In the words of a comedic band I didn’t want to admit were aging as I beheld their greying, mutton chop-less visages at the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival, “The city is alive, the city is expanding, living in the city can be demanding.” I’m sure having travelled from the sheep-shearing, Hobbit-roving bliss of New Zealand to all the major cities of the United States, Flight of the Conchords delivers this message with the same heartfelt sincerity that every city dweller employs when they stick their head out a bedroom window and yell, “SHUT UP!” It’s such a commonplace notion that it’s hardly worth stating, but cities are loud and generally don’t come equipped with James Stewart’s euphonic pianist and soprano neighbors in Rear Window. On top of this corroboratory fact, city noise always amalgamates into the same nerve-wracking din no matter how disparate the individual components nor how varied the population size.
At 8 o’clock this morning, I was jostled from a sickbed completely surrounded by flu remedies (including DayQuil, NyQuil, Ricola, Emergen-C, and Sex and the City season 6) by a mariachi album set to full blast, a barbershop quartet of dogs who might have been hyperventilating through their barks, and a car alarm that could easily alert its owner from the middle of the sea. This early symphony–coupled with a daily opus of ever-celebratory fireworks, 2am basketball games, and rival ice cream trucks distinguishable only by their repeated children’s song of choice as they circle the block at least eight times a day–may be specific to my new neighborhood, but downtown Los Angeles is not alone in its incessant emanation of sound. Nor are LA’s outer boroughs, such as Culver City where my boyfriend’s next-door neighbors are constantly regaling the whole neighborhood with drunken arguments at the nightly parties they seem to throw and the entire family downstairs might be diagnosed with Tourette’s.
In a much smaller city on the opposite side of the country, the noise may come in a different flavor but barrages your eardrums with the same torrential force. During my last year in Savannah, Georgia, I moved from a quiet, woodside dormitory where the introverted inhabitants avoided eye contact at all costs, let alone uttered a peep, into an apartment that might as well have doubled as a palace compared to the cubby hole I occupy today. The only downside to Heaven on Montgomery was that it was on Montgomery–one of the busiest streets in town, especially when your block resided in “downtown.” Rather than illegal fireworks and ever-festive mariachi bands, this corner of Montgomery and Alice hosted a cast of noise makers that verify the zaniness John Berendt immortalized in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
First, there was the “Ey” Man, an older gentleman consistently dressed in what the 1960s would have deemed “the nines” who walked down Montgomery looking pleasantly dapper and intermittently calling, “Ey… Ey… Ey…” Then there was the late night serenader: a young man prone to slowly pacing up and down the street after dark, singing the latest R&B hits at the top of his lungs as if wooing the city itself or simply shouting to hear his voice over headphones. Along with these and several other vocal individuals like an infamously impolite mother, there was a weekly congregation of people who spent hours cackling at the tops of their lungs like a coven of witches while ironically mingling in a church parking lot. And we can’t forget the honk-happy populace eager to lay their entire body weight on the horn at the slightest hint of inconvenience, a far cry from the Oregonians who take extreme offense if you timidly tap the horn by accident.
Immersion in this incessant cacophony from the east to the west can make a girl miss her childhood home in the mountains, where yards that contemporary suburban developers couldn’t fathom separated everyone from even the slightest noises their neighbors might make and any hillbillies keen on disrupting the peace with a blaring horn were hindered by the shoddiness of their rusting trucks. After leaving this quiet respite at the age of nine, you’d think spending the majority of my life amidst the endless hubbub of sirens, babbling passerby, screeching tires, and Savannah’s garrulous night birds, I’d have grown fond or at least accustomed to the soundtrack of city life. But lately if there’s no Enya playlist to drown out the racket, all I can do refrain from leering out my window at the ice cream man is wistfully dream about pattering rain showers, ocean tides, or a future ranch in Montana complete with a team of middle aged corgis to keep me quiet company.
While watching the Savannah College of Art & Design’s reputed fashion show last Spring–and wishing they’d attribute the work to the artists so that I could compare the outcomes to the conceptual catalysts of samurai armor, muscle tissue fibers, monsters found in children’s imaginations, Inuit culture, and DaVinci’s anatomical drawings (none of which was identifiable)–something happened that would unbolt a whole new entryway into my persona. With each wardrobe change, the DJ would seamlessly meld a new track into the electronic du jour, and midway through the production, the tempo slowed, the treble chimed in, and a virilized Destiny’s Child classic contributed to the androgynous dubiety of digital music.
That’s how I discovered Cyril Hahn, a Vancouver-based, Swiss producer with a knack for slowing down pop and hip-hop hits and turning them into something light, ethereal and far from the banality entrenched in the originals’ lyrics. Not gonna lie, Hahn’s tendency to turn vocalists like Mariah Carey, Solange, and the aforementioned Destiny trio into contralto men was a large temptation on my behalf (a fact that might stem from my long-standing membership to the RuPaul’s Drag Race fanclub), but for anyone seeking meditative music that blends the soft din of a sea breeze with recurrent percussions and vocals that could double as the bass, Cyril Hahn is worth a listen… And in honor of LeVar Burton stint on Reading Rainbow, you don’t have to take my word for it:
Before discovering this hermaphroditic opus, I was bred into an eclecticism so quintessentially meta that I’ve never once been able to answer the survey question, “What’s your favorite music genre?” Therefore, Hahn’s induction into Emily Moon’s idées fixes means his oeuvre is now conglomerated into a categorial soup so diverse it gives the melting pot of Los Angeles a run for its money. While I have the ability to fixate on one artist at a time, repeating their canon with the same broken record finesse my dad used to drive us insane with, my ears refuse to hunker down with one genre for more than a day, and thus, I always choose to answer that dreaded question with an explanatory list.
Since childhood, I’ve been raised on an assortment of music ranging from the Irish wail of U2 and the soul of Buena Vista Social Club, to the anarchic shrieking of Bow Wow Wow and the utter nonsense of The B-52’s. My pops had a collection of CDs he recycled through with regularity and when I wasn’t manning the sound system with Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” and Now That’s What I Call Music, Vol. God Only Knows, my dad was instilling in me a nostalgic fondness for Peter Gabriel, Fleetwood Mac, P.M. Dawn, The Police, Seal, and Simon & Garfunkel. Meanwhile, my mom introduced me to classical singers-turned-alternative like Paula Cole and Sinéad O’Connor, Californian favorites from her youth like The Beach Boys and Dick Dale & The Del-Tones, and never-stale oldies like Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and Marvin Gaye.
Along the way I picked up quite a few of my own arbitrary additions to the eclectic mash-up pre-programmed in my brain. Included in this assortment was my middle school fixation on Damon Albarn’s brainchild the Gorillaz (and all things Jamie Hewlett); a sixteen-year-old infatuation with industrial German band Rammstein, which occurred in tandem to my classical singing education and resulted in some atypical harmonizations during my drives to class; my teenage liaisons with Björk’s melodramatic gobbledegook, Kanye West’s catchy complaining, and Joshua Bell’s violinistic prowess; “scooping up coconuts” to my favorite dubstep hailstorms in college; and finally my recent surrender to the oxymoronic mainstream-hipster tunes I refused to listen to while dating an indie ex. But I cite these artists and genres as mere highlights in a longstanding courtship with music: a simple answer to an unintentionally difficult question. For while I inadvertently learned temperamental German listening to Till Lindemann roar his lyrics and “danced this mess around” at Kate Pierson’s behest, I never stopped listening to absolutely everything else. Patsy Cline, Enya, The Coasters, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Elvis Presley, Hawaiian slack key guitar, Ella Fitzgerald, Flight of the Conchords, and all the classic Disney soundtracks–you name a genre, and I’ve probably listened to it twice in the past week.
So welcome, Mr. Hahn, to the euphonic jambalaya that makes succinct answers to that age-old question near-impossible.