In Fulfillment of the Prophecy: Future Sound of London’s Lifeforms Has Returned!

Future Sound of London - Lifeforms

“We wanted to release a very immersive, mind-blowing piece of music that was long and would deeply drench you in it. Lifeforms was redefining ‘classical ambient electronic experimental’ — that was the phrase we used.” – Garry Cobain, FSOL, 2007

For the very first time since its original issue twenty-four years ago in 1994, Universal has reissued Future Sound of London’s masterpieceLifeforms on vinyl. The project was born of a fan-created Change.org petition, and the label responded and agreed to the community’s insistence that the original duo oversaw mastering and production of the release.

Much has been written over the years about this iconic recording. Ken Micallef interviewed FSOL for emusician in 2007 and said, “the Future Sound of London helped usher in the modern era of electronic music…” [mixing] “…techno, ambient, jazz, folk and even operatic samples for a sound that would some 15 years later be dubbed “‘folktronic.’”


Micallef noted that the duo “claim influences as diverse as Cocteau Twins, Claude Debussy, A Certain Ratio, Rachmaninoff, Eno and Tangerine Dream.” The album also features Robert Fripp on “Flak,” Talvin Singh’s tablas on “Life Form Ends,” and Toni Halliday from Curve doing a “vocal texture” on “Cerebral” as well as the treated sweeping vocals of Elizabeth Fraser on the single version of the album’s eponymous title track.


Fun Fact: In November of 2017, the Guinness Book of World Records finally acknowledged FSOL’s “Lifeforms” as being the very first record-label-sponsored internet music download! 

FSOL Lifeforms Guiness Book of Worlds Records Certificate 11-23-17Photo Credit: Gaz Cobain. Used with permission.

Add to this stellar concoction the influences of Brian Dougan’s father who was involved with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop inspiring Lifeforms’ almost musique concrète feel, and the result is an immersive and engaging album spanning two discs of provocative abstract soundscapes.


A milestone recording long overdue for reissue, Lifeforms finally returns on vinyl to reawaken our passion for the mysterious, alienesque, and magical futureworld it so expertly painted more than two decades ago. Whether you’re discovering the album for the first time or revisiting a beloved classic, Lifeforms is a mind-bending psychoacoustic journey that will reward any listener with a desire to explore.

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Freshly Framed – A Touch of Zen

Freshly framed and hanging proudly in my home are the four watercolor lithographs included with original UK pressings of Brian Eno’s Before and After Science. These were painted by Peter Schmidt who worked with Brian Eno to develop the legendary Oblique Strategies deck designed to help artists break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking.

I’ve wanted these for many years and they add a touch of Zen-like charm to my home that I’ll enjoy for years to come.

Brian Eno - Before and After Science Watercolor Lithographs by Peter Schmidt (The Framed Final Piece) 01-26-18

A First Foray into ECM Jazz

In an effort to introduce more novel content into my daily listening and to challenge myself a bit, I’ve decided to explore the ECM label, particularly the Touchtone remasters. In 2008 ECM issued forty of their most popular albums spanning 1971 to 1993 in the form of affordable cardboard sleeved compact discs. A few of the names were familiar, most notably Jon Hassell who I know from his Fourth World: Possible Musics tribal ambient LP produced in collaboration with Brian Eno. ECM’s motto is, “the Most Beautiful Sound Next to Silence” and I was eager to test their claim.

Ambient themes seemed to be a suitable point of ingress for the genre of ECM jazz, as I am most comfortable with long-form soundscapes which emphasize sonic texture over melodic structures. I quickly found my way to a few introductory recordings well-suited to this task:

• Ralph Towner’s Solstice and Batik LPs (ECM chamber jazz) described as hauntingly beautiful, with elements of drone and wall of sound, characterized as smooth and mellow

• Jan Garbarek & the Bobo Stenson Quartet – Witchi-Tai-To – a classic understated work of spiritual jazz from 1974

• Tomasz Stanko’s Litania: The Music of Krzysztof Komeda, showcasing hypnotic, atmospheric Polish jazz performances

• And the label’s most prominent artist, Keith Jarrett’s critically acclaimed Facing You and The Köln Concert LPs which are described as smooth, calm, and soothing instrumentals, featuring impassioned improvisation with moments of great intensity. Köln is considered a revolutionary work of contemporary jazz.

It’s a curious place to find myself as a listener and chronicler of music. I’ve read very little in the way of jazz criticism and am only rudimentarily acquainted with both its theory and contextual history. That made this territory a unique and satisfying venture from the familiar to something new and interesting.

Witchi-Tai-To

Witchi-Tai-To is an hypnotic and surreal exercise in spiritual jazz with a mellow and meditative quality characteristic of many ECM releases. It definitely inspires me to track down lush and uplifting spiritual jazz classics like Alice Coltrane’s Journey to Satchidananda and Pharoah Sanders’ Karma and Black Unity LPs.

facing you

Jarrett’s Facing You was awe-inspiring. This was clearly bold, new territory for solo jazz piano. Jarrett’s improvisation is personal, intense, and fantastically dynamic. Still, there is a gentleness to his performative style that makes the album incredibly accessible and satisfying.

koln concert

The Köln Concert is absolute heaven. From the first notes, it’s evident why this is celebrated as the best-selling solo album in jazz history and the all-time best-selling piano album. And the circumstances of the performance make the magic of this music all the more remarkable. Evidently, Jarrett was suffering significant back pain and was wearing a brace the evening of the performance. The pain had cost him several nights’ sleep and following the drive from Zürich he was thoroughly exhausted. Jarrett arrived at the opera house only to discover that the piano on which he was to perform upon was small and poorly-tuned rather than the Bösendorfer grand he’d requested. But with only a few hours before the concert, Jarrett made the very best of the situation and went on to improvise one of the greatest concerts ever captured to tape.

Solstice

Solstice is arguably the best of Towner’s catalog, forty minutes of instrumentals wedding sustained drones with elements of fusion and chamber music. It approaches the dreaded label of “new age” music but is jazzy enough to escape the bland realms of near-self-parody commonly associated with the genre. Never overly-energetic, the album is consistently subtle and darkly atmospheric.

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Batik is a similar work equally noteworthy for Towner and for Jack DeJohnette’s abstract drumming on the album, especially his contribution to the title track.

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I found Litania to be highly accessible and thought-provoking. It’s gentle enough to provide a sonic wallpaper but sufficiently engaging to activate my mind and send me into a trance of self-reflection. The three variations of “Sleep Safe and Warm” are intimately soothing but the most intriguing selection from the album is “Night-Time, Daytime Requiem” which wanders placidly for more than twenty minutes of atmospheric bliss. “The Witch” changes up the dynamic a bit with the addition of an electric guitar but keeps with the ambiance of the record. The album could function well as dinner jazz but seems to lend itself ideally to quiet, solitary exploration.

What I enjoyed most about each of these releases was ECM’s consistently ascetic, restrained, and meditative properties. While the recordings dabble in free jazz and avant-garde experimentalism, they remain at all times refined and gently ethereal. It was a most rewarding venture, and I’m excited to continue exploring more of “The Most Beautiful Sounds Next to Silence.”

More than likely my next survey will be of the fifteen albums Arvo Pärt issued under ECM. Sublime listening awaits!

 

 

 

Brian Eno: His Music And The Vertical Color Of Sound (a review)

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Brian Eno: His Music And The Vertical Color Of Sound by Eric Tamm is the author’s dissertation drafted while studying under Robert Fripp. The work certainly reads as an exhaustive thesis. Musicological terminology abound, one chapter alone discusses pandiatonicism, ethnomusicological scholarship, Phrygian modality, the principle of timbral heterogeneity, improvisatory roulades, Brahmsian modulation, temporal articulations, diatonic grandeur, inner melodic differentiation, and likens one Eno track to Xenakis as being characteristically “monistic with internal plurality.” By the work’s conclusion even Tamm, himself is decisively spent, and in his final statement, he pleads to his professors, “Amen. And may I now have my dough, please?”

But academics aside, the text is a tremendously satisfying read. Tamm provides a contextual and informed perspective seldom witnessed in the province of rock, and his mastery of the subject is warmly welcomed and appreciated. Tamm examines each of Eno’s incarnations over the course of his career and explores his compositional methodology and his musical philosophy at each new turn. I found myself highlighting entire sections of useful analysis to the point where my notes consumed nearly a hundred pages on their own, as every chapter is brimming with valuable insight. While no single excerpt exemplifies the depth of information presented in the full text, the closing segment titled The Music’s Beauty offers a thoughtful observation about Eno’s catalog:

Music deals with time and exists in time, and may be seen as a sacred observation of the mystery of time. Whether through classical symphony, Renaissance mass, reggae dance, jam session, or ambient soundscape, time marked by music is set aside, consecrated. Music concentrates time, making us aware of different levels of temporal magnification, from immense historical vistas to momentary transitions. It enhances and focusses our ability to perceive changes, fluctuations, and developments in an overall state. Music is paradoxical: profoundly unnaturalistic, presenting an abstract temporal tableau, it may nevertheless poignantly evoke not only realms of common, everyday experience, but images of the grandeur of eternity. Eno’s music is capable of thus transforming time, for those who would listen.

I find this to be an elegantly concise, and almost poetic description of the artist.

Sonemic: A Powerful New Tool for Music Discovery

Many listeners have voiced a shared concern that the algorithms and predictive technology for music recommendation from services like Spotify and Pandora fail to match the sort of intuitive wisdom held by record shop gurus and librarians predating the digital revolution. What these algorithms lack is the human element – the chaos factor which leads an individual to suggest a recording not quantifiably parallel to one’s previous listening habits, but which still has a quality which would lend itself to the listener’s favor. Engineering that visceral comprehension into a recommendation engine has been one of the most insurmountable challenges of the digital age.

That is precisely what has made communities like RateYourMusic.com an incredible asset to those in search of music beyond the well-tread path of popular song. The community-built database and forum features user-generated lists, listener reviews, and a powerful search function to drill down to impressively nuanced metrics to yield charts based on a wide range of criteria.



RYM launched in December of 2000, and has since outgrown its name and its site design. To enhance the user experience, a new public beta site was launched in the last week of July, 2017 at Sonemic.com boasting a sleeker, more modern design and greater functionality.

The term Sonemic, (rhymes with phonemic), comes from an interview with Brian Eno, in which he suggested that the word “music” was too limited in scope, and suggested the term “sonema” to refer to the broader sense of “sonic immersion and environment”. All RYM user data was migrated to the new network, but the FAQ notes that no new content will be saved to Sonemic until the official launch.


The network seamlessly integrates three separate sites – Sonemic for music, Cinemos (an anagram of Sonemic) for film, and Glitchwave for video games. There will also be a Sonemic+ subscription option with extra features to be announced. Logging in on one site will log you into all three, and site settings, messages, etc will be unified.


The search functions of the site are impressive though results vary as it is still in development. When building a custom chart users are presented with numerous options. Chart type can be best, most popular, esoteric, or worst. Charts can rank by either releases or by individual tracks. Release types include albums, EPs, and singles as well as mixtapes, DJ mixes, video, compilation, and even unauthorized recordings. And the site will generate playlists on the fly.



Further functions permit a user to generate charts by genre, subgenre, influences (secondary genres), languages, and what is perhaps the greatest differentiator – descriptors. Here users can enter incredibly specific properties which unify otherwise disparate recordings based on a theme, such as aleatory, boastful, cinematic, dense, ethereal, hedonistic, introspective, lonely, misanthropic, nocturnal, quirky, raw, ritualistic, surreal, uncommon time signatures, or winter.


By selecting genres, influences, date ranges, and descriptors to include or exclude, Sonemic can return results you might never find from a commercial streaming service. There is even a 5-degree slider to control the influence of popularity on the results. You can also search for recordings based on reviews of a particular community member or of a given geographic area. Together, these functions empower users to discover music far more dimensionally and has the potential to shed light on works which transcend the simplicity of genre labels.


This will definitely be a community to watch in 2018.


A Beloved Treasure in Celebration of The Penguin Cafe

Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Union Cafe

This very special LP has just landed – an exclusive edition from Erased Tapes. The London-based label is home to Nils Frahm, Ólafur Arnalds, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, and Peter Broderick, amongst others. Specializing in the best in contemporary classical, Erased Tapes was an ideal choice for this special release.

They were honored to reissue the original Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s last ever studio album, Union Cafe including a first-time vinyl edition — released on December 1st, 2017 to coincide with the 20th Anniversary of founder Simon Jeffes’ passing in 1997. On the history of this recording, Erased Tapes writes:


The continuation of the PCO began at London’s Union Chapel in 2007 when Arthur and the original musicians commemorated Simon 10 years after his death. Another 10 years forward, 2017 will see Penguin Cafe pay tribute to him once again at the Union Chapel on December 11th where they will perform Union Cafe in full – a union from all corners of this magical world.


Union Cafe was the fifth, and the last studio album by Penguin Cafe Orchestra. It was initially released in 1993 merely on cassette and CD, and will now be given a new breath of life, for the first time available on vinyl, and another chance to reach old and new fans alike.


The label’s entry for the album featured a wonderful statement from Arthur Jeffes detailing the history and significance of the album. It contextualizes the recording exquisitely so I will include his remark unabridged:


“The first song from Union Cafe that I’d unknowingly heard was Nothing Really Blue, performed live by Arthur and his successor band Penguin Cafe at the Barbican in summer 2016. He simply announced it as “another one of my dad’s”, and left me wondering all night about which record it was from… It wasn’t until summer 2017, a whole year later, that Arthur shared his father’s last studio recordings with me. Union Cafe is a record that somehow missed me, simply because it wasn’t available on vinyl like the other records I had gathered over the years. I couldn’t help but feel privileged for the chance to discover another original PCO album. And so I put my headphones on and lay down at the foot of the small lake in Victoria Park to listen to this box of treasures. And as with all of Simon’s works, a whole world appeared in front of my closed eyelids — a world full of love and wonder, that manages to put tears in my eyes, shivers down my spine and a smile on my face. Scherzo And Trio would become the song that manages to brighten up my days, no matter how grey London sometimes gets. Organum would become the piece that Arthur played at my wedding. Cage Dead with its déjà vu-like character would become the theme song to a series of live sessions with artists from all around the world performing in the Sound Gallery, our new home on Victoria Park Road. Songs like Silver Star Of Bologna and Kora Kora, just like all the classic PCO songs, would feel familiar, though I’d never heard them before. Lie Back And Think Of England sounded like the work of a seasoned composer and yet unfamiliar at the same time — it made me wonder if Simon was planning a new adventure for his orchestra. Lastly, Passing Through would remind me that having a hidden track on your album was very popular with bands in the 90s, but finishing your album with the sound of water dripping out of a sink, slowly forming a musical pattern within all the chaos before the record suddenly ends, surely must be the most perfect way to say goodbye.” – label founder Robert Raths

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“Union Cafe was the last studio album recorded by the original Penguin Cafe Orchestra and marked a move towards a definitive English pastoral sound combined with larger string arrangements set against longer solo piano pieces. With this last album they got even closer to the PCO idea of squaring the circle of intellectually challenging modern music that is still actually beautiful. For me this has always been a contender as my favourite PCO album, and the fact that it never ended up on vinyl was more to do with the way things were in the early 90s, and chance rather than it being deliberate. So in that sense this release is righting an old wrong. The slow development of the pieces means that you can really get lost in them and vinyl is of course the perfect way to do that.” — Arthur Jeffes

The label closed their entry noting that, “Arthur very kindly gave access to the original Union Cafe painting that currently lives in his North London home studio, created by Arthur’s mother Emily Young and now photographed by Alex Kozobolis for this special reissue edition.”

It’s a beautiful piece of music history and a treasure for any fan of modern classical or chamber ensembles.

Published in: on December 28, 2017 at 5:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Just Arrived: Squeeze Box – The Complete Works of “Weird Al” Yankovic!

Today’s arrival is an exclusive limited release from PledgeMusic.com!

The ultimate tribute to one of the most prolific musical careers of the last four decades, Squeeze Box features all 14 of Weird Al’s studio albums remastered on CD, 150-gram vinyl and digital, spanning from his debut album Weird Al Yankovic (1983) to Mandatory Fun (2014). 

Mandatory Fun was not only the first comedy album in history to debut at #1 on the Billboard chart, but also the first to even reach that lofty position in over 50 years. Altogether, the albums included in Squeeze Box have earned multiple Grammy awards, as well as dozens of gold and platinum records in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. 

Six of these albums make their debut on vinyl as part of Squeeze Box. Each has been newly remastered by Grammy Award-winning engineer Mark Wilder and personally approved by Yankovic. An Al-curated 15th bonus disc, Medium Rarities, features specially selected non-album tracks from across his remarkable career.

Squeeze Box comes in a unique package worthy of Weird Al’s inimitable style: an amazing replica of his signature accordion, with each album stored in its bellows. An accompanying 100-page book features a trove of rare and unseen photos and memorabilia.


The set includes:


“Weird Al” Yankovic (1983)
“Weird Al” Yankovic In 3-D (1984)
Dare To Be Stupid (1985)
Polka Party! (1986)
Even Worse (1988)
UHF Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff (1989)
Off The Deep End (1992)
Alapalooza (1993)
Bad Hair Day (1996)
Running with Scissors (1999)
Poodle Hat (2003)
Straight Outta Lynwood (2006)
Alpocalypse (2011)
Mandatory Fun (2014)
and the exclusive Medium Rarities (2017)



As an added bonus, this edition of the Squeeze Box included an exclusive”Weird Al” turntable slipmat, sure to delight the rabid Close Personal Friend of Al in your life!

Weird Al Yankovic - Squeeze Box 01Weird Al Yankovic - Squeeze Box 02Weird Al Yankovic - Squeeze Box 03

Published in: on November 27, 2017 at 7:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Innerspace Labs Essential Recordings Guide

Another successful project implementation at Innerspace Labs!

For the last year, I’d been keeping a list of music to listen to in a checklist app, but the scope of the project quick outgrew the checklist format, so I reconstructed it as an organic digital music journal that can grow with my listening habits.

The initial process guide built from my notes comprises 76 pages of content, organized into 50+ sections with decimal numbered subsections. The journal also includes genre surveys, links to web resources, articles and reviews, and much, much more.
It will be fun to build and explore, will promote new and rewarding listening experiences, and will serve as a historical document of my musical journey. Perhaps it can even survive me as part of my legacy to help future listeners explore the world of music I leave to them when I’m gone.

That legacy factor developed into a second project which I’ve just completed this evening. While my blog and the journal will outlast me and serve well for any curious future listener looking to discover great music, I felt it would help to have something more digestible and more concise to introduce new readers to my archive.

That’s when I had the idea of generating a user list on RateYourMusic.com to showcase favorite recordings from my library with very brief statements about each work. Tonight, the resulting list is live on RYM.

Check it out here!

Screenshot from 2017-11-21 20-12-46

 

Published in: on November 21, 2017 at 8:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Unexpected Musical Magic

This evening’s musical discovery was entirely unexpected but has transformed my night.  An album was featured in a community I frequent and my eyes went wide at its summary. Free improvisational kosmische progressive electronic drone music? Sign me up! The album was Automaginary – a 2015 collaborative effort from two Chicago artists, Bitchin Bajas and Natural Information Society.

It was an absolute delight to be introduced to a quality release which encompasses a trifecta of my favorite musical styles. From the first note, this triumph embodies all of the elements I enjoy in a composition.

I’m always working to refine my response to the dreaded, “so what kind of music do you listen to?”, and in the past, I’d been unable to summarize in fewer than 286 words for those unfortunate enough to pose the question. My most recent revision resulted in an abbreviated, (albeit painfully incomplete) explanation of my listening tastes clocking in at a mere 73 words, which coincidentally nearly describes the music of this fantastic recording to a “T”. I said:

“I particularly enjoy minimalist music – compositions which employ static harmony, quasi-geometric transformational linearity and repetition, gradual additive or permutational processes, phase-shifting, and static instrumentation. I am captivated by the metamusical properties which are revealed as a result of strictly carried-out processes. Many of these recordings explore non-Western concepts like pure tuning, (e.g. pure frequency ratios and resonant intervals outside the 12-pitch piano scale), unmetered melodies like those of Carnatic ragas, and drones.”

Nearly all of those concepts are employed exquisitely on Automaginary, with the additional beauty of sparse electronic and organic atonal treatments which expand the transcendental atmospheric listening space even further. There are distinct nods to many of the greats here – La Monte Young, Riley, Conrad, Ravi Shankar, in addition to hints of inspiration from Coleman, early krautrockers, and even 1960s psychoacoustic recordings. While there is nothing terribly novel about this particular album, it is a magnificent execution of the post-minimal drone ethos and a wonderfully immersive listening experience.

Tune in!