Yesterday I saw Earth live. It was magnificent.
Listening to the music, I thought that (in an alternate universe) Earth could have been a great Dub Reggae band. In Earth's music, one hears the same attentiveness to sonic texture and aural spatiality as one hears in the very best Dub Reggae. In the Dub Reggae, the band leader or producer uses texture and spatiality to weave what Kodwo Eshun calls "sonic fiction". Where Lee 'Scratch' Perry and King Tubby ensorcelled primitive multi-track studio technology to refract American R&B and Funk into a wide sonic spectrum/spectre/Duppy ghost, Dylan Carlson and his band use sustain, distortion, fuzz-tone and feedback to carefully tease a drone out of Country, a drone which seems to breathe all of its own.
Another thing that struck me is that Earth now incorporates both strands of Minimalist music: not only the droning Minimalism of the La Monte Young lineage, but also the repetitive ostinato Minimalism of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Like Glass and Reich, Earth employs simple musical patterns, offset in time, to create a slowly shifting, cohesive whole. However, where the tempi of Glass and Reich are presto, Earth is maestoso slow. Furthermore, these musical patterns generate electrified drones, in a dialectic move towards a synthesis of the two strains of Minimalist music.
The concert was attended by some Black Metal fans, decked out in Darkthrone and Bathory t-shirts, black leather jackets and spike-studded belts. They looked completely out of place, and obviously felt it was necessary to don their haughtiest masks. Why? In the past, circa the Earth 2 album, Earth performed Dionysian music: theirs was the stupor of intoxication, the heaviness of sleep after orgiastic chaos. The Black Metal fans no doubt attended the concert because of Earth's Dionysian phase. But since then, Earth's performance has evolved into an Appollonian one (Apollo being the god of serenity, sanity; of Art as contemplation, of Nature as a garden): patience, carefulness, musicianship, attentiveness and meditative awareness have become key words for Earth's music. Now, Earth is closer to Tortoise than to Sunn 0))). We can envisage Dylan Carlson as a brooding, potbellied, pale, tattooed, moustachioed, drawling and middle-aged Apollo plucking his lyre!
I bought the 'liveeurope2006' cd after the concert ended, and I can heartily recommend it. Not only is it a compendium of some of Earth's most-loved songs played live. It also has the great advantage of featuring Steve 'Stebmo' Moore's music-making more prominently than the studio albums. Moore, who comes from a Free Jazz background, is a bearded, bespectacled, somewhat academic-looking man, quite different from Carlson's 'truck driver' looks. He plays electric piano (Wurlitzer) and trombone. On the cd, Moore employs these instruments to enrich Earth's drone, and to echo the slow ostinati of guitar and bass. In yesterdays concert however, he used the Wurlitzer in a more pianistic fashion, surrounding Earth's slow notes with clusters of notes. The contrast between the relative density of this twinkling sound and the slow, open expanse of Earth's music was magical.
Earth live is magnificent.
Below a YouTube video of Earth performing 'A Plague Of Angels' live.