WARMER MIXTAPES #1409 | by Craig Shepard
Photo by Richard Howe
1. Peter Gabriel | Mercy Street
While the first Peter Gabriel song I fell in love with -- omnipresent in the summer of 1986 -- was Sledgehammer, the track from So which still gets to me is Mercy Street. The warm soft keyboard sound, the tinkling triangle and the feeling of Interior Space continue to resonate. Later as a teenager, I drove around the hills of Connecticut at night, getting lost in winding streets as fragments of images adapted from Anne Sexton drifted out of the speakers. Sexton, like her spiritual cousin Emily Dickinson before her, wrote poetry mostly for herself. This reminds me that in making Music, the only thing I must do is write Music that resonates with me. The reason I make Music is to connect with others; I can't do that unless the Music is first true to me.
2. King Crimson | Trio
I came to King Crimson the same way I came to John Cage: through my older brother Mark. For my 10th birthday my mother had given me my own portable sound system with a cassette player and each birthday and Christmas, for a number of years, Mark would give me a new cassette. Many of these were King Crimson cassettes until I had all of their then outstanding recorded output. I loved the Music, and played many of the cassettes over and over, making endless variations of mixtapes for friends. Trio was the last track on side one of Starless And Bible Black. I remember lying on the floor in my room, my head between the speakers, listening to the cassette. The short lines of the violin, mellotron, and bass rose out of the Silence, and held me, comforted me. Calmed by the swelling melodies, I often fell asleep before the tape ran out. Drummer Bill Bruford was given composing credit on the sleeve, and I wondered about this until reading in an interview that the piece was an improvisation. The piece would not have been the same had he struck any of his large assortment of percussion instruments; Bruford was given the credit and corresponding royalty for contributing Silence.
3. King Crimson | Starless
The second section of Starless, the closing track of Red, has remained mysterious to me over the years. After the vocals end, a quiet trio plods forward: a repeated angular bass line, an unobtrusive single note guitar line, and intermittent clicks, scrapes, and crashes of percussion. Through a long slow crescendo, the three maintain a shifting balance of roles. In the beginning, the bass line is very prominent, supported by the guitar and occasional percussion. No matter how many times I listen, I can never quite pinpoint when the slowly climbing guitar becomes the screaming solo, or when it recedes again, supporting the percussion exploding like fireworks in a night sky. With King Crimson, I always understood the Bible Black in the phrase Starless And Bible Black to be The Unknown. I often imagined a cliff at the end of a large black underground cave, with the band holding up a torch and peering over the edge into unexplored territory. As with much of the Music that has touched me, it gave me permission to search for the sounds I was beginning to hear.
4. Johann Sebastian Bach | The Art Of The Fugue: Contrapunctus 1, Andante Sostenuto (Performed by Canadian Brass)
On the way to Freshman Basketball practice, as I passed through the cafeteria-turned-rehearsal-hall, Time stopped. As I watched the specs of dust floating in a shaft of sunlight, the strains of the Canadian Brass arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach's Contrapunctus I swirled around me. The South Windsor High School brass quintet, directed by Louis "Laz" Lazzerini and including Jim Nova, Dale Johnson, Eric Hildebrand, Aaron Brown and Matt Straayer were preparing for a concert. I knew then that I wouldn't be satisfied until I was in the middle of that sound. So I gave up Basketball (I didn't know then that I would stop growing at 5'8") and used my earnings from work on the Foster Farm to pay for trombone lessons with George Sanders of the Hartford Symphony. Laz was a tremendous influence and support. In this farm town in Eastern Connecticut, he insisted that each of us could achieve Excellence, telling us again and again that our High School band could play at the level of professionals--we just needed more rehearsals. Laz also insisted that the audience heard everything--they just might not have the words to articulate their experience. He believed everyone deserved to hear the best quality Music and hated pandering or condescending to an audience. I remember standing in the middle of the Football field at half-time performing an arrangement of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.
5. Michael Pisaro | Akasa (Performed by Reinier van Houdt)
Every time I hear Michael Pisaro's Akasa, it brings me back to late summer afternoons sitting by the window in an old New England textile mill, watching the tired green oak leaves blowing in the breeze above the millstream. Akasa has a clear form, and a gentle invitation to slow down. It's a cantering chain of broken piano chords, taking a break now and then to take in the moment. The first of Michael's pieces I heard (and the first Wandelweiser piece), it encouraged me in the Music I had been writing, affirming some hunches I had about how Music could be. When I listen back to my beat up cassette copy of a now completely degenerated DAT, the beauty remains, a quiet confidence coming from the quiet tones. (Rumor has it there is a new recording coming...)
6. Marcus Kaiser | Zwischen
It was a late October afternoon in 1998, and Antoine Beuger had invited me to go to the Wuppertal Main Train Station for a performance. Having little idea what to expect, I disembarked just after 3:00pm, walked around the station, and looked for the performance. I didn't manage to find it after 20 minutes, so I gave up and sat down on a bench on one of the platforms, watching commuters and the trains coming and going. As a train pulled out of the station and the last echo of the engine faded away, I became aware of a low hum. It seemed to come from everywhere. Suddenly I realized that I had been hearing this tone since I arrived at the station. When I saw a violinist standing further down the platform next to a singer, I knew that I had found the piece Zwischen (Between) by Marcus Kaiser. I spent the rest of the hour meandering around various platforms, listening to this tone weave in and out of the sounds of the train engines, commuters boarding and disembarking. I wound up on a pedestrian bridge above the platforms, listening, content, and unworried about the cold light mist. There I met Antoine, and shared the moment of the last five minutes of the piece. Zwischen has informed how I listen to sounds on the street; every time I go to a train station, I listen for it, and can almost pick it out of the clicking heels, humming train engines, distorted intercom messages, and cackle of commuters.
7. Miles Davis | Rated X
Rated X is my favorite recording from Miles Davis' Experimental period from 1972-1975. Inspired in parts by Stockhausen, John Cage, Free Jazz, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly & The Family Stone, the mass of Sound, rhythm, and texture of Rated X never fails to captivate me. Driving whirling bass, thick drums and percussion, and a groove that seems to be constantly slipping around the beat all set up the thick electric organ chords laid down by Davis. And when the beat cut out, it's like jumping off a cliff. Don't look down.
8. Antoine Beuger | Hell, Heiter, Still
The Basilica Of St. Martin in Weingarten, Germany is a large Baroque Church sitting on a hill in the southern part of Germany. I had heard that a piece by Antoine Beuger would be premiered, and so made a special trip to the village to hear it. Coming out of the warmth of this mid-autumn day, I came into a filled sanctuary. One orchestra sat in front of the audience, two bands were spread throughout the balcony and in the organ loft, surrounding the listeners. The choir sat interspersed throughout the audience, which filled all available seats. This mass of musicians played very quiet sounds, independently of each other. The effect, amplified by the resonant space, was something like light rain falling around me in a tent. As with Antoine's Music, the experience was vast and intimate at the same time; 350 musicians engaged and communicating with each other and with the audience.
9. Christian Wolff | Berlin Exercises
In the spring of 2005, I was sitting on stage alongside Christian Wolff (melodica), Jürg Frey (clarinet), Stefan Thut (cello), and Jogrim Erland (electric guitar), performing Wolff's Berlin Exercises. After a beautiful rich melodic section, most of the musicians fell away and Jogrim continued alone. After playing for a moment he paused, looking closely at the score. In that pause anything was possible, and I had no idea where the Music might go. This quality of Open Possibility runs throughout the best Music of Christian Wolff. Beyond the charm of the quirky phrases (often requested by Frank Cirsafulli during trombone lessons), the lurching rhythms and strains of different melodies going in different directions at once is a pause, a silence, which can go anywhere. In that silence, the musician is forced to do something he or she may never have done before, to listen and bring into existence Music which they have never made, perhaps which no-one has heard before. To witness the moment where this Music is born--as a musician and as a listener--is thrilling.
10. Elizabeth Adams | CUSP (The Music For The Noise)
From Index 0 by Indexical. In the summer of 2012 Andrew C. Smith, Beau Sievers, Mustafa Walker, Jack Callahan, and Jason Brogan got together, pooled funds, and hired String Noise to record a double album (vinyl plus download) of string pieces. Working together, they did what none of them had been able to do before. I had the honor of meeting them all at a dinner that summer, and the energy and determination showed me the Hope implicit in the Power of Music. Later, they brought in Elizabeth Adams, and Stephanie Huguenin. The collection of fragments, scratchy timbres, and experiments in glissandi point in at least 23 different directions, proof that there is still a lot of great Music to be made. When I get down and discouraged about moving forward, I listen to this release, and remember how much is still left to be done.