The Ampeater Review is stoked to announce the release of the inaugural Concrete Experience Digital Mixtape, which we curated in partnership with Concrete Experience, a new quarterly journal of contemporary photography and creative art. Each issue of Concrete Experience will contain work loosely related to a particular theme and which we will augment with a soundtrack inspired by the theme and featuring exclusively Ampeater artists. The theme for this issue is transposition.
- “The Wanderer” - Translations (AEM101)
- “Wade in the Water” - Jean-Rene Ella (AEM020)
- “For Sparrow” - Cabinet of Natural Curiosities (AEM058)
- “Alain Delon” - Francois Peglau (AEM107)
- “Dogwood” - Ashraya Gupta (AEM010)
- “I Don’t See It That Way” - Extra Life (AEM006)
- “Settlers Song” - Uncles (AEM092)
- “We Are the Hunters” - The D’Urbervilles (AEM066)
- “Satellite of Love” - Color of Clouds (AEM009)
- “Empire State of Mind Edit” - Blissed Out (AEM114)
An ex-girlfriend once accused me of transposing my anxiety regarding an upcoming exam onto our relationship. Put off by such indiscrete psychoanalysis, I dismissed her comment, and within a month we had parted ways, despite the fact that my exams and any anxiety they had allegedly provoked were already behind me. I recalled my ex-girlfriend’s words recently, though, as I scoured hundreds of recordings in search of the handful that would become the inaugural Concrete Experience Digital Mixtape.
My ex-girlfriend studied Comparative Literature; a detail which I failed to appreciate at the time but now seems enormously consequential. If she had preferred linear algebra to poetry, her notion of transposition may have involved points and axes rather than romance. Had she studied music, she may have conceptualized it as a fixed-interval melodic shift. Of the countless ways to define transposition, some are inherently more malleable than others. In retrospect, my ex-girlfriend’s indiscreet psychoanalysis was a blessing in disguise, because it pushed me to approach the theme from a principally emotional angle-had I decided to write about fixed-interval melodic shifts, I would have already run out of things to say. Moreover, it prompted me to evaluate the moral implications. Perhaps I really did transpose my anxiety but, so what? What’s so bad about transposition?
Yeats muses, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” Along the same lines of inquiry, we may question whether music could exist without the musician-or for that matter, if it could exist without the listener. Practically speaking, I propose that it could not, just as we needn’t pay taxes on the imaginary number i. A somewhat more prosaic metaphor may be the famous conundrum-_when a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound_?-for which the only reasonable conclusion is who the fuck cares? Music unheard bears no relevance to humanity. By this standard, all relevant music must involve the listener and becomes, ergo, an act of transposition. So, why these ten tracks?
The mix is intended to stand on merit of the music alone, with its ten diverse tracks offering something for everyone. The relationship between the individual songs, however, as well as the relationship between the songs and the theme, is a little more abstract.
Let’s begin with “Alain Delon”, a humorous and totally groovy exploration of an impossible dream. “I can’t take it,” whines Francois Peglau in the opening lyric. “I’ll never be Alain Delon.” He’s referring to the star of vintage French cinema known for his memorable of role as _le solitaire-_a suave, handsome and brooding anti-villain. Conceptually, Peglau’s wish is easy to relate to, since nearly everybody has hoped to become a star. However, as the song unfolds, we sense a hint of sarcasm, and are drawn to question whether the true idol is the man or the character. The tension escalates in the bridge (if you can understand French) with sound clips from a 1970s interview in which the aging actor explains his recurring role. Does an actor stepping into character signify an act of transposition? If so, we must speculate about the agency involved. In other words, does the man become the character or does the character become the man? Who is the real Alain Delon, or has he ceased to exist?
Of course, the notation of identity is complicated for actors and non-actors alike, perhaps especially so for someone like Peglau, who describes himself as Peruvian/French/Argentinean. He began his career as guitarist of Lima-based indie phenomenon Los Fuckin’ Sombreros, but now resides in London where he recently recorded a solo album. I mention this not tangentially, but to point out that Peglau, so to speak, wears many hats, a trait shared by several artists on this mix. Ashraya Gupta was born in India and lived in England and Cincinnati before winding up in New York. Jean-Rene Ella was born and raised in Cameroon but eventually made his way to Indiana where, most improbably, he now works as an organic chemist. Of course, a compelling background does not necessarily lead to good transposition-nor does good transposition necessarily lead to good music-but it certainly gives the artist inspiration to draw upon.
Although Gupta’s international background is not immediately evident in this small sample of her work, the process of continually reinventing herself has left indelible marks on her music. This is clear when you look at her artistic progression. She’s best known as singer of The Kitchen Cabinet, an indie folk-pop quartet, yet her solo music represents a significant and bold leap for Gupta, who manages to forge new aural ground with just a keyboard and her own vocal chords. Gabe Birnbaum, who profiled Gupta back in October 2009, observed that “though this barebones set-up could prove monotonous or boring in another’s hands, Gupta carries [the music] with her voice alone.” Even though her vocals are relatively low in the mix, the intimacy of Gupta’s delivery and her sparse harmonic arrangements make them seem extremely close, as if we’re listening to her singing to herself alone in her apartment. The music, which occasionally swells to high volumes, unfolds so organically and hypnotically that we’re only aware of these ebbs and flows peripherally.
I’ve never heard a more authentic blues recording than Ella’s rendition of “Wade in the Water” -a bold claim to make of any song but particularly of one released on YouTube in the site’s fledgling years. The song’s charm lies in its un-indulgent simplicity and emotional honesty. Anyone who’s picked up an electric guitar understands the seductive allure of the three-chord twelve-bar blues. It practically begs for gratuitous shred-solos. As a result, many blues musicians are no more tasteful than the average 80’s hair band-and considerably less entertaining. People tend to think of the blues as an American archetype, like baseball or apple pie, but we must remember that the ingredients are considerably more diverse-African rhythms and European harmonic conventions baptized in the holy water of the muddy Mississippi. That Ella made the transatlantic journey himself may explain his authenticity. His parents also played a role. Ella’s French-born mother introduced him to the folk music of her country while his father got him hooked on Gospel. When Ella sings the blues, it is a personal history, a heritage, that he’s tapping into. Organic chemistry may not be terribly relevant, but it indicates a lot about Ella’s lifestyle. He’s not famous, nor does he seem to aspire to stardom. We wouldn’t have heard from him at all were it not for a series of homemade videos on YouTube, which he posted only after encouragement from friends.
To return to Peglau, it is worth noting that his personal history has influenced not just his musical or lyrical content, but the very code in which it is written. His recent songs are in English. For anyone who grew up in an English speaking country, this fact may seem insignificant, but for Peglau, who used to write more in Spanish or French, it involved conscious effort. Peglau explains that, when he first arrived in London, he was uncomfortable with the language, and used songwriting as a way to increase his fluency. Is translation also a form of transposition?
We might expect a band called Translations to shed light on this matter. Indeed, they do, although the type of translation they employ has nothing to do with language. Ben Heller touched upon this dichotomy in his original Ampeater write-up of the band in June 2010: “Translations are acutely aware of their place in history, even before that place has been culturally affirmed by more than a small handful of fans and critics.” In other words, Translations is a band that can tell us not only where they’re going, but also where they’ve been, and with remarkable accuracy. They manage to sound both cutting edge and retro at once, with crunchy punk-era guitars offset by electronics-surprisingly premeditated for a band whose attitude and exuberance might suggest a singular focus on rocking out. In spite of the hidden self-awareness, though, Heller notes that the members of Translations place their music at “different crossroads on the map of New York rock & roll.” This highlights just how much personal leeway the act of translation involves, and might explain why Google Translate is still searching for the perfect algorithm.
In fact, genre transposition-the re-contextualization of diverse and often archaic influences-is a dominant theme on this mix. The process becomes particularly clear in cover songs, such as “Satellite of Love” by Color of Clouds, since it’s easier to spot points of alteration. In this instance, singer Kelli Scarr’s airy vocals and the song’s extended final chorus transforms Lou Reed’s embittered original into a dreamy fantasy. “We Are the Hunters” by The D’Urbervilles and “For Sparrow” by Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, while not covers, also fall under this general mode of transposition. In contrast to the deliberate consciousness that sets Translations apart, Extra Life takes a more holistic approach in “I Don’t See It That Way” , borrowing from metal, medieval folk and math-rock. If you’re wondering how such diverse influences can coexist peacefully in a single song, they don’t. Jolting between time signatures, it’s rhythmically so unpredictable that you’d have a hard time finding something to tap your foot to, let along dance to, but if you just let it sweep you around, you’ll get an interesting ride. The song constantly seems to be waging war on itself to the extent that you wonder if the band is even in control of what happens. Of course, they must be, as the parts are so complex that it must have taken a lot of rehearsal. Yet, Jake Brunner, who penned Ampeater’s post on the band in October 2009, notes that frontman Charlie Looker’s manipulation of musical material “goes far beyond the look-what-I-can-do aesthetic of many similarly technically proficient musicians,” and that his compositional process lets “the notes tell him … the rhythmic organization, as opposed to entering the creative zone with a preconceived idea of which moves to employ.”
With Uncles, this manipulation is both musical and lyrical. I was skeptical when I first heard New York native Dan Bateman’s thick southern accent which, suspiciously, is present only when he sings. It turns out, though, that there’s a natural explanation. As a child, Bateman often visited his uncle in Alabama, who introduced him to music by singing to him in that same thick drawl. Eventually, Bateman took these songs back to New York and collaborated with Will Schwartz to create Uncles (so named in homage to his Alabama kin, one assumes). Yet Uncles is not ashamed of its urban roots and the duo’s lyrics-ranging from profound to profane-sound a lot more like Jack Kerouac than anything Bateman’s uncle might have sung. “Replacing Words with Other Words,” the title of Uncles’ latest album, alludes to this juxtaposition. The music brings separate worlds together and seeks to reconcile them, such that we walk away from it with a heightened perspective of each. When I think of settlers, I imagine Plymouth Rock, the Oregon Trail, or something similarly obsolete in this world yet “Settler’s Song” addresses settlers of a different sort, finding poetry in the urban grit and poverty of the immigrant’s New York. Above a sentimental guitar figure and warbling synth, Bateman sings:
Cracked and torn Faces scorn Dominicans sipping 40 ounces Sitting bent up on the metal grate on the nail salon I want to hear my shit pumping from an SUV down a side street bend Or on the lips of obese women Yakkity yakking in the supermarket
I’m reminded of a pivotal moment in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being when a European discusses the beauty of New York. “Beauty in the European sense has always had a premeditated quality to it,” observes the novel’s protagonist. “The beauty of New York rests on a completely different base. Its unintentional… Forms which are in themselves quite ugly turn up fortuitously, without design, in such incredible surroundings that they sparkle with a sudden wondrous poetry.” His lover, an artist, cryptically suggests that such unintentional beauty is the final phase in the history of beauty. What does “final” imply? Do we infer that it signifies the demise of beauty, or the pinnacle, or both?
Either way, it’s easy to see why such an unintentional art is the most resilient, as it requires no motive. Perhaps, after all, music can exist without the musician. Without the musician, however, the listener becomes responsible for recognizing music in the honking of horns or the pelting of the rain against the windowpane. We might even say that the listener becomes the musician, just as practitioners of found art are called artists. Oscar Wilde’s Vivian attests to this in the author’s 1891 essay, “The Decay of Lying:”
To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. Then-and then only-does it come into existence. At present, people see fogs, not because there are fogs, but because poets and painters have taught them the mysterious loveliness of such effects. There may have been fogs for centuries in London. I dare say there were. But no one saw them, and so we do not know anything about them. They did not exist till Art had invented them.
It seems the process of transposition is reversed in unintentional art, for instead of converting intangible experience into art, we’re taking existing forms and converting them into emotion. Plato banished artists from his utopian Republic on the pretext that representation dilutes an ideal. He was talking about intentional art, yet I suspect that he would have been even more critical of unintentional art, for if intentional art obscures an ideal, unintentional art doesn’t even attempt to relate to an ideal. Plato seems to have viewed art as a photocopy, where each successive copy is fainter than the last, until finally the page is blank. What he doesn’t account for is what we add, and our additions are often unintended. Alvin Lucier’s seminal sound experiment “I am sitting in a room” demonstrates the failure of the copy machine metaphor. He records his voice and plays it back into the room which he records and replays again, repeating this process ad infinitum (or so it seems, the total work is about 45 minutes long). His voice is quickly warped, morphing into the resonant frequencies of the room, creating a haunting ambient soundscape rather than silence.
And so, the last track on the mix is a remix that revels in a glitch. The original song, Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” is one that everyone is familiar with, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years. What we may not have noticed-I myself did not until Ben Lasman’s August 2010 review drew my attention to it-is the miniscule glitch that occurs at the 21-second mark in and repeats every so often afterwards… Blissed Out’s remix, “Empire State of Mind Edit,” is the magnification of that glitch to extreme heights. Of course, Blissed Out is quite aware of what they’re doing and, as Lasman surmises, so was Jay-Z.
It’s a strange little imperfection to find in a more or less immaculately constructed pop song. Something ostensibly unrelated to musicianship or writing, but still too much there to be considered an oversight. Every ten seconds or so it pops up out of nowhere, grinding at the gears of the chorus, tearing the whole jam apart from the inside out like an armful of bot fly babies … Rap is quite a bit different today than it was a decade ago, sure, but where most heads like to whine about the lyrical transition from the socially-conscious to the fiscally-conservative, it’s also important to note how that thematic shift has been mirrored in the genre’s musical methodology. Sampling, record scratching, the infinite repetition of a breakbeat were all transcendent sonic malfunctions, punk gestures stemming from the same kind of technological anti-humanism as playing slide guitar with a lead pipe or cutting up your torso with a bunch of broken beer bottles thrown hatefully at the stage … Which is why, when Hova’s biggest hit in years comes accidentally equipped with incessant, intrusive noisiness, we not only get a throwback to the auto-destructing golden years of rap, but an exciting insight into how this sort of musical antagonism could pop a hole in hip-hop’s fat-suit.
But if that’s so, we’re treading into another phase of beauty that Kundera’s couple did not imagine, since this is the deliberate representation of unintentional beauty. And so, with each successive layer of transposition we vacillate between the tangible and intangible, the real and imagined, and somewhere in the midst of all of this a complete picture begins to emerge.
Unfortunately for my girlfriend, her accusation backfired. Rather than seeking to appease her, in the following week I grew even more concerned about the upcoming exam. Perhaps I’d flipped the switch, and had begun to transpose my romantic worries onto academics. More likely, though, I just resented her for making me so self conscious about it all, which is why I urge you to push everything you’ve just read to the back of your mind and give the tracks a relaxed listen.
CONCRETE EXPERIENCE is a new journal of contemporary photography and creative art published quarterly and based in Seoul, South Korea committed to delivering an engaging alternative to standard art and literature periodicals to creative-minded audiences. Incorporating a variety of writing styles and aesthetic sensibilities, it locates itself at the interstices of high and low art, litmag and fanzine, fiction and journalism, conceptual and concrete, all wrapped up in a beautiful and enduring journal-cum-objet d’art. Our guiding mantra-“let the words vibrate” -embraces the way we want readers to interact with CONCRETE EXPERIENCE; rather than churn out a lineup of unrelated articles or photography features, we carefully curate the magazine as a whole, providing readers with a cohesive and comprehensive unit.
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/ce01/01 The Wanderer.mp3
Wade in the Water
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/ce01/02 Wade in the Water.mp3
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/ce01/03 For Sparrow.mp3
Ill Never Be Alain Delon
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/ce01/04 Ill Never Be Alain Delon.mp3
I Dont See It That Way
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/ce01/06 I Dont See It That Way.mp3
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/ce01/07 Settlers Song.mp3
We Are The Hunters
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/ce01/08 We Are The Hunters.mp3
Satellite of Love
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/ce01/09 Satellite of Love.mp3
Empire State of Mind Edit
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/ce01/10 Empire State of Mind Edit.mp3