Monday, January 08, 2018

DRONE NOT DRONES: The 4th annual live 28​​​-​​​hour drone, Minneapolis 2017

Just spent pretty much two whole days at work playing this 28-hour-long Drone Not Drones 2017 release on Bandcamp. We're doing end-of-year inventory, and I've gotta say, this music is perfect for when it's zero degrees outside and you're barely moving, counting stuff all day long in a dimly lit basement. Drone Not Drones is an annual Minneapolis-based benefit concert for Doctors Without Borders, in which more than sixty musical acts rotate on and off a stage and play an uninterrupted drone for 28 hours. This was the 4th annual iteration, and it took place back in February (I guess the 5th annual might be coming up soon?), and though most of the artists are from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, there's some ringers from out of town too. In fact, 2017 was closed out by a strong Chicago crew of Mind Over Mirrors, Matt Jencik & Whitney Johnson, and Circuit Des Yeux, then a solo set by NYC's own Lee Ranaldo, followed by all of them jamming together for the grand finale. It was a recent Facebook post by Circuit Des Yeux that brought me here (I guess the 2017 performance was just made available on Bandcamp this month), in which she wrote of her solo set, "At the time it was a huge physical challenge to sing for 40 minutes straight with no accompaniment or loop pedal. I've since been trying this exercise more regularly & it has opened many musical doors. I was grateful when Lee Ranaldo joined for the last few minutes to see me through." It's amazing to think this was one of her first times doing this, because it is already some really stunning and intense high art. Now that she has essentially another year's experience under her belt, I'm even more excited to hear [plug]her upcoming solo performance at the Art Institute of Chicago, this January 11th[/plug].

But there's much, much more here than just those last few sets. 28 hours is a lot of new music, and it's crazy to think that it all happened in one shot. Now that I've listened, paying varying degrees of attention, to almost half of it, it's certainly given me a lot other thoughts too. One is that the Twin Cities of Minnesota are a very creative and intelligent place, having brought us a strong leftist/individual hard-working and hard-weathered political stance, as well as great musical innovators like Prince and Husker Du, and that guy Bob Dylan, as well as a thriving forever-unknown local hardcore experimental music scene as documented here.

Another thought is just how wintry it is in the Twin Cities, probably even colder than Chicago, and I can't help but think how well this music goes with winter. The ambience is like a slow-burning fire, and/or the deep dive into inner space that can only happen on isolated days and nights spent indoors while the city freezes outside. Another thought is: what is drone anyway? There's entire hours of music here that really aren't drone at all, more like glacial soft improvising, almost like raw tapes for ECM, or just solo instrumental performance, with all kinds of personal non-drone musical languages, silences and themes and riffs and melodies that come and go. I'm thinking of the sequence where Alan Sparhawk of Low plays skittery and minimal solo electric guitar, filtered judiciously through a loop pedal, and is eventually joined by banjoist Paul Metzger, who then embarks on a long solo set that is downright baroque classical in its sweep, which gives way to Steve Hauschildt (of Emeralds, another out-of-town ringer) and his rich cosmic electronic synthesizer styles, in some sense closer to true drone, but ultimately too varied and cinematic to be.

Another thought: during long stretches when the sound is supplied by what seem to be Twin Cities-based ad hoc groups, I can't help but think that a lot of this music wasn't created to be "definitive," or "permanent," or even "great," it was created to keep the moment it was part of going, to raise the money for the deserving cause, to simply amplify the ambience of the great Northern Central American Plain, and to turn regular life into art for a little while, not necessarily for posterity. Some of it actually is great (the Circuit Des Yeux set for sure), lots of it, like maybe even 80%, is definitely good, but 100% of it works towards that common goal. And you can buy all 100% of it on Bandcamp for a mere $10! That's only one dollar for every ten percent! (Although $28 is suggested as a nice round number that would make Doctors For Borders happy.)

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