Some simplistic and unconnected thoughts, and an article I wrote last year:

When I was young I thought everyone listened to the same music, literally. As though it was piped in with the gas and water. I assumed that everyone had heard the same music I had heard.

My first musical memory is throwing rubber balls at the copper pans hanging on my Grandma’s walls. The basics of that experience still inform much of my music today:  an attempt to release sounds from within objects; a healthy potential for error and accident; and minimal technique.

My mum played the piano when I was young. She was an enthusiastic amateur. She liked to play Erik Satie, and often made mistakes. I spent hours hearing already-peculiar Satie with extra oddness (added by my mum). I couldn’t tell which was which.

One of the most depressing sounds I know is the sound of commercial radio coming from a car stereo.

For a long time I would only buy records that were in languages I didn’t understand. I can only speak French. And English.

Musicians don’t always make the best music. There’s plenty of examples of beautiful music made by people who don’t know a sharp from a flat. Musicians should de-tune their instruments, and play left-handed once in a while. Play something you can’t play. Sometimes technique can get in the way of creative expression.

I own 11 guitars (I got rid of one last week). They all sound just different enough for me to keep them. Only 2 of them cost more than £10. I don’t like a lot of guitar music, and I don’t consider myself a guitarist. The world of music would be a far more interesting place if guitars ceased to be. But (like pianos) they’re a very convenient tool.

I create music for theatre and (mostly short) films. Its easy to put too much music in theatre and films. Silence is one of the most powerful soundtracks you can have. It makes people listen. And there are a lot of different silences.

Musicians and engineers and producers spend hours and hours creating music that sounds as good as it possibly can. Then we place our speakers behind sofas and curtains, or listen to the music as mp3s on tiny headphones that make most of the sound spill out. Its like watching a movie through a dirty shop window at a 45˚ angle in the pouring rain.

Below is an article I wrote for The Wire magazine last year:

I got into music pretty late. That is, I started actively discovering and listening to music that I considered ‘mine’ pretty late. For a long time I assumed everyone listened to much the same as me and my family. I rarely if ever listened to Peel, and music was just kind of ‘there’. Although we had music at school and I had clarinet lessons for a year or so, music was really something that happened to me. 

It was really at university that I first started hanging around with people that made me realise that there was ‘other’ music – and I voraciously started picking up and collecting all manner of weird and experimental records. I was making up for lost time. Years later I’d get rid of half of them after realising my scattergun approach to buying music was leaving me with a load of records I didn’t actually like, even if they were heralded as seminal or ground-breaking.

By now I was living in Leicester and Volcano The Bear was happening. The other 3 members all had enough music to last many peoples’ lifetimes, and I was still buying LPs, often turned on to stuff via VTB. It was around this time that my search for the Weird pushed me towards the ‘world’ music sections, and I started buying records played on instruments I’d never heard of, and in languages I couldn’t understand.

One of the first of these was an academic-looking LP of music of the Laˇ hu_ nyiˉ of Thailand. It was mesmerizing – full of bizarre love-songs and dances. Simple, strange and beautiful. I had bought it mainly because Track 17 was listed as ‘Love-songs played on the mouth organ and on leaves’, and it opened me up to an entirely new kind of music. It started and stopped abruptly, had pieces of almost no consequence, and was utterly beautiful. No ‘experimental’ band would ever be brave enough to release this music, and yet here were a Thai tribe playing it amongst their bamboo huts to some folks from the University Of Basle.

And there began my addiction to ‘primitive’ and indigenous recordings, which would take me through the catalogues of Nonesuch Explorer, Ocora, Ethnic Folkways, Argo, Chant Du Monde, Tangent and dozens of other specialist labels, nearly always lovingly produced with extensive images and descriptions of the music held within. The records seemed heavy with musical possibility, and of profound musical substance.

With nearly every record I bought I was being surprised and challenged – the recordings rode roughshod over my conceptions of musical structure and performance. There was ritual Tibetan music consisting of a seemingly endless back and forth between deep irregular chanting and almighty cacophonous percussion. There were Inuit children’s singing games from Greenland. And then there was the Ramayana Monkey Chant – an almost overwhelming vocal onslaught from Bali. Closer to home, Europe revealed incredible musical secrets I was utterly unaware of.

These recordings were wonderfully at odds with our western notion of music, almost defiantly so, using bizarre tonalities, startling vocals and impossible rhythms that made ‘our’ music sound rigid, dull and inflexible. In doing so they almost gave me permission that certain musical ideas were possible. (For some people punk music did the same thing. But for me this stuff was genuinely new, even if some of it was recorded over 60 years ago.)

For a start it seemed that the music wasn’t driven by technique – there were no solos, and all the music played seemed to serve the piece as a whole rather than any individual’s musical ego – and although there was clearly incredible musicianship, it gave hope to someone like me who was technically pretty rough. Improvisation was inherent throughout – the music allowed for it at all times, so much so that the boundary between improvisation and composition disappeared. Similarly there wasn’t the same instrumental hierarchy – there were often no lead instruments. Everything was in there and had its place. Yet it was clear that this music was advanced, far more advanced than I could really grasp. It made me feel that every aspect of a musical piece was up for grabs, that every musical assumption could be challenged. This blew open music for me, and, in conjunction with the experimental and free music I was listening to, made me consider music-making with a fresh perspective.

I’m not kidding myself – I’m no ethnomusicologist. There’s often a lot of information with these records, that, if I’m being brutally honest, I don’t much care about. I know that many of the recordings are for social functions and ceremonies, or tell stories, or are work-songs, but I listen to them purely (and naively) as music, largely unrelated to their social context. Although the materialist in me likes to own these richly annotated documents, I rarely pay them much attention. The music is the thing.

I didn’t realise at the time how important vocals were to me in these recordings. I’ve always struggled with the use of words in my own music-making, and I’m of the opinion that you can sometimes say more with a well-placed wail than you can with a whole verse of poetry. But I’ve realised that one of the reasons I love the voices in many of these recordings (and the myriad of ways voices are used) is precisely because I don’t know what they’re saying. I hear them as another instrument. When things become too specific in music I often lose interest. I’m a bad audience member and don’t like having stories told to me. I prefer to impose my own selfish meaning or emotion on what I’m hearing. So I listen on a pretty simple level – I know that the opening track on the Ocora Burundi LP is one of the scariest songs you’ll ever hear, and that a recording from Sulawesi sounds uncannily like Gaelic Psalm Singing from Lewis. The Bulgarian song ‘Izlel je Delyo hajdutin’ could stop wars if it were played loud enough – its probably the most devastatingly beautiful song I’ve ever heard. And some of the solo khene pieces on the Ocora Laos LP are more Steve Reich than Steve Reich…

These recordings have a timeless quality, and seem largely oblivious to musical fashions, (which exist just as much in experimental music as any other). But overall, the same things that attracted me to experimental music can be found tenfold in these indigenous recordings – a sense of otherness and of mystery (especially if you ignore the liner notes), and a sense of what can music be?

Find out more about Daniel Padden here.


Mix-Blog: A bit like a mix-tape but with blogs instead. Read more from the series here.