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August 20th, 2003 Godfre Leung | Music Stories
 

Chopping in Time

Mirah and Ginger Brooks Takahashi pull music from the palette of life in Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project.

     
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Composer John Cage was, arguably, the most important figure at legendary experimental art school Black Mountain College. And his most infamous performance piece was 4'33"--four minutes and thirty-three seconds of Cage sitting at, but not playing, a piano. Instead of hearing "traditional" music, the audience heard the sounds of the room: every shuffle, squeaking chair and cough.

What Cage did with these sounds of everyday life, K Records songstress Mirah and LTTR Zine's Ginger Brooks Takahashi do with the music of everyday life on Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project. Recorded with special attention to background noises in a house in Black Mountain, the mostly instrumental songs are written and performed as duets with kitchen noises, cicadas chirping in the back yard and the sound of cars driving by outside. The songs "challenge us to honor the little tunes we hum as we walk to work, the rhythms we hear as we chop potatoes for dinner," writes collaborator Sara Marcus in the liner notes.

Mirah and Takahashi--along with a small group of collaborating visitors--spent a month in Black Mountain, N.C., at a friend's house, recording the album only as an afterthought. "The goal was to go somewhere and play music every day, because both of us found that, in our own lives, there wouldn't be time to play music," says Mirah. "It's what I do for a living, but I seem to spend much more time checking my email than playing guitar."

The project is decidedly different from what we've come to expect from Mirah. Her previous albums, especially last year's critical tour de force Advisory Committee, established her as a solo artist with an amazingly personal songwriting style. More a document of their September in Black Mountain than a collection of songs, Black Mountain Music Project is meant to be experienced rather than merely listened to. There are several conventional pop songs on the album, but short and spontaneously conceived instrumental pieces make up the meat of the project. They expose music as not only a vital product of everyday existence, but as something inseparable from it.

 
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