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Future shock
San Francisco's Beep might be the sound of 2011

What is "experimental music?"

The easy answer is, "Anything that doesn't fit into the myriad other genre categories out there."

The more complex reply might be, "Music that defies categorization with an alarming force of will."

Whatever you call this genre-less music, it all comes down to the manner in which the listener relates, or doesn't, to what he or she hears. And yet the difference between these two responses is worth exploring, because it can tell us something about what we are looking for when we listen to music, and the nature of our bond with it.

Speaking in broad, general terms for the sake of making a point, music listeners can be divided into two (admittedly vast) groups: Those who hear something unusual and find it annoying; and those who seek out the strange, and thrill to it when they do find it.

Some look to music for comfort. For this person, something jarring, unexpected, exploratory or just plain strange, is exactly what the doctor didn't order.

Generally speaking -- again! -- this brand of listener finds what he or she likes at a young age, and sticks with it. Nothing wrong with that -- unless, of course, this often narrow window of musical appreciation ends up being the only one available.

One might prefer, for example, the music of the 1980s, particularly the Top 40 sounds of the latter part of that decade. Fine and dandy, but if that's all that existed well, some of us might find that to be a real drag.

On the other hand, not everyone has a taste for Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, Captain Beefheart or Radiohead. Again, if atonal freakouts were the only thing available to us, the landscape might turn decidedly bleak and colorless.

The point is this -- in order for there to be a rebellion against the tyranny of form, there has to be some form there to rebel against. By the same token, unquestioning acceptance of dominant forms is a bad idea. Which is to suggest that rebellion in music is not just a cool thing, but a necessary one.

I've been pondering all of this while listening to San Francisco's Beep, a trio of musicians who have found no reason why they shouldn't mix jazz and indie-rock at high volume. Doing this hasn't killed me, but there remains a faint chance that it has made me stronger.

Beep's new album is "City of the Future," and that title seems like the proper one. The music is not easy to categorize, but then, if it seeks to honestly reflect the age in which it is being made, how could it be? Consider this. Last week, on a road trip with my son, tunes blasting away in the car, he asked me what tune my iPod, in the midst of an "all songs shuffle," had landed upon. "Wait, don't tell me," he said, and held up his phone to the speaker. "That's 'Astronomy Domine,' off Pink Floyd's 'Ummagumma' album, 1969."

Yup, he'd downloaded an app on his smart phone that recognizes songs, identifying them within less than a minute. A 10-year-old finds this to be no big deal, but I'm completely freaked out by it. Which may be why Beep is hitting me hard. "City of the Future" is music that recognizes the simultaneous absurdity and beauty of mankind's current situation, viewed from behind a dark pair of hipster shades.

Will you like it? Only if at least one of the following albums is in your "collection":

Sun Ra, "Jazz in Transition"; Ornette Coleman, "The Shape of Jazz to Come"; Craig Taborn, "Junk Magic"; Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, "Trout Mask Replica"; David Torn/Tony Levin/Bill Bruford, "Cloud About Mercury"; Radiohead, "Kid A"; Sonic Youth, "Dirty"; God Speed You Black Emperor, "Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven"; David Sylvian, "Manofon"; or Miles Davis, "Dark Magus".

Beep is not likely to become much of a commercial concern, but that's not to suggest that this trio's influence won't be felt, however. Those who do open themselves up to Beep, and things like it, may well do something remarkable and unusual themselves.

(Beep's "City of the Future" is available through iTunes and's MP3 store; learn more at


Gig picks

New Hampshire punk legends the Queers join the Apers, White Whale and Lewd Doodz for an 8 p.m. show at Mohawk Place on Sunday.

Wisconsin metal band Lazarus A.D. will preview its soon-to-be-released new album, "Black Rivers Flow," at Broadway Joe's tonight at 9.

On Saturday, Xtreme Wheels hosts Silverstein, Miss May I, the Chariot and A Bullet for Pretty Boy.


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