Listening With Ikue Mori

Have you ever been talking to a couple, and you tell them this long, detailed story that's really very important to you? Doesn’t matter what the story is.

So you’re talking and talking, and explaining the various subtle sort of things that happened to make this story, the story you’re telling, different from anything that’s ever happened to anyone else. And as you near the big climax to the story, you look up and the couple you’re talking to is having some kind of whispered conversation about something else. So you say:

“You guys haven’t been listening to a word I’ve been saying, have you?”

But they’re sharing some other joke, and they ignore you, and you think to yourself: “Why am I even here? I could be doing anything else in the world right now. Other people have found this story amusing, so what’s with them, anyway? Why did they ask me out to lunch? Christ, I feel like a stooge. I wish they’d both just die.”

Anyway, I wanted to mention that it took me a really, really long time to even begin to wrap my head around improvised music. I’m not a musician, so a lot of musical in-jokes, references, and feats of mad technical skill are lost on me. When I was younger, I hated this sort of stuff in the way that a caveman would hate, like, a radio or something. Now that I’m old and wise, I do my best to understand it, but it can be an uphill battle.

However, I think I’m making inroads. I started listening to free jazz and other improvised, unstructured sort of stuff. At first it all sounds like shit. But after repeated exposure, and with a little effort, it’s like you begin to swim in it.

I don’t mind working a little bit to enjoy something, ya know, so I’ve been putting the schnozz to the grindstone re: free playing. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that one of the biggest impediments to the novice with this stuff, the thing that’s like an insurmountable brick wall covered in feces-smeared spikes and poisonous snakes, is when the musicians don’t listen to each other and just decide to be as loud as possible.

I know what you’re going to say. You’re gonna say “do you guys at The Little Black Egg even have the ability to tell when musicians aren’t listening to each other?”

To this we respond “Hey, fuck you! Maybe.”

To elucidate a little, allow us to present The Little Black Egg Are-the-Musicians-Listening-to-Each-Other Litmus Test:

Does the music sound like a bunch of radios tuned to different stations?
If so, then the musicians probably aren’t listening to each other.

Does the music sound like an angelic supernova of pure joy that makes your brain’s dopamine production center work overtime?
If so, then the musicians probably are listening to each other.

[This litmus test may have a margin of error of 100% —Ed.]

Enough about me, though. One person who ought to earn a gold medal and special Lifetime Achievement Award in Listening is Ikue Mori.

In brief, Ikue Mori was the drummer for No Wave act DNA. Later on, she switched over to drum machines and laptops and made improv music. These days she one of the main movers and shakers in the Tzadik crew. Much like, oh, Brian Eno or something, Ikue Mori makes whatever she’s involved in cool.

There’s a really weird, macho sort of free jazz thing that can happen where a bunch of dudes get on stage and just start all wailing away and . . . not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I mean, sometimes I’ll be watching something like that and think “they could just get rid of one of these guys, or add another guy, or have them all switch instruments, and it wouldn’t matter.” I mean, I think it should matter, frankly.

Ikue Mori’s—I guess you can’t call it drumming, but her percussion, is amazingly . . . thoughtful, I guess. It’s always the right thing at the right time. It’s like she makes the space that everything else happens in. She can make new space, or take space away, or disappear, or whatever.

If I have money burning a hole in my pocket and don’t know what to get at the record store, I’ll often just pick up a used Tzadik thing with Ikue Mori on it, you know? Because it’s bound to be good. I haven’t heard all her stuff, but the one that really stands out for me is One Hundred Aspects of the Moon.

From what I can glean from the internets, the songs are based on prints by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, a Japanese artist who lived in the 19th century. I don't know whether these are the titles of Yoshitoshi prints, but the album has wonderfully-named songs like “The Moon and the Abadoned Old Woman,” “Moon of the Lonely House,” and “How Noisy the Sound of Insects Calling in the Meadow—As For Me, I Make No Sound but Think of Love.”

This album is like an impossible labyrinth of sound. I never skip a song, I never take it off in the middle. I never get tired of listening. And if that’s not the sign of a good record . . .


Half Ramones

Back in the olden days, I used to listen to the bulk of my music on an olden turntable. When colossally bored, I’d play my Ramones records at 16rpm. Believe it or not, they used to make big, heavy, fragile records meant to be played at this speed. They sounded like shit, way worse than 78s, and justly faded into obsolescence.

Listening to the Ramones at 16rpm sounded like, I dunno . . . like a person with bad nasal congestion yelling about mental illness while riding a really, really slow train trying to make it up a steep hill. I called this Half Ramones. If I was feeling all freaked out, I’d put on Half Ramones and sit around in a fetal position.

Sometimes a friend would call me up while I was doing this.

“Hey, Rick, what’s up?”

“Just listening to Half Ramones.”

“Oh. Again?”

“Yeah. Wanna come over?”



Metapost: Thank You, Masked Man!

Well, well, well! Seth over at Taken As Read has proven that he is indeed a swell guy by taking care of business. We here at The Little Black Egg salute you, Seth.

Now if you'll excuse us, we're going to cross our arms, put our feet up on the desk, and spend a little time feeling vindicated.


Hello Sweet Oblivion

A Note From the Editor: We here at The Little Black Egg have been occupied with a particularly gnarly copyediting task for the last week or so. With aching vertebrae, tired eyes, and fingers marred by paper cuts and red pencil smudges, we push aside a manuscript that looks like it was marked up by a schizophrenic football coach trying to plot a non-linear passing play between verbs and prepositions in order to provide you, Gentle Reader, with the kind of Content you’ve grown to love us for.

I’ll tell you directly: if a drink or two wouldn’t impair my ability to make sense of the 270 page, agrammatical nightmare sitting on the table in front of me, I’d treat myself to a Dreher and park myself in front of the TV until my brain began producing alpha waves again. In lieu of that, I’m sitting around listening to Vrioon by Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Let’s pretend I was a clerk working at a big, imaginary record store organized by genre. If I was called upon to file this album, I suppose I’d stick it in the bin marked Ambient or Minimal Electronic or something like that. To tell you the truth, there’s so little going on with this album that I’m at a loss as to how to describe it. There’s this sort of hum, sometimes it’s percussive even, and occasional little piano things, like if Cecil Taylor played Muzak at 16 rpm with one finger, and echoes, and blips and buzzes.

I don’t know why it took two people to make this. My best guess is that each kept an eye on the other. You know, to make sure no one’s pulse rate dropped below six beats per minute.

That probably doesn’t sound very compelling, but what the hell. This isn’t a very compelling album. It simply doesn’t compel. It’s just sort of there; it isn’t going to get up and go somewhere else. There are enough little variations that it doesn’t get repetitive, and sometimes it speeds up without ever really moving. It’s kind of like being in a hospital waiting room in slow motion and sort of half-understanding all the paperwork that you’re supposed to fill out, but not really caring about it because you have really bad tunnel vision or something. There’s no point in thinking about it, or even paying any attention to it. Paying attention is just such a hassle, isn’t it? Don’t bother. Let the stinging nettle patch of your conscious mind gently wilt into fertile green paste.

Vrioon has six tracks that would be pointless to describe. Still, it’s fun to list them:

1. Uoon I
2. Uoon II
3. Duoon
4. Noon
5. Trioon I
6. Trioon II

For whatever it’s worth, I particularly like “Trioon I.”

You know, I’ve read a bit about Muzak, and how it was designed to be broadcast in workplaces and public spaces to calm and soothe people—to sedate them, really. That’s kind of fucked up, considering that Hypothetical Office Worker X doesn’t get a say in this sedation.

However, let’s say Hypothetical Home Office Worker Y gets his hands on these ambient, aurally-administered sedatives . . . goodbye cruel world, hello sweet, sweet oblivion. Not only does Vrioon not compel me to go anywhere or do anything, it removes my desire to even be compelled. Just like a lobotomy, I guess.

The frontal lobe of the human brain is nothing but trouble, anyway.


Metapost: the 13 Theses

Dear Eggheads, once again I strenuously urge you to contact Seth at Taken As Read and complain about the ill treatment we here at The Little Black Egg are receiving. My letter to Seth, reprinted below, sums up the burning issues at stake.

We implore you: ACT NOW. Together we can make a difference.

Letter as follows:

Dear Seth,

I have been a faithful reader of Taken As Read since its inception. Even when I don't agree with you, I enjoy reading your thoughts on politics and art. I also respect the discipline and rigor you bring to your writing.

Needless to say, my heart soared like a hawk when you added my name to your "Blogroll" links. At first I thought it was only because I'd linked to you—and since your blog is a serious political thing, and my blog is a sloppily passionate, boiling miasma of ranty music exultation, I didn't expect a link back. But then I got one! How cool is that? I’ll tell you: it was pretty cool.

Seth, what I'm about to say might be interpreted as, oh, "looking a gift horse in the mouth." But when alone, free from observers, EVERYONE looks their gift horse in the mouth; you gotta ascertain the state of the horses teeth, you know?

So I looked the gift horse in the mouth, and my concern is as follows: my little blog link tag is "R— S—— on music." As far as descriptions go, it’s pretty meat and potatoes, cash and carry . . . not that there’s anything wrong with that.

However, The Rest is Noise has the tag "...
excellent thoughts on music from the New Yorker's Alex Ross." [Ed. note: emphasis mine]

Listen—I'm busting my balls over here! I've battled snowstorms, dug through cardboard boxes, haggled with morons, wasted hours listening to poorly-executed post-punk, paid out the wazoo for psych comps, FORCED myself to understand free jazz, and spent precious vacation time traveling to far-flung Balkan music festivals, all in the service of helping educate music fans all around our green earth on the power and glory of audio!

Mr. Ross on the other hand—Mr. Ross, who probably hasn't had to pay for a concert in ten years, is sipping snootfuls of bubbly and hob-nobbing with vulturous Margaret Dumont-esque biddies in Carnegie Hall. He already KNOWS the shit is good, it's in fucking Carnegie Hall! I'm over here, in Eastern Europe, piecing together whole discographies with nothing more then my remarkable mnemonic gifts, whereas Mr. Ross is lounging about in a newly-renovated Manhattan apartment, a team of researchers at his beck and call, congratulating himself on attending another performance of a Shostakovich something-or-other.

Now, I have nothing against Mr. Ross. I'm glad he's doing . . . you know, a blog about music. I'm just saying he probably isn’t at a loss for public acclaim and miscellaneous accolades. He works for the New Yorker! He doesn't need any more positive reinforcement.

So here are some suggestions as to how you, Seth Stewart, can work to repair the damage wrought by this gross oversight.

1. Change my little tag to say " . . . hilarious, pulse-pounding musical analysis from R— S——."

2. Change my little tag to say "R— S—— on music (he's a better writer than Alex Ross)."

3. Change my little tag to say "Wit meets world . . . and kicks its fucking ass."

4. Change my little tag to say “My favoritest blog ever, even more so than Alex Ross’ blog, and he writes for the New Yorker.”

5. Change my little tag to say " . . . the most interesting music blog the world has ever seen.”

6. Get rid of all the other links so only mine remains. If you do this, feel free to leave my little tag as it is.

7. Change my little tag to say “The New Yorker’s R— S—— on music (except he’s too hip to write for the New Yorker, only asshole Establishment sellouts would ever do that)”

8. Put my link in a bigger font than Alex Ross’ link. I don’t mind if all the other links, besides Alex Ross’, are also the same font size, as long as Alex Ross’ link is somehow diminished.

9. Contact Alex Ross and inform him that, unless he gets me a gig writing for the New Yorker, you’ll delete his link from you page. Of course, I’m way too hip to write for the New Yorker, but I would like one of those sweet New Yorker copyeditors who put the umlaut over the second “o” in words like cooperate, thereby transforming it into the fierce-looking “coöperate.” Don’t be afraid to tell him directly: he will languish in cyber obscurity if he doesn’t “coöperate” with your demands.

10. Contact Alex Ross on the phone and get him to admit that his blog is a boring, flavorless pile of pap compared to mine, and then send me a recording of the call.

11. Leave my little tag alone but change Alex Ross’ to say “less interesting than The Little Black Egg but still a good effort by the New Yorker’s po-faced, slumber-inducing, geriatric music scribe Alex Ross.”

12. Leave my little tag alone but change Alex Ross’ to say “soulless meanderings by a lazy hack who is eleven years older than R— S——, the infinitely wittier maverick writer of The Little Black Egg.” [NOTE: I know that solution 12 closely resembles solution 11, but I don’t want to deprive you of options.]

13. Find another acceptable solution to what must be an unintentional, but nonetheless horrible, oversight.

Seth, I’m a reasonable guy. I don’t want to cause problems for you. God knows that I don’t want to have to embarrass poor Mr. Ross, who is probably just cruising along by dint of his seniority at this point. A tender, joyous music fan must lurk somewhere far beneath his hardened, cynical,
New Yorker carapace. I don't want to hurt, I want to heal. I want to see things set right.


R— S——

The Little Black Egg

I'm sure Seth would welcome your suggestions. I'm in favor of #6, myself.


Feeling the Darkness

One of the best Goodwills in this nation lies tucked away in the bucolic town of Troy, New York. If you've never been to Troy, it's a hard town to describe. I'll just say this: my girlfriend used to like visiting Troy because it reminded her of her hometown of Oakland.

At any rate, this Goodwill filled an abandoned grocery store, and was the repository of all a manner of treasures. My friends and I used to trek here virtually every other weekend to spend our hard earned dough on stupid t-shirts, stupid pleather jackets from the 70's, stupid polyester pants, and other stupid crap. Whilst pawing through a box of cassette tapes, I not only found a tape dub of 2 Live Crew's Banned in the USA (which was obviously fucking stupid), but Poison Idea's Feel the Darkness:

Whatta great record cover. I mean, I don't really have an opinion about Tiny Tim one way or another, but lookit that fat hand with all the scary rings . . . who the fuck is on the other end of that?

I'm sure most of you in Eggland have heard Poison Idea before, but I hadn't, and it was everything you'd want and more. Angry, slightly metally Northwestern hardcore with a drummer that could beat up Neil Peart with one hand tied behind his back. According to the little booklet, the drummer's name was "Thee Slayer Hippy." I don't know what that's all about.

The singer was named "Jerry A," and the guitarist was called "Pig Champion." I figured that Pig was probably the guy with the gun.

I loved this band. They were angry, they were funny, but they were mostly angry most of the time. If I wanted to drive around and glare at people, I'd put this tape on the deck. I listened to it on my olden timey walkman while eating french fries at a picnic table.

I never loved a woman! Never owned a car!!!

With Jerry A. screaming in my ears, I'd grind the french fries between my teeth angrily and glare. Fuck you, french fries.

I think you get the idea. I found out a little bit more about Poison Idea, all of it available on the internets. They'd been a band for a while, and Jerry A. and Pig Champion were really fucking fat. It was rumored they got rid of their old bass player for not being fat enough. I don't care who you are or where you come from: that's a terrifying concept.

So, some time later I'm living in Portland Oregon, and even though they were supposed to have broken up years earlier, Poison Idea is playing a show! No shit! This is 2000 or thereabouts. I was really excited to see the Heavyweight Champions of hardcore, and had a few cheeseburgers to get in the mood. It was pretty cool, although Pig Champion was nowhere to be seen. Was he more of a Brian Wilson figure these days, or had he left the band, or what? I wanted to see Pig Champion, god dammit. The show ended early when Jerry A. suddenly got fed up, and with some angry words to the fans stormed out. He pushed through the crowd was like Leviathan surfacing from the depths of the ocean.

A few weeks pass, and I'm taking a Portalnd bus somewhere, and I hear this resounding thud to my left. I look over, and it's Jerry A., fixing me with an unnerving glare. I was about to say "hey, I got this tape of yours in a Troy Goodwill," but I did the smart thing and stayed quiet. I know my place on the foodchain, you know? That is to say, I didn't want to end up a giant owl pellet.

Unfortunately, Pig Champion passed away in 2006. Time has been kind to PI's discography, and it's all still larger than life and worth getting your hands on.