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Godspeed You! Silver Apple

DJ Shadow – “Stem Long Stem (Clams Casino Mix)” – Island

If only the New York Times Magazine still ran their much-missed “Meh List” (tagline: “not hot, not not, just meh”), this indolent discharge would fit right into its midsection. Clams Casino’s remix commits the most heinous crime of an artwork: it’s unremarkable.

 

Heckling in the House of Commons

It is an unqualified disgrace that hecklers (100% of whom are male) persist with impunity in the Canadian House of Commons. It’s a stark reminder that men in positions of power still benefit in our culture from shouting people down. A gentle tongue is a tree of life.

 

Kaytranada – “Lite Spots” – XL Recordings

Canadian music can be embarrassing. During the international industry’s 1990s heyday, Barenaked Ladies were one of our biggest exports. America had the Red Hot Chili Peppers. We got Bootsauce. And let’s not forget the ignominy that is Moxy Früvous.

But Kaytranada is in no way embarrassing. Setting him apart from this year’s other Polaris Prize nominees, his work is simple and sincere. And delightful.

Take the video for “Lite Spots”. In it, Kaytranada befriends a white robot that learns to dance through mimicry. The robot malfunctions in shame when it attempts a particularly lithe move. It’s a metaphor for not being able to “bend that way”. Here, the robot functions as a signifier of a love that dare not speak its name.

 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Théâtre Paradoxe, September 22nd

With a confident performance—the final in a four-night run at the handsomely renovated Théâtre Paradoxe in Ville-Émard—Godspeed You! Black Emperor casually reminded their fans why they are the mightiest of live bands.

There’s the sheer heft of their sound. Multi-part pieces build momentum slowly, skillfully, until they crest into heaving swells of distortion. Then, like a crazed kid riding downhill on a one-speed bike, they take their feet off the pedals and let the sucker coast.

There’s the washed-out 16mm imagery, too—skittering split-screen film loops of galloping deer, time-lapsed clouds, speeding trains, high-tension power lines, half-built skyscrapers and burning bushes—which artfully complements their melodic grandeur.

That the sweaty and spent band members return onstage after the gig to wrap their own instrument cables—affording us laggards an opportunity to say thanks for the show—isn’t the main reason to love Godspeed. But it’s one reason.

 

Don Buchla

The dark horse American electronic experimentalist and musical malcontent Don Buchla died on September 14th at his home in Berkeley, California. He was 79.

Mainstream marketplace success eluded Buchla throughout his lifetime, although his synthesizers coincided closely in the early 1960s with Bob Moog’s designs. Buchla’s rejection of a standard clavier keyboard interface is the chief reason that his instruments were never widely embraced.

Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco observe in their book Analog Days that Buchla considered “the keyboard a perfectly good way of doing what it does well, which is making polyphonic music based on a twelve-tone chromatic scale. It just never occurred to him that such a device was an appropriate way to control electronic sound.”

“Claviocentrism” is the term I’ve given to a deep-seated and long-ingrained cultural logic that places keyboards at the center of western music making. Buchla was decidedly a non-claviocentrist. A black-and-white keyboard transformed Moog’s synthesizers into musical instruments. Buchlas’ were conceived of as sound generators.

Still, an unforeseen twist of fate spun Buchla into further obscurity. His collaborator in innovation the musician Morton Subotnick’s 1967 album Silver Apples of the Moon was released on Nonesuch Records mere months before Walter (now Wendy) Carlos’s Switched on Bach—made using a custom Moog modular—came out on Columbia. With the vision of producer John McClure, Carlos shifted five times the units of Subotnick, and the public’s expectations for electronic music grew evermore conceptually skeuomorphic. Another great schism.

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