Ninth Grade Spoiler Alert: Remember when your high school history teacher blew your mind by deconstructing communism and fascism, explaining how these opposed totalitarian ideologies are actually similar? I'm experiencing a similar realization lately regarding tradition-rooted folk music and experimental music in Portland, watching how these two styles and subcultures have increasingly come to resemble each other at their margins, both staking out some room under the Tibetan prayer-flag-shaped banner of psychedelia.
There is no clearer illustration of this phenomenon than the back cover of Prism of Eternal Now, the engaging new album of instrumental, guitar-based third-eye-schmutz-remover by one-man-band White Rainbow (AKA Adam Forkner), released on CD this week by Kranky, and on vinyl in July by Portland-based Marriage Records. Any seldom-showering Oregonian will immediately recognize Prism's graphic design as a parody of perennial hippie soap-of-choice, Dr. Bronner's, complete with microscopic snippets of nonsense like, "Centuries old Eastern Wisdoms prove that Sound Vibrations contain Vast, Powerful, Positive Healing Energy!"
Not just a spot-on spoof, this nod to neo-hippie culture is also a sincere acknowledgement that, esoteric drone and contemporary classical references aside, Forkner's music can perhaps best be compared to the most out-there, textural, sense-of-self-defying moments of '60s guitar psychedelia sundered from their pop structures. The fact that tablas are the dominant rhythmic element on Prism further underscores the album's proud indebtedness to Maharishi-mad, Summer-of-Love global consciousness.
Experimental music like White Rainbow's is ignored by some because they have no frame of reference for it, making it easy to mistake experimentalism for traditionlessness. Forkner deftly preempts this kind of dismissal by providing a historical context for his music with Prism's psychedelic packaging.
Ethan Rose, a member of electro-acoustic quartet Small Sails, and perhaps Portland's most widely acclaimed electronic music composer and found-sound manipulator, performs a related contextualizing feat on his new album Spinning Pieces, making cutting-edge ambient computer music from antique mechanical instruments, tying the avant-garde to the old guard. Rose's music is no less abstract than Forkner's, but it is pristine and light where White Rainbow is murky and dark. Spinning Pieces consists of three gorgeous, chiming tracks constructed from a tightly constrained sonic palette. The album's first two pieces, "Singing Tower" and "...The Dot and the Line..." are each built from a single sound source—the Stanford automated carillon in the first instance, and player pianos at the Immortal Piano Company on Belmont in the second. Rose's computer-sequenced music comes off as organic because its composer occasionally tips his hand and strips away the processing, revealing unidentifiable electronic chirrups to be familiar, old-fashioned music box chimes in disguise, helping the listener to relate the brand new to the time worn.
See Ethan Rose summon experimental music from traditional tools as he releases Spinning Pieces at 9 pm on Sunday, September 30 at Holocene; White Rainbow plays at Portland State University on Wednesday, October 3 at noon.