This Is Not a Conspiracy Theory

Note: While the majority of my writings showcase musical works, I occasionally divert to touch upon other forms of media which are important to me and which strike me as culturally relevant. This was the case with Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. This afternoon I want to share another new work, a web miniseries whose final episode has just been published.

This Is Not a Conspiracy Theory

My favorite independent documentary filmmaker, Kirby Ferguson has just completed production of his follow-up to the enormously satisfying, Everything Is a Remix web series, (which I cannot recommend enough!), with his informative and well-paced new venture, This Is Not a Conspiracy Theory.

From religion and the natural philosophy of the ancient Greeks to the Middle Ages, colonial America, on to the Enlightenment and beyond, the early episodes explore mathematical and technological innovations like calculus and the printing press and their profound impact on human thoughts and perceptions. Ferguson outlines the search for patterns in the animal kingdom and in the society of man, and the impact of media and pop culture in all its forms, from political ideologies to the birth of conspiracy theorism.

Episode four offers the impacts of the Kennedy assassination and The Warren Report, as well as Watergate, MK-Ultra, and other events on the public’s formulation of conspiracy theories. Episode five touches upon Roswell, the moon landing, and other cultural phenomena which further fueled the notion of conspiracies. 

Ferguson progresses chronologically to explore the subcultures of emerging talk radio and VHS communication, and then on to the impacts of 911 and the world-wide web, InfoWars, and flat Earthers, and debunks many of the misconceptions which were the fundamentals of major JFK assassination conspiracies. He examines how WMDs, the US economic bail-out, and the Trump era perpetuated the psychological appeal of conspiracy theorism for the masses.

The final two episodes, parts six and seven explain how the game of Life demonstrates the unpredictability of complex systems like societies and economies and how complexity can emerge from simple rules. Self-organizing simple systems lead to emergence, as exhibited by ant colonies, beehives, and the neurons in the human brain.

The final episode expounds the powerful impact of emergence and explains that we can introduce simple rules in our own smaller systems to yield positive outcomes through emergence. But Ferguson also cautions us about the potential large-scale and unforeseen negative forces of emergence, such as climate change, economic catastrophe, and pandemics. He professes that it is our responsibility to remain skeptical of ourselves and of our misconceptions, (quoting American physicist Richard Feynman), and to foster positive emergence from the bottom up rather than projecting our struggles as being the malicious intent of an external enemy from above or of a force otherwise beyond our influence.

Ferguson explains the error of viewing complex living systems through the lens of the mechanical paradigm as was appropriate in Newton’s age and instead suggests that we need a new perspective for the speed and complexity of non-”clock-like” living systems – a network paradigm to perceive society. 

This Is Not a Conspiracy Theory is an engaging examination of the history and origins of conspiratorial thought. Highly recommended for those who enjoyed Everything Is a Remix or for anyone who embraces skepticism and rationalism.

This Is Not a Conspiracy Theory snapshot

Volume Leveling Server Project a Success!

I’m pleased to share my success with a project I first began in June of 2019 but had shelved until today! I’d constructed an ambient playlist on my server of ~130,000 tracks for background listening which I enjoy for an average of 19 hours each day while I work and while I sleep. Unfortunately I found that many tracks were mastered with considerable differences in signal processing / dynamic range compression / equalization. The result was that some albums had a perceived loudness far greater than others, which disturbed my concentration and my rest. 

Thankfully, a bit of research revealed that I was not alone with this concern, and that digital audio engineers addressed the issue by incorporating a feature into the ID3v2 standard outlined by hydrogenaudio as the “replaygain 1.0 specification.”

Most digital music library software applications feature a replaygain function, permitting the user to apply, automatically or manually, gain adjustment values stored in the metadata of the music file to nudge the volume up or down as required, and my Linux desktop audio software was among them. 

Automatic loudness measurement, (the formula for which is available on the hydrogenaudio wiki), can be applied to selected tracks individually, or to the loudness of an overall album. The album option, hydrogenaudio notes, “leave(s) the intentional loudness differences between tracks in place, yet still correct for unmusical and annoying loudness differences between albums.” 

The challenge was to find a mobile media server client which retained and interpreted the replaygain values during transcoding. I experimented with various mobile applications to find one which natively supported both gapless playback and replaygain.

Researching forum discussions on the subject lead me to an independent fork of my preferred media server application available for Android. The project was a success! After batch processing the replaygain values for the ambient segment of my library, the adjustments I applied to the track metadata were successfully interpreted and rendered during playback in the mobile application!

This small victory will have a profound impact on my daily and nightly listening sessions. I’m so glad I kept my notes and revisited the project!

Replaygain Screenshot 01-24-2020

Enography: The Collected Writings of (and about) Brian Eno

I’ve been reading texts on artist, producer, and self-proclaimed “non-musician” Brian Eno for years, and thought it might be a good idea to start tracking all of the books examining his work in my library. I extracted a list of all Eno-related texts from moredarkthanshark.org and added a few other rare titles from my own archive. Referencing data from my Goodreads account I built a spreadsheet to catalog which texts I’ve read, which I have in physical form, as well as the ones I have as ebooks. I then used an aggregate book search engine to secure physical copies of most of the texts I was missing to build as complete a library as I was able. There are three titles I’ve yet to claim, but they command higher prices than I was ready to import to the States for this first stage of the project.

Pictured below are thirteen of my favorite titles on the subjects of Eno’s work, and ambient and generative music in general. There was a week delay in the project after book #13 was lost in the post and I had to order another copy, but at last I have them all.

I was particularly excited to secure a copy of Sound Unbound published by MIT Press, which compiles essays on sample/mashup/remix culture collected by Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky), and which features a Forward by Cory Doctorow, my favorite essayist on the subjects of digital rights activism and copyleftism. And like the Moondog book I recently ordered, it is packaged with a companion compact disc of the works discussed.

Pictured are the following:

Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports by John T. Lysaker
Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music by Christoph Cox
Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds by David Toop
A Year With Swollen Appendices by Brian Eno
Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond by Michael Nyman
Brian Eno: His Music And The Vertical Color Of Sound by Eric Tamm
The Ambient Century by Mark Prendergast
Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture by Paul D. Miller
On Some Faraway Beach: The Life And Times Of Brian Eno by David Sheppard
Another Green World (33 1/3 Series) by Geeta Dayal
Brian Eno: Visual Music by Christopher Scoates
Brian Eno: Oblique Music by Sean Albiez
Music For Installations (companion book to the ltd ed. 2018 9LP vinyl box set) by Brian Eno

as well as the official Oblique Strategies deck Eno produced with artist, Peter Schmidt.

Also read but not pictured: 

Music Beyond Airports – Appraising Ambient Music by Monty Adkins

I really look forward to diving into the yet-unread titles from this indispensable collection. These books will be wonderful company through the chills of winter and shall serve as an intellectually stimulating start to 2020!

02 Brian Eno Book Collection (sm for web)

An Ambient Milestone – The First-Ever Vinyl Issue of Oliveros’ Deep Listening

Exciting news to start off the new year! A classic recording of the ambient genre has been issued for the very first time on vinyl by Important Records. The Massachusetts-based label has issued special releases from artists including Daniel Johnston, Boris, Coil, and Japanese noise musician Merzbow and specializes in indie rock, electronica and avant-garde music.

The label’s official website posted the news in early December and quickly sold out of the gold edition on the evening of Wednesday, December 18th. The official release date is January 31, 2020 but pre-ordered copies shipped January 6th to arrive well in advance of the official date. (This copy arrived Friday, January 10th.)

From their announcement:

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Deep Listening, we offer you the definitive double LP combining the classic, complete original 1989 release with selected tracks from the Deep Listening Band’s 1991 album The Readymade Boomerang.

This elegant double LP is packaged in a gatefold sleeve with original and updated recollections from the performers, the recording engineer and a mesostic from John Cage, to which these recordings are inextricably linked.

Recorded in a cistern, this double LP reverberates with brilliant sonic clarity and masterfully improvised performances combining live electronics, vocals, trombone and accordion. Deep Listening is a classic in the fields of improvisation, minimalism, ambient/drone and modern classical.

Listen with attentiveness, listen while lying down, listen with headphones – as recording engineer Al Swanson entices the listener to become a virtual performer in selecting the many different ways to perceive these phenomenal tracks. Whatever you do, listen deeply.

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A quick summary for those not already familiar with the band – 

Deep Listening Band was founded in 1988 by Pauline Oliveros (accordion, “expanded instrument system”, composition), Stuart Dempster (trombone, didjeridu, composition) and Panaiotis (vocals, electronics, composer). Oliveros was a central figure in the development of experimental and post-war electronic art music and a founding member of the San Francisco Tape Music Center. Wikipedia notes that:

[Oliveros] coined the term “deep listening,” a pun that has blossomed into “an aesthetic based upon principles of improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation. This aesthetic is designed to inspire both trained and untrained performers to practice the art of listening and responding to environmental conditions in solo and ensemble situations”

Pauline’s mantra, exquisitely realized on this recording, was to “Listen to everything all the time and remind yourself when you are not listening”. 

Deep Listening Band recorded the album in the 2-million-US-gallon Fort Worden Cistern in Port Townsend, WA on October 8, 1988. The cistern has a 45-second reverberation time. AllMusic describes the unique sonic characteristics of the recording as follows:

The unlikely instruments — primarily accordion, trombone, didjeridu, and voice — produce sustained tones that are subtly modulated by the extraordinary acoustics, making it often seem as if there were more instruments present, or as if this music has been electronically processed — neither of which is the case. All the music was improvised on site, with the musicians banging on metal pipes and found objects on the final track. The effect is remarkable, immersing the listener in a hypnotic field of shifting resonance, in a truly profound experience of deep listening.

This pivotal and iconic recording was originally only issued on compact disc in the US on New Albion records in 1989 so it is a great honor to finally have it receive the double-LP vinyl treatment just in time for the album’s 30th anniversary. The bonus selections from The Ready Made Boomerang and the mesostic from John Cage are wonderful additions for this special release and an exciting way to begin 2020!

Pauline Oliveros - Deep Listening 2LP 01-10-19 01.JPG

Pauline Oliveros - Deep Listening 2LP 01-10-19 02.jpg

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Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas Has Arrived!

EmmetOtter

I’m quietly celebrating the holidays with a new addition to my vast Jim Henson library – this is the Record Store Day exclusive limited edition picture disc of the music from Henson’s 1977 television special, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. The soundtrack was issued for the very first time for Record Store Day in 2018 and was limited to 2000 copies worldwide. This year a picture disc version was issued in a run of 2,500. Both editions were issued by the soundtrack record label, Varèse Sarabande.

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas RSD 2019 Picture Disc 12-17-19

All versions of the soundtrack feature 15 tracks from the TV special, a previously unreleased song called “Born in a Trunk” that didn’t make it to air, as well as extended liner notes featuring interviews with the film’s puppet performers, and more.

The film was Jim Henson’s most complex endeavor to date. As Dave Goelz reflected in 2011:

“We built a 55-foot-long river that was about 10 feet wide and went all the way across the stage, and they built a radio-control rowboat for Emmet. It was so lovely and lyrical to see Emmet rowing his mom down the river. The idea that there was life along the river and that it was all interconnected was a great metaphor for people.”

The soundtrack features all of Paul Williams’ music from the special, including the fan-favorite, “Riverbottom Nightmare Band” and the heartwarming, “Where the River Meets the Sea,” the latter of which was featured on the classic John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together LP in 1979.

Though I was too young to have seen the original television broadcast in ’77, I had the great pleasure of seeing Emmet Otter along with The Bells of Fraggle Rock together in the theater when they were featured by Fathom Events on December 16, 2018.

henson-poster-2142187e35d61bbcec9e971e701f5200.jpg

Now I’ve added the picture disc to my library of 60+ Jim Henson-related LPs. (There’s one more Henson holiday disc I hope to secure, but as it has almost never surfaced on the resale market I’m going to keep it under wraps until one appears or a reissue is released.)

Happy holidays, everyone!

Innerspace Labs’ Year-End Large Library Catalog

With Thanksgiving off from work and the whole day to myself it felt like the perfect opportunity to run some metrics on my archive to provide me with some valuable insight as to the development of my larger libraries just in time to close out the year. 

And it couldn’t have come a more fitting time, as I’ve been filled with inspiration and have been actively expanding my archive thanks to the magnificent ambient soundscapes showcased on the syndicated radio program, Hearts of Space

I maintain a complete broadcast archive of every transmission of the program since 1983 – over 1200 hours of ambient space music. These tone poems accompany me for eight hours every day at the office, and all through the night as I sleep. (For someone as hyperproductive as I am, this music is a godsend as it helps to quiet my overactive mind.)

Captivated by these contemporary instrumental works, I’ve spent the last few months compiling complete discographic archives of the artists featured on the program, many of whom have over one hundred albums in their respective catalogs spanning the history of ambient and space music. It’s a labor of love, and infinitely rewarding as I enjoy the company of their music all throughout my waking and restful hours.

I had previously compiled a digital archive of all official and unofficial Tangerine Dream releases, including the Tangerine Tree live recording archive totaling 298 discs of electronic ambient music. 

Soon thereafter I assembled a complete discography of the 45 releases by modern classical composer Harold Budd. I’ve loved his soft-pedal technique ever since I first heard his collaborations with Brian Eno.

Inspired by the Hearts of Space program I continued this effort by building a lossless library of the 72 releases by veteran ambient composer, Robert Rich. Rich has been featured on 84 transmissions of Hearts of Space and is a staple figure of the genre.

From there I built an archive of the 161-album catalog of his collaborator and Hearts of Space favorite artist, Steve Roach. Roach’s recordings are informed by his impressions of environment, perception, flow, and space and are considered to be highly influential in the genre of new age music.

Next I compiled a complete 100-album discography of the late master of Tibetan singing bowls, Klaus Wiese. Wiese played tamboura on Popol Vuh’s classic Hosianna Mantra and Seligpreisung LPs and is considered by some as one of the great ambient and space music artists.

I then secured a 149-disc library of the German dark ambient / drone ambient musician, Mathias Grassow. His Wikipedia entry notes that “[his] music often has a meditative and emotional and spiritual context, which induces deep feelings of introspection in listeners.”

I did the very same for the Berlin minimalist composer Andrea Porcu, who performs under the moniker Music For Sleep, and for UK experimental artist 36 (a project of Dennis Huddleston), and for other prominent figures of the genre. 

These explorations directly resulted in a number of physical media investments like the Hearts of Space first transmission LP limited to 500 copies worldwide, Robert Rich’s Premonitions 4LP box set (also limited to 500 copies), and the limited edition Nighthawks / Translucence / Drift Music autographed vinyl box set comprising the complete collaborations of Harold Budd and John Foxx.

I last published a feature on my playlist projects five years ago so it seemed like a good idea to recalculate the number of albums and total runtimes for the artists and record labels representing the largest segments of my library as a means of both organizing large sets of data and to serve as a reminder of catalogs I still need to explore in full. And while the former project from 2015 included large-scale genre maps I thought that this time it would be more productive to focus on specific artists, producers, and record labels specializing in a particular sound to highlight large libraries in my archive.

So that tabulation is consistent and equally weighted across various collections, I’ve calculated totals based on the total number of discs, so that a 30-disc box set weighs accurately against a single-disc release.

I factored collections of greater than 20 albums as being eligible large libraries. I was going to render a set of graphs of the results as I did with large playlists in 2015, but given the sheer number of eligible sets I felt that the data is most clearly expressed in a basic table. This list of approximately one hundred artists accounts for roughly 1% of the artists in my library, but over 75% of the total albums cataloged.

Here are the results, organized from largest to smallest libraries. I’ll divide the results into three categorical sets – first complete artist / record label discographies, followed by libraries of old time radio broadcasts, and close with box sets of audiobooks.

Here are the discographies:

Largest Discographic Archives by Artist / Record Label:# of Discs
Hearts of Space Radio Broadcast Archive1232
The Progressive-Kraut-Psych-Avant garde Rock Collection (Vols I-VIII)753
Underworld600
The World’s Greatest Jazz Collection500
Psybient DVD Packs Map317
Tangerine Dream and Tangerine Tree Live Archive298
Big Band Music Digital Archive259
FAX +49-69450464 Catalog (Pete Namlook)254
The KLF / Kopyright Liberation Front / JAMS / Justified Ancients of Mu Mu / The Timelords189
Steve Roach161
Ninja Tune Records154
Mathais Grassow149
Future Sounds of London & Amorphous Androgynous141
Lemon Jelly137
Keith Jarrett135
Max & Dima: Sapovnela Studio Sessions131
Throbbing Gristle131
111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon111
Miles Davis109
Daft Punk104
Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno100
Flea Market Funk: Funky Soul & Rare Groove100
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention100
Hit the Brakes DJ Series100
Klaus Wiese100
RYM Top 100 Downtempo / Trip Hop LPs100
Sigur Ros100
Nurse With Wound99
Franz Liszt97
Thelonious Sphere Monk97
Good Looking Records: Archive of LTJ Bukem’s Intelligent D’n’B Label94
Deuter89
Franklin Mint’s 100 Greatest Recordings of all Time88
Vangelis87
Richard D. James / Aphex Twin86
Karlheinz Stockhausen86
Jimmy Smith85
Klaus Schulze81
Ravi Shankar81
Ludwig Van Beethoven80
Sun Ra and the Arkestra74
John Cage73
2manyDJS / Radio Soulwax72
Robert Rich72
They Might Be Giants72
Café del Mar71
Peter Gabriel68
Philip Glass68
Ornette Coleman66
Mike Oldfield65
Muslimgauze63
Tom Waits63
The Orb63
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers62
Spacemind Psybient Mix Series62
Cornelius60
Attention K-Mart Shoppers: K-Mart Corporate Muzak (1973-1992)58
DJ Food & Solid Steel Radio Sets58
Porcupine Tree58
Parliament / Funkadelic57
Ambient Music Guide Podcast (2015-2019) by Mike G55
Cocteau Twins52
Herbie Hancock52
Ash Ra Tempel / Manuel Göttsching50
Early Experimental Electronic Music (1940-1976)50
Bill Laswell49
Early Moog & Synthesizer Library48
Jimmy McGriff48
Harold Budd45
Ryuichi Sakamoto44
Duke Ellington42
Bob Marley & The Wailers40
Captain Beefheart40
DJ Prestige39
Fela Kuti: The King of Afrobeat39
Enya37
John Fahey36
Fluke35
Low35
Arvo Pärt33
Electronic Supper Club33
Robert Fripp33
Charles Mingus32
Jah Wobble31
Moog Indigo: Classic Albums of Space Age Bachelor Pad Music31
Claude Debussy30
John Coltrane30
The Flaming Lips30
Chant Ambrosien: Sacred Music From the Middle Ages to the 20th Century29
Music For Sleep (Andrea Porcu)29
Kruder & Dorfmeister28
Moondog28
Cabaret Voltaire26
William Basinski26
Son House: Walkin’ Blues (The Complete Recordings)25
Top 25 Psybient Ultimae Records Releases25
Autechre24
36 (Ambient Composer Dennis Huddleston)22
Biosphere21

And the Old Time Radio series:

Old Time Radio:# of Discs
Dragnet298
The Adventures of Superman171
The Goon Show168
X Minus One (1955-1973)122
CBS Radio Mystery Theater: The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes83
BBC Radio: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes79
The Shadow (1937-1954)75
The Complete Sherlock Holmes Audiobooks60
Flash Gordon26
Orson Welles Mercury Theater 193820

And Audiobooks:

Audiobooks:# of Discs
Ray Bradbury425
Isaac Asimov348
Douglas Adams268
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle207
Philip K Dick124
HP Lovecraft (Dark Adventure Radio Theatre Complete Programs)17

The next libraries I intend to collect are Conny Plank’s 122-release extended discography, Dieter Moebius’ 65-album map, Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ 115-release catalog, and the 126 releases by Klaus Schulze, Pete Namlook, and Tetsu Inoue.

This new data will prove to be immeasurably useful for my annual reports and as a mental bookmark of large libraries I’ll continue to explore throughout my work days and subliminally while I sleep each night. And I have exciting new listening equipment arriving in the weeks ahead which will further enhance my sonic experience so stay tuned for an exciting feature to kick off the year 2020!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Underworld – DRIFT Series 1 Box Set

Closing out the year at Innerspace Labs with a monstrously mammoth undertaking by my favorite electronic duo, Rick Smith and Karl Hyde of Underworld with the newly-issued DRIFT Series 1 Box Set – the 600th addition to my Underworld release library!

From Wikipedia:

DRIFT is the ongoing music-and-video experiment by the British electronic music group Underworld, launched on 1 November 2018 with consecutive tracks and music videos being released online, on a weekly basis. Individual new tracks are being made available through the band’s official website, as time-limited free downloads, along with accompanying videos published on YouTube — followed by collective “episodes” released as digital EPs on music streaming platforms. 

It’s Underworld’s second digital distribution project, after the 2005–2006 series Riverrun, which stand and some of my favorite deep cuts from these veterans of progressive house music. 

Released on Smith Hyde Productions via Caroline International, DRIFT Series 1 (Boxset Edition) contains seven CDs comprising all 52 of the weekly-issued tracks from the project. The set also includes a Blu-ray DVD with the 30 videos produced for Series 1 as well as an 80-page book. The box set has nearly 2 hours of content that wasn’t issued during the weekly digital releases.

UnderworldLive.com provides a captivating summary of the project: 

What is DRIFT?

• It’s precisely one year inside the minds of Underworld.

• It’s a journey that began on 1st November 2018 when Underworld released the track Another Silent Way and set off with no map, no fixed destination and a simple mantra (“Drift is the opposite of ‘normal’ or ‘usual’ practice; we’ll do this until we’re dust.”) ‘Rick Smith and Karl Hyde’s aim was to create and publish music and film episodically for 52 weeks and see where the journey took them. Within a few weeks, the experiment found its own path, prompting the electronic pioneers to react to previous releases and create new works accordingly. Over time, the duo’s innate curiosity opened up a unique space in which they could experiment, learn and explore new frontiers – together and with others (including Tomato’s Simon Taylor, Australian improv-trance band The Necks, techno producer Ø [Phase], Japanese noise band Melt-Banana, economics writer Aditya Chakrabortty and members of Black Country, New Road). During the 52 weeks, five self-contained episodes were released (respectively in November, January, March, May and August) – collectively, they formed DRIFT Series 1.

• It’s a unique and expansive audio/visual document of that open and constantly evolving recording process – seven discs of immersive and exploratory music that dive deep inside the band’s psyche. And it’s also a carefully picked single disc sampler that guides the listener straight through the centre of the project.

• It’s a series of extraordinary films that take you from Shibuya Crossing to the Moroccan desert to rural Essex via the inside of supercomputer.

• It’s a book that delves into process and explores the motivation behind one of the most ambitious creative endeavours ever attempted by a recording artist.

And… at the heart of it, there’s some of the best music Underworld have ever made – as much a progressive leap forward into the unknown as their classic debut dubnobasswithmyheadman.

The series was well-received by critics, with a normalised Metacritic score of 86 based on 6 reviews indicating universal acclaim and stands as the band’s most-acclaimed studio release to date. Mixmag called the album “absolutely stunning.” 

As with other collaborative efforts from the duo like Teatime Dub Encounters (with Iggy Pop) and Downpipe with Mark Knight & D. Ramirez, DRIFT Series 1 features a number of guest artists.

From International DJ Mag:

Guests featured in the collection included techno producer Ø [Phase], Japanese noise band Melt-Banana, trance outfit The Necks and economist Aditya Chakraborty (no, really) as well as long-term collaborator Simon Taylor, with whom Underworld founded the Tomato design and film collective. 

Tragically there are few published reviews exploring this release in the detail it deserves. (This article was drafted before the commercial release of the box set, so there will likely be more reviews to come once the release is available to the public.) Though the band themselves provide a brief write up accompanying each digital single which are archived at underworldlive.com/drift.

Thankfully, Adam Blyweiss of treblezine.com offers some insightful observations which contextualize both the strengths and shortcomings of this massive project. I’ll quote a few sections from his article but encourage readers interested in exploring the DRIFT series to read it in its entirety here. Blyweiss writes:

I’m pretty sure Rick Smith and Karl Hyde struck the word “small” from their vocabulary long ago. Performing as Underworld, nothing they have ever done can be described as such. Their biggest hits are epic in length and strength, their albums cavernous, their ideas complex enough to require dedicated studios, design firms, and streaming media channels.

The techno form has always had detractors of its monorhythmic and monotonal origins, and responsive artists who dare to twist those as far as they might go. With that in mind, Drift Series 1 is a daunting work, and a daunting listen. To the uninitiated or less-dedicated, there are moments when Underworld stray so far from being, well, Underworld that they sound like faded copies of other artists, the promise of experimentation turned into heavy-handed gimmickry. Disc four, with the episode “Space,” includes heretofore unheard gestures with melody and songwriting that can sometimes descend into irritating Flaming Lips territory (“Hundred Weight Hammer”). And for as pretty as the piano feature “Brilliant Yes That Would Be” is, it’s still just lifted from the modern classical motifs of Eno, Glass, and Satie.

Further, there are moments where Smith and Hyde’s equipment and sample libraries threaten to overwhelm listeners with countless variations on what is ultimately the same theme. Many of these songs are long, shifting treatises on the groove—multipart, meditative throbs that recall the days of “Juanita/Kiteless/To Dream of Love”—that in a vacuum might stun but revisited over and over might make even the most dedicated fan a little numb.

But he makes sure to express the merits of the project – 

Still, so much of Drift Series 1 reminds us that Underworld are just worlds apart from most other house derivatives of today, let alone the contemporaries who rose up with them in the heart of the 1990s’ big beat and intelligent dance music movements. 

For another thing, Drift Series 1 brings to the lexicon some of Underworld’s most memorable contributions since Beaucoup Fish in 1999. “Listen to Their No” is a fresh dip into their well of ecstatic house conceits, and “Imagine a Box” is a dour, eerie acid ghost story. “S T A R,” meanwhile, is an infectious little speed demon of a track that rests somewhere between nursery rhyme and children’s word game, matching up the activities of established fantasy characters like Tom Thumb and Robin Hood with modern names like Dr. Dre, David Beckham, and Rosa Parks. This and other cuts like “Another Silent Way” (originally released set to footage of UK drift racers—“drift,” get it?) find Smith and Hyde continuing to sneak more cheekiness into their music this late in their careers, and they’re all the more entertaining for it.

The last song of disc one, “One True Piano Need Hand,” is their first real attempt at droning noise, while disc three, “Heart,” is the box set’s locus of high weirdness anchored by the stuttering improvisations of “Poet Cat.” Frankly, Underworld scatter horns and strings, jazz and classical throughout Drift Series 1, from the patches of “Altitude Dub” to disc five’s choral denouement, “A Moth at the Door.” Smith and Hyde also make room in this music for contributions from Australian experimental band The Necks, none so thorough as the set’s sixth disc of collaborations between the bands based on songs released earlier in Underworld’s project. While the first two songs (42 minutes!) lean heavily on The Necks’ tender jazz interplay, Underworld’s stamp is clearly on the closing half-hour-long “Appleshine Continuum,” a composition suggesting the massive remixes and studio bootlegs from the dubnobasswithmyheadman days.

Underworld bravely use the broad expanse of time and creative space covered in Drift Series 1 to explore sounds and arrangements not yet heard in their repertoire. There’s also plenty of evidence that what brought them to the dance—and the dancefloor—not only never went away, it’s as sharp as ever. Surely not even UW superfans are going to like everything they hear in this collection, but there’s so much worth giving a chance. And hey, there’s always the sampler. And next year.

I also must mention a parallel drawn between Underworld and one of my favorite kosmische musik artists which I found mentioned in a feature by Simon Tucker of LouderThanWar.com:

John Doran of The Quietus recently compared Underworld to German pioneers CAN and that comparison is perfect. Like CAN, Underworld always seem to be in a constant state of evolution and knee deep in the high-art of experimentation. What they also share with their German predecessors is the sheer wealth of quality that they produce with DRIFT being the ultimate example of this. Fired up and free from the leash, Hyde and Smith now plan on continuing the project into 2020. They are now the gatekeepers and the spirit guides. Cerberus and Snoopy. As they continue we wish the road rises up to meet them and we will be following them every single step of the way for this is a story that has many enthralling chapters left to be written.

Stunning.

Series 1 explores a gamut of electronic subgenres. The Discogs entry for the release cites no fewer than a dozen genre tags for the release, including Techno, Leftfield, Experimental, Downtempo, Electro, Abstract, Future Jazz, Minimal Techno, Progressive House, Drum n Bass, Ambient, and Spoken Word.

DRIFT is, as Blyweiss wrote, a daunting and somewhat overwhelming undertaking, but one which is fantastically rewarding and welcomed by fans who wished for new Underworld music. As I mentioned, this release brings the grand total of discs in my Underworld library to an even 600, comprising well-over 8,100 tracks, many of which clock in at anywhere from 40 minutes to hours in length. These six hours of new content will be enjoyed again and again this winter and I look forward to the next DRIFT installment in 2020!

Published in: on November 16, 2019 at 7:55 am  Comments (2)  
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Robert Rich – Premonitions 1980-1985 4LP Set

Just arrived at Innerspace Labs – hand-numbered copy #114/500 of Robert Rich’s Premonitions vinyl box set.

A veteran of the minimal drone genre, Robert Rich has been a major figure in the ambient music scene for forty years. I maintain a complete discographic archive of Rich’s 63 full-length releases totaling 72 discs of content in lossless archival FLAC including the seven-hour Somnium and eight-hour Perpetual: A Somnium Continuum sleep concert DVDs. However, very little of Rich’s extensive catalog has ever been available in the vinyl format. 

In an interview with Anil Prasad for the web-based music magazine, Innerviews Rich remarked that he wanted to work beyond the ~20-minute limitations of an album side so he gravitated toward cassette releases early in his career and later to DVD-audio. Presently, the only two of his releases currently listed for sale on Discogs’ used record marketplace in the vinyl format are Numena from 1987 and Stalker (with Brian Lustmord) from 2018. So I was absolutely delighted to discover the Premonitions 1980-1985 collection offered on vinyl directly from Rich, himself!

In a letter to Rich’s listeners on his official website, he writes:

Here’s one for the folks who keep asking me whether I’ll release an album on vinyl. Four discs of music from my formative years, most of it never before released. It also contains the strongest sections of the 1984 “Live” cassette, and the cyclic introduction from the original “Inner Landscapes.” I made new 24/96 digital transfers from original master tapes. It’s coming out in Germany on the label Vinyl On Demand (VOD122), and I’ll import 40 copies for listeners here in the USA. International shipping will be expensive for this, as it’s big and heavy, so I request to my European, Asian and Canadian listeners that they go directly to VoD to order the set. It’s at this link: http://www.vinyl-on-demand.com/-1-402-472.htm 

If you are in the USA and you want to reserve one of these 40 copies of “Premonitions”, for purchase through our order form, you can use the CONTACT link up above on this site, and let me know your name, email, and shipping address. I’ll contact you when the records arrive. The price will be around $75 plus shipping. If more than 40 of you want to reserve a copy, I might be able to import more, but it will help me to know how many because they are a bit expensive. Thanks for listening! – Robert

And from the Notes section of the compilation’s entry at Discogs:

This 4LP box set focuses on Rich’s early stage of composition and performance,1979–1985. Most of this music is previously unreleased, or came out on limited cassettes from the UK Auricle Label or Swedish Psychout Productions, which later became Multimood, and released his album “Numena” in 1986. Edition of 500 copies.

Discogs member, Richard Gurtler drafted a contextual review of the set which is also featured on the official Bandcamp Page for the release as well as on Robert Rich’s website. In his introduction he writes:

This amazing sonic document was released at the end of April 2014 on German Vinyl-On-Demand label run by Frank Maier, who passionately focuses on releasing various limited vinyl editions, which are mainly taken from various rare tape releases or feature unpublished material. VOD’s catalog includes huge list of artists from industrial, noise, avantgarde, ambient… scene and each release with its packaging is a true piece of art. “Premonitions 1980-1985”, released as a 4LP Box Set in limited edition of 500 copies with extensive liner notes about each track and including an official hand-numbered certificate card for each customer, is no exception, a pure visual bliss awaits after its unwrapping!

But the most in-depth details on this fantastic release are provided by the Vinyl-On-Demand site linked in Rich’s letter. It offers Rich’s own liner notes on every selection featured in the set –

Selene & Ether 27:05

Recorded in summer of 1980 with Paia modular, newly acquired Prophet 5 and homebuilt Radio Shack analog delay, recorded direct to cassette at home. Unreleased until now. This was my first recording that ever got radio airplay, from “Music From The Hearts of Space” on KPFA in Berkeley, CA. I think that was around my 17th birthday. A note to myself inside the cassette case reads, “The sound first dwells in darker figures that sometimes inhabit dreams, then slowly lifts, collecting energy from harmony. The last is a sea of time, the atmospheric pillow.” An almost Vangelis-like grandiose middle section was a rare departure for me. Until I got the Prophet 5 I could never attempt a sound like that. 

A little story about this synthesizer: I was still 15 years old when I made friends with a college DJ named Rick Huber, who also worked at synth company Sequential Circuits. I wanted to start a band making noisy improvisations, so Rick introduced me to his co-worker Rick Davies. (We remained life-long friends, and made some rather embarrassing musical experiments with co-conspirator Jon Spencer.) Sequential’s Prophet 5 was the first polyphonic synthesizer with digital memory, and it was very expensive in 1978. Unfortunately the first version of the Prophet was quite fragile and broke constantly, almost impossible to calibrate, and plagued by catastrophic component failures. Sequential offered an upgrade to their early customers, offering to exchange (for a fee) any Rev.1 Prophet 5 for an improved Rev.2. Then they sold the fragile Rev.1’s to their employees (the only people who could keep them running) with a promise not to re-sell. The company never wanted to see them again. My friends at Sequential purchased a handful of these lemons, and kindly snuck one into my hands. Selene and Ether was one of the very first things I recorded with it.

Collage for Low Tones 18:35 1980

Recorded summer of 1980 direct to cassette, an improvisation with analog delay and Paia modular. I had completely forgotten about this recording until I started going through archives for this release.

I built the analog delay from a circuit board sold through Radio Shack, called the “Electronic Reverb” kit. Nineteen years later (1999) I began to get back into analog modular synths after meeting Paul Schreiber, who had recently started a new modular company called Synthesis Technology. As Paul and I became friends, I learned that he once worked for Tandy Corporation, designing kits for Radio Shack. Paul had in fact designed the analog delay kit that I used so heavily during these early years. The instructions suggested modifications to allow feedback into self-oscillation, and a switch to slow down the clock, creating a very grungy echo. These modifications turned the delay into a crazy oscillator, one of my main instruments for creating noisy pieces like this one.

Ghosts 8:42 1980

Inside the cassette box where I found this recording, my notes say: “Ghosts is a sound collage consisting of many layers of randomly tuned sinusoidal frequencies, whose amplitudes were also randomly chosen. The sound was inspired by multiple resonances of the wind through a certain cave in the Sierra foothills.” I think I was being a bit coy, as it sounds to me like an improvisation with Prophet 5 and Paia modular synth using resonant filters imparting different pitches from a pink noise source.

Clouds  26:15 1983

I remember being quite happy with this drone improvisation when I recorded it, but I never officially released it because some other pieces around that time felt more like a breakthrough. Apparently I made cassette copies for a few people to hear, as I have seen pictures of handmade tapes with this on them, called simply “Modal Improvisation.” This performance employs a resonant all-pass filter using a Curtis chip that I built onto a blank circuit board, responsible for the shimmering stepped tones of the low drone.

Nocturne 25:40 1983

I remember working for several weeks to prepare the elements for Nocturne. I did not have a multitrack recorder at the time, but I had two cassette decks and a reel-to-reel. I assembled extra layers onto cassette, in order to mix to 1/4″ reel while performing live instruments. I remember this piece being much harder to create than others at the time, and it felt less satisfying to me when finished. The original tape is 40 minutes long, and I wanted it to feel completely calm and stable, yet slowly changing around the steady drone, a sort of infinite music, acting in a certain way upon the mind only when played for very long durations. Alas, in the thirty years since attempting this sort of trancelike effect in very slow music, my attention span has gotten shorter, and I am rather surprised to look back at my youthfully obsessive attention to microscopic details.

Live in Monterey CA September 15, 1983 25:30

These are the beginning and ending sections of a two hour ambient concert performed at an art exhibit opening by painter Todd Friedlander. Most of the performance consisted of nature recordings combined with very quiet drones. The closing section was an interpretation of the piece “Nocturne” that I had recorded the previous month, but that piece sounded different each time I played it.

Live at Stanford University CA, March 13 1984 25:27

This “concert” actually took place in my dorm room at the co-op house where I lived during my third and fourth years at university. I recorded most of Trances and Drones here (when I probably should have been studying.) My roommate Miguel Helft patiently tolerated my pile of electronics that cluttered the room. A few friends asked me if they could listen to me play, so I made this casual home concert for three or four people, and recorded it to my new Revox B77. The 90 minute recording turned out better than expected. 

Early in my efforts to release my own music, I made friends with an ardent listener in Köping, Sweden named Hans Fahlberg. After he discovered my first release Sunyata, Hans began writing me letters with funny cartoon illustrations of laughing heads prancing around naked on tiny legs. After I released Trances and Drones, Hans wrote me asking if I had any unreleased music, as he wanted to start a cassette label. This would be his first release. I didn’t feel that my earliest experiments were suitable, so I sent him edits of the two live recordings that appear here. These became Robert Rich Live, catalog 001 on Psychout Productions. Hans soon changed his label name to Multimood Records and released my first LP Numena, and many excellent albums by artists including Peter Frohmader, Roedelius, O Yuki Conjugate, Paul Schütze, Jeff Greinke, and others.

In the late 80s, the Freeman brothers in the U.K. replicated small quantities of Live and Inner Landscapes for their Auricle label. Among my early releases, Live was the only one that I did not remaster for CD, because I felt that it would not hold up to digital scrutiny. This vinyl version is the first official reprinting since those cassettes.

3A Guitar Drone 8-15  14:46  1983

I don’t actually remember playing this. I discovered it while digging through the archives. I found several pieces from the summer of 1983, all untitled and described as “guitar drone” or “guitar rhythm.” Most of them sound similar to each other. It appears I was aiming for a certain relationship between the echoed strumming and the cloudy loops made from brushing guitar strings lightly. I recorded two of those attempts to reel-reel tape, so I presume those were more “serious” or premeditated, while this version only shows up on a cassette master, like a practice version or an afterthought. Among the different attempts, this may be the most interesting, although perhaps not the highest fidelity.

CCRMA Voices  7:22 1984

This is one of the few computer compositions that I finished while taking the computer music course at Stanford’s CCRMA, the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. It uses Bill Schottstaedt’s PLA language to create a simple two-operator FM voice, with random pitch, duration and inflections within the range of a human voice. 

Inner Landscapes Introduction 9:12 1985

This comes from a live concert performed in Berkeley, CA, later released as the 90 minute live cassette Inner Landscapes. In the late 1990s, Mike Griffin at Hypnos approached me about remastering some of my early work for CD. Inner Landscapes and Sunyata seemed worthy candidates at the time. I had to remove some material from Inner Landscapes to get it to fit onto CD. Except for this sequencer improvisation at the start, the remainder of that concert was deep and very slow; so I decided to cut this piece and keep the CD consistently deep and atmospheric. This intro remained an orphan until now. 

Manna 17:15  1980

Here’s another piece that I forgot about. It comes from the burst of recordings I made as soon as I got the Prophet 5 in 1980. This uses a patch technique called “random arpeggio” where each voice fades in and out at different rates by its own modulations, sounding a bit like tape loops. The bleepy tones come from the Paia modular, with tape echo adding its telltale warble. 

Robert Rich @ 2007 Nearfest

This historical artifact offers a rare glimpse at an ambient master’s earliest work, composed using his first synthesizers at the age of 17 while attending Stanford University. In his Interview For Ambient Visions in January of 2005 Rich described how, at the age of 13, he used his savings from two years of paper routes and gardening money to purchase and construct PAiA modular synths, and eventually graduated to a Revox B77 half-track 1/4″ reel-to-reel, a pawn shop lap steel guitar, and a Sequential Prophet 5 rev 1. In the interview Rich states that he began to experiment with alternate tunings as he was inspired by Harry Partch and Terry Riley. The recordings from this set explore Rich’s development as an artist during this pivotal period.

How could I pass it up? 

Time Life: The Big Bands Collection

I’ve always had a soft spot for 1930s big band music, born out of my fond memories of my late father taping FM rebroadcasts during the 1990s of original Your Hit Parade transmissions from 1935 to 1953. I touched upon this in July of 2018 in a feature titled, Gettin’ Sentimental Over You when I acquired my first big band vinyl box set.

At the time my big band library also included 181 LP-rips and broadcast archives I’d compiled into a playlist affectionately dubbed, Shirt Tail Stomp: Swing & The Big Bands. This collection includes a chronology of Benny Goodman’s complete discographic catalog spanning 1928-1949, a library of 89 radio performance broadcasts, the six-volume big bands series from Archive.org, both the Glenn Miller and Glenn Miller Gold Collection releases, as well as the four-disc Smithsonian – Big Band Jazz: From the Beginnings to the 50s box set.

Hungry for more great sounds, I performed some additional research this week and was overjoyed to discover a colossal archive of some of the best-mastered big band music ever issued. It began when my search led me to a discussion on the Steve Hoffman audiophile forum where a member inquired about a big band mail order series of LPs issued by Time Life in the 1980s. A few members chimed in that it was one of the best series available for the genre and provided a brief history of the releases. A detailed summary of the complete 29-volume series and tracklists is available here.

Here is the original television advert for the series:

I was absolutely floored to discover than an independent archivist calling himself gary34 had set himself to the task of compiling a digital lossless archival hybrid of the complete analog and digital releases from this Time Life series, complete with uniform tagging, album artwork, and transcription details in an accompanying document. He wrote:

In 1991 Time-Life issued a subscription set of (Mono) CDs, using material which had already been transcribed for their original ‘Big Bands’ LP series almost a decade earlier. One of the first commercial DSP noise removal systems was used in the production of the CDs, to remove the worst of the imperfections inherent on the original mechanical media, (as captured on the master tapes used to make the LPs).

Unfortunately for subscribers, the CD set wasn’t quite as complete as the original LP series. True, tracks were the same as those on the LPs, but the CD booklets had less information about the artist and the music than the excellent liner sheet included with each of the original LP sets. As well, only the big name bands made it to CD. The seven excellent compilations of less well-known material and groups did not.

This library comprises not only the 29 original volumes, but also includes the compact disc given out as a bonus from Time Life under catalog #TCD-134 which was a variation with an alternate track list from the original cat #STBB-28 titled, The Big Bands: World War II.

This hybrid collection brings together 100% of the recordings issued by Time Life in all formats which have been out of print and unavailable commercially for nearly 40 years and is a magnificent specimen for anyone who appreciates big band music and quality sound.

Penguin Cafe – Handfuls of Night (2019)

Handfuls of Night, released October 4th is the highly-anticipated follow-up to Penguin Cafe’s much-applauded 2017 album, The Imperfect Sea. The new album was conceived in honor of Greenpeace’s commissioning Jeffes to compose four pieces of music corresponding to four breeds of penguins in an effort to raise environmental awareness for the endangered Antarctic seas. In 2005 Jeffes joined an expedition re-creating Scott’s last Antarctic trip in 1911 for the BBC.

Erasedtapes.com notes:

Handfuls of Night’s tones, textures and melodies evoke otherworldly expanses, which at different junctures are either foreboding, awe inspiring or peaceful. There’s subtly morphing rhythmic repetition throughout, somewhere between minimalism, krautrock and the piano-cascades of label peer Lubomyr Melnyk. Jeffes creates a kinetic, circling motion, which drives the album forward in the form of a musical trip that mirrors the physical journey it was inspired by.

Steven Johnson wrote the following about Handfuls of Night for MusicOMH:

At The Top Of The Hill, They Stood may initially just seem to be a simple, slight run of piano arpeggios with some melodica laid on top but over time becomes infused with emotion and depth. In short, it’s one of their most impeccable moments to date.

The closing stages see them further settle comfortably into the surroundings of their Erased Tapes label. With strings and piano outdoing any quirks or idiosyncrasies of previous albums they’ve never sounded closer to the likes of Ólafur Arnalds, and Nils Frahm. Yet, there’s still a distinct Penguin Cafe magic to Handfuls Of Night. The music here won’t come as a surprise to people familiar with their increasingly tightly managed aesthetic but it still provides a wonderfully calming sanctuary to temporarily get lost in.

But it was Michael Sumsion’s captivating description of the album’s music at vinylchapters.com which truly captures the elegance of this record. Sumsion beautifully writes:

Penguin Café represent a disparate collective of musicians operating within the cracks between pop, classical, ambient and folk.

The group’s idiosyncratic raggle-taggle music has always evaded easy categorisation, roaming from exuberant folk and pop styles to electro-acoustic minimalism and African textures.

Bookended by the serene, plaintive ambience of Winter Sun and Midnight Sun, Handfuls of Night consistently demonstrates the band’s affinity for subverting conventional definitions of post-classical soundscape music and disarms the listener with its puckish wit, crystal-clear sensitivity and warmth of tone. They deftly condense folksy and filmic themes whilst conjuring shards of throbbing krautrock, sweeping, Philip Glass-inflected neo-minimalism and Michael Nyman-style piano arpeggios, most notably on the wistful At the Top of the Hill, They Stood…

The influence of somnolent folktronica is audible on Chinstrap and Pythagorus on the Line Again, but the dominant mode is that of a euphoric, homely chamber music which induces the welling of tear ducts, a plangent wash of strings, bending motifs and waves of succulent sadness.

Handfuls of Night succeeds as an enveloping haze of robust intensity and sombre tones, as keening melodies soar with orchestral precision and heart-rending execution. Even if it conjures nothing nocturnal for you, it represents some of the band’s most satisfying carvings of catharsis, exquisitely pitched between accessibility and depth, melody and dissonance.

Pensive and wistful, their latest effort is markedly more cinematic than their previous recordings, and its minimal stylings are befitting of what listeners have come to expect from the Erased Tapes label. Penguin Cafe consistently offers a charming and seamless blend of minimalism, folk, and classical musics, masterfully combining string arrangements, harmonium, melodica, and Glassian piano. Handfuls is a mature and engaging soundscape for active or passive listening, and a wonderful score to usher in the autumn.