George Clinton and P-Funk: Forever on the Verge of Getting It On


“You will not be able to gather much if the piano is out of tune and has broken strings” — attributed to Rudolph Steiner

When I buy a Tibetan singing bowl as a gift for a friend on the occasion of their wedding, or winning a spelling bee, or whatever, I shop according to the pitch listed on the attached tag or sticker. Many of these gifted bowls attend to the business of the root, or creative, chakra, which is "D" for you randy throat-singers out there. Gifting etiquette is strict when it comes to harmonic clarity. One doesn’t want prospective multipliers to go around dividing when they should be multiplying, or vice versa, owing to bad musicology.

But there’s crosstalk on the frequency to which a note actually refers, particularly surrounding the pitch standard that matches the "A" note — the note to which most concert musicians tune — to the frequency 440hz. You see, there are many in the music and New Age communities alike who prefer an infinitesimally lower "A," specifically 432hz; this frequency was also in widespread usage among Western musicians until about the 1930s. This slightly lower 432A is alternately known as philosophical pitch, scientific pitch, studio pitch, Saveur pitch or a Verdi tuning, for the Italian composer wrote his Requiem in the lower registry of 432A, purposefully protesting the trend toward a higher tuning.

There are those on various fringes who claim that philosophical pitch (A432) and its corresponding chromatic scale hew closer to the mathematical structures of the golden ratio, thus lending itself to more bio-harmonic endeavors, including undoing damage to DNA, and the establishment of a sense of general well-being.

Conversely, there are those who argue that the institutionalization of the A440 standard was hastened by Nazi strategist Joseph Goebbels, as the higher-frequency tuning is said to lend itself to militarization and feelings of aggression.

Anywhere you find it, power privileges the language of absolutes, even as it works in mysterious ways, eschewing no paths, however contradictory. The conquistadors in Mexico City razed Aztec temples to build churches, except when it was inexpedient to do so, at which times they simply whitewashed the temples and switched out the statues.

Despite the near success of different waves of liberation insurrectionists from the Levellers to the American revolutionists, the Jacobins, the Emancipationists, the Parisian Communards, the Suffragettes, the Bolsheviks, the anarchists of the Spanish Civil War to the present day, there will always be people who rebuke their natural freedom. In fact, they sneak in almost anywhere, loudly attempting to reconstitute the hierarchies they depend on to stave off the maddening uncertainties of adult thought.

From music they demand a caste system, an aristocracy or, at the very least, a robed priesthood, a mystical cult, masters of technique, a social separation between themselves and the artists they angrily worship, with barricades and security guards in place to mark the divide. Hence, the conductor of a symphony orchestra is still called the "maestro" when most of that job entails wearing fancy dress, waving one's hand around and letting other people do the work.

"A symphony orchestra is a pinnacle of civilization. Mankind has brought forth music, found ways to notate it, devised instruments to give it sound, and found notes to express the voices of those instruments. The existence of an orchestra gives composers a meta-instrument on which their imaginations can play. Musicians…must have a vision of the Ideal, of the union of music, composition, instruments and listeners. " — Roger Ebert, The Spheres of the Music

There are still some, again mostly non-musicians, who believe that music is based on absolute mathematical principles that correspond to the nature of the universe itself; in short, the music of the spheres. Agents of idealism such as Pythagoras, Athanasius Kircher, Plato and Theodor Adorno would pin music to a fixed, overarching ontological place in the cosmos, algebraic, necessarily governed by unchanging harmonic rules, as people are supposed to be governed by universal rules.

A quick listen to the world outside quickly puts that dog to bed. What does one hear when one walks outside? Wind resistance, erratic birdsong, overhead planes, the passage of traffic and other secondary evidence of the lives of people who for the most part are simply trying to avoid pain and to hide the fact that they are hugely bored. Nonetheless, imperialist metaphysicians, baroque apologists, folk singers, classic rockers and other jackbooted ear police, music teachers and other rear-guardists would have us trash our portable playback devices and take up piano or guitar lessons, or at least whitewash our desires and play in key.


April 21, House of Blues

As Heraclitus put it some time ago: "You can never put your foot in the same river twice." Nowhere is this truer or sweeter than in the music of George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, under whatever flag and in whatever spaceship they sail. Onstage, they’re a mess and always have been, with musicians everywhere, often more than you’d expect to find, the whole big stink and shebang a contravention of the rules of scarcity, of minimalism, of the idea that there could be anywhere or in any way a world in which anybody isn’t essential to the thing. In fact, there are often so many singers, dancers, super-fit guys doing yoga inversions on the top of PA-speaker towers, playing, rapping, singing and dancing all over one another, to so much effect, in so many keys and tempos, with so much good will, that it’s hard to remember that there's a grim world of functionaries and their ever-shrinking functions just outside.

George Clinton put in some time as a barber, and signs of that profession's esoteric medical and social wisdom show up everywhere in the workings of his utopian band. A barber is privy, through studies and long experience, to knowing things about people, music and diplomacy.

In the service of funk, including everything that has the capacity to splash back, all that is loose-goosey, and most life-giving goos, unguents and biomorphs, everything shirt-stretching, improbably elastic, snappy and rude, there’s no such thing as too many players or too many notes. It’s a riot of multiples, like a spring garden, heralded by Mr. George Clinton, impeccably dressed however he’s dressed, waving his arms and trusting the vibes.

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Tex Kerschen is a Houston based gadabout, dilettante, estimate reviser and the Houston Press music listings editor.
Contact: Tex Kerschen