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Music Review: Steve Raegele – Last Century

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In the past I have written about my form of musical synesthesia: I hear stuff…I see stuff. This doesn't happen all the time. In fact, most instrumental music remains two-dimensional, conjuring references to existing music or perhaps to a set of places and/or objects. The former situation is the most direct — Bill Frisell plays a figure with a lot of old-time country intimations and my ear parts think of Bill Monroe or maybe Flatt & Scruggs. Only slightly more abstract is the emergence of the image of a sinking ship when listening to an echoey, descending line (that exact thing happens at the beginning of Gavin Bryars' Sinking Of The Titanic, though that was certainly what Bryars was going for).

Full-on abstract image generation is truly a mysterious thing. I have no idea why it happens, though we can at least say that music as described in the previous paragraph never qualifies. That still can't get us all the way there, as what most commonly happens with instrumental music is that I end up focused on the interplay. The guitar plays this, the vibraphonist follows with that, and on.

When things go 3D though, it's quite another thing. I see a textured surface that extends out to infinity. The contour of the surface is directly related to the 'main' component of the composition. This might be a repeated figure, a rhythm, a series of chords. It's different for every piece of music. The other parts of the music I see as lines that 'fly' over the surface, the interactions of the two forming projections on the surface. It's like one of those media player visualizer things, except a whole lot less 'regular.' Maybe 'predictable' is a better word.

Obviously, I am now going to say that I got the full 3D experience with Last Century and, just as obviously, you are not going to understand what the heck I'm talking about when I say that "The Opposite" starts off with a mildly-rippled surface that's written on by a radically spikey spline…but then morphs into a series of more regular, ascending waves. Just as obtuse is "Fight Club The Rabbit," which has a thin ridge in it that rises up to meet a very 'nervous' line. All of that flattens out to a very placid surface with a single rotating spiral…that turns into a violent whirlpool, threatening to swallow the entire music-scape.

So to make things a little more concrete, a few particulars: Steve Raegele plays (mostly clean-toned) electric guitar, Miles Perkin plays acoustic bass, and Thom Gossage is on drums and kalimba. It's not jazz, but it's not rock either. While they do draw from both genres, my ears hear things like bits of early Eberhard Weber (thanks to Perkin's very woody bass), Matt Morris, and some Tortoise too. There are references to pop and classical music as well.

From all of this you should not infer that the compositions are nothing more than formless meanderings. No, Raegele spends a lot of time setting up melodic and harmonic frameworks that are used as starting points for improvisations. What I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't be scared off by my brain-generated geometries. This stuff makes a whole lot of sense, even if you can't 'see' what I 'see.'

About Mark Saleski

  • Josh Hathaway

    I’ve not heard this disc but there are rare occasions when I “see” the music. I don’t often get pictures as I’m about the least visual person I know, but I do get senses beyond just the auditory. Very well done, Mark.

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    Synesthesia is fascinating. I watch everything on it that I come across. There’s a great video on YouTube from some British show where a guy is buying chicken because it “tastes blue” and he later combines it with vanilla ice cream and orange sauce – all because it perfects that “blue flavor.” While eating this hideous concoction, he literally saw a blue orb floating in front of him. I also saw a show a couple years back where a lady saw grids of numbers everywhere she went, and she even attempted to show the camera where they were (and they filled it in with graphics.) Bizarre and amazing.