Playing music for the purpose of music.

A couple weekends ago I went to Copenhagen to play a doom rock festival with Øresund Space Collective, the release for “Ode to a Black Hole”. It was a punk rock youth center, tons of doomy bands, really quite something. We played late, starting at 1am, but were well received by the punks and metalheads. I’m going to go out on tour with ØSC in Germany this coming week, just for a week of shows. I look forward to it immensely, I need to play more than I do, and play more to entertain both myself and others in the spur of the moment, in real time. Playing improvised space rock is good for that, it’s meant to exist in that time and space that it is being played.

Here’s the gig in Copenhagen, May 6 2016

Sound is good on the video, but I’m really loud in the mix—I don’t know if it’s the camera angle or the awesome Orange amp I was using.

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I think I got caught up in the idea of being a “professional” musician of some sort over the course of the past, oh, 35 or so years. What I mean by that is that I felt like every time I picked up an instrument, there had to be some reason for it, like if I were just playing it would be that I was working toward some goal or another. As in, improvising was for the purpose of writing a new piece of music. Even when I was just sitting playing the acoustic guitar, somewhere in the back of my mind was the voice asking “Is this something that could be used for a song?”

That was definitely one of the reasons why I didn’t have any intention of making a new album. Or two. I didn’t want to have to think that way, especially when the final product has become so devalued that it’s a losing proposition to continue to make music—if you are part of the 99% of recording artists, in any case. So it’s a good thing to go out and tour with ØSC where I just get to play, make sound at the moment, enjoying it for the moment, not worrying about anything being permanent.

I mean, I do write a lot of music. Or improvise a lot of music and work it into pieces. Or both. I have tapered off writing lyrics over the years, unless I have songs that just *must be* songs, in which case I am forced to actually write lyrics for them, which I eventually do, usually later in the process—not that I don’t know what the song is about nor potentially some of the lines, I just let them linger for days, months, even years. Literally years! I have some unfinished songs lying around from 20 or more years ago. But one of the things that prevents me from finishing writing is the unspoken obligation that I feel (toward the song? toward posterity? toward myself?) to record, mix and produce the final and paradigmatic version of the song.

As an example, there is a song on “Shine Out” called “Leaving Troy” that I must have started writing in 1990 or so, had ideas of how it sounded, most of the lyrics. (It wasn’t about Victor’s life, just saying.) When I was working on the songs for that album out in the log cabin, I just felt that it was time to finish it. Similarly, there is a new song called “Walking Along the Shore of the Ocean of Things Unknown” that I started maybe 10 years ago, but really had nearly no lyrics, then when I was in Roth Händle Studios last fall, I finally decided to record it, so I made up some lyrics. Later in the batch of things that Chris Pedersen played on, he played drums on it. However, it doesn’t fit with the “Superfluity” album idea nor the rest of the songs, so I still haven’t worked more on it. I expect to finish it this summer after I get done with all of the “Superfluity” mixing and everything else, and all of the Sista Maj “Series of Nested Universes” mixing and mastering and stuff. It will probably end up in the collection called “Superfluousness” which is currently growing and only available to my Bandcamp subscribers. (heh, see, I advertised!)

Indeed, a number of things were jettisoned along the way. Some of the instrumentals from recorded improvisations, some that were compositions. One of my initial ideas was to have a giant dream sequence in the middle of the record, somewhat about the passage of time and sleep, which had small songs interrupting it, but as I worked on the piece (“Phenomenon and On,” it’s called) I ended up dividing it into only three parts, the first of which is a shorter but jarring electronic music piece (entitled “Silent Notes”) the second of which is an improvisational guitar-based instrumental entitled “Like Mercury, It Slips Through Your Fingers,” and the last part is a huge 23 minutes of electronic music. (Note: when I say “electronic music” I don’t mean dance music or techno or whatever, you know, I mean tape collage/outside synth/etc. in the tradition of 1950s-70s electronic music. I was deeply influenced by the rock band usage of this in the late 60s: Revolution 9, of course, …(which is referenced on Superfluity in a couple places, by the way) Zappa’s tape collages on the Mothers of Invention records, Jefferson Airplane’s “A Small Package of Value Will Come to You, Shortly”. I assumed every great album needed at least one (e.g. “Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart” with the latter section of She Divines Water.)

And then when I went to the university, I actually got to start creating these things. That was back in 1981, I took my first real electronic music class from Gordon Mumma. Then got to work in the UCSC studios under him and Peter Elsea for several years. You can hear bits of my electronic music forays under the tracks leading into early Camper Van Beethoven recordings, like the beginning of the song “Cowboys from Hollywood” (1986), and then of course the second and the penultimate tracks on Storytelling (1989), “Prospective” and “Retrospective”. I’ve been at it awhile, and with computers it only got more intense. I do intend to write about that sometime, the whole computer music thing…!

Anyway, in the Superfluousness collection there ended up some other things as well, acoustic guitar finger picking, doom metal, 1960s-BBC TV-theme-style tracks. I intended to make a 1980s hair metal track too, but so far it only exists as a mini cassette snippet somewhere within “Phenomenon and On”.  A few are still unfinished, but I’ll sweep it all up sometime. You’ll see.

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Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Music, recording, Touring

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