Brian Eno: Oblique Music

Brian Eno - Oblique Music Book

Oblique Music is a 2016 collection of essays examining Eno’s work as a musician, as a theoretician, as a collaborator, and a producer. It was published by Bloomsbury Publishing, who also released my favorite musicological text, Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. The book is divided into two primary collections of essays – the first pertaining to Eno as composer, musician, and theorist, and the second section on “The University of Eno” exploring his work as a producer, collaborator and ethnographer.

The book’s introduction dives right into Eno’s early influences. Crucial to Eno’s early development as an artist, in addition to his experiences at The Fine Art Department at Ipswich in the mid-sixties, was Beers’ book The Brain of the Firm which Eno received from Jane Harvey, the mother of his first wife. The central insight of the text was this idea: “instead of specifying it in full detail, you simply ride the dynamics of the system where you want to go.” This resolved the stubborn dilemma of how one can get anywhere creatively if they don’t know what or where their destination might be. Beer’s insights were incorporated into Eno’s strategies as he moved from the quasi-hierarchical working structure of Warm Jets to his present position – that of a key part of the creative system, but not necessarily its centre.

It is this very tenet of Eno’s philosophy which attracts me to his generative work – that Eno endeavors to remove the ego from his artistry and instead he merely engineers the conditions from which his process music will commence and then permits the system to run its course. There seems to be an almost Eastern / Buddhist perspective about this approach to musical composition, and I find it infinitely more satisfying than the proud and declarative concrete structures typical of rock music.

Chapter 1: The Bogus Men explores the forcefully and glamorously modern synthesis of style and experimentation pioneered by Roxy Music in the early 1970s. Quoting Allan Moore, essayist David Pattie describes how the band managed to create a sound world in which ‘the traditional instrumental relationships are frequently and subtly overturned.’

The virtual environment of sonic space is examined structurally as three component parts – localized space,  spectral space and morphological space, and contrasts are drawn between the sonic environments of Roxy Music’s “Do the Strand” from 1973 and Eno’s “Discreet Music” from 1975. The essay closes touching upon the creative divergence of Eno and Ferry and the unsustainability of the Roxy Music project. “Ferry,” Pattie describes, “was drawn towards the shaping of a musical object; Eno, then and now, preferred to explore systems and processes.” This tension led to the breakdown of their relations.

Chapter 2 explores Eno’s non-musicianship, his experimental tradition, and his strategy of deliberately selecting musicians who would be incompatible with one another, as well as creating conditions wherein the performers are not able to hear each other to introduce unexpected interactions. Both the Portsmouth Sinfonia and The Scratch Orchestra are examined. The chapter closes drawing parallels between the non-musical properties of Discreet Music and Satie’s Musique d’ameublement (“furniture music”) from a half-century before. The chapter addresses the fundamental differences between the teleological nature of traditional musical structures and what Eno calls the ‘hypothetical continuum’ of experimental music.

Describing his ‘non-musicianship,’ Eno remarks,

“Since I have always preferred making plans to executing them, I have gravitated towards situations and systems that, once set into operation, could create music with little or no intervention on my part. That is to say, I tend towards the roles of the planner and programmer, and then become an audience to the results.”

In chapter 3: Taking the Studio By Strategy, David Pattie offers an examination of Eno’s creative process. Pattie calls attention to Eno’s serendipitous taxi accident which created the circumstances inspiring his discovery of ambient listening, via the now legendary tale where Eno was bedridden and unable to turn up the volume on a barely-audible recording of eighteenth-century harp music. He also describes Eno’s incorporation of chance into otherwise strictly-structured systems. And like his contemporary Cornelius Cardew, his approach to composition permits hierarchical structures to give way to a more heuristic process. However, Pattie notes, Eno endeavored not to simply recast the compositional framework of Reich’s Music As a Gradual Process, but incorporated the artists’ response to the introduction of chance, via what Eno termed, “scenius” or communal genius.

Chapter 5 by Mark Edward Achtermann entitled Yes, But Is It Music? views and analyses Eno’s earliest ambient works through several lenses and philosophies of established artistic theory beginning with Tolkien’s critique of allegory and aesthetic theory, as well as Collingwood’s 1938 Principles of Art. Eric Tamm’s 1989 book, Brian Eno: His Music and The Vertical Color of Sound is also touched upon to frame the merit of music employing static harmony and timbral homogeneity. It was interesting to see ambient music framed by Tolkien’s theory, specifically his argument that art provides three great benefits: escape, recovery, and consolation. Achtermann proposes that Eno both confirms and challenges this theory. Further parallels are drawn between the systems at play in Eno’s ambient compositions and Lazlo’s evolutionary theory.

The final chapter of Book One entitled The Voice And/Of Brian Eno examines Eno’s post-humanist use of voice in song “to chart the convulsions at the boundaries of race, gender, and the human.” The use and manipulation of voice on albums released between 1991 and 2014 are explored, as are other artists who have synthesized and otherwise technologically manipulated voices of “post-human ventriloquism” in popular song from the 1940s to contemporary artists like Boards of Canada, DJ Shadow, and Giorgio Moroder.

Sean Albiez quotes P.K. Nayar’s Transhumanism proposing that Eno “explores strategies that emphasize co-evolution, symbiosis, feedback, and responses as determining conditions rather than autonomy, competition, and self-contained isolation of the human.” And it is that “loss of ego,” that concept of “scenius” which makes him such a powerful critical force of the post-human perspective.

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Part 2 is entitled, The University of Eno and explores his work as a producer and collaborator.

Chapter 8: Before and After Eno contextualizes Eno’s seminal lecture, ‘The Recording Studio as a Compositional Tool’ and how Eno “acts as a nexus between historical and contemporary currents in experimental, avant-garde, and popular musics.” Parallels are drawn between Eno’s musical philosophy and that of John Cage, as well as those of Satie, Varèse, Russolo, Schaeffer, and other pivotal music theorists of the era of recorded sound. Albiez and Dockwray demonstrate that Eno reiterated ideas many decades in the making but that his work is noteworthy due to his unique position in bridging the early & twentieth-century avant-garde with later experimenters in popular music.

Interestingly, not all of the essays are voices of praise. Elizabeth Ann Lindau offers some important criticism in chapter ten of the ‘ethnographic surrealism’ of Byrne and Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and its role in cultural anthropology. Further criticisms are presented in the final chapters detailing Eno’s role as producer for Devo and U2 as well as in the closing chapter where Martin James’ briefly examines Eno’s curation of the no wave scene in 1978 with the album, No New York.

Oblique Music effectively contextualizes the many facets of Eno’s work throughout the course of his illustrious career. And I appreciated that the text wasn’t all one-sided praise, but instead sheds light on the friction between Eno and his many collaborators. The book also excels at outlining Eno’s musical philosophy without being overly academic and makes for a stimulating survey of one of the most influential artists and producers of the century.

Will Pop Eat Itself? – A Contextual Examination of The Golden Age of Sample Culture

Every once in a while, a book finds its reader, in a strange and inexplicable fashion. I happened upon Will Pop Eat Itself? while visiting a massive three-story used bookshop in Niagara Falls with a friend. I wandered to the basement after requesting the lights be switched on by the proprietor, and quickly found myself in the music section where the title practically leapt off the shelf insisting that I pick it up.

A quick scan of the back cover seized my attention as The KLF were mentioned repeatedly, and leafing through the pages I beheld countless references to their work. And no fewer than three paragraphs into the first chapter I found the author drawing comparative parallels between postmodern music and Finnegans Wake. I absolutely needed this book in my life. I read it voraciously in the days ahead, pacing myself to take careful notes.

What made my discovery particularly serendipitous was that I was at the very same time exploring other historical examinations of sample culture, most notably Benjamin Franzen’s 2009 documentary film, Copyright Criminals which tells the story of the golden age of sampling – precisely the period about which the book was written.

Jeremy J Beadle - Will Pop Eat Itself

In the introduction, Beadle states that “If you really want to know what’s going on in a society look at its popular culture” and that pop had invariably always been eating itself. He cites Elvis’ covers of other musicians and how “Rock Around the Clock” was just a rework of the earlier hit “Shake Rattle & Roll” as early examples. Beadle presents one of his main points here:

‘Pop’ as we understand it was – whether you date it from Haley, Presley or some other more recondite marker of your own devising – born around 1955 or 1956, and reached a point where it seemed exhausted about thirty years later. The digital sampler proved the ideal tool for pop to take itself apart, thus arriving at modernism and postmodernism simultaneously.

He asks, “is there any future in this autocannibalism? Or is this idea that pop will eat itself a much older one than we realize?”

1. Things Fall Apart

The first chapter wastes no time in diving into the history of artistic self-consumption. Finnegans Wake is offered as an early example of how popular culture can be enlightening and how every artefact somehow reeks of the period of its creation. Other significant works cited include the cultural escapism of Gone With the Wind and The Sound of Music.

Beadle begins to examine the temporal nature of cultural phenomena, describing the disintegration of cultural hegemony – the Soviet Union lasting fewer than 75 years and America’s economy being mortgaged to the Chinese. He notes how the sixteenth century established forms of tonality were rejected by the composers of the Second Viennese School and explores medieval allegorical writings segueing to staples of modernist literature to contextualize the evolution of the arts. Henry James’ In the Cage and The Golden Bowl, Eliot’s The Waste Land, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and Joyce’s Ulysses are visited to frame the deconstruction of literary tradition and cultural ideals.

And with the birth of the gramophone record, the teenager, disposable income, and the consumer came the concept of the pop star. Beadle explains:

The pop-star business was the child of two particularly twentieth-century phenomena – the technology of recording and mass marketing.

And succinctly describes the dilemma of pop thusly:

Pop music is after all a necessarily limited form – a simple, memorable melody, which requires a relatively simple tonality and series of tonal relations, usually over a regular four-in-a-bar beat. There is only a limited number of permutations through which these basic requirements can be met. And when forms are exhausted the tendency is to turn inwards.

Beadle closes the chapter demonstrating that, with the advent of the sampler, pop music endeavored to rip it all up and start again, just like The Waste Land, Schoenberg, and cubism – examples he explores in greater depth in subsequent chapters.

2. Bricks in the Wall of Sound

The second chapter explores milestone events which shaped the nature and influence of the gramophone record. At the outset Beadle explains that the sampler empowered the producer to emerge as the artist themselves and cites several pivotal moments of recording history. The first example he offers is Caruso’s 1902 performance of ‘Veste la giubba’ where the recording offered listeners the closest thing to the real experience of a live performance. He goes on to describe Walter Legge’s notorious recording of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde – likely the first known example of ‘dishonest dubbing’ wherein the voice of Legge’s wife was substituted for the credited performer in order to hit the highest notes of the piece. And with Culshaw’s recording of Wagner’s Ring Cycle for Decca, Beadle explains, the studio became an art form itself rather than merely a tool, as studio effects rendered a produced recording arguably superior to that of the concert hall experience. The production wizardry of Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, and George Martin are discussed, as well as Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland, (each of Motown fame) and a host of others.

3. Stars on 45

Pressing on through history, Beadle describes how punk briefly revitalized the concept of the single in the uncertain marketability of the post-Beatle age. Anti-racist sentiment helped usher in the reggae revival and the rise of ska with 2-Tone Records. The Jam similarly spearheaded the mod revival.

The chapter explores the Stars session musician medley phenomena in parallel to the birth of the political soundbite era of Margaret Thatcher, before moving onto the image-focused pop icons of Michael Jackson and Madonna. He closes with a summary of other aspects of the mid-80s musical landscape, from Christmas novelties to dance pop, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Wham!, and the academic wave of British art-school neo-minimalists.

4. Scratching Where It Itches examines the emergence of the scratch-mixing DJ, the birth of rap, and Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty’s visionary sampladelic work as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. A brief history of black music is chronicled, from early spirituals to jazz to blues, then onto reggae and ‘toasting’, funk, and eventually to DJ and rap culture.

5. Kick Out the JAMs dives into the anti-song anti-instrument philosophy of Drummond and Cauty’s first album, 1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?). Their outright cynicism and straightforward purloining of other artists’ work was a direct challenge to copyright and Beadle notes that “for all its cynicism about much contemporary pop music and public attitudes, [was] a deeply serious social and political statement.” Only 500 copies of their debut single, “All You Need is Love” were produced, and all were court ordered to be seized and destroyed elevating the cult iconic status of the duo. The chapter analyzes the raw and subversive nature of The JAMs’ 1987 and gives the record the detailed examination warranted by such a surreally iconic moment in contemporary music history. Beadle observes, “The point about this chaotic collage – chaotic in the sense that no apparently consistent frame of reference is maintained – is precisely that the listener is left without an objective correlative.” The epitome of postmodernism.

6. Hitting the High-tech Groove (Not Entirely Legally) provides a history of the sampler and examples of its execution from the author’s own experience in the studio. Beadle touches upon “The Singing Dogs (Medley)” novelty recordings, early synths, the Mellotron, and the Fairlight before describing the studio production process of his own experiments using an Apple Macintosh and an Akai S100 sampler with an 8MB board for the sample bank. (This was, after all, 1990.) It’s amazing to reflect on what was achieved with such minimal computing power at the dawn of the digital age.

7. Pump Up the Volume considers the single of the same name that Beadle argues marked pop music’s advance into modernism. He parallels its revolutionary impact to that of Schoenberg’s aforementioned chromaticism and to Picasso’s post-impressionist creations in that each of these artists purified their respective artistic landscape by reducing visual and auditory objects to their constituent elemental parts, abandoning conventions, and starting anew. Beadle critically examines the studio perfection and the artistic merit of this watershed recording. He concludes the chapter posing questions to the reader about the artistic merit of sampling, noting that any critic claiming that samplers merely reuse prior materials would have to say the same of Eliot’s The Wasteland or Joyce’s Ulysses, and that the very same could be said of Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, Mahler, Beckett, and countless others.

The remaining chapters further contextualize the then-emerging story of sampling. 8. Dirty Cash outlines the flood of sampler cash-in records that followed the release of “Pump Up the Volume.” 9. Mix-omatosis examines the decline of the pop single around 1989 and the nostalgia-soaked commercialism of the era’s advertising, and the hollowness of the Jive Bunny phenomenon. 10. And The Law Won (But the Jury is Still Out) presents several examples of sampled music in the courtroom, including the Biz Markie case and the DNA remix of “Tom’s Diner.” But it is the book’s finale which properly and most thoroughly addresses the question of the title.

The final chapter, 11. Justifiable or Just Ancient? is a fantastically analytical framing of The KLF’s later catalog. Here Beadle approaches the exhaustive and intricate cultural contextualization later perfected by John Higgs in his book, The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds. Beadle notes that “As The KLF they have managed to create a myth which is self-propagating, self-sufficient, self-consuming, and self-referencing,” which is precisely what makes the duo’s zenarchistic career so fascinating to critique and to curate.

Beadle concludes touching upon other artists who at the time were employing the sampler more as a natural production tool than a novelty and appropriately discusses the gritty, anti-consumerist recordings of the band Pop Will Eat Itself. He surmises that the sampler will find greater acceptance into the rock ethos in the years ahead and closes the text re-examining the question of the book’s title. Beadle successfully reinforces the twin points of his primary theme – that the sampler is a viable tool for composition, and that pop inevitably MUST eat itself by its very nature. Thus, Beadle demonstrates that the sampler is the most important creative innovation of the postmodern age and a principal figure in the future of music.

Will Pop Eat Itself? stands as a fitting historical document of the events and philosophies of the golden age of sampling, and is a wonderful addition to The Innerspace Labs’ library.

An Echo of Nothing: Archival Recordings From the John Cage Trust

I am so honored to have received this historic collectible as a gift from a dear friend. This is a promotional copy of the new recording of Nurit Tilles’ superlative performance of John Cage’s classic Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (1946-1948), commissioned in honor of Cage’s Centenary and produced in conjunction with the John Cage Trust. Commercial copies of this deluxe 3LP audiophile set were limited, (befittingly) to just 433 copies worldwide.

The performance was recorded March 21 – 23, 2011 on a Steinway Model-D Piano at The Fisher Center For The Performing Arts at Bard College under the supervision of creative directors Donna Wingate and Naomi Yang for the John Cage Trust. The set was released on September 5, 2012. Most critics agree that Sonatas and Interludes is the finest composition of Cage’s early period – his magnum opus for prepared piano, and this release serves as the definitive archival audiophile edition for collectors and lovers of Cage’s work.


The set includes a handsome heavy hard-shell slipcase containing a custom 10-page gatefold sleeve with metallic foil stamps and imprints, archival material, a 40-page color companion book with an introduction by Anthony B. Creamer III, as well as photographs and essays by Mark Swed and James Pritchett. The discs are pressed on 200-gram vinyl with archival audio at 45RPM. The packaging is exquisite and thoughtful and the set is a wonderful celebration of Cage’s 100
th anniversary.


The John Cage Trust was established in 1993 as a not-for-profit institution whose mission is to gather together, organize, preserve, disseminate, and generally further the work of the late American composer.
It maintains sizeable collections of music, text, and visual art manuscripts. The Trust also houses extensive audio, video, and print libraries, which are continually expanding, including two piano preparation kits created and used by Cage for this composition, as well as a substantial permanent collection of his visual art works, which are made available for exhibitions worldwide. Save for a 2011 CD recording of Cage’s 1989 performance at Skywalker Ranch in Nicasio, California titled, “How To Get Started,” this is the Trust’s lone public audio release.

From the official press statement:

“If the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 marked the end of the 19th century, then John Cage’s birth that year represented the start of a new one, musically speaking. Cage created hundreds of works and to my ears Sonatas and Interludes is one, more than any other, that will stand the test of time. Like a Merce Cunningham dance, there is something new to experience with each encounter of this magnificent piece. By my count, there are over 20 recordings of Sonatas and Interludes with each performer (and production and engineering team) bringing something new to the realization. However, this is the first recording of this seminal piece ever presented in a 45 rpm format for the audiophile. It is my hope that listeners will marvel at the breathtaking sonics of the recording, but more than that — the superlative performance by Nurit Tilles. When Laura Kuhn and I first discussed this project we immediately locked on Nurit. Her preparation and playing is nothing short of magnificent. And as wonderful is her playing, Nurit’s beautiful spirit comes through with verve in these grooves. A noted filmmaker said there is no history, only historians. This recording is historic.”
– Anthony B. Creamer III (Executive Producer of the set)

Creamer contributed to a discussion about the set on the Steve Hoffman forums where he remarked, “If you have first class playback equipment you will think there is a piano in the room.” His claim is no exaggeration. The care that went into the recording and mastering of this set is top notch and fitting for an archival work such as this. Forum user ScottM praised the quality of the extreme fidelity and wide dynamics of the release.

As Creamer mentions above, Sonatas and Interludes is likely the most recorded work in the Cage edifice. As such a listener might ask why we need another recording of these works? Amazon Vine Voice member, Scarecrow notes that each performer brings their own emotive world to these pieces. And the magnificent attention toward sonic quality and archival production makes this an unparalleled and definitive edition for Cage collectors.

For musicians interested in faithfully performing Sonatas & Interludes, Jesse Myers’ Piano Studio website offers a comprehensive performer’s guide to the prepared piano for this piece.

John Cage Sonatas And Interludes – Nurit Tilles Track Listing:

LP1

1. Sonata I

2. Sonata II

3. Sonata III

4. Sonata IV

5. First Interlude

6. Sonata V

7. Sonata VI

8. Sonata VII

LP2

1. Sonata VIII

2. Second Interlude

3. Third Interlude

4. Sonata IX

5. Sonata X

6. Sonata XI

LP3

1. Sonata XII

2. Fourth Interlude

3. Sonata XIII

4. Sonata XIV and XV Gemini (after the work by Richard Lippold)

5. Sonata XVI


Packaging fetishists will also enjoy this black-gloved unboxing feature produced by Acoustic Sounds in Salina, KS for the city’s own Quality Record Pressings who produced the LPs for this set.

I have two other vinyl recordings of Sonatas & Interludes in my library. The first was pressed in 1977 on Tomato Records and packaged with A Book Of Music (First Recording). The recording is of Joshua Pierce’s performance from July 26 & 27, 1975 on a Baldwin piano.

The second is featured on side B of disc 1 of The 25-Year Retrospective Concert Of The Music Of John Cage, recorded in performance at Town Hall, New York, May 15, 1958 issued by Italy’s Doxy label.

But unequivocally, this promotional copy of the John Cage Trust edition instantly became my favorite Cage artifact. It will be treasured and enjoyed for years to come.

A very special thank you to my dear friend for this generous and thoughtful gift!

Read the Music by Beth Winegarner – An Engaging Musical Gift

Allison Rich's Gift to Me - Read the Music Book by Beth Winegarner 03-19-18

I was incredibly fortunate to be the recipient of Beth Winegarner’s collection of music essays titled, Read the Music as a thoughtful gift from a friend who warmly remarked, “it’s always good when a book finds its perfect owner.” She couldn’t be more right!

In the introduction, Winegarner professes the critical role of music in her life, calling it a “powerful emotionally restorative” and stating that interfacing with music taught her a great deal about her inner landscape to discover herself. This absolutely resonated with my own perspective about music and its impact on my life. Winegarner published hundreds of articles as a journalist in the 90s on musical subjects ranging from Tori Amos to doom metal, so she certainly has some experience in the field that I was eager to explore.

Beth cited a quote from an article from The War Against Silence web column which stated:

“Writing about music without writing about how it affects your life is, to me, an exercise in surreal opacity, like writing about sex or child-rearing without talking about love…”

That statement gave me pause to reflect on my own music journalism and to recognize opportunities where I might not have explored a featured recording as personally as I might have, and I’ll bear this in mind for future articles.

Beth’s writing style was enormously satisfying – she has a poetically-descriptive and impassioned flare when describing a piece of music, whether describing Maynard James Keenan’s vocals as, “smooth as blood over milk,” or Jeff Beck’s electric guitar as “bleating like exhaust from a cartoon Jetsons spaceship” or characterizing a string section as “sheer gossamer wings,” Winegarner always paints a brilliantly vivid musical scene for her readers. She even employs some purely poetic devices, like the elegant alliteration of her phrasing of the end of a song which “…comes to its crashing conclusion and is done, leaving us with spiraling spidery filigrees of feedback.” I can’t help but smile at that one.

What makes Beth’s reviews all the more engaging is her penchant for contextual examination. She characterizes artist’s works in relation to their inspiration, spanning a broad range of disciplines from Lovecraft, to Timothy Leary, to Crowley, the Necronomicon, deep listening, the Babylonian draconian goddess Tiamat, the Tolkien universe, the Hendrixian-inspired Sky Church of Seattle’s Experience Music Project, the Golden Ratio, Pagan spiritual lore, Tibetan Buddhism, Shamanism, the spiritual vocal technique of konnakol (speaking in tongues), sexuality, Biblical mythology, and hypnosis! The book concludes with two essays on the industrial goth band Nephilim including a track-by-track analysis of the Zoon LP for an impressively in-depth examination of the work’s central themes of The Watchers and The Book of Enoch.

I appreciated the opportunity to learn the perspective of a female music essayist, as that facet of academia is often monopolized by male writers. I’d previously enjoyed reading essays by the great composer Pauline Oliveros and by New York art-pop heiress Laurie Anderson, but Beth’s book was my first glimpse at contemporary essays on rock music of the 90s so it was a real treat. And her impassioned remarks about Tori Amos, Days of the New, A Perfect Circle, and other important artists of the decade did what all great music essayists strive for – they inspired me to dust off my neglected CD shelf and revisit some of these wonderful recordings. The book felt like a thoughtful conversation over coffee with a brilliantly introspective friend.

I want to extend a special thanks to the woman who bestowed the book upon me. Librarians indeed give the best gifts!

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.

DEEP DISTANCE: The Musical Life of Manuel Göttsching

Six years in the making, Author Christian Wheeldon’s magnificent account of The Musical Life of Manuel Göttsching is now available to the public.  Weeldon takes the reader on a journey through the rebirth of German music in the 1970s, the fusion of rock, minimalism and electronics, and through all of the pioneering music that followed.

Gottsching 2 sm

Wheeldon’s is the first proper book to examine the life of Manuel Göttsching, and is an absolute triumph at the task.  From the back cover:

[The book provides] previously unpublished interviews the author conducted with members of Ashra, as well as correspondence with other key personalities and selective historic sources.

But even more effective are Wheeldon’s rich and impassioned analyses of each of Göttsching recording sessions.  He provides an historic account of the socio-cultural circumstances surrounding each album’s production, and descriptions of the music which will undoubtedly inspire readers to seek out and enjoy these albums for themselves.

A few examples from the opening chapters of the book –

On Ash Ra Tempel’s self-titled record from 1971:

Ash Ra Tempel’s first track is freeform and as untamed as any open, mud-spattered festival jam ever hammered out.  A musical locomotive underpinned by the impressive, primal rumble of Hartmut Enke’s bass, there is a sense that Amboss could derail at any one of several moments as a result of its own pile driving brute force.  After a brief atonal guitar impasse the band steam back into action, finally rattling and clanging towards a furious, exhausted climax after 20 sweat-soaked minutes.

On The Cosmic Jokers’ self-titled LP from 1974:

Soothing guitar work from Manuel introduces the final part of the original first side. The waters of a gently lapping chemical ocean gradually become more turbulent and as proceedings gather pace we plummet beneath the surface into a swirling wormhole, hurtling towards some far corner of the universe at breakneck speed.  Schulze’s booming synthesizer suggests myriad multi-colour fragments of giant rock colliding in an asteroid field and a rather kitsch intergalactic voice confirms that we are now charting the far reaches of the great beyond.

I repeatedly found myself putting the book down to scribble notes for future listening.  A book exploring the incredible impact of Manuel Göttsching music is long-overdue, and thankfully Wheeldon’s guided tour of his catalog will spark a renaissance of listenership and musical discoveries for both long-time fans and for young listeners eager to develop a better understanding of the foundations of ambient and electronic sound.

The book was printed in a short run, so don’t miss your chance to claim a copy for your music library. Find out more at http://manuelgottsching.blogspot.co.uk/.

Author Christian Wheeldon with his, the first-ever
publication celebrating the music of Manuel Gottsching

RETROMANIA: Pop Culture’s Addition to Its Own Past (a Review)

Retromania Simon Reynolds

Music critic Simon Reynolds is perhaps best-known for his coining of the term, “post-rock.”  He is also regarded for his incorporation of critical theory in his analysis of music.  His 2011 book, Retromania was my first encounter with his writing.

“I recently read Simon Reynolds’ Retromania and it was so spot-on as far as our current attitude to music and its history. For my money he’s one of the most intelligent music writers in the last two decades”
— DJ Food

Retromania turned out to be much more than a critical examination of popular culture’s fascination with its past.  It was a revealing study of my own approach to culture, trends, styles, and music.  And I’m certain that I wasn’t alone in this discovery.  Like most readers who made the personal decision to read 500 pages of cultural analysis by a music critic, it demonstrates the emerging and growing demographic of cultural curators.

Brian Eno noticed the rise of the curator and grasped its implications way ahead of the pack. In 1991, reviewing a book on hypertext for Artforum, he proclaimed: Curatorship is arguably the big new job of our times: it is the task of re-evaluating, filtering, digesting, and connecting together. In an age saturated with new artifacts and information, it is perhaps the curator, the connection maker, who is the new storyteller, the meta-author.’

The new century is rich with metadata and globally-accessible archives of content from all cultures and eras.  Youtube alone adds 100 hours of new video content every minute, and the emergence of music streaming services have only further-accelerated the accessibility of media, old and new alike.  This raises perhaps one of the biggest questions of our era: can culture survive in conditions of limitlessness?

Chapter 4: The Rise of the Rock Curator was the first glimpse into my own rationale as a cultural custodian.  It begins with the New Musical Express’ weekly column in the early 1980s – ”Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer.”  Several rock groups of the decade presented their music with a kind of invisible reading-and-movie-watching list attached, conveyed through literary references within their lyrics of images depicted on their album jackets.  (Sgt. Peppers is perhaps the best-known example of this execution.)

Reynolds writes that “being a Throbbing Gristle or Coil fan was like enrolling in a university course of cultural extremism, the music virtually coming with footnotes and a ‘Further Reading’ section attached.”

As the decade progressed, this curatorial baton was passed from the artists to their fan-base, who began, (whether consciously or unconsciously) to compile not just their favorite artist’s records, but the films, novels, and art which inspired their recordings.

The book goes on to explore the nature of collector-culture in the digital age and touches upon both the decisively retro action of record collecting and the inherent merits and dysfunctions associated with the activity, as well as the hoarding habits of media collection with respect to digital music.

But it was in a chapter on the 60s’ embrace of revivalism that I found the greatest revelation regarding my own bizarre fascination with music, art, and culture of the past.  Reynolds writes –

Remember the Pop Boutique store in central London with its slogan ‘Don’t follow fashion. Buy something that’s already out of date’? Just as vintage can have an undercurrent of recalcitrance towards fashion, similarly it is possible for rock nostalgia to contain dissident potential. If Time has become annexed by capitalism’s cynical cycles of product shifting, one way to resist that is to reject temporality altogether. The revivalist does this by fixating on one era and saying: ‘Here I make my stand.’ By fixing identity to the absolute and abiding supremacy of one sound and one style, the revivalist says, ‘ This is me.’

Retromania is a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening read.  In a simple skimming of the book’s index, I found what was effectively a list of the contents of my own studio.  The book examines:

Pierre Henry’s Le voile d’Orphée I et II
Varese’s Poème électronique
Perrey & Kingsley’s The In Sound From Way Out!
Bell Telephone Laboratories
The BBC Radiophonic Workshop
The Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center
Raymond Scott’s Manhattan Research Inc
The City of Tomorrow (1924)
Blade Runner
The Philips Prospective 21e Siècle label
The 1956 Ideal Home Exhibition
1958 World’s Fair in Brussels
Metropolis
Amazing Stories
Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970

Disney’s Tomorrowland
Einstürzende Neubauten
The Winstons’ Amen Break
Negativland
Public Image Ltd.
The Black Dog
Stereolab
Plunderphonics
2 Many DJs
24 Hour Party People
William Basinski
Steinski
Pop Will Eat Itself
Throbbing Gristle
Eno & Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
iPod Therefore I Am

Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children
The Avalanches’ Since I Left You
fifties revivalism
The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Hauntology Exhibition at the Berkley Art Museum
The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld
The KLF / Justified Ancients of Mu Mu
DJ Shadow’s monumental Endtroducing LP
The glo-fi / chillwave / hypnagogic pop scene

and much, much more!