Welcome to the 1%J 2014 1%J ADVENT PLAYLIST, in which we attempt to reconcile the simultaneously occurring but often contradictory spirits of Advent season and the “holidays.” It has recently come to our attention that there’s a typo in this introductory paragraph thing, but we are going to leave it because now it is a “tradition,” like that blue streak through the T in “Deckmaster” on the back of Magic Cards.
If there is a genre called “pleasing music” then the late Japanese hip-hop producer Nujabes is surely the king of it. His songs are simple constructions. A repeating sample is fleshed out with soft piano or strings. His drums hold a strict beat and rarely break from their established rhythm. All of the individual pieces of a song work together the same way a wrist-watch does – a dazzlingly complicated set of gears all making a simple tic, tic. There is something, of course, that makes Nujabes more than just “pleasing.” I have often considered his music to be meditative and mysteriously thoughtful in much the same way that Philip Glass or William Basinski are meditative and thoughtful. All three artists thrive on repetition and (usually) pleasant tonalities.
While Glass and Basinski often succeed by varying their repetition over extended periods of time, “Aruarian Dance” limits itself to four quick minutes. “Dance” has three main elements – a muted guitar, drum kit and a string section. The muted guitar is anchored by the same consistent back-beat. Strings rise and fall with the culmination of each phrase. Musical relation is simple and elegant. Nothing is out of place. I imagine a world in constant motion. As an observer of this world, I am in constant engagement with the moving world. I am dancing with it even when I am still.
I once wrote a really bad song about coming home from college for the first time. One of the lines was about having things change while pretending they were still the same. I’m no lyrical genius, but I’d like to think I was reaching toward something true. Home, and its traditions, are meant to be anchors in our lives – a way of combating the inevitable march of time and the change that comes with it. Traditions are great for supplying us with comfort and continuity, yet I can’t help but wish that they could flow the same way that “Aruarian Dance” does. Because if something is always supposed to be a certain way, then it follows that there is always something that can go wrong. If your deceased grandfather was always the one to carve the Christmas ham, then something is off when he dies and the tradition is not the same as it was.
“Aruarian Dance” is, in part, an acceptance of this reality. The same themes and ideas are present throughout the entire song, but your experience of those ideas changes with each iteration. To steal a term from Martin Buber, as the music repeats I change and I am able to “stand in relation” to it. I am dancing with it even when I am still. Everything is in its right place because it has no place. You can never be lost. You can never be alone. You are always moving farther and closer to the same point. The only consistency is inconsistency and that is its own kind of tradition.