on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2016 2 Sep


von: Manafonistas Filed under: Blog | TB | 2 Comments

It’s an old saying that music is sending you places, great music to very special ones. We’re all time travellers when it comes to deeper listening. Nevertheless dejavues and old ways are all around us. Call it postmodernism. Distant decades even ring a bell when you’re listening to the most recent hot or cool stuff. But if we do follow our desire lines, we’re not trapped in the advertising of the extraordinary and canonical – we’re back on „boogie street“ (from downtown to the wilderness). Our memory may easily skip from nostalgia to disturbance, from telling old stories to simply changing the stories. What has all been fixed in history books (or the comfort zones of your mind), is losing its power, becomes purely academical. In this slightly hypnotic lecture (beware of a trained psychologist and music journalist in a rather dark room!), a genre-defying collection of broadly Norwegian and British music spanning several decades will be placed in different settings and tales, from desolate areas at the Northern coast of Scotland to the fully air-conditioned studios at the RSI, Lugano … (the play- and booklist can be found here, on Sept. 3rd).




This introductory text for my „campfire lecture“ at PUNKT was the inspiration for the poet and one-time-Eno-collaborator Rick Holland („Pattern Man“) to write this mini-essay about our „taxonomic systems“ and the way magic can transcend them. He only used one expression from my text, „boogie street“, and that’s the only thing I had stolen from another poet, Leonard Cohen. In writing mode, Rick delivered quite an interesting list of singers and song writers, and again, a funny coincidence: I’ve been crossing ways with John Lennon on my trip northwards, while Rick had an epiphany (kind of) with an old Beatles aka Paul McCartney tune. (M.E.) 


The dominant strands of the history of western thought (also known as „History“) focus on attempts to suspend the uncapturable in amber, and give it a name that relates it to other names, to classify and control it.

A society whose culture and counter culture exists like taxonomy (and whose means of control is linguistic) maintains control by reviewing and classifying, often labelling escape in value terms (the devil’s music, ecstasy, mania).

What about the counter-culturalists, the songwriters? To survive, must they not find a reliable way to „repeat the act“? To breathe life into the amber, while also ensuring it remains controlled enough to summon at the right time, on demand. To persuade people to come and join the live ritual or to record a version of the magic that we can replay whenever the feeling takes us, or link into in radio friendly bite sized versions.

And where do we go? Where do we escape from? Are there layers of pleasure and different kinds of release? One viewpoint suggests we need to be led into the experience, slowly and gradually, like the ecstasy that descends when we lose ourselves and achieve flow.

Once there at the fabled „place“ (and on the journey there) syncopations play on neural fields like a harp, and happen upon accidents of harmony and tone that can play off the mental room you sit in right at that moment as if all is in sync. A lyric or a melodic line can send you joyfully away, in a never-to-be-identically-repeated concoction of ingredients.

The anticipation, and all of the half-happenings or suggestions along the way, our expectation, this too is pleasure isn’t it?

And does our relaxing into the discovery of this lead us to the next room as listeners? Does it matter what the ingredients are? Do we need to have developed skills of listening over years and decades, or do we just need the time and space to really listen? To answer these perhaps we look at our first musical memories, the first times the magic came to visit; when was it that simple?

The truth is, we enter that place at something as simple as a stick hitting a cardboard box (Buddy Holly – „Not Fade Away“).

If that sound becomes a „mechanical groove“ (thank you Fela) and we free ourselves to it, everything we can possibly imagine becomes possible.

My earliest musical instincts – as now – are a mixture of mechanical groove or heartbeat and, emergent from this, a human wail (probably in words) so ecstatic as to have never been found, or surprising with its race of image and sound.

There is no line in Harry Beck’s genre tube map to get there, but you could put your finger on some of the stops you might get off at to try and find it.

It is from the ever emitting hub. The DMT producing hub of the brain perhaps, our natural awareness of life and death in chemical form.

Indeed, Elvis sang „my heart beats so it scares me to death“ and my six year old self played and replayed it, wishing he could always sing with that release (I didn’t know hindi prayer songs existed at that time, or Konono No 1).

So, pop songs as transporters. Really great pop songs. Can they really transport in two minutes? The Silhouettes „Get a Job“ suggests so, Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs „Stay“. Recently I have been playing and replaying „Blackbird“ just for the line „Into the light of the dark black night“ which seems to me a line utterly co-opted from ancient cultures and the black american experience, placed incongruously in the structure of a western commercially framed album pop song (based on sequences written by Bach in fact). It fascinates and owns me though, I want to repeatedly escape with it from the relative mundanity of the rest of the song, and life.

Most pop songs take a few plays to become great in your brain. Perhaps then, the mechanical groove principle still stands, even in an artificial two minute ‚pop‘ song, as an instant gateway that – once the method of it has settled in your mind – can be triggered in the instant it is heard, as though it has been kept half alive and can be accessed quickly. I think of listening to a mix of Alicia Keys‘ „No-one“ on every bus I travelled on in Eastern Africa in 2009. Instant transportation, for everyone, all over Zambia, Malawi, everywhere it seemed.

This has obviously been studied by labels and producers (west), as well as griots, religious musicians, and adapted to the formats available and favoured by cultures at the time, to transport listeners to another, highly suggestible plain.

But „that place“ or „boogie street“ is not an awards show. It may have slotted in to a society of hierarchy and contexts, but a busker can crash into your inner world right there as you walk round a street corner, no transaction needed there except for attention (although our instinct is still to pay for that experience, but that is another story).

Where do we escape to? Where do we escape from? Perhaps we hold in mind the instinctive slapping of bare feet on dusty ground, drums and sweat. Perhaps our ecstasy is more cerebral and we imagine ourselves alone with it. Either way, it is arguably our most valuable gift. Arguably without it we die outside commune, with it we join and transcend.

As Bob Marley said, „this could be passed through me or anybody“.

Call it what we will, carnal desire, god, transcendence of self, groove, this thing is not for taxonomists. This is perhaps the revolution that is bringing down the walls we have all lived behind, however consciously, that the magic will not stay in amber, because it is everywhere.


This entry was posted on Freitag, 2. September 2016 and is filed under "Blog". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. Michael Engelbrecht:

    „The old debate between the efficiency of communication and the richness of communication …“

    „Goodbye to Language“: the forthcoming album by Daniel Lanois: / first-listen-daniel-lanois-goodbye-to-language

  2. Martina Weber:

    What a great album. I listened to it twice and now I know why especially Gregor would like it. It´s a way back from Lanois´ sound in the album „Flesh & Machine“ (including language) to the old Lanois sound, but at the same time it´s new. Ruminant. Soothing, but you stay awake. Centering.

Manafonistas | Impressum | Kontakt | Datenschutz