Multi-faceted artist Saba Alizadeh has created a piece that combines his unique visual aesthetic with sound and theater, and the result is a stunning, politically charged work with heart-wrenching subtlety.
I am a half-Arab who looks American. Saba is an Iranian who looks Arab. And in this experience, I am struck by the powerful marriage of visuals and experimental sound to arrive at the piece’s central theme. He sits in full protective gear, complete with surgical mask and safety goggles, and gets to work. As the piece progresses, the lights turn off and a wonderful dance of light and sound commences. We watched him build the thing ourselves, but still the context is inescapable. He hugs a lamp to his chest, using light sensors in his circuit to tune it to the drone, and makes it sing.
Don’t think here about modes, harmony, pitch, or meter. Do think about structure. Think about an Iranian holding a bright light to his heart, and what it means when we realize that the context of that performance, simply because he is an Iranian on U.S. soil, is… different. And art exists to point out differences in a way that makes them not.
The piece ends with darkness and the familiar Morse code plea for help. Some people might hear a bunch of squeaks and bleeps and might even scoff at calling this music. But, as for this reviewer, I nearly cried.
Saba will be performing at Seyhoun Gallery in West Hollywood on Wednesday, October 30th at 8 p.m.
As it is Claude Debussy’s birthday, I thought I’d share some music I find soothing, in my own way. What you have to understand, though, is that people are just born with differently wired nervous systems. When they want to wind down or reenergize, different people will go to classical, or coffeehouse, or chill lounge, or even Coldplay. I just happen to be soothed by loud music with a groove. It seems to help if there are metallophones involved. Cut up vocal samples, too. If you notice any particular trend, seriously, let me know. But for whatever reason, these songs all occupy the same musical space in my soul. When I need it, these are examples of what get me and my particularly atypical nervous system when I need them to.
I’ve linked each video with a little description, and at the bottom of this post is an embedded YouTube playlist that will play them in the basically arbitrary order in which I thought of them. So come back to this post whenever you need it, weary traveler. Make a cup of hot tea and rest your feet by fire. Then jam the hell out. Enjoy.
1. Jackson and His Computer Band – Utopia (2005)
Jackson Fourgeaud is a French electronic musician, and this is the song that got him signed to Warp Records. It features vocal samples from his mother, a folk and blues musician who goes by birdpaula.
2. Squarepusher – Iambic 5 Poetry (1999)
From Budakhan Mindphone, one of Squarepusher’s most unique albums, which is saying something. Nothing on this list hits me quite like this. I love most Squarepusher songs, and this might be my number one.
3. DJ Shadow – Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt (1996)
DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. was a gamechanger on so many levels. It changed hip hop forever, being the first album ever created entirely by samples, thus paving the way for masterpieces like J Dilla’s donuts and countless others. It is soulful, humble, and beautiful, and this is one of my favorite tracks from it.
4. Plaid – Rakimou feat. Mara Carlyle (1997)
Plaid’s Not For Threes a quiet little album, often overlooked by those who want to go back to the 90s for some groundbreaking electronica. This song always stuck out to me for the folky simplicity with which it integrates the practically unmanipulated Greek lyrics lilting across music. Translated to English, they are, “I love you, because you are beautiful / I love you, because it’s you.”
5. Banks – Before I Ever Met You (2013)
Despite just having written about Banks, I continue to be enamored of each new track she releases and can’t wait for the release of her upcoming, totally mysterious album.
6. RJD2 – Here’s What’s Left (2002)
The hidden track off of RJD2′s Deadringer, one of my favorite albums of all time. An extension of the non-hidden track “Work”, it features the vocals of Sam Brown’s triumphant return to the Intruders from 1973, reimagining them in a way only this DJ can. I once saw RJD2 play a set live, and Aceyalone rapped over it. It was incredible.
7. Apparat – Limelight (2007)
Walls was a big change for Apparat, and pretty much everyone agrees it was for the better. Now paired with Moderat in a collaboration that I really will get around to writing about here any day now, he has absolutely blown up. I would say about half his tracks really don’t jive with me, but this thoughtful beat and cutup vocal sampling hits me in the very best way.
8. Nalepa – Monday (Glitch Mob Remix) (2008)
Like most people, I heard the remix first. Steve Nalepa is a known-within-circles type of producer and does not generally make big beat stuff, but even then I was surprised to find how incredibly different the original sounded. It’s sort of awesome. As is whoever that vocal sample is from. I mean, damn.
9. Ulrich Schnauss – Between Us and Them (2001)
Though this debuted in Europe in 2001, it wasn’t released in the States until four years later. American record labels didn’t think it was unique enough to sell here, but Ulrich’s subtle yet masterful attention to sound palette eventually won out. Though the music might seem simple, it is anything but, and that kind of nuance and detail is like a warm blanket to my brain.
10. DJ Earworm – Reckoner Lockdown (Radiohead vs. Kanye) (2008)
I love Kanye West. And of course I love Radiohead (Street Spirit almost made it to this list) and have since the Bends. DJ Earworm is the undisputed champion of mashups, and I unironically, unequivocally love this track at least as much as either of the originals.
11. Chemical Brothers – The Private Psychedelic Reel (1997)
Dig Your Own Hole was another gamechanger, a crossover album that, along with You’ve Come A Long Way Baby and Fat of the Land, paved the way for popular electronic music as it slowly crept onto the American radio waves. This track is one of the lesser known, but because of the astounding, incredibly, completely wicked clarinet solo this is the one I always go back to. Especially if it’s raining.
12. Pretty Lights – Finally Moving (2006)
The most popular track from the Colorado producer’s first release and still one of my favorites, featuring actual record scratching alongside a lovely Etta James sample. Derek releases all his music as pay-what-you-want downloads at Pretty Lights Music. I can’t recommend doing this enough. His most recent release A Color Map of the Sun includes session outtakes from the studio which are pretty amazing in their own right.
13. Four Tet – Parks (2001)
A common choice for me when ending sets, Four Tet a.k.a. Kieran Hebden is a very special sort of producer whose soulful collaborations with Burial and Thom Yorke are some of the finest tracks every produced. This particular one from his album Pause features samples from jazz clarinetist Tony Scott and field recordings from, well, I’m pretty sure they’re parks.
As a bonus, I’d like to include one of my own collaborations with Cesilie Kverneland, a Norwegian choreographer I worked with at CalArts before she went back to Europe to conquer the world. It is not part of the above playlist, so here is the video below.
This was a very personal and reminiscent playlist for me. Thanks for listening and happy birthday, Claude.
In grad school, at least in my grad school, they did their best to, as politely as they could, shove world music down your throat. This has interesting consequences. As hard to believe as this is, not all world music is good. In fact, most of it is bad. Because the phrase “world music” covers, like, 90% of music. It would be really weird if all of it was good.
Maybe because I grew up listening mostly to some strange combination of jazz, Arabic music, and my school bus driver’s favorite R&B top 40, I don’t tend to go nuts for music just because it has a world beat. Great, this uses maksum, how awesome. It’s still just another bad rap track. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the very first time I heard Big Pimpin I flipped out, but a young half-Syrian kid can only handle so much.
What I’m saying is that it’s easy to write off world music as something kitschy, or some kind of gimmick, and sometimes you’d be right. This happens even in the world of academic chamber music… but not even remotely in the case of Rhein Percussion. Rhein means “to flow”, and they seriously do. This album grooves, regardless of how uneven the meter might look on paper, and it does so in a natural, authentic-but-super-fresh manner. They flow seamlessly between improvisation, complex tala and electronics, sometimes combining all three at once.
These guys played on my recital, and many have since said their performance was a highlight. Rhein Percussion consists of a core group of CalArts drummers, with a rotating cast of collaborators. The tracks on their self-titled debut are all composed, mixed, and recorded by ensemble members and friends. Their signature sound combines world rhythms and instrumentation with drum set, and some truly profound soundscapes emerge. Amir Oosman, as I’ve said before on this blog, is a master kit player. Dan Ogrodnik’s knowledge of hand drumming styles knows no bounds. Josh Carro, it’s been rumored, must now carry around an extra set of tablas because the ones he’s playing sometimes spontaneously burst into flames of ecstasy.
On two tracks, Brian Foreman‘s unique brand of electronics and live processing casts the group’s already modern sound into a deep, dark future filled with buzzy beats and rhythmic surprises that modern live electronic production so often lacks. Other collaborators who should blow your mind just by seeing them all on one album: Matthew Clough-Hunter on gamelan, drummers Sean Fitzpatrick and Etienne Rivera, and Ryan Bancroft, Rusty Kennedy, and Andrew Rowan on conch shell. How cool is that?
When the electronics fade, this excellent album rounds out with a couple live performances. The ensemble has already started performing around Los Angeles, just recently at the awesome Blue Whale with the world famous Hands On’Semble, and they were even featured a coveted slot on the 2013 CalArts Jazz CD. Take a listen below, follow them on Facebook, and name your price for their album on Bandcamp.
I am part of an experimental theater performance at Highways Theater in Santa Monica. The final show is tonight at 8:30 p.m. and runs about an hour. I beat box and take part in various other silly and entertaining things. Last night was a great success, and tonight is sold out. But I wanted to give a shoutout for anyone interested in rush tickets.
“New Shoes 3 is the third installment in an ongoing series of new dance and physical theater works by Southern California-based artists. Annabel Movement Ensemble’s Tumultuous explores the archetypes in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Making connections between office workers and athletes, Hanna Kovenock, Julia Marasa and Paige Tighe play with the idea of breaking out of the constraints of capitalist culture in LABOR-ation. Deena Selenow, Paul Fraser and Genevieve Gearhart’s Katastrofi merges Sophocles’ tragedy The Women of Trachis with Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River.” In The Day I Met Anne Frank, Winter Dance Theater uses Frank’s story as a jumping off point for a piece featuring dance, theater and song.”
I am currently listening to Niyomkarn’s new headphones album, Hue. It was produced on the open source program SuperCollider and is entirely in 3D audio (hence the requirement for headphones). I’m now about halfway through the third track, 28 [FISH], and suddenly we’ve gone from the sound of oily fingers on alien glass to a softly rising sun with TV static, then back to the alien glass except now there’s bugs on it.
There are parts of this album that make my ears and brain very uncomfortable in the most pleasant of ways. Other moments are so delicately constructed, especially in terms of panning, that I had to lie down and close my eyes. Between the chaotically rhythmic blips, beeps, drones, noise, static and sirens is an introspective silence from Niyomkarn, an insistent, calm little plea to listen closely. This is my favorite kind of message in music, and some would say it’s the only message.
Too often, composers compose for a purpose. I know I am very guilty of this, if “guilty” is the right word. But some music adamantly exists merely to point out that sound is awesome. That’s what Hue is. An electronic painting of nothing the eyes can see. It’s full of surprises in a genre that often encounters the problem of being so unpredictable, everything is predictable. Maybe in Hue’s case, this is achieved with the three-dimensional mix. The sounds will parade about inside your head, like a fairy circle if the fairies were surrounded by totally rad forcefields and constantly zapping between superpositions.
I’m now on If and Only If, the center track. Two soundscapes faded back and forth, as if vying for attention, giving way to a massively dead center full-spectrum pulse tone called Drops. This drops into (it’s an accurate title) an Indian Rag-esque tabla jam, and it works so well here. Maybe going to CalArts prepares you to be ready for itinerant rag-esque tabla jams popping out at you from every direction. But Jason Guthrie’s drums are soaked in electronics. They feel utterly appropriate. The live performance of this music is really apparent here.
On the other side of If and Only If, we are faced with music that has discovered sampling, harmony and rhythm, but it has unearthed these strange objects on its own and so come to us as hints and dream-thoughts. The effect is palpable. Theory II is a paramecium rave, leading then into lush swaths of harmonic and vocal sampling in Hers.
And this ending. This ending right here. I won’t spoil it, but I can safely say Hue is a journey I’m glad I took. Though the music may scare you at first, I’m here to tell you that music is supposed to do that. It’s supposed too make you uncomfortable in a way that refuses to let you go.
Find Niyomkarn’s album on Bandcamp. Listen there or via the player below.
A bot has put together a pretty fun playlist from a redditor’s comments in a post entitled Those songs that upon the first time hearing them you know you’ve found something amazing. Here’s the full playlist in the bot’s comment.
Nicolas Jaar has remixed Random Access Memories and it is extremely mediocre. I’m linking it here anyway because reasons.
LA filmmaker Thomas MacVicar has put together a 10-minute mini-documentary about the so-called “beat scene” of Los Angeles, which first gained steam at the Airliner with Low End Theory and slowly becoming, like, a thing, man. Features excellent music and interviews from artists such as Daedelus, Shlohmo, Co.Fee, and Mndsgn.
Pretty Lights has released his much anticipated new album A Color Map of the Sun, which he has made available for free download, donation, or purchase from your favorite media acquisition site. Listen below for some groovy, jazzy hip hop the likes of which your mind has never been rocked by.