On The Record: Os Mutantes. Mutantes. 1969 (7.22)
Maybe it’s the sunny, warm weather or the relentless chaos of the world, but recently in my car (often occupied by myself, my wife and our 5 year old son), the most requested music has been Os Mutantes’ sophomore album, Mutantes. We love it because it is catchy, hilariously-absurd and packed with fascinating twists and turns.
It was released in 1969, the same year as Abbey Road, Brazilian Octopus, In A Silent Way, The Age of Aquarius, Space Oddity, Tommy, Liberation Music Orchestra, Hot Rats and more, and there are countless connections that weave through the pieces like cosmic threads of DNA. Was it the zeitgeist of the moment, LSD experimentation, chance, or were the Mutantes at a dinner party with Lennon, Hermeto, Zappa and the others, feasting on the totality of each other’s work? The latter would certainly be in line with the Anthropophagic Manifesto, a major influence of the Tropicália movement of the 1960’s, in Brazil to which Os Mutantes were a part of.
The record opens with “Don Quixote,” a fanfare of horns and drums, as though it were a prelude to Monty Python’s “Flying Circus” (which also debuted in 1969). Before quoting Ringo in dozens of fills, drummer Dinho Leme’s (credited as Sir Ronaldo) tom groove hints at a surdo pattern that one might hear during carnival, however it sounds nothing like a street samba. To my ear, the part also forecasts Tullio De Piscopo’s drum groove on Astor Piazzolla’s “Adiós Nonino,” which would be recorded a few years later in Argentina.
It’s about a minute into the piece, when the slightly out of tune flute, triangle and sultry voices of Rita Lee, Arnaldo Baptista and Sérgio Dias enter, that we get a glimpse of the journey we will be traveling through over the remainder of this record. Abrupt, angular transitions and tempo changes drop us into luscious worlds of where laughter, held breaths and audience cheers are spliced, against squeaky toys, theremin, autoharp, and overlapping falsetto voices, with brief fiddle afterthoughts.
As the second song, “Não Vá Se Perder por Aí” begins, I wonder “is that a goat?” and “why the false start?” This is the #1 hit on the album. The entrance of the voice sounds like a jews harp mixed with a berimbau. When the chorus comes around, I am transported to my basement practice space where my seventeen year old self would explore shuffles, afro-latin grooves (and probably other things) among friends in the shadows of a tinted green lava light. The short solos, upbeat tempo and oddly timed guitar breaks keep things moving in unexpected ways and again I am left wondering, why is the fiddle solo again so short?
With heavy hand of a doppler or phaser effects, The third song, “Dia 36” takes us partially underwater to experience a melancholic ballad with arco bass parts that could call various species of blue whales.
Without giving too much away, the rest of the album is packed with psychedelic tropical hits juxtaposed against driving rockers with a hefty dose of musique concrète that will tickle the inner ear like ASMR on steroids. Rogério Duprat’s experimental orchestrations push the line of innovation forward from where Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band left off, taking us from ribbon synth surf blues, to avant bossa, pre-punk and post-genre scenarios.
Give it a listen on your next drive to the beach and whoever is in your car will surely say (just like my wife and son do), “play that one again, daddy!”
A Visit with the Professor (2.21)
The first piece that I heard by Milford Graves was “Territorial Moods” from Stories (Tzadik, 2000) and soon after, the self titled track from Grand Unification (Tzadik, 1998). Multidimensional, untethered and charged, they represented the most beautiful solo percussion playing that I had ever heard and spoke directly to my core.
I began listening to more of Grave's works and reading about his studies with the healing arts: the heart, acupuncture, herbs, and martial arts. I heard he was attaching probes around people's bodies, recording their inner rhythms and creating new works out of these recordings- encouraging students play along with the recordings, rather than a metronome.
A fellow percussionist gave me his phone number and gave me a warning: “make sure you call him ‘Professor’” and that he had physically tossed a former student out of his window. I called the Professor and he warmly invited me to visit his home in Jamaica, Queens.
As I turned the corner onto the block, there was no doubt about which house was his. The exterior had thousands of broken mirrors and tiles positioned in abstract mosaic forms. The plants felt like they were calling out, radiating a kind of mystical energy. His wife greeted me warmly at the door and walked me down to the basement laboratory where the Professor was stationed. He looked smaller and gentler than I had imagined, nestled like a spacecraft pilot, surrounded by multiple computers, microscopes, recording devices, and ritualistic objects.
We spoke freely for several hours, topics meandering between: the honesty of playing solo drums, why one chooses to play specific instruments and sounds, music as identity, connections to afro-cuban music, love of family, stem cell research, building immunity, strength, how to “live” the music, his current interests (which he claimed were money and happiness), and the importance of notating music in order to prove legitimacy. He shared some humorous anecdotes about Sunny Murray having the jitters and Cecil Taylor hiring people purely for the hang. Also, on the music of Charles Gayle, Kidd Jordan, Jiunie Booth, Kojo Roney and Ahmed Abdul Malik.
Much to my surprise we didn’t touch the drums. In fact, I don't recall seeing many drums in his lab. He did play me some electronic music that he was working on, which included samples of William Parker’s heartbeats. He also showed me some coolers filled with animal cadavers.
At the end of our meeting, he had a big smile on his face and said, "I know your energy, man."
I dedicate the following pieces to him:
Pulses (Adler) In Fourth Dimension (Chant, 2019).
Milford Graves left his physical body on February 12, 2021. RIP Professor.
Future Rhythms (1.21)
In response to the challenges of remote music creation during the age of Covid-19 and the current hindrance of sonic latency, I predict that future rhythms (in popular, concert and experimental music forms) will become: slower, less metronomic, less quantized, more independent, more conversational and more extreme than ever before as they embrace the following:
- Pads, Fermatas and Grand Pauses where a musical event’s duration is not related to a pulse or a number of beats, but rather very slow moving, organic gestures of long tones contrasted with thick silence.
- Big, Fat, Sloppy Down Beats where sections change or hits happen not following a precise, sharp moment in time (like the initial attack of a metronome’s click), but rather following a wider beat or macro time (like feathers falling into one’s hand).
- Independent Orbits where loops of varying length occur simultaneously, yet independent of each other, each other's specific pulse rate and subdivisions.
- Conversational Etiquette where performers alternate in uninterrupted musical statements relating to a given theme(s).
Though (in many ways) these concepts accept the natural rhythmic disconnect inherent in remote music making, thereby moving against the idea of rhythmic togetherness, it is my strong recommendation that to compensate, every note and sound be performed with the utmost intention, conviction, patience and attention to dynamics, articulation and stylization.
Questions on Time? (10.15)
Who is time?
"Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river;
it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger;
it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”
~Jorge Luis Borges
What is time?
“Time is the measurement of change.”
“Time is of your own making...”
Where is time?
“Everywhere where there is interaction between a place, a time and an expenditure of energy there is rhythm. This includes:
B)Interferences of linear processes and cyclical processes
C) birth, growth, peak, decline and end.”
When is time?
"Time is, time was, but time shall be no more."
Why is time?
“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”
Don't have time?
"To say 'I don't have time' is to say 'I don't want to.'"
Through rhythm, we connect:
both inward - as a meditation
and outward - as a language to bridge social gaps.
Our music is:
a reflection of what is within and what is without
a physical and sonic release from holding
a rejection of rigidity
a mapping of pathways through the creation, repetition and destruction of patterns
a celebration of the present moment
an expression of radical inclusion with one's self, communities and environment
a way to give thanks
Our instrument is a spaceship:
where do we want to go?
Our instrument is our voice:
what do we want to say?
follow the ear
obsess over the perception of time
honor chance processes and the emergence of natural forms
find comfort and strength in the practice of dissonant extremes
create language to communicate in-between.