Purple haze, all in my brain
Lately things they don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
Excuse me while I kiss the sky
Do you believe in ghosts? I do. Let me explain this statement further. I don’t believe in the menacing spectral presences that float in the air wrapped in long white sheets, but in the ghosts of our memories and in the resonances kept alive by the narratives that haunt our lives every day. Our society has gone from the museum accumulation of memories in books, records, collections and archaeological and architectural remains, to a constant flow of energies, images, lost narratives, repetitions and memes that make post-modernism as obsolete as a dinosaur in the mammals’ age. And yet, even in this dynamic and fluid era there is a need to “download” these memories in order to return to its original source of strength and dynamics. Let’s take a break for a short history lesson.
January 11, 1967 was probably the most productive day in the entire history of Jimi Hendrix’s Experience. That day saw the band working in the studio and then playing two shows in the evening, at the “Bag O’ Nails” club. The daytime session at De Lane Lea Studio had yielded several tracks, including “Purple Haze”, “51st Anniversary” and another version of “Third Stone from the Sun”. Jimi had written the lyrics to “Purple Haze” backstage at a concert two weeks earlier, upstairs in the dressing room at the Upper Cut Club on Boxing Day, 1966. Though the song would forever be linked in the popular imagination on LSD, Jimi said he was inspired by a dream he had about the novel “Night of Light: Day of Dreams” by Philip José Farmer, from which she had read an excerpt. In an early draft of the lyrics, Jimi wrote “Jesus saves” under the title, a line not from Farmer’s novel, and one he may have been considering as a refrain. He later complained that the version of the song that was released—and which became Experience’s second hit single—had been shortened. “The [original] song had about a thousand words,” he told an interviewer. “It makes me so angry, because it’s not even ‘Purple Haze.’ After that long studio session, which had been more difficult than usual—they’d spent four hours just on “Purple Haze”—Jimi and the band still had two more shows to do at “Bag O’ Nails.” A legendary night club straight out of a Charles Dickens novel, the Bag was down a long flight of steps in a dank basement on a narrow Soho street. The crowd that had gathered that night to see The Experience play was London’s rock elite. Had a bomb been dropped on the Bag that night, the British music scene might have ceased to exist. Although there are varying versions of who exactly was in the audience, most some accounts include Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Beatles manager Brian Epstein, John Entwistle, Donovan, Georgie Fame, Denny Laine, Terry Reid, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Lulu, the Hollies, the Small Faces, the Animals and Roger Meyer. Mayer wasn’t as famous as the others, he wasn’t even a rock star, but he was an electronic whiz who made effects boxes for guitarists in his spare time. Meyer was so impressed by what he felt that he would later make these effects exclusively for Jimi.
“And he played it, and banged the shit out of this bloody thing, and takes off into outer space. Imagine the most horrible song in the world turned into the most beautiful.” Reid went to the bathroom at one point and, coming back, bumped into Brian Jones. “It’s all wet down in 178 C H A R L E S R. C R O S S the front,” Jones warned. Reid replied: “What are you talking about? I can’t see any water.” To which Jones said, “It’s wet from all the guitar players crying.
Room full of Mirrors A Biography of jimi Hendrix by Charles R. Cross
The greatest testament to how groundbreaking Jimi truly was may be that shortly before the master tape for the single “Purple Haze” was shipped from Track Records in London to Warner Bros./Reprise Records in Burbank for remastering, on the box of tape the following words were written: “DELIBERATE DISTORTION. DO NOT CORRECT.” There is a history of the electric guitar before Hendrix, and a different history after him. A great innovator both in terms of style and content, he had learned to play the guitar backwards, to play in every imaginable style. He didn’t know how to write music, but he learned song structures with astonishing speed. He was afraid to sing, yet he had learned to use his voice to express allure, sexuality and even despair. He lived in extreme poverty, abandoned by his family and despised by the leaders of the bands in which he played. He was told to stop playing the guitar with that unique style that would allow him to revolutionize and redefine the instrument forever. He refused to give in, he continued on his way in the face of white racism, the limitations of equipment and the establishment’s rejection of black music, frightened audiences and bandleaders who could not appreciate his. Inventiveness.
“Purple Haze” starts with the best-known two-note riff in rock history: the interval of a tritone or flat fifth, considered as the “Diablo in Music”. Playing the note was supposed to summon the devil, so composers of religious music were forbidden to use it. “Purple Haze”, even more than “Hey Joe”, represents the first real indication of Hendrix’s style and inventiveness, of how he could be at the same time a lead guitarist, rhythm and bassist, and a singer. Above all, the song is a fine example of the freedom inherent in Hendrix’s playing, a style where “feel” was much more important than refined virtuosity. The use of open string techniques, flat fifth intervals, Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs, modal sounds and the famous ‘Hendrix Chord’ (the 9th sharp), all contribute to a dirty, raw, metallic, edgy, full of energy and life. The sharp ninth chord is particularly interesting, because it demonstrates how Jimi embellished chords to add new colors to the music, often derived from his roots in black music.
The technology had a major effect on Purple Haze. Meyer had built an “Octavia” and Jimi used the device in “Purple Haze”: It could change the guitar’s notes by an entire octave, creating an otherworldly effect. “Jimi was always asking me, ‘Roger, what can we do?'” Mayer recalled. “We were trying to use sounds to create emotions and paint pictures. We only had raw technology at the time, but if we didn’t have something we would have built it.” Jimi nicknamed Meyer “The Valve” and called him their secret weapon. Using Mayer’s inventions, along with commercially available products like the Vox Wah-Wah and the Fuzz Face, Jimi was able to create sounds that no other guitarist at the time could easily imitate.
Now let’s take a time jump. We are in 1998 and the Canadian guitarist and composer Tim Brady commissions the composer Eric Chasalow a piece for electric guitar and tape: “’Scuse me” is born. Eric Chasalow (1955, USA) is a composer, sound artist, multi-instrumentalist, record producer and teacher. He is particularly known for works that combine the use of instruments with electronic sounds, but he has collaborated with other musicians and artists to create a wide variety of projects. ARRAY, the journal of the International Computer Music Association, wrote that his music “clearly establishes him as one of the leaders of our times…offer(ing) a wondrous fusion between distinct styles and mediums, …” . He has released several CDs, demonstrating an articulated and complex musical production.
“My own music to date has explored a broad spectrum of possible solutions, from pieces that extract some essential quality of well-known material (such as And It Flew Upside-Down, 1994) to those that recontextualize iconic “samples” (‘Scuse Me for electric guitar and electronic sound, 1998 which is saturated with motives from Purple Haze), to a series of composer portraits (Left To His Own Devices, 1996, Milton Babbitt; Portrait of the Artist, 1997, John Lennon; Wolpe Variations, 2003, Stefan Wolpe; Into Your Ears, 2004, Mario Davidovsky), all of which draw upon interview and oral history sources as well as the subject’s music. “
COMPOSING FROM MEMORY: the convergence of archive creation and electroacoustic composition — ERIC CHASALOW
“’Scuse me” is a complex piece, characterized by numerous stylistic references, where the semiotic ghost of Jimi Hendrix reigns supreme. “’Scuse me” is the implicit admission of acceptance of living in a world saturated by signs. The Surrealists believed that objects in the world possess a definite, but unspecified, intensity that is dulled by everyday use. Our era does the same thing with cultural contents. Both we and the Surrealists live in the desire to revive this dormant intensity, to bring minds back into close contact with the substance that constitutes the world. Andrè Breton’s maxim “beautiful as a chance encounter on a dissecting table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella” and the aura inherent in artistic objects identified by Walter Benjamin, are the expression of the conviction according to which the positioning of different objects culture within an unusual context reinvigorates their mysterious qualities.
The obsession with the devices of electroacoustic music is as much a problem for composers as it is for scholars. Music by definition is highly abstract, and thinking in music is hard, even more so when there are frequently no scores to consult. It is much easier to become immersed in the features of some new “toy.” The non-abstract, concrete aspects of music hardware and software make these much easier to relate to than music itself.
THE OPPORTUNITY OF ELECTROACOUSTIC MUSICOLOGY — ERIC CHASALOW
If the use of language is a reflection of human consciousness and creativity, then the future of language is connected to the ever-evolving state of human awareness. We can think of sampling Jimi Hendrix’s voice and sounds as a story we’re telling ourselves; about the world as we hear it and the theater of sounds that these fragments implicitly evoke, like a single story made up of many others.
Today there is a gap between the internal and external perceptual world upon which all media philosophies have written, filmed, hit, uploaded, rearranged, linked and played. Within the context of this interstitial place where thoughts can be media, whether they look familiar or unfamiliar to us, the “types” of thoughts don’t necessarily matter. There is no taxonomy of imagination in this world. Chacalow with this piece proves to be a good manipulator and evocator of thought processes. We live in an age where quoting and sampling operate at such a profound level that the archeology of what can be called “knowledge” floats in a dark realm between the real and the unreal. It is the structure of perceptions and memories, evoked by “‘Scuse me” and conditioned by the thought process, that echoes and shapes the way in which the texts that are familiar to us come out as we listen and think. “’Scuse me” is a good metaphor for the way we systematize the human experience. Chacalow shows us how the electric guitar is a physical object capable of mapping objects of sound based on the types of metaphors we use to encompass contemporary information culture. Think of “‘Scuse me” as a way to hear the sound of the world, which opens up in a guitar riff.
Help me, help me. . . .
Yeah, Purple Haze all in my eyes
Don’t know if it’s day or night You got me blowin’, blowin’ my mind
Is it tomorrow or just the end of time?