Past, Present and Future — Book I
@MMXX SERGIO CALDERÓN, All Rights Reserved
At school, some of my classmates used to listen to bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers or The Clash. They weren't bad, but for me Jerry Lee Lewis sounded far more radical and more forward. As a child I became obsessed with the music made around or before the 1950s, especially early Rock & Roll, the stuff coming from Sun and Chess Records. The sound of those albums which I first listened to via lousy compilations on my cheap monophonic tape player sounded very real. For a ten year old they seemed to come from another place, far beyond the small town where I grew up in Santander, Spain. In a town like this, conservative, small minded, a cultural desert, music plays a more important role than in a city like London, where music is mostly an outlet, a topic, the latest trend. Time doesn't change things in places like Santander. Preconceived ideas get passed through generations, from father to son. Children live, think and dress in the very exact way as their parents. Among that uniformity, you also find the stranger types. Characters that couldn't adapt to that conformism, but they also couldn't rebel against it. In places like this you could encounter people that would work weekends delivering pizzas with a scooter in order to earn money to buy music gear and ordering expensive John Zorn CD's from Japan, or weed dealers that would also copy you tapes from The Stooges, independent music distributors with day jobs in metallurgy factories, third rate artists with a first rate knowledge of art, third rate bands making first rate cover versions on their live shows or third rate surfers with third rates bands making the most horrible music. Also you'd find fake blondes, almost all the women in Santander in those days were fake blondes, maybe they still are.
Eventually I saved enough money to get my first hi-fi, a cheap one, at least it had two speakers and a turntable. The first vinyl I ever bought was the banana album by The Velvet Underground. It was my first year in high school, a classmate with the unlike name of Rubén García López was also into the Velvets. Rubén really had his own style. With a very bad case of acne, he used to wear very strange shirts. It looked like he got them from a sale in a pawn shop, but then, we didn't have pawn shops in Santander. He introduced me to other bands, like King Crimson. We became pals. One day, he brought to class a copy of Silence by John Cage. That got me interested in the New York School and later, Fluxus. It was like discovering the world. I began creating music without any equipment or musical knowledge, by just thinking about it and writing it down. Between classes, I plotted with Rubén concepts for minimalist compositions. We documented some of them on his four track tape recorder. He on sax tenor and myself on guitar.
Somehow we stopped working together and I began my own experiments with tape. Very conceptual. I remember one called 'Is There Anything Outside of FM?', a long piece of drone recorded by skimming through the AM band of my radio. Eventually, I began to cut and paste music from other sources, mixing and manipulating popular music with my own percussion experiments (Madonna singing along the sound of breaking glasses) or mixing whatever was trendy with my favourite composers (Lali Puna with Wim Mertens).
By the early 2000s I was living in Barcelona. I was experimenting with electronic music. I got in touch with a record label in Belgium, they called themselves Subliminal Tape Club. They were interested in selling some of my music, on-line, as MP3. In those days releasing a digital album was seen as something very low brow. In the same way on-line dating was seen as for losers. I didn't have any problem with any of that. I recorded, produced, mixed and mastered my first album on my own, in my room. Listenned today, it's difficult to classify, it reflects what was going on in my inner world during that period. EP2 was released under the alias of HUH? in 2004 via my website 3rdM (The Third Mind) and Subliminal Tape Club. I never got any money from them. EP2 had only one good review and it felt nice to be appreciated.
In 2007 I moved to London. I was focusing on experimental short films, which I wrote, produced, directed, animated, photographed and edited on my own. I also composed the music and sound design. In 2009 I met Céli Lee, my partner. We have been working together on multiple projects. In 2015, I formed a band with Céli. We came up with a new method. To create music as a medium for knowledge and self-knowledge. To create without being attached to any preconceived idea. Nothing should be taken for granted. Nothing that had been learned before, developed before from somewhere else, including ourselves was relevant. To don't quote from any tradition, to don't belong to any genre or any accepted idea. To make music in order to become more sensible and receptive, to communicate better. To notice something we hadn't noticed before. To create something new, that changes us. Music 'for me', 'for us', 'to know'. During a trip to Japan, in Kamakura, in front of Yasujirō Ozu's grave, we decided to call ourselves MU (nothing). It felt appropriated. We played with limited gear, both of us on guitar, with a few effects. We did two tours in Japan, in 2016 and 2017, with some shows in Europe and in London. We played in China too. We also did the soundtrack for some of our films and installations. Some of them performed as live shows. We were creating a total work of live music and film. It was nice.
We did a lot of recordings around that time but we never got to put out most of it. We only released the soundtrack of the video installation "STEREO" and live recordings from our 2016 Japan tour, "L'Impossible". We envisioned our records as artworks. Signed, made in very limited editions, in CD-r with a one-of-a-kind calligraphy made by Céli of 無 (MU). Sometimes including artworks or a one-of-a-kind photograph. We sold them in our gigs, some shops in Japan and via our on-line shop, ENTERTAINING VIOLENCE.
In 2018, inspired by a series of drawings by Céli Lee, 變形記 or "A Journal Of Transform", we created thirteen new instrumental compositions. We released the music as a companion of Céli's art book.
"A Journal Of Transform" wasn't anything like we did before with MU. We were exploring music further and growing in our music vocabulary. Also, it wasn't only guitar based, we were introducing percussion and other instruments.
For the next two years we dedicated ourselves to writing and composing our next album. For the first time we were writing songs. It was a big departure. We wanted to create a complete work drawing from our own nature, in relation to culture. To create new music from what's currently missing in popular culture. A work classic and radical, utilising genres, iconographies and traditions which we explored freely, transcending clichés. Music that we would like to listen to in this era.
In 2020, we released The Eternal Dice under our own names, 'Sergio Calderón & Céli Lee'. It was written, performed, recorded, produced, mixed and mastered on our own, in our London apartment. We also made music videos, short films, photography and the album artwork, even our own website. It came out in vinyl and digital download via our own imprint, ENTERTAINING VIOLENCE. If you, the reader, have the opportunity to hear it, I hope you enjoy it.
What is the role of music today? Where is the music going? Who listens to it? Do they actually listen to it?
Music seems today farther than ever from music. It is not an end in itself, but a medium, a commodity, an industrial product. A way to become a celebrity, or a brand ambassador, an attention seeker, a social media influencer, a backdrop for propaganda. The XXI century artist is mostly a specialist, a disposable worker whose job is to fit into a higher agenda. Quality, innovation, musical ideas, the songwriting craft or the nature and individuality of the artist are so last century. Now it is about data, engagement, counting followers, clicks and views. It is about belonging to outdated categories, to closed systems with accepted laws and aesthetics that have to be preserved at any cost. Music has been rationalised, reduced to a series of clichés, trends and the worst of all, nostalgia.
A nostalgia act like Lady Gaga won't have the same impact in popular culture that other bands that made it before into the mainstream such as The Beatles or Michael Jackson. Her music won't ever have a fraction of their artistic ambition. She wouldn't sell that many records either. But that's not the point, who cares about records anyway? Her job is to be a celebrity, a banner for a certain type of consumer. Nothing new here, just another Margo in yet another remake of 'All About Eve'.
Independent music follows a similar program. Because the conversation is drifting away so much from the craft itself, the independent artist has become an influencer, a banner for wannabes. They work for brands and music platforms. Their job is something like a mentor or a manager, their task is creating conversations and generalizations about subjects like marketing and media. How can I sound like this person that is famous so I can be famous too? How can I be discovered? How can I create content that engages my fans? How can I get my song into a movie or a TV show?
Academics love generalizations too and creating rules, labels, categories. Obviously, it's their bread and butter. Artists that once created new values, dreamed of utopian communities and challenged the establishment now they are misquoted by another type of specialist in the underground and non-mainstream music. Because with experimental music everything is permitted, there is unlimited freedom for the artist, which is why new rules must be created in order for them to fill into certains aesthetics and into the establishment. This time the establishment is not the brands or the media, it is the curators and the institutions. Their job is to preserve and restore old ideas, that they reutilise in new contexts, to create propaganda, to build new walls. Where Yoko Ono used to say 'yes' they add 'only if', 'only when, 'only I' or simply, 'no'.
But do the music lovers want to be patronized by an army of bores? Probably not. Perhaps they only want to listen to music. Music that enjoys, that moves them. That would explain why we live in the golden age of the reissue. They are the new literature lovers. Turning their backs to the current times and getting back to the classics.
It's strange to think that the album that sounds newer, more forward and radical in 2020 comes from a 79 years old Bob Dylan.
Music doesn't follow the reason of industry. Music sometimes is attached to the market, inevitably, as are many any other human activities. But the musician is an artist, a craftsmans that also creates the material for his work of craftsmanship. We create by intuition and this is easy to forget. And to create is to live. As Antonio Machado well said, "Life won't be restored or made up like the products of human industry, but it is renewed or dies. Only the eternal, what never stopped being, will be revealed again, and the homeric source will flow again".
London, Autumn 2020