Adam’s Music Mountain

In response to my Music Mountain, the enigmatic Adam John Miller has done his first piece for the ‘Club site.

He says

“So, this is my “Music Mountain”  The idea: Pick your favourite band that has released 1 album, 2 albums, 3 albums etc. I got to 18. I tried to ignore Live albums and Compilations and stick to Original Studio Albums. Make your own!”

1 album    –   The Unicorns
2 albums   –   Neutral Milk Hotel
3 albums   –  Galaxie 500
4 albums   –  The Velvet Underground
5 albums   –  Pavement
6 albums   –  Tortoise
7 albums   –  Mercury Rev
8 albums  –   Built To Spill
9 albums   –  The Sea and Cake
10 albums –  The Magnetic Fields
11 albums  –  Elf Power
12 albums  –  Yo La Tengo
13 albums  –  The Flaming Lips
14 albums  –  The Mountain Goats
15 albums  –  Pere Ubu
16 albums  –  Kevin Ayers
17 albums  –  Guided By Voices
18 albums  –  Julian Cope
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John’s Music Mountain

According to some anthropologists, it is our ability to group things that makes us human.  We can differentiate and distinguish things not only by a single feature (“a cat”, say) but by many. We can even group disparate things. Both a bear and a chocolate bar are brown; a steak and a chocolate bar are both foods. Apparently this gives us a massive evolutionary advantage over the other animals, the poor saps, as we can then use this information to make well informed decisions.

With this in mind I am exercising my humanity by pointlessly cataloguing bands I like! Woo!

I’ve made a “Music Mountain” (patent pending).. – where I’ve put my favourite band who’ve made one album* on the top, favourite band who made 2 albums second and so on.

I did nine bands originally and then I thought, “that’s not enough, there’s barely even insane.” So I upped it to 17. And yes there are some shitty albums in there. Out of the 153 albums….

*by album I mean studio or all live album with previously unrecorded music on it.

The bands in order are:

1 album     – Young Marble Giants

2 albums   – Neutral Milk Hotel

3 albums   – Boards Of Canada

4 albums   – The Smiths

5 albums   – Pavement

6 albums   – Red House Painters

7 albums   – Husker Du

8 albums   – Radiohead

9 albums   – Dinosaur Jr.

10 albums – The Magnetic Fields

11 albums  – The Beatles

12 albums –  Captain Beefheart

13 albums – The Flaming Lips

14 albums – The Mountain Goats

15 albums – R.E.M.

16 albums – Sonic Youth

17 albums – Guided By Voices

John


“Heavy Bones” – Glaciers’ cover

As part of an ongoing, occasional series we’re recording covers of friends songs. The plan is a “we scratch your back, you scratch ours” – so if we cover your song, cove rours! We’re hopeful Mr Burrows’ll get on this!

John and Adam recorded this one on Valentines Day. Max unfortunately being stuck working like a chump.

Here’s a download (right click, save as):

Heavy Bones

and here’s the Video:


Boards Of Canada

Some times I feel like I’m the only one who likes Boards Of Canada. This, I know, is bullshit – Last.fm shows they’ve got almost a million listeners, and that’s only people who use Last.fm. People in the electronic music world love them… even terrible Leicester rockers Kasabian bang on about them in interviews.

So why do I feel like I’m on my own with them? Well firstly none of the people I chat about music to care for them particularly. Yep, that’d make me feel like I’m the only one that cares.

The second thing is the music itself.

There’s a bit in Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar where he talks of his characters going into a place called The Forgotten Works; they go to pick up strange things, strange things that have been buried there for a long time, things that resemble every day objects warped out of true recognition by being buried for a long time in this strange place.

That’s what Boards Of Canada’s music sounds like to me.

In Watermelon Sugar - possibly my favourite book

To expand on this, it sounds like childhood filtered through your unconscious, coming up murky and skewed. With the achingly beautiful melody’s floating just out of reach. A bit like My Bloody Valentine I suppose.

I might sound precious but this is really how I feel about them

It’s not that BOC don’t play on this sense of mystery. They haven’t played live since the 90’s, they’ve given about 5 interviews in their lives, they lied about them being brothers (in a reverse White Stripes move), they have blurred childhood science program images on their front covers, they call their songs things like “The Smallest Weird Number”

Most people’s most beloved BOC album is “Music Has The Right To Children”. Now, I do love this album, but some times with the samples they put in it feels like they’re trying too hard to do the warp(ed)-childhood thing. They use actual vocal samples from 70’s children’s science programs and well.. It feels like someone trying to be Boards Of Canada to me, just not subtle enough compared to some later work. The most succesful tracks feel like they just exist, that they were never made at all.

So I’ve waxed lyrical about Boards Of Canada, two Scottish brothers, who love a mystery and haven’t released an album in 7 years.

Enjoy the empty ache.


The Sound Of One Hand Clapping

In my life I’ve found it very useful to muse upon Zen Buddhist koans. No bear with me. Please, don’t go…

I know it sounds wanky and/or pretentious but these little, seemingly nonsensical riddles can be very good for you. Today, children, I’m going to discuss one of the two most famous ones (it’s there in the title).

The other being: If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one to hear it, does it make any sound?

Bart becomes a zen master whilst considering this koan

Some people think that these koans are deliberately nonsensical. You muse upon the contradictory nature of the question to clear your mind of daily troubles and thus reach a clear headed “zen” state. This clear minded state is shone above in the classic Simpson’s episode “Dead Putting Society”; the one where Lisa gets  Bart to play golf perfectly with the profundity of the tree-falling koan.

So is this what koans are for? To clear your head, make you do stuff better? Partially, maybe. I’m no expert but I think they do have actual answers, and have read as such. But they’re ones you have to find yourself.

So, that being said I’m going to share my understanding of the sound of one hand clapping.

Firstly, ask any class of children this question (I have) and someone will bring their fingers down to their  palm in a kind of mini wave. Case closed. One hand claps.

An answer, which seems flippant, but may be in the actual spirit of the question. It used to really irritate me when people would say this but it’s a valid answer as any other. And what’s more it’s actually practical. You can hear the sound of one hand “clapping”. There’s a zen saying that when a monk is asked how to live one’s life to achieve enlightenment you should ‘first, get up; second wash one’s bowl; third make breakfast…’

But there must be more to it than that? For a long time I was struck by the paradoxical nature of the question. It is understandable, we all get what it’s saying, but it’s impossible in reality. One hand is always involved in clapping but makes no noise on it’s own. So muse upon this and get the Bart Simpson Clear Head (BSCH).

BSCH

This lead me to the idea that what the koan was really saying was that the sound of one hand clapping was defined by the other hand. Taken as a metaphor it would say that we ourselves are defined by what is around us; how we relate to others and the world. That we are not a single hand making a noise but a hand reacting to another…

The more I thought about this the more I felt a sense of wellbeing, an endorphin rush perhaps. I found it very easy to think about this subject but very hard to express clearly. As the above paragraph probably show.

So I figured I had it worked out… But something bothered me.

In the book, Zen Flesh Zen Bones, this koan is not presented as a simple sentence but as the tale of a simple monk who is asked the question and goes to find the sound. Just before he dies he finally hears every sound in the world and achieves enlightenment.

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones - good book

This seemed to be the exact opposite of my understanding of the question! The sound of one hand clapping can’t actually exist so why tell the tale of the monk trying to find it? And why the hell would he become enlightened after listening to all the sounds that couldn’t possibly be the sound of one hand clapping? But they said he understood and became enlightened. And this was written thousands of years ago. By real zen people.

I considered this for a long time.

I eventually decided that one explanation is that the act of considering the koan was the important thing. To question and to look. The monk carried on searching for meaning in the koan, turning over every possibilty, and finally “got it”. Just like when me and Bart considered them and felt at peace with the world.

I’m sure that there’s far more in the koan than that and lots of  that I may understand but not be able to verbalise. That’s fine. I’ll just carry on considering the question, turning it over in my mind and hopefully it will carry on being good to me.

Even when it seems done, it probably isn’t. I can always ask more questions… “why do people clap?”, “why does every society do it?”, “how can so much be contained in one sentence?”, “does every sentence contain so much?”, “why are so many people happy with the flippant answer?”, “Am I wasting my time considering such things” and on and on and on…

Another zen saying,

“If something seems boring for 10 seconds, do it for 20…”