I want to write like music. I want to write in a sustained sound. I want to write in a loop that goes around, on and on. I want to write with never-ending tension. I want to write like the opening of a door, the scuffle of feet, the distant sound of something coming soon.
I want to write like I dream and see my mother, looking young and sharp, in the car with me to the airport, our bags overflowing out the back, a starship flier picking us up before we even get there, continents vanishing in steam.
I want to write like it was left unsaid, like eyes see. I want to write in a burrow, like roots to rocks. I want to write words that mean something else in their unconscious self.
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.
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.
Yes, I admit this is both anal and childish, but I like to remember the places where my thoughts worked best – even if I didn’t remember much of it at show’s end.
10. Ravi Shankar, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto (1983) Beautiful hall, incredible music.
9. Emmylou Harris, The Boot Saloon, Toronto (1992)A honky-tonk night.8. Tragically Hip, Cleveland Flats, Cleveland (1995)Canada’s greats, straight & full-on.7. Guided by Voices, Fillmore West, San Francisco (2002) The club is open.6. Jane’s Addiction, Key Arena, Seattle (1995) Farrell and Navarro in summer dresses. 5. Low, The Aquarium, Fargo (2012) Three full sets.4. My Bloody Valentine, Roseland Ballroom, New York (2008) Ears are still ringing.
3. Noel Hill & Tony MacMahon, Mother Red Cap’s, Dublin (1994)The pure drop in a tavern.
2. Sufjan Stevens, Bowery Ballroom, New York (2013) The end of the world – December 21, 2112 – with a few hundred others. 1. Grateful Dead, Oklahoma City Zoo, Oklahoma (1985) Full moon, at a zoo. (walstib)
My Bloody Valentine plays Hammerstein Ballroom on November 11
They take turns singing, or seeming to sing; there are no intelligible words, just murmuring beneath the din. The sound builds, seems to get louder – although nothing like their 2008 tour – pauses and starts again, a certain blissed-out monotony, chaotic but not, that wears everything down, until it’s just one long thing, only stopping to breath, all of this until the last song, You Made Me Realise. This final, drawn-out moment goes straight in, vibrates against the organs and veins and fights your heart rate until you feel like you’ve been initiated into a murderous cult. And then they leave, and that’s that.
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.