Drunk on Bacon by Dan Raphael sitting in a claustrophobic, slat-sided shed for several days in a world of clotted smoke where meat falls like rain no one dies no one inhales no one churns to love is to have whenever the appetite pigs are born small trees are smaller than grass but singularly thicker from sun to fire fire retards time when the sun goes out our clocks will surrender to gravity my wrist is a video portal since i am so many places its always breakfast somewhere, always the first drink of the day when i smell myself approaching, swallowing lit matches, stealing firewood my flame will never stop every night a new tree falls, three more sprout when stars turn green they’re moving sideways
Citizens and Denizens
by Freeman House
Keynote talk for the first Carmel Watershed festival, 2004
I’ve been asked to talk on the subject of watershed citizenship. That made me want to know more about that word citizen, so I dug around a little. It’s been a useful exercise. The word originated as “denizen,” meaning ‘of a place.’ As urban life became more dominant, denizen evolved into “citizen” meaning city person. As nations rose, the word came to define who belonged inside the boundaries and who didn’t. The ancient Greeks reserved the rights and privileges of citizenship to wealthy men, and for most of Roman times, they were dispensed at the pleasure of the emperor. It wasn’t until the American and French revolutions that the notion of popular and participatory decision-making came to be associated with the word. So we can trace the concept from ancient tribal and ethnic definitions of who does and who doesn’t belong to “our” society, forward in time as it evolves toward more inclusiveness. But always there is the notion of boundaries….. In the natural world, boundaries are rarely so clear as humans have been able to make them. (What grizzly or salamander would have invented the rectangular grid? The boundaries of, say, Idaho represent the range of what?)
As the word is used today, “citizen” is the creature of the invented world, rather than a participant in unfolding creation, which is what a denizen might be.
The truly marvelous concept of participatory democracy was partially conceived in the American Revolution, and conceptually pushed a little further in the first months of the French Revolution. We need to remember that these new ideas were an invention of men in the thrall of the so-called Enlightenment. Philosophers like Bacon and Descartes, who were thrilled to think that men could control nature for their own purpose, drove the thinking of the Enlightenment. Another philosopher of the period, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was the much more popular and widely read author. It was his ideas about the basic goodness and mutuality of the natural world that combined with the Enlightenment philosophers’ thinking to produce the bastard child, democracy.
So at the same time that we were moving in the direction of egalitarian society, we were also gradually removing ourselves away from thinking of ourselves as a functional part of nature. We have come to think of ourselves, rather, as being in control of nature—no matter how many earthquakes, tornadoes or floods we may have endured. In the end, citizenship is about who makes the decisions: about land use and zoning, how we care for and protect each other—a definition of we—inside some set of predetermined boundaries. There is generally an unspoken assumption that it is we humans who are making decisions for the natural world. Denizens, on the other hand, know without thinking that their own well-being depends on the health of the landscape surrounding, that those boundaries are rarely legally defined, and that each place presents is own range of opportunities and limitations. We will become informed watershed citizens only after we have become watershed denizens. How do we become denizens? How did we lose the knack? Where are the models?
I like to do a riff in the voice of a 10,000-year-old person talking for humans in the temperate rain forests of North America. We’ve been here for a long time—many thousands of years. And if you were listening to some generic person thinking like a species, outside of time and part of place, say this place, it might sound something like this:
When the last round of glaciers was melting, we were moving around in those hide-covered boats and with those tumpline burden-baskets. Damn. It was cold! Same time, the salmon were moving south as new rivers were shaped and exposed. Every time we saw the flash and wiggle of those fish going upstream, we’d say, “hah, this place could be someone’s home.”
We moved about, and then we settled, in groups separated by ridgelines, and shared most everything with our group. It wasn’t that we were any kinder than we are now; we weren’t. Generosity just seemed like the best strategy for survival. We’d been watching the other animals and there’s no question about it: they are generous as long as they’re treated with respect. As long as we behaved ourselves, the animals returned to feed us every year. It just made sense to treat each other that way, imitate the rest of the world. Over the years we learned that it made sense to extend those courtesies to other groups of humans nearby—then we wouldn’t be fighting each other all the time. And since we tended to settle near salmon rivers, we learned to take fish to eat in a way that guaranteed plenty would get upstream to spawn, and so that our neighbors upstream would have enough to eat also. There were a great many fish and only a few of us.
Before we’d go out to catch the salmon, we’d have big times; everyone was there. For days and days, we’d get reminded of how to behave and how we fit into the world. We’d come away knowing that if we didn’t act right the world wasn’t going to work right, and we’d come away with a belly full of salmon to prove it. We’d also learned how this year was different from the other years. The basket-makers would tell how the grasses were doing, and if the fires the women had set last year had done what they were supposed to do. The hunters would talk about the animal populations; we’d all remember out loud how much salmon we were able to dry and save last year. People would talk about the acorn crop that year. If there’d been a flood or an earthquake, that’d get added to the long narrative about us and about the places where we lived. In that way, all of us could remember years of feast or famine, the things that’d happened long before we were born. Given a few thousand years of that kind of repetition, a lot of people had a lot of intimate knowledge of their home river basins. Every year we expanded what we knew about the long term in our life places. Every year we came to feel more and more a necessary part of the place. We learned how to take care of places and keep things in balance. We settled in and stayed 10,000 years or so. Over time, we learned where and when to burn and prune, how to fish and hunt without robbing our children.
The great gatherings were a good place to meet lovers, too. But we were careful not to let our populations get larger than the place would support.
But in other parts of the world, populations were getting larger than their places would support and more of us began to pour into salmon country. We newcomers looked a little different but that wasn’t the important thing. Continue reading
Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October 2002)…
One Texan Band, Under God
Lift to Experience, the greatest art-rock band since Sigur Ros, talk about the Passion with Jay Babcock
Josh Pearson, the 28-year-old singer-guitarist-songwriter for the extraordinary Denton, Texas-based art-rock band Lift to Experience, works in a world positively drenched in Judeo-Christian allusion and metaphor. So of course he’s conducting a mid-tour interview on a cel phone from a Manhattan pub called The Slaughtered Lamb.
“Yeah, it’s perfect,” he says, with a chuckle. “It’s like, ‘Where do we go? Oh, there’s a spot.’”
Lift to Experience are in New York City on their first-ever extended tour of America. It’s a tour that’s been a long time coming, in support of a debut album—the audacious, double-CD concept record The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads—that itself was a long time in gestation. The songs that made it onto the album were originally composed in 1998, after Pearson had moved out to a ranch to work as a farmhand.
“It wasn’t a career move,” he says. “I just needed a place to be alone and not have to talk to anyone, to have enough time where the good ideas could become great ideas. I was alone and isolated and living in this little barn. It wasn’t glamorous, it was just mindless work: shoveling up the shit and taking the horses out to pasture and feeding them hay. It’s real therapeutic working with horses…”
Soon, the songs came. And with them, the concept for the album. No brief summary of The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads can do it justice, Texas-style or otherwise. The album’s opening, spoken announcement is: “This is the story of three Texas boys busy minding their own business when the Angel of the Lord appeared unto them saying, ‘When the Winston Churchills start firin’ their Winston rifles into the sky form the Lone Star State, drinkin’ their Lone Star beer and smokin’ their Winston cigarettes, know the time is drawin’ nigh when the son shall be lifted on high.’”
Pearson says Texas-Jerusalem is “a concept album about the end of the world, where Texas is the Promised Land—the final battleground in the war between good and evil.” But it’s about more than that. The double-album’s lyrics are full to bustling with freight trains and incoming storms, strange prophets and fallen feathered angels, blood and fool‘s gold. Its protagonists are an ambitious Texas rock band desperate for a smash hit, ready, metaphorically at least, to deal their souls to the devil at Robert Johnson’s crossroads in exchange for material success. But Satan doesn’t show. Instead it’s the Angel of the Lord, announcing “just as was told/Justice will unfold.”
“Don‘t you boys know nothin’?” the angel asks the band, puzzled by the news of imminent holy conflict on Texas soil. “The USA is the center of JerUSAlem.”
Then, the music volcanoes. The rhythm is muscular, spacious, dynamic; the guitar is meditative, gossamer drone parted by noise mass and riff shapes; and the vocals are uniquely full and rich—triumphant yet resigned—sung in a beautiful voice of steady comfort. The lyrics—the metaphors, the literary and contemporary allusions—are relentless and poetic: the simple word ’star’ means, at once, the Lone Star state, the Jewish Star of David, the Christian Star of Bethlehem and, of course, Rock Star. A lot of work was put into this album, obviously. Taking it all in is a dizzying, overwhelming experience.
“It worked out real well with what I wanted to do with the metaphors,” says Pearson. “Texas being the place of last stands, from the Alamo. And Texas being an individual nation in its own, with freedoms that it celebrates that the other states don’t have—it can secede at any time, the only flag allowed to fly the same height as the American flag, that sort of thing, cuz it was a nation before it merged with the States.
“I started writing songs and they were all pointing to a place and then one night, I realized where it was headed. It made itself known. It’s one of those things where your body is just sorta following intuitively. I wouldn’t say you’re channeling it, but you’re trusting in your intuition that it’s headed in the right direction. Sometimes you never know why you’re headed that way, but it works out. All the pieces fall into place.”
* * *
Incredibly, Lift to Experience does the album one better in a live setting.
The first time I saw them was at 7:15 on a Saturday night in a small bar on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. A stained and horned bullskull sat at stage-center; a Texas flag draped over a bass amp. Behind and above them was the bar’s neon-lit sign that read (of course) “Salvation.” As the sun dipped into the smog horizon outside, Lift to Experience began playing to an audience of no more than 100, most of whom were unfamiliar with the band‘s music.
They began suddenly, with almost notice. And they began with a no-vocal, power trio cover of—I shit you not—“Kashmir.” It was intense, immediate, absolutely massive. There was Josh (The Bear) Browning—a bass throbber of burly frame, serious beardage and eyes-closed close concentration; there was Andy Young, a drummer with the build of the sturdiest steakhouse either side of the Rio Grande, leaning forward off the stool Keith Moon-like, switching between mallets, drumsticks and handclaps, his cymbals in perpetual perpendicularity; and there was Josh T. Pearson, a gangly lanky framed, scraggly-haired guitar-vocalist in biker Nudiewear and bracelets, his beaten cowboy hat ringed by thorns.
They seamed straight from “Kashmir” into an instrumental version of their own majestic “Just As Was Told,” without breaking. It was that rare kind of performance that dapples your skin with goosebumps. All the stuff on the album was there: the long builds and graceful a cappella interludes, the churning muscularity and psychedelic overload. We’re talking presence. Continue reading
Fiesta frisbee legs running a gun.
Raspberry look a little giggle and a little tongue pulling in the sweet
Jungle gym girl, jungle jim standing up on the bars, jungle gym chasing
hey baby you remember this one.
It was a spiral of metal mathematical bars,
must have been our kid attraction,
reaching off the great earth and the huge playground,
with sparse attractions.
Most of the space was vacant and earth.
Jumping high above the scotch 79 soccer field
with up turned mesh chest shirts behind the head.
Blake red and white windbreaker,
Dreamed of christmas UFO nights with blue parades of blue snowmen
and nearly two-d christmas lights
and the magic was fading from the evil yard.
It was disney land alight but it was alien,
it was prismatic.
It was on my street,
and before on the white and yellow pink day on the driveway crest
I saw a gold governing movement,
a great glittering gold tray or sleigh craft, a flat disk,
with an unforeseeable army,
There he was, the burger king,
with his scepter and crown,
blank fiberglass stare,
and all the spirit of a cartoon god.
Originally published in Arthur No. 20 (Jan. 2006)
UNDER A BLANKET
Amidst the culled samples and loops of antique instruments, where in Colleen‘s music is Cécile Schott?
By John Adamian
Lockstep rhythms, heartstring-tugging melodies and overpowering volume can bring the masses together. People talk a lot about the communal and social nature of music. The language we use reinforces the connection: “groups” and “bands” play in front of “crowds.” But some music—like that of the contemporary French musician/composer Cécile Schott, who records under the name Colleen—is intensely solitary, almost private. Not in the candid, pulled-from-the-diary, confessional sense, but in the I’m-alone-inside-my-head sense, holed up in a zone between headphones. In Colleen’s music there are no words, and computers and effects create its blanketing layered feel. It’s the music not of crowds, but of solitude.
My wife and I just had our first baby, Bernadette, a few months ago. Ever since we brought her home from the hospital we’ve had a lot of music in rotation in the CD changer. We’ve tried Bascom Lamar Lunsford, the Rolling Stones, Nina Simone, Raymond Scott, some old Brill Building pop, Vashti Bunyan, the Louvin Brothers, Art Blakey, Gary Higgins, new ones by the Clientele and Broken Social Scene, and lots more. A few records seem to go over well with the baby—a field recording of the Bayaka, forest people from the Congo, a couple of Glenn Gould playing J. S. Bach, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, two Elizabethan composers, and two discs by Colleen. The mix is pretty seamless and it creates a sufficiently womblike atmosphere for all of us, but Bernadette clearly prefers the Colleen discs.
Colleen’s first record, 2003’s haunting Everyone Alive Wants Answers, is made up entirely of looped and layered samples, snippets culled from her record collection; the music creates a cocoon from thrums and furious zithers. It might seem simply soothing at first, until it casts its menacing shadow. For her followup, this year’s equally captivating The Golden Morning Breaks, Colleen (who had previously played only guitar) decided to abandon her method of using reprocessed bits from preexisting recordings and play all of the instruments (cello, music box, gamelan, melodica, etc.) herself. She then, in effect, sampled herself.
If Colleen’s music feels hermetic, of its own world, it’s not entirely coincidental. Schott, 29, works and performs almost exclusively by herself. She shuns collaboration. She doesn’t see herself as fitting in with a group of like-minded musicians. And maybe she’s right. Working for months at a stretch on her recordings, Schott prefers not to let anyone hear her work until she’s entirely through with it. She doesn’t exactly reveal herself through the music of Colleen as much as she loses herself in it. She avoids traditional touring because of the frantic travel from one city to the next without time to soak anything up.
I spoke with Schott twice by phone about her work, once from her apartment in Paris and once just after a soundcheck for a show at a London museum. As a part-time English teacher at a high school in the suburbs outside Paris, Schott isn’t a recluse, but she cultivates a kind of scholastic quietude that seems almost monastic, especially today. It was only relatively recently that Schott’s pupils and colleagues found out about her other career as a musician, and she didn’t necessarily want them to. “Somehow I felt that this wasn’t something that I wanted my pupils to know about,” she says. Schott appears inclined to maintain a distance between herself and the world. Even her stage name seems to be another buffering layer, but she says it’s more elaborate than that.
“Basically I have a problem with words in music. I think it’s hard to have good lyrics and sing them meaningfully. I have the same problem with song titles and even band names. I’ve always found it embarrassing to have to find a name, and I wouldn’t want to use my own name because I think it’s quite boring, and so I wanted something simple. I had this phonetics dictionary—I knew the name Colleen, so I’m not actually referring to the names of people, but the noun, the Irish word meaning ‘young girl,’ like the Scottish word ‘lass.’ I like the look of the word and the sound. The name itself is full of curves with the C and the O, and there’s also repetition with the double L and the E, so I thought it kind of looked like my music. Also if you say it in French, colline is the word for hill. Again that sounded really nice, this image of natural curves.”
Natural curves sounds about right. Colleen’s music has a kind of organic undulating quality to it. It’s music that maps out a certain slow welling up, an ebb and flow, a liquid flux that requires time and patience to take in. Plucked on strings or tapped on chimes, gracefully simple patterns course, separate and reconnect. The elegance is in the unfolding.
With its music-box plinkings, plangent strings and percolating drones, Colleen’s work is often labeled as ambient, but she resists the tag. “I don’t really like the word ambient. Somehow it seems pejorative. Like you put it in the background, and it’s like a nice wash of sounds, and I don’t think my music is.” When asked how she imagines her ideal fans listening to her music, Schott replies: “In bed under a blanket. Hopefully they wouldn’t fall asleep before the end of the record.”
On her website Schott writes enthusiastically about the five years she spent reading Marcel Proust’s A la Rechere du Temps Perdu, the enormous cookies-and-memories work commonly known in English as A Remembrance of Things Past. Proust, who famously holed up in his bedroom to finish his novel, was pretty fond of his personal time, too. The book starts with an extended meditation about lying awake in bed. It’s something Schott can relate to.
“Being alone in your room, listening to music in your bed, you have to have time for that. I have a feeling at the moment that time is the most precious commodity, and that everyone is running around, myself included. I think to listen to my music, you definitely need lots of time, and the bedroom thing, listening on your own, is kind of a symbol of having to find time in your own life to do this sort of thing.”
Schott relishes free time not for indolence or leisure, but because she’s trying to accomplish so much. Now, as she begins work on her third record, Schott has set a few humble goals for herself. She’s teaching herself piano, studying a bit of music theory, taking up the clarinet and planning to begin lessons on the viola de gamba, a 17th century ancestor of the cello.
We have the eclecticism of the lending libraries of Paris to thank for Colleen’s hypnotic music. Born and raised in Montargis, a small town south of Paris, Schott came to music relatively late. “I had no musical background whatsoever. My parents weren’t really into music.” In high school she played guitar in what she describes as a noise-pop band. She then studied English at the university in Dijon, before going off to England for two years, where she worked odd jobs in Winchester, Manchester and Liverpool. In 1999 Schott came to Paris to get her teaching certificate, and there she started exploring the vast musical holdings at the city’s libraries. There she discovered the music of Elizabethan composer John Dowland (“I just liked the idea of guys playing the lute,” she says), the tumbling glassy phrasing of the West African kora, the clangor of Indonesian gamelan, the freedom of jazz and other music whose spirit infuses her work (though she shied away from using the material as a musical source because she felt she couldn’t improve on it). The transition from guitar player to sample cobbler and back to performer on exotic and rare instruments was a roundabout one.
“It was a long development,” she says. “After I stopped playing in this noisy pop band, I got a four-track tape recorder and tried to make stuff on my own, but I had nothing other than a guitar. I would bang on things. I would definitely try to make ‘experimental music’ with just the guitar and not even one single pedal, so it was really hard, and I got really discouraged.”
Then a friend gave her a computer with some music-editing software, and Schott had a revelation listening to the extensive stacks of music she’d borrowed from the libraries. “I thought, that’s what I need to create my music from other people’s music, but it’s going to be mine, and I’m going to be independent, and I won’t have any problems with gear, and it’s going to be easy. All I need is CDs, and all I need to do is look for the sounds and assemble them.'”
Sounds easy enough. And it’s a familiar line of thought for just about anyone with a musical idea in their head, a CD collection and a computer. But Schott did it.
On Everyone Alive Wants Answers, insect sounds flutter in the background while what sounds like the superhuman hammering of a dulcimer floats by. An arterial pulse churns behind the sound of a child’s voice further buried under a wisp of bowed strings. “Babies” sounds like the inside of a giant wind chime. Airy skeletal samples are gathered into cycling patterns on “Your Heart on Your Sleeve.” A marching, Sun-Ra-worthy boinging Moog sound peoples “Long Live Mice in the Metro.” Sounds emerge and recede.
“I’m okay with things sounding a bit—’Oh where is this coming from?’ Maybe it gives you the feeling of some natural thing rising,” says Schott. There’s no singing, no drums. But the songs, many of which clock in at under four minutes, have a subtle rhythm and hummable melody.
The success of her computer-pastiche music created a new challenge for Schott: how to make her music for a live audience. Initially, Colleen embraced the switch from sampling records to generating her own sounds using acoustic instruments (the technique she used on The Golden Morning Breaks) because she didn’t want to be a laptop auteur. Not on stage at least.
“I’ve actually never been able to perform the older material,” she admits. “I decided to go back to playing instruments because I wanted to do live shows, but I didn’t want to bring a laptop. Originally the main impulse was because I thought there’s no way I’m going on stage with a computer and pretending to do something when I’m not. To me it’s more a question of whether the person is really doing something live, because that’s what it’s supposed to be. I’m not saying that all people who perform with laptops donít do anything, but from what I know, a lot of them are just going to press play and do a couple of things. But I wouldn’t call that a live show, and I’d be bored on stage if I had to do it.”
Despite the drastic change in approach between her first and second recordings, the results are surprisingly similar, and they demonstrate a single-minded vision working its way through both efforts. With Colleen playing all of the instruments herself, on The Golden Morning Breaks (which takes its name from a Dowland piece) the music gained a warm glow. In addition to cello and guitar, Colleen’s instrumental arsenal grew to include toy gamelan and a rare instrument called a glass harmonican. “It’s not mine, unfortunately,” says Schott. “It belongs to a friend of mine who used to sell antiques. He used to sell mechanical instruments mostly. This isn’t mechanical. It’s kind of like a glockenspiel, but it has glass blades and some small beaters made of tortoise shell and cork at the end. It’s from the early 19th century, just amazing.”
Now, if she wants to do a gig, she just has to figure out how to lug her gear. “I do everything on my own, so mostly I need a cello and a guitar, and now I have a clarinet, and I have a melodica. I have music boxes. If I play and someone can help me carry stuff, then I try to bring some more stuff. I have guitar pedals. Mainly sampling pedals, and I sample myself live, that’s basically how it works.”
Schott stresses that she’s not a specialist in any of the subjects that fascinate her, whether it’s baroque musical practice, composer Pauline Oliveros’s idea of Deep Listening, music theory, or the non-Western traditions that inspire her. Intuition characterizes Schott’s mode of composition. Sometimes spending months on a single track, Colleen works and composes in a kind of isolation, but solitude allows for practice and study as well.
“It’s not that I want to be a solo performer for the sake of being a solo performer, but I love learning things, and I would rather learn something and at first make pathetic sounds rather than leave it to someone who can do it better than me, because then it’s them and it’s not me; I’m the one who enjoys the pleasure of learning,” she says. “Also I do find it very hard to work with other people. Often in the world of music, people seem to expect it to be very natural and easy to collaborate, but I think that in any human interaction there’s going to be—not necessarily trouble, but compromise and adjusting to each other.”
For me, Colleen’s story brings on a nod of recognition and the spark of inspiration. Having played for years in a noisy-pop band, spent more than a decade trying to teach myself piano, gone back to school to study and perform non-Western music, wanting nothing more than vast stretches of days in which to read and practice, Schott’s attempt to carve out enough time to fuse all these threads sounds familiar. By making deep music from an eclectic record collection, tinkering with recorded loops of oneself, and insisting on the importance of solitude and study, Schott strikes me as being both a quiet revolutionary and entirely of the times. Maybe that’s why her music seems right at home in my life.
Q: WHEN IS THE NEXT ISSUE OF ARTHUR MAGAZINE COMING OUT?
A: Arthur has been on hiatus from print publication since December, 2008, when for the first time in Arthur’s six-year history, we were unable to go to press, due to repercussions from that year’s financial catastrophe, fatigue, mounting debts, etc etc.
It’s February, 2011. Although I’ve been able to clean up almost all of Arthur’s debt (magic works!), I still do not have the logistical means to resume print publication. Arthur needs a West Coast-based someone to handle its business affairs—that is, a publisher/co-owner—cuz I sure can’t do everything myself. It’s a challenging gig, fer shure, but… Know anyone? Please be in touch.
editor-owner, Arthur Magazine