Music Diary 2012 - Day 1
So I'm doing Music Diary Week this year, which I didn't have the required effort to do when he started it, but now I'm going to attempt to document a week of my listening habits. Not a list of every song I listened to - because frankly that's boring and what last.fm etc. are for - but more an explanation of *why* I listen to music and how. As in, what is the music for, what am I expecting it to do, what is it soundtracking, what do I expect to get out of it. So here we go...
Radiohead - Staircase. I woke up with this in my head, the finger-picked guitar bit that reminds me of Can. I'll probably carry on listening to the "Limb" tag while I answer email, which is all the B-sides and non-album singles from The King of Limbs sessions, many of which I like even better than the songs that ended up on the album, which is often the case with RH. This seems to have become my default comfort music lately. But I'm also trying to think up a new cheesecake (one of the other authors was trying to convince me not to quit writing) so I'm trying to get into the headspace.
Autechre - Tri Repetae. I'm still trying to get my head around Autechre, 20 years later. That Aphex Twin vs Autechre poll on ILX reminded me that I've slowly been finding my way into this record. I still couldn't see ever loving them more than I love Mr D James. It's taking me all day to listen to this record. I was going to put it on headphones and walk to Biggin Wood, but by the time I'd got dressed and booted up, I opened the door and it had just started to pour with rain. Instead I sat down to draw, thinking that it would be good, non-invasive music to draw to, and then got distracted by making lunch. (Broccoli and Cornish Blue cheese omelette - one of those cheeses that actually gets nicer just slightly past its sell-by date.) It's weird what music works to draw or paint to, and it's often different from what music I need to write stories to. It's very difficult to write while listening to music with distinct lyrics. Unless of course, you are specifically writing about that song or that artist - which, when you're writing fan fiction, you are often trying to do. That to get yourself properly in the mindset of writing a fictionalised version of an artist, you have to immerse yourself in their words, the most effective shortcut of getting into their emotional headstate.
With visual art, it's different. And it's also different, depending on the medium you're working in at the time. Painting, especially mural painting, requires a different kind of soundtrack than working in miniature in a sketchbook (which probably has the widest range of possible soundtracks - though of course the soundtrack will come through in the art, which I discovered to my great joy, back when I used to draw a lot in clubs, while live music was on.) The best thing I've ever found for painting is actually AFX's Analords. Something about the physicality of wet paint on a textured surface and that electronic machine chatter is just really appealing, and the beat of the music drives the painting forward. Today I'm scanning, cleaning up and colouring in sketches that I did in Cornwall, so ideally I should be listening to something that reminds me of Cornwall. I had planned to make a playlist of "songs about Cornwall" to listen to in Cornwall - not just Aphex, of course (though his music, especially his earlier material, just makes so much more sense when you're actually there) but Wind In The Wires era Patrick Wolf and Ride's Sennen. Or I could listen to music which I heard for the first time when I was in Cornwall - which this time, meant a lot of really poorly recorded Atoms For Peace leaks. But then that reminds me of...
Sue Aston - Inspirational Journey. I bought this on a random recommendation, goodness, two Christmases ago, staying in a freezing cold house in Mousehole during that cold snap when all of Cornwall seemed to get frozen in, or, rather, England got frozen out. And I was initially sceptical because I can't stand "Celtic" music, all those endless mournful fiddles and fake Oirish flourishes, and as much as I love stone circles and ancient windswept clifftops hillforts, somehow it's very difficult to put the feeling of that sense of place into music without having it come off like silly New Age gubbins. And yet this record managed to avoid most of those cliches, it captured me at a receptive moment that reminds me of a particularly happy time, and feels like a little magical secret that only I'm in on, and I don't want to share for fear of having it spoiled. Like those winding valleys and secret bays in West Penwith, in the very early spring, before the tourist hordes get there and spoil it all. That if you tried to explain why you loved it to someone else, it would only make it sound mawkish - but I'm not trying to explain or sell anyone on this music, just trying to explain why I'm listening to it. I'm listening to it because at its best, it reminds me of Cornwall, snatches of "Celtic" violin dripped between ambient electronic backgrounds. And it's trying to remember the colours that is doing my head in. That I take loads of reference photos when I sketch, so I have references for the general shapes and proportions of things. But a tiny iPhone really doesn't do justice to the *colours* of the place. When it gets them wrong, it makes everything seem muddy in a way that the greys of Cornwall seem *alive* when you're there. They're not just greys, they're blue-greys and purple-greys and the turquoise is actually startling. And when it gets them right, it doesn't seem quite real, but then again, I've often had the experience, standing on top of a high cliff by the sea, that it doesn't seem real, it seems completely hyperreal, and I think to myself "it can't possibly be that colour, the greens can't be that sharp, the sky can't be that deep, the furze can't be that golden." But it is, though it would look ridiculous if you tried to get it down that way.
And this is what I drew when I was drawing...
This diary is changing the way I'm listening to music. I'm aware that I'm going to have to justify the decision to listen to things. So now I've just put on an old Crafty Beats playlist and set it to random. It's all quite upbeat stuff, mostly with female vocals - ESG followed by some old Erol Alkan remix of a Yeah Yeah Yeahs track, bit of Electrik Red - hey, when the hell are they ever going to do another album? Now it's The Rattles' "You Can't Have Sunshine Every Day" - this is a powerhouse of a song, looks like this was supposed to be a segue from Amon Duul's Archangel Thunderbird to Shocking Blue's Inkpot. It's weird going through old DJ sets sometimes, but it's good if they throw up forgotten gems. It's kind of weird to me, listening to this now, the care I used to take in putting together these sets. Knowing that I had listeners, that I got to inflict this stuff on open and willing ears made me take a kind of care that I can't often be bothered with much any more. That I do actually prefer listening to a carefully curated mixture of songs and artists and music, but I never seem to find the effort to be bothered to make them any more, even for situations like bus rides where I really have the ability to actually listen carefully enough in a way that would reward the effort.
Finished listening to the Autechre album on my walk through the woods now that the rain has stopped. It seems to be music that is designed for headphones, the intricacy of the sound design. But I can never stop thinking that it's very cold and clinical. It doesn't really work in a sylvan setting the way that other warmer techno can.
And home again, I'm back on the Crafty Beats mixes while I try to write, which is probably the wrong choice, as I've written only two pages in an evening when I'd expect to write about ten. This one's from 2009, but it seems to focus on mid-00s electropop, lots of The Knife and Little Boots and Goldfrapp, and finishes with a bizarre Optimo remix of Boris, which somehow completely works, because it's mostly throbbing Optimo disco beats and basslines while Boris' psychedelic howl is reduced to beautiful texture in the background. I suppose I didn't stop making playlists, but the problem is, they're all on Spotify now and impossible for me to access from home. Note to self to take my headphones to work tomorrow in order to gorge myself on free broadband.