SHREDD: This Is Your Brains On Drums!
Martin Murphy: Murfeus  2003  www.Murfeus.com 
Copyright © by SuZi, 9/26/03

  The reaction against the mechanization of western Culture is synchronous with that of the increasing thralldom held by technology--a post industrial manifestation of humanity's peccadillo for tools, to which we are all, like it or not, in servitude. In our current time, reactionaries to the drudgery imposed by post-industrialism are easily identifiable by the very clues worn as inclusionary signs of counterculture: the neo-hippie in road-worn garb, the chain-walleted and booted biker type, those who wear only chinos, those who show their tattoos. The ubiquitous presence of brandnames, brandnames, brandnames, a veritable landscape of the corporate presence which holds the planet in bondage.
  Yet, there are those who choose not to serve; there have been since the city-state's walls were a dwindling vision over the shoulder of those who journeyed out and away from the cancer-like rapacity of humanity. The search for atavism is nothing new, much ado has been made over modern primitivism; so much so that an entire commodities market exists for sects of the neo-primitive: the Celtic knot necklace, the plastic Buddha and the dreamcatcher. Such reactionarism is a protest to both the stifling nature of the pedagogical stridency of consumerism and to, as Joseph Campbell said, "the failure of religion to meet the modern world"(Moyers, 30). In most cases, the neo-primitive is not so much interested in the creation of a new mythology as in retreating into the comfort of the old. Of those who abdicate their responsibilities toward our current dilemma in favor of an infantile and violent participation in an outdated and corrupted system, a vociferous voice is raised in reaction to the reactionaries: they would murder the physician to save the smiling fetus who is nonetheless doomed.
  The dire situation of current culture is not without hope, as there are those for whom the creation of a new mythology exceeds an import beyond reaction to the pestilence of a franchise sandwich. Seeds, perhaps, on some prayed-for wind of change, as activist will sprout hither and yon, even in an enclave of otherwise robot-drone consumers. There is no hidden castle of subversives to burn; there is a voice with ears tuned  for what Campbell calls "the world's dreams"(Moyers, 19). Sometimes in true, rather than corrupted, form of shaman can be found a person of passion for whom the ancient things still sing. Such a person seeks neither student nor follower --'tho the agendas of associates may not be so pure--but to make manifest the perceptible wave of the om-big bang word/flesh muse without disowning human history and all of its toys.
  Much has been said about the importance of play: evidence indicates play among the fish, play as a lesson in selfhood for tigers and tots of all species. Nor are humans the only species to utilize toys, as many--most clichéd being the cat--toys the kill, the food; toys with the source of sustenance, toys with the source of like. Indeed, the word play is applied to humanity to both activities of hunting for food(sport) and to those activities which seek solace in the source of life: the playing of music. And music itself, long both a consumer commodity and a reaction to the enslavement of that consumption, is one of the few art forms left visible in our current culture of suppression.
  Music can lead us to a new, more viable mythology and already this phenomenon is entrenched in our culture through the World Beat bins in any CD selling entity. Most of the time, such offerings are dogmatically patriotic to sectarian cultural formulae; this does not make them uncharming, as often the quality of musicianship far exceeds that of the pabulum offered over the airwaves. Occasionally, someone famous will venture to walk down a dirt street and then appropriate the songs sung for seven generations. It is not often, or often enough, that someone correctly understands the spirit of such an enclave and trusts their own artistic voice enough to translate forward.
  It is the translation forward of Campbell's songs of the planet which seems to be the primary concern of a collective of musicians who play under the name SHREDD. Veteran musical principles of neo-pagan festivals, the former Saturday night band for a Middle Eastern restaurant, and heavily influenced by Yoruban rhythm patterns and mythos, SHREDD has recently released a ten track CD titled This is your brain on drums! Do not expect  groovy-moody synth work behind some warbling crooner: SHREDD is entirely percussion--a potent, deceptively simple multi-rhythmic pulsing which does not seek to give obvious messages. If there is any message to the tracks here, it is in the relationship of the listener to the sound itself. The relationships between that of the listener to music and to that of the relationship between the musician and his instrument are elegantly documented by James Baldwin in "Sonny's Blues." Baldwin writes:

[...]about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are persona; private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.     (Lauter 2190)

 It is not too much of a stretch to see this offering of SHREDD as triumphant. Yet, do not expect brassy paeans to marching guns, the triumph is or another order; an older and quieter triumph more closely akin to the turning of the seasons than of humanity's scars upon the planet. Indeed, there is an aspect of trance to this music, but without sacrifice to that of the tribal.
  Tribalism is, by its very nature, exclusionary, but exclusivity is not what this CD is about. As the tracks play, the clear influence of motifs associated with those of the Hindu  are heard, on other tracks, musical motifs from the African, the Asian, the AmerInd. Multiculturalism is employed here as a means of communicating Campbell's planetary song; the music here has no motive except that of the rapture of its being. The brief liner notes dedicated to composition insist that nine of the ten tracks are improvisational, and that only the rhythm base of one song was acquired--with the rest of the track being not only improvisational, but isolated in each part. The primary composer for SHREDD, Martin Murphy, writes that "no one heard anyone else's improv loops or leads; all that was arranged and mixed after," clearly deconstructing even the mythos of a band: that all musicians play the same song together at the same time. The new mythos, as constructed by Murphy, is that the musicians respond individually to Baldwin's "roar rising from the void" and do so with or without the constraints of Synchronicity in space-time.
  The tracks on This is your brains on drums! are not the endless, blank-minded, rave thumping of an amplified washing machine on spin. The rhythms here are so astutely varied that the sense of tunefulness, required in the appellation of the concept of song, is not compromised. The one track which does contain a vocal is not mixed with the usual vocal-out-front so painfully purveyed by most modern music, but rather included the voice as one of the instruments; the words spoken are not given an overbearing position and are sometimes barely decipherable as more than mere tone.
  Some note must be taken of the employed instruments themselves. Murphy's influences, at first, appear to have no synchronizing element beyond a banquet of primitive music, and perhaps Murphy might not be aware--as musician ordering the roar upon the air--of the corroboration achieved. The CD's liner notes take more care in discussion of the instruments used than of any other aspect of the recording. True, there are the obligatory photos of the players—tiny and in black and white--and the insert itself has the DIY flavor of the independent music and art made twenty years ago; however Murphy details both the instruments used on each track, as well as instruments Murphy hand made. Of the acquired instruments employed, each track's characteristic tonality is determined by the voice of the instrument used: the track with the AmerInd -type sound is the one which employs a Cherokee flute; the Asian influenced track is the one which employs Tibetan Singing Bowls. There is an insistence on purity here; the voice of the instrument sings of the culture which created it and adds that voice without perversion; the tracks with Egyptian tabla are about the evocations of that instrument. Overarching, or holding the bottom line, for each track are the kinds of percussion instruments familiar to those of that discipline: djembe, conga, drum kit. Murphy also discusses the instruments employed which he made himself: a Wuhan Chan gong mounted on a djembe, and a motorcycle wheel metamorphized into a frame drum.
  The most significant evidence of Murphy's forward thinking—in addition to the mixing of the CD itself--is in the creation of the motorcycle wheel drum. The understanding of the instrument of the drum itself as an instrument of primality is so generally understood it is almost, if not, a cliché. Murphy takes this artifact of post-industrial culture (an icon of reactionism to post-industrialism, if one considers the myth of the biker who paradoxically searches for an end to servitude and uses the machine to this end) and through the technology of welding, gets the artifact to accept an animal skin--a symbol, if not an actuality, of humanity's most offensive, barbaric primitivism. Creating this paradoxical instrument is one of Murphy's "passions" and significantly differs Murphy from other atavistic musicians. On too many other CDs, the listener is subjected to birdsong and wolfwail mixed with flat synthesizer tunes; the paradox is in the mix and is about as stimulating as Thai flavored franchise food. Murphy offers his paradox in the creation of the instruments, in the combining of the instruments to create the song which is not a song but a rhythm singing, and then carefully mixes track after track after track so smoothly the production appears invisible.
  Murphy's mythology of sound is of the avatar; his concern one of purity to the source of all music itself, instead of the clerical impositions, cultural formats and commodifying perversions enslaving it through the ages. If, as Campbell suggests, the critical mythologies of humanity were yet to come in his lifetime, then Murphy intends to solve by employing the voice of not one tribe, but the larger planetary tribe to sing forward from the origin.

Works Cited

-Baldwin, James "Sonny's Blues" The Heath Anthology of American Literature (Paul Lauter ed.) Houghton Mifflin, 2002

-Moyers, Bill and Joseph Campbell The Power of Myth Anchor Books-Doubleday, 1988

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