Artist: Elizabeth Veldon
Title: Glen Tanar
Keywords: Long Form Drone, Experimental, Electronic
Reviewer: Alex Spalding
Experimental music is a field of music that can sometimes be troubling for me. What is artistic “experimentation”? It can be a lot of things, but it occasionally grants a sense that an artist is dabbling in the untried, seeking innovation in their art. The concept of innovation is a controversial one. Is innovation good? Is it bad? Is it a lie, or has it been a discernible feature of every example of great art, the driving force behind every epoch? I suppose it’s all a matter of opinion, but for me, part of the trouble is that innovation is a concept tied by association to “rational” notions like “Progress”, god of the Western world. The most successful music, I think, nearly any way you wish to define “success”, has really displayed little but lip service to ideas of progress, innovation, originality. The “logicism” of experimentation is too cold, and if progress in the musical arts exists, innovation alone isn’t enough to run its engine. Experimentation leads to music that is “interesting”, one of the most beloved of words that artists love to hear about their own work (yes, I am joking).
I began thinking about all of this many months ago, when I’d spent a night basically wiki surfing. By ways I cannot now remember I’d come to an article on Wikipedia about the contrabass saxophone. “Interesting,” I thought. At the bottom of the article were some links, including one to a video recording on youtube of a jazz musician playing the contrabass saxophone live someplace, as part of some recital or something. Curious, I decided I would have to check it out. My memories of the video — which are not literal/factual recollections but more like impressions I’d received while exposing myself to the visual data — were of an older man on a stage in a brightly lit venue. Affluent, white, collegiate youths played “free jazz” from sheet music (sigh…) as the man blew into the gargantuan saxophone, producing an efforted, broken stream of modal nonsense in front of a crowd of very bored-looking people.
And that man was Anthony Braxton. You can watch the video here, if you feel like it.
As I was kind of in a detached, 4AM state of mind, sipping coffee and rifling through the collective wisdom and folly of all of mankind in the hopes of exhausting myself enough that I could maybe get some sleep, I numbed enough to not really think too hard about what I had just seen. Just logged it into my brain and decided to move on. But, before I navigated myself away, I started reading and got sucked into the comments on the video for a little bit which, even now, are kind of like a battlefield of musical opinion of the kind explored above. The opinions of those youtubers on the man and his video ran the gamut from exaltations of genius to statements like, “this is what killed jazz.” Your interpretation of these comments were you reading them may likely fall into one of two categories, like mine did, going back and forth.
One group is either:
a) defending the avantgarde from music critics who just pan it because they can’t understand it
b) pseudo-avantgarde, with no taste, who probably read about this shit in a book or something or maybe just haven’t heard the good stuff yet
The other group is either:
a) a bunch of plebes who don’t understand the point of experimental music
b) defending good taste, even a taste in quality avantgarde music, from these people who are extolling a total hack.
Maybe its a bit of all of the above? 😀
I can empathize with those who feel like they were there the day the music died. Of course, music never really dies. I guarantee there are people right now writing a score, playing a sitar, disco dancing. It’s the vitalism of a movement that’s seemed to die, when several people all at once and in one space were all about it for one brief moment. And, in this case, we’re talking about the replacement of a decades-long vitalism of form and emotion replaced by someone noodling around on a comically over-sized instrument to a parody of free jazz by academics. Or — art! However it looks to you, I’m sure you’re correct.
For many, this is all experimental music is… but, it doesn’t have to be this way. Experimental music doesn’t have to be the coldly academic, “interesting” world of pure intellectualism it’s made out to be. Sometimes the experiment can be a modern way of re-connecting to the primitive world, an exploration of unusual forms with intent to evoke/express emotion, an attempt at abandoning all formula to find a personal road toward the inner soul. I feel Elizabeth Veldon to be someplace in these categories.
So… a bit about the artist, now I’ve gotten here to talking about her. I felt it necessary to juxtapose her work against this flip-side of experimental music, in order to illustrate what I like about her music. It’s a compromise of form to pure emotion, monochromatic key and structure, and displays a minimalism that evokes a kind of sound-primitivism, interlinking to the modernism or post-modernism of our era. It feels at once traditional and futurist, utopian and dystopian, blissful and depressive, sometimes all at once, but always has an emotional quotient. The restraint to minimalism and the concise emotional field of her music is what stands out most to me.
She’s what I would describe as… probably excessively prolific. It can be difficult to decide where to start with her musical output, in this world in which everyone’s after a second of your time, but I feel you can start anywhere really and find love. Discover a mood that fits a moment like a glove, or just hop in anywhere at random and see what happens. The way to listen: intently and either at high volume or so low as to be barely audible. Her works are often very ambient, and, drone being what it is, you want them to either physically impact you or chemically alter you subliminally.
This is a recommendable place to begin… an album that’s thematically very potent and works very well with the empty, ghost-like drones. I imagine myself moving through an old, condemned house. Moving from room to room, beams of daylight coming in from each of the boarded windows illuminating the speckles of unsettled dust that swirl in the air. In each room, graffiti to be read… maybe pagan symbols, depictions of animal life, cryptic phrases.
The first track is titled ‘Birds Held Up Their Arms As If To Receive The Gifts Of Meditation Raining Down From Heaven (1920)’. A radiative hum ascends… it feels as though we are laying on the floor of our cramped kitchen listening to the hum of a refrigerator. It possesses an energy, however, that is not altogether lethargic. I feel like doing some Spring cleaning… opening the windows… I feel like having some tea, though I’m on my third cup already.
Next is ‘Can You Do The Foxtrot (October 1915)’. The answer is, of course, no, but I feel like given some practice, I could maybe offer a tentative yes. I hear a damp bass drone on this one, the amplification rising and falling. The character of the tone changes subtly through the course of the track.
A dark river flows through my thoughts on ‘Oh Horsie Keep Your Tail Up, Keep Your Tail Up’. It feels grim, but not despondent… just a natural course of events, a procession through gloom.
‘There’s A Kiss In Store Or Meby More For You My Dear (1919)’ feels aerated, unfaceted. It bores its way to the brain, changing little as the minutes pass.
The last piece, ‘The Only Traces Of Them Left Are The Lines On The Wall And One Accordian Song’, feels harmonic, with wisps of feedback tones of complex, enigmatic character. In a bit of a twist of expectation, the harmonies shift perceptibly in parts. It’s a gentle ambient cloud of intrigue, pulling us into our hearts to explore the vast terrain within. I feel like this is the best piece here, though it is also the longest, clocking in at 35 minutes on the dot. It makes a perfect soundtrack to staring at the world outside a window, to penning a letter to someone special, to thinking about your place in history, to rummaging through old personal affects / artifacts, and letting the ever-present world of fantasy permeate your reality in a moment of quietude and private reflection. It would make for a brilliant accompaniment to an art film. As it evolves, it seems to fade into a light grey vortex. Barely audible bass undulates below.
And there you have it. I’ve said all I can say for now. It is available for a listen and for sale at the link, a tempting offer to own it on cassette: