A talk with Jane Penny, TOPS’s vocalist, at her home back in Montreal
Things get lost once in a while: bobby pins, sweaters, thoughts, a thing we once loved. There’s something about getting lost: it has the potential to be bad, yet it also enables the possibility of being found. In a world where we’re constantly overloaded with new music, it’s easy to forget the albums from the past that formed us the most. This month we’re asking Lieven Martens Moana, composer, and formerly known as Dolphins Into The Future. This September he released a new album under Lieven Martens Moana; ‘Three Amazonian Essays‘.
Which album do you want us to discover?
Paul DeMarinis’ Music As A Second Language. I first listened to it back in 2008.
Why did you want to recover this one?
On this album DeMarinis uses sources like language instruction recordings, voice recordings of lawyers, televangelists et al, and resynthesizes these using software and digital instruments. Doing so he produces certain speech melodies which trace ‘the singing of voices more ancient than language’. DeMarinis had the intention to awake ‘the ghosts in our grammar’s basement’, namely the melodic elements we apply in our verbal communication. For instance our voices rise and fall, our speech has a certain timbre and tone to imply various meanings and situations; but we are not always aware of these very aspects of communication since in general the emphasis is merely on the words itself.
This album is an example of how a strong composed vision expels an album from the limits of time. This music has been composed in the late 80’s but is nowadays still sounding very contemporary and valid.
The album is an academic work – DeMarinis holds a professor’s chair on the music department of Stanford University – but the final result is not sounding hermetic or even remotely dry. In contrary the sounds are very playful and even naive sounding by times. Music As A Second Language has this certain plastic quality, a quality that a lot of the acts on Lovely Music (a label centered around the works of Robert Ashley, David Behrman and alike) had in their fingers. An almost hyperrealistic approach, that is deceptively easy to grasp yet that works on many levels.
While typing this, I remember the excitement this music brought me, and how it still does. The exciting feeling of finding a certain canon you can more or less fully subscribe to is, for me at least, a very rare thing. Back in those days, I was highly intrigued by everything that came out of New Age Music. The broad genre seemed like a stakeholder for ‘grand egos with gigantic ideas’, which is a certain quality I find very attractive.
Even though some elements of New Age Music tend to lose itself in conspiracy theory antics, and sport a laziness in finding new aesthetics/ideas or sounds (after reading a lot of the same stuff about crystals, angels and celestial ascensions without much depth). Thus it was cool to stumble upon something new like the Lovely Music record label, Robert Ashley et al; all very much NON New Age, however somehow equally obsessed with creating a grander context for new sounds. This music is equally filled to the brim with egos and gigantic ideas, yet (mostly) freed from those annoying dogmatics a genre like New Age Music creates.
What’s your favorite song on the album?
The song ‘Odd Evening’ is definitely one of the highlights. It’s a very adorable and simple piece of music. I belief that music or art in general that tries to be very ‘eventful’ just for the sake of being ‘eventful’, has the tendency to become extremely temporary and boring. And this song is the opposite, so enjoy the events occurring in this short and tidy piece of music, since everything’s there with a purpose.
Lieven Martens Moana is playing a Kraak show at Tramzwart in Ghent on 8 December. More info