wissem plays the lute like a busy bluesman mauling a guitar. His is music for belly dances, for cult rituals, for drinking stuff out of goblets. The song would be just fine played straight, but he’s added clipped static, that kind of frayed noise that happens when you touch the aux cord. The two parts make neat companions, the earthy lute and the decomposing electronics. The song speeds up as it goes along, too, like it’s nervous, teetering close to the edge. Like Vikander on the roof. But it doesn’t fall. Neither does she.