Scott Joplin is among the greatest of American composers. I’ve always believed that art arrives at the intersection of two (or more) opposing forces, and Joplin’s songs are a perfect example of this idea. They are a complex cocktail of humanity, not only through the mashup of black and white culture, but also through his rich emotional content. His rags exude as much ebullient joy as they do woeful melancholia, celebrating as they lament. Their whimsy and playfulness belie the strains of frustration, sorrow and anger that bubble beneath the surface.
Ragtime — arguably America’s first major pop music genre — reigned for a brief twenty years or so. I’m often struck by the fleeting nature of pop music genres. Music, all of a sudden, will sound a certain way, and then, just as suddenly, that sound will fade away, morphing into some other short-lived sound. It makes me sort of sad to think of all the music trapped in the amber of bygone genres. Joplin was a musical genius, but his compositions are trapped in ragtime. This got me to wondering what Joplin’s music would sound like if I removed the ragtime feel, stripped away some of the oom-pah of the left hand, and just let those melodies shine on their own for modern listeners. That wondering gave way to doing, and, hundreds of hours later, it’s done.
Ragtime enthusiasts will hate this EP. It was made exclusively with soft-synths and samples, both lacking the dynamic expressiveness of live musicians playing acoustic instruments. The tempos never budge. In stripping away the ragtime, I’ve imbued these songs with the mechanicality that modern listeners have come to expect from pop music. In this way, the computer is a very complex player piano… one that also shows you cat videos. Listen to Dick Hyman’s performances of Joplin and you’ll hear how these rags are supposed to sound. This is not a ragtime EP. It’s an experiment, and a bit of a wacky one. Forgive me my tresspasses.