Words + Guitar (+ Beats + Skronk)

What mattered and what splattered in pop, 1997

4) Tapping into the universal stream of music In September I went on a camping trip with a few dozen elementary-school students. (I work as a teacher.) I brought along a box of percussion instruments; a half-dozen fifth- and sixth-graders each selected one and joined me noodling away on guitar on a bench amid the redwoods. Without uttering a word, we collectively swayed into adventuresome, tuneful melodies and polyrhythms -- and during a certain five-minute span, the magical energy matched any of the best music I've ever heard, let alone played. None of the kids had ever before picked up an instrument. Some improvisers say that they don't play music exactly, but rather act as channels or conduits, tapping into a universal stream where all melodies and rhythms coexist all the time. Here was strong evidence of the phenomenon.

5) Alan Lomax's Southern Journey series The first six installments of Southern Journey, a 13-volume set of nearly 40-year-old field recordings produced by legendary folklorist Alan Lomax, document the Deep South's musical heritage more specifically than the year's most-talked-about collection, Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. The range is mind-blowing: black and white spirituals, mountain music, country blues, prison and work songs, breakdowns, reels, on and on. These long-out-of-print and previously unissued tracks are significant collector's items, not only for their historical value as an archive of pre-Elvis culture, but because the music is raw, authentic -- not prefabricated in a digital studio by spoiled pop stars.

6) Steve Roach and Olivier Messiaen The introductory apocalyptic strains of "Heart of the Tempest," the lead track on ambient pioneer Steve Roach's new CD, On This Planet, drove me to pull out Quartet for the End of Time, the spellbinding suite -- written in a World War II prison camp -- by radical French composer Olivier Messiaen. Playing the two discs simultaneously, I created an in-the-moment "remix" that melted distinctive soundtracks, literally worlds apart, into a single, haunting entity.

7) Conlon Nancarrow, Sarah Cahill, and the power of radio One cool August afternoon in Berkeley, strange sounds snaked over the airwaves. Diamondlike, slightly off-kilter, and harmonically from another planet, they seemed like piano, but not quite. Pianist, critic, and KPFA DJ Sarah Cahill back-announced Conlon Nancarrow, the iconoclastic and influential 20th-century classical composer who had just died at his home in Mexico City. On the avant-garde of the avant-garde, Nancarrow devoted nearly half a century of his life to creating more than 60 immensely intricate studies for player piano, the rolls of which he hand-punched himself.

Five of Jill Stauffer's Favorite San Francisco Things

1) Wetgate, the all-projector orchestra Where art-wanking meets why not? Three men and three projectors create sound and image performances enthralling enough to dance to -- if you're not too busy watching. Worth seeing more than once because it's never the same.

2) The Lexington Club A Mission lesbian bar, but a neighborhood bar, too. Atmospheric elements -- of family, of welcome, of hipness, and of suspicion -- complement rather than cancel one another. Owner and manager Lila Thirkield made a space for community in a place where community was supposedly waning.

3) The Dovre Club While it was still open, it was truly a wonder of a neighborhood bar: Old men and hipsters, drunks and pool players, academics and buffoons, locals and visitors, all joined together and made room for each other. And drank a great deal.

4) Fort Funston, that first look when you approach the edge of the cliff After winding down the precarious stairs and navi-gating the sandy paths, you never know what you might see: maybe wet dogs performing canine water ballet or people on horses; maybe sunbathers and swimmers braving icy waters; maybe sun and heat; maybe wind and sandstorms; maybe hang gliders or families or couples or singles. No matter who's there, you'll always find beauty.

5) Waycross This San Francisco band sounds like a cross between Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd; that is, if Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd were powered by girls with a gift for profound lyrics. The four-piece Waycross -- a straight girl, a lesbian, a straight guy, a gay guy -- draw audiences as sexually diverse as the band. And they rock!

Andi Zeisler's Top 10 (In no particular order)

1) Elliott Smith, Either/Or, and live at the Bottom of the Hill Smith is the human embodiment of the ego conflict faced by many artists -- desperately wanting people to respond, shrinking away in horror when they do. He suspends acoustic narratives like "Rose Parade" in a matrix of pure tension, while "Cupid's Trick" gives his voice, lightly strangled misery on the folkier tracks, a stomping release.

2) Portastatic, The Nature of Sap Mac McCaughan's follow-up to 1995's Slow Note From a Sinking Ship finds the normally manic Superchunk frontman in an extended soporific spelunk through the caves of his waking dreams. With narcotic klezmer ("A Lovely Nile"), echo-chamber punk ("Impolite Cheers"), and the wandering wobble of "You Know Where to Find Me," I like to imagine that this is the album playing in Steve Buscemi's ice cream truck in Trees Lounge.

3) Bob Dylan and Ani DiFranco live I saw the pair performing at an antiseptic new venue in rural Connecticut that looked like a metal kleenex box, smelled like a dentist's office, and was staffed entirely by cranky senior citizens. With Jakob Dylan's Wallflowers racking up the glossy magazine covers, some media types looked for a 1997 father-son duke-out between the two musical Dylans, but the elder's blistering set this night confirmed that timeless material will beat the cover of Details every time. Opening act and one-woman youth movement DiFranco was, nevertheless, the bigger star to a significant portion of the crowd. Best overheard comment, from one suedeheaded teen-ager to another: "Should we stay for Dylan?"

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