In The Black Box


Black box Radio Show No.08

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We open up with Re: Stacks by Bon Ivor, it was while I was listening to this tune that I came up with the idea for this show. This album, one of those heart wrenching break-up albums that perhaps says way too much and leaves the listener helpless to understand all the emotions the singer is expressing, is full of noise, raw noise.. sounds of feet shuffling, heavy breathing, fingers moving across clean steel strings.. you not only hear the music, but you see the room in which it is being performed, you can see his hand moving on the guitar and the wires scraping around the floor. This perhaps is mostly due to the method of recording live through microphones, however there seems to be an effort to leave it in, as in this song the track is extended after a pause of silence so that you can hear him stand up and walk away from the microphone…

That silence is interrupted by the Latin grooves of Gotan Project. This tune to me brings up the idea that “place” is not exactly just the room in which it is recorded. Sometimes the group or performer wants to express an environment or culture. The noises here are not natural, but samples of horses galloping and the ambient sound of a busy hall or street coupled with the Latin vibe of the music places the listener in an environment… gives them a fictional image and lets them create it for themselves.

John Martyn’s “I’d Rather be the Devil” creates space through it’s genre and his revolutionary guitar effects and pedals… the extended delay effects on Martyn’s guitar and the experimental Jazz bass and bongos give a psychedelic space… perhaps water, perhaps its simply an emotion or colour… of course this all depends on the listener and their own perception of the music. However it is music that creates images, and for me those images are of a place…

These first three pieces consist mainly of traditional musical methods, live instruments and vocal, perhaps it is easier to create the illusion of space and environment when all the sounds are themselves created live, through instruments that are real… so when we consider more synthetic music…

L.C.D. Soundsystem’s “Beat Connection” isn’t exactly synthetic, if anything it represents an effort to create a more live sounding dance music. However the effort put into giving this life, live drums and vocal…and then gradually including synths and loops… one begins to try and pick out the little bits, the sounds, what is real and what isn’t… multiple spaces are created by the various recordings being layered atop one another. The distorted vocals once again bring a usually natural element – vocals- into a more synthetic world. Essentially the imaginary places that we create in John Martyn’s “I’d Rather Be The Devil” are now allowed to be distrted… the place where we saw the initial live drumming has been twisted and stretched by the synths and now the place in which the music exists is abstracted.

However an abstract image created by the music isn’t only achieved by synthesisers and effects pedals… personally I get the same effect in Ludvico Einaudi’s “Le Onde” …. Italian for “the Wave” this song for me creates a simple musical representation of the movement of water. I took this recording from “La Scala” a live performance where we get not only the music itself creating the effect but also the performers own interpretation of the music at that moment in time. What we each see when we hear this song is completely personal to every listener, however, like poetry there is a clear effort by the composer to create a place… and he wants us to see it.

It is a sudden jump to Lightnin’ Hopkins… yet this song and Son House’s “Death Letter” bring in another element of the place. The former is simply an example of how a genre of music itself represents a place. The blues, the singer, the guitar, the bass lines and drum… the sound of black America… once again it depends on the listener… but this music creates images… the latter, an older and more raw recording brings in an authentic cultural element. The raw recording allows us to imagine the strings being pushed around by Son House, a heavy thumb beating on the bass stings and the bottle neck slide scraping of the frets… this acoustic and more carefree style adds to the imagination, and just like in Bon Ivor’s song at the start of the show, we want to imagine the place in which it was recorded. Also the stories being told by these performers create a narrative which we naturally want to piece together and create a story.

This narrative is taken to extreme and comical lengths with Bod Dylan and the Band in “Clothes line Saga” the story isn’t hard to follow, a mockery perhaps of the slow pace of suburban small town American life. Yet the Basement Tapes where this song is from, plays on the listeners interest in the history of the recording itself. The Big Pink, the house in which the Band lived and recorded in the Woodstock area is the very famous place where this song and many more like it were recorded. The raw sound adds to the listener’s fascination into their life at the Big Pink… suddenly the place is becoming more important than the music it seems. However it is hard to argue with the quality of music that was produced within those walls… the Basement Tapes and the Band’s own “Music from the Big Pink” standing as the best thing to come out of the Woodstock era in my opinion.

The twang of Robbie Robertson’s guitar is not far from the untreated and pulsing sound of Explosions in the Sky… their gradual building sound… and explosions of noise and sound feed on the listener’s imagination… when this band performed the original soundtrack to the classic American Football movie “Friday Night Lights” the music came to represent intense battles in rain and dirt, the images of football fields and intense dark skies interrupted by blinding flood lights. The softer parts of the songs expressing the isolation and wilderness of the vast empty plains in America’s southern states.

Fela Kuti and Africa 70’s “Monday Morning in Lagos” is an example of how the individual and unique qualities of place specific music creates the origin of the style itself. The funky rhythmic afrobeat sound and constnt chanting, in a language most have no knowledge of  still manages to create an image of Africa that is unique from any other genre of music, even African genres… the language barrier if anything seems to enhance this quality and I feel this is followed up excellently in the final track in this weeks show.

Not many people have any idea what is being said in Sigur Ros’ ambient, beautiful music. Full of emotion and feeling, people are naturally entranced by their ability to mix pure sound to perfection and cook up the tastiest and most delicious musical dishes. However for me, their sound has an effect that is much like that of Fela Kuti, or Son House… it is a quality that I seem to draw from Bjork and Emiliana Torrini’s breath-taking vocal qualities… it is an Icelandic sound. And in Sigur-Ros’ case it is purely sound when you let yourself relax into the music… the sonic landscapes are both abstract and real… while the sound seems too good to be real we tap into the reality that nearly all of the sound is from live instruments and vocal. And I would hope that everyone sees a landscape…some mountainside somewhere in Iceland… wild and pure, with a wind blowing grass around.


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