One of the lyrics that floats through my head quite often is “what happened to us? We were the kings of the back of the bus and now it’s just massage music in your house,” from Steven James Adams’ song ‘Kings Of The Back Of The Bus’ (Old Magic, FortunaPop). There’s more functional sound than ever flooding the world. Muzak infiltrated our ears and minds initially as the wallpaper against which we shopped, wreathed in over-hyped and poorly measured claims about altering our purchasing decisions. Now, it’s increasingly invited into our homes as generic accompaniment for exercise, yoga, meditation, a myriad other activities. Sound voids disconnected from the act of listening as an active engagement with creative art. Mindfulness, a worthy endeavour for those requiring a little stillness, has become a trojan horse for the robotisation of sound production which is the desired end goal of firms like Spotify who benefit if they can cut out payment to record companies or artists (from an already low benchmark).
It’s a shame given this extended COVID moment, with it’s alternating surges of distorting noise/stress/tension matched by the stripping away of distractions and interjections, is a great time to experience music capable of mirroring one’s mental state. That’s what I find in the work of Kevin Drumm.
Recently I’ve been aiming to invest $2-3 dollars a couple times a month in Drumm’s 152 release-deep back catalogue on Bandcamp. His recent monthly missives in particular are all falling in a 20-30 minute zone which feels like the perfect release from day-to-day concern, without requiring a vast ‘stepping away’ from work or life.
What I love about the work is that, when I’m tense, I can let thoughts go and follow the small sounds and intricate detail within a piece like ‘By Way Of No’ (released in March 2021):
Likewise, when I’m chilled out, the music can stoke energy and power, I whip the volume up and it consumes the room with this gargantuan weight. Either way, it rewards this diversion from the day, the deep listening reveals layers and choices and slalom rides orchestrated and designed by the artist. It’s ambient music without the wishy-washy emptiness of so much mindful muzak, that supports a unique independent artistic path rather than corporate sound production.
I’ve been intrigued by Kevin Drumm some 20 years now. I admire the decision to devote himself to a particular approach to sound, one that is so malleable and flexible, that can manifest in so many ways (how about the classic ‘Sheer Hellish Miasma’ for heaviness…?) and has been pursued to the nth degree. An artist of stunning power and whether you’re a noisenik or a meditator, a metalhead or a contemplator of healing crystals, there’s a sound you can live within whether the desire is to go up, or down.