Tim Brady conducts Instruments of Happiness. Photo by Laurence Labat.
Today is the penultimate Bandcamp Friday of the year (next and final one will be May 7)—that is, again, the day when Bandcamp waives their fees on all purchases and the artists get to hold onto all the proceeds of their sales. That’s why the Bandcamp Friday editions of Kill Yr Idols are always free, instead of throwing $5 (or more) at me for a subscription, give it to someone who’s actually doing something valuable, like making music.
As usual, there will be personal and selective list of recommendations below, but first I want to take a deeper look at an upcoming (April 23) important release, Actions Speak Louder, a three-CD set from composer and guitarist Tim Brady (out on Redshift, a fine Canadian new music label). This release brought out a pandemic memory for me; this time last year I was looking forward to a day flight up to Montréal and back, to catch a performance of a new piece by Brady and review if for The Wire. Of course, that never happened.
That makes the musical heft of this set even more welcome. I got to know Brady’s work through two fine releases on the Starkland label, Music for Large Ensemble and The Happiness Handbook (playing his own music and others), and another Starkland release, from the electric guitar ensemble Instruments of Happiness, includes his mellifluous, stunning The Same River Twice: Symphony No. 5. Brady is very much a contemporary composer, equal parts post-Steve Reich and post-King Crimson (and a great example of the kind of compositional thinking that comes when the main instrument is the electric guitar), and so by extension with roots in Bach, Stravinsky, Robert Fripp, Glenn Branca, and others. That’s still a sweet spot for contemporary compositional thinking.
Actions Speak Louder surveys purely instrumental music, including some attractive exercises in minimalism and robust Triple Concerto, and includes some earlier vocal music and an instrumental/tape collage, As It Happened, a kind of interpretive audio documentary on the subject of some malicious psychiatric experiments. Brady answered some questions from me via email, about his work and this release (edited somewhat):
Is it fair to call a lot of this, especially Triple Concerto, rock?
“I haven't the faintest idea what to call Triple Concerto” frankly. Music? I do not shy away from using idiomatic electric guitar sounds, which often come from the rock/fusion world. But it's more open than that… As the title of the CD points out, I’ve always had a huge problem with fitting into any category and the labeling of music never works very well for me… It is basically ‘contemporary notated music,’ mostly standard notes on a page, etc. But my sense of sonic possibilities (ie: the aforementioned rock guitar, etc) means I will use a super wide range of sonic vocabulaires in a ‘composerly’ fashion.
Most composers (though I suspect this is slow changing) work with a much more narrow sonic language and create internal, structural variations to build style and content. That is generally what we are told to do by teachers and the new music scene. I’ve never really done that. Any sound is possible, all I have to do is create a reason to use it. Though I prefer Sgt. Pepper’s, structurally, I would have to say the most revolutionary Beatles record was The White Album, it was SO varied. I like that approach.”
The liner notes mention Stravinsky, and the influence of Steve Reich is in here too, what tradition do you think you belong to? At the end of this, it seems to me that’s King Crimson.
“Possibly, but in truth I’ve never owned a King Crimson record or listened much to their music. It seems like if you play guitar and are looking for different sounds and use electronics, there is this meta-language that seems to develop from the instrument and the technology. My list of influences is pretty much the same as every baby boomer; Beatles, Miles, Ives, Bartok, Debussy, Mingus, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Allman Brothers, etc, nothing shocking there. I really like Gershwin, which might be a bit unusual for us “avant-garde” types.”
How do you integrate your own guitar playing into these compositional forms and styles?
“I like playing with other musicians in many contexts so I just find ways to fit the electric guitar into anything, operas, string quartets, improv ensembles, concertos… It’s just an instrument, it plays notes and rhythms like anyone else, just get over it. It blends really well with a lot of different sounds, if you just listen to what the instrument CAN do, rather than the narrower range of approaches that most people DO with the electric guitar.
It does mean I have had to develop my notational skills to a level which is rare for an electric guitarist. I can read well enough to play with major orchestras, but I still do improv at least 30 minutes a day. Just two approaches to making music—why not use as many tools as possible to express yourself? Not for everyone (some people are more comfortable with a more focused technical approach) but I guess I’m naturally curious, and don’t like following the rules quite so strictly.
One of my favorite sayings is, ‘tradition is just peer pressure from dead people.’ It has its uses, but it's not some eternal law of nature. Playing guitar in a rock band is just something humans invented, we can just as easily invent playing electric guitar with a string quartet.
Do you use vocal and purely instrumental music to achieve different goals?
“Yes, good point. In vocal music, the text is pretty much always the driving force, in terms of intention, expression, even pacing and rhythm. Instrumental music is perhaps a bit more about pure form?”
Of all the pieces in this set, is there one that’s your favorite?
“Man, what a question! For the scope and formal complexity, I guess Triple Concerto. But Revolutionary Songs has always been one of my favorites, and As It Happened is just such a cool, gnarly production (in an amazing live performance!). And those slow, simple electro-guitar pieces have a great vibe. Please, don’t make me chose!”
Listen to the man, just get the whole set.
Recording of the Week
My own shopping cart is going to be tiny today, circumstances and all, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be putting my money where my mouth is, if I had the money. That’s what a Bandcamp wishlist is for! And that’s where I save these recommended recordings. One quick blurb on the first one: Endurance is one of my favorite musicians on Bandcamp, and one of the reasons I made an account. He’s made new music for the A Red Thread label, which donates proceeds to good causes, so for $5 you get some great ambient music and, with this album, help out Asian-Americans Advancing Justice.
Bandcamp Friday for April picks:
Brand new archival release from Jason Moran, playing with Milford Graves:
Archival music from Pierre Schaeffer!
Haunting, Lucier-esque music from Samuel Rodgers and Richard Scott:
This new release collects a set of variations on music from Caterina Barbieri’s excellent Ecstatic Computation:
Eight Tower Records has just released a meaty drone compilation:
Mystery Circles second volume of singles is out, and there’s a bargain cassette bundle. All proceeds go to the Afrorack project:
Robert Rich has released his complete performance from last weekend’s SoundQuest Fest 2021:
As much as a hate to promote Evan Parker these days, his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble is a major part of creative music:
(I have to stop here, Substack is telling me I’m approaching the email limit. That’s how I do it, volume, volume, volume.)
Dave Douglas is selling all the CDs on his Greenleaf label for $5 each.
One of my favorites, The Volume Settings Folder, is knocking 20% off his catalogue with the code: easter 21.
Get all of Granny Records’ great experimental music for 20% off with the code: granny.
Dave Seidel is knocking 25% of the price of the CD or download of his excellent new double-album, Involution (if you buy a CD from Bandcamp, you also get the download). Use discount codes: Involution CD, use the code: inv_apr2_cd; Involution download, use the code: inv_apr2_dl
No Rent Records has cut prices on physical product and is selling their digital discography for $28.
Sunburned Hand of Man, “last of the great free rock collectives,” is selling their entire digital discography, over 140 releases, for $26.72.
Already Dead Tapes has two bargain bundles up, a cassette one, 3 for $12 and a vinyl one, 5 for $15.
From the Archives
If you missed SoundQuest Fest 2021 last weekend, and it was mighty fine, you can still watch archived performances on YouTube. As readers know, I am down on livestreamed performances that try and replica concerts, but seeing an electronic musician work in their studio is something else altogether, it’s kind of a lecture and magic trick that turns into music. Here’s the set from Alias Zone:
You can find his album here:
And from the man himself, Steve Roach:
See you next week.
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