The thing about drone ambient music is not the sound itself, not the humming but what’s inside that, the permutations of the sound, the rhythms from the echoes, the ebbs and flows of that, and remembering, listening to it again.
Whether it’s Ekca Liena, Misleading Structures, Fripp & Eno or William Basinski, the message is always the same: it’s the sound within the sound, the fuel not for writing contrivances but for the more elemental thing.
And so now, to right this wrong, I present additional Supersets from that era and the prizes they deserve:
Superset I/Greatest Super Short Songs: Paranoid (Black Sabbath) 2:48, Come On Get Happy (Partridge Family) 1:06, And The Gods Made Love (Jim Hendrix) 1:23, But I Might Die Tonight (Cat Stevens) 1:54 Prize: Six Pack of Molson Diamond Beer
Superset II/Greatest Bad Songs:Let the Lizard Loose (Goddo), Ridin’ High (Moxy), Strutter (Kiss), Joker (Babe Ruth) Prize: Pinkish Pimp Hat
Superset III/Music to Think/Remember/Die By: The Heavenly Music Corporation (Fripp & Eno), The Heavenly Music CorporationReversed (Fripp & Eno), The Heavenly Music CorporationHalf Speed (Fripp & Eno) Prize: Enlightenment
I need to get things right in order to write. I need everything in its place, not just on my desk – chargers coiled, books stacked, books aligned, pens in their pen cup – but in the bathroom, living room and kitchen.
I need to clean my head out of the things to do, and plough through my to-do’s – emails, applications and purchases – checking each off the list.
And then I need the room at the right temperature and light, the right drink in hand, the right food eaten, and then the music, a snap decision. Go ambient or go home.
I need to find my place in the story, remember where I was and where I was going. I just need a glimpse, something sharp and clear, and away I go. Unless I don’t. And it all starts again.
I do my most satisfying writing when listening to looping sounds. Around and around, on repeat and again.
My love for repetitive music started when I was a kid. My favorite song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Chris Superstar wasn’t I Don’t Know How to Love Him or Superstar but Trial Before Pilate (including the 39 Lashes).
39 Lashes features counting, whip Foley and a guitar riff that goes around and around. That’s basically it. I felt weird about liking it so much. Did I enjoy hearing a man being whipped? No, it was the sound. It went around and around. I liked that.
I discovered more looping magic over the years in the music of John Coltrane, Ravi Shankar, The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Fripp and Eno, Eno and Byrne, Godspeed You Black Emperor, NIN, Stereolab and My Bloody Valentine.
Bandcamp now feeds my addiction, offering an endless ebb and flow of the sounds, such as Off the Sky, Alex Bober, Drape, Keith Berry, Green Kingdom. The list goes on.
There are times I find these sounds in the city, a distant jack hammer, air conditioner units, honks, whirring and yelling, but it never holds and dissipates into a mess.
There just has to be a sound – preferably electronic – that goes around. I will listen to that on repeat, the song of the repeated sound again and again. There is something pure in that. Something divine. Something definitely to write by. The problem can be coming up for air.
A genuine bacchanalia needs the right music, music that evokes a sense of raw desire, truth in flesh, that kind of thing, not superficially bald renderings such as Madonna’s Like a Virginor at your local electric zoo. Dance party music is often predictable, denying the subtlety of the bacchanalia, the potential for a slow build, heightening the tension, a move to the side, and then incrementally back toward inevitable release.
Some alternate bacchanalia soundtracks to consider:
Fripp & Eno started it with The Heavenly Music Corporation, not ambient music but ominous and terrifying sonic explorations, lovely too. (Click preceding link to listen.)I heard the sound again, years later, at a Grateful Dead show in Miami in 1988; it was like being inside a jet engine, all-encompassing, so very loud.
And then, in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (2006), a new version, low and distant, perhaps over-produced, arrived on screen. (Click preceding link to listen.)It arose again in the trailer for Chris Nolan’s Inception(2010), promising aural profundity; regrettably, the sound was brief and the movie was not.The sound became more realized in Gravity (2013), providing the soundscape for the impending doom of debris.It has now returned to the frontier of music, more than My Bloody Valentine’s sonic wall, in Sigur Ros’ latest work, Kveikur (2013).Louder and deeper, back-filled by drums and wailing voices, the sound builds, just falling short of the next plateau. As this sound continues in its evolution, getting deeper and fuller, it might even be a synchronistic backdrop for our promised apocalypse.
My Bloody Valentine released a new album this spring, mbv. It is a haunting offering of distorted, crazed music, much like their great Loveless LP from 22 years back. I listened to the new album a few times and became obsessed with the second last track, Nothing Is, which I put on repeat and listened to 300-400 more times. I have come to listen to nothing but this song of 3 1/2 minutes – whenever I write, workout, or do anything with music. I’m listening to it right now.
I must admit to a history of obsessive music listening. My housemates in college stole the fuse from my stereo because of my addiction to The Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station. I’ve obsessed over all sorts of music – NIN, Aimee Mann, Low, Fripp & Eno, William Basinski, Jesus Christ Superstar – often just a song at a time, and that over and over again. I was the perfect audience for Ragnar Kjartansson’s 12-hour performance pieceBliss, where the same 4-minute section was repeated again and again and again.It’s like a trap or a crutch or a refuge or just something I like too much, and I won’t stop until there is nothing left and I just can’t listen to it again…for months, if not years, and then just might start all over again.