Phil Skaller & Danny Holt, 2 pianos
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Much of the generic socio-musical space produced by our duo derives from an obsession with that slippery amphibian known as ‘feel’. Practice and discussions are usually centered around issues of tempo, swing, groove, flow and tightness. Inhabiting and sharing one another’s musical space and body (perhaps somewhat poetically nurtured by the ‘band’ aesthetic of shared living space – sleeping on each other’s couches, eating together, and standing in as psychologists for one another in times of personal turmoil).
For us, the key sub-category of that intangible aesthetic of ‘feel’ has always been temporality: speed, cycles, density and rates of flow, acceleration, deceleration, augmentation, diminution, repetition, rhythm, groove, chaos…Music seeks to produce and order space through its supernatural control of movement and time. Likewise, the military, economic and political organs of the state also seek the power to control and manipulate time. This, however, is achieved increasingly through science and technology, not art. As theorist Paul Virilio observes, since the advent of modern warfare, power has increasingly been invested in the navigation and dynamic penetration of water, land, air, and now space. The apparata of civil society further seek control by proscribing the rates of flow of trade, communication, migration.
With the planet thoroughly mapped and surveyed by constant electronic gazes, place (owning property, citizenship) has diminished power. In fact, we are all quite thoroughly observed, surveyed and if need be, accessed in our own homes. Instead, power is increasingly measured in terms of time: speeds of response and accessibility (swat teams, motion censors, download times, social networking devices and programs) and sophisticated and efficient analyses of flows (qualitative and quantitative data analysis, intercept-missiles that calculate the trajectory and speed of other missiles, Mapquest). The upper echelons of society are known collectively as the ‘jet set’.
In a country engaged in reactions so fast they are pre-emptive (Iraq war), where the language bears witness to this dominating stratagem of power (‘time is money’), musicians too are paying increased attention to temporalities. But rather than the smooth, delineated flows that are in the service of power and control (road and highway networks, GPS mapping, virtual reality, ‘free trade’, historical meta-narratives), music can construct counter and alternative temporalities in which differing speeds coexist, collide, and are subverted by other processes.
In ‘Flocus’, by Mark Dresser, four lines in different meters (1/4, 5/8, 6/8 and 7/8) are layered together and juxtaposed in different combinations to create a multi-dimensional temporality: but what appears uncertain and contradictory on the surface remains unified and constant at the foundation. In ‘Digestivo’, a blues by Mark Dresser, almost every bar changes tempo, creating the feeling of constantly changing inertia. Steve Reich’s seminal minimalist work ‘Piano Phase’ is a study in phasing, where two identical patterns constantly repeat, but one increases in speed ever so slightly. This minuscule, almost imperceptible, increase in tempo produces dramatic effects. ‘Sedi Donka’, a traditional Bulgarian folk song in compound meter of 25/16, serves as a springboard for all sorts of manipulation of time.
If music is indeed a complex representation and/or mirror of a society’s cultural, economic and political practices, what, aside from an affirmation of belief, is to be gained by listening? In his book ‘Noise’, economist Jacques Attali writes about music’s ability to liquidate and exhaust social code through play. In other words, whereas strict technical, political and moral limitations confine our society to a narrow bandwidth moving in a single direction, musicians can quickly explore the limits and possibilities of the social space by breaking apart and recombining discrete musico-cultural elements.
That music can train us to be revolutionaries armed with subversive time bombs is not likely. But this would not be the first time that music is set the task of semi-consciously articulating and negotiating the problems of a society (the blues and most folk traditions are particularly good at doing this). And a widespread awareness is just one step away from real political consciousness.