From Arapahos through Moondog, to Reich, Glass, Eno and Byrne

Last post, I wrote about Moondog and how he had started drumming at an early age. He was heavily affected when his father took him to an Arapaho Sundance at a powwow in Wyoming when he was little more than a toddler. The powwow took place near the Wind River, and apparently, it still goes on as the first video on the left shows. To the right is Moondog’s tribute to the powwow, however, you can find many drumming works by Moondog that sound like the Indian drumming if you search youtube (hint, hint).

Windriver Powwow – Wyoming
Moondog: Wind River Powwow

Steven Reich Supposedly turned Philip Glass onto Moondog. This is a comparison of Moondog and Reich. In the Reich, you have a visual representation of how he builds the piece from layers of rhythms and how it keep changing by incremental changes after every cycle.

Moondog: Marimba Mambo 2
Steve Reich: Music for Pieces of Wood

Minimalism is what they call Philip Glass’ music, which I often feel is repetitive and static, hence boring. I’m putting the following pieces side by side, to focus on the repetition, but I feel Moondog is much more pleasant to listen to, and not just because of the instruments. It does feel, though, that Philip Glass is paying a tribute to Moondog’s marimbas in this piece.

Moondog: Fujiyama 1
Philip Glass: Opening from Glassworks

I stumbled across this piece by Moondog, called Cosmic Meditation, written in 1956. What surprised me is how much it sounds like Brian Eno ripped it off (I guess he would say, paid homage to) Moondog with the piece on the right from 1978.

Moondog: Cosmic Meditation
Brian Eno: Ambient 1, Music for airports: 2/2

Before the final piece I post here, I want to make one more comparison that shows the influences of Moondog on Reich, Eno, and David Byrne. Moondog spent much of his time hanging out, wearing a Viking costume on Avenue of the Americas (6th Avenue) in Midtown Manhattan. As is usually the case, when one becomes blind, a person’s sense of hearing develops greater capacity and acumen to compensate for the lost visual sensory input. The “found sounds” of the city–cars, buses, ships, foghorns, street vendors–found their way into Moondog’s music. Check out pieces like “Fog on the Hudson” or “Westward Ho! for example. Moondog was also fascinated by the rhythm and music of language, and his vocal pieces often have repetitive chants, canons or rounds (go listen to his “Be a Hobo”).

Steven Reich took the concept of “found sounds,” on the radio, especially gospel preachers, looped them, and came up with the piece on the left, called “It’s Gonna Rain.” Again, Reich influenced Eno, who worked with David Byrne and the Talking Heads to shape their unique sound. A collaboration of theirs, was “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” (1981), and they used the found sounds of religious expressions, over which they layered multiple tracks of guitars, drums, gamelan, in funk, soul, world, and other heavy rhythms.

Steve Reich: It’s Gonna Rain
Brian Eno & David Byrne: Help Me Somebody

I’ll finish with one of my favorite pieces that comes out of this lineage of composers. It’s Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians.” I’ll just let it speak for itself.


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