In 1969 the late Don van Vliet, otherwise known as Captain Beefheart, set out to create an album that was the opposite of music. Intentionally disrupting the traditions of rhythm, tune, key and harmony, Don wrote 28 pieces of highly unconventional music and spent 8 months teaching his Magic Band how to play them.
Whilst the music sounds improvised and sometimes like a bunch of untalented amateurs messing about, each piece was in fact painstakingly learnt by the band who were all very accomplished musicians. (There are also many dark stories of this time and the conditions in the house in which the band were effectively imprisoned by Don!)
The result was Trout Mask Replica, an album considered to be Beefheart’s Masterpiece. An album that is paradoxically regarded as one of the most influential and one of the most unlistenable pieces of music ever created. Even as an avid fan of Beefheart I find I can only listen to the album for short periods of time before my head starts hurting and I begin craving something less dissonant.
But I return to it regularly as it is a lived experience of hanging out with true novelty, disruption and disturbance and not simply an evolution of what has gone before. Of experiencing something that often feels unsettling, confusing and unfinished. To notice how it feels when satisfying patterns briefly emerge and then fall apart once more. To notice my own judgements of what bits are “good” or “not good” based on my own musical conditioning. To listen to something that is so far from our widely accepted social construction of music that it can leave us dissatisfied or trigger our musical equivalent of fight, flight or freeze. And for this I love it.
And blogs like this should be a bit longer and have a nice wrap up and a conclusion…