Above the Threshold

A real-time novel for the sonic age.

Wooden Indians

by Primus Luta

It was testing his patience, or more precisely, challenging his tolerance.  Lil’ Man of course knew the name Raymond Scott just like anyone who knew anything about J. Dilla did.  But you don’t learn much about a man or his music from just a sample.  The jazz band and orchestra stuff was new to him.  Scott wasn’t just a technologist, he was truly a musician.  But the work he did as a musician, no matter how fascinating it was musically, for Lil’ Man just couldn’t be separated from extra-musical things.

Scott it would seem was a product of the racism of the era.  Lil’ Man wouldn’t go so far as to call him a racist.  In fact as much as he’d call him a product of it, the name change and nose job proved him also a victim of it.  But the way those racial overtones eased into his music made Lil’ Man very uncomfortable.

On screen an animation shows Scott’s writing process with the band.  It sounds like it is from an actual recording session.  The animated characters make it seem lighter in mood than it should be.  But if this was how Scott worked Lil’ Man is impressed.  He plays licks on the piano, passing them off to each of the players, no score no transcription, just sharing sound concepts.  Something about it reminds Lil’ Man of sampling.  He wasn’t working with notes, but with sounds, and using the band to arrange them much like one might use an MPC.  It’s engaging to watch, but still he can’t shake the racial overtones.  From the story of the two indians Scott admittedly makes up to conceptualize the song, to the final product “War Dance for Wooden Indians” it is a testament to an American social context that even today, Lil’ Man doesn’t feel that far removed from.

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