“For those in search of a bath, a rinse, a departure, or an expansion.”
– Josiah Steinbrick
a bath, a rinse
It is a kind of transhistorical rule that modern music is unclean. It is either shrill or indistinct, lacking in a principle of the right mixture of things. It has been, is being, corrupted by foreign peoples and influences. If there is an undying image of the music critic, it is of a figure at least tacitly committed to this rule. Every music critic I know is an atheist — not an agnostic — when it comes to that image, but in spite of and partly following from this fact, it is an image of them, an image of me. We don’t like it because it isn’t hospitable. History is unkind to criticism. Secondary texts come to be read as primary texts or fall away into obscurity, and we don’t have the courage to write the first kind. We offer only a textual companion, pronouncing modern music incomplete. And though people complain about what the internet has done to the way criticism is produced and consumed, is the endless feed not the essential formal innovation of our obtuse cubby of the culture industry, we nervous children of “and, and, and?” Of the footnote, of a cool and sorrowful hieroi logoi?
Josiah Steinbrick’s sextet BANANA, first assembled as a band for Cate Le Bon, can’t cleanse us of the dirt of modern music’s destitution, which is a lie. The logic of separation underpinning the purity lost to modern music is undermined in the group’s practice, which has more to do with mixture. Their desired cartography knows no binaries, but from where old Mercator is standing, they are faced south. We accuse them of fraternity with something foreign and, if we are especially sinister, primitive. But it’s much easier and more helpful to talk about the relationship LIVE establishes with its listener than the one it establishes with the world in whose being they share. No, listening to LIVE, I feel rinsed of something other than the terrible present. I can hear the room ringing, distorting the vibraphones a tiny bit. I can hear a smallness, the closeness of the players. If anything, I am only rinsed of the little dread of a sprawling and disenchanted world.
a departure, or an expansion
The easiest thing to point out about LIVE is the pulsing, Reichian repetition. “Repetition” has never been particularly descriptive of minimalist music, though; “repetition” is a part of all music, and as in minimalist music, here it is an opening, a departure, a channel of passage, and in that respect a denial of what we know about it. BANANA meditate on the paradox by way of which the same becomes a medium for difference. But open still is the question of to where we are delivered across the chasm of repetition, and there is no right or reasonable answer to that question lurking somewhere in form or genre, as if in a higher and more logical place. If you were criticizing minimalist music, you were usually either naïvely certain you didn’t like where it was going — throwing your hands up in the fashion of The New York Times critic who wrote of composer John Adams that he “did for the arpeggio what McDonalds did for the hamburger” — or merely asking where.
“A” begins with the clang of mallets and deep woodwind belches — a little human cacophony that can’t help but evoke, in caricature, the meeting of musicians in the session. “B” is, like “A,” an accessible song, though with some esoteric subtext. Its marriage of Southeast Asian and Estonian source riffs with electric piano Arthur Russell references is a juxtaposition with some complexity lost to a game of formal association, carrying with its semi-conscious spontaneity a slight resonance with exotica, but one of a legibly postmodern sort, without any image or narrative. “C” is like a very tall tower of arpeggios, with only a farty clarinet blast for relief. “D,” the shortest and most subdued track, moves with the innocent quiet of practicing in private. At 24 adventurous minutes in length, LIVE is a garden of vectors, an explosive possibility, and, in that regard, not even very minimalist. It is a welcome jam session at a time when we could all use a bath, a rinse, a departure, or an expansion.