BEST MUSIC OF 2012
Well, ‘tis the time of year to make those year-end lists, and year-beginning lists. So I decided to make one featuring the Best Music of 2012. Now, this does not represent the general public whatsoever. Or even a comprehensive opinion. It represents me, and what music had the most gravity in my life this year. And, I must note, the music I will be featuring was not made in 2012. I came across it and lived with it in 2012.
When I moved up North, I stopped keeping on top of new music. I used to know a lot about what was going on, what was “good,” the stories behind the music, etc.. Now I am so out of the loop. But I feel okay about this. I feel as though I’ve returned to a more pure, naive place of listening. You know, the childhood sense of the world moving with you.
Which reminds me, I used to have a record and 8-track player in my bedroom when I was 5, 6, 7, 8. On it I would play recordings chosen by my great grandmother, grandparents, uncle and mother. I had no knowledge of other music. I thought that what was in front of me was it. And since I didn’t have much available to me, I listened intently and deeply to the records I did have. Over and over. Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Elvis and that orchestral disco guy informed my childhood.
I won’t get too into the fact that the world has changed. That people listen to mp3’s, playlists, a new song everyday. You know this.
These days, though, I have returned to that old approach of living life with one recording or one artist over a long period of time. And I’ve found it amazingly rewarding.
So, with that said, I have to now say that my list is not really a list. It’s a celebration of one artist that has deeply impacted me in 2012.
That artist is Huun-Huur Tu. They’re a music group from Tuva, a Russian Federation republic situated on the Mongolian border.
The most distinctive characteristic of Huun Huur Tu’s music is throat singing, in which the singers sing both the note (drone) and the drone’s overtone(s), thus producing two or three notes simultaneously. The overtone may sound like a flute, whistle or bird, but is actually solely a product of the human voice. The group primarily uses native Tuvan instruments such as the igil, khomus (Tuvan jaw harp), doshpuluur, and dünggür (shaman drum). However, in recent years, the group has begun to selectively incorporate western instruments, such as the guitar. While the thrust of Huun Huur Tu’s music is fundamentally indigenous Tuvan folk music, they also experiment with incorporating not only Western instruments, but electronic music as well.
I remember the night when I first heard them. It was late January. In Whitehorse. I was spending a lot of deep Winter time looking at the moon, going on walks with my dog, drinking chaga tea, reading and writing about my dreams. Rob Brezsny of Free Will Astrology sent out his e-newsletter this particular week in January, and attached a video of a collaboration between Huun-Huur Tu and The Bulgarian Voices - Angelite (see video below). I must of listened to the song 100 times at least in the week to follow. I remember it giving my life a mythic quality. There was a longing that I have not heard in other music. At times it felt like a celebration, but it was also filled with a deep mourning. It made me think of the natural world, and how it’s fading — how were losing something beautiful and rich. But the song still inspired me, making me feel that there was something that could be done. By singing the landscape. Telling the stories of those who cannot speak for themselves.
I didn’t listen to any of Huun-Huur Tu’s other music for awhile. Just this song. But then, one day, I decided to explore and see if they had any other collaborations with Angelite. Thankfully I discovered that there are two whole albums, Fly, Fly My Sadness (1996) and Mountain Tale (1998).
Seeing those dates, I think back to what I was doing with my time in 1996-98, and I remember that I was listening to a lot of Spice Girls, rowing, eating popcorn, getting my first period, and going to Hawai’i. It was a very transformative time! And this year, the year Huun-Huur Tu have literally been walking aside me, in my ears, has been an incredibly transformative time. I wonder if back in the 90’s I subtly felt this music being created on the other side of the world, even though I hadn’t heard it.
But, in any case, this is the joy of the recorded medium. That I can discover music created over 10 years ago, and experience it like it has been created today, in the soul of my life.
Huun-Huur Tu has soundtracked a move across the country, Whitehorse to Halifax. My morning writing routines. My late night bouts of longing. My feeling of loss for the natural world. Me, plunging into my depths, as I recover from a back injury (aka in-journey). They have, through every performance, elevated me but kept me real.
Their music is timeless, has a sense of stillness, but is always moving forward, especially when there is drumming involved. It is definitely music for the journeyer. The seeker.
Now that I’m living in Halifax, I find their music takes me back to the North. Their songs are true to that landscape. At once angelic, otherworldly, whole and wide, but grounded in the harsh and undiscerning reality of the wild world.
The fiddle sings to the heavens, but you can still hear the texture of the strings that speak to the earth from which they came. And the throat singing sounds as if it’s coming from the ground. Sometimes deep down, other times riding along the surface like a horse.
I know my life would be very different today if I hadn’t of discovered this music. I not only listen to it out of love, but it has become a tool for me to see deeper, hear deeper. Into my past, into my future.
Huun-Huur Tu make universal, connective music that balances the two spheres of life: heaven and earth. They teach that you can balance both. You can dream and practice immortality, but you can also be embedded in the rhythms, textures, and trials of life. You can feel everything feeling, and honour them in a celebration of being human.
EXPANSIVELY REAL music.
Exploring the deep, dense underbelly of the elephant,
a zen-velope, enveloping every strand —
pig gut threads,
and the gold in this dark hour.
The soul’s vessel knows too well of this longing,
this pain that turns to a devoted image
when the goddess takes a hammer to my big toe,
and I, who meets the earth,
with salted palms,
exist each and every moment, inside
the burning flesh of something
Don’t forget that you’re alive.
Don’t forget that you’re a beautiful wonder that needs to be here, every moment.
Don’t forget that you deserve the best.
Don’t forget that there is always outer space and ocean depths and, even, earth cores in you.
Here. Here is where I am. Elbow deep in soil. Turning it over and over. Fragments of every history, stones, bones, and roots. Here, I embrace the hunger - the longing for nothing in particular - the collaborating with the unknown. When I’m so close, and so quiet, the source reveals herself, not in the form of a larger-than-life miracle or in a near-death experience but in the letting go, and waiting patiently for something to take root. This is not perfection. This is life. Dirty, evolving, devolving life. I am here. In life. Death is here too. It’s all here. Here. Hear. Here is where my strange form of life has taken root and grown. Every moment, without fail, my heart beats, and I remember to breathe.
DREAMTIME: LEAVING THE HOUSE
I was inside a beach house on the Atlantic Ocean. The house had a lot of windows, and even though it was nighttime, I could see outside clearly. I watched the waves washing to shore, converging, forming milky riffs along the beach. It felt like I was very alone, and as I sat with that feeling, a fear began to rise in me. Whatever I was afraid of I placed outside of the house, which inspired me to not leave.
But I also felt strongly that I had to leave, but didn’t know why.
I had been looking at the outside world through the windows of the beach house, which was a very specific, removed perspective. It wouldn’t be the same if I was out there. I knew that.
After some time I gathered the courage to walk out the front door and leave the house. I had no idea what to expect, as the fear rose in me.
When I opened the door, and stepped out onto the deck, I was met with very calm energy. I saw the waves coming to shore, like they always had but from inside they looked rougher than their smooth, gentle nature when I could hear and smell them. And there was hardly any wind. Everything felt so clear.
I then began to notice or feel the presence of other people around on the beach. They were all admiring the sky, which I couldn’t see from inside the house. I looked up and could see every star in our galaxy. The sky was thick with white, shining flecks. I watched, awe-stricken.
I then noticed a star moving. At first I thought it was a shooting star, but then realized it was a satellite because of it’s consistent speed orbiting nature. As soon as I thought I figured it out, the light began to move in the opposite direction. And then in circles. It was not a star. And not a satellite. It moved where it wanted to move. As I watched it and the sky, I saw other spots begin to move in a similar way. The six spots then began descending toward earth, and as they got really close, they began to converge.
When they all impacted each other, there was a bright flash that metamorphosed into a flaming phoenix. As it flew close to the Earth, and then right in front of me, I saw that amidst the flames was a bright red heart.
One of my earliest memories is sitting on the front-seat of an old truck with my grandmother. The seat was no longer in the truck, though - it now belonged to a small hill beside my grandparents’ rural home.
My grandfather was a welder and electrician and, therefore, an avid accumulator of discarded items found at yard sales and flea markets. Consequently, my childhood surroundings were a cluster-fuck of nature and indestructible, man-made objects, that were now undergoing their own process of decay. Although my grandfather’s intentions were to put everything to “good” use, this intention was oriented toward “eventually I’ll find a place for that car door or that sheet of metal or that bag of cement or that underwater suit.” To me, the land I frolicked in as a child was a graveyard, of sorts - a place where things came to go back into the earth. Here I could see how trucks and human beings and butterflies were all made up of the same stuff. Nothing was superficial.
“What are the leaves saying, Lindsay?” my grandmother asked, as the wind blew through the trees above us. “Shhhhhhh,” I replied with my index finger to my mouth, and we continued to listen.
I spent a lot of my childhood listening. Listening to the woods. Listening to my great grandmother ask for a “8” or “Ace” (I could never tell the difference) over a game of Go Fish. Listening to my grandfather’s welding torch. Listening to my Mom make paper-mâché alien masks for her friends. Listening to that weird squeaking sound the upstairs bathroom window made when it was windy. Hiding under the table when I heard it, and listening to my grandmother chat above with her friend Carol.
I even listened to music. A lot of it.
Thanks to my grandfather’s interest in accumulating objects, I had a record and 8-track player in my room when I was four, five, six. I would spend hours alone listening to albums passed down to me from as far back as my great grandmother’s collection. I had no sense that more than one of each recording I possessed existed. I just assumed that Elvis, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, the orchestral disco guy and many others created the sounds I listened to for me alone. Music was this private, magical experience that tied everything together in my small world. The in-need-of-repair aviator arcade game downstairs was included in the soundtrack by means of the clapping in “Baby Love.” Elvis’ voice was the central character in the nighttime cricket and frog orchestra. The doo-doo-doo-doo-doo’s in “Tossin’ and Turnin’” explained my uncle’s sense of humor. And the physical interaction with records through their blips, static, warbles, slowing down, speeding up was a testament to nature’s creativity and destruction.
Due to my early experiences, sound has always been my primary way of seeing, interacting with and remembering my world. It seems to me that sound is not separate from matter - sound is the creator, destroyer and voice of matter. Sound makes an impact, even unheard.
I am a gatherer of beautiful things. I am a light keeper. I am a midwife of spirit. I am a big-eyed seer. I am a joyful guider. I am a thoughtful teacher. I am vibrating flesh. I am a wide-breathed optimist. I am an earthbound motion of grace. I am a fierce animal. I am a playful spirit. I am a gentle breeze. I am a listener. I am a patient pendulum. I am movement in nature. I am a synthetic creator. I am a point of transition. I am decaying. I am growing. I am a long, sustained, arduous process. I am the universe. I am black, restful emptiness. I am a dreamer. I am an imagineer. I am a broken blues singer. I am a long-haired, wryly old woman. I am a whale. I am a polar bear with the heart of a wolf. I am a magical child. I am a time dancer. I am a trickster. I am the hero of my life. I am a keeper of antiquity. I am a visionary. I am a gentle soul. I am a myth. I am a work of art. I am a tropical island. I am an ocean. I am the sky. I am the fire that consumes. I am the unfolding. I am the refolding. I am wholeness. I am sequence. I am nature. I am culture. I am Madonna. I am my own creation. I am fate. I am freedom. I am music. I am rhythm. I am technology. I am a glass tower. I am a pond. I am a glacier. I am the carved valleys. I am every war. I am every famine. I am every depression. I am every celebration. I am every marching band. I am life. I am death. I am the source. I am unexplainable.
DREAMTIME: DRUM LINES
I was walking through a mall. It was nighttime, and I looked out the windows that made up one side of the main hallway. Up in the sky was the full moon. There was a shadow moving across it. A form. A character wearing a tall, witchy hat. It was saying something. It was about the end of the world. That it was coming. Soon.
I went into a shop in the mall that sold drums. I walked in to find drums that were all different shapes, and all had different methods of being played. One I had to sit on to play it. Another I had to spin around in a circle until I was so dizzy that I fell down and then began playing it. Another I had to slowly dance around it’s form and then play it. Each drum had a specific movement and approach to play it. The final drum I played, when I saw it at first, from a distance, it looked as if it was in the shape of a whale tail. But when I sat down to play it, lightly hitting one finger at a time onto different points, it began to take another form. It was a body of a dog. A greyhound. But also a woman. An Egyptian woman.* And as I played it, I found that each point I hit made a different, delicate but deep sound. Some spots made very low, drone-y sounds, others made higher, pure tones. And I noticed that some spots were a part of a group that resonated with one another. I realized that this was a method of healing. Sound and intention. Finding the links. Resonance. Songlines. As I played the drum, I realized a drum and a body aren’t that different. They’re both resonating chambers, full of nuances and story. Just like the landscape.
*I recalled this morning that greyhounds were bred by the Egyptians. When I was around the greyhound that I was just taking care of for a few weeks, I felt connected to the Egyptians. In his body was the intention, the world view, of an entire people. My connection to him, connected me to them.
I am creating worlds with my heart. Worlds upon worlds upon worlds. This is why I feel no need to travel the lengths of this world, looking for paradise. Looking for an idea of love. I’ve discovered it’s right here. Layers and layers and layers of it. Inter-worlds. Deep. Small. Vibrating. I breathe and I can sense them. “Where there’s breath, there’s life.” Where there’s breath, there’s also death. Each exhale a small death. No abstraction. Just simple. These days I look at the trees, and see how they’ve grown. I see their breath. They’re record keepers, every part of them reflecting the whole of their environment. In trees, I see nature’s intelligence. And I’m humbled. For so long I’ve tried to make a statement. I’ve created art from an egoic space. Now I see my place. Now I’m taken back to when I was a child, in this world like a tree. A moving tree. A node on the earth. Connecting the heavens and the soil. Telling the stories. This is my place. Now art for me is worship. A collaboration. Soulful. Heartfelt. With this realization, and the experience of love all around me, I just sing songs, subtle songs, and tell stories about the life and death of all my worlds. Growing, growing, growing. Decaying. Decaying. Gone. But in another form. This energy supports. It’s there, all around. “Listen to your heart, there’s nothing else you can do.” My heart is a nebula, fragrant and thick with dust fiercely binding, releasing, attracting matters, forming stars. The source. It’s massive. It’s small. It’s everywhere. I’m so small. Yet so big. Living from this place is stellar. Love is right here.
My heart is an ocean of slow-moving waters. When it’s open, it’s clear, still, and a receiver of the outside world. It has not only felt the incredible pain and tremendous laughter of this lifetime, but of all lifetimes. It’s a record keeper of cosmic knowledge. It’s the land - or ocean - before time. It’s timeless.
My heart is a sounding bowl to the music of the spheres. A reverb hall. Things echo through here. I let them go. I hold space. I just be.
Gentle tides. A union with the moon. Deep knowing.
There are things all around impacting me — thunder and lightning storms, earthquakes, oil spills, the orbit and spin of the Earth, the stars, matter, molecules, love, intention. No matter what these things stir up in me, I remember that I’m not the form. I’m the space. I’m water. Clear, quiet, gentle water.
Thank you for this life. Thank you for this love that I get to experience everyday. Thank you for the suffering. Thank you for the longing. Thank you for the helping hands. Thank you for the support. Thank you for my heart. Thank you for my body. Thank you for the joy. Thank you for the blood. Thank you for the air. Thank you for all the breaths, and all the breaths to come. Thank you for my limitations. Thank you for my teachers. Thank you for fire and warmth. Thank you for fish. Thank you for food. Thank you for the stars. Thank you for all the unknown. Thank you for the separateness. Thank you for the dance. Thank you for music. Thank you for animals. Thank you for trees. Thank you for the ground. Thank you for the water that surrounds me. Thank you for my ego. Thank you for my mind. Thank you for my eyes. Thank you for the light. Thank you for the darkness. Thank you for the essence. Thank you for the mystery. Thank you for the richness. Thank you for the sun. Thank you for art. Thank you for people. Thank you for those who are courageous and willing to put their hearts out there. Thank you for those who truly support, by holding space. Thank you for the times I’ve fell. Thank you for my death. Thank you for my birth. Thank you for all the landscapes, within and without.
From this moment on, I will deeply recognize, from my most vulnerable spaces, the impermanence of life. And that this life was gifted to me. And it is my duty to respect it, and hold space and care for myself, and all that surrounds me. I will only participate in pure exchange, and never take that which has not be given to me. I will be a custodian to my own heart, and the hearts of those I love. I will be a custodian to this earth. To this life. I am grateful for every breath, every tear, every moment of joy that breaks down the barriers even more and allows me to connect with love and truth. Full, pure space.
I am sorry for the moments I was not respectful, accepting, present.
Tonight, I look out at the night sky, at the big dipper, and even though I am filled with a deep longing, and sadness, beneath that I can feel a love, a contentment emerging. By accepting it, I accept life, fully, as it is.
I am truly grateful. I am truly thankful. I am ready to love myself, love life, love all. I am ready to receive.
Teach me how. Gently, please.
MAKERS OF DAWN
I’ve been thinking back to a particular time in my life. A time when I intentionally began this spiritual journey I am still, and will always be, undertaking. A time when I began focusing on writing.
I lovingly refer to that time as Cape Breton.
During the summer of 2005 I lived alone in a small cottage on the Bras D’Ors Lake. My intention while I was was to focus on the basics of life. Shelter. Water. Food. Meaning.
The experience changed me. I watched the sun rise and set everyday. I watched the fish jump out of the water. I saw bears. I had bats living under my roof. Every meal I cooked with care. Simply, I took time to live.
As I began to resonate with my natural surroundings, I felt something deep emerge within me. A stronger knowing of myself and my place in the world.
On my last day there, I wrote this about the experience:
The point where the shore fades into the horizon is where all the makers of dawn sit, smiling. As fast as an electron changing position or a heart changing direction, the light breaks and wraps itself around you, replacing the fog that burned away. It’s the enemy to a soulless regiment, the compliment to a heart worth finding.
No one’s there with their criminal lines, holding secrets in their teeth, biting down as dirt blows in their eyes. No one’s there, just you waking up, singing for the sake of singing, dancing for the sake of dancing. All your born days are there, where the Earth curves.
This marks the first post on my new website. I write it with the intention of sharing more of my journey through art, writing, and music. Thank you for joining me.