Here’s some sound (90 or so seconds) from “A Crooked Line”, a documentary I worked on in 2007 and 2008:
As the cameraman/director and producer were setting up the shot, I taped a man playing flute who was balancing on a log along a waterway. Some kids showed up to cool off and made this moment as much about the sound of happiness and water as the man playing the flute.
Back in the late 1980s, I somehow found my way to an odd assortment of things: the writings of Gurdjieff, Balinese Gamelan music, and Steve Reich. Much of this was brought together because of a guitar teacher based in Virginia Beach, who taught for some time in Claymont, West Virginia at a school led by Robert Fripp.
There is something cyclical to all of this. Gamelan music works in cycles – too complex to explore here. Much of what Robert Fripp does with his guitar is cyclical – often using odd time signatures (5/4, 7/8, 11/8) which adds to his distinctive sound — and Steve Reich’s compositions are greatly defined by the melodic and harmonic cycles (of different lengths, shifting accents) going on at the same time.
Speaking of cycles, I’m returning to these early experiences with new tools – and I’m remembering (cyclical!) my excitement about everything I mentioned above. Fast forward to the mid 1990s, when I first created computer based sounds, using loops on what would now be considered rudimentary equipment with limited options (which is not a bad thing) —nearly a quarter century later, I’ve returned to doing some musical experiments using computers and, recently, was able to finally wrap my head around Ableton Live, a software program that works using two interfaces, one is linear and the other is cyclical. That’s as far as I’ll go here.
I can’t score music – I understand it, to some extent I can follow along. However, I can translate Midi notes (from Ableton) into musical notation. Here’s something I wrote out using Midi notes.
Using this two bar sketch, I created four tracks (clips) in Ableton, three of which arpeggiate (using a native midi effect called ‘Bach 16th’) with shifting emphasis (by changing offsets and rates.) The 4th track (clip) turns these two bars into eight. All of the sounds, two vibes patches, are from an Arturia Synclavier V. The four clips begin and end at different points.
I hope to do more or something different like this in the future. It’s undoubtedly influenced by Reich but the path that took me here was very different – I’m not a composer or arranger. This is more a matter of what Brian Eno refers to as Generative Music — I put a very rudimentary idea (two bars of chord changes) through two processes: arpeggiators with different accents and one element that was played with sustained chords at 1/4 of the tempo.
I’m not sure what came first. My uncle Michael turning me onto Johnny Adams aka ‘the Tan Canary’ or the night I was playing pool at a now closed drinking establishment in the French Quarter. All I can say is ‘Good Morning Heartache’ floored me. I was admittedly lured in by the album (actually CD…) cover (shot by Rick Olivier), but there was something about Johnny Adam’s voice that captured my attention from that point forward.
Fast forward, many years later — here’s part of an interview with Scott Billington, a man greatly responsible for recording musicians who got their start as far back as the late 1950s, beautifully — that’s definitely the case with these 9 albums.
The city of New Orleans lost one of the best songwriters of the 20th century in November of 2015. Allen Toussaint wrote music that made people dance. His compositions are timeless and known by more people than recoginize his name. He also produced some timeless hits for others, including ‘Lady Marmalade’ by Labelle, ‘Right Place, Wrong Time’ by Dr. John, and ‘Land of 1000 Dances‘ by Chris Kenner, to name but a few.
What is arguably overlooked when one considers all of this is Toussaint’s work in the realm of social justice, equality and wealth — just listen to ‘We the People’, ‘Yes we Can Can’ or ‘What is Success’ and you’ll pick up what I’m putting down.
The Soul Queen of New Orleans, vocalist Irma Thomas, worked with Allen Toussaint for many years, starting around 1961 with songs that included ‘It’s Raining’ and ‘Ruler of My Heart’ (copped by Otis Redding – ‘Pain in My Heart’) – they remained lifelong friends until Toussaint’s unexpected passing while on tour in Spain.
Here’s Irma Thomas talking about ‘Freedom for the Stallion’, a song by Toussaint (and covered by Boz Scaggs, The Oak Ridge Boys, and Elvis Costello, among others), that unfortunately seems more relevant these days than one would wish:
“They’ve got men building fences to keep other men out Ignore him if he whispers and kill him if he shouts.”
‘Deacon’ John Moore is hard to categorize. Like many New Orleans musicians, he draws on everything from gospel music to R&B, funk to jump jazz. While this isn’t a story about his music, it’s definitely fitting for ‘That New Orleans’ Touch’ — as we have glimpse at the both Chris Kenner’s songwriting and Allen Toussaint as a producer, told by Deacon John.
If you don’t already know, do you yourself a favor and check him out. I’ll make a point to post some links to his work soon. Until then:
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be uploading work from a project I’ve been working on for a couple years now — “That New Orleans Touch” — featuring interviews with musicians, producers and engineers about music recordings by musicians from the Crescent City.
Bass player, Chuck Badie, lives around the corner from me in the Musicians Village. He was the bass player on Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” (1964), a song that maintains an anthem like status. I asked Mr. Badie about that song and what it meant to everyone recording it. However, this story turned towards a reflection of race relations over the years.
“He was riding along the highway looking at this what he seen, and he said, “Some day it is going to happen.” That is why, I wish many time, I had tears in my eyes in that room right there when Obama was elected. I said, “Oh god, if only Martin Luther King…” [could’ve seen Obama become President]… cause I know what he went though out there cause I was out there on that highway when he was getting whipped in his head and all that. Just to get a drink of water or whatever. I was out there.”
These reflections were bittersweet, as our interview was recorded just a week before the Donald Trump was sworn into office.