Current Issue Details

Buy Current Issue

Reviews > CDs

Published: 2002/06/28
by Jesse Jarnow

Gravity – Fred FrithAccidental – Fred Frith

ReR Megacorp/FRO 01
ReR Megacorp/FRA 01
Two new releases from the micro-imprint Fred Records – avant-garde guitarist
Fred Frith’s in-house imprint at Megacorp/Cuneiform – find the guitarist
tackling the idea of dance music in very different ways. Gravity,
recorded in 1979, has Frith filtering dance music from around the world – social dance – through his particular approach, vaguely academic but always
experimental. Accidental, on the other hand, stems from a 1996
commission for a dance piece created by Paul Selwyn Norton. These are two
very different forms of movement. The former is somehow both an expression
of instinct and tradition. The latter presents an abstraction of the world,
an abstraction of the way people normally move, codified into something
repetitive — or, if not repetitive, then at least more graceful.
The two contrasting approaches raise a number of questions: What gets a
person to move the body in a visible way? Better yet, what makes it possible
for him to do so? What property do these two Fred Frith albums share with,
say, Deep Banana Blackout? There is rhythm, of course. Rhythm is repetition
— something that allows someone to move in a constant, predictable manner.
But that’s not it entirely. It can’t be purely rhythm. Flip on an old
Casio keyboard and press "start" on the rhythm button. It’s a perfect
rhythm, sure, but one doesn’t want to dance to it. Ditto the faceless
metered click of a metronome. Who wants to dance to that shit? On one hand,
somebody can say "well, it has to do with the musician’s intention". Maybe
so, but I’m not a big fan of that. It allows too much. I think that there
has to be a quality to the music, something tonal, something
Some of this music wears it on its sleeve (such as the new Trey Anastasio
album), but there’s also some that’s very subtle. There’s some music that
pretends to be dance music, but isn’t (such as some of Frank Zappa’s coy-ass
high status time melt excursions). I only a know a little bit about what
these Fred Frith records were intended for. They’re pretty decontextualized.
But Gravity, at least, is still obviously dance music, with or
without the quotes in the liner notes, the packaging, and the press
Much of Frith’s guitar playing draws from the progressive rock tenets he
helped establish. It deviates from that, though. It is too good-natured,
perhaps, maybe a little too folksy. There is a sterility to the note
clusters on many prog records. The way the instruments blend together makes
them hard to dance to. The notes are played precisely, like an announcement
that there can only be one possible meaning for them. These two Frith discs
don’t come off like that. On both Gravity and Accidental, the
sounds that are produced – both literally (the way the instruments are
played) and figuratively (the way they are recorded) – speak volumes what
they’re doing. There are harsh notes and rhythms quite frequently, but there
are rarely harsh sounds. This is like a gesture of friendliness: they do not
intend to be avant-garde, or at least weird to the point where the ears are
made deliberately uncomfortable.
Accidental is a little less obviously dance music. Like I said, I’m
not a big fan of allowing intention into the mix. However, the simple
gesture of saying that the music was created for a dance company allows a
thread to be pulled through the record. How are people moving to this stuff?
How do bodies relate to it? That seems to be the main difference between the
two records: where Gravity represents physical movement ("a victory
over gravity," as a liner quote suggests), then Accidental represents
mental movement. It is still the same inviting tonal quality that allows for
Oddly enough, when I listen to Gravity, which is more actively dance
music and meant to be internalized, I find myself thinking consciously about
its sources — the world traditions it was drawn from and the like. When I
listen to Accidental, which is more avant-garde, I don’t think in
terms of narrative, nor do I hear the series of creative decisions that
permeates Gravity. I imagine something moving. That’s not to say that
I visualize anything, either. It just moves. It’s a feeling I don’t get from
(to use the same comparison as before) Deep Banana Blackout, or any other
proper dance/groove music. Groove music makes one move, but there is often
little movement within it. Both of Fred Frith’s releases invert that idea,
but keep it just as compelling, and a lot more challenging.

Show 0 Comments