Mindscapes, Dreamscapes & Tapestrees

Once upon a time, in a classroom long ago, I used the metaphor of popular music to explain poetry.  Imagine no radio.  No Spotify.  No Pandora.  No Dani’s Diner.  No 11 o’clock Local.  You hear traveling showman, bards, lyre players, pipes, and song… but it is more of an event, more of an attraction.  Once you leave the bustle, once you return to your home, once you retreat back into the privacy of your head…. there is nothing to fill that void of self.  In this world, the poet is the rock star.  The poet writes the words you end up memorizing.  It was a good way to introduce the idea that lyrics in music are simply poems put to music, and that music becomes the vehicle that makes it understandable to the masses.  Think about it, almost everyone loves music; the same can not be said for poetry.

Imagine if you will for a second, the ways that you use music.  Do you play it in the car?  Do you play it at work?  Do you pipe it into your ears from your cell phone or iPod?  Do you play it while you do chores at home?  Why?  When one really stops to think about popular music (i.e. songs with lyrics) this way it is almost easy to see the words as a distraction.  After all, when we think about the noise we use to fill our space, that is exactly what we are using it for.  At root, we use it to distract, to cover, or to sooth (as in background music… like the music in a store).   Alternatively, we can use music to dictate or to communicate, as in making mix tapes of love songs, or, as in my case, using a certain mood of music to emotionally translate a character that I am writing.

In film, the visual imagery replaces the lyrics in our mind, and thus the music is still a medium that allows the emotion to resonate.  Take for example the above scene from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.  (One of the absolute best scenes in any film that I can think of to illustrate this point.)  Seriously, play it once on mute… then play it again.  The music completely defines this scene.  When the strings kick in as the camera pans up over the craggy spine of rock rising above a sea of clouds, our heart swells.  I can remember almost getting teary in the theater as the music swept me up and pulled me in to Middle Earth…. even just for a moment.

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So, when Tapestrees, {a Phoenix based, progressive, instrumental band that blends the elements of punk, jazz, and psychedelics} approached me to review their newest album, Hyperborea, in some ways it spun me on my head.  I love music.  I use music all of the time.  But, as I mentioned to start, I usually am drawn to the lyrics.  I usually spend time at local rock shows, listening to bands, and raving about guitars and singers.  At first, my ideas about writing such an article were simply filled with questions.  Where does a band like that start?  How do they build a following?  Where do they play live?  Do they play live?  It made sense to try to think of a deeper level of communication, emotional communication, when discussing the elements of an instrumental record.

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PURCHASE THE ALBUM HERE !!!!!

To begin that process, I asked Joe Peifer, the lead-man of Tapestrees, if he had a song that kinda drew from some western elements in the guitar and played more on the creepy side… perhaps with a heavy use of disjointed or minor chords.  He referred me to a song, Clandestine Curtain, from their self-titled, previous record.  I used it as the soundtrack for a storyboard trailer that I am working on for a future filming of my next book’s marketing trailer.

Doing a small project like this exemplifies the point.  There is a huge use for instrumental music in our world, and thus it begs the question: how do composers start out?  How do they get noticed?  How do they place their music in the right place, at the right time, to have a seat at the table when it comes to the design of projects that all use instrumental music.  How does one become James Horner, or John Williams, or Ennio Morricone?

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One of the most obvious launching pads for this type of endeavor is, ironically, popular music.  Danny Elfman, of Oingo Boingo, and Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails, come to mind.  Both of these guys, absolute musical geniuses, started out as the lead singers of popular rock bands.  They had full careers with these rock bands.  Then…. they evolved.  Danny Elfman became known as the sound of Tim Burton, and most young folks now a days have no idea what language you are even speaking if you say Oingo Boingo but they certainly know who Jack Skellington is.  And Call of Duty has certainly not been a disaster.

Tapestrees, however, is an instrumental band.  Joe Peifer did not decide to change hats, or explore new directions in his career, while having the safety net of prior success. Quite the opposite, originally from San Jose, California, Joe moved out to Arizona and had to completely start from scratch.  Joe had to rebuild Tapestrees from the ground up, composing the entirety of Hyperborea on his own, and hiring hired-gun musicians for recording and live sessions.  In many ways Tapestrees is more like an Indie rock band from Phoenix than any sort of academic, orchestral composer.  Nor is Tapestrees a DJ style musical experience, similar to Daft Punk, so one cannot simply imagine them easily inserted into the nightclub scene. 

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It is precisely because of these continual crossovers and networking connections between different art forms that makes Keep The Greasy Side Down so unique for Arizona Independent Artists.  The entire impetus of this project was to provide a platform for artists of different types to realize that they are: first, very similar to each other in terms of marketing, and secondly, networking across platforms opens up opportunities.  For example, most of my network in the Phoenix area is based in music, but my own art of choice is writing.  This makes sense for a band like Tapestrees, because their market is based in other mediums as well: everything from film to video game design to psychedelic dance parties.

This does not mean that Tapestrees does not play live, which is certainly not the case, but it does mean that the particular venues and events open to them are comparatively different from a conventional musical act.  They are a blurring of trance, techno, rock, and jazz that combines a visceral experience, with what one would normally expect from a live music show… so in many ways, perhaps their options are even more open.  Again, another independent artist blending mediums and thus redefining our expectations of possibility.

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I was tempted, first as I began to listen to The Gyre, the first track on Hyperborea, to provide a mosaic of images that came to my mind when listening to the music.  I decided not to however, once again reminded of a famous quotation, from a beloved author, that I used often in the classroom.

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author. – J.R.R. Tolkien: The Fellowship of the Ring

Who am I to impose upon your mental imagery?  Who am I to try to impose upon the freedom of your own experience?  Obviously one can follow this line of thought right down the rabbit hole of why profess to tell anybody anything, but that is not the point.  Specifically, in the use of imagery, providing those photographs would be in a way like providing lyrics…. and that is certainly not the intention of any reviewer.

“Imagine these iconic characters WITHOUT their musical themes.  They lose everything about their impact and their screen presence.  Their definition in our minds is rooted in these famous chords and notes.”

No, my intention here was different, as is often the case of my “conversations”.  (I’m not sure if the artists ever get exactly what they expect from me, lol.)  As I listened to The Gyre’s opening surge of brass, and psychedelic keyboard, I felt whisked into a Pink Floyd laser show experiencing a kaleidoscopic trip of lasers intertwined with dreamscapes.  As the trance inducing, intensifying electronics give way to guitars and drums in A Seventh Head ( the first single from Hyperborea) it is easy to imagine the song as a backdrop on a video game, and pounding out the rhythms on the controller as one conquers a fantastical landscape with digital friends.  The album as a whole is a liquid, acid jazz ensemble of surging emotions and spectacular travels of the mind.  The album induces imagery of surging colors and chaotic fractals that simultaneously give way to tranquil fields and surreal visions from start to finish where the final track Freeze, ends the voyage.

Music defines the soundtrack to our lives.  Whether some moments are covered up in a theme song, or sonically eluded to quietly as a mood to an overall pattern of years.  Listening to Hyperborea brought recollections of times long gone, memories both melancholy and frenzied, and visions of times I hope to one day make real.  And in the end, it reminded me of my love to teach, and inspired the desire to in some way use this bands amazing musical talent as a springboard to kinda ….. do it again.

Keep the Greasy Side Down My Friends !

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