July 3, 2004

Do DJs really do much of anything? 

Randomized music
mixes often sound
really good.

So, there's no
point in carefully 
arranging a sequence 
of music, right? 

     As a counter-argument, 
     I point at my mistakes.        

     Every now and then I do 
     something so completely  
     bone-headed, I think it 
     demonstrates what's going 
     on when working with a 
     more hollow skull.  
           An intersession fill-in    
           show I did recently was    
           following a relatively    
           indie-rock oriented     
           show (the DJ on before    
           me was lamenting that    
           "Slow Dive" wasn't more    
           widely recognized).  She        It's not one I was 
           ended her show with one         familiar with, so I            
           of the slower, poppier          presume it was                  
           Velvet Underground              something like a CD
           tracks. It struck me as         bonus track that 
           a great closing track;          the youngsters grew          
           you could go almost             up with and that I              
           anywhere from there.            didn't.                         
           I got on the mic, did                                        
           a few tentative                                                 
           doom-voice mumblings,                                        
           and introduced my                        
           first track, then hit 
           the button.          
           I was going for X-tal's                 
           "Good Luck", off the        Myself, I'm inclined to      
           album of the same           lament that X-tal was        
           name...                     never more widely recognized.
           It turns out I'd                        Perhaps it was not the  
           neglected to advance                    best strategy to do      
           the CD player from                      sincere lyrics about      
           track 1, so that's                      the futility of           
           what I got: "Stating the                idealistic endeavors,     
           Obvious Again".                         in the midst of the    
                                                   early 90s quirky irony    
              Both of these are                                           
              great tracks, by                        You had to *be*         
              a great band.                           futile, not just        
                                                      sing about it.         
              The one I was going for was                                 
              a slower, more downbeat track,                     POETS     
              the one I got has a fast,                                    
              upbeat, bouncy quality.              
              This has to be one of the *worst*
              segues I've ever inflicted on the 
              world.  Listening to it again 
              weeks later, I still wince at it.

Let's consider another one, from 
a show I did a few years ago.
I decided to play the second release from
"Maybe Monday", a really impressive trio 
of creative musicians: Fred Frith, Miya  
Masaoka and Larry Ochs.  I really liked       
their first release, which has a 
droney atmospheric quality, a step in the
direction of industrial ambient which is 
unusual for these performers (and the Bay             Really, 
Area Improv scene they're associated                  it's not    
with).                                                clear what    
                                                      the "Bay Area    
The second release had come out                       Improv Scene"    
recently, so that's what I was going                  is really 
to play.  But I'd only listened to it                 called.       
once or twice, and I had the sound of                           
of the first CD lodged in my brain, and                  IMP_PERVERSE 
I put it in the mix where I wanted a 
droney, ambient sound.     
Make no mistake, the second release is 
an excellent CD, but it's sound is totally 
different.  It focuses a lot on Fred Frith 
doing a more extreme, noisey guitar.              The trouble with 
                                                  brilliant, creative 
Playing a great track, by some                    musicians is that 
great musicians, at the wrong                     they can do everything
time, in the wrong context                        and want to do everything.
produced a truly horrendous                                                
segue.                                            You never know what 
                                                  you're going to get        
                                                  from them.         
   Oh well, that's what I get                                               
   for not being more familiar                    They never produce 
   with the material I'm working                  "reliable product".
   with, eh?                                       

      Sometime later, I played these
      tapes for some people at      
      Burning Man one morning.            The camp next door 
                                          to us had an excellent 
      The relatively soft,                sound system, but 
      restrained music in this            little in the way of 
      mix was going over pretty           taste (I think their 
      well with the folks in              concept was to provide 
      my camp at any rate.                a platform for different 
                                          DJs, without making any 
      I was watching the setlist          effort at quality control).
      with the cassettes. I would            
      take the volume down on tracks      So I volunteered to go         
      I thought would seem too harsh      next door and "spin"              
      for the early morning.              some cassettes I had  
                                          with me.              
      When the "Maybe Monday"                                           
      track was coming up,                           The people wandering 
      I decided to take a break                      home from the dance 
      and run next door to get                       party up the street 
      something to drink.  I thought                 were giving me some 
      vaguely "Ah, the Maybe Monday                  funny looks, standing 
      will be a good track I won't                   on top of a shipping 
      need to watch the volume on."                  container, holding 
                                                     a bright red and gold 
      Then Fred Frith's warped, noisey               Balinese parasol to 
      guitar kicked in... I was suckered             keep the morning sun 
      a *second* time, by the same track,            off while I was manning 
      in the same context.  I couldn't               the sound system.
      get the sound of the first Maybe 
      Monday release out of my head. 

         A friend in our camp went: 
         "Joe, joe... tell me that this 
          isn't your show!"

         So, I headed back over to 
         deal with it (kill the volume, 
         maybe advance the tape), but   
         they already had the hook out.
            A fellow in a green      
            shaggy mohawk -- fighting
            who knows what kind of   
            hangover -- was sullenly             
            getting out his records,                       
            mumbling things under his            
            breath about how that guy                                 
            needed guitar lessons.            If you know anything 
                                              at all about Fred      
                                              Frith, you know how       
                                              funny that is.            
                Have you ever seen                                      
                the Andrew Goldsworthy        I'd argue that he's       
                documentary, "River           the greatest living       
                and Tides"?  That's           guitar player.            
                a Fred Frith soundtrack.                                
                                                 I saw him do a solo    
                If I'd played anything           performance at the     
                off of that soundtrack,          old Beanbenders in the 
                I guarantee it would             mid 90s, and his       
                have gone over well.             control of extended    
                                                 technique was an       
     And if I'd led up                           absolute revelation.   
     to the Fred Frith                                                  
     track that I did                            I'd seen people mess   
     play a little                               with the tuning pegs   
     differently, let's                          while playing, but     
     say Jimi Hendrix,                           Frith could do that    
     Sharkbait, then                             and end up on a note.  
     Maybe Monday --                                                    
     I bet that would've                         A few weird wah-wah    
     going over well                             sounds, and the guitar   
     also... or at least                         was still in tune,     
     a lot better than                           just tuned differently.    
     it did.                                                            
                                                      A friend's comment:   
                                                      "I don't know if   
                                                      this makes me feel
                                                      like studying the 
                                                      guitar, or just   
                                                      giving up on the  
                                                      idea completely."