Mobile Music & Brass Culture

photo by julie_chen

The annual HONK! Festival is going down this weekend, making Somerville the joyfully cacophonous meeting ground for an international bloc of brass bands (and related ensembles). I missed HONK! last year, out of town, so I’m looking forward to taking it in this time around, especially with the girls, who will no doubt be amused and amazed (and hopefully not too alarmed).

Quick shoutout to Rozele, who chimed in on the treble culture conversation and snuck in a plug for her band, Brooklyn’s Rude Mechanical Orchestra (who I look fwd to hearing at HONK!). I enjoyed her musings about contemporary and historical brass culture & the politics of frequency, i.e. —

it’s making me think about how this plays out or doesn’t in the street-brass world i hang out in (what you could call the live & unamplified wing of globalized ghettotech)… and in other live & un-/minimally-amplified contexts.

lots of the brass music that my circles play (and listen to on record), especially the older stuff, is from contexts where the emphasis was on high, fast and loud, the balkans in particular. and as instrumentation changed over the past century-plus (and recordings began to be made), the highs there got higher and the louds got louder (fiddle to clarinet to trumpet leads in the balkans, for instance). my understanding is that this is partly the same as the tenor-centrism of older opera: the higher it is, the farther it carries, especially over a crowd that’s chatting in the usual conversational range.

a lot of the current bands, though, have serious low end, and often prioritize it in their arrangements. part of this probably has to do with bringing the (’bass culture’) new orleans brass tradition into contact with the balkan side of things. and that change being reinforced by bands covering pop songs that come out of other faces of bass culture (”Push It”, “Crazy In Love”, “Thriller”, &c). and it’s least evident in the most trad-oriented bands, which supports that theory. but i wonder whether it’s also about acculturation to a general bass-heavy mode of listening to music, and whether it’ll change over time if this ‘treble culture’ motion continues.