Saturday, October 25, 2014

Arithmetic of Darkness

Back from the dead, and just in time for Halloween! How about that? Having recently--well, 7 months ago--renewed my CPR certification, I think of Jack and I as having mightily swapped the twinned duties of compressions and breaths. And duly resuscitated, we must now keep this re-animated corpse from merely sulking in the dusky shadows of the light-web of the Google-owned internet. Zombie-like, perhaps, in the spirit of the current holiday, for now, duly spirited. Delivering Mallo Cups and Necco wafers to all our neighbors' childrens.

Then, turkeys and Santa Clauses, of course, since I seem to have already lost track of the analogy I was just spinning. Gobble gobble? (Gobble gobble, motherfuckers?)

In my world, black metal is the kind of genre that college kids go through phases in. It's particular brand of hatred and misanthropy genuinely appeals to some miserable kids out there in the world, but it's also easily plumbed for amusement from afar (see (really, see it, it's very funny): Metalocalypse)  It's been plenty written about and wondered over by various parties. If you've got the time, the Wikipedia articles (as usual), are plenty up to the task of laying out the genre's sordid history (Norwegian black metal is particularly special).

Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, the leader and mastermind of Liturgy, in an interview, talks about the Norwegian black metal band Emperor as being the first band that really spoke to him. To paraphrase, his attitude was something like "this music was awesome to me because it was all climax." (To be fair, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has said/written some ridiculous shit.) Which, to any of the classically-trained musicians in the house, probably sounds pretty silly, since if everything is climax, then, clearly, nothing is climax because there is no differentiation.

So why do I (when the mood is right) like Liturgy? Or find them worth talking about? Well, I am a sucker for certain brands of pretentious jibber jabber. And like to produce some of it myself, now and then. But I also like another sub-genre of fringe rock, called "math rock." Because of it's weird time signatures.  Rock that isn't math rock can sometimes be called "mathy," when it's doing things that invoke math, mostly using odd time signatures. Here is an example:

And, to be brashly reductive: black metal + math rock = Liturgy. Black math? If you read any of the above-parenthetically-linked ridiculous shit, you'll learn that Liturgy has taken black metal's "blast beat"--the all-climax-all-the-time, and turned it into the "burst beat," which just means that it's still pretty much constant noise, but that it has a pulse, and the pulse is often happening in an odd time signature. Which is actually pretty interesting, for the over-educated set. 

It also requires a high level of virtuosity, which is even more interesting to me. But I think I'll save that for next time, since I don't want any one of my of mild 2.0 entries to ramble too much.

Oh, and speaking of being virtuosic and over-educated, Terrance Hayes won a MacArthur "Genius" award this year. Which means that I've studied with two MacArthur geniuses. What's up, rich kids?


Blogger Jack said...

Sampling some Liturgy, it's a bit blasty for my tastes. I can imagine a world where I'd gotten into mixed-meter guitar rock in my formative music-listening years. Listening to a couple of "Giraffes? Giraffes" tracks suggests a (mildly) parallel universe where I listen to a lot of that. But Liturgy, too loud. Get those kids off my lawn, etc.

Mixed meters break one of two ways to me. First is the tumbling, hard-to-parse mixed meter that reminds me of late Ligeti pieces. Second is the slower, chunky mixed meter that reminds me of generic concert band music. Liturgy I hear in the second camp*, Giraffes? Giraffes in the first. That might just be a tempo/dynamics thing though.

Having heard the NY Phil do Nielsen's Fifth a few weeks ago, I will also advocate for music that is regularly metric except for one snare drummer improvising in his own tempo as loudly as possible.

*Sorry to mix mixed-meter metaphors.

11/02/2014 8:08 PM  
Blogger Hank said...

I actually really like your analogy there. It pretty perfectly captures how Liturgy is technically accomplished but musically boring in spite of its seeming complexity. Ultimately, an act of memorization of your mixed meters, and the ability to play them really fast and loud.

Proper math rock excels, and is more Ligeti-ish because they find solid grooves (simliar to the oddly-metric grooves of Boulez or Ades, as other high-brow examples). I'll, uh, make you a mix or something, Jack.

11/04/2014 6:58 PM  

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