Posts Tagged ‘Zen Garden’

Reverse Discovery

44303_429030174317_267386114317_4742142_5663448_nA friend of mine and sometime contributor to this site Helen Kearns recently introduced me to the site, www.whosampled.com, a pretty amazing operation whereby you can look up an artist or title of a song, and the search engine supplies you with a catalog of other recordings that artist/song sampled and vice versa. The site is clearly still growing, and definitely doesn’t have every musician or track you can think of. But it is symbolic of an interesting trend I’m seeing more and more in contemporary music: reverse discovery.

It’s different than nostalgia in that often one reverse-discovers music they’ve never heard before, and instead of the present reminding them of the past, it’s the past reminding them of the present. What I believe this is leading to in the music industry (and entertainment industry) at large is the reissue of old recordings, not ones that were once popular Billboard hits, but ones that may have may have silently slipped through the cliched cracks of mainstream culture.

In fact, this is already happening on a small scale. One of my newest favorite albums, for instance, Air Over Water by Wall Matthews and Rusty Clark was released this year, but all the tracks featured were originally recorded from 1974 to 1986, the year Clark passed away. Chances are you probably haven’t heard of this album or these musicians, unless you reverse-discovered them through the popular British DJ, Four Tet, who illegally sampled their song “Neptune Rising” in his “She Moves She” (a fact not found on whosampled.com).

Matthew’s and Clark’s music is hardly irrelevant or untimely, however. They just happened to be performing and recording a few decades before vocal-less acoustic and “Imagistic”—to use a word from the subtitle of the album, “Imagistic Music for Guitar and Violin”—were readily available outside of coffee shops and experimental dance troupes.

To be fair, the name of the album does sound like an Enya-esque meditation soundtrack (though Enya is vastly underrated in my opinion, and has most likely enjoyed some reverse-discovery herself). But the actual music has no electronics, no singing, and with the exception of a few tracks, sticks to just two instruments. It could be dubbed minimalist if it were not for the full and entrenching landscapes these two instruments create.

The first song of the album, “The Two Snails Who Went to the Funeral of a Dead Leaf” is a brash, Indian-inflected violin solo from Rusty Clark, a call to the wild that dances between Philip Glass-like repetitions and something more raw and untamed. The level of musicianship is clearly marked high from the very beginning, and maintains the kind of virtuosic intensity you simply don’t hear that much these days outside of a symphony.

The second track, “Gypsies,” inaugurates the guitar-and-violin duets, which make up most of the album. And they are truly duets. The two instruments trade off positions of melody and landscape many times within a single song, and almost imperceptibly.  Matthews finger-picks his guitar in fast, clear, ringing tones, reminiscent of Nick Drake, but with more complexity and variety. Meanwhile, Clark leads his violin through a veritable wonderland of genres, from medieval-court-like fare to free jazz to pop to what, in “Alabama Sketches” and “The Clowns,” I can only describe as pastoral dread.

It’s tempting to call the songs on Air Over Water cinematic, because they are so visual, but then again, the music is what dominates here, and I’m not sure if would work taken into the soundtrack of a movie. What Wall and Rusty did, instead, and what feels more natural, was use it for dancers—a far more interpretive arena of expression that, like the instrumentation itself, works with (rather than on top of or below) the sounds.

“The Clowns” is a quick favorite for any new listener to Matthews and Clark. It’s ostensibly simple, with a clear, defined structure, and brings to mind a comforting type of rustic domesticity. But there’s also a creeping suspicion in it, and the repetition becomes and integral part of what ultimately makes the piece so haunting.

“The Blue Heart” introduces the first bits of piano into the mix, a welcome addition, especially with its combination of music-box simplicity and dissonant jazz. It a beautiful imbalance dancing with with innocent, would-be major key melody. It borders on the noir—a dangerous and flirtatious seduction between two ballroom waltzers.

Whereas the album began with a triumphant violin solo from Clark, the album ends with an unassuming “Little Piece” by Matthews, just him on guitar, gently leading the listener out of his world, at least for now. I began to realize, then, how the idea of reverse-discovery might be inherent in some music, how even when Wall and Rusty were recording these works back in the 70’s and 80’s, they weren’t just doing it for that specific time. They were inviting an entire future, real or imagined, to experience and discover their unique vibrations.

- By Joshua Morrison

If you wish to reverse-discover more, you should definitely check out Matthews’s Riding Horses, Heart of Winter, Zen Gardens, Color of Dusk, and Gathering the World, as well as the work of the Entourage Music and Theatre Ensemble.

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