Thanks for nominating me to list ten (listen) music albums that are important to me and still in rotation. I couldn’t respond exactly as requested in facebook land, because it’s a bit complicated. I’ve been interested in others’ responses to this challenge and tried to look back for previous posts and got swamped in timelines. So I want to do mine all at once as a blog post, to make it simpler.
And I don’t know about albums as a primary focus. It seems a hifi, concept orientation to music, only part of the story. I feel like my experience has been shaped by so many different forms beyond albums – singles, (b-sides), mix tapes, concerts, surprise encounters, dance parties, late night community radio, playlists, playing, singing, kitchen parties, buskers, networks of experience.
I think I can start with that, with networks of experience. And there will be some albums in there, too.
As a pre-teen girl in Britian in the ‘60s, with my name, and born in Lancashire — I was just up the coast from Liverpool, I learned songs by heart as each single appeared on Radio Caroline, a pirate station. I don’t own any Beatles albums, but always enjoy singing along whenever I hear the songs, which can be startling for people in the hardware store. I also loved the Animals back then, partly because they were from Tyneside, where I lived. I also learned to sing local folk songs in Geordie, the impenetrable dialect of the northeast, like Cushie Butterfield, and still have the sheet music by my side right now, next to some songs in Gaelic. Another favourite musical experience of those early years was the music of Dr. Who, which I would dance to as the program started.
My first experience of albums was as a teenaged new immigrant to Canada, listening to my brother’s Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin albums, and then later with my best friend, listening to Moody Blues. Between us, we had all of their albums, and we would lie on the living room floor listening on her dad’s stereo. But my strongest sonic experience as a new immigrant was to the sound environment: we lived by Highway 27 in Toronto, in a high-rise. The intensity of traffic was new, the acoustics of concrete, and the pleasurable surprise of a vacant lot. It was full of summer insects that evening, and their chorus really struck me, beating with the traffic hum. I had never encountered crickets like that, and it was only recently that I discovered the reason: because of industrial farming practices, the cricket population in Britain had been reduced by the sixties to a few hundred, in the south, far from where I lived. That sonic memory of cricket chorus remains very strong, and the electric music I was drawn to had a similar feeling of strange new worlds and possibilities.
More strange new worlds. On community radio, listening in Peterborough in the ‘80s late at night, I heard sound art made from spoken word, from field recordings, from all kinds of sounds that expanded any definition of music I had heard before. The hosts spoke less of albums than of pieces, people, groups, events. And I wanted to do field recording. A decade later, I was doing community radio in Toronto as part of a collective, playing field recordings. There are so many of these albums of recordings that I could point to now, but perhaps the one that I have returned to the most frequently is The Sounds of Harris and Lewis,by the Touring Exhibition of Sound Environments, in part because of the way it involves the stories of people from the local communities. There is a moving poem about gutting herring and familial guilt and love, and chimney sounds that evoke the harsh winds that scour the islands.
So many dance experiences it is hard to know where to start or what to choose. But in my current playlist I have Madonna Music, Tito Puente Dance Mania, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Shahen Sha, Dion Jones and the Filth Velvet Fever, Bajofondo Tango Club, Eight O Five Jive Swing Set, Astor Piazzolla Tangamente Disk 1, Aron deMille steel drum live. And Grace Jones Private Life. This latter, I encountered initially as the single Slave to the Rhythm, on the radio. Then bought the cassette and then the CD of Private Life: The Compass Point Sessions. Good for dancing and singing along, too. And strutting, and… One of my former grad students also loves Grace Jones and made a painting of her for me as a gift, that I can see from here.
I listen to Eliane Radigue’s Kyema: Intermediate States in the mornings sometimes, alternating with classical Indian ragas. Kyema is an album, but also just one piece. It has a similar expansive and reflective effect on me as the ragas, a pleasurable slowing. The CD was given to me by James Tenney, my PhD supervisor, when he returned from a sabbatical in Berlin. Tenney’s influence deepened many aspects of musical experience. He and his wife Lauren Pratt used to have Sunday afternoon gatherings to talk about and listen to music. His compositions are some of the most clearly articulated I have ever heard, so elegant. I hear Malcolm Goldstein play Tenney’s Koan when he came to our class. I used to play Tenney’s electronic pieces from the Bell labs period for my sound class at Concordia. He inspired me to work for a year on a John Cage score called Circus On… I attempt to play his beautiful Three Rags on the piano. And I had a transformative experience listening to Critical Band in concert in Toronto in the ‘90s, a feeling of deep bliss. I love how this piece begins with a unison on concert A, reminding me of many pleasurable moments listening to orchestras tune up. Then that harmonic space expands beautifully in all directions for almost twenty minutes. No wonder he gave me Kyema.
I have only memorized one piano piece successfully, and play it frequently. It is the opening to Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, the prelude in C, and it always improves my temper. It feels as though the harmonic progression works through my brain, setting things to rights, as I play it. At least one researcher believes it was actually composed by Bach’s wife, along with several other works, which are my favourite Bach works as it turns out. Different pen style apparently. But many Bach pieces have a powerful effect on me, especially while playing the piano, especially with all that conversation between the parts. Glenn Gould’s State of Wonder with the Goldberg Variations is a good response to anyone who claims that Bach lacks emotion. And I had the most amazing surprise encounter with Bach, on a ship called the Bella, on the St. Lawrence River near Anticosti island. A group called Forestare played a concert of baroque music that was unforgettable, accompanied by the thud of waves on the hull. I made a recording, but can’t post it for copyright reasons. I did record the audience and that is okay to post: https://soundcloud.com/andrasound/bella-forestare-audience
Another piece focuses and calms me in a similar way to the Bach, a work aptly named Peace Piece, by Bill Evans. This is an improvised piece using a repetitive motif in the left hand, intended to be accessible to people of different levels of ability. Another one that I play a lot on the piano.
So there are some ideas about albums and other things, in answer to your nomination. Not quite what you asked for, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.