Collected Stories « PREV | NEXT »: Embracing the non-knowing

January 13, 2011

Idle Thoughts, While Awaiting the Wrath of Critics....

The topic was critics. It was the end of a long rehearsal, and the drummer who is key to the sound and spirit of Moon Hotel Lounge Project talked about reading a review of a recording he'd done and being completely bewildered -- by the ideas, by the language, by the absence of a cogent argument, all of it. "Nowadays, from reading blogs we sorta expect that the descriptions will be weird and tortured," he lamented, "but this was another level. None of us could comprehend what the dude was getting at. He could have been reviewing spaghetti for all we knew."

This was a preamble, of sorts, to a question: Was I anxious about having the tables turned, and being reviewed? It was a fair question, because this week the humble little record we did went out into the world. Expectations for media domination are low. There's no budget for advertising or radio promo -- besides, there are few radio stations playing instrumental music that's not quite jazz and not smooth jazz anyway. Sales projections are in the double, not triple, digits. Still, the release may attract some attention simply because of my work as a critic, and Erik wanted to know if I was emotionally prepared for whatever may come -- enthusiasm or a bruising or something in between.

My answer: Bring whatever on. Because it was a great learning experience and this phase will be, too -- especially if it opens up discussions about how a critic goes about developing his or her aesthetic sense. (To that end, I just sent off $39 to a site called that promises a thorough 600-800 word critique by an actual music journalist; I'll post results when that review is filed, and all I can say is, it better not be late!)

Throughout the process of developing the material, recording, mixing and then taking the many steps involved in sharing it, the concern was always about doing what was right for the work, what was needed to make it as compelling as it could be. While I was composing the tunes, I didn't have a notebook-weilding critic hovering nearby like the Great Gazoo on "The Flintstones." When the seven of us gathered to play, nobody worried about how critics (or anyone, for that matter) would perceive what we were doing -- if a solo veered off in the direction of the spaceways, well, cool!

The process of recording is a great way to learn the zen art of suspending judgment and letting things happen; as so many artists have told me, it's only in the aftermath, when you're sorting through the material, that your evaluative discernment comes into play. When we reached that point with Moon Hotel Lounge Project, it became apparent that, against long odds (20 years is a long time to go between gigs!), we had stumbled onto an organic, distinctive sound. I can be a fairly severe judge of my own work, and even I had to admit there was something unusual happening here -- in the musical conversations and the simple melodies themselves. That's why, when asked, I said I wasn't at all worried about any critical reaction to this stuff. The music is what it is. The quote on my wall pretty much sums it up: "You cannot have critics with standards. You can have music with standards, which critics may observe."

PS: A few tunes from Into the Ojala are streaming here. Because, you know, everybody loves to watch a train wreck!

January 13, 2011 9:08 AM | | Comments (0)

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