Friday, January 30, 2009

Trees Are Why You Trip: notes on psychoacoustics, psycho-actives, and just plain psychos from the road from Kingman to Los Angeles

...Examining "The Red Album" by Baroness, reverberance as delight, the trials of early reflections, and the desert.

Three things we must understand.

1. Reverberance, as it exists in human art, is a gift from a loving god and proof that we evolved from ocean-dwellers.

2. Early reflections, tough they may be part of a reverberant initiation, may be terrifying or disorienting when they can't give you immediately cogent information about your surroundings. For instance, hearing birds chirping and the scattered reflections bounding through a grove of trees can't effectively tell you where the individual birds or trees are; timbrel experience will tell you if the sounds you hear emanating from within and around the grove are made by familiar animals, and that information helps you determine whether to treat them as parts of a threat. The result is heightened emotional response coupled, and enhanced by spatial disorientation. In short: trees make you trip.

3. There are no trees in the Mojave Desert. The desert doesn't lend itself to the spastic joy and exultant sensationalism of a trip. The desert wants you to be an animal.

Capitalizing on these three notions, the "Red Album" by Baroness makes the drive from Needles to Barstow, a potentially turgid and frightening business, into a beautiful journey.

I was 36 miles west of the California/Arizona border. Past the first rest stop and the Desert Oasis gas station, home of a BLT famed among local truck-types, I descended into a wide valley, and climbed a high hill. I began playing the record when I neared the top.

The first notes sound like soft calls from nowhere, tiny sirens between the desert rocks. The song goes I, IV, I/iv, V. This is regal and portentous music that calls me forward rather than casting me aside. Clean guitars reflect themselves in echoes, the slow cousins of early reflections, leading and powering reverb, flying across the stereo spectrum which is lost inside a car. It's dry, comfortable warmth, with a hint of challenge to hear this and see the desert outside my car. The tones have the purity of feedback: distinctly guitars but no plucking. They make musical swells that sound like organ pipes breathing like people. The cadence at the end of this introduction goes I/vi, IV, I. The melody finishes on a third. I accidentally timed my trip such that I heard the last note of the introduction just after I crested the hill and the empty world of the Mojave spread itself for me. The only human presences were cars and the highway scar of their escape. In these opening minutes, before the thrust-poetry of drums took over, Baroness reminded taught me that I like the desert for the same reason I like reverb.

According to psychoacoustics guru David Moulton, humans shouldn't like reverb. We should have a biological imperative to fear perceptions of vast, open unclear spaces because they are more likely to be dangerous than smaller spaces, where our hearing will more accurately determine the possible location of a threat. However, reverberant occurrences delight us. I am frequently lifted into reverie of the world's grandeur when my ears describe it to me with reverb. The more the better, because I feel freer as the space around me sounds more infinite. There is no sound in infinity except that which the body makes. There are no reflections and no soothing wash in a free field. Such is the Mojave Desert: a tract of lifeless, useless grit. In such a place, I can meditate without distraction and imagine spirits growing like a body might if it weren't material. However, in my head the Mojave sounds like Baroness: cloying sounds with a little discordance for flavor. The drum thrust is like the ridges on the yellow line, potholes and cracks. The first riff plays like a sidewinder, the amps break up like highway mirages, and the singer shouts "Rays! On pinion!" Am I a pinion? Am I the smallest cog in massive clockwork? In the Mojave I am a cog without works, but the reverb tells me I am alive and I am somewhere. I exist and feel godly.

1 comment:

LinzAnth3 said...

The best people in music are also good writers: you, Bono, Leonard Cohen, Springsteen, Lindsey Kate Cristofani. From now on if a musician can't write a gorgeous apology for his art form, I move her to the middle of the pack, no matter her chops!