Electronic Love

I’ve just received the most WONDERFUL Christmas gift from one of my oldest and dearest friends. If every you’ve asked yourself, “what is the perfect gift for the audiophile who has everything?” this is precisely the sort of gift you should consider.

This is the Electronic Love Blueprint: A History of Electronic Music by the Dorothy design collective – an electrical schematic of a theremin mapping 200 inventors, innovators, artists, composers spanning the entire history of recorded sound. Key pioneers featured include Léon Theremin, Bob Moog, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk and Aphex Twin.

It loosely groups genres, from the obscure Musique Concrète (Pierre Schaeffer) to the better known Krautrock (Kraftwerk, Can, Tangerine Dream, Neu!, Faust, Cluster, Harmonia and Amon Düül II) Synthpop (Gary Numan, Human League, Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Pet Shop Boys) and Electronica (New Order, The Prodigy, Massive Attack, LCD Sound System and Daft Punk). There are also references to the experimental BBC Radiophonic Workshop and favourite innovating record labels Mute and Warp.

This metallic silver screen print on 120gsm Keaykolour Royal Blue uncoated paper measures 60 x 80cm and will be the pride of my listening room.

I’ve ordered a UK frame and can’t wait to display it!

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A Momentous Discovery and a Wish Fulfilled

The last two weeks of January have been beautifully inspiring.  A further exploration of choral works at the recommendation of a fantastic fellow classical connoisseur led me to revisit Arvo Pärt’s Da Pacem.

Harmoni Mundi - Arvo Part - Da Pacem

I was instantly enamored by the sacred sounds of The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the fantastic production quality of the recording.  And I was duly delighted by the discovery that the release was issued by the Harmonia Mundi label (from which I’d recently acquired the 20-volume CENTURY I and II early music catalogs).  This remarkable music set the stage for a brilliant musical revelation – one that carried with it emotive and intellectual majesty I’ve not experienced since my first listen to Eno’s Airports.

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The revelation arrived in the form of a fated discovery of Germany’s Harmonia – the supergroup of Dieter Moebuis of Cluster (synthesizer, guitar, electronic percussion, nagoya harp, vocals), Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster (organ, piano, guitar, electronic percussion, vocals), Michael Rother of Neu! (guitar, piano, organ, electronic percussion, and vocals), and eventually, Brian Eno (synthesizer, bass, vocals).

Their small but influential discography was produced by Conny Plank, who produced works by Neu!, Cluster (almost becoming a member of the band), Ash Ra Tempel, Can, and Guru Guru.

In December of last year, Larry Crane interviewed Michael Rother for TapeOp.com and discussed the formation of Harmonia, their work, but it was an article published January 20th of this year in The New Yorker titled, The Invention of Ambient Music that first introduced me to Harmonia.  The article cites a video interview from 1997 in which Bowie named some of his influences, including Kraftwerk, Neu!, and Harmonia.

An inspiration good enough for the Thin White Duke is certainly one worth exploring, so I wasted no time in queuing up Harmonia’s first album, Musik von Harmonia, released in 1974 on the classic Brain label.

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Instantaneously I knew I’d found something exceptional.  The tracks were united in a consistent theme – instrumental exploration of subtle, ever-shifting sonic textures – an electronic realization of Satie’s vision of furniture music.

On the surface the work might initially appear uneventful, dull, and lacking in focus or direction.  There are no lead vocals and no primary melodic structure. However these seemingly detrimental characteristics are precisely what contributed to their greatness and lasting-influence in the world of ambient music and beyond.  

Eno has stated that Harmonia was “the world’s most important rock band” in the mid ’70s.  Daniel Dumych elaborates in his article for hyperreal.org: “Perhaps Eno’s reason for praising Harmonia so highly was that their music fit the requirements of ambient rock. Its music was equally suitable for active or passive listening. The careful listener found his/her attentions rewarded by the musical activities and sounds, but Harmonia’s music was also capable of setting a sonic environment.”

In John Cage’s classic Indeterminacy: New Aspect of Form in Instrumental and Electronic Music (Folkways FT 3704, 1959), he observes:

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

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Cages words accurately describe a first-listen to Harmonia’s music, (only I was instantly receptive to the “subtle, ever-shifting sonic textures” to which I alluded above.)  Headphones donned and eyes closed, I laid in bed and soaked in every note of the Harmonia catalog.  By its conclusion, I’d scoured the web for information on available recordings in a vinyl format and was astounded and elated to learn that only three months prior (to the day, in fact), a massive deluxe 6LP box set celebrating Harmonia’s complete recordings had just been issued by Grönland Records in Germany!

The teaser video for the set:

The set, titled Complete Works, contains all the released material from 1973 to 1976, including their 1976 collaboration with Brian Eno and four unreleased tracks (Documents 1975).  Also included are a 36-page booklet, a concert poster, a pop-up, and a digital download code.

harmonia set
Overcome with excitement at this fateful cosmic alignment of circumstance, I sprang from my bed, and quickly dialed my contact for German import vinyl and limited edition recordings.  The set was not intended for distribution in the US, and copies had already sold out from the Grönland Records website.  Thankfully, my contact came through for me and within a matter of minutes I’d secured a copy for my library.  It just arrived in the States and I couldn’t be more delighted.  

Below is a video of the unboxing of this wonderful box set.

It’s truly remarkable to experience this sort of exhilaration over a newly-discovered artist.  As an archivist with well over 100,000 recordings in my library, there are moments when I fear I’ve exhausted the 20th century of all its surprises.  But, like I was by my first experience listening to Harry Partch, I am once again awakened to the magnificence of our greatest century of cultural artistry.

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Echowaves: Intergalactic Radio – Legends of Krautrock

Sunday Playlist of the day – Echowaves: Intergalactic Radio – Legends of Krautrock.

450 of the greatest kosmische musik albums from 77 German artists.

Echowaves: Intergalactic Radio

Spanning 1969 to the present, personal favorites among the list include discographies from:

  • Can
  • Faust
  • Kraftwerk (particularly the pre-Ralf und Florian LPs)
  • Amon Duul I&II
  • Neu!
  • Popol Vuh
  • Harmonia
  • Tangerine Dream
  • Klaus Schulze
  • Manuel Gottsching
  • Cluster
  • Ash Ra Tempel
  • Embryo
  • La Dusseldorf
  • The Cosmic Jokers
  • and A.R. & Machines

The list also includes modern artists who celebrate and revive the genre, like London’s Public Service Broadcasting.

Album now-playing: Cosmic Jokers’ s/t – the band that never was.

Cosmic Jokers - Cosmic Jokers

Their albums were acid party jam sessions recorded and released without the supergroup’s knowledge. Participants included Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze of Ash Ra Tempel, Jurgen Dollase and Harald Grosskopf of Wallenstein, and Dierks. Regardless, it’s wonderful stuff!

An Exploration of Kosmische Musik Essentials (1 of 2)

Right around the new year, I set myself to the task of compiling my favorite German experimental LPs of the late 1960s and early 70s for a feature on essential kosmische musik.  Quite sadly, founding member of Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese passed away last month, and a showcase of music he composed or inspired is the least I can do in his honor.  Electronic and ambient music would surely not be where it is today without the contributions of this fantastic musician.

The feature will be presented in two parts, and the conclusion will feature some special recordings you may not have heard of so be sure to tune in for both installments.

Additionally, I intend for this to be a one-click introduction for those interested in exploring highlights of kosmische musik, so I will include embedded full-album YouTube videos for every album that I can so that listeners can read about and listen to each artist I present.

Both general krautrock and the Berlin School rose to prominence in the late 1960s and early 70s and each produced a number of influential records which helped shape the music of the decades that followed.

 
Amon Duul II - Phallus Dei

Phallus Dei by Amon Düül II was arguably the first proper krautrock record, but personally, I prefer pensive and cerebral space music to brilliant uninhibited freak-outs.

Amon Düül II – Phallus Dei (1969)

 And so, fittingly, I’ll begin with the aforementioned Tangerine Dream.  This is the “In the Beginning…” box set released on Relativity in 1985 which contains their first four albums – Electronic Meditation, Alpha Centauri, Zeit, and Atem, as well as the then-unreleased Green Desert LP.

Tangerine Dream - In the Beginning...

Dubbed “the pink years” for the pink ear on the original Ohr labels, these were early explorations in ambient music, and with each release they ventured further from traditional rhythms and meter into the outer reaches of space music.

All four titles are staples of the genre, and fortunately each was recently reissued on 180g vinyl in a gatefold sleeve in the UK by Esoteric Reactive.  I’m considering trading the set in for these new pressings.

Tangerine Dream – Electronic Meditation (1970)

 Tangerine Dream – Alpha Centauri (1971)

 Tangerine Dream – Zeit (1972)

 Tangerine Dream – Atem (1973)

 Tangerine Dream – Green Desert (recorded 1973)

Of course there were many other excellent TD titles released in the years that followed.

Universally-acclaimed classics include Phaedra, Ricochet (a live album), Rubycon, Stratosphere, Cyclone, and Exit.  These recordings of their first 10 years of activity were their finest and most exploratory works.

Cluster - Cluster IICluster II (1972) is another staple of the genre.  Phillipe of ProgArchives.com accurately summarized the album as “industrial and chaotic… a sonic meditation… and a pleasant cerebral massage,” an excellent summary of this album’s sound.  As Cluster II is more accessible than the mechanical noise of their debut LP, this is a great introduction to Cluster.  (But once you’re hooked you’ll need to go back and pick up their debut from 1971.)

Cluster – Cluster II (1972)

If you prefer a more organic flavor of ambient music, seek out Cluster & Eno from 1977.

Cluster & Eno

More sparse and delicate than the collaborations between Fripp & Eno just a few years earlier, Cluster & Eno is reflective, late night music.  Put it on and ponder your very existence in a vast and expansive universe.

Cluster & Eno – Cluster & Eno (1977)

 A follow-up collaboration was recorded in 1978, this time credited to Clusters’ members by name.  After the Heat is a rewarding experience for the patient ear.  It has a slow but steady pace and concludes with two outstanding tracks with vocals by Brian Eno.  “The Belldog” is a must for fans of any period of Eno’s music, and the closing track (whose title I will not even attempt to pronounce) features the lyrics to “Kings Lead Hat” played backwards… and it WORKS… because Eno.

After the Heat

Eno/Moebius/Roedelius – After the Heat (1978)

Kraftwerk, of course, played a critical role as krautrock’s mechanized ambassadors to the world. But before they developed their trademark sound with Autobahn and Radioactivity, they released Kraftwerk I and II (1970-72) These early records are much more organic and free-form than the Futurist sounds of their better-known LPs.  The albums feature multi-dubbed flutes, an organ, tape-music noise and drone soundscapes.  If you dig experimental tunes, these are classics.

 Crown - Kraftwerk I

Kraftwerk – Kraftwerk (1970)

Crown - Kraftwerk II

Kraftwerk – Kraftwerk II (1971)

These are the Crown label bootlegs on red & green vinyl.  The jackets are quickly identifiable by the really shoddy low-res prints of the original art but that aside, they’re an affordable way to get your hands on some early Kraftwerk. 

Ralf und Florian

Ralf and Florian (1973) was their 3rd LP (not including Organisation’s Tone Float) and features much of the same sounds heard on 1 and 2 but with a more structured and polished sound.

Kraftwerk – Ralf und Florian (1973)

 As I tend to gravitate toward more abstract music I don’t play this record as often as the others, but its historical importance and impact on the music which followed can not be overstated.

 Ralf and Florian was followed by the records for which they are best-known –

Kraftwerk – Autobahn (1974)

Kraftwerk - Autobahn

Kraftwerk - Radio-Activity

Kraftwerk – Radio-Activity (1975)

Kraftwerk - Trans Europa Express

Kraftwerk – Trans Europa Express (1977)

and the electro-pop staple, The Man-Machine.

Kraftwerk - The Man-Machine

Kraftwerk – The Man-Machine (1978)

I’ll end this segment appropriately with a solo selection from Tangerine Dream founder, Edgar Froese.  He released three primary solo recordings between I’ve seen this title turn up multiple times in the Youtube Vinyl Community.  Epsilon in Malaysian Pale is Edgar Froese’s second album, recorded in 1975.  The album consists of two side-long pieces – the first featuring the Mellotron and the second a rhythmic wash of ambient synths.  If you’ve been meaning to get into Froese’s solo work, this is certainly the place to begin.

Edgar Froese - Epsilon in Malaysian Pale

Edgar Froese – Epsilon In Malaysian Pale (1975)

These classics will serve as an excellent introduction to the genre.  Stay tuned next week for more fantastic essentials!

Further Adventures in Vinyl Heaven

INTERSTELLAR OVERDRIVE: The Shindig! Guide to Space Rock

It’s been a wonderful week of research and first-listens.  I’ve also been enjoying the special edition INTERSTELLAR OVERDRIVE: The Shindig! Guide to Space Rock.

I must apologize for my delay in featuring the much-anticipated collaborative release from Brian Eno and Underworld’s Karl Hyde. It was a record which demanded careful reflection, and it took some time to form a conclusive perspective of their first commercial effort together.

Eno & Hyde Album Shot 1

Eno and Hyde have actually know each other and worked together for many years. Their last collaborative performances were the Pure Scenius concerts – three live improvised performances in Sydney featuring Eno, Australian improv trio The Necks, Hyde, Jon Hopkins and guitarist Leo Abrahams.

My first exposure to the new LP was the demo of track 1 – “The Satellites” which admittedly left me less than impressed. The track heavily features canned synth horns which seemed out of place for a recording from these two artistic pioneers. An album trailer soon followed on enoweb, which successfully re-invigorated my anticipation of what madness might be contained within the grooves of this mysterious new disc.

Two copies of the deluxe edition of Someday World arrived in the post – the first mangled within its flimsy overseas envelope, and the second two weeks later. These special edition pressings, limited to 750 copies worldwide, included a photo postcard and a glossy print reminiscent of the art Tomato was producing at the end of the millennium.

Eno & Hyde - Someday World Print

It was only after I had experienced the album in its entirety, along with a few television and radio performances and interviews that I truly appreciated the album as a whole.

Eno & Hyde performed the album’s clear A-side on Later with Jools Holland on BBC Two. This particular track, “Daddy’s Car” is one of the better implementations of the aforementioned synths blended with Eno’s trademarked polyrhythmic percussion and pop sensibility.

The energy is heightened in the album’s two longest cuts – “Mother of a Dog” and “When I Built This World,” the latter of which is perhaps the best example of Eno’s brand of avant-garde rock. The second half of the track is a slow build of multiple synth lines which crescendo to an apex at the finale – highly recommended for headphone listening in a darkened room.

But it was their 45 minute live music and interview set on BBC 6music that really secured my love of the record.   The interview was quite revealing and the enhanced perspective has left me with a greater understanding and appreciation of this strange new LP from my two greatest inspirations. Eno stated that many of the tracks were culled from fragments of “beginnings” he had collected over many years of composition. In hindsight, I detected many sounds as being sourced from past albums like Nerve Net, The Drop, Small Craft, Headcandy, Spinner and even from the Japanese 77 Million AV Installation CD compilation. There’s even a bit of noise-guitar-plus-spoken vocals a la “Blank Frank” if that’s what you’re looking for. And the lyric, “strip it down / make it simple / useless words” from “Strip It Down” might have been lifted right from a card in the Oblique Strategies deck.

Eno & Hyde - in the studio

In all, the album is a mix of strengths and weaknesses, but I perceive the record as more of a collaborative stepping stone than a milestone. On Someday World, Eno & Hyde are simply experimenting together. In the 6music interview, Eno commented that he had initially set out to make a dark electronic record, and was surprised by how “happy” it turned out.

To be absolutely honest I find it difficult to review this album objectively.  As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, Karl Hyde’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman was the very first record I heard which exposed me to a world outside of top 40 radio rock. His brilliant design work with John Warwicker in Tomato’s mmm…skyscraper: A Typographical Journal of New York directly inspired my career in the field of graphic design. And Eno’s Music for Airports seeded my lifelong love of all things ambient and drone. To witness these two men working together is a dream come true, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Eno & Hyde Album Shots 2

[UPDATE] Eno has now released an augmented reality app for Someday World!

On the subject of ambient music – I came to a stark realization yesterday. As much as I love ambient and early synth compositions, I had miraculously managed to live 32 years without listening to Vangelis’ film score to Blade Runner.

The most complete edition available is the unparalleled Esper ‘Retirement’ Edition – 25th Anniversary Culmination – a 5CD bootleg, but far more faithful to the actual score than any commercial release. (Think of it as the Dr. Ebbetts or the Purple Chick edition.) 8-minutes into my first listen I was searching for a copy on vinyl.

BRERE25AC - Blade Runner Esper Retirement Edition CD Case (Front)

As you likely know, the soundtrack had a rough history. It began with the New American Orchestra’s Orchestral Adaptation of the score, released in the UK and throughout Europe in 1982.

New American Orchestra - Blade Runner Soundtrack LP 1982

The actual original soundtrack release was delayed for over a decade, until 1994. The 1989 compilation Themes included some tracks from the film, but it was not until two years after the 1992 Director’s Cut premiered that the proper score saw an official release.

The first official Vangelis soundtrack was a CD released on Atlantic/BMG in 1994. An LP was issued in Brazil that year but I cannot verify whether or not it was a legitimate release. Similarly, a vinyl bootleg surfaced in 2003 but is not of consequence.

This 2013 Audio Fidelity remastered 180g virgin vinyl translucent red pressing is the first-ever official worldwide release of Vangelis’ soundtrack on vinyl and was limited to 5000 copies. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to add this to my library.

Blade Runner Ltd Ed Red Transparent Vinyl (Front)

Blade Runner Ltd Ed Red Transparent Vinyl (Gatefold)

Blade Runner Ltd Ed Red Transparent Vinyl (Disc A)

Blade Runner Ltd Ed Red Transparent Vinyl (Disc B)
I was surprised by the album’s packaging – it has one hell of a UV gloss coat and the gatefold sleeve is beautifully heavy.  I really appreciate quality packaging when I see it.

As I was on a bit of a roll I decided it was time that I owned a copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico in its original format.  (It’s just one of those LPs that everyone on the planet should have.)  After a brief search through discogs I thought it would be fun to pick up the banana-yellow vinyl edition from 2000. Though only 500 copies were pressed it is surprisingly affordable and surfaces regularly on discogs.com. I ordered two copies so that my lady-friend can enjoy it as well.

Velvet Underground & Nico - Banana yellow vinyl pressing

And finally – I acquired one more classic-collaboration this week. Cluster & Eno was released in 1977 – the same year as Before and After Science. Music For Airports would follow the next year, but Cluster & Eno stands strongly on its own as an essential milestone in Eno’s ambient family of albums.

Cluster & Eno - Cluster & Eno LP

The cover photograph has grabbed my attention every time the record surfaced but I was never quite “ready” for the album.  Now that I’ve properly-digested hundreds of classic krautrock albums, I feel daft for not having picked it up sooner.

I suppose this fantastic haul makes up for my leaving the spring record show empty-handed.

And I’m already hard at work on next week’s post – a special in-depth exploration of how to manage large digital music libraries.  When I reached 77,000 recordings, I quickly realized that it was time to re-evaluate my music management system, and I’m happy to share my strategies with the listening community.

Stay tuned!

The Summer Search for Rare Wax

While re-visiting some of my classics from artists like múm and Mark Kozelek, I found myself really enjoying The Album Leaf’s In a Safe Place.  It’s a wintery, sparse record that merits repeated listening.

A quick bit of research revealed that Jimmy LaValle (the lone member of The Album Leaf) had collaborated with Jón Þór Birgisson, Kjartan Sveinsson, and Orri Páll Dýrason (most of the members of Sigur Rós) and Gyða Valtýsdóttir (formally of múm) at Sigur Rós’ Sundlaugin studio for the album.

It’s no wonder the record is so enjoyable.

And what was even more surprising was that one year later, in 2005, LaValle mixed his next record with the help of Jón Þór Birgisson and Joshua Eustis of Telefon Tel Aviv.

With the hands of so many great artists in this music, and the sounds of a Rhodes piano and a Moog synthesizer in the mix, The Album Leaf has a sound which is just as enjoyable a decade later, and will continue to provide listening pleasure in the decades to come.

If you’ve been following this blog since June of this year you’re quite aware of my love of Black Swan, (drone for bleeding hearts.)

Black Swan continues to operate shrouded in mystery.  I’ve recently acquired 2012’s Aeterna and Heaven as well as 2013’s Redemption (swan plague).  Each is darker and more minimal than the disc which preceded it, and every title is magnificent.  Like all Black Swan releases, this is music for your best headphones.  Sadly these three titles have not yet seen a vinyl release.  I would contact the label, Ethereal Symphony but there is just as little information about the label as there is about the artist.  Clearly these are self-releases, as the titles are only available on CD-R or FLAC and the only (8) releases on the label are those of Black Swan, so the mystery continues.

Here is the opening track from Aeterna – “A Lesson in Slow Flight.”

My hunt continues for a copy of Popol Vuh’s Hosianna Mantra (featured in August 20th’s This Week’s Listening – Early Krautrock, Proto Ambient, and Musique Concrete)

Sales of the original German pressing from 1972 (Pilz 20 29143-1) average around $72.  There is currently a NM gatefold copy for sale, (in the USA, no less!) but it is marked at $120 and I’m saving my vinyl cash for something else at the moment.

Pilz ‎– 20 29143-1 1972
But what was truly staggering was the revised album art which appeared on the Celestial Harmonies (CEL 004) US pressing in 1981.

Gone was the ornamental, silver foil spiritual cover – and in its place was a hyper-minimal, post-modern painting of a circle, (or a sun, perhaps?)

Celestial Harmonies ‎– CEL 004 1981
Fortunately, the German Think Progressive label restored the original art for their 1998 reissue of this lovely recording.  (TPLP 1.803.023)  The TP issue can be picked up for around $45.

Here again is Hosianna Mantra.

But pricier records aside, I joined a few fantastic friends for a day of gallivanting at my local Antique World, where my favorite record dealer gave me a wonderful West German early ambient/drone record by Peter Michael Hamel.

Hamel was altogether new to me but I quickly learned that he is a veteran minimalist associated with the late-1970s New Simplicity movement.

The album is titled, “Bardo” – a Tibetan word meaning “intermediate state” or “in-between state,” a term which aptly describes the cycling organ tones throughout the two side-long recordings of the record.

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This elegantly minimal album is lush with the warm sounds of the pipe organ, electric organ and analog synthesizers, performed by Hamel and Ulrich Kraus.

It’s always exciting when your record dealer knows you well enough to provide you with something wonderful that you’ve never heard. A delightful addition to my library – especially for only $8!

The opening track, “Dorian Dervishes” runs 21:47.  Here is the opening 6 minutes.

I will close this post with two absolutely essential early-electronic gems, both from Germany.

The first is Cluster’s self-titled debut release from 1971. Roedelius, Moebius and Plank produced a proto-ambient milestone which should be required listening of anyone interested in the history of electronic sound.

R-262961-1363962650-6521
Time practically stands still when you tune in to this beatless masterpiece.  The three untitled tracks run just over 44 minutes but when the record ends the listener may feel disoriented and unsure whether minutes or hours have passed.

Have a listen to the closing track.

The other LP I’m after is Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4.  Recorded at the height of synth pop, this experimental record was a pioneering electronic album which pre-dated the house/techno-era that would follow.

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And 31:13 into the single-track album of relentless, unyielding loops and minimal percussion, Göttsching begins noodling jazzy guitar riffs over the rhythmic loops, taking the listener’s trance to an even deeper level.

The album’s title is the most common opening move in a game of chess.

Enjoy!