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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2008/11/25
by Jesse Jarnow

10 Years, pt. 3

BRAIN TUBA: 10 Years, pt. 3

Hey hey Dean –

Sometimes, I'm not sure what the point of being up here is, when I can just open this laptop and pick up a signal. It's very hard for me not to open it frequently. (Because, holy shit, dude: Twitter.) Lately, I've had Kzzzknkh—a boy from the village—take it away from me. He has no interest in using it, thankfully. Or, at least, he expresses none. I think he understands it as a producer of bad energy. Given my stress during the hours when it's open, apparent by occasional tremors and defeated postures, I can't see how he'd think otherwise. Most of the day, when I don't have it on, it's very nice. Sometimes, I just sit, bundled in my yak-fur parka, and space out for hours staring at the stars through the fire-hole.

I wish I could say my thoughts were pure, Dean, but they're not. I'm not up here meditating, after all. I read this article, pondering deep into the naval-like maw of the universe, and wondering if Google is making us dumber. Maybe so. Regardless of whether Nicholas Carr is right or not (he’s not), the underlying premise is the same: that there is something truly important about long works, long thoughts, that they are capable of conveying something more profound than the quick hits of information from Twitter, blogs, email, texts, links, etc.. (I’m personally of the mind that the latter allow people access to the world—the whole world, filled with different scenes and group-minds and cadres and cabals, local and global—in something approaching real-time, but that’s a different story.)

It's the same basic premise that runs through jamband culture. In fact, for all of the jamband scene's lip service to community, eclecticism, or anything else, this is really the only irreducible bit of the genre's ethos, probably 'cause it's right there in the name. This is what jambands can fall back on, morally speaking, when everything else goes to sod: that long, formless freedom that unfolds as it has to. It might suck, but that’s built-in, too. So, while I don’t think Google is making us dumber, they’ve definitely changed the game of human thought, which—in turn—makes this long-form approach to music even more idiosyncratic.

Like trying to save for the coming depression, jambands might be wise to consolidate their aesthetic assets, or at least call into question what they are. It seems like the musicians could reduce so many other factors, and the jamming would still exist. One aspect built into the idea of the jamband model is that there is a jamband model, invented by the Dead, refined by Phish, followed by everybody else: tour the circuit, gradually build the size of the venues, until maybe you can headline summer sheds with thousands of barefoot hippies dancing. But that’s not a very pleasing spiral. It’s kind of ugly. Other parts are built-in, too: the audience’s familiarity with the repertoire, genre games, danceable tempos, etc.. Any one of them—though not all—of these could be changed, though.

Last week, for example, I taught Kzzzknkh and his friends how to build circuits, very simple ones that make one note each, that changes depending on the current going into it. We made 17 of them—there were 17 kids—and, during one of those weirdly tropical mid-winter days, we went to this cave where they like to hang out. We set them up there, in this big space, one end of which is fronted by a frozen ice sheet. They tied them all over the place, the circuits, with bits of yarn—from dangling roots, tucked in nooks, etc.—and set them going. When they all got going, some of the frequencies started canceling each other out, making these primitive beats. Naturally, the kids started dancing — goofily, at first, but with increasing conviction. Gnnnkkz, one of Kzzzknkh's friends, went over to listen to his for a second, opened it up, and bent it until the pitch changed. The kids loved this, and soon they were all alternating between playing with the circuits and dancing. It was fun to watch, Dean.

I don't mean this as a literal solution, but—if the rainbow-colored dream umbrella of the jamband scene is really as rainbow-colored as is claimed (and not merely a parachute)—then perhaps it should open a little wider. But, of course, if you're not a jammer, why would you wanna be in a jamband these days, anyway? What does the jamband scene have to offer to a new, open-eared musician? Oi, Dean. All these questions, Dean. Some other time, perhaps. Kzzzknkh is looking at me sternly. I think he wants the computer back. This ran a little long, anyway.

Adios comrade,

j.

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