Some Thoughts on Fountainsun’s MUSIC TODAY
by Dick Turner
I felt what people refer to as “honored” when Daniel Higgs asked me to write about the new Fountainsun record, Music Today. He told me that the label wanted some text to go with the release; that made sense to me; perhaps people unfamiliar with Daniel Higgs’ work may find a framework useful to enter into his music; like a door to a new room. People familiar with his work however probably don’t need my ideas to help them appreciate it, because they would have their own.
So, Daniel said, that if I had any thoughts, to write them down. I had some thoughts…
I have listened to Music Today several times straight through. What I am going to say now is what I think is the truth about this disc of music and songs: All the words necessary to understand it are already in the texts of the songs. And I believe no one needs my “personal reading” of the disc (which I do have by the way).
I could add that the work (I use the term “work” to refer the disc as a whole, a totality) is in my opinion is a Hymn to Creation, Nature and Existence.
But all this to me seems obvious and no one needs me to say it. Just like no one needs me to say it is beautiful and well constructed as an album. Play it, you’ll see.
So instead I thought I’d write about something else that is more personal in content and yet still relates to the disc Music Today.
I have been listening to Daniels’ music for somewhere around thirty years now and have followed its winding permutations from Poetry-Driven-Hard-Rock to this current form. Furthermore, we have played together many times over the years.
This record has something in it like the songs of a Pilgrimage. And this is how I see Daniels music and life; he is a spiritual-mystic-pilgrim.
Here I have to make an aside: I don’t like using words like journey, mystic, spiritual, etc in conversation or writing because they have become over-used-new-age-buzz-words which usually are meaningless or worse – a simple way to get an unthinking emotional reaction from a conditioned public. I use them now only because in this case I believe they are appropriate to the subject matter.
At this point I have to add a very important point, perhaps the most important to what I have to say: This record in every sense is a collaborative effort. Though I am familiar with much of his other collaborative work I have never been struck as forcibly by the collaborative presence in any of his previous music.
Literally from the first sound of the record – the blended guitar and banjo and then the blended voices – I felt I was hearing a new step in his journey.
So, to continue, I feel that this collaboration is the most perfect I’ve yet heard.
Let me explain why I feel this way.
First, another aside: Mystics, unlike their representations in popular literature as warm and fuzzy, soft and smiling men, in reality have to be hard people. Not mean, not cruel, but hard – meaning that they cannot allow themselves to be distracted from their goal. Why? Because on the road they walk they cannot allow themselves a compromise or they lose everything. One compromise leads to the next and before you know it you are buying a value pack of toilet paper, WD-40 and extra staples at the Wal-Mart. Daniel, to pursue what he has been pursuing for all these years is such a person, he has rules that he follows; he has a mode of existence.
This undistracted drive is evident (at least I think it is) in his music. Think of his solo banjo work: it is highly concentrated, intense and relentless in its forward propulsion, it never changes scales. Think of the Jew’s harp music which is essentially variations on one sound. Think of the Lungfish records which are composed of music of driving repetition with no refrains. This is all music of inner-spatial intensification.
It’s curious that it is the exact opposite of the most classical religious form, the fugue. The fugue is searching movement towards exterior space; here we have searching movement towards interior space.
I find the presence of Fumie Ishii on this new record (and here comes the most new age-y expression I have ever written in my life, but again, I can’t think of how else to say it) acts as a sort of YANG to Daniel’s YIN. Here, on Music Today, I believe a balance has been found that makes the disc unusual in his recorded output.
Though excerpts from his poem “The Fool’s Sermon” are the unifying thread of the album, it is not a Daniel Higgs record, it is a Fountainsun record. This is something new in my experience of his work.
Perhaps this may seem obvious, but consider what I think is the truth: In Daniels other collaborations, his has always been the dominant personality. Here, it is not, this is the “something new”.
Don’t forget that above I wrote that we have played music together many times over the years and thus I know what it means to collaborate on a musical project with Daniel. I found myself always moving in his direction – this is not by the way a complaint or criticism, it is just a statement of personal experience – it seemed the natural thing to do.
Fumie Ishii, with her voice and melodic sense, provides the perfect balancing element to Daniel’s ornamental and oriental (in the classic sense) intensity; in doing so, together they have produced a record both beautiful and complete.
Those are my thoughts.