Tuesday, August 19, 2003

I saw Bembeya Jazz again tonight after seeing them in Central Park yesterday and can honestly say I heard/saw things done with guitars I haven’t heard/seen before. Three of them sliding and skidding through interlocking figures that were both bafflingly busy and easy as breath. So so … loping? Tight three-note figures stepping out every dozen or so bars to add a single note that would effectively rewrite the melody in absentia. Trying to process what I was hearing forever too slow, but there was nothing anxious or even restless in the futility. Clean clear systems with nothing like math at the core. No grounding, no flight. Tried to come up with workable non-African comparisons and came up with um, uh … Johnny Marr in “Reel Around The Fountain”? Lindsey Buckingham when he’s floaty and restrained? If I were James Murphy I’d tell The Rapture to get two more guitarists, work out the tone, and get to work mining.

(The Central Park set held out a few supplementary stunners thanks to a show-long downpour, which gave the hi-hat-intensive songs a good texture wash that reminded a certain Cologne-fixated bystander huddling under an umbrella of – yep, you guessed it – Kompakt.)

Roll your coins, people. It's wise!

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

The Erotics Of 4-4

It was one of those games you just have tip your cap to, an almost eerily on-point display of the pull between confluence and happenstance that makes people go all soft and gooey when talking about baseball. For starters, we had no business getting a game in beneath clouds ready to snap their fingers, crane their necks, and say “I don’t THINK so!” But the rain held, and an oddly determined Team Onion took the field to reprise an earlier matchup against the High Times Bonghitters. Their undefeated streak is the stuff of legend, garnering mention in both Sports Illustrated and The New Yorker over the past couple years. Our own 4-1 mark is bemusingly impressive in its own right, but suffice it to say that High Times’ history holds out far more in the way of glory.

It was a game during which the Bonghitters’ manager actually took a trip to the mound, clipboard in hand and stern look on brow, to settle his rattled pitcher. That was after Matt McDonagh smacked a three-run shot to deep left, putting Team Onion up 4-3 going into the bottom of the fifth.

It was a game for which a savvy Central Park black-marketer showed up on his bike ready to mix and sell mojitos (with fresh mint!)

It was a game that, in a first for us, included an umpire. He was a gameful guy, solid enough in spite of a few dubious calls that incited the kind of vengeful reaction I don’t think any of us were entirely comfortable with. Yelling at the ump, kicking dirt in frustration -- it was a game that affected personalities more than personalities affected the game.

It was also a game that ended the only way it could: bottom of the seventh inning, Team Onion manning a diamond that honestly felt wired for electricity, Andrew Smith on the mound, an out recorded somehow or other, a big High Times slugger walking on one of those vengeance-inciting ump flubs, then advancing on a sac fly to second, where he proceeded to stare down High Times’ last hope with a facial expression that could only be fully described by Herman Melville. She looked visibly a little bit freaked, understandably so, as a game so cleanly and tactically played stood waiting for her to seal its fate one way or another. Strike one. A ball or two to draw out the suspense. Strike two. Deep breaths. Frantic positioning of outfielders to best combat whatever she could manage to slap playward. A last breath that would have to do for the time being and…

Ties are underrated. Say what you will about their lack of resolution and admittedly less than ideal sister-kissing flatness, but it’s not that simple. In his novel Ratner’s Star, Don DeLillo writes of infancy being the erotic, ecstatic prime of human existence: “Soon after [infancy] the corruption of the erotic instinct takes place. The solidarity of opposites is completely shattered. Before you’ve learned to put two words together, you are mired in an existence full of essential dichotomies.” Win/loss -- dichotomies don’t come any more clearly defined. But oh, the erotics of a 4-4 tie. A cosmic tease! A settling down into deepest harmony!! Elements pawing their way toward fullest equilibrium!!!

Extra innings would have been nice, but darkness had other designs and the script wouldn’t have it any other way. So there we were, walking away from the 2003 season through a misty Central Park expanse wavering somewhere between dusk and night, wondering what might have been but content with the sly smile that arises when imagining the Bonghitters, undefeated though they still are, forced to come to grips with a little “1” standing to the right of the loss column's “o,” a little analogue sequence clean and neat and forever requiring a qualification of terms that will never get to the half of it.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

I finally got my ears on Kompakt’s Schaffelfieber 2 and it’s a done one, innit! I was hoping my roommate would walk in when it was on so I could gauge his reaction — his reflex to pretty much all dance music is to sorta grin and fixate on the thump-thump cartoonishness of it without acknowledging anything else going on. Fair enough … he’s big into music (mostly Middle Eastern stuff, which I must confess I have a reductive vibe-killing ’tude toward on occasion) but has nothing vested in the nooks/crannies of a form he’s admittedly only theoretically interested in. But I wonder how much of that arch djujj-djujj-djujj scoff-off a guy like him would even apply to the shuffle-beat. It’s so languid and lazy on its surface, leaning so far back most of the time that it’s less a rhythm engine than a mood cue. Which is what’s most striking about the relative homogeneity of Schaffelfieber’s rhythmic slink: the way the beats work as foundation frames for all the wipes and smears that rise up from the base like ribbons tethered tight but free to wave as they will. It’s a near-total transposition from the kind of priority-swing signaled by Ricardo Villalobos’ great new In The Mix: Taka Taka, which laces the brittle crackle fix of Perlon-style skitter with more forward-motion drive than such a minimal palette would seem outfitted for. Or like the cumulative power of False’s deliriously slamming self-titled album on Plus 8, a personal top-10er for me so far … and an album I thought a lot about as I ate whole crabs for the first time in Baltimore last weekend: the exacting manual pick/crack process becoming this exhausting meditational ritual over the course of two hours, a big pile of crabs turning to devastated shards of shells tossed into a bucket of scraps that looked more like a meal than the meal ever did.

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