A Week of ECM

Posted on May 28, 2019

After a week of listening pretty much exclusively to American Football’s LP3, I recalled seeing in a review of LP2 the mentioning of their musical kinship, or maybe better put, descendance, from Steve Reich. I pulled up Reich’s compilation, The ECM Recordings and was immediately immersed into Music For 18 Musicians for my walk from the bus to the office.

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Monday (It was actually Tuesday)

As I’d mentioned, I started the week with Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, and by way of serendipity, I found my brain freed from the lines of code waiting to be reviewed to be acutely attuned to the music in my ears right as it reached the 33-minute mark. A Cabernet-like full body swell fills in the minuscule gaps between the percussive 16th notes looping over one another and Music For 18 Musicians becomes beautiful all at once.

Wednesday (where “Wednesday” includes Tuesday night)

Okay, so, a few years ago I learned about Meredith Monk’s Songs of Ascension and about how it was performed. Monk and her Vocal Ensemble occupied the spirals of Ann Hamilton’s Tower’s staircase and literally ascended the stairs while performing the music of Songs. To watch it is to plot its beauty on all its axes, however, when only listening, one is left with merely a projection of its intention, an abstraction of its possibility.

It’s funny, now that I’ve watched the video again, I feel silly recapitulating my notes from my listening to this earlier this week. But nevertheless, that is why I’m doing this. I found that, without context, Monk’s music is hard to countenance. Her “vocal explorations” really push the boundary on what I can take seriously. Unlike Björk, for instance, who is course not beyond reproach in terms of seriousness-taking, whose foray into vocal exploration with Medulla is quite palatable, insofar as any other Björk record is at least. Monk’s and Björk’s angles are, quite different, though. Monk is pushing the voice’s purpose in a piece of music while Björk’s angle is more paradoxical—her’s is to hide it by making it serve all purposes.

Mapping, Songs’ sixth track, presents with Monk’s whimsical yelps and Xenakis-like percussion. It’s moments like this that this line for me, that of seriousness-taking—which, obviously, I’ve up to now been unable to give a proper title—is its most tenuous. It’s a line drawn by our experience with art, by our context, like, well, most anything else, really. When pondering the effects of this absence of context, I find myself imagining its opposite, i.e. to have all the context, about everything. Maybe this is the distinction between a binary omniscience and something more fluid, say, enlightenment. To know all is to never learn again, the death of creativity. I’d posit that Epicureans would say that this contextual evolution ought to be our raison d’être but I think it’s more visceral than that; I’d say it how we know we’re alive at all.