How Sound Affects...."Sound Is A Memory"

 

This month's contributor to "How Sound Affects" is CecilyCecily is a young vocalist and songwriter whose sweet soprano and honest lyrics have garnered attention and loyal fans not only in her native Washington DC, but also up and down the East Coast. Unmoved by passing trends, her sound is rooted in a deep appreciation for mid-century soul and jazz, 90’s R&B, and re-imagined folk music. She describes her style as Acoustic Pop Soul, and has drawn comparisons to artists as distinct as Deniece WilliamsBrandy, and Corinne Bailey-RaeCecily’s self-titled debut EP was released in May 2015.   


Sound has made me who I am. I was raised on sound - ordered sound, what we call music: Jackson 5 in the morning, ZZ Hill in the afternoon, Bob Marley at bedtime. These sounds were as much a part of my life as the music of my mother's jingling bangles, my father's melodic whistling around the house, and my sister's tap dancing down the hall way.

As an adult, these sounds take me back to the safe place that was my childhood, and in that safe place, I can heal myself. I'm just me. No trying. No yearning. Sound is memory and that's one reason I treasure it so much. I'm not one of those people who thinks music is a universal language. Our understanding of music and our reaction to it are socialized. What sounds like music to someone who grew up on an isolated island in Indonesia, might sound like noise to someone who grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, and vice versa.

How sound affects me, as a privileged Black woman who grew up in Washington, DC with older siblings raised in the 80s, and parents born in the mid-twentieth century, is unique. My experience with sound is what roots me. It's my starting point and my foundation. No matter where I go, what I do, or what new sounds become a part of my life, certain sounds will always be home - like how Gil Scott-Heron throws his voice on "The Bottle," or how my mother laughs, or the descending vocal run Michael Jackson hits in "You Can't Win" from The Wiz, or my brother's booming voice telling funny stories, or the coolness of Miles Davis' "So What," or the sound of my own breath - those will always be home.

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- Cecily 

How Sound Affects...."Beauty and the Beat"

 

This month's contributor to "How Sound Affects" is D.L. Chandler. D.L. Chandler is a writer, editor, critic, and observer. For nearly two decades, D.L. has emerged as one of the Washington Metropolitan Area's notable voices in music and culture. Currently writing for Hip-Hop Wired, The Tom Joyner Morning Show, and NewsOne among other publications, D.L. Earned his stripes as a music journalist in the late 90's and throughout the 2000s before branching off into other areas of focus.

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There are several sonic masterpieces that I've personally attached myself to over the years. A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders. Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. Marvin Gaye's What's Going On. Betty Davis' They Say I'm Different. I could certainly go on – but none of these records are my favorite piece of music ever created. That weighty distinction belongs to Edan Portnoy's Beauty And The Beat.

 

It is with a measurable amount of hesitation I state that Edan's second studio recording occupies such a high space. But the reality remains that there is no other album or piece of music in my collection that comes close to sparking the lofty words that appear below this paragraph. The fact is, saying such a thing about almost anything prepares it to fail in the eyes of an outsider.

I expect that most people who have picked up Beauty And The Beat after my blathering about it probably didn't even see the huge deal. I don't find that disappointing or particularly frustrating, but it has made me wonder about my friends, associates and fellow writers along with their tastes.

Trying to explain what Edan was attempting with Beauty And The Beat isn't really fair to anyone, because it really can't be put into any box in my view. But I can try to tell you what I've learned about Edan in my years of supporting his music.

Edan grew up, or at least attended schools, in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.  A focused student of Rock and Rap music, Edan parlayed his musical chops into a stint at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Situating himself in the New England city, 1999 would be where Edan would release the comical but infectious “Sing It. [Expletive]” single.

Three years later, his official debut album, Primitive Plus, combined a love of all things “pause tapes,” boom-bap and old-school onto the back of rhymes fashioned of an obsessive focus on performance. A 2001 EP, Sprain Your Tapedeck, came before it but I somehow missed it when it was released.

Thus, my connection with Edan was established. I've purchased Primitive Plus a good half dozen times because I was either loaning a copy out or losing it on my rides on the Metro before I learned the joy of a carrying case. I didn't consider Primitive Plus to be some masterwork at the time, and I believe I still feel that way although the record owns a special place with me. But nothing prepared me for what Edan planned next.

Some musical compatriots of mine, including Rhome “DJ Stylus” Anderson, have often marveled at what Edan's done considering the leap he made from bedroom producer to a world-class expert musician.

Another friend of mine, Damen Hynes, is another person who also enjoyed Edan's work and we happened to attend a show together in Baltimore in 2004 I believe. It was our first time seeing Edan live and it was a masterful performance. In fact, a colleague of mine, Jamison Landery, said a few years ago that Edan's live set may have been the best he's ever seen. Edan's attention to detail, entertainment, focus and overall showmanship has few in the way of peers.

It was imperative that Damen and I took an opportunity to speak with him after the set.

Edan, flanked by an older woman who said she was his tour manager, was gracious enough to let us be a pair of Hip-Hop geeks for a moment and give him his due. Being the curious person I am, I asked Edan what was next. Like clockwork, he lights up and says to us, “I'm doing a concept album. Like a Rock-N-Roll, Rap mix up. It's gonna be dope.”

Fast forward to March 2005. After releasing the single “I See Colours” the year before, I was ready for Beauty And The Beat. Or so I thought. From the opening track, everything I thought I knew about Hip-Hop culture and Rap music was put through this blender with several dashes of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Little Feat, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis and anyone else who dared to push sonic envelopes.

But at its center, it was still Rap music coupled with imagery that wouldn't immediately compute to someone raised in tougher environments. But, it I feel it would resonate if one allowed the music to be absorbed.

There are more than a few albums that are meant to be played without skipping a single track and Beauty And The Beat fits that profile. Trying to explain the dizzying array of influences and the passion behind the project also has proven difficult. It's an experience only for those who are patient enough to open their minds to the journey.

Edan, using odd effects on his vocals and eerie sounds throughout, remains a steadying presence on the album. If Edan wasn't there to center one's mind on the tapestry he weaves, it might not be as strong a record.

Things came full circle in 2013 in Atlanta where I met Edan again along his current tour partner and musical colleague, Paten Locke. I was introduced by my friend and fellow Edan fan, musician and creative whirlwind, Dillon Maurer. I took this moment to, once again, potentially embarrass myself by telling Edan what the album meant to me.

Much like his nickname, “The Humble Magnificent,” graciously thanked me but thought I was blowing hot air. But as the night went on, it appeared he understood I wasn't just saying things to impress him.

He asked a simple question: “Do you love music? Are you a real music lover?”

I answered: “Almost more than anything, man.”

With a knowing smile, he goes, “That's what I made Beauty And The Beat for. Music lovers. I took everything I liked listening to and found that they all belonged together. I put everything I ever loved about music into that record.”


I'm not certain if Beauty And The Beat will change your life as it did mine. I don't know if I even need anyone to relate to the album on the level that I have as I once did. But I can say that for as long as I'm blessed with the ability to hear and access sounds, the album will always be nearby.