In discussion with Daniel Wang on “Ballads For Two” by Chet Baker and Wolfgang Lackerschmid (1979).
Can you remember how you became aware of Chet Baker? Was it a certain time and place?
It must have been in the mid 1990s, I was about 26 or 27. I tried listening to jazz in an academic way when I was at university, age 18 or 19… I had some cassettes from Duke Ellington and Miles Davis at that time, not much else. I did not know how to appreciate jazz at that time. I got into Chet Baker only after I started making house tracks and realizing that what I was really seeking was in “soul music”, this beautiful floating, sometimes melancholic feeling which you would hear in great saxophone and trumpet solos, either in disco songs or in “jazz funk classics”. My boyfriend at the time smoked marijuana very heavily, and he would try to play guitar with a feeling similar to Chet Baker’s. He often spoke about Chet’s heroin addiction and how Chet’s music embodied this floating, otherworldly “high” (from the drug).
Why did you choose “Ballads For Two”? What makes this album so important for you?
Well, it is a bit arbitrary for the sake of this interview. There are so many great albums from him and great jazz albums in general. But me, I always especially liked the sound of vibraphones, and also of Fender Rhodes electric pianos and wooden marimbas. I studied marimba for a year as a child. These are all percussive instruments which still have a clear tonality which are very unique among other instruments. And I believe strongly in “serendipity” – you know, chance encounters, random choices which have nice results. I saw this album in an old used-CD shop in Dublin. I didn’t know what it was, it was just a surprise-discovery. Too much jazz is recorded with the standard piano- bass- and drum set… Another great album is “From Left to Right”, which was Bill Evans playing Fender Rhodes in 1975 or so. Aside from composition and performance, sheer uniqueness of tonality (timbre) is also very important in music, don’t you agree? Read the rest of this entry »
> Ennio Morricone – Rodeo
This is from an old French movie soundtrack, „Le Casse“. I picked this for the string arrangement, because it puts a lot of emphasis on build-up, thus linking to the way Disco producers arranged strings for climactic dancefloor moments.
To be honest, I muss confess I don’t know Morricone’s works so well. I don’t think I have been a really big fan, partially because I don’t know it so well. My first impression of this track, which I didn’t know, was that it’s a formal composition. In my head I make a distinction between pop music, which has almost very definite rules, and people following it like Abba. It’s not formulaic, but there are very basic chord progressions that are based on Blues and Jazz that you can do in pop music and that have their own logic and their own progression. Many pop songs are actually the same song. “Good Times” by Chic is one kind of groove and twenty other songs sound exactly like it. It could be “Rapture” by Blondie or something. That’s pop music writing. And then you have soundtrack music writing and it has a different logic. It doesn’t have to follow a certain progression like in pop music, which has a reason and an impulse that keeps on pushing the song forward. When I heard this I thought it is a very good example of soundtrack music writing where you don’t really have to explain the logic of the chord progression, it just sets a mood. It makes an ambience. I think this is probably from 1967 to 71.
Good guess, it’s from 1971.
Because from 1972 on you start getting the big multi-track stuff, like Philly Disco and the more sophisticated pop, and this still sounds relatively simple. My first impression was it’s like a slightly cheaper copy of Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”, but with more drama. It has some very formal devices, like it’s basically a minor key. But at some points he plays the same theme but he opens it up with a major key.
Lately all this beautifully orchestrated obscure library music back is popping up again and people scan back catalogues for songs groovy enough to suit a Disco context.
Yeah, that’s interesting, and I think there is a good reason for that. There is such a thing as real music, in the sense that there were people who did music for films, like Ennio Morricone, or Giorgio Moroder, with a more naïve use of the rules, or the very sophisticated Henry Mancini, or Alec Constandinos, or Vangelis, or Jean-Michel Jarre. All these people were obviously classically trained and they followed the rules. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a Bossa Nova, 60’s GoGo or a Disco beat, the rules of the music don’t change. I think that is why everybody is going back now to find real music. When people like Masters At Work appeared in the 90’s, people who didn’t know anything about the basic rules of music started making music. That’s why it sounds so awful, haha. A lot of the DJ produced music doesn’t have its own intrinsic logic and sense. And chords, progression and melodies have that intrinsic logic. That’s what’s been missing. So everyone of this generation who wants to find out what is really musical has to go back to the 60’s and 70’s, and there you find it everywhere actually.
> Carter Burwell – Blood Simple
This is from the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers debut film “Blood Simple”.
It’s from the 80’s I suppose.
Yes, it’s from 1987. It’s a mood piece with a synthetic feel to it.
I found the orchestration is simpler, but it’s similar to the previous song. Again, it’s not a pop song with intrinsic deep logic. Like Bach’s “Air On The G-String”, that is also some kind of pop music because it has a very definite logic. This one has a formal piano theme that sounds a bit like Erik Satie. Simple chord, simple melody, a little bit like Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”. It is not original, it is a formal piece, it follows a form that other people have created.
You could maybe alter its logic by just putting a beat under it, and by not adding much you would have a really moody dance track.
Yeah, actually this is the thing. To be honest, and many people are going to hate me for saying this, I’m not a big fan of Portishead. It’s very easy to make a mood piece. Anybody can do it. All you have to do is take a minor key and play some stuff over it, doesn’t really matter what. I think Portishead never even use a major key (laughs).
They don’t have to, really.
Yes. I think anybody writing good music should move between major and minor keys, that’s part of the magic. Since we now accept that some people make mood music, you can have a whole album of just melancholy. Personally, that doesn’t move me at all and I don’t find it very interesting. I think a lot of people in this generation think that this is a valid way to do music, for me it’s not enough. Salsoul records only have two or three keys but they do it so well, there are so many nuances.
I think the problem is that many people think they can only sound deep by using minor keys.
Yes, you’re right. That’s very true. If it’s not melancholy and it’s not moody then it’s not deep. Which is not true. That’s very profound what you just said. Read the rest of this entry »
Nach langer Stagnation ist die Disco-Geschichtsschreibung mittlerweile in vollem Gang. Gültig waren auf Jahre hin die in der klassischen Ära entstandenen Werke von Kitty Hanson und Albert Goldman, doch nun ist genug Zeit verstrichen, um sich genauer mit dem diffusen Phänomen Disco zu befassen, was angesichts der Hartnäckigkeit der mit dem Sound und dem Lifestyle verbundenen Traditionen und Mythen auch durchaus angebracht erscheint. Peter Shapiro, Wire-Autor und Verfasser von einigen dieser Rough Guides im Taschenformat, hat gegenüber dem eher systematisch-informativen Ansatz von Brewster/Broughton und der detailliert-eingrenzenden Herangehensweise von Lawrence den Ehrgeiz, Disco in möglichst viele kultur- und sozialgeschichtliche Einzelteile zu zerlegen. Er greift sich Aspekte wie beispielsweise Wurzeln, Musik-Charakteristika, Sexualität oder Kultur-Kontext heraus und gibt dann mittels eigener Analysen oder Interviews alles wieder, was ihm im direkten Zusammenhang erwähnenswert erscheint. Dementsprechend ist der Text keine linear-chronologische Abfolge der Geschehnisse, sondern ein Gesamtbild, das sich bei allen Zwischenhalten die erforderlichen Informationen und Schlussfolgerungen zusammen sammelt. Das hat den Vorteil, dass er sich nicht in nerdiger Ausführlichkeit verzettelt und dennoch eine komprimierte Annäherung schafft, in der alle wichtigen Namen und Ereignisse fallen. Gebündelt mit einem enthusiastischen Stil bis zum häufigen Fan-Superlativ fängt er den Laien auf, der angesichts der gebotenen Informationsfülle den Faden verlieren könnte und grenzt sich gegenüber den Konkurrenten im Forschungsgebiet ab, indem er aktuelleren Themen wie Hi-NRG, Euro-, Italo- und Cosmic Disco sowie Post-Punk den angemessenen Raum einräumt und einen Epilog zum aktuellen Stand der Dinge im Gespräch mit Daniel Wang anschließt. Somit als Kompletteinführung für Novizen als auch als Informationsergänzung für Kenner geeignet.