Category Archives: music

Aural Sculpture

I’d like about five of these set up around my house.

 

Advertisements

Scarlet Letter Soundtrack

scarletnote

First came the music. It comprised a variety of instruments, perhaps imperfectly adapted to one another, and played with no great skill, but yet attaining the great object for which the harmony of drum and clarion addresses itself to the multitude,—that of imparting a higher and more heroic air to the scene of life that passes before the eye.

This passage from the Scarlet Letter is the earliest description of music as a soundtrack to life that I know of. Obviously people understood the effect of music on the soul way before Hawthorne penned this in 1850, but for over 100 years we’ve associated this “higher and more heroic air” with movie scores. A good tune adds a cinematic quality to even the most mundane tasks. That’s probably why I get a lot more dishes washed and papers graded when I put the ol’ needle to groove (still the best way to enjoy an album in my opinion). And anytime I wash the dishes, my wife thinks I’m a superhero!

Years ago when I was in New York City a couple songs in particular turned an interesting moment into pure magic. As I was ascending a staircase, exiting the 57th Street subway station, my iPod (this was pre-iPhone days), shuffling away, served up this Howard Hello song:

How perfectly cinematic, right? Especially for this suburban kid. Even though I’d been to New York City a dozen or so times before, I’d never felt its majesty like I did on that day stepping out of the subway. I was still working in the music industry at the time, so I had access to vast quantities of music and had jammed my iPod full. I was in love with hearing new music. On that day on 6th Avenue in Manhattan was the first time I had heard this Howard Hello song. I didn’t know who it was, so I checked the greyscale screen and promptly started listening to the whole album, starting again with “Intro.” That played as I crossed 59th Street and entered Central Park. The second song, “Giving Up” hit as as I drew near to Christo’s gates that lined the park’s pathways:

©2005 sssnole [CC-by-nc-nd 2.0]
©2005 sssnole [CC-by-nc-nd 2.0]
The guitarist’s staccato picking of the strings matched the mood of the moment as the bright orange curtains, in an explosion of technicolor contrast to the sad-colored trees, billowed in the breeze. In a beautiful confluence of sights and sounds and smells and sensations I was transported to another realm, a particular moment in time and space that I would never experience again.

Or so I thought.

It all comes back whenever I hear the swelling synthesized strings of “Intro.” It all comes back whenever I’m struck by big, bold batches of orange, whether at the Golden Gate Bridge or at my local pumpkin patch. I can finally say that I’ve experienced synesthesia as it all swirls back through my body.

Listening to music during the doldrums of the day has the same effect as the scarlet letter has on Hester—

…the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself.

And so I cannot blame anyone for moving through their day with earbuds afixed. Not even that student who tries to smuggle an earbud in under their shirt, over their collar, or beneath a hoodie. Sometimes I can’t even stand being in my own sphere.

That’s when my earbuds go in.

Postscript: I know the title of this post begs a playlist for the Scarlet Letter. So here goes. I’ll continue to add to this as inspiration strikes:

Shriekback “Hand on My Heart”
This is Dimmesdale’s theme song!

The DV8 Sound of Trust

I’ve been completely grooving on the new album by Toronoto-based Trust. The track “Rescue, Mister” sends me spinning back in space (to Salt Lake City) and time (the mid 90s) to a beautiful, but gritty club called DV8. The club served as an after hours headquarters to the DJs of KJQ and X96, many of whom did weekly stints behind the turntables of its dusty crows nest of a DJ booth (read Todd Nuk’em’s spot-on memorial of the club, written when it burned to the ground, a surprise to no one, back in 2008).

I put in my time at that club, under the moniker Sean Boy Walton, risking my health (the smoking was incessant), to play the unique blend of darkwave, industrial, and goth pop that was always popular in Salt Lake City. Trust fits that place like a black leather glove (fingers optional).

You want to experience DV8 circa 1995, drop this track into your head. The time warp is uncanny.

Twenty years ago today I flew into Seattle for Sub Pop Record’s birthday celebration only to be greeted at the airport with the somber news of Kurt Cobain’s death. The party went on, but not even great sets from Sunny Day Real Estate and Velocity Girl could lighten the atmosphere of that weekend. Imagine all the music that could have been…