Guest Spot: Dosh on the alchemy of instrumental music

Dosh: TommyDosh: Tommy (Anticon, 4/13/10)

Dosh: “Subtractions”

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Percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Martin Dosh, better known as simply Dosh, is known both for his electronic-based solo venture as well as his work with Andrew Bird, with whom he’s toured and recorded. The instrumental track is Dosh’s specialty; “Simple Exercises,” which first appeared on Dosh’s 2004 release, Pure Trash, reappeared on Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha in 2007 as “Simple X” with an addition of lyrics. In the piece below, Dosh explains what drew him to instrumental music and how a few classic, lyric-less tracks continue to inspire his own music.

The Alchemy of Instrumental Music
by Dosh

I think my interest in music and sound really began when i was around nine or 10 years old; that is to say, that is when I really began LISTENING to music, to the ways instruments and voices worked together, trying to separate the sounds in my mind, trying to understand which sounds were being made by which instruments, and even what the people that played the music may have looked like. I can’t recall what the first song that really captured my imagination was, but it was likely by Devo or The Cars, maybe Billy Squier. I’ve always listened to the music first and digested the vocals and lyrics later. When I first discovered Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, I found the vocals to be distracting. I couldn’t understand why they were there; they seemed like an afterthought.

Once I started playing drums, when i was 15, that was all I really heard when I would listen to a song: the drums. And I played a little bit with some friends, but I didn’t truly discover the joy of volume until I went to college two years later.  I spent more time listening to music in my first two years than I spent doing anything else — usually as loud as possible.  I was lucky enough to have a few friends who had massive record collections, and I listened to everything.

There is a certain alchemy in a song that doesn’t have words. A good song with no words commands your attention in a different way than a song with words does. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. There aren’t words to sing along with or to tell you what the song is about or to tell you how to feel.

In compiling this list of songs and listening back to it, I’ve been trying to find the common denominator; some of these songs would be classified as jazz, some would be classified as funk, some would be classified as post-rock, some would be classified as electronic, and some would be classified as fusion. To me, all these labels don’t help the listener. Each classification has baggage: fusion is uncool, funk is passé, post-rock is pretentious. But what they have in common (with two exceptions) is probably the presence of the electric guitar, often distorted, and varying degrees of studio trickery.

Anyway, these 10 songs are not meant to be a “best instrumental-rock songs of all time” list, just 10 songs that mean a lot to me and have greatly influenced the music that I make.  This music is joyful and thrilling, and it speaks for itself. These songs never get old, and they continue to inspire me.

I realize there are a few vocals on here — Jimi’s strange story on “Third Stone From the Sun” and all the crazy baby shrieks on Funkadelic‘s “Wars of Armageddon” — but that wasn’t enough to knock them off the list.

Jeff Beck: “You Know What I Mean” (1975)

Herbie Hancock: “Steppin’ in It” (1975)

Sonny Sharrock: “Promises Kept” (1991)

Tortoise:  “TNT” (1998)

Jimi Hendrix: “Third Stone from the Sun” (1966)

Miles Davis: “Spanish Key” (1968)

Frank Zappa: “Big Swifty” (1972)

Funkadelic: “Wars of Armageddon” (1970)

Boards of Canada: “Sixtyniner” (1995)

Squarepusher: “A Journey to Reedham (7AM Mix)” (1997)

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