I must begin by saying what other contributors to this batch of lists will probably feel compelled to say as well: the process of selecting a personal Top Five is quite arbitrary, and the answer I give today might be quite different from the answer I would have given last week or the week before. So here’s my “this week’s” top five for music that falls outside of my main professional purview, but which has caught my ear in some special way.
Ray Brunelle: Let’s All Go to Hell
Ray Brunelle is a drummer and sound effects man in New Hampshire. A couple of years ago he sent me this CD. I must have been preoccupied; I didn’t give it much thought at the time. By chance I picked it up a few days ago and listened again, while driving. I nearly caused several accidents — spasmodic steering wheel jerkings due to laughter eruptions. The opening track is Art Linkletter delivering an informative narration on the facts of life for children, artfully re-edited by Ray. The other tracks involve more musical elements, but they too are full of wildly recontextualized voices. Unholy madness.
That thing I heard on the radio this morning…
Naturally, I didn’t take notice when the DJ gave artist’s name or the name of the piece prior to playing it, so I’m in the dark as to what it was. A mellifluous Argentine folk song, with a lovely woman’s voice… But the voice was manipulated electronically, not only with the usual time-delay effects but also with some sort of odd, irregular tremolo effect, and other shiftingly unnatural complexities as well. Other voices and the accompaniment appeared and were manipulated as well. Very strange and beautiful.
This song still just breaks my heart.
“Music Of Burma” series from Shanachie Records
A few years ago, as Burma began to re-open itself to travelers, an American named Rick Heitzman, working in conjunction with Shanachie Records, undertook this recording project. It resulted in several CDs of Burmese music from a variety of musicians, played on a variety of instruments. I can think of no other music culture as distinctive as this—Burmese music sounds like Burmese music and nothing else. There are wonderful instruments like the circle of 21 scale-tuned drums called pat waing, or the beautifully formed harp called saung gauk, but particularly instructive is the piano music. Nowhere else in the world has a piano been played like this.
Almost anything thing from the French or French-influenced Caribbean
Especially the smaller islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. For instance, there’s a musician from Martinique who calls himself Kali, who blends a contemporary sensibility with a grounding in older Antillean styles, often featuring banjo. In North American pop, there’s this sense that a good rhythm is one that hits hard. You can look to some of the French Caribbean stuff as a perfect antidote to that: completely alive with rhythm, but in a way that bounces you up rather than hammering you down.