Sunday, May 11, 2008

High Schoolers Play DJ Shadow

The Shadow Percussion Project

Music instructor Brian Udelhofen conducts the Minnetonka High School Percussion Ensemble in a performance of several tracks from DJ Shadow's sample-heavy abstract hip-hop classic Endtroducing. Making a kind of weird musical spiral - Shadow takes loads of bits from David Axelrod and others for his record, then this ensemble does cover versions.

My mother taught me to play piano. Ok this isn't entirely true, I had a number of teachers. I'll say she gave the piano to me, to me and my brother, and that it was a daily part of our lives since we could read. As a child in Australia, she often performed with her family in church, they were called the 'musical Judds'. And while organized religion got left behind in her life like the seventh continent, an inviable connection between music and the life of the spirit persisted in her - that was were we always went when we traveled, to London, for example, we spent our time in cathedrals, for evensong, for organ recital, especially for choral performances. That's why when she passed away there no doubt in our minds that her beloved choir group should be called to sing at her memorial.

The unstable force of art is that it can work as solace, as ideal and as escape. Musical groups, especially those that deploy the human voice in unison, aren't just playing pretty songs, they're marking a kind of utopian moment, where everyone gets along, everyone's working together in harmony. But the general problem of depicting a world better than this one is that it act as an ideal that you work towards somehow, or its depiction can stand in like a narcotic substitute for all the bullshit of this earth.

My mother inaugurated my engagement with music, and my high school piano teacher Jim Ogilvy allowed it to take the step into open weirdness that it has never recovered from, because he taught me how to improvise. A zen'd-up bohemian who looked something like Eugene Levy's hepcat cousin, fitting considering his love of SCTV, Jim taught me jazz chords via Plato and Aristotle and only once did he ever show me his studio, a private Valhalla behind his normal house which housed, among other holy treasures, a Buchla and the third Moog ever built. Once after my first girlfriend ever broke up with me, I had to go to my piano lesson and Jim took one look at my unbearable despondence and we spent the hour and a half in thoughtful consultation.

I got my first synth from him, an Emulator II+ sampler. It is the same sampler that Ferris Bueller uses to produce the simulated cough sounds which, when played over the phone, serve as evidence to his school interlocutors that he is sick. I still have it, because it is rare and ridiculous. That's to say, these are the reasons why I can't easily get rid of it. All of its sounds are on big floppy disks, and it takes like ten minutes to load, and it is huge. But just look at it:

Yesterday following practice I took my Moog Liberator keytar and threw it in the trash gathered on the curb. Its time had come. Don't make me defend myself, you don't understand how long in coming such a parting has been. I got it ten years ago from a girl named Katherine Bentley. Working at Waterloo Records in Austin, my best friend John saw a hip, elegant-looking girl post a For Sale sign for the keyboard at the store, a sign complete with the DEVO 'Duty Now for the Future' atomic man image.

Both John and I were seventeen or eighteen or something, and we had to drive outside of Austin to where K lived with her wealthy family. It felt like a weird Fitzgerald echo, going to this upscale scene to buy a moog keytar from the intimidatingly cool art school daughter. Plus her last name was "Bentley". We were both smitten in that absurd near-mythic intensity which is the inescapable territory of youth. On the car ride home we listened to "Disorder" by Joy Division really loud, and I thought about going to summer orientation at NYU.

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