Wednesday, February 29, 2012

FEATURE: AOTW - Les Baxter's Ritual of the Savage

Les Baxter – Ritual of the Savage

If you know me at all, then you know that escapism is not what I go for in my musical selections. Be it noise or hyper-aggressive hip-hop, “transporting me to another world” has never been high on the list of things that makes music attractive to me. In fact, it’s always kind of been the opposite. To me, the more aggravated and aggressive the music is, the more I tended to like it. Not that I couldn’t appreciate a good indie pop band or a Byrds album, but when it comes down to music that leaves an emotional imprint, the noise music is what left an impression on me. And that’s based on my personal philosophy on art in general, which is this: the intent of art, or at least what I consider “good art” (not that my opinion on what good art/music is that universal), is to express the thoughts of the creator at the most pure way possible. I heard an interview with John Darnielle, of the Mountain Goats, and he was asked why he listened to and wrote about so much extreme metal. (If you’ve ever read his blog, you’ll know how obsessed he is with various kinds of metal music) And his answer (paraphrased) was this: the emotion of a person making music isn’t shown through a carefully written and edited rhyming quatrain; it’s shown through brute force and loud noise. Human emotion isn’t an elegant and carefully worded ordeal, it’s very on-the-spot and instant. And the most intense of it is usually just violent rage, which is fairly difficult to express through words, or even through established scales and chord changes. A minor scale, or a variation on one, doesn’t really mean anything because it was designed with the intent of being beautiful, not expressing anything. And I think when people say the phrase “expressive music”, they have a very different idea of what it means than I do. What I’ve noticed when talking to people about music is that when they say “expressive music”, they mean it would make a good inclusion to the Hollywood soundtrack to what they wish they’re life was like. Which kind of seems narcissistic to me. It seems like a teenage girl who thinks that every pop song on the radio describes her life. And granted, this is all just my personal way of viewing it, but music that made the world seem like a wonderful place never really interested me in terms of hardcore listening and connecting with. Until, however, I discovered exotica music.
For all my cynical rambling about noise music, I’m a very good natured person. Really, I am. I can enjoy the most brutal, hopeless music possible, but I can watch youtube videos of cute puppies for hours on end. And that’s not to say I didn’t listen to twee pop and bubblegum before listening to this album, but it gave me a very new perspective on how music could affect me. For those who haven’t heard the album or the genre (exotica) before, it’s really almost exactly what it sounds like: mood music for taking the listener to far-away tropical islands and jungles. The height of the genre was from the late 50s to the mid-60s, and the target demographic was housewives bored of their particular house. Now if you’re saying to yourself That sounds like it would be really cheesy music, then you’re absolutely right. It’s very cheesy. It uses clunky bongo drums and (poorly) simulated bird calls. It’s cheesy as fuck. And this isn’t even the best exotica album, it was made really early in the genre’s creation and was still based in the big band style of the time. But it’s always been considered a masterwork of the style, so it’s the one I sought out first.
Now, I’m not a bored housewife, but this album served its purpose a thousand times over for me. This album that should have bored me, or at the very least I should have enjoyed ironically was actually carrying out its intended function on me: I was being taking to a tropical island/jungle. I was surprised. And I began to seek out more exotica obsessively. And it really did change my attitude about music in a very real way. I became more accepting of the sweeter and nicer things that music had to offer, and I probably became a somewhat nicer person. Less pretentious at least. Of course, I’m never going to stop hating on music I think is terrible, but my definition of terrible music is much more minimal now, thanks in part to this album. I think that deciding on a particular style or aesthetic and making music to achieve that counts as “good art”. This big band album for housewives in the 50s is good art.

Austin K.

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