Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Chair Recognizes...

...that in keeping with the sub-header of this here blog-style thang, promising discourse on absurdity in music and entertainment as well as life in general, something has to be done. And it will... just not today.

I present to you instead, a genuine homemade album review, hopefully bereft of mundanity:

Donald Fagen. Morph The Cat. 2006. 9 Songs. Releases officially on March 14th. Obtained copies of all songs in some sort of newfangled binary code composed entirely of 1's (and also, 0's).

Unbelievably futuristic so far, yes, I know, but let me finish: These ones, and to a lesser extent the zeroes, have arranged themselves, or have been arranged by some unknown (possibly magical) source, to reanimate themselves into extremely listenable, addictive jazz chords and harmony placed in unusual, often contrapuntal configurations framed by the story of a gigantic anthropomorphic feline who descends, at first benignly, (later malevolently, mirrored in an evil-sounding reprise of the title track) into New York city.

The cat may represent anything from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to the Antichrist to Oprah. Some would argue that the last two are essentially the same thing, but I digress... Sort of a metaphor for the accelerating decay, unease, and general sense of dread in 21st century society. The songs together apparently form something you kids may be unfamiliar with, called a "con-cept" loosely based on impending mortality (Fagen recently turned 58), but are left open to the listener's interpretation. They used to call this sort of thing an "al-bum" back in the 70's.

Will not grab the listener upon a cursory playing, but after a few "spins" (also a 70's term) the tunes begin to amalgamate themselves into a kind of musical crystal meth that refuses to leave our anonymous listener's brain alone. In case you didn't know, that's a very good thing.

Enough of that, let's hear from Fagen himself, discussing rap and the practice of sampling, from an interview on Mp3.com published today - nah-kaiy?

***********************************************************************************

Chris: Do you listen to any contemporary music?

Donald:
Not that often. I mean, there's a few things I like if someone brings it to my attention, but I only listen to the same 40 jazz records I had in high school pretty much.

Chris:
It's funny that you say you sort of have to reintroduce yourself. Your music has remained a constant over the years; it's instantly recognizable.

Donald:
Oh, well thanks.

Chris: And I'm curious do you--well it sounds like maybe you've answered this--but do you consciously sort of shut out anything that's going on with contemporary music trends or...?

Donald:
It's not really necessary, because I don't think anything has happened for 30 years or so.

Chris:
Really.

Donald:
Not really. You know there's a new kind of...you know they have different names for like crunk and stuff like that, or there's this kind of music, but you know aside from some fairly subtle things, and like, maybe they use a drum machine instead of drums or something. But that's really kind of the opposite of evolution as far as I can say so. It's really...I don't think there's anything really...I don't see any sort of major thing that's happened since maybe reggae music in the '70s that's really different.

Chris:
So you wouldn't consider, say, rap music to be new?

Donald:
Well, I mean it's more of a theatrical forum really...or poetry with music type of thing, which certainly isn't new. And the beats are basically funk, or something else, only played by machines, it's really not...it doesn't sound new to me. I mean, what's new about it?

Chris:
Well...

Donald:
I mean, they use sampling technology to put out a blip of sound, but it's really like an orchestral hit will be sampled and then so...you know and maybe they do...like if they appear very rapidly, that's something maybe an orchestra couldn't do, because it happens faster than an orchestra could play it but...it's not what I would call a really significant change or anything.

Chris:
So no real validity to the art of sampling, in your opinion?

Donald:
Well it all sounds so canned that it's basically...since they use drum machines and sequences for even the ballads now…people are used to it now, but to me, it also sounds like the kick drum comes in the wrong place, or it sounds wrong. You know like it's...there's really something wrong with the groove. Although, they're getting better at mimicking real grooves. To me there's always something, and the fact that it's unchanging makes it sound, it may be hypnotic, but it has no dynamics, and it has no shape. And what's more, if you want to continue with the technical thing, as far as the other instruments are concerned, if you use synthesizers for all the keyboards and stuff like that, they're always out of tune, technically, and I can hear it. It's like the top end is always a little flat, and the bottom end is always a little sharp, because the keyboards aren't what they call "stretched." Like, when a piano tuner tunes a piano, aside from being tempered, they'll stretch the tops of the harmonics so they aren't flat on the top and sharp on the bottom. So they're...there's no groove and they're out of tune.

Sounds about right to me. So does the album.

5 comments:

Miloj Gack! said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Miloj Gack! said...

Your grasp of binary is nothing less than
spectacular, with phenomenal and stupendous thrown in for good measure.

0110 1000 01 011001!

And I mean it.

Lawrence said...

SInce my brain isn't sophisticated enough to get past just zero's..I just wanted to say I thought Fagen's best effort was on "Aja". I think my stero needle drilled deep grooves on that record..

Miloj Gack! said...

Aja is a timeless classic. It goes around my "cycle of listening" once every 12 to 18 months.

Good call, Mr L. Welcome back.

Corvid said...

Aja, Royal Scam & Katy Lied are my musical Holy Trinity. Like all the best music, they were recorded pre-digital. Coincidence?