Brian Blade and Nothingness

Brian Blade

I remember a recording of Marshall McLuhan talking on the Dick Cavett show about music. McLuhan asks a musician if the musician “speaks” through the instrument. That is, if the playing of the instrument and the rhythms of the English language are intertwined. I also recall E.M. Cioran in “All Gall is Divided” when he wrote, “The universe of sound: onomatopoeia of the inexpressible, enigma displayed, infinity perceived, and ineffable…Upon experiencing its seduction, one’s only plan is to be embalmed within a sigh (Cioran 117).” By combining McLuhan’s probing of the conversational aspect of musical sound and Cioran’s glorification and poetic expression of that sound, I would like to speak of a drummer whose sound has greatly moved me, has as Cioran may say, allowed me to palpate time. That drummer is Brian Blade.

I came across Brian Blade’s sound through the “Shine” album by Daniel Lanois. Later, I came to Blade through Emmylou Harris and more recently, through Wolfgang Muthspiel and Joshua Redman. I keep returning to the Bladeian space, to the world his drumming creates for me, to that infinite immediacy generated through my attention to his work. I don’t wish to speak of Blade’s biography, but attempt to put into words, the lyricism of his style.

On Wolfgang Muthspiel’s “Friendly Travelers” album, Blade and Muthspiel converse together and one of the words that come to my mind to describe Blade’s playing would be “human,” that is a writhing wriggling warmth, a haze of unpredictability. Moreover, Blade’s drumming open a fluid space, an attention to what Lanois may call “drum identity.” Visually, it is recommended that one search out and watch a video (or live performance) of Blade. There is an unpredictability, but a warm unpredictability that, for me, penetrates and pleasantly distorts something within me. I would like to use McLuhan’s probing and say that Blade beautifully appropriates the English language and if his playing is built upon the English language, he is the E.E. Cummings of the drums.

On “Shine” by Lanois we meet Blade mirroring and yet transforming the tender fragility of Lanois’s guitar and voice. And yet, Blade meets us at a point that can only be called “precise.” Perhaps this is the magic of his work with Lanois, a precise gray space, a space where we are invited to enter the Void. Or, a gap in our world, which may express the Cioranian Buddhist notion of “nothingness.”

In Anathemas and Admirations we find a description of “nothingness:”

“To Buddhism (indeed, to the Orient in general), Nothingness does not have the rather grim signification we attribute to it. It is identified with a limit-experience of light or, if you like, with a state of luminous absence, an everlasting radiant void: Being that has triumphed over all its properties, or rather non-Being supremely positive in that it dispenses bliss without substance, without substratum, without support in any world at all.” (Cioran 4)

It is this idea of Nothingness that Blade conjures through his playing. Listening closely and feel yourself entering that state of “luminous absence.” Wrap your ears around Blade and find yourself at the door of a netherworld.

Recommendations for Enchantment:

Daniel Lanois: Shine
Daniel Lanois: Here Is What Is
Emmylou Harris: Wrecking Ball
Wolfgang Muthspiel and Brian Blade: Friendly Travelers

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