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 . . .

1 comment:

nathan said...

Nice post. I adore "One Hundred Aspects of the Moon"...what a gorgeous album. Theo Blechmann is a loon (his albums with Ben Monder are mind-bending genius). Strangely enough -- thoughtful though it is -- I'm not usually that inspired by Mori's free improvising. Gets a little texturally monochromatic for my taste. That said, have you heard Mori's "Painted Desert", a great trio album w/ Marc Ribot and Robert Quine (!!!)?