Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - Jun 14/06

Radio Thailand is one of four new releases from Seattle's Sublime Frequencies. 2 of these releases are radio collages. I didn't think anything could top last year's Radio Sumatra, but RT comes close. It too is a double disc. The first disc is assembled by Mark Gergis, and he takes a more aggressive approach to radio collage than Alan Bishop's second disc.

The usual arguments against much of the Sublime Frequencies oeuvre are that artists are never credited, much less paid, when compiled and edited in this way, and that the collages purport to present "authentic" cultural experiences when in fact they are simply different world music constructs than say, big-budget international recordings by the likes of Cheb Khaled, Salif Keita and many others. Furthermore, the mixes themselves are liable to further exoticize the elements it draws from.

I don't really buy into the authenticity argument - I keep going back to Manu Dibango's point of view in his autobiography "Three Kilos Of Coffee" where he discusses audience expectations of African music "what do (audiences) want from us? Palm trees on stage?".

I think a survey of radio sources captures a certain zeigeist of wherever you are, even (or especially) in the US with its radiobotic Clear Channelled landscape. One of the many great things about SF mixes is the huge range of cultural influences, old and new, urban and rural, homegrown and foreign all thrown into a great big blender set to "chop", but not "puree", so that all the chunky goodness comes through. (It's daquiri season folks). Each chunk is delicious in it's own way, and it's hard to describe the overall taste without referring to individual chunks. Radio Thailand mixes a heavy dose of banality (generic bumpers, know-nothing news anchors) with whatever "traditions" happen might happen to be scanned in the process. None of the SF principals claim any of their radio mixes are statements of "authentic" culture, merely that, together with the decontextualized images in the beautiful packaging, these mixes are disorienting snapshots of wherever they happen to be visiting. Their non-narrative presentations of the radio culture of a country are meant to stimulate, perhaps over-stimulate, curiosity in the listener by immersion. In this way they avoid the observer/subject dichotomy that folkloric world labels were so famous for prior to the 80s, although their homepage namechecks almost all of these labels as inspirational.

This review makes the point that a backpacker in a hostel could make a SF-style mix of Pittsburgh radio, and it wouldn't not sound nearly as exotic, nor would anyone be very happy about having their music reproduced and sold without consent or credit. First off, that which is being mixed is not a collection of songs, it's a collection of snippets lasting less than 90 seconds (at most) of RADIO, which means songs augmented or reduced by the fuzz of radio static, competing signals or strangely degraded masters. Even if you could find the original records represented here, they wouldn't sound the same without the distortion. It takes a refined editing sensibility to assemble a jumble of ingredients into a compelling mix, and I can certainly appreciate Radio Thailand on sonic and technical levels.

The payment/credit issue is the thorniest of all. Look.... I've been trying to come up with some definitive statement on this for several weeks (that why all's quiet on the blog front), and I simply can't. I want SF to keep doing these mixes. I find the mix is greater than the sum of its parts, even though the individual parts are mighty compelling. I would imagine that SF is making zero bucks on these mixes - probably enough to break even, and perhaps pay for the plane ticket for the next adventure. It ain't 100% kosher - but few music fans are 100% kosher in their legal/illegal consumption habit; let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Credits would be nice, but they would've been nice in the golden age of hip hop as well, and no one thinks less of De La Soul or Public Enemy for not revealing - or paying - every last sample source.

The sharing/stealing/imitation of culture is a messy business. But as I was searching for answers to these questions, I came across this link for the Ije Love tune on the Original Music label. John Storm Roberts has been in the world music game for 50 years, and he turns most of the interviewers' "cultural appropriation" questions on their head. I don't agree with absolutely everything he says in the interview (many song fragments on Radio Thailand are exactly the kind of contrived culture mash-ups that he claims only Americans, Brits and Germans are guilty of), but he makes the point that cross-pollination happens constantly, whether it's fair or not. Bootleg compilations and illegal DJ mixes will never go away; for some, they're the cutting edge of certain musical movements. Let's apply some of that moral relativism to Radio Thailand.

forever - kidd jordan/william parker/hamid drake (aum fidelity)
ahisma - sundar viswanathan (insound)
atlantic rising - sunship ensemble (do right)
pure jam - senor coconut (essay)
cade teresa - jorge ben (manteca)
there's a break in every road - betty harris (sss/vampisoul)
kaslarin karasina - edip akbayram (shadoks)
together - lloyd delpratt (light in the attic)
cumbia de los bombas - maneja beto (www.manejabeto.com)
numerao - grupo cimaron (smithsonian folkways)
paun - boban markovic orkestar (piranha)
rechauffer riddim - ghislain poirier (rebondir)
21st century perspiration - from Radio Thailand (sublime frequencies)
ekekereke ewa - njacko backo (independent)
god's guidance - ije love (original music) - the link of the week - wonder what he'd say about SF overall?
vana vamo vorema - stella chiweshe (piranha)
untitled - pon dao, from Ethnic Minority Music of Northeast Cambodia (sublime frequencies)flight of the hermaphrodite - techno animal (virgin)
africa (jahsay) - sandoz (soul jazz)
together version - dr. israel (roir)
concrete sunrise - roots tonic (roir)
who a di boss - dubmatix feat. anthony b (dubmatix.com)
persistence dub - roger b (slamm.ca)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - May 31/06

Apparently Scientist has too much electricity in his studio.

Apparently there was a very severe storm outside while this was going down. Good dub has that kind of effect on the space-time continuum.

It wasn't the wackiest night of dub that I've ever done on air but these days I'm more about picking my spots with effects rather than laying it on thick like a Nutella open-faced sandwich. Back when I first discovered the fun to be had with reel to reel decks on air back in 1991, echo would swamp everything, feedback of the nasty variety would often boil over, and it was crazy like only 15 years ago crazy could be. There were usually pile of people in the room taking on the effects and the selection duties if not collectively, then certainly in harmony.

Dubbing out makes for a level playing field with the music. Transitions can be very impressionistic, continuous delay reinforces (or imposes) rhythmic similarities in a mix, and plays tricks on the harmonies. I enjoy the performance aspect to it as well, it's more intrusive on the music than DJing on its own. When done right, it transforms a collection of tunes into 'everything music', individual genres be damned.

summertime - rosinha de valencia (mr. bongo)
running in the streets - kahil el zabar rmx. by djinji brown (deeper soul)
montgomery movement - montgomery express (ikef)
eastwood - avi granite (indie)
sabari - djeli moussa diawara/bob brozman (celluloid)
pieta - milton nascimento (universal)
sereia - shrift (six degrees)
parisian thoroughfare - jaki byard (prestige)
to whom it may concern - them - tony williams lifetime (verve)
how do you really feel - breakestra (ubiquity)
right on - the cougars (light in the attic)
have a talk with god - myrna summers (soul jazz)
fourty days - sound directions (stones throw)
we do we go - nomo (ubiquity)
keep on movin - esg (soul jazz)
kunta kinte - mad professor (ariwa/trojan)
evil creation dub - dubmatix (seven arts)
black nile dub - dubmatix (seven arts)
mighty roots - dubmatix (seven arts)
reminder dub - manasseh (select cuts)
snipers in the streets - singers and players (on u sound)
very well - wailing souls (mango)

Ethiopiques - Toronto Style!

Check out Ha Geez Digital Media at Bloor and Shaw St. for a new DVD of Ethiopian legend Mahmoud Ahmed filmed live in Toronto in 2003 (I think). He's sounding as good as ever, over 40 years into his career and still with silky smooth phrasing and good breath control. The band is pretty game, too. There's no acid rock guitarist of course, and the mix is pretty hands-off, but there's a pretty tight horn section and the drummer gets nice and insistent about half way into the set. Ahmed has tons of charisma - in a gentle, mature way - to get the crowd going by the third song. With such a strong Ethiopian and Eritrean community in Toronto, moving the crowd is no big deal for this seasoned performer. At one point, there is a video montage of his performance of "Belomy Benna" overdubbed with his essential mid-70s psych-rock version from Ere Mela Mela - Muchmusic, don't sleep...

Right now the DVD is only available at the store, but keep checking the website for purchase details. The golden years of Ethiopian music live on.

Parade Of Pre-Adolescent Aspiring Noise Freaks

One of my favourite GTA events occurs this thursday in Brampton. Richard Marsella, aka Friendly Rich, organizes the annual Parade of Noises. Involved are hundreds of grade 4 students (quite the interesting population sample of Brampton...) wailing on homemade instruments alongside heavy duty improvisers/entertainers John Oswald, Bob Wiseman, Eric Nagler, and 'overseen by' R. Murray Schafer. Apparently a Brampton fire engine will be 'played' as part of the fun as well.

This is a wonderful event because it lets kids express
their inner freak in a banal public, suburban space. You've got to believe that more than a few of them will remember and build upon this experience over the course of their lives. This type of collaboration is extra-cultural, that is, it encourages artistic activity that isn't tied to any one established tradition, it's all about the mixture of spontaneous ideas. I'm sure parents are fascinated or threatened by this event, but hey, the mayor of Brampton is a staunch supporter, so it's got the seal of official culture after all.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

What We're Gonna Do Right Here Is Go Back

... was my original title for the feature I wrote available here. It's about the continuing process of soul music's recontextualization down through the years to a wider audience than its original base. My original title refers to the bedrock breakbeat that is the Jimmy Castor Bunch's "It's Just Begun". But the vocal snatch is actually from Castor's bigger hit (at the time) "Troglodyte", which was cut and pasted to the version that I originally heard - on an Ultimate Breaks and Beats compilation, discussed at length in the piece.

I had a great time doing the interviews. Speaking with Rick Wojcik from Dusty Groove was a tremendous eye-opener in terms of the world of music retail and itshistory. Oliver Wang, from Soul Sides, was every bit as gracious, erudite and enthusiastic as his rightly celebrated blog. And Dee Jay Nav is someone I've known for a long time, and has been a mainstay of DJ culture in Toronto behind the decks, on the radio, and in retail - I was very happy to have the opportunity to officially pick his brain.

Despite all this, I've never been so ambivalent about anything I've ever written. Why? Cause it's a book-long subject, and the article itself doesn't address every possible point of contention. Mainly though, I just wanted to convey that soul music has undertaken a unique journey in the annals of popular music. I used to be something of a crate digger myself but quickly got tired of spending too much money on one style of music, wonderful though it is, when the music itself led me into further exploration. More power to those who do, though; they are modern day archeologists; and sometimes they unearth records which can make a tremendous difference to artists who never got a taste in the first place. That's the crux for me, it's important to share whatcha got so that a wider audience gets a better sense of the musical links all around them.

I don't have the deepest collection by along shot, but I feel I can speak this universal language of soul with people all over the world - and speaking many languages is always a plus. With that in mind, I'd like to give some shout outs to my soul music tutors "way back":

Paul E. Lopes who continues the vital Bump and Hustle nights every year, he was possibly the first DJ to bridge UK soul sensibilities with hip hop fundamentals in Toronto.

Chris Compton, former host of "Swear To Tell The Truth" the best blues/soul/country/gospel show ever to grace CIUT, who introduced me to Stax records and the writings of Rob Bowman. His near-Marxist analysis of the economy of soul music made a huge impression.

Mr. Pete Snell, still going strong at the Dance Cave. My first exposure to someone with a deep and wide soul and funk collection, and a major inspiration on how to combine seemingly disparate styles of music together.

And finally, Johnbronski, the original big brother of the Master Plan show on CIUT, gave me more insight into the diversity of African diasporic music than anyone. Although his djing style is, um, ruff... I learned more about selection and pacing a set from him than anyone else.

...there are many more. you know who you are. There's more to come on this subject since Light in the Attic is comping my town....

In the same issue, check out my writeup on Rob Mazurek's exciting Sao Paolo Underground