This weeks post is going to be simply a list of my favorite records released this year.

Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
Bonnie Prince Billy and Matt Sweeny - Superwolf
Deerhoof - Runners Four
LCD Soundsystem - Self-Titled
Silver Jews - Tanglewood Numbers
Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs
Antony and The Johnsons - I am a Bird Now
Julius Eastman - Unjust Malaise
Robert Ashley - Celestial Excursions
Architecture in Helsinky - In Case We Die
Artemis Quartet - Ligeti String Quartets 1 & 2
Animal Collective - Feels
Alvin Curran - Inner Cities
Oneida - The Wedding
Mu - Out of Breach (Manchester's Revenge)
Konono No. 1 - Congotronics
Pierre Laurent Aimard - Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit, Carter: Night Fantasies
Broadcast - Tender Buttons
Matthew Herbert - Plat Du Jour
Angel's of Light & Akron/Family - Self-Titled
Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice - XIAO
Buck 65 - Secret House Against the World
Why? - Elephant Eyelash
Edan - Beauty and the Beat

no real order, maybe the most sentimental value closer to the top.
more content next sunday,

A friend told me that my post last week was lame, which is cool because it means he read it, and also not cool because he was right. So I'm going to try this week to make this post not lame for my friend (who is normally, pretty lame), and try and write about something more important. Sleep. I am thinking about sleep because I am tired, but also because of a few instances recently that sparked some thought on sleep and music.
The first instance involved being mesmerized by a baby in my family being danced to sleep listening to various indie-pop albums of mine. The effect of watching this baby fall asleep was itself soporific, almost dreamy. I assume different babies fall asleep to different music, whether that's the baby's taste or the parents, and it was odd that this baby would find my upbeat Clap Your Hands Say Yeah record so sleepy. I was told that it's the repetitious rhythm that does it. Babies find solace in that numbing uniformity of a bounce, or a vibration. Ah, vibration. But this makes me wonder if the baby's ear responds better to the bass - low frequencies with a lot of resonance (because they actually make your body vibrate more) or maybe to the static mid range of a pop song (the warm keyboards, strummed patterns on guitar) or is it the human voice in a pop song, the memory of mom or dad talking (or singing) a child to sleep? This is a question for neurology/developmental psychologists, to be sure, but its also relevant to people making music. What sounds induce sleep?
On my birthday, I went to a spa and had a massage. As tradition goes, massages are accompanied by the most asinine new age jazz/pseudo-pan asian folk bullshit you could imagine. Some Zen dickhead in the 70's decided that the only way to relax was to fetishize asia, ruin jazz, and make all of Southern California believe that Buddhism was about spending too much money to get a rubdown. Regardless, I love massages, but I spend the whole time deconstructing this embarrassing music, or just laughing at it (on the inside). This music does not make me sleep, but it does relax a lot of other people. And maybe the dream of asia, or of a soprano saxophonist with long flowing hair who wears only fine silk and linen is a cultural dream more than a musical one. It's not about what the music really sounds like, its just a sign for the touristic need to get away from the rhythms and images of American waking life.
I think about the long-standing notion of music as trance-enducing as problematic. Good music invigorates, it makes me feel alive and aware, or hyper-aware. It certainly is an altered state, which is where the hypothetical relationship with dreams enters the scene. With dreams you have also the ability to imply night, death, insanity, obsession, sex etc. Orpheus is the perfect symbol of this; one of the possible roots of his name literally means darkness. And Eurydice is that symbol of the eternal dream. Her failed passage out of the underworld hints at our fear that the dream of music is so unreal, so invisible, that it must be seen to be believed; which was her downfall. Ironically, I think this disbelief is what unhinges music from its viscerally real presence and allows you to drift away down the sleep river, to snore in concerts, or whatever. Steve Reich is very specific about making sure that the word trance is used without reference to sleepiness or to lazy listening, he wants his music to be as vital as any. Some minimalist or post-minimalist composers push their luck though, they want attention, but its just so easy to feel like a sleepy baby letting the sounds wash over you, rather than pierce through you, which is how I like to listen and how I would like to be heard.
The problem I have though, is that I started believing deeply in Cageian aesthetics a while ago, and sometimes I have trouble falling asleep because I listen to ambient noises as if they were pieces of music. I don't think that's problem most people have, especially babies, but it's a weird reversal of the question. By in large, I think most people who are aurally sensitive while falling asleep use the same techniques that they always have done, mindless repetition. Repetition of the kind that those ambient noise machines create (the waves, babbling brooks, chirping birds etc) gives me the creeps. Its like disembodied nature, nature on loop, it makes me think of a manufactured future, life on repeat, the machination of sound along with everything else. I'd like to think that babies are more sophisticated than we give them credit for. That their ear is actually interested in the unfolding change of a piece of music, and not its stasis, and that sleep arrives as a result of enchantment not entrancement.
'till next sunday,
I went to the BSO performance on thursday of previously commissioned pieces by the BSO. This was a concert of music entirely from the latter half of the last century, and it ran just over two and a half hours. What? It is difficult to program modernist music for a major symphony at all let alone a long concert of four big (either in length or effect) pieces (Dutilleaux - Sympony no. 2, Stravinsky - Symphony of Psalms, Carter - Boston Concerto, and Bartok - Concerto for Orchestra). How does Levine get away with this? For those who know these pieces or these kind of pieces, this was a dreamy proposition, especially with how smoking good the BSO plays right now regardless of the fact that with this newer music you can tell they are only doing it because they believe in Levine and not because they believe in the pieces. But for those in the audience who come to the Symphony for a dressy, sophisticated 2nd date, or for 19th century nostalgia, or were being dragged by tourism (as was the case with a man behind me who clearly did not want to be there - I knew this because when the Dutilleax started he turned to his wife and said, in earnest, "I should have gotten drunk at the hotel before this"). But the weird thing to me, having gone to a few BSO performance this fall, was that there was a distinct buzz in the room, an almost nervous excitement, before and during the concert. While, previously I got the sense of BSO concerts as haughty, assured, intellectual, and wearing the sort of dressed-down arrogance that New England high culture substitutes for modesty. All of which I actually enjoy, despite being self-conscious of my own fake modesty, if only because it makes concert going seem normal, something you might do after work (or school) and not just on special occasions. But in this case, I sensed a slight bit of scandal, a little "well, this will be interesting...", and a hefty portion of failed attempts to explain just what the hell was going on in the music of Dutilleaux. But the overheard failed attempts with Dutilleaux were more interesting than the safe sentimental slobber that came with the Symphony of Psalms: "Oh I liked the Stravinsky, it was...ravishing, delicate, transcendant, charming etc." I think Levine actually managed to confuse people with the Dutilleaux that started the program. While on the one hand, it was the piece played with the least fervor, the least commitment (probably due to the fact that it's grossly underprogramed and Dutilleaux is so underappreciated in general), on the other it was the most provacative of choices, and in many ways the most radical, musically (and extra-musically) of the bunch. Carter's piece was extremely fresh; intricate pointillistic refrains ricocheting across the orchestra, interspersed with playful, lyrical, sometimes haunting excursions into various smaller 'solo' groupings, and above all exacted with Carter's effervescent lucidity, it all worked with that satisfaction derived from a beautiful machine, or architectural blueprints. But Carter has a long standing relationship with the BSO, and furthermore, he was there at the concert (all 96 years of him), and that always boosts hype. Who knew, or cared, previously that the BSO actually commissioned Dutilleaux's piece? A piece which is for me the most extraordinary exploration of the orchestra in two distinct units (one small and one big) I know of. In it, I think it is possible to find strucutral, compositional solutions to so many problems of composers today who are working on coloristic, timbre experiments. Especially for those who don't want to be like Boulez.
Despite the wonderful shock of Dutilleaux, or as shocking as it might be in jaded old Boston, the concert felt right, it felt contemporary. It felt like these were the pieces that Americans should be playing all the time, and growing to love. In the larger context, Levine's programming is hardly adventurous, especially compared to what goes on in London, but to get a city that is as paradoxically culturally conservative (as compared with its political leaning) to be excited and willing to take Levine's mission on, is a big step.
'till next sunday,