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September 10, 2017
On Music


One of the ultimate soundscapes.

There was a time when dissonant harmonies were considered the hiphop of the devil.  A few centuries later things loosened up on the devil angle but outside the classical music sphere you’d never hear dissonance because it wasn’t a commercially viable song element. In pop music the beat is the hiphop of the devil and the devil sells. 

In contemporary classical and jazz the urge to rile the bourgeoisie got so conventional – bourgeois – that a sweet major third or more melancholy minor intervals would find themselves ostracized and bullied by its tonally thuggish neighbors in the composition. Those wince-inducing note clusters became the default dynamic and they lost their bite. Though rock stayed in the harmonic politeness zone, it fronted its rebel rep for awhile with an edgy snipe of sonic distortion. But soon that became the default mode. The predictability of distortion, loudness and screaming became downright polite.

Back when these sonic disruptions were rare and unpredictable, the heart of the listener was pinched and slapped by the suddenness of a dissonant chord, a wave of amp feedback or a shriek from a sax or throat. Those surprise elements made a visceral connection to a human condition that crossed the tipping point into torment, rage or ecstasy. And like those moments of lived emotional free-fall, those distorted musical statements exploded and just as quickly moved on and our emotions lurched with it.

Switching from making the PILLS tracks (the Take A Pill album) to redesigning this website required some brain shifting – sort of moving the furniture around for the shift from 14-hour days in the audio realm to 14-hour days in the visual. When doing visual work I have to have music on but out of my collection of 40,000 mp3s only a few things work. Music with lyrics are a distraction unless it’s a non-English language. That way the voices are more like instruments.

There are a few vocal/instrumental combos that really work aside from salsa, samba or African based groove pump. If I’m working a more abstract look, my go-to noise has been Steve Reich, pre-Columbia Records Philip Glass and anything by Jon Hassell. Sometimes Morton Feldman but that can sometimes be a sleeper, not an energizer.

Digging all the way back to my high school days there’s one set that never fails to ignite the synaptic highway where eyeballs and heart compete for the fast lane– a band with an unforgettable catchy tag (like Stones, Nas) – The Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir. Maybe in the Bulgarian tongue that name swings.

Bulgaria is the perfect hybrid culture of Europe and Middle Asia. Historically located on the Eastern edge of Europe and the Western Edge of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. Both sides were constantly at war to claim Bulgaria as its own. Its music has a seamless weave of European and Arabic culture.

The music of the Bulgs is like nothing else. Like a great David Lynch or Cohn Bros. film that blends deep emotional and physical tragedy, serious philosophical reflection and hysterical surrealist slapstick comedy – this group has the range and technical skill to deliver in a single piece, luscious harmony that transitions in and out of extreme dissonance, non-funky but serviceable rhythms and sudden heart-breaking bluesy bends unique to the Arabic world.

I must have heard these tracks a thousand times and it still sounds brand new and full of surprises; and exercises every muscle in my emotion system like a day at the gym.

— Polar Levine, News Goo Dissection, September 10, 2017

© Polar Levine 2017 content should not be reproduced elsewhere without prior permission

Polar Levine

working class college dropout who loves to learn, poke his biases and waste time looking around