People who live in my home town speak of two cities. References are made to the "Delmar Divide". On the North side of Delmar live many of the entrenched African American families, often in poverty and with decaying infrastructure. On the South side live a predominantly Caucasian community. There is some poverty there, but also much affluence and a broader spectrum of wealth and opportunity.
All of this was according to plan, my wife tells me. Those who determined years ago how the city would develop made sure that communities that were mostly Caucausian stayed that way, and vise versa for the African Americans. I am not going to go into the history of this, or the various legal acts and otherwise that led to it. But I believe it.
Once a week I travel from my comfortable South City home and go North on Vandeventer, towards a nearly all-black library, where I spend the day as a technology assistant. Driving along Vandeventer is pleasant enough, potholes aside. I pass through a lovely park, near the Central West End, and then roll West of the museum and theater district.
Then I cross Page. Something changes. The infrastructure looks old and cracked, in disrepair. The stores along the street seem not to be doing so well. Right at that corner is an old gas station or something similar that has been abandonned and is literally falling to pieces.
As I travel further North, I see no affluent homes, only brick duplexes and struggling businesses and institutions. Soon I reach Natural Bridge Road, which has been dubbed the "Murder Street" of the nation by one publication. Anywhere past Page, it is rare to spy a white face-- usually if I do, it's someone hauling in scrap or other goods to sell in the North Side.
Terrifying to see, hard to admit. These American scenes have inspired many pieces of my music. One, "North Side, 3:13 AM", was created for the new minimalist netlabel Musicnumbers. I tried to capture the uneasy feeling I would imagine a person might experience when stranded for whatever reason near Natural Bridge Road late a night, perhaps a bit as I felt when I had no car and was waiting for the cab at the library after sunset. It's a feeling you might recognize, but that no one wants or cares to admit should be.
Another piece, "Page And Vandeventer", uses urban field recordings to capture the raw industrial ugliness of that intersection, and the sense that one has crossed into a place where there is no time or money for beauty-- brick, metal, asphalt, all are left to crack and decay in the elements.
I wrote a piece, "Natural Bridge Road", for a compilation coming out soon on Mahorka records, which I cannot share. Listening, I think of the sad procession of outdated cars along the street, the vacant buildings and signage still up from 70 years ago.
I will also mention "Concrete Expanse", more generally about the city, which captures the huge amounts of space in Saint Louis with nary a tree or shrub-- it's the kind of world that fosters kids who are later amazed to discover what a "cow" and "goat" are, even though we are here in the middle of the MidWest.
I am a believer in atmospheres and environments, and their power to affect and transform. I am not sure that my works on this subject would make people happy-- but they might be able close their eyes, and see what I saw, and continue to see, with mine that are open-- the ugliness of an unfair world, where men and women who never asked for it are made to live without beauty or adornment.
I keep mentioning "Morning City", which comes out March 10 on Spotted Peccary Records. What is it that makes this album different, or worth trying?
It does utilize some of my "New Industrial" notions, in that there are actual urban field recordings used. But, unlike my bleaker compositions, there is a lively sense of positivity and optimism in the album.
"Morning City" mythologizes the pier, the fire escape, the freeway-- but it does so in entertaining and evocative ways. Unlike some of my "North Side" compostions, it does not convey a sense of heaviness or depression.
One main way this positivity was achieved was by including actual snippets of me playing a piano, and other musical sounds like trombone tones and acoustic bass loops. Hip hop beats are featured, and are used to accentuate the atmosphere of several of the pieces.
Additionally, the mastering (by Howard Givens) is very bright and spacious. He did such a great job-- every sound, be it a flute or a nail in a jar, stands out vividly.
To conclude, "Morning City" is a pleasing listen, and brings happiness to the idea of living in an urban center. That's unusualy for a mystified recording and I hope people will be willing at least to head over to the digital release page after March 10 and try some of the tracks out.
Saint Louisans refer to the "Delmar Divide", but in my experience, the intersection that marks where life gets harder or easier depending on what side you are on is Page And Vandeventer. Hence the track title.
Only processed, real field recordings of urban enviroments were used in this recording.