Bonobo & Levertov
Earmilk contributor Alex Leonard claims that British composer DJ Simon Green’s, aka Bonobo, electronic music has been described as “…sounds without genres and timeless to all demographics.” Here, at BACKWORDS Blog, we treat any occasion as an event worth resting in, and Bonobo’s music represents that ethos in audio.
BACKWORDS Blog is a platform that honors the moment of encounter that any one person experiences—with art, literature, music, performance, or place. Often, guest curators provide reflections that fit multiple categories. The opposite of a news program or style blog, BACKWORDS is not preoccupied with immediacy. An event does not need to be current to be relevant, nor does a memory need to be close to its origins to hold its potency. I agree with Leonard that Bonobo’s downtempo tracks feel accessible at any time, in any culture, in any place. Bonobo’s music is atmospheric, the way a moment can envelope a person.
I was listening to a lot of Bonobo during my last year in the M.F.A in Writing program at the University of San Francisco. My professor Michael Cross, asked us to curate external influences (sound, visual, texts etc.) that contextualized our semester-long poetry projects. What I brought to class was a playlist with some of Bonobo’s songs off the albums, Black Sands and Days to Come. Wes Solether, a friend who received my curatorial efforts in that class is now a writing professor at the college-level in the greater Chicago-area and still uses Bonobo’s music to inspire his students to write.
At the very least, good art makes you think about other art.
After graduating, I tried to translate Bonobo’s title track off Black Sands into words. The poem is still unfinished and insufficient, but it didn’t stop me from trying.
In a Live Science article titled “Brain Imaging Shows the Language of Music,” staff writer Denise Chow reveals that jazz improvisation uses the same parts of the brain that are associated with language and the interpretation of syntax.
On NPR, Bonobo explained his process: “The way I make music is often to kind of treat instrumentation like I would a sample. The main thing that I did [with 'Cirrus'] was just to take the decaying tails of two notes of that thumb piano and then put them against this kick drum and make it into some kind of cohesive whole. I'm just trying to sort of push the ideas of what can create melody, what can create rhythm, and how drum sounds don't necessarily need to come from drums, but can come from a different place."
Bonobo notes that he captures real sounds in the world by carrying a microphone around with him: "There's noises of a truck's air brakes being used as a sort of melodic refrain somewhere on this record. I also recorded, you know, dropping coins into water, or in the subway, recording train doors opening. It all eventually ends up in the music somewhere." While Bonobo pushes the boundaries of instrumentation, poets do similar work with language and meaning.
In Denise Levertov’s essay, “Some Notes on Organic Form” she says, “A partial definition, then, of organic poetry might be that it is a method of apperception, i.e., of recognizing what we perceive, and is based on an intuition of an order, a form beyond forms, in which forms partake, and of which man’s creative works are analogies, resemblances, natural allegories. Such poetry is exploratory.” Further more, she goes on to ask, “How does one go about such a poetry? I think it’s like this: first there must be an experience, a sequence or constellation of perceptions of sufficient interest, felt by the poet intensely enough to demand of him their equivalence in words: he is brought to speech.”
What Bonobo and Levertov are trying to explain in the process of poetry and in music is that one must be tuned to one’s attentions. Be it language or sound, or both, that one must be ready when they are culled forth to that moment of expression.
Bonobo, in the way he excavates the noise of the world and challenges conventional experiences of sound, feels brought to his music; the way Levertov talks about a poet being brought to speech; the way we are all brought to feeling.
Jenny M. Chu