Saturday, January 29, 2011

I have a new blog. It's way cooler.

I'm not going to be writing over at the DDD any longer. I have a new site called

schoolcraft wax

It's all very exciting, I know. I have been wanting to move off of blogger for quite a while. It pains my eyes to work with it. I decided I wanted a blog where I could more easily include downloadable pdf's of select publications of mine and other documents. I also wanted to move past the fieldwork blog, which was the original intention of the DDD blog. I wanted more freedom to do stuff. I just finished chapter 3 of 6 in my dissertation on Detroit electronic music, and am inaugurating that achievement with time spent on crafting schoolcraft wax.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

EMA CCM LTD and I Like Ypsilanti

I’m going to write some music reviews here. I don’t typically do this, for a vast array of reasons. Yeah, I have philosophies, you know this. First of all, I’m not a music critic. That’s not my role as an ethnomusicologist and music scholar, I’m talking for me personally. I know, many academics who research and write about music also write record reviews for popular media, both online and print. But I just don’t see much use in me doing that – there are ENOUGH people writing record reviews, for sure. It also feels conflicting – doing ethnographic research in Detroit on electronic music, asking musicians to represent themselves to me and teach me so that I can present their ideas and words in a framework that tells bigger stories. Evaluating the quality of their musical productions in a lasting, public, written form would potentially damage relationships that I have with people. I might miss out on someone’s release; I might not like something, but feel obligated to write about it; I might like a select few musicians A LOT. I’m just not interested in getting into that kind of a relationship with musicians. Also, practically speaking, I don’t have any extra time to be writing record reviews. You know, cause I’m writing that other thing.

These are some of the same reasons that I’m not trying to be a DJ. There are certainly ENOUGH DJs in the world without me getting in the way. I’d totally mess it all up! Also, I just don’t have time or space in my life for that. I love sharing music, but DJing is not the only way that I can do that, so I find other ways to do it.

Regardless of these philosophies, I am occasionally inspired to write something that involves some vague evaluations of music and events – there’s one of my special ways of sharing music, or information about music. Right now, I am inspired by a variety of experimental forms of music, all produced locally in southeast Michigan, by musicians that I am excited about.


I received a lovely package of music from EMA in October. The moment I received it and started listening, I began imagining what I would write about it. Promise. Just look at my notes in my notebook from then! Needless to say, this review is a loooooooooooooooooooooooong time coming. I know you didn’t read that as “ōō right? Read that long word long. Anyway, here is what was in the package:

Bill Van Loo. The Ghost of an Idea. EMA 033. CD. (on a sweet little mini cd)
Damaged Catholic. Single Phase Change. EMA 029. CD.
Rob Theakston. Condition. EMA 030. CD.
Todd Osborn. Components. EMA 018. CD.
Todd Osborn. Components 2. EMA 024. CD.

Also interesting, but not yet in my possession, is this:

Rob Theakston. Field Recordings 2002-2010. EMA 038. CD.
"Previously released long out of print field recordings of such exotic locales as Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Plymouth, Detroit, Windsor and new territories and field recordings from the horse capital of the world. Remastered with loving care. Limited edition of 20."

All from EMA Records run by Rob Theakston. Many of the artists featured on EMA are from Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. It’s a noise heavy label, but also includes various types of experimental music, and by that I mean experimental beyond what a particular musician might normally produce. Like Todd Osborn’s Components and Components 2 – all piano compositions, barely anything like any of the other music he has released elsewhere.

What the hell does EMA stand for? I didn’t ask Rob, but if I did, he’d probably mess with me and make up some shit. Maybe I should actually do my job properly and ask him. Or I could speculate. Ha. Make up my own stupid shit – I mean brilliant assessments. Maybe it stands for elliptical mind activators. Or enormous mighty autobots. Or ecclesiastical miserly anonomous, because why does the A word have to be a noun? I don’t know.

Are you actually still reading this? Jesus. I’m impressed. Anyway. I’m relatively new to noise and experimental electronic music. For a long while I wanted to like music that would fit these descriptive categories, but I couldn’t figure out how to. Now I am figuring out how to open myself up to it. Southeast Michigan boasts a great deal of quality experimental electronic musicians. Aaron Dilloway, Especially Good, nospectacle, Ian Fulcher, Moon Pool & Dead Band, and Bad Party are just a few. I told you, I'm new, that's my list. In the experimental music that I really like, I find that particular tones and combinations of tones (in chords or slight melodies) stir up my senses and my emotions. Science and psychology of tones! Start here: Emotion and Meaning in Music by Leonard Meyer. There is certainly an emotional and spiritual psychology behind sound, or in front of sound, beside sound. But I won’t be doing anyone any favors pretending to be able to teach you anything about it. Read Cornelia Fales’ writing on timbre. Chapters Eight and Nine HERE. And don't read Fales for info on techno, read for brilliant analysis of timbre. No wonder Mike Banks likes Especially Good (Submerge is distributing Watch Out/Room Downstairs 7 inch), he is all about the science of pitch.

So, now I'll tell you some things about the EMA goodies. For a music that at first seems aggressive and a little brutal, it can have a real softness. It can be delicately powerful. Rob Theakston’s productions have this effect. They are usually very slow to progress, slow and delicate to build. And there’s often a really great fullness of sound that he’s got going on. "Condition 2" (track 3) on Condition has a strong rhythmic element that feels alive. I like detecting soft rhythms pulsing through a piece of sound that at first listen seems nebulous and maybe formless. It's so not.

On to Todd Osborn’s Components and Components 2. Todd is a prolific composer, producer, musician (prolific in quantity and quality, for sure). This collection of compositions for piano are really fun to listen to. Just like a lot of his music, I hear a lot of beauty in it. Listening to these two albums makes me think, in indirect ways, of Pachabell's Cannon in D. I don't know if I would have made such an association on my own, maybe, but whatever. Todd has spoken about this a few times with me, even into a microphone. Here's what he said about composing music:

“I can have infinite patterns and just keep doing real miniscule changes if I want, or whatever. Just have it always not be the same. It’s interesting for me at least. I like just doing it and hearing every possible variation. Like when I was little … I really liked Pachabel’s Cannon in D. There were so many variations on just those chords, you can do so much with it. I like doing that myself.”

Now Components and Components 2 are not a series of endless versions of the same thing. Certainly not. But you can hear how the compositions may have come together and get a little intellectual/emotional over the infinite variety of tones and patterns that exist in some form or another. The intricate rhythms are really stunning. You can hear this in particular on "Of all." Track 2 on Components. And on "Of Nothing" and " You" on Components 2. "Champale" and "The Other Side of the Wind" are definitely my favorites.

Damaged Catholic is going to take some work for me. I'm sorry to say. Not sure how to hear it. I'm interested in trying to hear it though. The second track on Single Phase Change is probably where I should start. It has a very minimal repetitive drone, but with a lot of layers.

Bill Van Loo's The Ghost of an Idea is quite spiritual. This tiny little CD is full of different instruments and sounds, while still remaining gentle and just slightly funky.

Rounding this whole discussion out is a love for Ypsilanti, another great town full of musical and artistic culture in SE Michigan. There is a lot of connected community here surrounding food, drink (alcohol and coffee), music, and general craftiness, and I love it. I could easily make this place my permanent home. But I guess that all depends on where a dance floor biddie with a Ph.D. can get a teaching job.

Monday, November 29, 2010

New Stuff Added!

I have finally added my Master's Thesis and my curriculum vitae to this blog. My thesis documents the Roots of Techno conference that I organized at Indiana University in 2006. You'll find my thesis and CV in the upper right corner near the Heidelberg Project image. Enjoy. And, as always, I really want to get your feedback. So let me know thoughts you'd like to share!

And that bike has nothing to do with anything. It's just awesome.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cultural Anomalies, Ethnomusicology, and SEM 2010

Broadway and 5th Street, Los Angeles

I just recently returned from a fabulous trip to Los Angeles for the Society for Ethnomusicology's annual meeting. Last year was Mexico City, next year is Phili, I'm totally suggesting Detroit to the SEM Board! Seriously. The conference was excellent. There were over 1,000 people registered and in attendance. It's crazy big, even if you've never heard of ethno-what? George Lipsitz gave the Seeger lecture, a major event during which nothing else is scheduled. It was really excellent and inspiring. He's always been an influential person for me, academically. Ever since I was an undergrad at NYU studying with Tricia Rose and reading great essays by Lipsitz, I developed a fondness. To hear him speak eloquently with barely a nod at his notes about Johnny Otis, social justice, and our responsibilities as scholars was so moving. Some of the major themes of the conference were social justice and activism. Those ideas were ever present throughout conference presentations, discussions, and informal conversations.

I picked up some books at the conference that I'm excited about:

How I never read this book is beyond me.

I feel a strong responsibility to read anything and everything written about electronic dance music, and other forms of music that involve DJs, especially if there is some form of ethnography involved.

That said, I finally own this:


Black Women and Music: More Than the Blues edited by Eileen M. Hayes and Linda F. Williams

And finally, bought with no knowledge of the book, but a strong interest after looking over it:

Can't wait to start in on these.

And now for the meat of this post. I'm not a big "tweeter," I get kind of overwhelmed by the overload of jumbled utterances and's, ETC. I also get overwhelmed and annoyed by having to make quite an effort to filter the tweets. Anyway, at the Sound Studies special interest group meeting on Thursday at the conference, I volunteered to tweet the conference for friends who couldn't be at the conference as well as for anyone who missed papers that I attended, but were still interested in knowing a bit about them. Twitter doesn't allow for extensive descriptions of academic papers, of course, but my efforts at keeping people informed were fun, for me. I also linked my Twitter account to Facebook so that interested friends on the FB with whom I'm not connected on the TW (?) could join in as well. And it ended up leading to a bit of extended discussion in a few cases. I like that. I included a few SEM tweets about a genre of music known as enka and enka artist, Jero.

Here's what I typed:

#SEM10 So far 2 major uses of Jero at conference that I have seen, although I know there have been more.

#SEM10 #Jero #enka Super weird cultural aberrations and anomalies that fit your theories with ease; doesn't mean they should.

#SEM10 Blog post brewing about anomalies and academic analysis. Did someone ask about cutting up vinyl? WTF, what a freak.

These three comments will be the organizational themes for the rest of this post. Jero is an African American man from Pittsburg with Japanese ancestry (his maternal grandmother was Japanese). He began singing enka as a child, speaks (and sings) Japanese fluently, and has had a great deal of success singing enka. I knew nothing about enka or Jero before this SEM conference. I was interested in the panel of which the Jero paper was a part because ethnomusicologist Noriko Manabe was presenting on Japanese hip hop. She's a prolific writer and excellent scholar, and I'm always interested in what she has to say. Here's something to listen to and watch:

I admittedly have no idea how relevant this song/video is to enka or Jero, except that it's him singing enka. In accordance with the multiple conference presentations that were based on, or included, Jero (I saw two, but heard about more), the draw is his existence as a cultural anomaly. I'm not trying to label an entire human being as an aberration. However, a young African American man who adorns himself in US hip hop styles, attempts pop dancing and b-boying in his videos, and sings a relatively dated form of Japanese music that is not typically recognized as a genre embraced by youth in Japan, is a cultural abnormality. That said, weirdness breeds academic excitement. The ease with which a scholar could potentially scoop up such anomalies and capitalize on them with a wide range of analytical ideas is tremendous. A scholar could wax theoretic on Jero for weeks! But that ease does not always mean that it works in a broader scheme. Ideally, and I think those readers who were at George Lipsitz's lecture may recall his thoughts on this, we as scholars strive to get ourselves beyond our small, very specific, detailed worlds of ethnographic, cultural, and musical analysis, and make broader, stronger contributions to the world around us. We are not just writing for other scholars!

The conference mentions of Jero came with interesting analyses of identity, blending of cultural norms, genre, and language. There is certainly validity in exploring these kinds of cultural performances - and I mean performance in a very broad sense, performance of identity, of culture, etc., not just getting up on a stage and "performing." But I think that as scholars, we have enough background in ways of writing about and analyzing culture, that we need to interrogate any kind of easy, smooth analysis that is not really informed by local, or indigenous, ways of theorizing culture. Detroiters and Detroit musicians have a vast array of analytical tenets that are very specific, and simultaneously diverse. It would only serve to alienate them from me, and me from them, if I wrote some big analysis that was entirely disconnected from local ways of theorizing culture, music, and history.

This experience at SEM brought me to thinking about a personal experience I had with my own ethnographic research in Detroit on electronic music. I recently posted an inquiry in a number of places (313 email listserv, FB, and DetroitLuv).

Here's the question I asked:

Has anyone ever done or heard of anyone doing the following IN DETROIT:

Physically manipulating a piece of vinyl by cutting it down the middle exactly and then gluing it to another half of vinyl so that the grooves match up and it can actually play? Or any other kind of dramatic vinyl manipulation?

I'm thinking of things beyond concentric grooves, inverse grooves, and locked grooves.
I know lots of you already, but just in case you're wondering, I'm writing a dissertation on Detroit techno and house music through Indiana University. I've lived in SE Michigan since early 2008, did research, including lots of interviews, steadily for a year and a half. Still here, still doing interviews ... but I'm mainly writing. Starting chapter 3 tonight!

Feel free to message me directly if you'd rather. Thanks!

My thoughts about this stem from an interview I did in 2006 with a musician named Carrie Gates. I'm working on a few chapters of my dissertation simultaneously and was reading over the paper I wrote for a course, a conference, and an award competition (which was successful), that was based on that interview, among other things. The paper was mildly Detroit related, although I had done zero fieldwork in Detroit by that point, so there was not a whole lot of Detroit related insight. I'm still working with a few of the core theoretical ideas that I introduced in that paper and wondered if vinyl manipulation of this type was something people did or cared about in Detroit.

That DLuv link is to the discussion on that message board, but I also got lots of feedback from 313 list members and on FB. Most of what I got was the following: not really, sort of but no, here's something related but not exactly, and a big old fuck no. I didn't know what to expect in the form of responses when I originally posted the query. I'm really glad I asked in such a public way, because the resulting discussion was really helpful. I'm not going to be writing about vinyl cutting of this kind in my dissertation because it's clearly not a relevant issue here and there are many more way important things to write and think about.

The things I am going to spend a great deal of time on are the concepts of intertextuality and interdiscursivity in the context of performance and production. For the purposes of this blog post, I will define intertextuality, but I'll leave interdiscursivity alone. Just modify what comes next in terms of discourse and more expansive understandings of time.

Intertextuality: the intercommunication of cultural and performative texts.

A text can also be thought of as a unit of communication, or an utterance. I use the concept of text as a way of analyzing performance and production of electronic dance music. Just to reassure you, I'm not using text in a limited verbal sense, and I will explain that in detail in my dissertation. I have developed this approach after endless frustration and disappointment with theories of postmodernism, hybridity, and improvisation; all of which have been used in analyses of electronic dance music for a while now. My thoughts on intertextuality also tie in interperformative relations and the concepts of eclecticism and diversity in Detroit music and culture. Sonic eclecticism and diversity of identity. I know, this is so brief, maybe annoyingly so. But there's more to come, just not necessarily on a blog.

Vinyl cutting was the single most obvious and tangible case for intertextuality in the paper I wrote in 2006. An aberration that fits my theories with ease. Doesn't mean it should! And clearly it won't.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Aaron Carl, August 19, 1973 - September 30, 2010

I'm so pleased I knew Aaron-Carl Ragland and got the chance to interview him ... in a Bob Evans in Warren eating up some waffles together! I'll be writing a bit more about him next week when I get back home from this brief weekend trip. In the meantime, check these.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Busy Weekend in Detroit

I started the weekend off with a fun night at New Center Park in Detroit. Michael Geiger and Mike Huckaby were playing. It was a free event from 8pm-midnight. I was happy for the early evening since I had big plans for the next day... I'll tell you in a minute. It was cold too, but that didn't bother me much. I danced enough to fog up my glasses a few times. Speaking of dancing, Gehrik Mohr and friends were there dancing some greatness. Gehrik is a fantastic dancer, known all over Detroit as one of the originators of Detroit's freestyle house dancing. A few other dancers who fit this label include Thaddius Reed, Vince Haliburton, Chris Jones, and Tammie Walters. I don't know all Detroit's house dancers. There are some younger dancers that I see around, but I don't know who you are ... so just know that we see you and love you.

The music was fun. Huck played this

So serious.

And if you don't know who Michael Geiger is, just click here and listen, it's great.

The next day, I itched and anxiously awaited 4pm, the magic hour of babysitter arrival and Ma and Pa's departure to Detroit for the We Like Music festival.

And yes, that means I missed Kevin Reynold's live set with a Yamaha and an 808. That is terrible, I felt pain. But 4pm it was. We arrived in time to hear some hot beats from DJ Dez. Dez/Andres is definitely someone I'm excited about. He's been producing and djing for a while now. His Untitled 12 inches on KDJ are incredible and his most recent II on Mahogani Music melts me.

Yeah, that's Minx. Not sure how to type what I think/feel when I hear this. Just breathe and love it. Dez was playing inside at the Old Miami, and I could have easily spent my next 45 minutes there, but Kyle Hall was playing outside and I wanted to check him out too. I definitely wish they had not been scheduled at the same time. But I get it, scheduling can be challenging for a festival. I'm glad I went outside. It turned out to be the best set I've heard Kyle play yet. Lots of fun, excellent transitions and selection, good dancing tunes. And on a side note, I like to watch DJs move as they play. Not, oh yeah I'm hot shit it's a party kind of moving. But just how they feel the music and dance slightly. Kyle has a really distinct head groove. Theo Parrish gets all bouncy. Rick Wilhite gets all spiritual, head to the heavens. Carlos Souffront moves like a soft librarian who will house you. What the hell am I even talking about anymore. Those last three dudes weren't even at the festival. Focus.

On our way out to Cass Cafe for some food, we checked out Madis One who have a new release on Blank Artists. They sounded good and interesting. Experimental instrument usage is always exciting. After a lovely meal (Artichoke pesto melt and Motor City Brew Works Pale Ale), we got back in time almost at the start of James T. Cotton's set. That's Tadd Mullinix. Tadd is a fantastic producer. Please listen to one of the greatest songs ever:

His set was really great. I stood and listened for most of it, partly because I had just had a meal, but also because sometimes it's nice to just listen. I repeatedly had a smile on my face at varying moments of his set. And, although I can't be sure of how much time exactly,
I lose track of things when I'm dancing, a little bit, but the last quarter of his set was exquisite. I'll say it again, exquisite. From the super fantastic Italo song through to the end, I was dancing. I woke up thinking about it the next morning. It's really lovely to listen to someone select music that is not simply to get hips bumping, but is also intellectual, educational, inspired by something bigger than tits and beer. I love parties, you know I do. But I also love to be moved. And you know he's drawing from an incredible archive of house records. I've spent some quality time with the "Tadd Recommends" sections at Encore Recordings in Ann Arbor. There's almost always a copy of Vanity 6.

Usually some Mobb Deep in there too. Good thing having Tadd at Encore. Good thing having Encore in SE Michigan.

And finally, nospectacle ended the good music portion of my evening.

Nospectacle, Old Miami, 9/18/10, Photos by James M. Rotz

Nospectacle consists of Walter Wasacz, Jennifer Paul, and Chris McNamara. They were really interesting and fun to watch. It's always great to hear serious noise while the musicians are bouncing around, dancing, fist pumping, and smiling. They weren't going crazy by any means, but they were pleasantly boisterous. Here's a descriptor from their twitter page: hi-fidelity dream-based written word and live performance electronics. There was some interesting video installation going on around them, although I didn't catch who that particular artist was. The festival featured art by a number of artists. The range of sounds was really exciting. The bench we were sitting on was vibrating us. They started their set out with some nebulous droning tones. Oh, and I'll admit right now that my capacity for describing experimental music is limited at this point. But I'll just keep at it, reading and writing, and it will get better. Gradually, they got more regular with rhythms, verging on some electro style sounds at times. My feet were definitely tapping the whole time.

We left Old Miami at about 10:30 intending to get some dessert somewhere and then head over to the Magic Stick thinking that we would catch Jimmy Edgar and Mux Mool. Unfortunately that did not happen. But I didn't know the set times. As it turned out, we missed both. Elliot Lipp was unremarkable, the sound was really quiet, and we didn't stick around for glitch mob kraddy. So we headed home early and I tried to salvage my night by listening to this on the way home, but you can bet it did nothing for James ... too annoying cheese for him. I tortured him anyway.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sonar Chicago

So you're going to Chicago next weekend for Sonar? You know, that Barcelona festival that is implanting onto Chicago this year. I just saw that Ron Trent is giving a lecture at 4pm Saturday, September 11. And Appleblim is lecturing the day before. So reading about this makes me actually regret not going to the festival. But I've got some Indiana brews that are just waiting anxiously in my basement to be enjoyed by some friends. I'm trying to make up some weirdo "bros before hoes" rhyme but with "brews." ... Brews before Sonar ... nope, not effective ...

And here's another great reason to be in Chicago looking for tunes:

Sonar Club Night by Red Bull Music Academy

Black Devil Disco Club (Rephlex)
Appleblim (Apple Pips)
Cosmin TRG (Tempa)
Space Dimension Controller (R&S)
Todd Osborn (Spectral)

10 September 2010
From 10pm until 4am

Smart Bar

3730 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60613

Ticket info
$5 all night

The festival actually seems more interesting than I originally thought a few weeks ago. The Ron Trent lecture totally seals the deal! You might want to take a look at this article by Terry Matthew about electronic music in Chicago:

Sonar Is Coming To Chicago. This is Not Necessarily A Good Thing.

I was just in Chicago last weekend and had such a great time, I wanted to share some places with you so that you can go and experience them for yourself.

Coffeeshop #1 Fifteen Stars 110% Excellent !!!!One!!!!:
The Wormhole in Wicker Park
1462 N. Milwaukee

Metropolis and Intelligentsia are both good too. I'm becoming an espresso head, so that's why these places are good. Don't worry, just order whatever you want, and if you get lip, give them sass.

If you're looking for records, Chicago is good for that. But if you're reading this, then maybe you already know about Chicago vinyl spots.

Groove Distribution
KStarke Records
(Thanks to Gridface/Jacob Arnold for the heads up on those two.)

Two other spots: Gramaphone Records and Reckless Records

We ate at this great restaurant on the south side called Amelia's. It's BYOB and you can swing by the grocery and liquor store right down the block on your way. Yes, it's on the south side. Don't be scared. It's perfectly reasonable to go down around 47th street in Chicago, even if you're a big gleaming whitey like me. Just keep your wits, like you would in ANY part of ANY city, and don't go much further south alone after dark. See, here's me perfectly safe and delighted after a fabulous meal at Amelia's.

And if you need anything else, just consult the Chicago Reader.