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Zounds of Music
Review of SHREDD, This is Your Brains on Drums
by SuZi

SHREDD This is Your Brains on Drums! Martin Murphy: Murfeus 2003
www. Murfeus.com

The reaction against the mechanization of Western culture is synchronous with that of the increasing thralldom held by technology--a post-industrial manifestation of humanity's peccadillo for tools, to which we are all, like it or not, in servitude. Yet, there are those who choose not to serve. The search for atavism is nothing new. Much ado has been made over modern primitivism; so much so that an entire commodities market exists for sects of the neo-primitive: the Celtic knot necklace, the plastic Buddha and the dreamcatcher. In most cases, the neo-primitive is not so much interested in the creation of a new mythology as in retreating into the comfort of the old.
     There are those, however, for whom the creation of a new mythology has an import beyond reaction to the pestilence of a franchise sandwich. Sometimes the true, rather than corrupted, form of shaman can be found a person of passion for whom the ancient things still sing.
     It is the translated forward of Joseph Campbell's songs of the planet which seems to be the primary concern of a collective of musicians who play under the name SHREDD. Veteran musical principals of neo-pagan festivals, the former Saturday night band for a Middle Eastern restaurant, and heavily influenced by Yoruban rhythm patterns and mythos, SHREDD has recently released a ten track CD entitled This is your brains on drums! Do not expect groovy-moody synth work behind some warbling crooner: SHREDD is entirely percussion--a potent, deceptively simple multi-rhythmic pulsing which does not seek to give obvious messages. If there is any message to the tracks here, it is in the relationship of the listener to the sound itself. The relationships between that of the listener to music and to that of the relationship between the musician and his instrument are elegantly documented by James Baldwin in "Sonny's Blues." Baldwin writes:

          [...]about music is that not many people ever really hear it.
          And even then, on the rare occasions when something
          opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear,
          or hear corroborated, are persona; private, vanishing
          evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing
          something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void
          and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked
          in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it
          has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason.
          And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.
                                                                       (Lauter 2190)

     It is not too much of a stretch to see this offering of SHREDD as triumphant. Yet, do not expect brassy paeans to marching guns. The triumph is or another order, an older and quieter triumph more closely akin to the turning of the seasons than of humanity's scars upon the planet. Indeed, there is an aspect of trance to this music, but without sacrifice to that of the tribal.
     Tribalism is, by its very nature, exclusionary, but exclusivity is not what this CD is about. As the tracks play, the clear influence of motifs associated with those of the Hindu are heard, on other tracks, musical motifs from the African, the Asian, the AmerInd. Multiculturalism is employed here as a means of communicating Campbell's planetary song; the music here has no motive except that of the rapture of its being. The brief liner notes dedicated to composition insist that nine of the ten tracks are improvisational, and that only the rhythm base of one song was acquired--with the rest of the track being not only improvisational, but isolated in each part. The primary composer for SHREDD, Martin Murphy, writes that "no one heard anyone else's improv loops or leads; all that was arranged and mixed after," clearly deconstructing even the mythos of a band: that all musicians play the same song together at the same time. The new mythos, as constructed by Murphy, is that the musicians respond individually to Baldwin's "roar rising from the void" and do so with or without the constraints of synchronicity in space-time.
     The tracks on This is your brains on drums! are not the endless, blank-minded, rave thumping of an amplified washing machine on spin. The rhythms here are so astutely varied that the sense of tunefulness, required in the appellation of the concept of song, is not compromised. The one track which does contain a vocal is not mixed with the usual vocal-out-front so painfully purveyed by most modern music, but rather included the voice as one of the instruments; the words spoken are not given an overbearing position and are sometimes barely decipherable as more than mere tone.
     Some note must be taken of the employed instruments themselves. Murphy's influences, at first, appear to have no synchronizing element beyond a banquet of primitive music, and perhaps Murphy might not be aware--as musician ordering the roar upon the air--of the corroboration achieved. The CD's liner notes take more care in discussion of the instruments used than of any other aspect of the recording. True, there are the obligatory photos of the players--tiny and in black and white--and the insert itself has the DIY flavor of the independent music and art made twenty years ago; however Murphy details both the instruments used on each track, as well as instruments Murphy hand made. Of the acquired instruments employed, each track's characteristic tonality is determined by the voice of the instrument used: the track with the AmerInd-type sound is the one which employs a Cherokee flute; the Asian-influenced track is the one which employs Tibetan Singing Bowls. There is an insistence on purity here; the voice of the instrument sings of the culture which created it and adds that voice without perversion; the tracks with Egyptian tabla are about the evocations of that instrument. Overarching, or holding the bottom line, for each track are the kinds of percussion instruments familiar to those of that discipline: djembe, conga, drum kit. Murphy also discusses the instruments employed which he made himself: a Wuhan Chan gong mounted on a djembe, and a motorcycle wheel metamorphized into a frame drum.
     The most significant evidence of Murphy's forward thinking--in addition to the mixing of the CD itself--is in the creation of the motorcycle wheel drum. The understanding of the instrument of the drum itself as an instrument of primality is so generally understood it is almost, if not, a cliche'. Murphy takes this artifact of post-industrial culture (an icon of reaction to post-industrialism, if one considers the myth of the biker who paradoxically searches for an end to servitude and uses the machine to this end) and through the technology of welding, gets the artifact to accept an animal skin--a symbol, if not an actuality, of humanity's most offensive, barbaric primitivism. Creating this paradoxical instrument is one of Murphy's "passions" and significantly differentiates Murphy from other atavistic musicians. On too many other CDs, the listener is subjected to birdsong and wolfwail mixed with flat synthesizer tunes; the paradox is in the mix and is about as stimulating as Thai-flavored franchise food. Murphy offers his paradox in the creation of the instruments, in the combining of the instruments to create the song which is not a song but a rhythm singing, and then carefully mixes track after track after track so smoothly the production appears invisible.
     Murphy's mythology of sound is of the avatar; his concern one of purity to the source of all music itself, instead of the clerical impositions, cultural formats and commodifying perversions enslaving it through the ages. If, as Campbell suggests, the critical mythologies of humanity were yet to come in his lifetime, then Murphy intends to solve by employing the voice of not one tribe, but the larger planetary tribe to sing forward from the origin.

Works Cited
Baldwin, James "Sonny's Blues," The Heath Anthology of American Literature (Paul Lauter ed.) Houghton Mifflin 2002.

Moyers, Bill and Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth Anchor Books. Doubleday 1988.

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