I can’t remember how I first heard this album. I think I had the CD on loan from a generous neighbour. What I am certain of is that this album changed my life.
What first hit me was the undeniable chemistry between Pino Palladino and Questlove. The way that the stretched the time and rhythms freely within a song was something I had never heard before. Even on the “straighter” songs the groove they created together was ferocious whilst always supporting the rest of the music. I was at the same time captivated and baffled by what I was hearing. Years later, I am still far from totally understanding how they did it.
Voodoo represents a magical moment in time where fate aligned with opportunity. So great was the power of the music that it attracted someone like me, who could not have lived a more different life from D’angelo, to his story and his atmosphere. To me his music still sounds like it is coming from somewhere else.
With hindsight, I can see how this album was part of the musical eruption that was later name “Neo-soul”. Labels aside, the influence of Voodoo can be heard everywhere. Rhythm sections around the world can heard imitating it’s grooves and feels. Pino Palladino single-handedly brought the P-bass back into fashion and set the new standard for all to aspire.
In this series I will be exploring albums that had a great influence on my musical development.
Jean Baudin’s Mechanisms is consists entirely of solo performances. The instrument Jean plays has 11 strings and does not easily fit into the category of either bass guitar or guitar. With this unique instrument he makes music that breaks fresh conceptual territory in a genre that is polluted by the constant presence of empty virtuosity. The music on Mechanisms escapes the ghetto of solo guitar/bass music and moves through a impressive range of emotions: at times dark, melancholy and finally transcendent.
One of the ways the album influenced me was the wide variety of sounds Baudin uses. The obvious examples being the effects that are used to colour the sound of the bass either modifying, or entirely transforming it. The sound of Baduin’s instrument is so unusual that even his uncoloured tone sounds futuristic.
Mechanisms showed me that instrumental music can go to a place that words can’t and that one instrument can have the power of many.
The DYLEMA Collective is a musical project I have been a part of since it’s inception in 2016. The group encompasses a wide variety of influences and styles which make playing in this band a unique and challenging experience for me. The fact that the project is still going strong for one year with big plans for the future is a great surprise to me. I can remember when David (drums) pitched the idea of getting together and jamming with some people I only really said yes out of politeness as I was not familiar with any of the musical touchstones he mentioned. Having had a band I had earnestly tried to setup implode I was not in the mood to commit myself to something new. My decision to stay was essentially made after our first rehearsal there was real chemistry in the jams we did and I was hooked.
To give you some idea of what we sound like here is some footage from a show last year for Sofar Sounds London:
Playing in The DYLEMA Collective has been full of surprises both musical and spiritual and has really forced me to push myself as a player to try and bring something unique and fresh to the music. I have high hopes for the future and have no idea where this journey will take me.
As you may be aware The DYLEMA Collective are currently on tour in the UK. The shows we have done so far have been exciting and we have had the privileged to play to receptive and open minded audiences. Below is a revised list of tour dates:
Playing in this band is a honor and a joy for me, the people I work with are all exceptional and force me to raise my game every night.
William Dalrymple journeys to heartland of the early church in the footsteps of the famous monk John Moschos who documented his travels sojourns across Byzantium in his work The Spiritual Meadow. Dalrymple hopes that by following in his footsteps he may gain an insight the history of Christianity in the east and its future. The author skilfully intertwines historical narrative with the travails of his long and arduous journeying, which see him l climbing into abandoned tombs, surviving in the harsh desert and fleeing from terrorists. Throughout the book one is constantly reminded of the stark contrast between the situation for Christians in 578 AD and today. In the past Christianity enjoyed supremacy in large parts of the what we would now call the middle east and coexisted with the other religions such as Islam and paganism. The most extreme example of this being one occasion where our author is told that the same space was used for worship by both Muslims and Christians. In addition, at one point in the narrative the author meets a group of Muslims who are visiting a shrine of Saint George in the West Bank to be healed. Darlymple emphasizes throughout the narrative Christianity is contrary to popular perceptions an eastern religion and must be understood as a system of belief which emerged from the intellectual milieu of the east and the rich tapestry of competing ideologies of that region. Further, that the Church in the west was constantly looking to east as the source of inspiration. For example, Irish monastic art is almost certainly seeking to imitate work originating from Tur Abdin in Turkey. Further, the monastic cells on the island Skellig Michael off the Irish coast are copies of eastern designs that can be still seen in modern Israel.
The situation finds in the present is completely different: Christians are a tiny and oppressed minority persecuted by and increasingly militant Islam and stuck in the middle of ethnic and political conflicts some of these between different religions and some between waring Christian factions. These pressures have led to a mass exodus of the young, Christianity is vanishing from large parts of the world. In the face of such bleak facts From the Holy Mountain is also a story of resistance and fortitude. Darlymple meets monastic communities that defiantly cling on in the face of persecution and misery to traditions that go as far back as the beginnings of Christianity and acts of forgiveness and tolerance by those who should be enemies owing to race and creed. From the Holy Mountain is a masterfully written and guides the reader through a bewildering range of emotions and places. In the hands of lesser writer such a narrative might be confused or dull because of endless historical detail. Darlymple manages to gives the reader a plentiful supply of historical data without detracting from the tempo of the narrative. Further, the journey he is on serves as an anchor that helps make sense of the bewildering number of topics, people and places both past and present.
When people speak of philosophy they are usually thinking of two different thing: one is a subject that concerns itself with the question of how one should live both ethically and practically. The other is a theoretical pursuit chasing the perennial questions of existence. These two visions interact with each other but are nonetheless separate.
Often these two visions are forced into conflict, the rationality for this is that either theoretical pursuits are a waste of time or they are inferior to the higher questions and in some way not “respectable”. First, let us turn our attention to the first contention: one may think that there are so many practical issues to deal with in world that such speculation is morally reprehensible. The mistake here is to forget that our modern world has been equal assisted by ideas as well as technology. The idea that we should no longer be governed by kings, or that we do not perceive reality without an interpretative framework to filter our perception were once considered outlandish. Now they are common knowledge to the extent of almost being cliché. Karl Popper rightly pointed out that in science it does not matter where the ideas come from initially whether it be dreams, experiment or visions. What matters is what fruit they can bear, his judgment about science can be expanded to the field of ideas in general. We do not know what will be of practical use in the future , therefore , we should remain open to many different possibilities and not prematurely close off avenues to knowledge.
Even the ideas that do not posses any practical application have a beauty of their own that demands they do not be idly discarded, they reside in what Robert Pirsig described as the high country of the mind in which the intellect is elevated to a greater and wider discourse, free of idicoy of the mudane and everyday.
Now let us turn our attention to the second criticism that practical philosophy is of no worth because it does have the intellectual solidity of the theoretical philosophy that is entrenched is most British and American universities. To criticise philosophies such as stoicism for not having a strong intellectual foundation is to miss the point entirely. The test of a practical ideal is in the living of it, which is something lamentably few “philosophers” would ever dare and attempt. Further, in the case of stoicism it is an open set of ideas which can be easily modified and attached to some other underlying belief system that may be more intellectually rigorous.
These endless division of philosophy has lead to a pernicious division of the mind where intellectuals tend to concern themselves either purely with the practical or the intellectual spheres, which is itself been hastened by accelerating march of specialisation of work and thought. We see those like Alain de Botton who posses much practical insight but meager theoretical understanding and on the other hand, the archetype of the university professor who posses great theoretical wisdom but very little practical understanding. The world needs people who embody both meanings of philosophy and is doing so give richer and broader lives to the world. Without generalists we will live in a meager and divided world in which people will be unable to understand each other so lost in their own experience and jargon.
Recently I suffered the misfortune of having to go to hospital for an extended period of time. If I had not checked myself in I almost certainly would have died. This experience has forced me to reflect death and to know it more intimately. Whilst I was in intensive care two people were taken out in body bags.
The first and most shocking realisation I had was that my death was a very real possibility and when it occurs is only partially in my control. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger thought our prevailing attitude towards death was inauthentic. What he meant by this is that we think of death as some distant phenomena that will never visit us, we only see death as happening to someone else. Even though I have studied Heidegger my attitude was still inauthentic, certain truths can only be learnt through experience.
With this new knowledge I have tried to reconsider what I am going to do with the time I have left. I would urge you dear reader to do the same. There is a darkness in such thoughts but also a chance for liberation.
Another hard question that my experience raised was how to find a balance between future and present orientated thinking. Because we can never be sure when we are going to die we might be tempted to make immediate preparation for the end. However, if we have many more years to live this would be unwise. How are we to find balance? The answer lies acting in harmony with this uncertainty mixing future and present desire together, exercising spontaneity and prudence in equal measure. I put this forward as an ideal goal rather than something that can be easily achieved.
It is equally unwise to dwell on death too long for as Nietzsche said:
He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146