Dominoes falling

As a consumer of the creative, this is exactly the sort of thing I live for.

Stumbling across this on YouTube (the drummer is also in one of my favorite bands, Leprous), my brain is knocked completely loose from it’s moorings. The polyrhythms alone at the very beginning, beating against the piano’s already off-kilter timing – to me, like being thrashed about by rapids while at the same time realizing that you’ve developed gills, so it’s suddenly comforting to just settle in for the ride, knowing that you can survive long enough to hear the siren’s song to completion. The melodies throughout, the violin and the melodic transition at the half-way mark, the shifting time-signatures, the wall-of-sound production, and my god that flawless ritardando at around 8:00, right back into a half-time march toward the end…

For me, these moments — hearing tracks like this (for another example that froze me in my tracks, check out Nils Frahm’s ‘Hammers’, above), reading a unique voice like Chuck Palahniuk or Warren Ellis, seeing your first Dali painting or video by Floria Sigismondi — are less moments of rebirth, less reminders that the world I live in is glass-half-full with plenty of things that still taste great… and more reminders of all the doors that haven’t been opened for me. Aren’t there always more of these waiting for me out there? For all of us? Maybe not even waiting to be found, but instead waiting to find us when we’re ready for them?
(I’ve been thinking a lot over the past year about the differences between illusion and magic, and this all seems to fall in there…)

BTS: (The Show With No Name)

A few years back, some friends of mine got the moxie and the money together and started an Internet-based radio station, Birmingham Mountain Radio. I helped Harper with the web site (the design — this is before I was working with him, prior to having learned anything about C# and .NET web development), and eventually pestered Jeff into letting me have my own show.

The pestering started with the idea of a weekly show focused on hard rock and metal — not in line with the station format of AAA, but hey, this is Internet radio, right? No rules and such. At least, so went my argument. An argument that went over, it should be noted, about as well as a swallow dipped in chrome. Persistence is friend to the marginally talented, though, and I eventually got my compromise: a weekly couple of hours focused on music that is heavier and darker than the rest of our format, but still related. The opposite of Reg’s Coffee House — a flip side of the coin, as it were. After all, if there are people that dig finding out about singer-songwriter releases that you wouldn’t normally hear, there are people that want to hear the more rocking stuff, too, right?

And so, (The Show With No Name) was born.

It’s gone through a lot of evolution in a year-and-a-half (and continues to morph and shift into it’s own creature). Currently (and for the foreseeable future), it’s hosted by myself and Jeremy Harper. I pick most of the music each week, with a little help from Harper and Melisa (both of home are much more comfortable in the format confines than I am).

Doing a weekly radio show is more work than most people would imagine, I imagine. (echo?) There’s the two hours of the actual show, but the preparation is the tricky part — hours of sifting through ten or forty new albums every week, finding stuff that fits the show, stuff that I like (or at least, that I think the listeners would like). And it sounds like it’s easy, creating a 120 minute playlist every week, and it is, in some light. Especially if, like me, you love music, and love discovering new music. But then, remember that it shouldn’t ever become predictable, else people stop tuning in. Some weeks, there’s just not enough new music to fill out the time, so you have to dig through the archives, trying to remember what you’ve played recently, and what you maybe haven’t turned people on to yet…

The hardest part for me is drawing the line between my tastes and what will work on the radio. It’s nice to think that I can drop in my favorite Devin Townsend track, or the new Storm Corrosion disc, or anything from the Coheed & Cambria catalog… but it doesn’t necessarily work that way, or that well. As much as I dig them — and hopefully, at least a few people listening might, too — the truth is that a lot of what I listen to (especially in the context of everything I listen to) is an acquired taste. The new Steven Wilson leans heavily on its 70’s prog influences; Devin Townsend is Phil Spector meets Andrew Lloyd Webber in a knife fight with Meshuggah. These aren’t necessarily things that anyone other than me wants to hear, as Harper points out to me reasonably often.

If you dream of being a DJ… just stop, now. Really. Even if you buck the system and manage to get your own show, playing what you want (instead of what your program director’s computer tells you people want to hear), you’re in for a lot more work than you imagine, and for far less money. None, if you’re working on the bleeding edge of the radio-internet idea, for instance.

But, you know, First World Problems and all that. Overall, it’s something I enjoy, placing it safely in the “postiives” column (I guess that’s obvious, given that I’m still doing it after twenty months). I do get to share a lot of good music that most people wouldn’t hear otherwise — hopefully turning folks on to unfamiliar tunes (and expanding the fanbase of some deserving artists). And, you know, occasionally slipping the random prog tune into the playlist, when no one’s looking.

Ghosts in the wires

There’s a negative connotation that goes with the word “ghosts”. It conjures images of frightful things, trapped or angry spirits who can’t move on.

There are all kinds of ghosts, though. Some are happy, some are sad, some are angry. Most are not ready to let go, or if they are, they just don’t know how.

My head — all of our heads — are full of ghosts.  They span the emotional spectrum, from those we happily visit from time to time, to those that come at us out of the blue, bringing a sudden and unexpected shower of tears.  Ghosts of yesterday, of long ago, and even of tomorrows that are no more. They’re wispy and ethereal, impossible to grab when you want.  They’re there and gone, and you’re left with a shadow of a ghost, nothing more until it comes back to visit again.

Every one of my ghosts has a soundtrack.  Sometimes, when I am visited, the appropriate song pops into my head; more often, the song triggers a visit from the spirits in my memory.

I try to remind myself that it’s all about perspective: if you can change the way you look at something, the definition shifts. Good becomes ugly becomes inspiring becomes wrong becomes the way forward. But sometimes, these damn songs force a point of view on me, the emotional memory that goes with each one.

And some ghosts, fresh as they are, have a lifetime of music to play for me.

And for a rare moment,I find myself praying, wishing, begging, for just a little silence. At least until I can find the perspective that makes this look not so painful.


The best…

Articles like this bother me to no end. Well, this one less than others, but still…

There’s something that smacks of wrong about presenting lists of “greatest” things about art of any kind.  Favorite, maybe, but without proper qualification or explanation, there’s no real rationale behind the idea.

Some people make lists that are positively laughable, obviously nothing more than preference or personal taste.  Which isn’t necessarily a problem, until a high-profile publication like Rolling Stone promotes that list — and when you have the backing of a logo that stands for pop culture and music, you have instant credibility that you haven’t necessarily earned or deserved.

I think one of my biggest issues is that these lists are written by fans or critics or writers, with bias but no knowledge of what they are writing about, whether it’s best instrumentalist, best film, best painting, or whatever.  It’s a given, understood that my listening tastes are going to come into play if I compose a best-of list.  Not necessarily known might be the added weight of my twenty-five years of playing guitar, an understanding of the instrument and the underlying difficulties of mastering it.

Sure, there are some critics who have an inherent, almost prodigious understanding of their subject matter.  Roger Ebert and films comes to mind, or perhaps David Fricke at Rolling Stone, perhaps. But maybe not.  Is there any way of knowing, for sure? If the American Film Institute  tells me that there are 100 classic films I should see because they are the best, I assume that the committee that put that list together is probably composed of people with expertise and understanding.

Maybe it’s just part of my genetic make-up, but semantics are a huge issue for me.

All this being said (he typed with a smirk), my own list of the ten greatest guitarists:

10. Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) (see Porcupine Tree’s ARRIVING SOMEWHERE BUT NOT HERE)
9. Michael Hedges
8. Albert Lee
7. Christopher Parkening
6. B. B. King
5. Joe Satriani
4. Edward Van Halen
3. Jeff Beck
2. Jimi Hendrix
1. Steve Vai

Take it for what you will.  That was composed considering technique and mastery over the instrument, feel and passion behind the playing, innovation in the respective genre or over the instrument, creativity, and of course my own preferences and experiences.