Go with a smile!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

5 10 15 20

They have this wonderful feature on pitchfork, where they invite a musician to talk about the music that they were listening in 5 year intervals of their life. Well I’m a musician, even though I’m not the kind of musician they’d invite to give talks on pitchfork (at least not yet). But that sounds like a great idea for a blog entry.

5 years old.

I would say that most of the music that filtered to my consciousness at that age was 70s disco. Probably one of the strongest early memories was ABBA, and my father was a fan. Other things that I must have picked up at that time were the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, the Brothers Gibb, etc etc. Considering how easily I took to 70s funk later on in life, it probably made a great impression on me. That was also the year when I started music lessons.

10 years old.

Not much happening to me music wise that year, although that was when I passed my grade 5. I was probably listening to more classical music, because my music teacher (erroneously in my opinion) believed that pop music was a bad influence. I really liked: Beethoven’s moonlight sonata, his 5th symphony, a lot of Chopin etudes, his Fantasie Impromptu.

That was the 80s. I remember that Europe’s “Final Countdown” was a big hit that year.

People in Singapore have this attitude, probably fostered in colonial times, that art is some luxury that is patronized by the upper class. As opposed to something that makes your soul complete, as opposed to something that’s all around you, that tells you something about your own life. A pretty fucked up attitude, I would say. It took me a long time to see beyond that.

15 years old
That was the year my ears were opened to a lot of music that was pouring out due to the “Alternative music” revolution. That was the year I went on a music binge: I discovered Bowie, The Clash, Public Enemy, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, kd Lang, REM, Nirvana, Teenage Fanclub, Meat Beat Manifesto, Pink Floyd, Suzanne Vega, World Party, Matthew Sweet, Sly Stone, Peter Gabriel, Sonic Youth, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Faith No More.

I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard Public Enemy for the first time. There was so much density going on in their records, and they were doing all sorts of tricks: feedback, bleeps, noise, spoken clips, “YEEEEHHH BOYEEEEE”. I probably didn’t fully understand that it was also a soundtrack to – let’s say – people of a fairly disadvantaged background, but it’s hard to understand how their lives could be so wretched if there was so much great music going on.

At the same time, there was the white mirror image of the Clash, the most socially conscious punk band. Yes, the recording quality was tinny, you couldn’t make out the words from the thick cockney. But the accent was totally authentic to me. They were such adventurous people too, moving from punk to reggae to funk, yet always sounding distinctively themselves. Plus they were also fantastic songwriters, who came up with such catchy anthems. How Jones and Strummer is not mentioned alongside the Brill Building greats is somewhat beyond me.

20 years old
The music of the late 90s was also a wonderful time. Lots of great rap records were made then, although I only knew about them later. Electronica, punk, Jungle, alternative and rap. And some other artists who used all those as colours on a palette. Beck, Bjork, Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky, Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers and Goldie were making music that were basically uncategorisable.

But it was also a time for me to be discovering older classic music. I got acquainted with T Rex through “The Slider”. He made such wonderful 3 minute pop. I found Northern Soul through Dexy’s “Don’t Stand Me Down”. I bought my copy of “Bitches Brew” that year if I remember correctly.

25 years old
In the interim, I had discovered a lot of jazz music when studying overseas. I marveled at the compositions of Jobim, the experiments of Charles Mingus. But I found my real musical soulmate in Thelonious Monk, who understood the architecture of awkward silences.

That year, though, I listened a lot to Bill Evan’s “Sunday at the Village Vanguard”. It was a wonderfully tranquil record, with so much going on under the glossy sheen of “easy listening” music. Listening to how he played was like watching the reflection of the moon on the ripples of a lake, and all those little explosions of light.

30 years old
It was a quiet time for me musically. I had sworn off buying records. I think I discovered Scott Walker around that time. I first became acquainted to the Walker Brothers when I bought their compilation on a whim. Fantastic voice. I liked the strings he put on Pulp’s “We Love Life”. But I was quite unprepared for what I found on “Nite Flights” and “Tilt”.

This was the year, I think, that I started cranking out music on a regular basis. I had just downloaded a freeware that allowed you to make short MIDI clips, something really shitty quality. But it enabled me to write down a lot of music that I held in my head previously, and I was able to write a few songs that year. It was a good year, if every year I wrote as many songs and they were as good as what I came up with that year I would be very happy.

Playing your own music to yourself is a little like popping your own cherry. Writing music without producing it, but keeping yourself amused by listening to it over and over again is the music equivalent of masturbation.



Post a Comment