mat martin | Reference
Sketches, ideas, field recordings, demos and other such nonsenses are collected here, and can be filtered or searched below. Field recordings are often made while someone else takes a picture, and in those cases end with the shutter click.
Readers are reminded that this is an intermittent service and despite all good intentions is often neglected in favour of proper work.
“I believe the dreaming and imagining faculties are closely related, such that wreathed in night-time visions I find it possible to suspend disbelief in the very act of making stuff up, which, in the cold light of day would seem utterly preposterous.”
A lovely article from Will Self in the Guardian which I read as being about routine, and the responsibility we have to ourselves to set up the conditions in which we can have a decent crack at the things we’re hoping to get done.
“In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unmapped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either, lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is.” (Darl)
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, 1930
“I told Addie it wasn’t any good living on a road when it come by here, and she said, for the world like a woman, “Get up and move, then.” But I told her it wasn’t no luck in it, because the Lord put roads for travelling: why He laid them down flat on the earth. When He aims for something to be always a-moving, He makes it long ways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when He aims for something to stay put, He makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a man. And so he never aimed for folks to live on a road, because which gets there first I says, the road or the house? Did you ever know Him to set a road down by a house? I says. No you never, I says, because it’s always men can rest till they gets the house set where everybody that passes in a wagon can spit in the doorway, keeping the folks restless and wanting to get up and go somewheres else when He aimed for them to stay put like a tree or a stand of corn, Because if He’d a aimed for man to be always a-moving and going somewheres else, wouldn’t He put him longways on his belly, like a snake? It stands to reason He would.” (Anse)
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, 1930
Is this my favourite song right now? Maybe. Loving the video work from Southern Souls, too. Who can you love with the heart of a chicken?
Billed as the posthumous music of a willfully obscure musician named Marvin Pontiac, The Legendary Marvin Pontiac: Greatest Hits package came with a photo purported to be one of the few ever taken of the troubled genius. A biographical profile told the tale of this hard luck case; Pontiac was ostensibly born in 1932 to an African father from Mali and a Jewish mother from New Rochelle, New York. A life of conflict with fellow musicians (including an alleged fist-fight with blues harmonica great Little Walter) and of mutually contemptuous dealings with the music business had caused him to become untethered, institutionalized and, eventually, hit and killed by a bus in 1977. He left behind 14 or so blues and R&B songs, many with African echoes. Think of Tom Waits or Captain Beefheart, with a little R.L. Burnside in the mix, and you get an approximation of the musical territory…
Here’s a beautiful interview with John Lurie about his invented African-Jewish insane musician alter-ego, Marvin Pontiac. John’s story is kind of sad, when you consider how in the late 80s and early 90s New York was his oyster. People beware – this is what happens when you chew folk up. He remains one of the most inspiring musicians I’ve discovered in the last ten years.
in the pattern-thinking about roots i and most other people have left two things out of consideration. could it be that americans are a restless people, never satisfied with where they are as a matter of selection? the pioneers, the immigrants who peopled the continent, were the restless ones in europe. the steady rooted ones stayed home, and are still there. but every one of us, except the negroes forced here as slaves, are descended from the restless ones, the wayward ones who were not prepared to stay at home. wouldn’t it be unusual if we had not inherited this tendency? and the fact is that we have. but that’s the short view. what are roots and how long have we had them? if our species has existed for a couple of million years, what is its history? our remote ancestors followed the game, moved with the food supply, and fled from evil weather, from ice and the changing seasons. then after millennia beyond thinking they domesticated some animals so that they lived with their food supply. then of necessity they followed the grass that fed their flocks in endless wanderings. only when agriculture came into practice – and that’s not very long ago in terms of the whole history – did a place achieve meaning and value and permanence. but land is a tangible, and tangibles have a way of getting into few hands. thus is was that one man wanted ownership of land and at the same time wanted servitude because someone had to work it. roots were in ownership of land, in tangible and immovable possessions. in this view we are are a restless species with a very short history of roots, and those not widely distributed. perhaps we have overrated roots as a psychic need. maybe the greater the urge, the deeper and more ancient is the need, the will, the hunger to be somewhere else.
John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley (1961)
A while back when Kirsty McGee’s ‘No.5’ album came out, we were asked to edit content for the Sprial Earth website. I saw it as an opportunity to talk about a wide spectrum of musics, and we immediately talked about bringing in musicians we knew and liked to help us generate a selection of articles. These became as much about idea and inspiration as they were about the work any of these musicians create. We had a lot of fun getting songwriters to interview each other and asking musicians with a focus on an idea or style to try and define that through top ten lists.
I set myself at the time the task of putting together a list of our top ten of hobos, partly as an excuse to define the term for our own use, and drawing on examples of artists across genres to make a point about the attitudes and approaches they all have in common. I talked to several friends about the idea while I was putting together the list, and then someone said to me ‘what about Moondog? Why haven’t you mentioned him yet?’
These two activites overlapped for me almost a year later as we paid a visit to some members of a favourite Manchester band, Caulbearers, last night and I got talking with their main songwriter Damien about Moondog (Damien conducted an in-depth interview with Kirsty for the Spiral Earth feature back in 2010).
I hadn’t heard Moondog’s music before I put that list together, but I did some research and awarded him a place with no trouble at all. Quite apart from genuinely being a hobo, his music seemed to embody that fantastic raw and almost naive energy that so excites me in a lot of the beat generation’s output – this was a large feature of our top ten article.
I have since spent a lot more time with Moondog’s music, having bought two beautiful pressings on heavy vinyl from the honest jon label, and it has stood up to repeated listens. There is something about the way in which it sits back and lets its own nature take over that seems comfortable and groovy about the tunes. You soon don’t even think about the odd time signatures or the strange noises, because the communication of idea and the nature of the sound is so clear. There is no doubt about the composer’s idea or interest, that we are listening to his experiment in sonic behaviours, as if he just wound up the idea and put it on the table, then sat back to see which direction it spun off in.
Of course this is how it could be all the time, but so often music ‘does clever things’ and seems to consider that point enough, or worse – bends the nature of a work of art to fit an arbitrary concept. I am always humbled and excited by art that just quietly gets on with its job, with little regard for whether anyone has done it before or who will find it impressive, but with the utmost respect for the natural behaviour of the medium. There is something bigger out there than the glory of the individual artist I guess, and those people who are out there looking for that are the ones that usually break my heart somehow. Accompaniment is a truly wonderful thing.
So I wonder if one could write music to accompany something that wasn’t there? An accompaniment to an imaginary line, perhaps, or to a line that was drawn or written in text? Or perhaps an accompaniment to something of a different nature to music? I was struck recently by a performance in which a dancer has chosen to work to spoken text instead of music. I immediately stopped seeking the connection between what I was seeing and what I was hearing, and took the whole at face value. The preconceptions of internal organisation in art had somehow, or at some level, been bypassed, and I found myself reacting to something bigger than the dancer, the text or myself. it was quite beautiful.
I have been listening to John Lurie. A lot. I bought a record of some of his film music whilst on tour in Hamburg last year and haven’t been able to get it out from under my skin. It led me to The Lounge Lizards, to his alter-ego Marvin Pontiac (the insane African-Jewish musician), and to his altogether seminal and quite charming tv series Fishing with John. All of these things have pleased me greatly.
They have also led me back towards Marc Ribot, and out towards Arto Lindsay (the latter must without doubt be the international authority on how to make scratchy noises owith an electric guitar). Of course I was already sold on Jim Jarmusch’s movies. In all of these things there is a bravery of movement tempered with an ability to hold the tongue which I continue to find nothing short of inspiring.
The whole scene, in fact – or at least those bits of it I’ve been wallowing in of late – seems to give out this careful yet nonchalant cool which comes from an economy, even restraint, of expressive means which is distinctly at odds with the directness and immediacy of the gestures that make up these pieces. I suspect it is the inner tension between these that gives the work its engaging tautness.
Take Lurie’s music for Jarmusch’s Down By Law as an example. Swathes of this collection of delicious noises are made up of single lines, single pitches even. Repeated. Paused. Repeated. You are drawn directly into the detail of the playing. The breath behind the harmonica. The attack of the banjo. The sharpness of the tone. A repeated pitch hardly represents a melody. Rhythmically we are talking about a regular pattern, too. This is music that in places pulls itself into a line so tight that there is nothing but texture left, and it’s hard to resist the compulsion to run your fingers over it.
The point is that the detail is erased by the whole. The destination more important than the way in which you arrive. You hear this in Ribot’s playing all the time. It’s rough, he reaches for things that should be outside of his grasp, both physically and musically, and he grabs them. It works. It fails. It is taut. These guys know how to land, brush themselves down and saunter away in a single movement. No wonder they refer to hip guys as cats.
The moral of these stories? I guess you should shut up until you know what to say, then say it like you mean it, and stop thinking about grammar. And mind you don’t cut your fingers.