it’s so ethereal

Two instances of Julian Cope riding the big drone. The first one, “Dragonfly,” is a Peggy Suicide-era b-side (this, like the next song, is recorded from a YouTube item) and finds Copey and full band in semi-psychedelic, semi-motorik mode. A Facebook friend posted a link to this “video” (one of those static faux-videos with nothing but a still image as placeholder), but I couldn’t locate the song otherwise, and in fact I hadn’t even heard of it. Guess I’m not the Cope fanatic that some folks are, sniffle sniffle.

The second is drawn from two videos and edited together (thankfully, the sound quality, from a roving camcorder, is such that it’s nearly undetectable) – and in this case, the videos are well worth seeking out (the second part is linked from the first). This extended vamp on Cope’s old Teardrop Explodes song “Sleeping Gas” is from Cope’s busking tour in 2008 (in honor of Joe Strummer’s death, since Strummer had done something similar), but what the video brings out is Cope’s intimate interaction with his audience (the improvised lyrics about dentistry and the whole Carl Jung thing make much more sense in that context).

What’s interesting about these long, droney things (and I have no doubt many people wouldn’t share my taste here…especially since, quite often, I don’t either) is the way the experience of listening to them tends toward a particular progression of reactions to the song’s development – or, rather, lack of development in certain expected registers. At first, we’re expecting a “song” – by which we mean, more or less, something that falls into a well-established form (something like: intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-fade, etc.) And when a song begins to evade those expectations, at first we might be irritated…or even bored – because nothing seems to be “happening”: the song just keeps going. (This is probably true particularly of “Sleeping Gas”…) But at some point, for some people, something clicks: we get past the moment where our expectations are defeated and realize that something else is going on – and that “something else” is simply that the song is living in the moment, not progressing toward some particular end. Once you really get into that state, the song could theoretically go on forever. (My favorite example of this is the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On,” particularly the live version on 1969 Live set: once that groove locks in, I feel like it could just play forever. Other folks might cite certain James Brown records, or even certain Miles Davis sets, or the early minimalists.)

This is particularly true if you’re playing the music rather than just hearing it (possibly why it seems as if more musicians are tolerant of this sort of thing than non-musicians). I’m trying to figure out how to describe that unpleasant middle state, though: my first thoughts were to try to compare it to the “uncanny valley,” in that it’s at an uncomfortable juncture along the trajectory between two states (“cartoony” vs. real, for images). But that doesn’t seem right, really…since it’s not a case of resemblance that’s spooky or uncanny – unless the resemblance is to the unstructured nature of raw time vs. the structured time we (usually) live in, which is in fact idealized in time-structuring media like music.

But now my head hurts. Ow.

Julian Cope “Dragonfly” (b-side, 1991)

Julian Cope “Sleeping Gas” (live street performance, Mathew St. in Liverpool, 2008)



Filed under noise, thinky

2 responses to “it’s so ethereal

  1. This reminds me of the times I saw Neil Young & Crazy Horse, and there always came a time when Young and a couple of his bandmates would stand in a little circle and jam, and it really did feel like the song could go on forever… and that it would be cool if it did.

  2. Dana

    If you ever visit New York when this is open, you might want to visit this monument to drone:

    It’s weird in the sense that when you first walk in your reaction is, “Is this it?” but it gets much more interesting as time goes by.

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