Tuesday, January 4, 2011

EMA CCM LTD and I Like Ypsilanti

I’m going to write some music reviews here. I don’t typically do this, for a vast array of reasons. Yeah, I have philosophies, you know this. First of all, I’m not a music critic. That’s not my role as an ethnomusicologist and music scholar, I’m talking for me personally. I know, many academics who research and write about music also write record reviews for popular media, both online and print. But I just don’t see much use in me doing that – there are ENOUGH people writing record reviews, for sure. It also feels conflicting – doing ethnographic research in Detroit on electronic music, asking musicians to represent themselves to me and teach me so that I can present their ideas and words in a framework that tells bigger stories. Evaluating the quality of their musical productions in a lasting, public, written form would potentially damage relationships that I have with people. I might miss out on someone’s release; I might not like something, but feel obligated to write about it; I might like a select few musicians A LOT. I’m just not interested in getting into that kind of a relationship with musicians. Also, practically speaking, I don’t have any extra time to be writing record reviews. You know, cause I’m writing that other thing.

These are some of the same reasons that I’m not trying to be a DJ. There are certainly ENOUGH DJs in the world without me getting in the way. I’d totally mess it all up! Also, I just don’t have time or space in my life for that. I love sharing music, but DJing is not the only way that I can do that, so I find other ways to do it.

Regardless of these philosophies, I am occasionally inspired to write something that involves some vague evaluations of music and events – there’s one of my special ways of sharing music, or information about music. Right now, I am inspired by a variety of experimental forms of music, all produced locally in southeast Michigan, by musicians that I am excited about.


I received a lovely package of music from EMA in October. The moment I received it and started listening, I began imagining what I would write about it. Promise. Just look at my notes in my notebook from then! Needless to say, this review is a loooooooooooooooooooooooong time coming. I know you didn’t read that as “ōō right? Read that long word long. Anyway, here is what was in the package:

Bill Van Loo. The Ghost of an Idea. EMA 033. CD. (on a sweet little mini cd)
Damaged Catholic. Single Phase Change. EMA 029. CD.
Rob Theakston. Condition. EMA 030. CD.
Todd Osborn. Components. EMA 018. CD.
Todd Osborn. Components 2. EMA 024. CD.

Also interesting, but not yet in my possession, is this:

Rob Theakston. Field Recordings 2002-2010. EMA 038. CD.
"Previously released long out of print field recordings of such exotic locales as Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Plymouth, Detroit, Windsor and new territories and field recordings from the horse capital of the world. Remastered with loving care. Limited edition of 20."

All from EMA Records run by Rob Theakston. Many of the artists featured on EMA are from Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. It’s a noise heavy label, but also includes various types of experimental music, and by that I mean experimental beyond what a particular musician might normally produce. Like Todd Osborn’s Components and Components 2 – all piano compositions, barely anything like any of the other music he has released elsewhere.

What the hell does EMA stand for? I didn’t ask Rob, but if I did, he’d probably mess with me and make up some shit. Maybe I should actually do my job properly and ask him. Or I could speculate. Ha. Make up my own stupid shit – I mean brilliant assessments. Maybe it stands for elliptical mind activators. Or enormous mighty autobots. Or ecclesiastical miserly anonomous, because why does the A word have to be a noun? I don’t know.

Are you actually still reading this? Jesus. I’m impressed. Anyway. I’m relatively new to noise and experimental electronic music. For a long while I wanted to like music that would fit these descriptive categories, but I couldn’t figure out how to. Now I am figuring out how to open myself up to it. Southeast Michigan boasts a great deal of quality experimental electronic musicians. Aaron Dilloway, Especially Good, nospectacle, Ian Fulcher, Moon Pool & Dead Band, and Bad Party are just a few. I told you, I'm new, that's my list. In the experimental music that I really like, I find that particular tones and combinations of tones (in chords or slight melodies) stir up my senses and my emotions. Science and psychology of tones! Start here: Emotion and Meaning in Music by Leonard Meyer. There is certainly an emotional and spiritual psychology behind sound, or in front of sound, beside sound. But I won’t be doing anyone any favors pretending to be able to teach you anything about it. Read Cornelia Fales’ writing on timbre. Chapters Eight and Nine HERE. And don't read Fales for info on techno, read for brilliant analysis of timbre. No wonder Mike Banks likes Especially Good (Submerge is distributing Watch Out/Room Downstairs 7 inch), he is all about the science of pitch.

So, now I'll tell you some things about the EMA goodies. For a music that at first seems aggressive and a little brutal, it can have a real softness. It can be delicately powerful. Rob Theakston’s productions have this effect. They are usually very slow to progress, slow and delicate to build. And there’s often a really great fullness of sound that he’s got going on. "Condition 2" (track 3) on Condition has a strong rhythmic element that feels alive. I like detecting soft rhythms pulsing through a piece of sound that at first listen seems nebulous and maybe formless. It's so not.

On to Todd Osborn’s Components and Components 2. Todd is a prolific composer, producer, musician (prolific in quantity and quality, for sure). This collection of compositions for piano are really fun to listen to. Just like a lot of his music, I hear a lot of beauty in it. Listening to these two albums makes me think, in indirect ways, of Pachabell's Cannon in D. I don't know if I would have made such an association on my own, maybe, but whatever. Todd has spoken about this a few times with me, even into a microphone. Here's what he said about composing music:

“I can have infinite patterns and just keep doing real miniscule changes if I want, or whatever. Just have it always not be the same. It’s interesting for me at least. I like just doing it and hearing every possible variation. Like when I was little … I really liked Pachabel’s Cannon in D. There were so many variations on just those chords, you can do so much with it. I like doing that myself.”

Now Components and Components 2 are not a series of endless versions of the same thing. Certainly not. But you can hear how the compositions may have come together and get a little intellectual/emotional over the infinite variety of tones and patterns that exist in some form or another. The intricate rhythms are really stunning. You can hear this in particular on "Of all." Track 2 on Components. And on "Of Nothing" and " You" on Components 2. "Champale" and "The Other Side of the Wind" are definitely my favorites.

Damaged Catholic is going to take some work for me. I'm sorry to say. Not sure how to hear it. I'm interested in trying to hear it though. The second track on Single Phase Change is probably where I should start. It has a very minimal repetitive drone, but with a lot of layers.

Bill Van Loo's The Ghost of an Idea is quite spiritual. This tiny little CD is full of different instruments and sounds, while still remaining gentle and just slightly funky.

Rounding this whole discussion out is a love for Ypsilanti, another great town full of musical and artistic culture in SE Michigan. There is a lot of connected community here surrounding food, drink (alcohol and coffee), music, and general craftiness, and I love it. I could easily make this place my permanent home. But I guess that all depends on where a dance floor biddie with a Ph.D. can get a teaching job.


Cyfaill said...

I'm starting to like Ypsi, too.

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