From Portland with love

The other day I was DJ'ing at this club here in Portland and a friend came up, curious to know what I was playing. It was the "Meteor" 12" by the often-brilliant Nobukazu Takemura. He couldn't believe the track was from 1999. "But it sounds so fresh!," he actually said. This got me thinking about Takemura for the first time in awhile, and I dug out Milano. I remain blown away by this album, and by the 36-year-old Kyoto resident in general.

Takemura records for Thrill Jockey in the U.S. and has toured the States several times. And there was a time there when everyone was raving about his 1994 release Child's View on Toy Factory – and rightly so. He created the sounds for Sony's AIBO robot dog and is on a major label in Japan, so I'd never call him unknown or anything. But why his best music - and these two albums are probably his finest two hours yet - was never more easily available here remains a mystery to me. (Another mystery: why has this man not scored any films yet?)

All the songs on this track were sampled or computer-generated. This was more laborious seven years ago than it would be today. The song is deceptively simple and nursery-time-like, building upon itself slowly, in layers. I listen and I hear little tastes of Yellow Magic Orchestra, Steve Reich, OMD, and Moondog, as well as Japanese sacred music, gamelan, chamber, and computer game music. I also hear Takemura's longtime companion, Aki Onda. Her voice is pretty unmistakable.

The CD jacket folio packaging has a die-cut of Italy stamped onto the front of it, printed in lime green (you can sort of see it here). It's a very pretty little thing, this CD, as is its clearly Murakami-designed companion, the darker and slightly less interesting Finale. Both records were released at the same time, as they contained the music commissioned by Miyake for the Naori Takizawa fashion show. They weren't cheap at the time; I believe I paid thirty bucks a piece. But I had a fancy live sex cams job with benefits and stock options through the roof in '99.

When I think back to the bubble days, I don't miss my cramped cubicle or 11-hour work day, but I do miss the exhilaration of discovering this guy's works, which made a perfect soundtrack to my dot com gig somehow. I do miss Takemura himself today. The once super-prolific musician/ producer's not released any new music in two years. Is he so busy creating synthetic yelps he doesn't have time for music anymore, or is he at work on a masterpiece? I really don't know, and not even the Internet has provided answers to me.

This post isn't actually about Sprite

Man, what isn't getting remixed these days? Apologies to soda lovers, but this post isn't actually about Sprite. (NB - While I happen to be enjoying a delicious Sprite right now, since I drink too much coffee and try to keep my soda caffeine-free, Sprite Remix is fucking nasty. There's something detergenty about it.) It is, instead, about the remix, more specifically, the non-dance or hip-hop remix.

You know a cultural trend's hit critical mass when it metastasizes into indie music, which is (or used to be, although the times, they are a'changin') notoriously resistant to more mainstream cultural trends. Remixing has long been prevalent in electronic and sample-based music, and plays a major role in keeping that culture so vibrant, organic and supple. Music becomes a framework, a meme that gets passed around for user-end revision, rather than a final product. I like to imagine a scenario when a song gets passed around for remixing so many times that someone winds up accidentally mixing it back to its original form, the kind of shit Borges would dream up were he a twenty-something blog geek.

Within the past few years, even indie rock, notorious for its hermetic stance and its statement-/auteur-oriented production, has gotten wise to the remix action - they're great for fleshing out singles, and for hearing what your punky rock sounds like with some house beats churning through it. A quick cruise through the indie music blogs will quickly reveal that rap and club culture's current hipster dominance has indie purists quivering with the fear of becoming effete, and the remix is a good way to claim a little of that relevance without sacrificing your self-ascribed authenticity. Remixing can also breathe new life into songs that listeners may have overdosed on. I liked the Bloc Party record, but I have to admit that I'm currently enjoying the remix album a lot more.

M83 recast the guitary "Pioneers" in their own expansive, ephemeral tones, burying the vocal in billowing synths. Superpitcher stretches M83's "Don't Save Us From the Flames" to an epic ten minutes, stripping it down to its essence and giving each part space to flourish, locating the tension and barren beauty that was locked inside M83's more bombastic original. A couple years ago, Dismemberment Plan opened their raw files to fans for remixing privileges and released the best results as A People's History of the Dismemberment Plan - this is no suprise coming from the perpetually popist Travis Morrison, and exemplifies the remix's heuristic possibilites. Ev's remix of "The City" is nothing spectacular, but it's perfectly servicable, and "The City" is such a beloved yet overplayed song for me that it's great to get to hear it anew. Decry the lack of "originality" in remix culture if you will, but collage and recontextualization are shaping up to be the defining medium of our artistic age, and not just in music - in literature, visual art - hell, even in soda.

How Do I love Thee, Mama Ong?

Let me count the ways... You can probably think of a singer, a song, or a sound that mirrors your brainpan's audio environment. (My eleven-year-old daughter's most frequent litany: "I've got the weirdest song stuck in my head.") But nothing more eerily reflects my own personal rootless cosmopolitan cacophony than the gambang kromong sound from a late-1980s Jakarta that musicologist Philip Yampolsky described as "a Jakarta that is nearly invisible, one that most people have forgotten exists." Among the twenty-volume Music of Indonesia series Yampolsky produced for Smithsonian Folkways, Music From the Outskirts of Jakarta is the most wonderful and alien sounding to my ears - and "Stambul Lama" is its most perfect track. Amid a dusky, distended xylophone, kettle-gong, and drum groove, singers Mama Ong, WiSun, and Wani croon such transportive Bahasa-language stanzas as, "Play the gambang with five keys/ If you pull up the grass, you'll feel the ground/Your heart's anxious about that guy/ You want to know what his name is."

A slide guitar slithers in the crevices between phrases while a seemingly lost trumpet provides tart, mariachi-tinged commentary. It really doesn't get much better than this in my experience, and the rest of the record's nearly as wonderful - including the examples of so-called "old repertory" in its first several tracks, which unwind like gamelan clockwork but without a whiff of classical or folkloric gas.

Wonder what this music might sound like in, you know, context? So did I, until the Sun City Girls starting releasing their Sublime Frequencies series of alchemically remixed radio tapes from across Asia and the Middle East. The latest batch includes airchecks from Sumatra, just across the strait of something-or-other from Jakarta.

It's just glorious

I recently came into possession of a great collection of Studio One and Treasure Isle 7" rocksteady rarities. They were ripped from a vinyl collection called 7" Auction, that was compiled by Duke Peckings and distributed by Peckings Studio 1. The original 7"s are all really quite rare. Even the 7" Auction compilation is pretty hard to find copies of, and you will probably have more luck using p2p networks. I've posted my four favorites here, but the whole collection is excellent.

"Sweetest Rocker in the World" is one of The Wailers' earliest chaturbat recordings, back before they split with Coxsone Dodd and got into Rastafarianism, and before Bob Marley was a worldwide name

Honey sweet and soulful and sentimental. Its multiple melodies invoke for me the American '50s with their innocence and optimism, but without the creepy sanitized feel and the underbelly of date rapes and the fire hoses on the black people. And the rustic production makes this sock hop a joyfully dusty one.

I know nothing about the The Lyrics, except that they have the most google-proof name since The The

"Music Like Dirt" is an absolute perfect piece of rocksteady. Lilting and modest and effortlessly pleasant. And I'm pretty sure that bassline ended up in Bob Marley's "Stir It Up."

"Ska Diap" and "Owner Fi Di Yard" are two more fine examples of the genre. Or maybe they are late-ska. Really I know nothing. It's all good.

The Moistworks convention

You weren't there, but we had a non-formal Moistworks convention the other weekend, on the occasion of Brian Howe's poetry reading (yes, we were ALL at a poetry reading, okay?). No sorts of ends were reached, save for the bottom of pint glasses and the broken potato chips on the sandwich basket waxpaper. Joanna wanted to fire me for posting a Randy Newman song. And Yancey snarkily proposed making me read aloud as a sort of competing poetry reading.

At a slightly less contentious moment of the night, when I was prattling on about Texas punk, Joanna suddenly asked if I had ever seen the Big Boys. I would've been four at the time, so no, but she went on to say that someone is currently making a movie about Tim Kerr, legendary guitarist for the Big Boys, Poison 13, Jack O'Fire, Lord High Fixers, Now Time Delegation, and all-around punk legend (and to those who have ever witnessed him live, a true keeper of fire music's flame).

The shadow of the Big Boys looms large (hah!) over all future punks in Texas (or anywhere, really). This was the band that your awesome uncle, skater-dating older sister, or local band dude elder hepped you to. The Big Boys were luminous guides from the dark of the early 80s that continue to beacon on into the present. As people continue to bandy about Black Flag and Minor Threat, few whisper much about the Boys. Were they too much fun? Did the type of punk-funk they meld together instantly turn sour in the hands of woeful progeny like the Red Hot Chili Peppers? Was Biscuit too glamorous, too fabulous a frontman to birth many imitators? This was the band that ended every show with the shout to "Go start your own band!" And dozens of freaky kids in Texas did so, Biscuit's rasped command creating a (pink car) pyramid scheme that Mary Kay and Ian McKaye would've loved.

I had to learn about them through the dude-elder route and the crucial Touch and Go reissues that wow, came out some twelve years ago, as the handscreened copies of Fun, Fun, Fun tacked on the wall were in the three digit range. It didn't really help that most of the liner notes from heavies like Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Thurston Moore, and Steve Albini say that you 'had to be there' to truly get it, with Biscuit dressed as a record or in a pink bunny costume or in cowboy drag or as a mummy or the band playing as the frat org called Kappa Kappa Kappa. I never met Biscuit, and was dorkily awed to be in the presence of Tim Kerr one night at Emo's when he pointed at me and said, "Nice shirt." I was in too much of a daze to realize that I was in fact wearing an old Big Boys tee.

Pink Floyd

The first time I heard Pink Floyd, or at least the first time I knew it was them, I was at the Ground Round with my family. It was back when they played old movies while you ate, talkies mostly, and they brought baskets of peanuts and popcorn to the table. The best part was that you could throw the peanut shells on the floor. Not "could." You HAD to. It was part of the whole thing. A peanut shell mandate. This took me some getting used to. I was a dirty kid, wore my red turtleneck with stains on it four days a week. But I didn't throw stuff around. I was learning the difference between dirt and disarray. These peanuts were both things all at once, and it was disorienting and exciting.

And then this one night amid the forced mess, there were these kids singing. I had never heard children in stereo, unless you count Sesame Street. But this wasn't that, this wasn't church. This was dark and terrifying and bad. Kids weren't supposed to say this stuff. "They just got some kids to sing on the record," my older brother Jeff said, when I asked who they were. "It's from that Pink Floyd movie." I nodded. I was nine, he was twelve. It was cool to talk to Jeff about music. I didn't want to screw it up with more questions.

It may have been a week or a month or even a year later that I watched The Wall. "Who's Pink Floyd?" I asked my brother later. "He's that guy in the movie," he said, "It's about him." That was all he said, but what it meant to me was that The Wall was a documentary about a musician Pink Floyd. A dead rat and some other hard things in childhood forced him down a very dark road. I had never seen madness before. I squinted and squirmed and rewound, watched him shave off his eyebrows over and over again. Set up the toy airplanes. I watched the family room door, knowing my mother wouldn't like this, though I wasn't sure why. I loved this boy, this man, wanted to hug him even when he became a Nazi. He was having a hard time.

Imagine my surprise when Bob Geldof showed up on MTV a couple years later hosting Live Aid. "I thought that guy was Pink Floyd," I said to my brother, who howled and howled, stopping long enough to sputter something about "I Don't Like Mondays."

And then it completely unraveled. Of course it wasn't real. How could I have been so stupid? A lot of things began to fall apart and make sense and fall apart again. I had already learned the truth about Sergeant Pepper's and Tommy and the Monkees, but this was different. This was the beginning of the part of my childhood where doubt and reason and hope would have to fight it out. Not only was there no one named Pink, not only was The Wall not a documentary, but this Geldof guy wasn't even in the band.

This trauma erased Pink Floyd from my consciousness for a while. In high school I heard REM cover "Dark Globe" on a flexidisc insert in Sassy magazine. I promptly sought out The Madcap Laughs. This wasn't easy back then. There was definitely no asking Jeff, and I'd be laughed out of town if I asked the guy at Newbury Comics about something from Sassy.

But I found it. My long-awaited reunion with my first lunatic. All I had were the cover art and the record. I'm sure there were books and articles, but I didn't read them back then. I just wasn't that concerned with anything but the songs and who I believed Syd to be. A sweet soul too fragile for this world, who lived on a mushroom with some elves. I loved him. I had no interest in elves, didn't believe in them at all, but I knew that Syd did. So I loved them, too, for keeping him company.

In the late nineties I tried to track down some of his writing or artwork for the literary magazine I edit. In one of my first extensive internet searches ever, probably using Hotbot with Netscape, I found out what we all know: he went crazy, probably from the acid. Lived with his mother until her death, at which time he burned all of his art books and journals, along with a tree and a fence. He had rabbits and cats but forgot to feed them. He was beautiful and young and full of everything and then he went away to be fat and away, maybe crazy, maybe just over it.

My private love affair with Syd, blown wide open by the fucking internet. It used to be that you found stuff out because you looked hard or asked around and people told you things. It's still people telling you things, but now it's written down and you have to deal with the fact that things you like are also liked by a ton of people with freaky fan sites. In this case mostly people who also love Pink Floyd, which isn't something I can support.