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Carla Bley's "Escalator Over The Hill"
September 11, 2010 3:48 PM   Subscribe

It is simultaneously unlike, and above, every other record. ... Because perhaps it tells us what a trivial pursuit music really is, and at the same time how indispensable to a meaningful existence it in fact is. ... No one, least of all Carla Bley, has subsequently come even within an orbit’s distance of its achievements. ... It is, in the most literal of senses, untouchable. - Marcello Carlin
posted by Joe Beese (42 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
It is simultaneously unlike, and above, every other record. ...

This can only be a credible statement if the portion of text represented by the ellipsis is one of the following:

- in my house
- for sale in the Perlman's yard sale over on Gardner and 10th
- in this box of Garth Brooks LPs
posted by The Discredited Ape at 3:59 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I tried to guess what this was from the description alone, and thought: "Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica?"
posted by Countess Elena at 4:00 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


It sounds like the ghosts of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits are fighting for control of Kenny G's body.
posted by mhoye at 4:07 PM on September 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


It sounds like the ghosts of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits are fighting for control of Kenny G's body.

... the young Gato Barbieri in all his Wild Bull of the Pampas glory - AllMusic Guide
posted by Joe Beese at 4:10 PM on September 11, 2010


Pretty sure links like the 3rd one there are Metafilter no-no's. If not, perhaps they ought to be?
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:13 PM on September 11, 2010


I should add that I really like these samples on Youtube. I've never heard anything quite like it.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:16 PM on September 11, 2010


I volunteer at a nonprofit radio station and one time found myself dateless on New Year's Eve. So I decided to do everyone a favor and sub at the station. I used this opportunity to play "Escalator Over the Hill" in its entirety, which may be the only time that's ever been done on the radio. It's worth nothing that many people consider it a mess. Still can't make up my mind about it, but it's definitely Mahlerian in scope and in the variety of elements it contains; it's unlike any other recording ever made.
posted by texorama at 4:17 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pretty sure links like the 3rd one there are Metafilter no-no's.

You mean like the ones in this post and that one?
posted by Joe Beese at 4:33 PM on September 11, 2010


Sorry, I couldn't get through the entire review because to me this is one of the finest examples of dancing about architecture I have read in a long time.

It is literally whatever you want to make of it.

I can truly say I dreamt, from beginning to end, before I even heard it

I respect Bley enough and am grateful to have her music in my life but this kind of over-the-top writing helps nothing.
posted by victors at 4:34 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


All dance is on some sense "about" the space in which it occurs, and since this is typically a humanly constructed space, most dance IS in fact "about architecture," and that phrase is absurd.

Humans everywhere talk about music. It's diagnostic of the phenomenon. And the most common "music" across time and cultures is texted song.

Words and music are not distinct things.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:41 PM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Thank you for posting it. I have never heard this before, and I really like it (while at the same time TOTALLY getting why many people don't). But I don't get this: it tells us what a trivial pursuit music really is

How does it tell us that? How can a piece of music -- without lyrics -- possibly tell us that?
posted by grumblebee at 4:49 PM on September 11, 2010


My mistake. There are lyrics. Just not in the part linked to. Anyway, thanks. I just bought the album on iTunes.
posted by grumblebee at 4:52 PM on September 11, 2010


>Pretty sure links like the 3rd one there are Metafilter no-no's.

You mean like the ones in this post and that one?

Yes, those are two other posts of yours with precisely the kinds of links I mean. Thank you for calling them to my attention. I've now flagged them all, and I'll move on.

Look I won't make a big stink out of it, in part because conversations about music downloading are not conversations that MeFi does well, and in part because (in my opinion) the post is good apart from the one link to the music blog. It just seems to me that posting such links here is a bit unseemly, and I wanted to say something about it. Those who are interested in the album, but have the same qualms I do, might follow grumblebee's lead and find the album on iTunes or Amazon. Those who have no such qualms are surely adept enough googlers to find the blogs on their own, without MeFi directing traffic there.
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:02 PM on September 11, 2010


Caveat auditor. It's quite a task to listen to, but if this is the kind of thing you like, you'll be almost as excited as that reviewer.

(cool trivia: Paul Haines, the lyricist, is the father of Emily Haines of Metric. She jacked the cover art design from "Escalator over the Hill" for her first solo album)
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 5:05 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Escalaor over the hill is sublime. Any project that gets Linda Ronstadt and John McLaughlin together is ace in my book.
posted by Steakfrites at 5:41 PM on September 11, 2010


I thought Singer-Saints was our little secret.
posted by Faze at 5:43 PM on September 11, 2010


Thank you, thank you, thank you, and then drat you. I have yet to make a 1st post and thought I might present Escalator one day. This album means so much to me. Just listen to Gato Barbieri wailing away. And then those unstoppable trombones. Also related, timely and moving: Septober Energy
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 5:48 PM on September 11, 2010


I used this opportunity to play "Escalator Over the Hill" in its entirety, which may be the only time that's ever been done on the radio.

Nope: there was a guy on WPRB in Princeton who used to play it once a year. It's how I first heard and fell in love with it. My LPs are a horribly scratched up ex-library copy, but I somehow can't bring myself to buy a digital version. May have something to do with the droning locking groove at the very end of side six.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:56 PM on September 11, 2010


I completely utterly devotedly love me some Carla Bley.

However, Escalator Over The Hill is far from definitive. She's done a lot more, and a lot better, in the years since that was created.

I strongly urge anyone who likes Bley to look for later works by her, including Dinner Music, European Tour 1977, Musique Mecanique, Heavy Heart, Sextet, The Very Big Carla Bley Band, Appearing Nightly, and Carla's Christmas Carols.

She's outstanding, her group is wonderful, and she's a largely ignored musical treasure. I hope she gets wider appreciation (especially in the US) because she is well deserving.
posted by hippybear at 6:14 PM on September 11, 2010


that phrase is absurd

I'm not sure how to react to your post - did you mean to come as, er, pompous as I'm reading it?

I guess it's possible you may have a better take on this than Frank Zappa and Alexander Pope's unison opinion on the deleterious affect lousy criticism can have
'Tis hard to say, if greater Want of Skill
Appear in Writing or in Judging ill,
But, of the two, less dang'rous is th' Offence,
To tire our Patience, than mis-lead our Sense
Some few in that, but Numbers err in this,
Ten Censure wrong for one who Writes amiss;
A Fool might once himself alone expose,
Now One in Verse makes many more in Prose.
Pope (pdf)
But maybe, you know, not.

fwiw, even after your comments I still don't like that review - it seems irrelevant to the music and a lot of hand waiving.
posted by victors at 6:21 PM on September 11, 2010


All dance is on some sense "about" the space in which it occurs ... most dance IS in fact "about architecture,"
posted by fourcheesemac


All piccolo playing depends on air to transmit the sound, yet few piccolo concertos are specifically about air.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:41 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a first-time listener, "Hotel Overture" sounds like if Sufjan Stevens was in charge of the soundtrack for Bewitched.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 7:11 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Didn't she do a segment on David Sanborn's show Night Music back "when?" I recall it being pretty damn good.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:57 PM on September 11, 2010


First-time listener here too. As much as I wanted to disagree with the innumerable "Unlike anything you've ever heard" comments (did you get the memo? Avant Garde is no longer shocking), I've got to say that this is a damn weird piece of music.
posted by schmod at 9:01 PM on September 11, 2010


Pretty sure links like the 3rd one there are Metafilter no-no's. If not, perhaps they ought to be?

Pretty sure your criticism is vaguely uncommunicative, .kobayashi.

If so, perhaps it shouldn't be?
posted by IAmBroom at 9:22 PM on September 11, 2010


Kinda puzzled here. I mean, I love Carla Bley, always have. I also like this album, have had if for years. But what's the sudden big deal all of a sudden? This is far from the weirdest or most unlike anything I have ever heard before thingy. Or am I just an old burned out avant gardian?
posted by charlesminus at 10:00 PM on September 11, 2010


> Pretty sure links like the 3rd one there are Metafilter no-no's. If not, perhaps they ought to be?

Pretty sure your criticism is vaguely uncommunicative, .kobayashi.

If so, perhaps it shouldn't be?

I'm sorry, IAmBroom. I thought a little tact was in order. It seemed that Joe Beese understood quite well what I meant, and responded in kind.

Apparently, though, I was too subtle. So I'll say it baldly: I don't think that it's a good idea to include links to music-sharing blogs here on MetaFilter. By music-sharing blogs, I mean blogs that include links to full free album downloads through one-click hosting sites like rapidshare, like the Singer-Saints blog in Joe Beese's 3rd link. I refrained from a bald articulation of what these sites do: offer full reproductions of copyrighted work in ways that many here find unpalatable, and still others will defend to the death.

I don't say this to accuse anyone of anything, though others might wish to. And I certainly don't say this in hopes of starting a fight, though here too others might wish to. It's just my suspicion that many people would be happy if these sorts of links just weren't there. Folks who consider this sort of thing to be piracy probably don't want to see them because they do not condone the behavior of those who upload the files. Folks who don't consider this sort of thing piracy, but know that some heat might come down on their favorite blogs if they're publicized, probably don't want to see them because they don't want these blogs to be chased off the internet. Folks who just don't want to wade through another copyright argument on the blue or gray probably don't want to see them because they know such links can provoke a clang and clatter will likely be long, vituperative, and fruitless.

As a result, I thought it was worth asking for a clarification, and making the suggestion that we might refrain from such links in the future. Beyond that suggestion, I was happy to flag the posts in question and move on. I'm still happy to leave it here.

I trust I have now made myself clear. If you want to discuss it further, we can take it to MeTa. But there, my position will be much like it is here: I'd point out that these sorts of links are tricky, for the reasons I've just listed. I'd share my suspicion that, for these same reasons, these links might not be kosher. And I'd wonder aloud if they're the sort of links we want to continue to post on the blue.
posted by .kobayashi. at 10:17 PM on September 11, 2010


Kinda puzzled here. I mean, I love Carla Bley, always have. I also like this album, have had if for years. But what's the sudden big deal all of a sudden? This is far from the weirdest or most unlike anything I have ever heard before thingy. Or am I just an old burned out avant gardian?

Everything old is new again. This year, a couple of thousand college students will discover John Cage and/or The Residents this year. It's inevitable.
posted by davejay at 10:18 PM on September 11, 2010


All piccolo playing depends on air to transmit the sound, yet few piccolo concertos are specifically about air.
posted by StickyCarpet


How clever. Misses my point rather entirely, but clever.

A part of the problem is the word "about." Since music and dance are non referential codes, the entire pithiness of the cliche depends on the ambiguity of words being "about" things in a different way than non-referential signs. But in a fundamental way, dance that occurs in built space is constrained by, and exploratory of, the possibilities of that particular space. (A big secret, however, is that language is not purely referential, just as music and dance are not purely non-referential. Another song for another day.)

And actually the same is true for music. Piccolos are small but piercing instruments, because they evolved from an instrument (fifes) intended to be played in motion and outside by military bands. In a fundamental sense, the design of the piccolo is "about" the need to propagate sound waves in air very efficiently, hence the very high, shrill tone, so they will carry outdoors. And it is "about" the (unbuilt) space of the outdoor battlefield, which soldiers must traverse.

So yes, piccolo compositions are indeed "about air."
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:01 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


fourcheesemac's point is ultimately good, because everything should be "about" more and not "about" less. But if you accept that, then someone has to propose a new, "Like BLANKing about BLANK," because we need something to express that notion. Bicycling about fish? Tap-dancing about doilies?
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:47 AM on September 12, 2010


In a fundamental sense, the design of the piccolo is "about" the need to propagate sound waves in air very efficiently, hence the very high, shrill tone, so they will carry outdoors. And it is "about" the (unbuilt) space of the outdoor battlefield, which soldiers must traverse.

No, this is a travesty of "about".
posted by kenko at 10:49 AM on September 12, 2010


ok, how's about this:

fourcheesemac's comments are about as relevant to the OP's post as the review linked is about Bley's music (?) is that about right?

meanwhile:

hippybear I strongly urge anyone who likes Bley to look for later works by her, including Dinner Music, European Tour 1977, Musique Mecanique, Heavy Heart, Sextet, The Very Big Carla Bley Band, Appearing Nightly, and Carla's Christmas Carols.

I kind of agree (except I'm not familiar with the very lastest stuff like the xmas carols) I would add Big Band Theory as a better introduction to her. She is an amazing arranger - it may be heresy but I kind of think she is a stronger arranger than composer but that's strictly one man's vho - and the music that focuses on her horn charts are what got to me.
posted by victors at 11:02 AM on September 12, 2010


All dance is on some sense "about" the space in which it occurs, and since this is typically a humanly constructed space, most dance IS in fact "about architecture," and that phrase is absurd.

Laurie Anderson and her clone discuss exactly this concept.
posted by hippybear at 11:05 AM on September 12, 2010


I'm not familiar with the very lastest stuff like the xmas carols

That christmas album she released last year is an instant classic. I highly recommend it. And Appearing Nightly is a real joy. I'm a huge fan of hers, and it's kind of cool to actually see her posted here on the Blue. It's rare to talk to anyone who has even heard of her.

I so wish she'd actually tour the US. She's always in Europe, but only plays very rare dates here. I'd just love to see her once, really.
posted by hippybear at 11:09 AM on September 12, 2010


And I should add that Bley has an extensive website online, which includes quite a number of .pdf lead sheets for her music.

The website itself is a bit odd to navigate, but there's a few interesting things there to explore.
posted by hippybear at 11:18 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The leads are a find (!) - although I would kill for the orchestrations ;) (never enough free stuff eh?)

Listening to xmas carols now - you're right, it's pretty wonderful so far.
posted by victors at 11:36 AM on September 12, 2010


Okay, I will bite.

Talking about music is like (exactly like, in fact) talking about architecture or quantum physics. Yet no one says those are impossible subjects of discourse.

I'm a linguist, so if you want to mix it up "about" reference you'll have to do better than dismissive insults.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:52 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


It just seems to me that posting such links here is a bit unseemly, and I wanted to say something about it. Those who are interested in the album, but have the same qualms I do, might follow grumblebee's lead and find the album on iTunes or Amazon.

I would say it's probably a bad idea for a different reason, the one that Faze alludes to.

Bringing attention to blogs that haven't asked for it might not be a great idea.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:24 PM on September 12, 2010


sounds like the soudntrack to some overwrought urban scene in some movie that is very dated and stars dudes that look like they are from the early 80s in a rusted out blighted industrial area.
posted by tarvuz at 11:54 PM on September 12, 2010


Talking about music is like (exactly like, in fact) talking about architecture

Isn't the line "writing about music?" I always took a secondary level of meaning from that, which was that the writer is also implying that he is an artist and a skilled tradesman, on par with the musicians and composers. It's not just questioning the utility of the endeavor, but defending the writer's self respect. As in, "I'm a writer, and I create value with my own thoughts and vision. My writing is not subordinate to the subject that I write about, if I direct my talents to saying something about a composer, don't read my offering as being all about him, it's still about me." The poor writer is saying, "of all the arts in the world, why do the others get to be about themselves, whereas if I choose an artistic subject, It's all about the other guy."

It is also a nominally witty quip, expressing the widely held belief that Art is ineffable. Perhaps as a linguist, fourcheesemac, and one that I would never dismiss, you understandably bristle at that notion. Myself, I believe that the ineffable is a defining component of art, even of writing. And I do like a good quip now and then.

I had a music composition teacher that said, "Reading about music theory is like reading about cake theory, it doesn't get you much closer to a good piece of cake."
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:44 AM on September 13, 2010


Note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the
issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site.


god knows I'm trying...

bottom line: turning this thread into a self-serving demonstration of linguistics is disrespectful to the OP
posted by victors at 1:53 PM on September 14, 2010


turning this thread into a ...
posted by victors


We're dozens of comments in, this thread should blossom and grow in whatever way it pleases.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:27 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


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