Nietzche and the Ramones

Some weeks back, I attended the talk Johnathan Cohen gave on Nietzsche and the Ramones. I thought the talk was very interesting because, while I do listen to the Ramones occasionally, I didn’t really know that much about them as a musical group. I liked the way the talk connected what Nietzsche did in his own work to how the Ramones function as artists. I didn’t really know that their was an ancient cult of Dionysus, and I thought the part of the presentation that focused on how Nietzsche used this type of ideology in his work was interesting.

The argument that the presentation made for the Ramones having done a similar sort of thing to Nietzsche was compelling. I think the talk did a good job of thinking about how music functions and what it is used for. It made me think a lot about the particular ways that musicians aim to make their work function for their listener. In this case the argument was that the Ramones have a similar Dionysian feeling because of their rebellious punk nature. They write songs that are upbeat, but often make a negative commentary on more mainstream parts of society.

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I thought the talk tied in nicely with some of the things we have been learning in class because of the way it closely examined how the music of the Ramones functions. It reminded me of reading Audiotopias by Josh Kun, because of the Ramones take an unusual approach to songwriting in the sense that their sound and lyrics are often an attempt at satire. When Professor Cohen talked about the way the Ramones often riff off of what the Beach Boys write about in their lyrics to become the sort of anti-Beach Boys, I thought of the part of Audiotopias where Kun talks about Walt Whitman and America, I Hear You Singing. Kun says, “America, I Hear You Singing was a musical cover-up, an attempt to erase the reality of social upheaval and racial violence by hearing an America sing that didn’t exist (an America that had in fact never existed)” (36). I draw an connection here because I think the Ramones using their songs as the voice for the punk/underdog following is an example of a rebellion against a specific type of “all-American” image that Kun is talking about in his book, and that professor Cohen brought up with his connection to the Beach Boys. The Ramones poke fun at and question such an image in their lyrics, and offer a space in which the sound of that kind of resistance can be heard.

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Borders |Corridors: lines of desire

Borders | Corridors: Lines of Desire was an exhibit that uses all of my senses to tell me stories of immigration, race, and colonialism. Soundscapes were echoing throughout the building as I walked between exhibits that mixed word and visuals into one. Many installments required interaction from me to be even seen: reading the poems that accompany the images, looking into a viewfinder of an old camera, walking side-to-side in order to see the shift in images.  Restrictive Covenants was particularly eye catching out of the installments, as it was a sound piece that required me to move closer in order to even hear it. With reclaimed wood as a backdrop, microphones hang upside down with gospel music softly playing through them. An object that is used to amplify what comes into it was changed to project sound instead. But when it is forced to do what it was not meant to do, the sound is reduced to a soft murmur that is easily drowned out by people talking. That means if you care enough about the installation, you need to be active in your listening. Josh Kun wrote that “Music is experienced not only as sound that goes into our ears and vibrates through our bones but as a space that we can enter into, encounter, move around in, inhabit, be safe in,” and the action of moving closer to the microphones echos that mental interaction.

As you walk closer, you are stepping into the world created by the imagery and the soundscape of the exhibit. The reclaimed wood, covered in chipped white and red paint call to the churches in predominantly Black neighborhoods, but not by itself. It is only when paired with the sound of Listen to the Lambs that the connection is made. Without the sound, the audiotopia is missing, reducing the wood to a lesser version of itself. The static sound of the gospel song trying to be heard is a mirror of the people who had their voices taken from them with racially restrictive covenants. As listeners, we inhabit the time period where such racially laws were still in heavy effect. In a church that is in disrepair because they are denied the right to purchase land, people sing of how they wish to go to heaven when they die. They have little hope for their living life, as they “listen to the lambs all a-crying,” and instead focus on their afterlife. They don’t want their suffering to push them off that right path because their “foot might slip and your soul get lost.” This song is unrecognizable unless right next to the microphones, which only emphasizes the power of the lyrics. Whether you understand them or not, the singers are taking the experiences they have in life and not letting them change their faith.Their voices are there whether we are listening or not, and it is up to us whether we want to shed our ignorance on the matter. It is a call for us to see what is right in front of us.

Student Art Gallery in Emery

On November 13th I attended a student art exhibit in Emery and saw a variety of art. The art space has white walls and a sandy colored floor with incredibly high ceilings. The space is so silent, that if a pin were to be dropped, then the sound of the pin colliding with the floor would reverberate off the walls until our ears could no longer pick up the traveling sound waves. Investigating and interpreting abstract art while listening to the sound of my purple converse sneakers walking the large and empty space of the art room, left me to consider what kind of an audiotopia such a silent and open space could create. Thus far, I’ve considered an audiotopia to be a space that was created by a definite source of music, like jazz or rock or rhythmic drums. But entering the art space in Emery with the concept of audiotopia fresh in my mind, made me reevaluate what my definition and interpretation of the word could mean.

It makes sense that in an abstract art gallery, you would want silence, or at least the absence of outside music, such as a classical arrangement, as it can influence the thoughts and emotions a person is experiencing while looking at a piece of art. As a result, it makes sense that the art space in Emery is totally silent, as the absence of instrumental or vocal music results in viewers having to solely rely on their own sense, thoughts, and feelings, when looking at and contemplating a piece of art. But what if the music of this space was the sound you, or other visitors, created as they shuffled around the space?

One critical design of the art space is that while creating such a silent space, it also created a space that reverberated sound to the point where a single shoe scuff would echo around the space for a good minute.  This is the quality that I believe transformed the art gallery into a form of an audiotopia. The sounds that visitors and spectators made while traversing the room and viewing the art, ultimately changed the space that the art was being viewed in. So perusing the art gallery alone feels serious and solitary, as one is consciously aware of every scuff and sniffle they may make as that sound is then reflected back to them as it fills the large space. This, in turn, made the room and the art feel stuffy and intense, as the slightest sound would be heard throughout the room. This same self-conscious and stuffy feeling could be felt when sharing the space with total strangers, as you’re afraid that the smallest noise from you would not only be heard by the other people in the space, but that that sound would disturb them and interrupt their own viewing experience. But, walking and exploring the gallery with friends changes it into a space where silence can be comfortable, and where a single sound, like the scuff of a sneaker or the shock of a sneeze, can result in the room filling with giggles. This is how the art gallery in Emery can be interrupted and transformed into an audiotopia.

Today’s Music Through Activism: Performance by Anthony Green

On November 20th, 2018 I went to see Anthony R. Green’s performance Today’s Music Through Activism in the Emery Performance Center at the University of Maine, Farmington. It was a solo performance, with various music, sounds, media, and even audience voices involved. I didn’t know anything about Green before the performance started besides one clip we watched in class of him, that confused me more than anything else. But Today’s Music Through Activism was on a whole new level.

The entire production had a focus on bringing the experience of being black in America to light. Recent events, like police brutality and unlawful shooting of black people were included, as well as the history of the black experience, shown through “WE CANNOT BE AFRAID/KINDNESS RECITATION” a performance on a lynching. Music, and by extension, sound and performance, has always been an expression of identity and experiences. Not all of Green’s identity or experiences were shared by the audience in rural Maine college with a 60% female attendance, but that’s why it’s important that we did watch and participate.

This reminded me of a section in Audiotopia on Whitman’s I Hear America Singing. Whitman’s experiences of supposedly listening to all of America singing neglected to hear the voices of anyone that wasn’t a straight, white, upper class, and predominantly male person. This was obviously a case of selective hearing on Whitman’s behalf, because it wasn’t as if black people were invented after he made all his money. To contrast this, Green’s performance was all about being black: being black in America, showing black creativity, being a black performer, a black singer, and a black person. This was his way of expressing his identity and imagination through sound. He sung, stomped, talked, played piano, choked, hummed, and screamed through the set. Each sound was purposeful and chosen as a way to express his message.

I would say that Green’s creativity is something that I would have previously considered “unique” or “a little weird”, but the message and his efforts really hit home for me when we were invited to sing along with him in “Rest in Pow’r: a Song for Survival Echo Round”. It was then that Green sung the three lines over and over, then played the melody, and had us sing along with him. I think it really brought us in a new place and experience on being black in America, by literally having us in the form of our voices part of the performance. We can be part of the problems, or the solutions, but in that moment, we were singing with him, and echoing what he was singing: for those dead by violence against black people, may they rest in power.

 

 

Special Event: Anthony Green, “Today’s Music Through Activism”

On November 20th I attended Anthony Green’s event where he demonstrated his take on the relation between contemporary music and political activism. I knew hardly anything about the event before attending, so I went into with with no expectations. The event was performance-oriented, as well as sound-oriented, as Green used a culmination of his voice, a piano, his body, percussion, balloons, a marker, fixed media audios, and the audience’s voices to create a soundscape which he then presented to viewers through both fluid and jagged movements of his body. Green sang, screamed, hummed, yelled, and made a variety of other sounds that I lack the vocabulary to properly explain. He combined these sounds with movements of his body, sometimes jumping or strumming his hands all over himself to create a beat, other times using his hands and arms to accentuate the feelings he was conveying through the sounds he made. This event was Green’s way of combining, what I would call, non-traditional and experimentational music with activism with the intention of making his audience aware of the Black experience in the United States.

While Green’s performance fits into nearly everything that’s we’ve learned this semester, I personally feel that it coincides with Josh Kun’s Audiotopia the best. For me, Green created a space, maybe not a world but most definitely a space, in which the non-traditional and unfamiliar sounds that he was making steadily started to become more familiar. The show opened with his quoting a line where a judge condemned a Black man to be lynched, or “hung like a goose”. Green then performed, what I interpreted to be, the events of that lynching through an unconventional vocal performance. The sounds Green created communicated an inability to breathe as well as a sense of terror and discomfort. He did this partly by vocalizing sounds while attempting to breath in through his mouth, and by grabbing at his throat, or thumping himself on his chest/back, and making choking sounds. There were also times where he would disrupt this aural illusion of struggling to breath by mimicking the sounds of people, occasionally a woman based on the high tone of the sounds, screaming in agony, anguish, or rage, at the events that were transpiring.

Green added to his audio space by performing a dance/stomp routine which communicated a sense of togetherness and camaraderie, despite him performing the number on his own. Green also encouraged the audience to sing with him, or hum with him, while he wrote the names of Black people who had died because of the color of their skin or because of their activism on balloons before setting them free to roam and move on stage. The audience, lead by Green, hummed church hymns that were typically sung in the Black community at funerals while he slowly went along and popped each balloon- mimicking the sound of a gunshot and how these people died. Overall, Green transformed the warm, dark, confined space in Emery into a audio space within which he communicated the fear, anger, and resistance that can be seen and felt in the Black community through his unfamiliar and inspirational utilization of non-traditional sounds and body movement.

Special Event: Jonathan Cohen on “Disciples of Dionysus: Nietzsche and the Ramones”

On November 7th, I attended Jonathan Cohen’s talk on “Disciples of Dionysus: Nietzsche and the Ramones”. I walked into the even not knowing what to expect because I knew nothing about Nietzsche or the Ramones, and my knowledge of Dionysus was limited to his association with wine or alcohol. Cohen began his talk by discussing who Dionysus is the Greek God of wine, fertility, chaos, and the law. While this is a confusing mix of traits to associate with one God, Jonathan Cohen thoroughly explained how all these things could connect. Dionysus is a God of the law because in mythology he decided which laws were good enough to be followed, and is therefore not always lawful. His disciples were often women who, if I remember correctly, would punish men by ripping them apart and eating the pieces of their bodies.

Clearly, there is a lot of lawlessness here as well as the association with outcasts. Next, Cohen gave some context as to how Nietzsche connects to this. This part was a little difficult for me to follow and retain, as I don’t have a lot of practice with philosophy, but I know that early in his career, he positioned himself musically with another composer and later in his career was fervidly against him. His musical progression became less neat and more chaotic in order to achieve a different sound.

Finally, we arrived at the Ramones. Cohen explained how the Ramones are the true disciples of Dionysus and Nietzsche because of their outcast brand of rock. Everything from their physical appearance, their sound, and their lyrics suggest a group of people who are outside of order and have their own rules. Cohen showed us his point by having us listen to songs by the Ramones and read the lyrics at the same time. They are tricksters, similar to Dionysus, and use terms that embody the other, such as pinhead, punk rocker, punk, cretin, and lobotomized.

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This connects to Josh Kun’s Audiotopia most strongly through the idea of discovery. In his introduction, Kun describes how the music around him growing up influenced his perception of the world. It created this audiotopic space where things he had never thought of before were possible. As he exposed himself to new music his understanding of the world grew. Cohen described that during the Ramones’ time, there were not many bands quite like them. In fact, they often drew themselves in direct contrast with the Beach Boys, who were clean and had a clean, good sound. The Ramones projected a new identity for listeners, and they projected a new sound. Their sound was more chaotic and allowed listeners to bring their own experiences to the table when listening to their music. This is evident by the followers they attracted and how popular they became. Music allows people to gain access to different kinds of culture and learn about new ideas in a safe way. Even as Jonathan Cohen played their songs for us, we too learned more about the Ramones and their connection to Nietzsche and Dionysus.

Special Event: Anthony Davis on John Coltrane’s “Alabama”

In early November I went to Anthony Davis’s talk on John Coltrane’s “Alabama”, which was written in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing that resulted in the deaths of four young African American girls in 1963. Davis discussed, in depth, the history of the event and of jazz during his talk. What interested me was the way he broke down how the composition of “Alabama” allowed any listener at any time to feel the grief that was the response to the bombing. While listening to the details of the song, I thought about our discussion of Josh Kun’s Audiotopia and how it applied to “Alabama”.

Kun defines songs as audiotopias when they “[function] like a possible utopia for the listener…[and] is experienced not only as sound that goes into our ears and vibrates through our bones but as a space that we can enter into, encounter, move around in, inhabit, be safe in, learn from” (Kun 2). When Kun describes the idea of an audiotopia, he thinks about songs as being separate from music, which allows them to embody this quality. However, I think here we can see that “Alabama” functions in this way without having (or needing) lyrics.

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Coltrane’s “Alabama” is not, however, a utopia, even if we use the definition Kun gives which is the central quality of having “no known location” (Kun 2). The song is clearly dealing with a world in which four children are killed because of their race. In other words, not an ideal world. Further, it truly is about a particular place. It is about Alabama. It is about racial tensions in the United States. On this level here, we can understand the song as an audiotopia because the song becomes the place. Any listener from any location and time is transported into the Alabama of 1963. The listener is emotionally transported to this moment in time, and the listener is allowed to move around in this space.

Davis shows us how “Alabama” does all this. Although I am not overly familiar with musical theory, I do understand that different musical keys can give different experiences to the listener. When Coltrane used his particular jazz key in this song and with his minimal instrumental arrangement, he provided a specific voice, and this voice was somber. Because of the bareness of the arrangement, each instrument can be heard clearly speaking its mind. Of course, as I describe it here it sounds simple, as though anybody could write a song within a key and create a mood. But one thing about music is that it is never just notes on a page. The performance itself is the most important part. It was very interesting to be able to watch the performance and also see how the music lined up with Dr. Martin Luter King Jr.’s speech in response to the bombing. The performance and the notes themselves all work to create this audiotopia–this place where listeners are brought back to this moment in time and gain something from each listening experience.