Official music page and soapbox of Matt Snell

Sunday 15 May 2011

The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project: Introduction

It's time to face facts - the maple bugs are gone, and with them the blood to make paintings. I'm idle and artistically unfulfilled.

That said, it did occur to me it was odd to spend time and energy on an art form I have no facility in, when I promote myself as a musician and writer. Hence my latest challenge: The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project.

First, a word about the name. A few years ago, I checked Hans Prinzhorn's Artistry of the Mentally Ill out of a medical library. The book was written in 1922, and represented not only a move towards modern art therapy, but also one of the first examinations of outsider art on the aesthetic level. One of the artists Prinzhorn profiled was Karl Brendel, a one-legged schizophrenic woodcarver. Brendel discovered his occupation while in hospital - doctors recommended supplying him with wood and carving tools when they discovered he was sculpting his food instead of eating it. Among the many masterpieces Brendel sculpted (a lot of hermaphroditic Christs, if I remember correctly), was a slice of surrealist whimsy called "Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack."

That piece epitomizes improvisational creativity for me (I also admire its utility in removing boots). In any case, I have named my improvisational music project in honour of Karl Brendel and his weird bootjack.

I plan to release a twelve-week cycle of tracks composed, performed and recorded fresh each week. Because my songs are usually lyrically focused, the Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack pieces will be mostly instrumental. I can guarantee some will be better than others; the production will be virtually non-existent. But hopefully I'll strike gold somewhere in there.

I'm excited about the project because I have found that in attempting to improve as a musician, I have been subtly moving away from my strengths. Instead of cultivating my theatricality, I have let it languish while I run dry technical exercises. Because my voice is my favourite instrument, I have paradoxically set it to one side while I bring others up to standard. Although I'm certainly not giving up on the other elements, it's time for the pendulum to swing the other way and practice some raw creativity. With the need to conceive and execute each piece within a day or two, hopefully I can release the drive to perfectionism, and have a pantload of fun doing it.

I'd like to note that the project is separate from the Real Coyotes and my solo efforts, so for better or for worse anyone coming to the shows might not find the same degree of ravening weirdness. Just a disclaimer in case I confuse anyone.

So, the first track. I find that narratives help me understand where I'm going, so I came up with a scenario. The piece is entitled "Sorcerer Summons the Hippopotamus God," and it begins with the sorcerer and his disciples performing the ancient rite of evocation in an isolated bog. The sorcerer's hubris gets the better of him, and the Hippopotamus God runs amok. It finds its way to the nearest village, where two bored musicians are playing for a drunk. The Hippopotamus God enters the bar and eats him. A long flute tone follows and the sound of a cauliflower landing in a bucket.

I hope you like it. I'll need all the inspiration I can get, so feel free to send me your ideas on what you'd like to hear, or where to take the plotline from here. The musically inclined are even welcome to guest on a track or two. Without further ado, here is:

"Sorcerer Summons the Hippopotamus God"

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