Small Time Shot Away

Small Time Shot Away, Massive Attack (2003)

I listened to this track in a mid-range Singaporean hotel at dawn. I go back to the music as kind of travel, something that is, and is a reminder of, indeterminate time, rhythm, voice.

Because of a stimulus that seems terrifyingly more-direct-than-usual (buzzing earbuds to vestibulocochlear nerve), a more-than-usual amount of things appear possible. Such as: being soothed and jarred at the same time; speaking and singing at the same time; hearing something and hearing nothing at the same time, etc. These jaunts into the world of false simultaneity, I have to say, are like dilettanism, which makes them all the more pleasurable. This track taps into many things that I like. Without any knowledge of the tools of electronica that built it, I shall now do my best to describe it.

First, props to the rhythm of the title’s words (small, small, small, large). After that, there is something tranquilizingly dull about the whole thing, like a subconscious afterthought. (Afterthoughts are underrated, by the way.) It starts with a kind of frequency adjustment: the sound of someone turning a knob, as if picking something up on pirate radio, or like a hidden track on the Voyager Golden Record. This is followed by a kind of harmonics of plucked string, and then rattling cymbals and drumbeat. These seem like they’re not in any fixed rhythm – this intimates freedom. It reminds me of Elvin Jones, playing on one of those interstellar albums like Ascension: like someone hopping, then skipping, then crawling, then running.

Suck it in
Drop the line
Turn me on

This is elaborately not singing: subverbal, subconscious. (It’s actually hard to do, try it.) Then, a vocal effect that I just find so irresistible: taking a line, but cutting out certain parts out of it (or splicing two lines together?), so that the words is not entirely clear. It’s like watching someone move through a strobe light, or if someone tampered with the recording. More poetically, that your own thoughts are starting to register through that pirate radio signal and are coming across the airwaves.

That bass: a four-note descending line. This reminds me of hearing Jah Wobble and Bill Laswell at the Knitting Factory: the bass was so loud, it was like having molten lead poured onto you from sunflower showerheads in the ceiling. It was a sound that wobbled the bone marrow. Here, there’s a point at 4:10 where the line gets stuck – on either the same tone or one that is slightly different, I cannot tell.

The rest of it is variations on this. I emerge from the track like coming out of a pupa, or having my brain washed, or having my voice tuned up through remote control.


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