In the audience at Fidelio. Photo by Francois Goupil

Connections made and missed

Tracks by First Tone, Speaker Music and Alan Braxe PLUS the truth about vinyl and loneliness in a crowd.

First Tone, “Reiterations,” Reactions (Spectrum Spools)

There is a constant tension between the repetitions and patterns found in nature, and the kinds of reiterations that capitalism demands. We take for granted that leaves on a maple tree all tend to look similar, or that the sea’s tides rise and fall with boring regularity. This makes me wonder why I have such disdain for the perfectly timed release of a new iPhone, or another Star Wars film or one more remix of “Old Town Road.” It is as if capitalism has co-opted the very process of reiterating and remaking, reducing the generational drive to insignificance.

Speaker Music, “a finesse,” excerpted from of desire, longing (Planet Mu)

“I’ve been known to lock the doors,” cracked the rhythm analyst and, by necessity, musician DeForrest Brown Jr., as a number of audience members anxiously came and went during his Unsound lecture, entitled “Assembling a Black Counterculture,” in Krakow this past October. I had known of Mr. Brown from his vocal presence on Twitter and had to admit that I didn’t entirely understand what made him tick. Long stretches of uncomfortable silence punctuated his talk. It was almost more performance art than panel discussion. But the awkwardness was necessary to shake up the more complacent in the crowd.

The following day, I ran into Mr. Brown at the festival office and asked him if he’d like to hang out for a bit. He was on his way to the Krakow shopping mall, he said, because he wanted to get an idea of what western-style consumerism looked like in Eastern Europe. So, I tagged along. The mall looked pretty much like any other mall, with long arcades, a central food court, and all the usual corporate chains. We walked and talked about life, America, the world and the price of Levi’s jeans, and over the course of an afternoon, I’d like to think that we connected in a way that can only happen when you meet someone in person.

Alan Braxe, “Words,” Ascent EP (Vulture Music)

In 2018, I wrote an article for Fact magazine on the 20th anniversary of Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better with You.” As is often the case with my retrospective pieces, it became an instant target for online trolls. I received dozens of angry tweets and derogatory comments accusing me of over-analysis and missing the point. Bruce Tantum of DJ Mag even went so far as to suggest that my heart was cold, that I couldn’t just smile and enjoy the music, man. One person who did appreciate the article, however, was Alan Braxe of Stardust. Braxe made contact via Twitter to thank me for writing the piece and asked if I would be interested in composing a bio for the forthcoming reissue of Stardust’s single. I happily agreed and we stayed in touch throughout the year, with Braxe later commissioning me to write his own personal bio as well. Then, I received an unexpected request to collaborate on an upcoming release that Braxe was preparing — a four-song EP of stripped down Buchla studies. He wanted me to compile a list of what he described as “resonant words,” which he would feed through a vocal synthesiser over a song aptly titled “Words.” I was pleasantly surprised with the result: an uplifting and ecstatic track with all the positivity of the French touch sound.

Too often, social media only serve to divide us, the platforms upon which we slug out international beefs with relative strangers in slow motion. But sometimes it goes the other way, too. Sometimes we make a good connection.

Kyle Devine, “Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music,” McGill Art History & Communication Studies Speaker Series, Oct. 24

Never mind flight-shaming and DJs complaining. The past decade’s vinyl revival, applauded unanimously by musicians, labels and audiophiles alike sadly comes with its own inconvenient truth: records are literally ruining the landscape. Those stacks of wax we love to spin and collect carry heavy duty environmental costs. The vinyl that composes our records is made from a mixture of crude oil and polyvinyl acetate, a particularly dirty form of plastic. A significant amount of the record pressing industry’s PVC comes from Thailand — specifically, the Thai Plastic and Chemicals Public Company Limited, which has a troubling history of environmental and labour abuses. PVC decomposes slowly and releases harmful chemicals into the ground. And for those who believe that streaming is weightless, the short answer is it isn’t. The amount of energy required to host and deliver the world’s music library through Spotify and Apple and Amazon and Soundcloud and Bandcamp is astronomical. And increased usage and consumption — that coveted revenue growth that fuels the music industry — negate any incremental gains in efficiency. Indeed, according to Kyle Devine, author of “Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music,” no recording format has ever been ethical. Maybe it’s time that we whistle past the media graveyard.

Fidelio, Opéra de Montréal with Orchestre Métropolitain, Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting, Maison Symphonique, Oct. 25

The only thing worse than going to the opera alone is going to the opera alone and being sat next to someone beautiful and also seemingly alone, because all of a sudden I’m no longer thinking about the opera and Beethoven and Fidelio, and what a genius Yannick Nézet-Séguin is with a baton, and how the entire orchestra and chorus are like an extension of it. No. All of a sudden, I’m thinking about the twirling black ankle boots and the sheer tights and the ruby red lipstick, and how to get into that black and white houndstooth skirt and Eyes Wide Shut parties and how I’m never invited to them. Loneliness is a powerful drug and I’ve got enough for two.