Monday, June 15, 2009

James Blackshaw: The Glass Bead Game

It is kind of a startling thing to realize that underground music has become a most mercurial creature. Certain signatures use to be apparent across the board, so at least you knew you were listening to something that was created within an unspoken, yet agreed upon hermetic language. But the nature of that language is changing in a such remarkable way with the infusion of choral-like-voices, traditional American finger-picking styles, acoustic drones-- such a those produced with sitar, tambura, and voice, and in many cases, the absence of noise.

Many of these elements have been found in underground music for decades, but there is a peculiar kind of earnestness that recent musicians have brought to their compositions and it has made an enormous impact. There is also an emphasis on the Medieval quality of the acoustic instrument, which has given underground music both an anachronistic quality, but also a forward-looking vision, in the way that steampunk is also about both a romantically realized past and a love of technology.

Some of this music is akin to the early kraut-psych of folks like Popol Vuh insofar as their are vestiges of those early days of when prog was forking out, one branch growing into what would one day be the bombast of arena prog-rock, and the other dropping its seed into what would one day grow into New Age music. The problem with both of these genres is that they relied so heavily on production and dexterity that those more unpredictable and grounded aspects of kraut and early prog were lost.

James Blackshaw's new album The Glass Bead Game is something of a wonder. While all these things can be discerned from his music, it really is wholly original. I could also cite John Fahey, Steve Reich, and other modern composers as being part of his musical trajectory, but there is something much more inventive going on here than just a fusion of influences. What is important is that Blackshaw is showing how music can become not only a vehicle for re-imagining these influences, but also how it can transcend itself and become about something else entirely.

It's not just that underground music has recently been trading in noise and crushing drone for harmony and melody, but that there is something decidedly, dare I say it, spiritual going on. In the case of Blackshaw, it's also remarkable is how mature that vision of. I keep going back to this in almost every other blog post, but it's the difference between the hopeless black morass of certain underground metal and something akin to hope. Maybe art has a responsibility to be more than just a reflection of the world. Maybe art has a responsibility to remind us again how much beauty there still is, or if none can be found, then to bring it to us.

James Blackshaw-- Cross

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