What happens when you find the perfect song?
I spend a lot of my time talking to people about creative pursuits, be it favourite novels, bands and albums, paintings, visual art and I always enjoy exchanging opinions on what is good and bad, liked and disliked. The one thing however that I realised many years ago is that what you like is an accumulation (or an articulation of a specific sub-set) of your personal experiences and emotions projected back at you. If a piece of art or music doesn’t ‘speak to you’ then it’s not that it has less worth, it’s just that you don’t see in it the things you want to know and understand about yourself. I really do think that it can be that simple.
I look at a lot of visual art because I want to see an idea that’s vague to me, expressed in piercing clarity – because when I do see that, I’m often amazed, dumbfounded and moved by the experience. Likewise when I find a song or album that wipes away the fog that shrouds a thought or a memory then I’m drawn to listen to it and make it my own. To hear in a piece of music or to see in a painting something deeply personal something you could never get out of your mouth is a wonderful thing – that sense of connection to another person or a wider idea. Go to a concert and listen to hundreds if not thousands of people all singing the same song. That shared emotional experience is so wonderful and life affirming. It’s the greatest thing about art (as far as I’m concerned).
And so, due to this train of thought, I look for new art, new music all the time. I buy records almost every week. I scour through art books almost daily looking for that mirror that will tell me something more about who I am and maybe why? I’ll tell you that, at least on the music side of things, I’ve discovered so much about what I love and hate through music. And I think that the more you understand why you are the closer you can get to being happy with the person you’ve become.
All of this though does lead me to one piece of music. One I came across by pure chance some eleven years ago. At the time I thought it was nice, pleasant even and nothing more than that. But over the years and with what must now be literally hundreds of listens has come to be the only (and I stress the use of the word only) piece of music that has embodied perfection. I know it’s my perfection and so I don’t expect that to be the case for anyone else.
Domenico De Clario is the artist/musician in question here. The album is called ‘Shaker Road’ . In the most biographical sense it is seven tracks on a cd of improvised solo piano recorded in June of 1996. There is a background story of sorts detailed in liner notes inside the albums sleeve. I don’t remember the specifics because I haven’t read them in years and have since made the decision to not re-read them. Sure they will tell me when and where, possibly how and even one person’s perspective on why but I know it won’t be the why that I’m looking for.
I’ve never tried to articulate this before but you see, there is music here but it’s not song. We’re not talking some free-jazz exploration of sound or anything. It is the other properties of this music that keeps me coming back. Apart from the first few keys that open the album, I can’t remember a single note of the whole 72 minutes of music. Not one. I’ve listened so many times but somehow the music only exists when the album is playing. As soon as it ends or I hit stop the music no longer exists in my mind or my memory. I own thousands of albums and can probably hum or sing hundreds of them without hesitation but this one album refuses to adhere to such traditional parameters. Do you know what it’s like to listen to music that you will never remember? Confusing at the worst. Siren-like at best.
There are two main factors here, the memory aspect above and the aspect of time. Music accentuates time. The verse, chorus, solo, outro or whatever jigsawed part you wish to elaborate on is a measured piece of time that you can follow like a guide. The people playing the music rely on ‘time’ to play in harmony with one another. When music has structure it inherently has time. Domenico De Clario has fully removed time from the music here and so when listening to Shaker Road I never know how far into the album I am, how close to the end I might be and when I program it to play on repeat I am left with such a wonderful sense of inertia that I don’t feel with any other music or art.
There to seems to be so little to the music on this album but if it’s that concept of finding clarity and holding the mirror up to ourselves – I can only assume that this album is the single most effective tool that allows me to completely stop everything that runs chaotically around my head and forces me to be still, to be at peace with myself. It is the closest thing to perfect that I’ve ever heard in music.
On the back of the album the subtitle to Shaker Road is ‘quit existing’ and with that exclamation I’d have to say that De Clario has achieved (at least with me) the ultimate goal of the music. It may not be the most valuable album I own in my collection but it’s without doubt the most precious album I have and I just wanted you to know that on the off chance that you go, listen and also find something beautiful within it.
Nonplace (who released the album)