Sunday, December 14, 2009, 3:11 PM
while rereading the shit i assigned my students for class tomorrow, i was reminded how much i enjoy playing the bass runs and lines and pedal points on the b-3. and, of course, the acoustic environment greatly effects how that bass is heard and felt, either deep in the depths of the flesh or whether it sorta tinkers along, teetering on the trebled troubling clangs, going in one ear and – excuse the corniness of such declaration – out the other. of course, i prefer the sorta architecclesial space where the bass is base [and, don’t lie…that word is sorta hot…portmanteau!]. it’s all about attunement to placement of the leslie speaker in the church. if it is lifted off the ground and raised – imagine it in the front of the church building that must, of necessity, be large, raised twenty or so feet and propped on the wall above the congregation and pulpit, held by a small platform with two chains holding it such that it does not fall to the ground – rather than on the floor where the sound turns vibration turns shaking ground? well, don’t expect much.
when the leslie speaker is raised, it seems to make the sound more diffusive and difficult to pin down; but on the floor, the vibrations and the switches from tremolo for the fast speed (around some 390 rpms) to chorale for the slow speed (around 40 rpms) and back is literally felt in the body. and the bass pedal points are important for this feeling, this movement of the body by the vibration that is heard as sound. but also the body moves by that vibration that one almost does not hear because it plunges depths too deep but is still there. still there. this bass sound, at least for me, is a sorta foundational sound that does not necessarily make all other sound possible, but has the capacity in its depths to be radical and transformative while always moving and on the run [like Tomey’s Turl in Faulkner’s Go Down Moses…the story starting with him running away, almost in game-like poise, for love].
the bass pedals when played with skill and intensity, which we could call intentionality, seem to be a sonic YES and an I CAN and any such agreement with the movement so taken. slow songs, of course you know, are my favorite to play. so much space is opened up for improv and praise when lingering in the moments and notes and chords. the yes lord praise song that we always sung
yes lord, yes lord, yes lord
yes lord, yes lord, yes lord
yessss, yesssss, yeh-esss
yeh-eh-esss, yeh-eh-esss, yeh-eh-esss
we’d sing this structure over and over again and it would be the chance for me to learn new methods to convey the same feeling and conviction and desire. curious and fascinating how the word yes is a mode of dissent and acceptance at the same time, highlighting, i think at the very least, the ambivalence of being and of being as human [sort of a Buddhist “existence is suffering” mantra to which the yes lord praise and loss of self in song and structure [ecstasy, even?] replies “true and but: so what? keep going!”].
what i would do with the bass pedal points, i find now that i think about it a bit, to be most moving. because the song has no rhythm [or it is a rhythm that is prior to regulation, so one would need even more attunement to how others are producing the moving along of the song together, as a group, not rushing in font of nor too far behind the other], i would often play the keyboard, left and right hand chords while utilizing the bass pedal points as punctuatory. my father loved to sing this song when we growing up during testimony service and he would sing it with all of the heart and soul he could muster. and so while he’d sing
i would use the bass pedal points only at the end of each chorded phrase, using the bass as the point and mode of transition from one sonic phrasing to the other
so if we were in A-flat for example, the yeh would announce itself with left and right hand chords, but the bass would remain heard only in its anticipation until the ehssss and then the bass would drop with my feet touching the 5th (E-flat) to the tonic (A-flat). and then again yeh, which would be only left and right hands, no bottomed bass and then again ehssss with the bass pedal coming in on the 4th (D-flat). and then yet again yeh, which would be left empty at the bottom until ehsss when the bass would drop down, literally by descent from minor-7th (G-flat) to minor-6th (E) to the 5th (E-flat).
this is all too intricate, so i apologize, but i am trying to give you at least a hint of meaning. just think of it like this: some parts of some words and phrases are accompanied only by left and right hand chording while other words and phrases are accompanied by left and right hand chords along with the bass pedals. and the bass pedal sounds, i think, elucidate a sort of agreement or “holding” or “carrying” of the other sounds, holding and carrying by giving that which is below and beneath the sonic surface.
Sunday, December 14, 2009, 10:07 PM
Subject: Re: selfreminder
shit won’t let me go…
and so, what is it to care for the bottom of things? you taught me to listen to it, to pay attention to it, to witness what the bottom can do. of course, there are the black bottom neighborhoods of places like philadelphia. but i’m really thinking about the first time you came to that old basement apartment in which i lived, and that being the first time you slipped off your shoes in front of me and i saw your feet. of course, i was afraid of your visiting my apartment but for your insistence, i let you visit anyway. that basement apartment with the dark mauve [almost rank] carpet, shabby and worn, and the small kitchen with floors that always had a bit of grease left on them, mucked on from years of cooking – not mine – that really could have benefitted from a steam cleaning. and the small bedroom with the full-sized bed [it was the first time i’d slept in something so big]. we sat in the living room of my apartment – as if living room is a good description for it; it really wasn’t much for living but we did do a lot there so, i suppose, life was there too – but we sat there in mostly darkness, the television the only light, because of the heat, it was too hot to have lights on and the window unit was only in the bedroom and it would’ve been a bit presumptuous to invite you in there.
so we sat on the couch that came with the apartment, with the tattered arms that almost barely were revealing of the wiry frame just beneath and propping the whole thing up, that couch that would make that squishy sound as we sat – no matter who sat really, regardless their weight, it was too much for that old couch. it was the couch that came with the apartment as was the full-sized bed. [i did not then realize that i was poor. but i knew that you had more money than i did and so i was a bit more than a bit embarrassed to have you over to visit me, and that embarrassment, i suppose, is what prompted my premonitions of poverty.] i was cool with scraping money together to go to diners late at night just to talk. but to have you enter the basement, smell the sorta closed up smell of years and years of folks who’d lived there and have you, quite possibly, make a judgment of me, my manner, my taste based on my living in some such underground? well. you insisted, so i gave in. and, truth be told, i loved that place for all of its intrusiveness [the walls were thin, so just as we heard my neighbors, after that first time and they saw you leave? well, they knew what they knew because of what they heard].
and so we sat on the couch and you slipped off your driving shoes that you always wore with no socks, and i asked if i could massage your feet. you already were laying in my lap as we talked about something while the shadowed images danced on the thirteen-inch television that was borrowed from a friend of mine. [did i ever tell you that i moved to that location because of its location in the city? but that it was the best that i could get with the money i had? and that all the other, nicer places were much more expensive, at least double what i paid? and that i lived there instead of moving because it never even entered my mind to consider purchasing a car? well. i had bad credit, not that it matters.] but i asked if i could massage your feet and you laughed and laughed more. but you also said
so you pulled your head reluctantly out of my lap – it was comfortable there, so you said – and as i sat on one end of the couch that was only a shadow’s breath longer than a love seat, you rested your head at the other end of the seat and put your feet in my lap. i took your right foot in my hand and as i massaged, and saw veins and hairs and felt smooth skin and smelled coco butter. and maybe i smelled oranges or tangerines too. as i pressed my fingers into your right foot, you’d sometimes wince, and other times smile. sometimes you leaned back and sighed faintly and at others you giggled a bit. i dug my fingers into the various muscles and parts of your foot, playing with your toes while listening to you breathe. and, well, of course it made sense to lick your foot. but just a bit.
and i’m sure i learned of the importance of feet when i began yoga, the feet as the base of stability and a moving, movable core, as the internal equilibrium and balance for movement and spin, lilt and twist. but of course, we could not end with me playing with the bottom of your feet, taking my index finger and lightly – ever so lightly – drawing circular motions over the ball and the heel, you being tickled and feeling faintly nervous concurrently. that edge and mix of both profane delight and holy terror. you said you wanted to see my bed, that we’d talked long enough.
and i didn’t believe your being versatile because i’d only imagined myself a top, and really it’s all i ever desired but something of you, something in you, compelled me to say
yes to your will.
you taught me how to be penetrated, and how there is something deep and profound and intimate about going in and in and in, about the allowing of another to go in and in and in. you taught this by going in me while at once allowing me to go in you. and of course, i should have known this because the bass pedal points are the bottom which i explored. until you forced me to listen and to feel, i thought [not felt…definitely thought] that the bottom was the debased. you taught me that though base and bass it may be, this position is celebratory. in other words: ain’t shit wrong with penetration and being penetrated. again, i should’ve known this from the way i taunted and teased with bass pedal points as the congregation sang yes lord so many days.
the point i’m trying to make is not about our [wonderful, of course] sexual appetites. i probably remember it a bit too nostalgically anyway. the point of it all is that the experience of your feet and at the time, my new bottomed out versatility occurred the same night that the group we started had our first singing engagement. and so i write to you now because i finally realize what i did not know then: that the name of the group – New Dawns – was really about you and i. of course, notions of newness and dawning was in the forefront of my mind because the first day we met, you were at your father’s church and i visiting, and you preached that day and we met after the service and exchanged numbers and you made a brief remark when we decided to have dinner at a diner that same night. you said something like we need a new dawning, which was your critique of what you called “the church” and its problematics, its stagnation regarding notions of sex and sexism and sexuality.
i’m thinking about New Dawns because, at this point, your no longer self-imposed but forced silence is but the center of some sorta gravity and i write and write and write to approach this center as if to be the lighted edge that cuts darkness with the new day, shifting every second, barely detected by eyes naked. our group was similarly concerned with tonal centers and energetic fields, we tried to sing of the divine by modeling a new social of intimacy and warmth and love and religiosity. this meant dwelling with tones and singing slow songs with layers and new atonal harmonies and listening to “world” musics and islamic prayers and gregorian chant for the chance and occasion for old new things. and because of the intentional rhythms and arrhythmias we chose for our songs, as the organist, i was able to explore and plunge the bass pedal points in ways i did not know possible that only matched and heightened the ways in which we plunged and explored each others’ bodies.
my friend – who listened to our music, attended and recorded every concert and appearance – said she was recently watching a video of New Dawns and how, for her, the music we created sounds like the residue of a constantly haunting dream, how our singing and humming and moaning and instrumentality and cadence and structure and harmonies and melodies are similar to when one is abruptly awaken and how one so awaken immediately notices the loss of the material content of the dream the more one tries to recall, so one attempts to reconstruct the dream by rhizomatic feeling, that tendency of using the last sensation and emotion because, we know, it, if anything, remains. well. we use whatever such final feeling to take us back into that which seeks to escape, a gathering and organizing of ephemera, if you will. so, for instance, you wake up with tears in your eyes and you are astonished at such tears. but the materiality of such tears lead you to a feeling of loss and abandonment. but that feeling of the gap and hole lead back to the question: why do i feel this way and based on that question you reconstruct that, in the dream, your best friend from childhood – whom you’ve never met; this is important information – that friend is left standing, waving to you as you – that’s it! you remember – as you drive away with your father in his red cougar with the top down and you see your friend becoming smaller and smaller but on the trunk hood you see the dance of sunlight reflection and shadow of trees quickly animated because of your father’s’ speed; and then you remember that you had had friends before you began moving all over the country but that this dream served as premonition [you began having this dream before you’d even met your father] because now that you move from place to place with such insistence that you trust people less and less and have few that you can call friends. [the you here, of course, is me.]
this recall, working from some such tear or smile or laugh or itch toward that which it hallucinates, then toward some question or general concern, further still to the even broader general field from which any emotion or sensation comes? that, of course, is how i’d write the music New Dawns performed. we were a difficult group to understand because we were after something so primitive and base and foundational and moving. and it was pentecostal only insofar as it was open to moving by the spirit. and tongues. of course, i had not intended to write you so haphazard an email [and still don’t know where i’d send it for you to get it, to get me, to understand, to apprehend]. but i was listening to a few songs of New Dawns and, well, it got me to crying which got me to thinking and got me to writing words and songs.
i’ve lingered too long, too embarrassed that i still sorta miss you, stuck in the past as it were, with the day we first met. my tears keep bringing me back to that moment, that moment when the questions i’d had were answered, not so much by your words as with your smile and pleasant plea for communion.
i miss that. and you,