Sunday, January 10, 2010

Earth - "Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine" from the CD Earth 2 and
Steve Fitch - "In Hell" from the mp3 Album Manned Drones

One characteristic that the tracks presented tonight have in common is their abrupt endpoints. Both start as if they've been in a process of generation for some time, and after extended running times, both end bluntly, when it seems as if they could have continued in slightly shifted variations just about indefinitely.

This shared characteristics is an ineffable and not quite describable quality of drone music, but not, it seems, of written essays.

An essay or a blogpost has to have a concrete beginning and a firm stopping point. You can't run the last paragraph of your post through an infinite delay. There's a place where it all germinates from, and there is a point at which the conclusion has been reached. If dronology doesn't require structure, the written word does.

So--because I need one, because it's required--I've been trying to think of a place to start this, and I believe that place might just be back in college, back at FIU, in the mid 80's, maybe in 1986. Of course drone/doom music didn't exist in '86--at least not that anyone knew--so you may with some justification wonder what the fuck that year has to do with this post. But it's still the place to begin, I think, that time when, for one thing, so many of my favorite albums were released. Perhaps it was on balance the best music year ever, I have thought maybe so for some time now. A partial list of the great albums released that year would begin as follows: Atomizer and October File and Master of Puppets and Rembrandt Pussyhorse and Reign in Blood and Rrröööaaarrr and EVOL, also.

So let's call it 1986, and we'll come back to it, too.

I've spoken previously of how my experience delivering the The Miami Herald for Allen Hart drew me into his intense world of speed- and thrash-metal, with the implication perhaps having been that when I had been attending college, its experience had been leading me in other musical directions, into the punk and the indie end of the spectrum. And I suppose this is broadly true.

But I always had been into metal. I seem to remember a keg party I attended in tenth grade, where, sometime before we started doing the California shotguns at the abandoned handball court across the street, and were thus still half-assed rational, Jose Gonzalez and I got into it with a couple others about the superior relative merits of Black Sabbath vis a vis the newcomers Van Halen.

And though I'm not quite as sure about their Dickinson-era work these days, Iron Maiden was probably my favorite band in the world on the day that I graduated high school.

Even more to the point, consider the fact that when I first met my lifelong buddy Cerveza in that year of Ronald Reagan and of the Challenger shuttle, in that year of Slayer and of Sonic Youth, when we were both doing the doomed and futile college student thing, I was astonished not just at how well our tastes in sci-fi and punk rock meshed, but also at how disinterested he was in metal.

It seemed to me (and still does I suppose) that punk and metal are mutually complementary, that they're two methods of getting to the same truths. It's true enough that early on in the history of American hardcore, longhaired kids who had the audacity to go to HC shows sometimes had their asses kicked by packs of skinheads. But that violent tide had receded somewhat by the mid '80's, and Miami's HC shows never really had that violent vibe those going down in LA or Boston might have possessed anyway.

So this conception that I'd had of punk and metal simply being different sections along the same continuum of loud fast and angry music wasn't that far out--it made sense for me and for my city and for my time, if not for my friend Cerveza.

And I was like, what the fuck, dude?. I remember trying to prime him so that he might be more receptive to metal, but sometimes I lacked the proper tools. Like this one time at The Rathskellar, over our daily ration of scammed beer, I compared a favorite punk song of ours, Fear's "I Don't Care About You" to the let us say thematically similar tune from Overkill, "Fuck You." Cerveza didn't want to hear about it, saying dismissively and in high dudgeon that the Overkill song must simply be an inferior copy of the Fear one.

What I hadn't known then was that the Overkill song was itself a cover of the original by the Canadian punk band The Subhumans. So of course, if I had known, I could have then asked Cerveza how it was possible that a classic speedmetal band like Overkill should so ably handle the punk source material if the two genres weren't on some underlying level fundamentally connected.

But, you know, I didn't, and at some point, I simply stopped talking about metal around Cerveza. Whatever, right? Plenty of other things to talk about.

Fair enough, OK: but now flash forward about twenty years.

Cerveza has a kid by this time and evidently the five-year-old had heard some metal song somewhere that he's bothering the old man about. So Cerveza wants to get in tune, and he (contritely, got to give the man some credit) asks me if I could burn him a metal CD.

So I do, and the CD I curate for him is a good one, too, check it out. These days, I might include Tech Death gods Atheist, and I would definitely include some Kyuss, but it wasn't a bad CD, considering it was five years ago, made not only before I had the La Historia iPods, but also before I was hooked into the eMule.

So then--and now we shall get back to the drone/doom, I bet you've been waiting--in doing the graphics for his CD, I looked around for a quote, or an epigram, if you will, about the metal genre to use for the back sleeve. And I found the Eno quote you see above. Looked good, I hope you think, and had an aptness about it, too. The whole thing goes like this:

"Ambient is closer to heavy metal than anything else. Because it's to do with immersion and so is heavy metal. It's obvious to me that the next step is going to be something like metal ambient, some extremely harsh, hostile but intriguing sonic environment."

When I listen to drone/doom, and especially when I listen to Earth, because it's missing the camp element so often present with Sunn O))), I feel something like a sense of disconnection. Because it doesn't always seem like this music is meant for me at all. It seems like this is music of and for machines.

I guess if you ask most people what machine music might sound like, they'd tell you that it was mechanical and metronomic, full of clicks and whirrs and beeps, but I instead think of the waxing and waning hum of generators, of the regular emanation of AC compressors, of turbines, and of the sound that your hard drive makes as it spins.

Crank these sounds way up, maybe bend the rotors or the crankshafts so that they wobble a bit to distort the soundcurve some, and I think the waveforms thus generated would be something akin to the power ambient under discussion today: long sustained tones swaying slowly back and forth from pitch, washes of feedback itself feeding back in a near-infinite loop, sound that flows regularly like water--shot from a water cannon.

Now, move ahead five years to the present. I hear about Sunn O))) on ilxor, read about 'em in The New York Times, and see Chuck Eddy make fun of 'em in Spin. And Cerveza discovers them through his own investigations. I buy Black One, but download ØØ Void because I'm not collector scum who can ever justify paying $60.00 for a CD.

So I burn a copy for my buddy, and shortly thereafter we're on the horn and he mentions my metal CD from five years previous and Eno's quote I had there affixed. Pretty astute, is the gist of what Cerveza says to me, that Eno basically predicted Sunn O))). And I hadn't made the connection before, and so said, yeah, it sure as fuck was.

Eno has a justifiable reputation for astuteness and even prescience in matters musical, but on further reflection, and after having read this blogpost from Simon Reynolds about the quote, this actually appears to have been one case where Mr. Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno was actually behind the curve.

In looking quite rightly at Earth, Reynolds points to a band who released their defining work a full 21 months before Eno spoke to the Telegraph, and who had been working with the doom/drone concept, the power ambient idea, at least four years prior.

Please understand I'm not trying to disparage Eno here. The man's a motherfucking musical genius, and no lame-ass after-the-fact sniping from a schmuck such as myself is going to change that. The point might actually be that talking about Eno and Dylan Carlson at the same time makes some sense, as they are two of the few who get to say they've invented a genre.

I suppose even Edison had his precursors, though. In preparing this post, I was vaguely but insistently reminded of a piece of music Sonic Youth had attached to the end of their first official bootleg, called Live at The Continental Club. I received it as a freebie when I joined SY's fan club in 1991. Twelve of the thirteen tracks on LATCC chronicle the show in Austin Texas from April 1986 where the Yoot debuted in a live setting the songs that would make up EVOL. But track 13 wasn't theirs. Lee Ranaldo, in his notes to the CD wrote that "[t]he original cassette recording was made by Austin film-maker Bill Daniels . . . the end music is by Steve Fitch (Summer '86) and came with the tape."

I love me some Sonic Youth, which is why I'd joined their fan club, but still, was a little underwhelmed by the performances on Continental Club. Maybe 'cause the songs were still new to the band, I dunno. But man, did I love the Fitch piece. Calling it merely "Untitled Music by Steve Fitch," I remember putting it on a mix tape I made and cranking the thing while driving around in the Sloshmobile, and when working by myself delivering The Herald.

Like a lot of the weirdo things I'd been into, it got forgotten in the mid- to late-nineties, when acclimating myself to my new, business environment-type 9 to 5 and trying to seem as mainstream as possible to the ruthless girlfriend I'd somehow, miraculously, managed to link with were my biggest priorities.

But in re-discovering the thing now for this post, in looking back, I'll be damned if "In Hell" (for that's what Fitch called his piece upon placing it into his mp3 album) isn't the spitting image of the drone/doom I'm so interested in now. I mean, I don't even know if it's even guitars that Fitch is using to craft his soundscape, but in the end it doesn't matter. The qualities that are important and that the music shares with drone metal are its cyclical, slow oscillations of chromium tone, its amorphous attack and sustained decay, and the overriding requirement that it plays best LOUD.

I guess the moral of our story, (and the evidence that our required structural stopping point has in fact been reached) is the realization that no matter how matter how innovative you are, no matter how groundbreaking, no matter whether you're Dylan Carlson, or Simon Reynolds, or even Brian Eno, there will be if you search long enough somebody who came before and did something essential in your field--even if you've never heard of 'em. Steve Fitch, what do you know? It's one of the things that makes music so awesome in these days of easily shared digital tuneage: there's always room to dig for more, to unEarth, as it were, the underlying roots.

Earth 2 - Special Low Frequency Version - 02 - Teeth Of Lions Rule The Divine.mp3

This file was removed May 22, 2010. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File Under: Doom Drone

13 Steve Fitch - Untitled Music from Live at the Continental Club.mp3

This file was removed May 22, 2010. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.
File Under: There is nothing new under the sun

1 comment:

tad said...

Rastro: I don't know about NE of THIS stuff, but something else U said rang a bell w/ me. I would LIKE 2 create a blog post that's kinda shapeless & 4mless, just a series of images or scenes evoked by the music, & I thot I might B able 2 do that w/ Animal Collective, but I couldn't really get in2 them (might even work BETTER that way). But there R other possibilities -- Miles Davis, mayB, or Van der Graaf Generator, or Can? Haven't given up the idea, NEway. Structure is really such a pain sometimes, how bout just a wash of info...?
& I'm still looking 4ward 2 that poem U said U might do about Soft Machine's THIRD....
Keep it up! -- TAD.