Week 51: Music

A mix of words and rhythm. The story for the mind and the story the body is in. Grandmaster Flash said that “before I’m a DJ, I’m a scientist.” Growing up black and poor in New York in the 1970s he developed his own field of study, the Quick Mix Theory. He had noticed that when people dance to disco their bodies reacted most intensely in certain sections, rhythms, the climax of the beat. What he calls the Get Down. He wanted to make the Get Down go slower or faster or to layer one Get Down over another. To infinitely loop Get Downs.

He got two turntables and played them like an instrument. He developed the Peekaboo by hooking up a third wire so he could pre listen to check he had the right section of record. He tested turntables with the Torque Theory, resting a pen on the platter and spinning it to see how long it took to get up to speed. He spent hours in a fabric store feeling rolls of cloth to find the right friction level, settling on felt (spray starched) and wax paper. He drew a map on the record, marking the Get Down with crayon. He got a wordsmith to rhyme over the beats he looped.

Hip hop, DJing, Rapping, all verbs, all from his theory. He collected records of all kinds: jazz, disco, rock and roll, pop, alternative. Electric engineering and collage that created a billion dollar industry of science and art. As a theory it can be added to, continues to evolve.

Medium: Crayola crayon, tracing paper, Ravel Bollero LP372 record.

For more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ka9ZpV8VZcY&sns=fb, and the TV show https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usv442G6H8A

When I was younger, I wanted to be a concert pianist. I wanted to find the difference between playing the piano and allowing it to play me—Liszt with his disjointed measures that build structure; Beethoven with all that gothic emotion requiring restraint; Nakada whose simple, kinetic melodies conjure the sadness of summer, dusk, deer in the pines. Thrill when my fingers kept going in performance after the page-turner missed her mark. The way that carrying something also means that it will carry through somehow.

I played when I couldn’t express myself in other ways. Why can’t you tell what she’s thinking? Why doesn’t she cry? Playing was personal expression but also entree to others in that it was a tool to guide their hearts toward Liszt’s boldness, Beethoven’s storms, the last sunlit days of Nakada’s grasshoppers.

When I stopped playing after college, it was more of the same: forced therapy to make my voice louder and full of what people wanted to call confidence. Stripping the upspeak and singsonginess, the girlness, of my Swedish great-aunts. (You know me, E, so you know this story has a happy ending: none of this worked.)

Peter Larsen puts bacterial growth to music using variables like sunlight to guide the melody, which is oscillatory, pathless, entirely itself outside of his efforts to structure it. I’ve been playing again—Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Oscillatory as well, but manifest, penetrating, down to the swollen ligaments in the spread of my hands.

Materials: Travel flat-head screwdriver, gouache, ink

For Peter Nelsen’s bacterial music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRb3-J2ABYA


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