Over this past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Moogfest in Durham, NC. One of the highlights for me were the performances and talks given by Daniel Lanois. The through line connecting each, was an emphasis on listening, and communicating with the musicians he played with. What he referred to as an “acoustic proximity”. Performing, and listening to music is a physical action with moving parts (eardrums, guitar strings, drums, brainwaves, et al.), and the closer the contact with these moving parts, the more the sound resonates between bodies. If not in physical contact, “a look towards each other helps things resonate,” said Lanois. A look between musicians that communicates we’re experiencing the same stuff, on the same sonic plane. A look that connects all in a communal goal to make the most out this moment of sound, of music. Lanois went on to say that “the listener has a responsibility to filter.” Whether playing the role of performer, composer, producer, audience member, we all take on the responsibility whether we’re conscious of it or not, as living beings with aural receptacles on the side of our heads. Becoming aware of our individual power to understand and shape the sonic palette of our surroundings is our filter, our responsibility to cultivate.
After one of the performances, I had a chance to talk with Rocco DeLuca (Lanois’ musical compatriot) about influences from Indian classical music in his lap steel playing. One thing that stuck out from our conversation was DeLuca’s emphasis on the fact that the structure of Indian classical music is focused on rhythm, and melody alone. If some cool harmonies come about, so be it, but it’s not a primary element like it is in western music. Hence why ragas and the like have a more intricate sense of rhythm, and melody that goes far beyond the twelve tones, and beat divisions we employ in western music. Their musical tradition is built upon the filter of these two components, and exploiting them to the utmost.
Going back to Lanois’ earlier talk, he referred to the vocal chord as “the original instrument,” “the instrument you cannot pawn.” This reminded me of a documentary I watched recently – The Drummer’s Dream. In its opening minutes, Nasyr Abdul Al-Khabyyr holds a microphone to his chest and begins tapping out a regular pulsating “Puh-puh” rhythm, followed by the question, “What’s the first rhythm?”. The answer, of course, is our own heartbeat. Every living creature contains these two attributes (melody and rhythm) internalized within its shell. How we filter, organize, and communicate it to the world outside is our choosing. Our individual responsibility.
If there was a title to Lanois’ talk it most certainly would have been “Flesh & Bone”. Not only because he repeated the phase several times (also happens to be the title of his most recent record), but because of the emphasis placed on listening, how it comes from within, and that any and all music put out in the world is organic in nature. A sounding of the people living in it.