So the Wife spent most of today out of the house #occupying shit, and the kiddo was sleeping most of the day. On most days that would mean that it is time to crank up the noise music to non-headphone levels, but I’ve been thinking about Thelonious Monk a lot lately. I’ve been working on this secret music project and (though the project has nothing to do with jazz) Monk’s piano lines. The skeletal minimalism of them. I’ve been meditating on the space around his notes. So today I put on a little jazz and began to check my usual spots on the Interwebs, and lo (and behold, even) Chris Randall had posted a nice bit of Monk ephemera:
In the blog post, Chris mentions the sterling 1998 documentary, “Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser”. I hadn’t watched it in years, and decided that I needed to rectify that. I oddly went to YouTube instead of Netflix first. I quickly found not just a clip from the doc, but the entire things. An hour and a half later I started in on a BBC documentary about Sun Ra, and after that I was ripping through “People Who Do Noise” a documentary about the noise music scene in Portland, OR.
The three documentaries where enjoyable, and I learned some interesting things that I didn’t know, but the thing that I found interesting was that there seemed to be a direct line running through all three films. That the freedom of the Bebop that Monk created allowed for the psychedelic space jamming freakouts of Sun Ra which led directly into the cosmic washes of noise music. I really wasn’t expecting that to happen. It was kind of a magical moment when the first kid in the noise doc started talking about all of the cosmic issues that experimental noise musicians were trying to tap into. It was a moment that crystallized a theory that I’ve had about music getting more and more “free” and “experimental” (even in the pop world) to the point where it will collapse into some sort of Zen purity. I find that purity in the better noise tracks. I also find it in the better Bop tracks, like Coltrane’s “Meditations” . Even Sun Ra, in and with his excesses, was single-minded and focused on shoving so much data at you in one moment that you become unable to focus on it in minute detail. When listening to Sun Ra you are unable to think about the notes you just heard of anticipate the next notes that you are about to hear, you are trapped forever in the ever unveiling NOW of the moment. Like in mindfulness training, we are taught to only ride the crest of the present. To let the music be music, and our existence be our existence.
All of the best music in the world is just like that.
All of the best things in the world are just like that…
Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser:
This one is absolutely fantastic! Great footage from 1968 of Monk on and off stage while on tour. There is a great scene of him in the studio wearing glasses with no lenses and a Polish Calvary cap, out hipstering the modern hipster before they existed. Also, there are a few scenes of Monk and (his sometimes muse, always patron, possibly lover) Pannonica together. And absolute tonnes (both metric AND the US kind) of live performances. (10/10)
Sun Ra, Brother From Another Planet:
I had never seen this one, but I am glad that I got to. It doesn’t get into the nitty and the gritty, but it does give a good overview of Sun and the Arkestra. There is some absolutely fantastic early video on hand to go along with the standard collection of talking heads. There are a ton of great interviews with members of the Arkestra, and Thirston Moore shows to… um… I don’t know… get the kids to watch? Anyway, Amiri Baraka is there like a chorus to get things back on track and to remind us of the social ramifications of what Sun Ra was doing, and the great John Sinclair pops up to tell us how the white longhairs dug or didn’t what the Arkestra was laying down. Actually, I think this doc is good just to get a chance to see John Sinclair and Amiri Baraka talk. (8/10)
People Who Do Noise:
This one is definitely the weakest doc out of the bunch. It is not at all a complex history of noise music. There is no discussion about the origins of noise with Luigi Russolo and the Industrial Revolution, through Monte Cazazza and Throbbing Gristle. There is no mention of Merzbow. At all. But there is a good deal of performance footage from a wide range of experimental and noise acts. Most of them are actually pretty good, with only a few half-assers on parade. The highlight of the film is the interview with Dr. Id (Mike Lastra of Smegma House). He is the sage voice that talks about any of this stuff connecting with any sort of art or musical tradition. I can’t really recommend this documentary to anyone unless they are really into noise music and want to see some smaller acts that they don’t know about, or people who live (or want to live) in Portland. I especially can’t recommend this film to my Wife. The sounds would just make her mouth taste like metal (and not the rocking kind of metal). I did rather like it though, if for no other reason than that I support kids making their own scenes and having a good time. (6/10)