What Does Your Soul Look Like?

DJ Shadow - What Does Your Soul Look Like EP.JPG

It was by the most serendipitous circumstances that I happened upon this magical musical discovery. It would be more accurate to state that the piece found me when I was ready to receive it. I’d recently revisited DJ Shadow’s complex turntablist opus, Endtroducing and found one particular track title resurfacing in my mind again and again after I’d put the record away. The track appears in two parts on the album – the classic, “What Does Your Soul Look Like?”

Perhaps it was the existential considerations which had been present in my mind of late, but at one fateful moment I felt curious enough to research the title and quickly discovered that the two segments from the LP are edits from a four-part extended work released as an EP fully-exploring the nocturnal and reflective territory hinted at by the selections on Endtroducing. I quickly secured a copy of the EP and cued it up.

It was instantly apparent that this was going to be an exceptional recording. Much in the spirit of Moondog’s microcosmic symphonies, What Does Your Soul Look Like Pts I-IV is effectively DJ Shadow’s own symphonique. There are even sonic similarities to what Moondog dubbed, “snaketime” in the way the focus and rhythm shifts constantly and fluidly throughout the four movements.

Before the session completed, I really felt it was a piece I’d like to have in an original pressing to enjoy spinning again and again. There was only one copy listed for sale in the States, belonging to DJ Tom Thump. Tom has played at shows or opened for Gilles Peterson, Kruder and Dorfmeister, Thievery Corporation, Bonobo (5 times), Morrissey, Jamiroquai, Femi Kuti, Tricky, Morcheeba, The Original Meters, Gang of Four, George Clinton, Bonobo, and many others. I trusted that this would be a disc handled with care.

I dialed it up, loud, and extinguished all lamps until the sound engulfed the room. What follows is the play-by-play of my experience.

Pt II:

A brief horn instrumental innocently opens the disc, followed by a haunting voice singing lonely with interspersed bass-drenched speech:

“We are standing here at the edge of time…”

(Cold…)

“Our road was paved to the edge of time…”

(Steel… Sparks…)

“Come with me now to the edge of time…”

(Does anyone remember who I am?)

And then silence. And a narrator, (sampled from the 1983 film, Brainstorm), tells the listener that this is their last chance to turn back with a cautionary warning:

“In a few moments, you will have an experience which will seem completely real…

It will be the result of your subconscious fears, transformed to your conscious awareness…

You have 5 seconds to terminate this tape…

5, 4, 3, 2, 1.”

And on the “one” a steady, persistent guitar loop ushers the listener in and a swirl of sustained strings, snippets of soulful vocals, DJ scratching, jazz licks, and funky percussion gradually transport you into the dark, contemplative world Shadow has built on this EP.

The guitar and drums carry on for more than ten minutes while a vast array of samples weave their way in and out of the piece. There are glimpses of Richard Harris, a reflective soliloquy from the 1973 film, Johnny Got His Gun, Willie Bobo and company’s “Shelley’s Blues”, and several others before the instrumentation finally relents, leaving the listener with the eerily emotionless android voice from George Lucas’ THX-1138 speaking:

“Can you feel this? … What is that buzzing? … Are you now, or have you ever been? … Move slowly.”

Shadow brilliantly evokes a disquieting sense of unease while simultaneously creating a cerebral space that is endlessly intriguing and the listener eagerly presses on.

Pt III:

A rise of bubbling and echo-laden spoken word fragments, chimes, flute, and minimal piano create a mesmerizing atmosphere for the opening of the second movement.  The speech is from the 1980 sci-fi film, Altered States.

“…I’m asking you to make a small quantum jump with me, to accept one deviant concept – that our other states of consciousness are as real as our waking state and that reality can be externalized!…

…We’re beyond mass and matter here, beyond even energy. What we’re back to is the first thought!”

And suddenly, a bass drum and hi-hat kick in full force front and center of the soundstage. Flute and piano are sprinkled in jazzlike hits accompanied by scratching and high-frequency tones from an indiscernible instrument. There is a momentary release from the percussion and the jazzy traces hang in the air before its energetic return to close the track. And not a drop of this sounds artificial or electronically-contrived. There is a brilliant fluidity and ever-present organic quality about this entire record, which keeps the sound fresh and timeless despite the nearly twenty-five years that have passed since its composition.

Pt IV:

A smattering of dystopian dialog (lifted from the movie Dead Calm), humming machinery, and ominous indistinguishable noises return the listener to the dark, melancholic environ that so much of this record occupies. And swiftly, a fleeting rest signals the introduction of the classic, “WDYSLL? (Pt IV)” we all know and love from Endtroducing. The track is an intimate, cerebral, and undeniably classy foray into minimal, soulful jazz turntablism. The vocal elements are restrained, subtle, and perplexingly elusive. This selection expertly captures the lonely, somber, and introspective space that DJ Shadow explored over the course of his universally-lauded epic debut LP.

Pt I:

A booming low-register voice utters the word, “…ONE…” followed by a single bell chime and an array of jazzy components for the briefest introductory moment before the percussion manifests and seizes your full attention. Fantastically sparse horns and traces of a choir appear… (or is it my imagination?) And a mournful voice (evidently sampled from Shawn Phillips’ “All Our Love”) sings words which drift into and out of comprehensibility:

“And why should we want to go back where we were, how many years… (could that have been?)”

“And why should we want to live a life that’s past and nevermore… (will ever be?)”

Which is followed by crooning in Italian – the voice of Gianni Nazzaro singing, “C’era Già” which, I believe, translates thusly:

“…and there was already this love that we live long ago, there was already a rose I gave you… the songs I sang, the sadness in joy…”

There is a beautiful sorrow and sophistication from start to finish on this record, and it really works to create a world the listener can disappear into. The final “Pt 1” movement has seven distinct known samples, including “Nucleus” by The Alan Parsons Project, “Voice of the Saxophone” by The Heath Brothers, the aforementioned lyrical excerpt from “All Our Love” by Shawn Phillips, percussion from David Young’s “Joe Splivingates”, the legendary “This is not a dream” pirate broadcast from John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, and finally, “…It is happening again…” from the episode “Lonely Souls” of the TV series Twin Peaks. These elements coalesce seamlessly into one cohesive lucid dream of an album.

After a single breath, the female voice from the opening of the disc warmly repeats the now-familiar phrase, “here we are at the edge of time…”

And then, with tranquil grace and incalculable ease, the instrumentation trails off leaving silence, depositing the listener back to this mortal world. Enter the final, seventh sample for the closing movement – a dialog between two characters from Westworld saying,

“Don’t you want to listen?”

“Nah, I heard it the last time.”

And the needle raises and returns, leaving the listener awed and transformed.

Man with a Movie Camera

the-man-with-a-movie-camera-1929

Last night, I had the absolute pleasure and privilege to screen the 1929 experimental Soviet silent documentary film, Man with a Movie Camera. I’d been aware of the film for some time but had never made it a point to view the picture. Directed by Dziga Vertov and edited by his wife Elizaveta Svilova, the film presents urban life in various metropolitan cities including Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow, and Odessa. The film was novel in concept in that it has no characters and no direct plot. Instead, it is a cinematic portrait of A Day in the Life of the Soviet citizen. And interestingly, many parallels can be drawn between the visuals of the movie and the musique concrete qualities of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”.

The film is universally acclaimed for its impressive use of a wide range of camera techniques invented and explored by Vertov, including double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, Dutch angles, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, stop-motion animations and self-reflexive visuals. In 2012 film critics participating in The British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound poll voted it the eighth greatest film ever made and the best documentary of all time.

a3338c257bdf632b77221fe4317645d1

The film is utterly captivating. There is a very natural energy to the picture which builds from the serene silence of dawn to the furious and industrious bustle of machinery and men. The film is partitioned into segments of thematic focus, from home life to business to sports and recreation, and with a brilliant fluidity of transition. It’s a fantastic snapshot of an entire world of culture in 1929, expertly framed by the titular man with a movie camera who appears throughout the film, equipment in hand. It is simultaneously engaging both emotionally and intellectually for the incredible vivacity and spirit of the imagery and the astonishing technological proficiency of the director’s presentation of cinéma vérité.

But the delightful surprise that really enhanced my experience was that the version I viewed was synced with a score written and performed by The Cinematic Orchestra, one of my favorite ensembles. I’d already owned a copy of their album, Man With a Movie Camera, but was completely blind to the fact that the album was constructed as an actual score, supporting and playfully interacting with all the exciting visuals of the film. This realization added a rich new dimension to the album and helped me see incredible beauty in its composition that I had not beheld in my previous listenings.

cinematicorchestra_moviecamera_albumcover

To date, there have been twenty-three soundtracks composed for the film. But the most noteworthy are the ones by Cinematic Orchestra and the Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge. I’m also eager to sample additional scores composed by  Geir Jenssen (aka Biosphere), minimalist composer Michael Nyman, and particularly Pierre Henry’s L’Homme À La Caméra.

Many of the scores have been synced with the film and uploaded in their entirety to YouTube and are widely available via BitTorrent with multiple audio channels to select the score of your choice. I highly recommend the Cinematic Orchestra version (below) for your next movie night!

The Voyager Golden Record 40th Anniversary Edition – A Gift to the Cosmos

On September 20, 2016, a Kickstarter project was launched in celebration of the Voyager Golden Record. The response was tremendous. 10,768 backers pledged $1,363,037 to help bring this project to life. And Ozma Records met their goal – shipping the result of the project to its contributors on September 5th, 2017 – 40 years to the day of the original 1977 Voyager launch.

Ozma Records did a magnificent job in producing the first-ever “Earthling edition” of this historic gift to the cosmos. The Voyager Interstellar Record may be the last vestige of our civilization after we are gone forever, and this 40th Anniversary Edition is a wonderful tribute to humanity and our place in the universe.

Original concept illustration for the set:

Concept 1

Audio Tracklisting:

  1. Greeting from Kurt Waldheim, Secretary-General of the United Nations
  2.  Greetings in 55 Languages
  3. United Nations Greetings/Whale Songs
  4. The Sounds of Earth
  5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major, BWV 1047: I. Allegro (Johann Sebastian Bach) – Munich Bach Orchestra/Karl Richter
  6. Ketawang: Puspåwårnå (Kinds of Flowers) – Pura Paku Alaman Palace Orchestra/K.R.T. Wasitodipuro
  7. Cengunmé – Mahi musicians of Benin
  8. Alima Song – Mbuti of the Ituri Rainforest
  9. Barnumbirr (Morning Star) and Moikoi Song – Tom Djawa, Mudpo, and Waliparu
  10. El Cascabel (Lorenzo Barcelata) – Antonio Maciel and Los Aguilillas with Mariachi México de Pepe Villa/Rafael Carrión
  11. Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry
  12. Mariuamangɨ – Pranis Pandang and Kumbui of the Nyaura Clan
  13. Sokaku-Reibo (Depicting the Cranes in Their Nest) – Goro Yamaguchi
  14. Partita for Violin Solo No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006: III. Gavotte en Rondeau (Johann Sebastian Bach) – Arthur Grumiaux
  15. The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), K. 620, Act II: Hell’s Vengeance Boils in My Heart (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) – Bavarian State Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Wolfgang Sawallisch
  16. Chakrulo – Georgian State Merited Ensemble of Folk Song and Dance/Anzor Kavsadze
  17. Roncadoras and Drums – Musicians from Ancash
  18. Melancholy Blues (Marty Bloom/Walter Melrose) – Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven
  19. Muğam – Kamil Jalilov
  20. The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps), Part II—The Sacrifice: VI. Sacrificial Dance (The Chosen One) (Igor Stravinsky) – Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky
  21. The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II: Prelude & Fugue No. 1 in C Major, BWV 870 (Johann Sebastian Bach) – Glenn Gould
  22. Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Opus 67: I. Allegro Con Brio (Ludwig Van Beethoven) – Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
  23. Izlel e Delyu Haydutin – Valya Balkanska
  24. Navajo Night Chant, Yeibichai Dance – Ambrose Roan Horse, Chester Roan, and Tom Roan
  25. The Fairie Round (Anthony Holborne) – Early Music Consort of London/David Munrow
  26. Naranaratana Kookokoo (The Cry of the Megapode Bird) – Maniasinimae and Taumaetarau Chieftain Tribe of Oloha and Palasu’u Village Community in Small Malaita
  27. Wedding Song – Young girl of Huancavelica
  28. Liu Shui (Flowing Streams) – Guan Pinghu
  29. Bhairavi: Jaat Kahan Ho – Kesarbai Kerkar
  30. Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground – Blind Willie Johnson
  31. String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, Opus 130: V. Cavatina (Ludwig Van Beethoven) – Budapest String Quartet

Each Voyager Golden Record 40th Anniversary Edition vinyl box set includes a high-quality enamel pin of the Golden Record diagram and a custom turntable slipmat featuring NASA/JPL-Caltech’s heliocentric view of the Voyager spacecrafts’ trajectories across the solar system!

Concept illustration for the box set extras:

slipmat.artprint.pin

From the official Kickstarter page:

The Voyager Golden Record contains the story of Earth expressed in sounds, images, and science: Earth’s greatest music from myriad cultures and eras, from Bach and Beethoven to Blind Willie Johnson and Chuck Berry, Senegalese percussion to Solomon Island panpipes. Dozens of natural sounds of our planet — birds, a train, a baby’s cry — are collaged into a lovely audio poem called Sounds of Earth. There are spoken greetings in 55 human languages, and one whale language, and more than one hundred images encoded in analog that depict who, and what, we are.  (To hear those greetings and Sounds of Earth and see a handful of the images, visit NASA/JPL-Caltech’s Voyager site!)

Concept illustrations for the tip-on jackets:

jacket 1jacket 2jacket 3

An exquisitely-designed objet d’art, this limited edition Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition vinyl box set was available exclusively through this Kickstarter. It was described as “the ultimate album package of the ultimate album package.”

Exploded concept graphic of the vinyl edition:

exploding graphic.jpg
True to the Kickstarter’s proposed description, the cloth-covered box with gold foil inlay houses three, heavyweight translucent gold vinyl LPs protected by poly-lined paper sleeves. The LPs contain all of the same magnificent music, greetings, and sounds as contained on the original Voyager Golden Record – nearly two hours of audio. The LPs slip into old style tip-on, black ink and gold foil jackets. And accompanying the music is a beautifully-designed hardbound book of captivating images from the original interstellar message, glorious photos of the planets returned to Earth from the Voyager probes, compelling essays, and ephemera from the project’s history.

Concept illustrations for the companion book:

book 1book 2book 3

The set also features a plastic digital download card with a code to access all of the audio in MP3 or FLAC format. A lithograph of the iconic Golden Record cover diagram, printed with gold metallic ink on archival paper, high-quality enamel pin of that same diagram, and a custom turntable slipmat featuring NASA/JPL-Caltech’s heliocentric view of the Voyager spacecrafts’ trajectories across the solar system complete the box set.

Concept image of the lithograph:

lithograph
Incredible attention was paid to ensuring that the audio content was the best it could be. Timothy Ferris, the original producer of the Golden Record, worked with the production team to remaster the audio for vinyl, drawing from the highest-quality sources available.

Below are actual photos of the completed box set which just arrived at my doorstep.

DSC09128

Of the 8,815 backers who pledged enough for the vinyl set, I received copy #00018. (I wasted no time pledging the moment this release was announced!)

DSC09137

The set is of exceptional quality – you can feel in your hands how impressively sturdy the whole package is.

DSC09142DSC09143DSC09147

Here is the final version of the slipmat.

DSC09149

And the beautiful hardcover book brings the breathtaking photographs from the record to life…

DSC09152DSC09156DSC09157DSC09160DSC09161

The discs, dust jackets, and sleeves are just as impressive as the extras. No corners were cut on this production project.

DSC09163DSC09170

And finally – the enamel pin. I’ll wear it proudly!

DSC09171

From OzmaRecords.com:

It was a gift from humanity to the cosmos. But it is also a gift to humanity. The record embodies a sense of possibility and hope. And it’s as relevant now as it was in 1977. Perhaps even more so.

The Voyager Interstellar Record is a reminder of what we can achieve when we are at our best—and that our future really is up to all of us.

 

Published in: on September 9, 2017 at 6:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Ultimate Futurist Score

Fritz Lang’s 1927 German expressionist sci-fi epic, Metropolis is heralded as a pioneering work of the genre,  and was among the first feature-length films of science fiction. A masterpiece of early cinema, Metropolis is a breathtaking showcase of Bauhaus, Cubist and Futurist design.

Quite tragically, a commercial soundtrack of the original score was for most of the century unavailable to the public. Save for a considerably abbreviated rock-and-roll reinterpretation by Music producer Giorgio Moroder, featuring Freddie Mercury, Loverboy and Adam Ant in 1984, no original soundtrack was produced.


However, a breakthrough came in 2008, after a damaged print of Lang’s original cut of the film surfaced in the archives of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires. The resulting restored edition premiered in Berlin and Frankfurt simultaneously on 12 February 2010 for The Berlin International Film Festival, and ARTE presented a live broadcast.



This restored edition featured the original score composed by Gottfried Huppertz, conducted by Frank Strobel and performed by The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra


(Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin). An album of the performance was issued only on compact disc, and exclusively in Austria on the Capriccio label, #C5066 in June of 2011. This 2010 reconstructed version was created to sync with the 35mm restored edition, 3945.5m = 144:12 at 24 fps.


All of the album credits and liner notes are in German, and Amazon user James Wyatt offered corrections and a translation of the disc’s printed tracklisting. He notes that there are two track name errors on this album –

Track 19 ‘Fredersen und falsche Maria’ is mistitled as Track 20 ‘Freder im Wahn’ and Track 20 ‘Freder im Wahn’ is mistitled as Track 21 ‘In Rotwang’s Salon”

To correct these errors –

Rename Track 19 as ‘Metropolis: II. Zwischenspiel: Fredersen und falsche Maria’


And rename Track 20 as ‘Metropolis: II. Zwischenspiel: Freder im Wahn’

Wyatt kindly offers an English translation for the tracklist:

01. Metropolis: I. Prelude: Metropolis Theme
02. Metropolis: I. Prelude: Machinery
03. Metropolis: I. Prelude: The Stadium
04. Metropolis: I. Prelude: The Eternal Garden
05. Metropolis: I. Prelude: Maria with Children
06. Metropolis: I. Prelude: Machine Shop – Moloch
07. Metropolis: I. Prelude: Office Fredersen
08. Metropolis: I. Prelude: The Narrow – Drive
09. Metropolis: I. Prelude: In the House of Rotwang
10. Metropolis: I. Prelude: The Man Machine
11. Metropolis: I. Prelude: Rotwang and Fredersen
12. Metropolis: I. Prelude: In the Catacombs
13. Metropolis: I. Prelude: The Tower of Babel
14. Metropolis: I. Prelude: Freder and Maria
15. Metropolis: I. Prelude: The Pursuit
16. Metropolis: II. Interlude: The Cathedral
17. Metropolis: II. Interlude: In the Laboratory – Transformation
18. Metropolis: II. Interlude: Freder and Rotwang
19. Metropolis: II. Interlude: Freder and false Maria
20. Metropolis: II. Interlude: Freder in Delusion
21. Metropolis: II. Interlude: In Rotwang’s Salon
22. Metropolis: II. Interlude: The Dance
23. Metropolis: II. Interlude: The Death
24. Metropolis: III. Furioso: Freder and Josaphat
25. Metropolis: III. Furioso: The Revolt of the Workers
26. Metropolis: III. Furioso: The Heart machine
27. Metropolis: III. Furioso: The Flooding
28. Metropolis: III. Furioso: The Escape
29. Metropolis: III. Furioso: The Dance of the Workers
30. Metropolis: III. Furioso: The Pyre
31. Metropolis: III. Furioso: On the Roof of the Cathedral
32. Metropolis: III. Furioso: The Reconciliation

This recording is essential for any collector of silent-era scores, sci-fi memorabilia, or for any lover of epic and dramatic orchestral works. Finally, Fritz Lang fans have a proper score of his greatest work available for their music libraries.

Pastoral Melodies for Tranquil Times

It’s been quite a period of transition for this audiophile. Developing a sense of love of self sufficient to purge toxic influences from my life, I quickly found that I no longer needed the endless pursuit of shiny black discs in a vain effort to fill a void that could not be sated with material objects, nor to strive hopelessly to outrun myself.

Instead, with this new lens of perspective, I find myself investing my energy in self-discovery and in building mutually rewarding relationships. And in this new light, I’m able to enjoy discovering new music, and selectively choosing exceptional works to invest in, to actually play and experience rather than to sit upon a shelf. My collection no longer owns me, and that makes discoveries like these all the more satisfying.

In months past, I’d only briefly acquainted myself with The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, primarily with their “Penguin Cafe Single” – their theme if you will. But the time felt right and I found myself in a space where I could really engage their music, and so I settled in one quiet evening and listened to their first two albums.

Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Music From the Penguin Cafe

It was an exquisite experience. The music of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra is tranquil, eclectic, and magically pastoral. The albums are classified as works of minimalism but are impressively dynamic recordings. Rich with subtly and understatedly intricate instrumentation, their music is a seamless and masterful blending of an impressive roster of genres, weaving together classical and contemporary elements. The result is magical and elegantly surreal.

Released as a double album set in Japan in 85, PCO’s first two albums are a wonderful pairing. The melodies are refined and artful but instantly accessible. There is no snobbery or exclusivity to this music – it is simply an enjoyable listening experience for anyone with a patient and open mind.

Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Penguin Cafe Orchestra

These records are stubbornly difficult to label or classify. Spanning a broad range of influences from classical to jazz, featuring middle eastern or perhaps Indian inspired drones, as well as Cajan, traditional folk melodies, African rhythms, and more, these elements blend seamlessly into marvelous soundscapes and musical vignettes reminiscent of Moondog’s symphoniques.

There is a timeless serenity to these recordings, and I’m grateful that I was at last ready to let them into my life at a time when they serve as a sensational complement to my headspace of late.

For the purpose of this feature, I’ll focus on their debut – Music From the Penguin Cafe. The opening track is one of the project’s best-loved classics – the aforementioned “Penguin Cafe Single.” The track features the eclectic and surreal energies the group would refine and perfect on later albums with songs like, “Air À Danser” from their self-titled follow-up album and “Perpetuum Mobile” from Signs of Life.

The second selection is far more explorative – the fifteen-minute “Zopf.” The track features multiple movements, showcasing an array of vintage instruments, a ballad with gentle vocals, and a strings segment, followed by a bizarre avant-garde section with strained utterances of the word “milk”, seemingly random dissonant plinking, and vocal percussion. This curious section quickly transitions into a slow and sorrowful string and vocal ballad beginning marked the words, “the queen is dead”. The next segment is a lovely harpsichord melody which quickly builds to a playful conversation of traditional instrumentation. Upon its conclusion, for the final phase of “Zopf” a sparse atmospheric micro movement begins with an out of tune smattering of notes reminiscent of technostalgic telephone pulses or sounds from some similar 1960s electromechanical apparatus.

Next up is the beautiful and plaintive, “The Sound of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away and it Doesn’t Matter.” As the piece progresses it moves into fragmented and frustrated outbursts of notes before returning to its melodic refrain, brilliantly showcasing the dimensional complexity of the title’s emotional state.

“Hugebaby” continues the album’s theme of gentle chamber music with a timelessness that simply cannot be touched. A magical theme by which to while away an afternoon lost in thought or dreams.

The album closer, “Chartered Flight” unveils itself ever so slowly, unfolding over six and a half minutes to incorporate a variety of strings and blissful chamber melodies. The track is patient, ambling on reflectively with no particular hurry or destination – precisely the headspace it evokes for the listener.

From start to finish, Music From The Penguin Cafe is a treasure of heady and engaging arrangements, and some of the most peaceful sounds you’ll ever hear. I really enjoyed an observation from a fellow listener named bpnicast who remarked, “The dispassionate, cerebral atmosphere here creates its own unique space that seems to slow time and demand hushed attention – an emotional connection achieved through stillness and abstraction.”

That is precisely what I enjoy about these albums. It will be a pleasure to play them again and again and to share them with those who bring joy into my life.

penguin-cafe-orchestra_1298362736_crop_537x544Photograph by Steve Gullick

Published in: on August 19, 2017 at 8:26 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

The Lost Classic of Hip House Plunderphonia

“All sounds on this recording have been captured by the KLF in the name of mu. We hereby liberate these sounds from all copyright restrictions, without prejudice.”

The statement appears around the center label of The KLF’s very first full-length recording, published under what would be the first of many monikers, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. John Higgs notes in his book, The KLF: Chas, Magic, and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds that the name, lifted from The Illuminatus! trilogy represented “the principle of chaos working against the corporate music industry, a guerilla band of musical anarchists who existed to disrupt, confuse and destroy.”

The year was 1987, and Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty were pillaging the music industry with reckless abandon. The album, titled 1987 What The Fuck Is Going On? could never be reissued in today’s world of militant copyright litigation. The record makes liberal use of samples ripped from massive artists who would be untouchable in the 21st century, including Stevie Wonder, The Fall, Beatles, ABBA, The Monkees, The J.B.s, Dave Brubeck, Sex Pistols, Scott Walker, Led Zeppelin and Bo Diddley.

The KLF - Justified Ancients of Mu Mu - 1987 - What the  Fuck is Going On.JPG

You don’t make friends in the music industry by sampling just about the entire refrain of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”, and the duo was promptly investigated by the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society, who in August of that year ordered The JAMs to recall and destroy all unsold copies of 1987. In an effort to salvage the project, The JAMs traveled to Sweden with the remaining copies of the album hoping to negotiate with ABBA. Sadly, the band wouldn’t hear of it, and so, quite ceremoniously,  The JAMs burnt the remaining LPs in a pyre in the Swedish countryside, the scene depicted on the front and back covers of their 1988 JAMs farewell, Who Killed the JAMs. The album featured the track, “Burn the Bastards,” a sample-heavy celebration of the fire set to house music.

The KLF - The History of The JAMs (1988) back cover - burning of 1987

1987 stands as a piece of history – a snapshot of a sliver of time when an act of plunderphonia like this was still possible. It embodied the ideas of sampling, hip-hop, and Discordianism and somehow, it all made sense together.

Higgs contextualizes the intent and the perception of this recording: “If and when The JAMs are remembered today, it is for their pioneering role in establishing sampling as a legitimate creative act in modern music. In many ways, that misses what it was they were doing.” While today’s understanding of sampling concerns itself with manipulating and reshaping elements of a recording and repurposing them for something new, The JAMs had something else in mind. “They took things not for how they sounded, but for what they represented,” Higgs explains. “When they took parts of ABBA and The Beatles, it was not because of the quality of the sound, but very specifically because they were records by ABBA and The Beatles.” The act was an exercise in what the Situationists called, détournement, which involves taking the cultural images forced upon us and using them instead for our own ends.

Remix culture really came into its own in the digital age, where the technology to rip and reshape culture became democratized to the point where any 13-year-old can start remixing and mashing copyrighted works. But in 1987, just two years after John Oswald’s Plunderphonics EP was released, and at the dawn of Negativland, this was still new and unplundered territory in the world of music.

And the world is waiting for August 23rd, when The KLF will close their 23-year contractual hiatus, returning to the eternal question asked with their first release.

What the fuck is going on?

C1aJowFWIAE95vH_1483621559_crop_550x802.jpg

Photograph by: The KLF

Reflective Music – Learning How To Listen All Over Again

It began with a revisitation to Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel / Why Patterns? album. Headphones fit cozily around my ears, I’d decided to disappear from my office environment one Sunday afternoon and explore the more thoughtful headspace afforded by Feldman’s tranquil piano melodies. I was instantly transported, and the record prepared me for some reflective and solemn music to while away the hours at my desk. Resultantly, I soon found myself compiling a list of essential listening I was keen to either revisit or to explore for the first time in the spirit of that mood.

Rothko Chapel

Morton Feldman – Rothko Chapel / Why Patterns?

The list would be a survey of key recordings of German ambient music both classic and contemporary. Berliner ambient essentials including:

  • Nils Frahm – Wintermusik and the post-minimalist Felt LP
  • Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds collaborative work, Trance Frendz
  • British-German composer Max Richter’s 8.5-hour post-minimal ambient opus, Sleep, as well as his critically-acclaimed Memoryhouse and The Blue Notebooks LPs
  • Thomas Köner (a member of Porter Ricks and Kontakt der Jünglinge) – Permafrost
  • Cluster & Eno’s self-titled 1977 album recorded in Cologne
  • Eno/Moebius/Roedelius – After the Heat, featuring the haunting album-closers, “The Belldog”  and “Tzima N’Arki”  
  • Alva Noto – Xerrox Vols I & II (the sound of desolation, itself)
  • Highlights from Wolfgang Voigt’s recordings under the Gas moniker – Pop, Königsforst, Zauberberg, and his triumphant latest effort, Narkopop
  • Popol Vuh’s choral classic, Hosianna Mantra
  • Klaus Schulze’s space music debut epic, Irrlicht from 1972
  • Hans Zimmer’s score to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar
  • Favorites from Tangerine Dream – the albums Zeit and Phaedra
  • And for a taste of ambient darkjazz, Bohren & der Club of Gore’s Black Earth LP

I was awestruck by the listening experience of the first three recordings, so much in fact that I remained with them for the duration of the week. I spent days and nights immersed in Richter’s Sleep, never tiring of the fundamentally succinct central theme which carries throughout the entire opus. And even now, six days later, I am still reveling in the gentle elegance of Frahm and Arnalds’ pastoral melodies.

But more importantly, I found that I was not engaging these works as I had so often approached 20th-century music. I confess that I’ve routinely engaged recordings in an overtly-academic fashion. I obsessed over structure, form, and socio-cultural context. I preoccupied my mind with where each composition fell in relationship to the artist’s other works. I examined music so critically, that I failed to experience it emotionally.

There were notable exceptions to this standard – particularly those ambient recordings I chose to engage through music meditation. When consuming specific works of consequence for the first time, (and again thereafter if they became beloved favorites), I would don my circumaural cans, swaddle myself in blankets, extinguish all lamps, lay still in bed, and let the music fill me. The most recent album to receive this treatment was Brian Eno’s monumentally intimate album, The Ship from 2016.

What I found so arresting about these contemporary releases from the top of my list was that they explored the ambient genre differently than by their vintage predecessors. I quickly surveyed the albums and discovered that I had developed an affinity for post-minimalism. Borne of a reactionary movement to the impersonality of minimalist works in the 1960s, these artists aimed to resolve minimalism’s often cold and over-intellectual nature by introducing more expressive qualities, often evoking the body and aspects of sexuality. The resulting works are intimately affecting, soothing, and serene with more organic sonic textures than the mechanics of traditional minimalism.

It was that very quality which inspired in me such a novel and emotional response. Frahm’s Felt LP exquisitely embraced these organic elements, captured in its unique compositional process.

Felt.jpg

From the ErasedTapes label’s website:

Having recorded his last album live in a large, reverberant church, Nils Frahm now invites you to put on your headphones and dive into a world of microscopic and delicate sounds – so intimate that you could be sitting beside him.

Recorded late at night in the reflective solitude and silence of his studio in Berlin, Frahm uncovers a new sound and source of inspiration within these peaceful moments:

Originally I wanted to do my neighbours a favour by damping the sound of my piano. If I want to play piano during the quiet of the night, the only respectful way is by layering thick felt in front of the strings and using very gentle fingers. It was then that I discovered that my piano sounds beautiful with the damper.

Captivated by this sonic exposition, he placed the microphones so deep inside the piano that they were almost touching the strings. This brought a host of external sounds to the recordings which most producers would try their hardest to hide:

I hear myself breathing and panting, the scraping sound of the piano’s action and the creaking of my wooden floorboards – all equally as loud as the music. The music becomes a contingency, a chance, an accident within all this rustling. My heart opens and I wonder what exactly it is that makes me feel so happy.

It is his emphasis of those very sounds, which in traditional recording would be trimmed away as nuisance rather than beauty, which make Felt such an intimate and captivating listen. To quote a card from Eno’s Oblique Strategies deck – “Emphasise the flaws.” I found myself holding my breath so as not to miss the curious “non-musical” sounds present in the recording. I permitted the music to create a space for pure experience, rather than considered analysis, which I found immeasurably rewarding and satisfying.

And it is that exemption from quantification – the absence of left-brained cognitive study which freed my mind to just enjoy the music.

I don’t feel compelled to pore over academic texts examining post-minimalism. I feel no urge to read critical papers from music journalists on the merit or inferiority of works of this musical category. I just want to experience it. And that is wonderful.

 

Music in Snaketime

Moondog - Moondog 1969

“Machines were mice and men were lions once upon a time. But now that it’s the opposite it’s twice upon a time.”

Moondog is one of the most pivotal and iconic figures of the classical avant-garde. The man certainly commanded attention – a blind, long-bearded fellow often adorned with a cloak and Viking-style horned helmet living on the streets of New York, he quickly earned the moniker, The Viking of 6th Avenue. But his eccentricity was far from superficial, and Moondog (1969) serves an as exquisite specimen of his unique compositional style and his expertly-seamless fusion of classical and jazz musics. And how many individuals can claim to have ascended from street musicianship to conducting the Brooklyn Philharmonic in their lifetimes?

In the early ‘40s when Moondog moved to New York City, he met Leonard Bernstein, Charlie Parker, and Benny Goodman, the influence of which is certainly evident throughout his catalog, but particularly so on Moondog (1969). The upbeat tempos and often humorous compositional style of this LP are likely the result of these encounters.

The album’s opening selections, “Theme” and “Stamping Ground”, (aka “that song from Lebowski”), are instantly indicative of the sort of ride you’re in for with this record. The tracks are epic and theatrical, with a lush orchestral quality. But simultaneously, there is a humbling intimacy and a flare of smart minimalism at play all throughout the album, adding an understated intellectualism to the whimsical interplay of traditional and invented instrumentation. Tracks like “Symphonique #3 (Ode to Venus)” and the brief vocal interludes sprinkled throughout work brilliantly to counterpoint the captivating rhythmic energy of selections like “Symphonique #6 (Good for Goodie)” and “Lament I (Bird’s Lament).”

There’s a curious and mysterious mannerism to the music on this record, and its inspiration reveals the nature of its oddity. In an interview with Robert Scotto, who went on to publish his biography, Moondog described his music as being directly inspired from street sounds, characterized by what he called “snaketime”, described as “a slithery rhythm, in times that are not ordinary,” and saying, “I’m not gonna die in 4/4 time”. It is this snaketime that gives Moondog’s compositions their enchanting peculiarity. There’s an off-beat, quirky eccentricity and playfulness to every one of the songs here, and together they form a cohesive and rewarding listening experience unlike any other.

10/10

Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra – World of Funk (2011)

UR282_cvr

World of Funk is a highly-engaging triumph of world-infused funk. From the opening seconds of the record, the instrumentation is instantly intriguing. Shawn Lee holds nothing back with an impressively vast array of instruments here, and assisting musicians aside, Lee is quite a one-man show. Elliot Bergman plays kalimba, Stuart Bogie on alto clarinet, Andy Ross is on flute and saxophone, Michael Leonhart plays cornet, trumpet, mellophone, and vibraphone and Dom Glover is on trumpet. But Lee steals the show playing sitar, ektar, balaphone, tanpura, kalimba, steel drum, castanets, cithara, vibraphone, xylophone, bulbul tarang, charango, bouzoki, talking drum, and udu all over this record, giving it a rich, dimensional worldly flavor. The five vocalists further contribute to its brilliance with echo-laden eastern-influenced crooning and a sprinkling of funky tropicalia.

The album offers a lush textural soundscape which classies up any space it occupies – a rich sonic wallpaper deserving of the attention of any aspiring bohemian.

“Nao Vacila” is a powerfully funky track, with Bardo Martinez on the organ and bluesy guitar from Clutchy Hopkins, and Michael Leonhart firing off shots on the trumpet. And the fun low-fi retro-Latin stylings of “La Eterna Felicidad” would be perfectly at home on a record by A Band of Bees. The organ really locks in this track as a slow-groover.

From start to finish, this is a tour-de-force of heady, fat-bottomed funk with enough going on to keep you tuned in and jiving for the entirety of its nearly hour-long span. This is definitely an album worth picking up.

Perpetual Dawn: The Orb Has Arrived at Last!

It was Pledgemusic’s announcement which first alerted me to the monumental event which was pending in the summer of 2016. The Pledgemusic website reported that:

“On Friday 29th July 2016, electronic titans The Orb will perform their seminal debut album ‘Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’ in full for the first time ever, to mark its 25th anniversary.

For this very special sliver jubilee gig, Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann will be joined on stage by the original cast of collaborators who helped create the magic on this influential, era-defining milestone, plus a special punk icon whose music heavily influenced The Orb.

Paul Cook of Sex Pistols fame will guest on drums and fellow punk legend, original Orb member and ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ co-writer Youth will join on bass.

Psychedelic-electronic-prog heroes Steve Hillage and partner Miquette Giraudy co-wrote ‘Supernova’ and ‘Backside Of The Moon’, and will also bring their mythical shamanistic magic to this special show.

If all that wasn’t coup enough fellow ‘Ultraworld’ contributors Andy Falconer, Tom Green and Hugh Vickers will also guest, whilst original Orb lighting wizard David Herman will transform Electric Brixton into a vintage fractal technical wonderland.

Amidst the late 80s fervor of acid house The Orb explored their own meandering tangent, drawing on hip hop sample culture, krautrock, kosmische, ambience and a wealth of unusual and unlikely sound sources. In doing so they pioneered a more horizontally-inclined alternative to the jacking trax emanating from discerning nightclubs’ main rooms.

The_Orb-2016-promo-1a

Following a limited number of prototype 12”s from early pre-Orb incarnations, ‘Ultraworld’ was The Orb’s first fully formed, double album realization of the sonic sculpture they’d been finessing, amidst a punk-schooled period of fertile, no-rules creativity.

The album was a critical and chart smash that soundtracked a generation. It still sounds amazing today and its influence on subsequent decades of dance music is immeasurable.”

It had already been a thrilling year – The Avalanches reissued their album, Since I Left You in the UK and Europe to the delight of fans the world over, the Ann Arbor label, Ghostly International reissued Telefon Tel Aviv’s ambient glitch epic Fahrenheit Fair Enough on sky blue wax, John Carpenter issued the second volume of his Lost Themes collection, electronic music veterans, Underworld released Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future to great critical acclaim, proving they still have every ounce of their musical prowess, Klaus Schulze and the late Pete Namlook released a box set of the first four volumes of their ambient Dark Side of the Moog series, and Brian Eno outdid himself for the hundredth time with the ethereal and meditative album, The Ship which had the astonishing ability to stop time with each play.

But it was the anticipation of this reunion of the icons of ambient house which captivated me for the remainder of the year. Sadly, there were delays with the production of the vinyl release. Many, many months passed with infrequent updates from the Live Here Now team. Eventually, the 3CD+DVD edition arrived in the States, but it was the triple blue vinyl edition I was really waiting to get my hand on. Thankfully, today – May 12, 2017 the long-awaited package arrived from the UK.

DSC08743

The Orb’s Further Adventures Live 2016 was available exclusively from PledgeMusic or at The Orb show at the Royal Festival Hall in London on the 21st of April 2017. The CD edition also features interviews with Alex, Thomas, Youth, Paul Cook, Steve Hillage & Miquette Giraudy, all of whom participated in the event.

The 180g bright blue discs are housed in a heavy triple-gatefold jacket matching that of the CD+DVD release. The packaging and albums are of excellent quality all throughout, making this set well worth the wait.

DSC08748

This is a wonderful treasure for any fan of The Orb, of chillout music, and for anyone who spent their college days on the backside of the moon. An exciting performance, expertly captured and mastered, documenting a real milestone event for all those involved.

If you buy only one tripped-out exclusive dub-inspired space music anniversary concert album reuniting a generation of the gods of ambient house this century… make it this one.