Last night my sister stopped over in Los Angeles en route to the Quechua village of Otovalo in Ecuador from Guangzhou in the Canton province of China and I strapped her down for an hour to ask her about her incredible crusade to study the textile trail for my podcast.
Vanessa is studying the semiotics of fashion in Halifax, Nova Scotia where she discovered the language of culture can be unzipped from the patterns found in textiles. From Chan Chan to Lake Titicaca in Peru to the mega-industrialized cities of Canton, there is a history of meaning woven into the very fabrics that under closer scrutiny reveals much about the culture. For example the pelicans find their way into Peruvian “mantas” – cloth used for everything from baby harnesses to satchels for carrying foodstuffs, because the behaviors of pelicans may reveal the stock of fish in a given body of water. The action of a certain animal running uphill may belie the coming of a storm. For these reasons, these systems of communication are transmitted in the images found in the weave.
Vanessa trekked four days up the Incan trail, not only laden with but constructed of a semi-precious green stone called Serpetina, to the mystic cloud city of Machu Pichu. She considered the flora and fauna along the way and how their colors and movements worked their way into the cloth.
At Lake Titicaca, the natives have created floating islands out of reeds where they have taken up permanent residence – powering their internet connection via solar panels. The implications of this are astounding and beyond the scope of this article. But consider what this means in light of a thing like the Principality of Sealand.
Although now some villages are using synthetic dyes and fibers, natural colors were created from insects to onions, from llama and alpaca wool – but now the global popularity of alpaca has forced prices to raise so high the the very natives who innovated use of the material can’t afford it.
A month later, Vanessa finds herself in Hong Kong en route to a tech convention in Guangzhou where the sky is, as she describes, a permanent ashen color from all the pollution to be found in the world’s central factory for technology. Nine-story high building filled with nothing but cell phone merchants bring on intense migraines and colossal skyscrapers – glass and steel wonders that put the best New York has to offer to shame follow the dictates of Feng Shui and yet these things remain virtually unknown and unseen by the Western world.
Textiles are made on looms and looms, which used punched cards to create the complex patterns used in textiles are essentially the precursor to today 8.9″ laptops, thus the patterns thereby created are miniature programs whose propriety belongs to those micro-cultures that developed them. To unlock these codes is to understand hidden knowledge about the world, language and development of a culture. In these times when thousands of unique languages are going extinct by the week, to learn to read these lines of code is to reveal much – to find the seeds for restoring their significance in the world.
I urge you to listen to this extraordinary interview with this designer on my podcast and explore further the possibilities and semiotics of fashion.
Listen to Episode 17 of the KeramCast – or subscribe at iTunes by searching for “KeramCast” in the podcast directory.
I don’t expect this to be comprehensive in terms of expressing my feelings because that would be impossible, because I am tired, a little tipsy and the events leading to the creation of this next album are essentially indescribably complex, but I would be remiss not to catalog, in some way the legacy of its manifestation.
Hrm, I will endeavor to turn off my verbose brain I think to get this across.
As I write this it is 5am in Los Angeles, my sister left for Toronto this morning en route from a pilgrimage to the mystic ancient city of Machu Pichu in Peru to a Tech trade show in Canton, China. My uncle Paco is visiting from Ecuador and is sleeping in my bed, my girlfriend is sleeping on the floor (her grandfather is being taken off life support in the morning) and Josh Joudrie, my co-producer and soundman for Blue Dog Pict, visiting from Toronto, is sleeping on my couch. Having nowhere left for myself to repose, I am up typing this chronicle.
We started this album three years ago. An effort to continue to the work we did with BDP almost a decade ago. Lest you don’t know me, I am not some balding wannabe ex-rocker seeking former glory days. I am a kid who didn’t feel like I had yet reached the root. So I decided it was time to move to the next set of songs and find a way to tell their unique stories. I had no money in my pocket, I still don’t, but I have found in that, some amazing benefits – restrictions engender innovation, experimentation, cunning, tenacity, faith and play, and all of those put together lead to extraordinary ideas that may have otherwise been circumvented.
I would not trade a single moment of my tumultuous journey for any other. I have learned so much and continue to learn.
Because we recorded this album piecemeal – parts in Toronto, parts in Los Angeles, parts in England via email – it has been a fascinating jigsaw puzzle to assemble. After months, even years of configuring arrangements, painstakingly lining up different audio sources and trying to find their relationships, something as simple as bringing a completely new voice like Marc Thomas (of LA band Madras) to play guitars can re-liberate a song and make it feel totally alive all over again. You see, in the editing process, we find all the various pieces that we have recorded and build a comp. After cleaning it all up it feels a little stilted and after the fact. Having a new musician with fresh ears come in and just replay it with their own unique brain makes it feel completely inspired and in-the-moment. And that is because it is.
Last week, Ryan Brown came in to replay some snare and cymbal parts. Instead we ended up playing brushes on the windscreen, chopsticks on pots, pans and coffee jar lids and throwing things around the room while Pro Tools was faithfully recording at 24 bits in the background.
Marc brought in a heap of pedals and I added my own to his arsenal. We spent four separate days tracking guitars just for Killing Days; primary melodies, harmonies, swirling ambient washes, whatever occurred to us in the moment.
I would then assemble all of this discovery into a variety of stereo tracks, line them up, make a hundred decisions, and then when I would retire as the sun came up over Santa Monica Boulevard, Josh would wake up and take over, making sure the drums, bass, guitars, keyboards and vocals all lined up, that their phase relationships were coherent and so on. He is the ultimate audio tech head. It’s why I keep him around 😉
Now, almost two, three years later, we are closing in on seven amazing opuses. Sonic journeys. I have no idea what they sound like in relation to what plays on the radio. None. We even recorded “Box“, an acoustic album comprising several of my songs that didn’t want to be played by a band while doing vocals for this record – for me and for you – just to tide things over while we sorted out the rest in the meantime.
Sure I listen to stuff coming out now, but that has nothing to do with this other journey I have been on – that of making this record I decided will be called “Come To Life” about a year ago. The name comes from a catchphrase for the annual Sky Pirate holiday (celebrated August 4th) I created called Robot Pride Day – “My daddy builds robots; we don’t tell anyone. They have come to life. Come to life.”
The lyrics are poems I wrote at some point (of trouble, typically) to remind my future self that I have endured in the past, and that I will endure again, and every time come out the wiser, the stronger and the richer. They are about the soul, about the death of some of my closest allies, about faith, about us, about the future, about the past, about mystery, reason and benevolence and fear.
I don’t know if and when you will ultimately hear the fruit of all this labor and play and duress and fascination. Maybe it will be your children. Maybe it will all be buried under the ground. But if you do, drop me a line and let me know if you tapped in to everything that is going on with it. It is all bigger than me; the amazing talents of those involved, the adventures that led to its creation, and whatever encompasses the sum of its parts. I want to know what it is and what it did.
I hope to have Come To Life ready by the end of 2009.
Thanks for listening. Really. Every time you let me know your ears are receiving these transmissions, they fill up some little emptied battery cell in my soul.
los angeles, april 6th, 2009