For all the harp hating I intimated previously, now my protestations are a flimsy, hollow impossibility. But can I please still retain my harp-misgivings if I explain how this Senegalese man, Seckou Keita, brings a warm, cyclic effusion to this duet and how this Welsh woman, Catrin Finch, plays so delightfully into and around the rhythm which, yes, does contain the very grime I have said this instrument lacks.
Before the flames befall me, strictly, Seckou Keita plays the kora which I am assured is more like a lute and it achieves its bottom end thanks to a resonating body. Nevertheless the kora’s harp-like auditory quality is clear and I feel the need to get this off my chest.
Can I further draw your attention to the way this piece contains sound – not just composition? It contains rhythm – if not funk – and harmony with the husky textures of wood and strings. I’m usually pretty happy to forego melody for all that but to also find that here, calling me closer in refrain, yet living within the texture – that sort of thing makes me listen again. It makes me fret I’ll repeat it too often and wear out my wonder, deny my future self this same abandon.
As they reach the middle of the performance, I see how they are getting into it. Look at them grinning like they just shared a joke. When I watch, I see them taken away from their fingers and technique, forgetting everything but the moment and being surprised and delighted by what they find in that moment, even as they themselves create it for us all.
Towards the conclusion of the piece, things embolden in an anthematic and ever rising cycle that warms me more than the sun. This is not what I had come to expect from the harp.
After the last harp video I posted it’s a statement I find increasingly hard to defend, but I don’t necessarily like the harp, per se. It lacks grime. But this … this it transcendent. This performance of one of my all time favourite pieces of sublime music literally brings tears to the eye.
Music is what feelings sound like indeed. I love it when music does this. You take one of the worlds most avant garde electronic production duos, English pioneers Autechre, and you do a live cover with a rock lineup. Breathtaking performance and tasteful, even-handed effects processing by smirking Belgian fusion three piece, Altertape (file under drummer-maestro-secret-sauce).
Check this rendition of Johann’s monster tune Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. To my admittedly amateur ear Amy Turk smashes this. I sometimes find the soft yet nasal harp a little too knitted-vest-and-sensible-socks, slightly too white roses and not quite enough motorcycle leather but this one has me quite entranced.
No thoughts, intentions or expectations. It’s not a doodle, if that implies being idle. It’s not a work of art, if that implies work. It’s what happened with my pen and paper while I was living in my body just now.
There is a kind of destructive and delusional conspiracy in the history of much of human thinking that has undermined the fundamental importance of one of our most incredible resources: Nothing.
People are down on Nothing.
What we should see if we think about it more clearly, is that the world of things is really the creation in our own minds, in our mental model of the world, of the line between two equally important parts of one whole. One of those parts is Nothing.
To fail to appreciate Nothing, to harness it, to be blind to the role of Nothingness is to deny ourselves of the most natural fulfilment.
Nothingness is the secret to understanding not only the world, but the self, and after all, what, really, is the difference?
Listen to Alan Watts talk about Nothing:
Also enjoy the music.
I recognised part of Neil Young’s soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s classic black and white movie Dead Man in there, one of my favourites, the track “Organ Solo” which I think is played on a hand organ. This movie features Jonny Depp as a man named “William Blake” who is mistaken to be the reincarnation of the famous poet by a native American man, aptly named “Nobody”. Iggy pop is in there too. Choice quotes from memory “One thing’s fur shurr, I wouldn’t trust nothin writ down on no piece of paper” and “I can’t take whisky like I youstacould”. The movie is intense (a couple of graphic scenes) but unmissable, so if you managed to miss it, you have your homework.
Also behind Alan Watts in the video is “Lars is no loser” sung by Icelander Siggi Ármann and “Dawn” by Cinematic Orchestra from their gorgeous album “Man with a movie camera”. This music ties so many references together for me and for my appreciation of the message so eloquently furnished by this master of Nothing, Alan Watts.
The rest of the music I feel familiar with but can’t identify, so if you recognise it please do tell.
Recently I read the Tao te Ching for the first time. This little book, two and a half thousand years old, so tenderly rendered into English by Stephen Mitchell, contains a raw and ancient wisdom that has been carried into the modern era in more recent eastern traditions such as Zen Buddhism.
Like the true poetry it is, there are things said and unsaid, metaphors and imagery woven into an artwork that speaks not only to us but through us. The author, Lao Tzu, an ancient master of The Tao, or “The Way” teaches us how to live in a way that religion often does, but which does not define laws for us to follow. Instead it shows us where to look to discover the laws of nature.
The book is tiny. The message is simple. As much as we would rather demand that the mystery of living is a puzzle that only exertion and grand learning, perhaps even selective divine inspiration can reveal to us, this book leaves us with ourselves. The words leave space. The guidance is a mere nudge and a nod, a gesture towards a path that winds through the trees without high ceremony or the odour of empire (unlike Confucianism which almost ruined eastern philosophy for me when I was younger).
Far from shying away from the every day, a reading discourages high retreat from family life or work or pleasure as much as it encourages compassion and peace and precisely the kind of inner harmony that people like me can normally never bear to hear about without cliche-induced nausea.
Yet somehow its message has penetrated me. I like it.
It doesn’t tell, but it helps us tell ourselves. It uses language to exceed language.
At once a tactic, a style and the core message, the Tao te Ching exhibits a common characteristic of eastern wisdom traditions: things in the Tao te Ching often seem to conflict with each other in a way that unsettles the puffy rational ego into a game where it, if it can be personified, believes it can win by rejecting the message and text as shallow nonsense. Simultaneously, a part of us – perhaps what some people like to call a soul, whispers into our ear that it didn’t win, it lost, that it was really the ego being shallow and reminding us that we can too easily be drawn into imaginary conflict like a bird pecking a mirror, unable to see the beauty of reflection.
How can I say more?
When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.
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Brooklyn instrumental duo Ratatat have something interesting going on. The music is electronic dance but they dirty the lower tempo house beats with sophisticated choppy rhythm layers, 70s-style guitar riffs and fuzzy synth chords. There’s a little bit of the LA sound, like Flying Lotus, but then the square punch also reminds me of Daft Punk. There’s definitely a strain of psychedelia.
So that’s the music, but why I’m really blogging this is the video clips.
I’m not sure if somebody has slipped something into the video producer’s milkshake but the results are surprisingly stunning. Stunning in the sense that my first reaction was bewilderment. They look like intentionally failed attempts to utterly underwhelm. That stunned feeling quickly gave way to a rising mirth and wonder, like I get when experiencing a zen koan. Perhaps one isn’t expected to arrive with satisfaction at rational comprehension.
Here’s “Cream on Chrome” which may have been test footage from a budget Beijing karaoke joint that had been found in the trash folder of a backpacker’s SD card.
In “Neckbrace” I want to believe they have a highly trained battery of incredibly disciplined birds. Add a drummer with a bare snare, and that’s almost all they need on-screen.
In this one it seems like they’ve repurposed footage from a stock photography shoot, because, what could be cooler than a fake sequence of normal people acting normal?
Check out this incredible display of prodigious drum skill by Jojo Mayer. Now that’s what I call drum and bass. Well, technically, I think you might call this genre Jungle but it’s all good. I’m not too sure I’m on board with the genre of camera work employed however!
Brian Fitzy starts this jam out with a straight-up acoustic guitar song but by half way has built up half a dozen layers including electric violin and decent beatboxing. Don’t quit out before you get to the good stuff. Nice breakdown too.