I wanted to make more recurring posts on this website, so I plan on posting shorter form content more frequently. My mind tends to wander a lot and putting things into structured paragraphs and sentences helps me practice my focus. I think I’ll mostly use this space and practice to write about things I’ve been listening to or watching. Not necessarily things that have a complete thesis, but ideas that I don’t want to be lost in the memory hole.
Anyway, I’ve been listening to “Mvt. 1 – Raindrops in Uncommon Times” on Joel Harrison’s Still Point: Turning World:
I first listened to this on a Sunday morning while listening to WPFW, a great local DC radio station for news, jazz, oldies and go-go. The composition really became embedded in my head and I just haven’t been able to pull it out since.
“Raindrops'” composition consistently adds new instruments throughout the piece. This retains a sort of tension and surprise that keeps the movement alluring and interesting. Despite these interruptions, there are always these soothing grooves that your mind falls into, allowing for a sense of freedom to think about…well, whatever you want really. But extant grooves are consistently perverted by some meddlesome instrument that fights for your attention, snapping you away from your wandering mind and back into the composition itself. This stops your mind from wandering too far away from the composition’s central thesis, and delaying any plot to escape and listen to something else.
The uncertainty mentioned in the songs’ title and induced by the composition itself never relents. Even when your mind rests in one of those grooves, you learn to expect that something else will fly at you and disturb any respite from the movement’s churning anxiety. I don’t think these breaks are uniform: what disturbs you might not disturb me. This allows for a unique listening experience that makes it both difficult to talk about but alluring to ponder.
The varied instrumentation also provides a sense of depth which allows for a unique listening experience on each listen. The composition is respectful of the listener and rewards those who do so closely: even as I write this now – I’m finding little sounds that I didn’t hear before. Although some moments shout to remind that you are listening to a song about existential unease, it gives you room to engage with this idea in different ways and at different times.
That the composition allows for this freedom makes indulging the darker themes implied by the movement’s tone and title an easier burden to bear. Where certain parts summon a strange anxiety, others calm you down and pull you away from dreadful anxiety. But when horns invade the composition at around the four minute mark, the tension really starts to pick up. It makes me feel as though I am being routed by some latent force I forgot to deal with – and now it is marching directly into my head by any means necessary.
But that invasion is quickly halted by some quiet chants. This sudden intrusion provides a peace that is shocking in its juxtaposition to the frenetic sounds that were spinning around just a few seconds prior. The vocals are a bit of a mystery. I’m not sure if they are supposed to be reaffirming (in that where this voice is, you are safe), mocking (in that can’t believe it would let that chaos get so close to you), or warning (in that something is coming and you better get ready).
And before you realize, the movement once again returns to a controlled chaos. The chants now struggle to hold back the return of the various instruments that were previously warded away. And when the horns return, the movement begins to abandon the provision of soothing grooves altogether. At around the 8:40 mark, the march of horns returns, no longer fearful of the voice that had previously scared them off. In fact, they are bolder than ever, spinning around the sonic landscape and battling the chants in a competition for sonic space.
Eventually, the composition “ends” with what sound like whacking marimba’s, emulating discordant raindrops. There is no finality to its ending – just an imposition of silence that contrasts heavily against the chaos that just seemed to pass over you. Or did it? The song ends, but the raindrops continue…
The composition has a pretty simple metaphor, I think. It’s difficult to misread the point of a song titled “Raindrops in Uncommon Times,” but I am just so enthralled by the way it conically captures the spirit of that idea.
Most Americans are dealing with so much right now. It’s hard to get a grasp on what you need to think about at any given time. And just when your brain finds a groove, some other thing comes along and breaks the stride. For some, the rain keeps those anxious thoughts or events away – acting as a cleansing force. For others, they just compound the mess, making a worse situation even more intolerable. And for others, it is an irrelevant addition; just another thing going on in a maelstrom of anxiety and chaos.