Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Making Monotony Interesting

I've been listening to Phil Manley's "Life Coach" recently and the phrase that comes to mind is "making monotony interesting." I mean that in the best way! The song starts off with a simple drum loop that is quickly joined by a relatively static electronic bass riff that rides out the whole song. Eventually, a guitar plays an ethereal riff for about a minute before moving to the same riff as the bass except that the notes go up and down the scale note by note. It sounds very much like Rainbow Dome Musick-era Steve Hillage (before he discovered drum kits and formed System 7).

The song itself is nothing special, but the combination of the sounds really does something to me. Perhaps it's the echo of the guitar that bounces off of the back of the soundstage of the song. Or perhaps it has something to do with Terry Riley.

 From what I understand, Terry Riley's In C was one of the first "minimalist" compositions in that it consisted of musical stasis that gradually transforms itself into something different, often so subtly that you don't even notice it until things have changed. I think of "In C" a lot, even if I find the actual recording I have to be unlistenable. The theory is sound, I just feel that it works better with electronic instruments than in a classical orchestral setting. For example, Pete Townshend was thinking of Terry Riley when he wrote the famous - and kick-ass! - keyboard riffs of Who's Next (going so far as to name "Baba o'Riley" after the composer). I also hear Terry Riley in the Orb, in particular the amazing "oxbow lakes" off of Orbus Terrarum where the static piano riff slowly changes into something else as the electronic madness takes over...

The last example that comes immediately to mind is múm's "Slow Bicycle" that rides essentially the same riff for a good nine minutes but is mesmerizing all the same. Oh, and The Days Of Mars by Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom!

I could go on and on but my main point of this rambling post is that montonous music can be interesting if the musician gives you the space to ride the groove - and you accept it. And that following musical influences into the past is really a hell of a lot of fun.

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