Apologies for the lack of blogging. It was an extremely active year, and the summer is continuing in the same vein—after the wonderful Hawaiian idyll, another trip to California, teaching a class, more book-related stuff, pre-concert lectures, and (to be honest) before too long there is going to be the saddest of return visits to California. It’s the price we pay for being here.
Not sure about the future of the blog, to be honest. We’ll let you know.
Last Chanuka, I was given an Ion turntable—a very nice little gadget that converts vinyl tracks to .mp3s. So I’m starting with the oddities from my record collection: “Gwin” by the Ship (a Champaign, IL band), “Lakeshore Drive” by Aliotta, Haynes, and Jeremiah (Chicagoland stuff—a couple of other tracks too), other weirdness. This evening, I started on my old Classical Pop archives—the late sixties’ classical-rock, experimental bands, from the pre-ELO, pre-ELP, pre-stadium grandeur era. So here’s Ars Nova, here’s the Left Banke (“Pretty Ballerina,” Walk Away Renée” plus the lesser-known “Barterers and their Wives” and “Something on my Mind”), and—real obscurity now—here’s Montage (“I Shall Call Her Mary” and “Grand Pianist”), the post-Left Banke project of Michael Brown. I mean, who except me and ten other people even knows about Montage, for God’s sake? I was borderline obsessed with this kind of music when I was a junior and senior in high school, some years after it was recorded. This was the seventies, remember; anything that suggested musical creativity was like water to a parched man.
So I’m listening to this material again. My first realization is that these things were recorded very crudely, rather like old Beatles records: different instruments and voices in the different stereo channels. So you initially think you’ve lost hearing in one ear, and then the other half of the texture comes in, you have all the instruments but no depth. Forget the texture and recording depth, then; what do we have?
Harmonic changes and vocal ensemble writing that did not remain in the pop music vocabulary, for a start; the sorts of meta-Beatles, meta-Association vocal ensemble writing that soon became too interesting for the pop charts. Clear attempts to capture, even for a couple of moments, soundworlds from the art music repertories: pseudo-Baroque harpsichord clinking, Rachmaninov piano thundering, and so forth. (The Montage album even has what I think is an attempt at a twelve-tone melody in the song “She’s Alone,” which is less than successful, at least in my opinion.) Both “Pretty Ballerina” and “Walk Away Renée” have chamber-music interludes, and the first of these even has a Lydian melody.
This was deep stuff to me at the time. Not so much, now; it’s far less mysterious. Blame the music major curriculum for sharpening my aural skills and historical awareness to the point that I could understand what such bands were doing. Is it any wonder, though, that I basically didn’t want to devote time to anything else, ever? This is Unveiling the Mystery, a peek behind the curtain.
Heaven knows what other Mysteries my vinyl collection will yield up.