MAT MARTIN | Moondog and Accompaniment
6 March, 2011, 14:58
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.