a thoughtful discussion about music


The Books in Athens

So last night I had the great privilege to see the band, The Books, play live in Athens, GA. The show was at the New Earth Music Hall and included an opening performance by my good friend Graham, playing under the title of Thick Paint. Both sets were great and got positive feedback from the large audience that came out for the show. This was my second time seeing The Books play live and was as inspiring and engaging as it was last October in Atlanta.

Now onto the music...

This pensive performance created an atmosphere which seemed to be a state somewhere between a meditation, a compelling documentary, and a lighthearted but truthful comic act. They use samples from various sources, including talk boxes, old obscure videos, acupuncture tapes, and geese, mixed with their own instruments (cello, five-string base, guitar, violin, keyboard, and vocals) to sculpt an auditory landscape that is dynamic, contemplative, and often quite captivating. Each song usually is formed around some sort of found content or a theme which all of the layers are then built off of.

Another large component to the overall experience of their music, especially as it is performed live, is visual. A portion of their samples come from some sort of video footage, so it is intuitive for them to then created a video expression for each song. They have been creating these videos pretty much since they have been creating their music. Seeing it all live, unable to escape this visual part of the experience, lets the viewers get the experience in its entirety.

The band itself is made up of Nick Zammuto (guitar, bass, and vocals) and Paul de Jong (cello) and more recently has acquired a new member, Gene Back (violin, guitar, keyboard). The form of the music that The Books create is atypical and unlike much else. It correlates to collage work in the visual arts world it the way that it cuts things out of their context and places them together to create a new revelation. They use the composition process of music to link together various different clips from an assortment of sources, often that would not otherwise be connected.

In the song that I am looking more into today, Take Time, there are clips from Medea by Pasolini, an Italian film maker; an audiobook of Ecclesiastes read by an Israeli diplomat; and others of more obscurity. The repetition of the artists singing "take time" with the inclusion of relating phrases from multiple cultures and time emphasizes a sense of this concept of patience and intention being one of universal truth.

The song begins with the phrase in Italian:
"Tutto è santo. Tutto è santo. Tutto è santo. Non c'è niente di naturale nella natura ragazzo mio. Tienilo bene in mente."
Translated to:
"All is sacred, all is sacred, all is sacred. There is nothing natural in Nature, my lad, remember that!"
This is a beautiful thought that we often do not meditate on. What makes certain parts of our world worth more than others. Why is the leaf of a tree considered a sacred part of nature while the small piece of metal in your computer is not? Both serve a significant purpose for a greater system and serve their time while eventually coming to an end. There is nothing that can ever exist that will not have implications or impact on something else in the world. Often in our culture we rush through our routines and days without noticing the details that compose to make a whole.

The Books are giving us this song as a meditation on time and contemplation. Maybe all of these small parts of life are in all actuality the most significant or gratifying and by overlooking them, we are missing out of the greatest part of existence.


  1. I'm glad your first post was about such an involved band and one that you saw live. Generally though I think this reads like most writing about music, very formal (as in, about the form, how it looked and sounded). I think you could branch out more, after explaining the sensual experience of the performance, why not question it. how does the music or video expand or limit the other. why dont they let the audience define the look and sound of the night? if their point is the bring you closer to some kind of 'truth' in being why are they doing it in some random music venue that is im guessing closed from the world, has a cover price and maybe an age requirement(?) How does their performance reaffirm or deconstruct class?

    i'm excited to see where you take this blog. also, watch word repetition.

  2. That's a very good point. Today I was actually thinking about that point of the video in relation to the auditory component and how I personally have trouble at times taking in and processing them simultaneously. I usually have to listen to the songs a few times to really understand the musical part and differentiate between the various instruments and samples. Then later I come back and visit the visual component and see what affects that has on the overall message or tone of the song.

    I have found that at times the video part makes their songs have a more humorous tone, while when I listen to them alone, I have a stronger emotional or pensive reaction. The interesting part is, when I have seen them in a live setting with other people experiencing the music with me, it often becomes more lighthearted and comedic. While, when I listen to them in an isolated setting I have a more thoughtful and sentimental response.

    This could be reflective of the nature of society. It is a lot easier for us as humans to laugh together than it is to cry together or to discuss the problems of the world in a constructive and cooperative manner.

    In terms of your point about demographics and class distinction, I feel that this is a problem with most art forms. We create these experiences that are supposed to have some impact on those who participate, but often the scope that the audience can come from is limited by multiple variables. The majority of the people who listen to this band probably already have the same basic set of ideals.
    So does that mean that our reason for listening to music is simply or solely to feel connected to another individual or set of individuals? To have the experience of feeling like the person that created this song thinks like I think or feels what I feel? Can music be a tool for new thoughts or a broadening of knowledge?

    These are questions that I can not answer in full confidence.