Three For Silver makes very interesting music. We have a theory that people who make interesting music probably listen to interesting music. We wanted to get to the bottom of this, so we asked the trio to send us a list of their favorite songs—and it turns out that they’ve confirmed our theory. Ranging from classical to avant garde to theatrical, the members of Three For Silver—Lucas Warford, Willo Sertain and Greg Allison—have provided for your enjoyment a mix tape of the highest quality. But there’s more! They’ve also written some beautiful words about these songs, so read along while you listen, and check out their The Way We Burn when you’re finished.
Colin Stetson, “To See More Light”
Lucas: At this moment in my life, Stetson is my primary inspiration as an instrumentalist. I picked this track because I think it is thus far his greatest achievement, a magnum opus in the classic sense. I connect with Stetson’s music like I might with a great love of my life, and it is similarly difficult to speak about logically or coherently. As a lifelong performer and general stage addict, I tend to be very analytical toward the performances and art of others. How are they doing what they’re doing? How is it succeeding? How is it failing? But Stetson’s music always bypasses my conscious mind. It’s as raw and visceral to me as a natural phenomenon. You may as well ask me how I feel about watching a thunderstorm. He has made recordings that are more heavy, more rhythmic, more delicate, more melodic and more beautiful—but “To See More Light” balances all of these forces while sacrificing none of them. Most importantly, it isn’t over-produced, it all sounds like its one person in a room with a saxophone. His approach to the saxophone, the physical demands on his body and his “more is more” aesthetic all resonate deeply with my own journey of radical self-expression through instruments, though the final product is totally different. If the instrument is truly an extension of yourself, then you will inherently discover a style that seems impossible to others, as you are the only one can speak with your own voice. Sidenote: I first became obsessed with this song (and the attendant album) while reading Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, and I forever imagine this as the trilogy’s soundtrack. I worry that Alex Garland isn’t going to get the memo.
The Caretaker, “Misplaced In Time”
Lucas: I wouldn’t describe this song or the Caretaker as music, but rather as a serotonin pump indirectly connected to my pineal gland. It’s well documented that when the Caretaker comes on, I smile like an idiot for the duration. I often don’t like to have music on, but I am always glad to hear the Caretaker. It is a disturbingly intimate experience, having this stranger give form to the imaginary soundtrack inside of my head. The Caretaker—who has always been the Caretaker (watch that scene from The Shining)—distresses, slows, twists and delays old swing recordings till they sound the way they should have had the good sense to sound from the get-go. In other words, seeping through the halls of an abandoned hotel from a New Year’s Eve party that never ends. The Caretaker is a masterclass in how you say something being much more important than what you are saying. The raw musical notes are never enough. The Caretaker’s renditions become a story that you can get lost in. This particular tune is a warped rendition of George Olsen’s take on “Lullaby Of The Leaves,” which is one of my all-time favorite standards. However, I recommend Roy Smeck’s rendition if you want to hear it in its non-Caretaker form.
Meredith Willson, “Ya Got Trouble”
Lucas: I definitely needed to include some form of show tune, or movie musical number, maybe something from an old Disney movie. I went with this because I’ve been obsessed with it since I recently rewatched The Music Man. I’ve always loved certain types of musical numbers, the way the characters leap out of the songs and drag you into a world that seems much bigger than the confines of a four-minute tune. Most of my tunes are written from a character’s perspective working through some (typically difficult) moment, and I think a lot of that comes directly from my early love for this kind of music. I find a real wealth of inspiration in old musicals and Disney films. This song creates such a ridiculously vivid portrait of a time and place that probably never even existed. Antiquated words and mannerisms and weird vocal rhythms charge my mind like a magnetic field. It’s a summertime, ragtime, boater-hatted monologue delivered by the devil himself, and every goddamn word of it is a lie, which doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Enya, “Na Laitha Gael M’oige”
Willo: Enya was always a big influence to my music, primarily due to the dreamlike qualities of her compositions and polyglottal lyricism. I chose “Na Laetha Gael M’oige” because it’s often stuck in my head. It’s a song that has been with me since childhood, and I still feel affected by it.
Clara Rockmore, Tchaikovsky’s “Berceuse”
Willo: I became aware of Clara Rockmore’s pioneering work with the theremin in my 20s. I have always enjoyed learning more about obscure instruments, and although the theremin was known to me, it was before only in the context of noise and sci-fi soundscapes. Rockmore’s inventive techniques allowed for the passion of such emotive pieces as Tchaikovsky’s “Berceuse” to be fully realized on what was before simply a new and novel instrument, not worthy of respect from the world of classical music.
The Ex And Tom Cora, “Hidegen Fui Nak a Szelek”
Willo: This song is an old, traditional Hungarian tune that I first heard performed by Hungarian folk band Muzikas. I love the original version to no end, but I chose this version because I really appreciate the way in which an old song was taken and conveyed through a more modern medium. I believe that the absorption and re-expression of traditions is key to cultural preservation and the maintaining of relevancy. I’ve endeavored to do this through my music, both by studying and learning traditional folk songs from many cultures and through using that knowledge and influence in the composition of original material.
Philip Glass, Einstein On The Beach
Greg: I first was introduced to Philip Glass through the movie Koyannisqatsi and was hooked immediately. As a composition major in college, I was strongly discouraged by my professors to write in a minimalist style. I felt rebellious at the time, but I can now empathize with their sentiment. It is really really easy when writing “minimalism” to revert to sounding like Philip Glass. His music is all over the place and is so influential that it is has seeped into our collective musical unconscious. There are a million film composers who go for that sound and totally miss the point, composing “Philip Glass-ian” music that is just awful. Really, really awful. His music has strongly impacted my playing, writing and my thoughts about simplicity, repetition and personal style in music. This opera can hardly be described as “minimalist.” It is opera in the grandest and most complex form. The piece “Spaceship” tears through the depths of outer space at an unforgiving pace (the speed of light?), refusing to yield to anything that is put in front of it. “Knee Play 5” is the emotional climax of the opera. It brings together themes that have been developing through the course of the narrative in a way that hits me so hard every time I hear it.
Glenn Gould, Bach: The Goldberg Variations (1981)
Greg: Classical music is generated through a curious collaboration between composers, who create with ink and paper an intellectual road map of their vision, and artists, who must interpret the notes and become the medium through which the composers’ vision takes form. Lots of ambiguities arise in this type of collaboration. What did the composer actually desire? How much artistic interpretation is too much? Should the artist stay true to the time period in which the piece was composed—or modernize it to help it be digested by an audience today? For me, this recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations is the ultimate and timeless synthesis of composer’s and performer’s visions. Bach’s melodies, rhythms, counterpoint and polyphony soothe the desires of my active intellectual mind enough to allow me to feel sweeping energetic waves of raw and primal emotion emerge from every cell in my body. Gould knows that Bach is creating dance music and perfectly executes and emotes the multiple layers that are going on in the written music. There are characters in this music who come in and out of focus, who dance with each other, who push off of each other, who twist and morph and change with the times. This story runs in parallel with Gould’s personal story: He made two recordings of the piece, one in 1955 as a young, fiery virtuoso and one in 1981 as a seasoned performer and recording artist. I have often found myself going to this recording first thing in the morning as a way for me to acquaint myself in a visceral way with the emotions and characters within me.
Tin Hat, “Old World”
Greg: This is my perfect music for a wet and overcast Portland day: I’m sitting in my studio, looking out the window into the grayness and listening to the rain on the sidewalk accompany the melancholic and nostalgic tones of the violin and clarinet weave in and out of the subtle and steady fingerpicking of the guitar. This is the first song from the album that, for me, flows as one complete gesture. The group that started as a trio has been a huge inspiration in understanding how wide a sonic pallet can be created with just three acoustic instruments. My violin playing would not be the same without the hours I spent trying to sound like Carla Kihlstedt. Her tone is soft and delicate, and she plays with sounds and effects that are playful, whimsical and seem effortless.