Directionality


Directionality

 

Better men than I

Try to bring north to south

Thinking to unify what’s west

 

And fettered men by eye

Spy success in the south

Effecting efficacy in the east

 

And lettered men do try

To hum the oms of the east

With the zest of the west

 

So Never leave a man down

Do what’s right

But when you look up

Expect that what you get

Is what’s left

 

~Austin R Ryan

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Vocal Bias


Vocal Bias

~Austin R Ryan

Messy music arguments occur every day, both sides fighting to a standstill, because you cannot control the way you hear things. The metric for music bliss adjusts individually. I acknowledge this subjectivity and I try to adapt to it. I could not adapt when my sisters and I sat down to make a playlist for our graduation party.  Within five minutes of examining our respective draft picks, we got to criticizing. It was that classic music argument between the pretentiously hip musical enthusiasts and the wearyingly poppy radio heads. It was the big iTunes library versus the small, the niche versus the popular, practically closer to a stereotype of a musical argument than an actual one. The argument became nuanced once I brought in my instrumentals. I started to make a heated a defense of instrumentals as party music which quickly escalated to acclaiming instrumentals as a whole.

The argument reminded me that music was subjective but that some biases endure more than others. The vocal bias rose to a sharp prevalence, and suddenly I felt the effect of it flood into my eyes and ears. That high from feeling discredited overwhelmed me and I would lash out at the thought of anyone only listening to music with lyrics. I would recklessly feed my assumptions off of a bias I felt pervasive enough to shoot through every pore. I assumed my metal head friend did not enjoy Russian Circle’s “Enter” because it was an instrumental. I could not reconcile that the heavy guitar, the immense sound of the drums, the mesh of metal elements played out to perfection within that track did not resonate with my friend. I ignored that Russian Circles did not resemble black or heavy metal in the drumming style or even in the heavy chord progressions just to flatter my own fury. After all, I hated that bias so much that I had to love the act of hating it. That hate became a crucial part of me and how I formed my opinions. If I took that away from myself I would discredit my own opinions.

 

 

Essentially, I started thinking that the institution of listening poised itself against one of my favorite elements of music: the instruments. Everyone sung along to songs, but no one remembered the drum beats or the way that bass pulsed quietly in the back. Rappers with good rhymes could lace their lyrics over a beat that stayed in the exact same spot for five minutes and have a horde of people chant their lyrics religiously while great instrumental groups like “If These Trees Could Talk” hardly got any attention. This vocal bias seemed unjust, it seemed systematic, and it seemed oppressive. Like any teenager I got the feeling that my surroundings oppressed me and I gave into thinking like a prick. Occasionally I acted like one too.

I won’t deny the presence of a vocal bias. Such a thing does exist. I have seen an unfortunate number of people ignore good jazz and post-rock because of the absence of vocals, but for the most part the vocal bias does not dominate someone’s music taste so extensively. I think the radio demonstrates that vocals tend to garner the most attention in listeners, though everyone listens to more than just the singer. Most songs that land on the radio seem to do so because of a short, sharp and upbeat nature upheld by sunny pop vocalists.

The song selection in radio is not problematic, but it can isolate folks like me. I am heavily oriented towards instruments, and I usually do not pay attention to what a singer says until the third listen. The lyrics do not worm their way into my memory until the fifth listen. I can respect acts that rely on their singers, like Passion Pit, and I can love bands that use singing to come together, like Portugal. The Man, but artists like Regina Spektor or Erykah Badu often fail to hold my attention because of the lack of the layered and dynamic instrumentation that melts my ear drums. The reverse may subvert instrumental acts, or even plenty of progressive rock bands that clearly do not center their acts on their feverishly high pitched singers that tend to squawk out blind and ideological sentiments. Even though most people can acknowledge that music operates in subjectivity and bias, sometimes the structure of listening provides divides too wide to bridge. The vocal bias, whether toward or against, might be the largest dichotomy I’ve ever encountered, or at least the easiest one to identify.

Like any bias for something as subjective as music, you cannot absolutely counter it. I often try to stretch my music net as wide as possible, because it sucks to hate a song. I feel loads better when I do not feel the need to scorn a song on the radio, coming from a stranger’s computer, or being shown to me by a friend. Having a bias large enough to rule out a genre usually forces a person to either leave social circles or change tastes. Back in high school arguments over rap and rock could divide a class in half, but maturing I found that myself and others got to accept popular rap or rock out of certain social necessity because trying to commandeer a friend’s radio usually did not go over well. After driving for thirty minutes, listening to a friend’s music, the best strategy was to find something you liked in the music. The cross became too much to bear otherwise. I found it takes longer to mature away from vocal bias, whether you focus or ignore lyrics. Still, the process needs to be indulged. Nowadays, with more bands creating more abstract sounds, the simple vocal and instrumental formulas fade and shit. Where in one time everyone knew similar bands and similar hits, now a discussion can devolve into name drops and recommendations. We see fewer and fewer people tune in to the radio, so now where music once formed easy social links it becomes a gauge for adaptability. I may always hate Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown and most country music on the whole but I can and do try to find the best in vocal centric sounds so I can at least tolerate them. A vocal bias provides an easily visible divider, but it no longer suffices to ignore the divider as you might before. Now it makes more sense, with Jazz and other instrumental heavy genres resurfacing, to seek the best in what you might think to be the worst.

New Music’s Cheap!


New Music’s Cheap!

            Technology’s made music pretty accessible these days. These days few factors limit the temptation to torrent and download. However, if you are looking for free or cheap music through a legal venue, then rest assured that some artists will at least encourage your legality. Recently I found two wonderful artists practically giving away their music. Perhaps they just want to get their music out there for the sake of it, perhaps it just makes more sense to rely on live profits and use free music to generate profits. Either way, nowadays more people are making music than ever and plenty of them release it for next to, or actually, no price. Anyhow, if you take a look you’ll find plenty of cheap music out there, but here’s just a quick surface glance at two artists you may want to check out.

 

1. Mystery Skulls – EP

Right when the first song of the EP, “Amazing” hits, you know largely what you’ll get. This band might not set the world on fire, define genres to come or cause some grander revolution. These tracks are simple and easy but they do not pull back. The Bass thumps out a rhythm and the rest of the music falls into a tremendous groove. The EP really takes off on the second track, “Money”. The synthetic beat ramps up gradually from a guitar riff paired with a single undulating ‘unce’ into a falsetto groove matched with vocals echoing from on high. Just before the chorus hits, the music sinks low briefly before expanding into a larger sound. The track climaxes to an almost absurd and over-stylized synth pop glory before it plummets into a calm valley filled with whispering voices and a tamed bass beat. It shoots back out at towards the end and easily creates the most dynamic and ridiculously over-stylized song on the album.

 

http://mysteryskulls.bandcamp.com/track/money

 

Mystery Skulls so embodies and hypes this sensation of synth pop that I almost want to throw it out, but something about the boldness of all that style makes it almost hypnotizing. The following tracks “You” and “Beautiful” do not measure up to “Money” but they emphasize some of the variability Mystery Skulls has in them. All off the songs on the EP follow a similar style and structure, but the addition of piano in “Beautiful” certainly mixes things up. When everything concludes on “Brainsick” I had to admit there was no way this music did not seem worth the asking price of 1 dollar. Sometimes it gets repetitive, and bit into its own pomp, but you could do worse with a dollar. It sure beats four gumballs or giving that waiter an adequate tip. What’s more, you can follow this up and coming Dallas band via their tumblr. They post up demos and new tracks pretty often.

http://mysteryskulls.bandcamp.com/

http://mysteryskulls.tumblr.com/

 

2. The Isosceles Triangle – The Isosceles Triangle

If all those anime theme songs, irritating vocaloid programs and saturated J-Pop hits have made you lose faith in Japan, then here’s a band that ought to restore it. The Isosceles Triangle fits their name quite well. They are a progressive rock, instrumental trio coming out of Tokyo with notable instrumental talent pulled together by incredibly clean composition and a strong creative force. The first track, “4 parts of 1” demonstrates their capacity to create an interesting beat that rotates through different speeds and sounds while maintaining continuity. They create seamlessly fluid music that does not overstress any instrument, something particularly rare for bands with talented instrumentalists. Their song “Spy Theme” ushers in a heavy bass line that holds down the rhythm with the drums so the guitar can create an eerie and intriguing solo that really does illicit a sense of excitement and  mystery that belongs in any spy theme.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvEfJ2wohBU

 

The cool composition brings in a jazzy feel that smooths out the whole track and brings the idea together. Instrumental acts often fail to put a sense of tone behind their music, something vocals can usually provide with more ease. Too often instrumental groups create a wash of heavy hitting sounds that, while it still might please the listener, often fails to hit an emotional chord or an interesting theme. All of The Isosceles Triangle’s tracks resonate really well, to the point where the titles of each track seem to make a lot of sense, despite having no words to explain them. “If I think Of…” layers on so much slow bass and plodding drums that when the guitar comes in with a layer of smoky solos, it all feels intensely nostalgic and sentimental, as though something from important from the past really was coming to mind again. The Isosceles Triangle turns out to be an excessively generous shape, too, charing you exactly zero dollars for its album. Naturally, the band probably wants you to pay a bit more, and they sure deserve at least five dollars for such an exceptional album, but as it stands, you can get it for free!

http://theisoscelestriangle.bandcamp.com/album/the-isosceles-triangle

 

These are just two bands providing great offers to their listeners. In the modern era, with low overhead and so much competition not only with other musicians but with illegal downloading, music’s a buyer’s market. Go out there this Christmas break and find some good deals, it is a lot easier than you think!

 

By Austin R Ryan

Sample Size


Sample Size

By Austin R Ryan

            Like plenty of progressive rock fans, I fell hard in love with the genre and gave it most of my ear. I felt all too eager to spread my musical self-discovery to others, and spent plenty of evenings putting on Rush and The Mars Volta for friends and trying to explain to them why they needed to look more impressed than they did. After a I got enough “cease and desist” looks from my friends, I accepted that this genre would not be everyone’s favorite and tried to keep pressure free music exchanges going where I could. Yet the more and more I listened to progressive rock the more I found my friends giving me pieces that reminiscent of my favorite brand.

Particularly, I remember Kanye West’s Power. People loved Power, because it radiated its title. I never loved rap, and at points hated it, but Power felt fluid and forceful. I remember hearing Power again and again for a while, and whenever I did I went home and listened to King Crimson. Power featured a sample of that beautiful moment in King Crimson’s 21st century schizoid man where the music readies to lurch right into the pounding rhythm of a violently undulating trumpet, steadied by the aggressive roll of the drum and bass beat.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouwCWDbBskU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujIbpt-CCTY

 

Power never compelled me to listen to more Kanye. It only ever made me retreat to King Crimson because that simple sample reminded of how much more I liked King Crimson than Kanye. Similarly, when I played 21st century schizoid man for friends who heard the song, they started discussing Kanye, which leads to listening to Kanye. I always expected sampling to open up musical avenues for people. So far I’ve been proven dead wrong on that note.

For my friends, that sample did not open up King Crimson, it just lead them back to Kanye, just as it only pushed me further into a prog rock cloister. When a sample really hit me nothing compelled me to pursue the source of that sample. In fact, even samples I knew did not push me to appreciate the source of the sample more. Immortal Technique wove in Ennio Morricone’s Ecstasy of Gold into Land of The Gun so well that I felt my head spin like a revolver in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly whenever I heard the song. The incredible sampling made me appreciate Immortal Technique more than I had before, but it did not make me think to pick up some Ennio Morricone soundtracks, even though it was that soundtrack that ran shivers of nostalgia down my spine, and did at least some of the emotional legwork for Land of The Gun.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dcV7HVnRU8

 

I felt a bit frustrated at the way samples could overpower a song and still go unrecognized and abandoned by myself and others. It seemed like samples provided an avenue for exchange that no one went down. A sample of an old song left the old song just as dead as before. However music cannot be blamed for how people listen to it, and conversely samples deliver wonderful bits of cultural memory that make them fascinating. Immortal Technique does something remarkable in Land of The Gun by using that simple sample to conjure up images of a traditional cultural view of the west as wild and untamed. He follows up on that image and uses his lyrics and the mesh of violent noise to relate it to the city streets. Similarly, Willy Moon’s sample in Railroad Track adds an element of power to the song that it would otherwise lack. That steady vocal force blends in with the tremor of noises rippling across the track. The pound of the church bell, the strike of the lightning and the soothing high and low pitch gliding into the track brings it all together beneath the Willy’s energetic voice. Without saying much, Willy Moon creates a story and the sample he uses is beyond crucial in the construction of that story.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PF479nQ-s8E

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=-Ib36OXrEL8#!

 

If there ever were an area of rap I’d tell other genres to embody, it is the sampling. Even though sampling’s full potential as a glorious touch of history for a new listener may never come to fruition, a sample can build up a story with all the deluge and force of memory and culture. A sample may not open up as many paths as it should, but it can dot the path you are headed down with scenery just as visceral as the drum roll, the guitar riff and the bass groove.

 

An interesting website if you want to track some samples down:

http://www.whosampled.com/

Gossamer Year


Here’s an article I wrote for my column “Feedback” on WVAU.org talking about Passion Pit’s new album Gossamer Year. I highly recommend it the site, album and the article! Design credits go to the WVAU web directors Marissa Cetin, Maeve McDermott and our website staff.

~Austin R Ryan

Cover Culture


Cover Culture

 

In my recent song selection I played two covers, the first being BADBADNOTGOOD’s cover of three Legend of Zelda pieces. I assumed that most people would recognize the beat of the old video game classic, even shrouded in a layer of smooth jazz. When I played the song, the idea of a cover culture dug at me. Every month I see a new remake of a movie and wonder whether Hollywood degenerated. I remember discovering Franz Ferdinand and feeling irritated that after only three albums, they produced a remix album called Blood. Unique pieces felt discombobulated by a mesh of mash ups. I felt angry that The Killers made their cover album Sawdust after three albums and then announced that they intended to do more covers. I wondered if these bands weren’t just throwing in the towel, caring too little to shell out something new.

Blood and Sawdust. How timeless.

 

Despite all the resentment I felt for cover culture, I played two covers on air because I cannot bring myself to reject covers, reworks, remixes, remakes or re-anythings outright. I love the way BADBADNOTGOOD smoothed the edges of a classic video game theme. The old styling of Jazz hyperbolized the beautiful nostalgia of a tune that already brought me years back. The way the instruments smoothly slid over the flashy eight-bit notes gave the song a sunny and calm feel that made all that nostalgia hit harder. I wanted to play something original to BADBADNOTGOOD, an original creation of any band. Nothing, even elsewhere in BADBADNOTGOOD’s collection, could send shockwaves of materialized memory ringing across my appendages, like those remade Legend of Zelda themes did. In my mind that made BADBADNOTGOOD’s remake as unique as an original work.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCHTX_pgw6A

If you think I am being emotional, just read those comments

 

So much of a piece of art boils down to the effect on the beholder, and plenty of original works never sounded so stirring. I played The Bad Plus’s cover of Tom Sawyer for the same reason. Tom Sawyer brought me into my musical identity. I remember getting struck by Tom Sawyer’s stupefying speed and rhythm long before I got into progressive rock. When Bad Plus played that song, they preserved the frantic rhythm of the original version and converted so much of it into a sound all their own, versed with a unique sense of drama as they built up to let the rapturous roll of the drums explode outward. Once again the wash of memory surrounded me, and I congratulated covers on eviscerating emotions and provoking ponderings in a way other works cannot.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXAbGUxLMRM

 

It is easy enough to judge the validity of a remake based off its merit. Blood sounded cheap and dull to me, so I dubbed it invalid, while Sawdust sounded better than some of The Killer’s original stuff, so I could at least say it wasn’t a waste. But I found a profound danger in that line of thought. Covers held more to them than their merit. Covers carried the banner of the past and more importantly of authority. Authority can restrict knowledge, talent and reason into the arena of the dull, or it breed something intriguing and new. The covers and remakes often sink underneath our skin because we recognize what they can take away. Sure, Sawdust sounded pretty good, but what if The Killers used those influences to create a unique album? Even if the remake of red dawn turns out to marvelously, the money used to make it could have funded an original idea.

We do not face a new issue. Even back in Enlightenment Europe Kant thought the authority of ideals kept people shackled in tutelage, restrained from ideological independence. Kant’s worries about tutelage are not entirely comparable with our worries about remakes, but it does show that even centuries ago we were worrying about this urge to copy the past.

Little known fact: Kraftwerk is Kant’s jam.

 

The cover shelters no special sin in its unique anatomy. The remake and the remix only highlight an age old fear of a culture coated in the authority of the old. Fighting all remakes or even remakes of recent works is not valiant or fair. After all, original works do not escape the script of the past. As humans the past shaped us, so of course we haul the past into the present. History figuratively repeats itself every day. The repetition does not teleport us back to the seventies; it just lets us walk through the important bits and pieces of it. I played two covers because in trying to move forward, I am walking back through the romanticized decades as much as anyone else is.

 

~Austin R Ryan

Lou the Lover


When I wrote this persona poem a while back, I did not do so out of veneration or sympathy for Lou. I did not write it to make a point of any sort. I just sat down one day and decided I wanted to write a persona poem that actually said something, with no intention of letting anyone hear it. When I read over it, I decided that I enjoyed the writing regardless of its subject, so I would post it.

Lou the Lover

The ballerina’s first spin

Caused a crack

To arise from the bubbles

Buried beneath the

Smooth of her joints,

Scraping against each other,

To the surface

For a breath of air

She heard it nice and quite

Clearly too

It was jagged and

Truthful too

But a silent alarm

Sounded beneath the tightly

Formed canvas on the drum

Of her skin

It reminded her

Of the imagined inhaling

Of her noise

That prefaced the suckling

of her tongue

Against a bloody tooth or two.

The noise made

When a man pushes a white stalactite

Into a cave of fleshy pink

It all came from her smile

Perfect and demure

Wide and stylized

Bleached clean to

Look almost squeaky

With its shiny sheen

And the way the news

Kept informing her

Of another rapist

The rapist traveled around town

Quite impressively, really

So that he might find and bind

A woman or man

Made no difference, really

And with his body

Slowly intuit a grind

A deep and slow twist

Of his hip

He liked the way smooth curves

Might try to resist the waves

As they advanced

In a crooked

And corrupted

Ebb and flow

Every day

These people walk by

Without an idea of danger

To linger in their eye

Every day

With a nudge and push

They assert

Themselves

In lines full

To brim just

For a taste

Of something sweet, maybe

A cupcake, a smoothie

A cookie bleeding

smudged chocolate

From the impact of the sun

Everything in this world

Is just so damn stable

And so maybe

He found it alright to flip a table

He wanted the earth to quake

And when he walked at night

Grabbed his prey right

When they shook beneath

All that girth

He piled on top of them:

Mirth

Just because

Like a concerto

Opening into the room

He could feel every force

Move and writhe

As though skin were dirt

And he was Gaia

Giving birth to worms

He never needed

To force his way into beds

He could cause enough

Heads to turn

That his heart should

Not need to burn

But what use was it

When they moaned mildly?

And even when he ran

A soft leathery hand

Across such a smoothly

Formed chest

He found he was

Empty like the rest

And those too

He gave them nothing

Unforgettable

Or entirely new

No matter what,

Afterwards,

They might mew

But when he seized

And they shoved

When he heard them

Muffle and shuffle

When he slid his hand across

The wide map of their

Soft body

To feel the dips, the valleys

The crested hills

He knew he made something,

Stirred a fire somewhere

Within them

He made them

So full of burning,

Fire for escape

Rage, hate, fear

Maybe even arousal

Love, for those weird

Ones that resisted less,

So he wondered

How they expected him

To loathe himself

No, the workers

In the factories

The buzzers

In the office spaces

Would loathe themselves

For their every repression

And harmful digression

But he shook things

And the worst harm he brought

Were a few minds

Shattered open like egg shells

Just more statistics

And in some way

He was better off than

The news anchors and high up

Law officers, because

At least he knew those numbers

He knew them sometimes

By the bite mark he left

When breaking the flesh of their shoulder

Or the laceration

That ran straight and

Smoother than a river

Marked by the crawl

Of his fingers

He knew those numbers

Better than every

Single statistician

And search engine

In town

Every time he

Escapaded to a new

Menagerie of derangery

He liked to spend himself

Hot and heavily

In the seeping and weeping

Artery of this piece of love

He clung himself to

Yes, he knew that

One day, they’d unzip

Those double helices of his

And the mystery would unravel

Like a chromosome

Cleaving itself in two

To create I and you

He did not mind though

They would uncover him

One day

In fact

He looked forward

To the moment

The door swung open

And they’d find him

In his chair

With a smile

Blood in a cool pile

Smoking steel in a firm grip

And a hole

So deep and so wide,

Were it he were alive,

He might just want to

Struggle inside

~Austin R Ryan

I Met Poetry


I found poetry

in form of a flighty fay

A light and pretty fairy

viewing the land

with eyes open and wary

 

I saw poetry

in the struggles

of seeking and being sought

heard it scrape echoes

out the bottom of a bottle of pills,

A cold wind trying hard to give me chills

The grimmest of the grimdark

An apocalyptic apothecary

A regular coal mine canary

bleating out beats beneath

feathers colored too crassly

and a bent beak

jaundiced just right

 

Poetry and I met

At a gallant gala

Where I saw it

Step to strict form

 

It spoke in fine tune

for the lover and loon

before it danced the

Sestina with idling Italians

and sung a blues sonnet

to rowdy revolutionaries

and pouting prophets

 

Poetry invited me

to a snappy café.

We talked in stilted

flow and rhythm

trying terribly to rhyme

 

I cornered poetry

(Just when it got big)

for an autograph.

It just threw me a mirror

and told me to write

a god damn book

 

Poetry and I

had a falling out,

when I wanted ideology

and it trended to the miscarriages

of so sharp a reality

 

I kneeled at Poetry’s deathbed

and heard it spout gibberish

Let it mouth references

to Shakespeare’s obscurities

Before its cold bulging veins

pumped bursting pluralities

that would prove too much

for a never healthy heart

 

Like Poetry,

I resolved to speak

until I would draw a fine line

and let words

From my mind and mouth

Like blood

From my body and health

 

~Austin R Ryan