A Hundred Days Off Revisited

This evening on a late night drive back to the city, I queued up one of my favorite Underworld albums that I hadn’t spun in some time. I wanted to share it with various music communities online but felt an obligatory responsibility to defend the album, as it received a lot of undeserved heat upon its release.

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A Hundred Days Off (2002) was Underworld’s first full-length LP after the departure of Darren Emerson. Darren was a critical contributor to the trademark sound of Underworld Mk2, which spanned the album trilogy of Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Second Toughest in the Infants, and Beaucoup Fish. This chapter of the band concluded with the release of their live concert DVD, Everything Everything Live in 2000.

What followed with A Hundred Days Off and Rick and Karl’s subsequent LPs was a markedly more cerebral incarnation of the duo’s sound. AHDO traded in the floor-stomping anthems and “lager lager lager…” lyricism for more artful explorations of electronic music. Rejected by some of the clubbing community as weak or lifeless, these listeners were too quick to reject the ambient soundscapes, natural percussion, and polyrhythmic intricacies that make A Hundred Days Off such an enjoyable and enduring record.

Call it what you like – “album-oriented techno”, “progressive downtempo”, or “music for aging ravers”… just know that the best of the band’s recordings lie deep in the grooves beyond the club tracks of the late 1990s. And with The RiverRun Project, an array of web-only releases, and their music for both stage and screen, Underworld had an incredible wealth of music to offer after the dance floor had cleared at sunup.

Just in From the Netherlands – An Awesome 1950’s Electronic Music Box Set!

I’ve been on a crazy musique concrete kick lately, buying up classics like Cage’s Cartridge Music and the Panorama of Musique Concrete from ’56.

And just arrived from the Netherlands – Popular Electronics: The Singles Collection

#664/1000, this velvet box set was issued in 2008 by Basta Records – the label which produced the magnificent three-volume Manhattan Research set. This compilation contains faithful reissues of 1950s musique concrete 7″ classics from Dutch electronic music composers Kid Baltan, Tom Dissevelt, and H Badings.

The set contains:

  • Electronic Ballet Music: Cain and Abel (Philips 400 036 AE) (1956)
  • Electronic Popular Music (Philips 315 538 NF) (1957)
  • Electronic Movements (Philips430 736 PE) (1958)
  • and Electronic Music (Philips 430 791 PE) (1961)

Each disc includes the original sleeve and liner notes.

I first got into Baltan/Dissevelt under their Electrosoniks moniker when I found the Philips “Electronic Music” LP from 1962 at my local antique mall. Wonderful stuff!

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Barbara, Barbara We Face a Shining Future

underworld in studioUnderworld portrait © Perou / Courtesy of the artist

For thirty-seven years, Rick Smith and Karl Hyde have been creating their own unique flavor of music, ranging from New Wave (with their first effort, a one-off single sold from the boot of Karl’s car as the Screen Gemz), to synth pop as Freur and Underworld Mk1, to progressive house experimentalism with their breakthrough self-reinvention on the album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman.  From there Underworld’s sound grew infinitely richer and more adventurous, with everything from dancefloor anthems to ambient scores for film and the stage, to providing a soundtrack for the London 2012 Olympic Games.  

By the present day, their catalog boasts an impressive tally of 510 albums, EPs, live releases, collaborations, solo efforts, and singles.  At 56 and 58 years old, the duo have been producing music longer than many of their listeners have been alive.  Releasing a new LP, the band’s first new recordings in six years, would be a daunting task for any artist. But instead, as Ian Mathers notes in his review for PopMatters, “this might be the most relaxed, subtly confident record they’ve put out in Underworld Mk II’s history.”

True veterans of electronic music, Barbara is artful and inventive and easily the freshest-sounding album I’ve heard all year thus far.

Casual listeners hoping for an album of “Born Slippy”s be warned – this is instead an intimate and reflective album capturing the emotive spirit the band has past-exemplified in their more meditative and mid-tempo tracks and, as Mathers notes, is more of a slow burn, a ‘Banstyle/Sappys Curry’ instead of a ‘Pearl’s Girl’.”

Slant Magazine revealed thatthe album’s title came from the mouth of Smith’s dying father, being among the final words he uttered to his wife.” And Spin Magazine adds that the album’s “stirring background vocals over ever-turning arpeggiated synths are provided by Smith’s daughter, Esme, and Hyde’s daughter, Tyler, carrying the torch (almost literally) for future ravers.”  This is what four-decade veterans of electronic music sound like in their most intimate and thoughtful moments.

The theme of the record approaches the shimmery, reflective territory Karl explored with an early edit of “Always Loved a Film”, (then dubbed “Silver Boots”) broadcast only once – on May 19th 2006 from the band’s Lemonworld Studio.  The track has long been a stand-out favorite of mine with its danceclub anthemic four on the floor beats delicately balanced by more complex and thoughtful elements which reveal themselves over the eleven minutes of the track.  

And ever-present are Karl’s trademark vocals – stripped bare of effects and showcasing curious conversational fragments expertly-described by Jon Dennis (of the Guardian) as “affecting, fractured evocations of the disorientations of modern urban life.” Karl speaks, “Maggie’s a doll and I’m a big sister / She’s a little girl and I’m a little princess / These are the weeds that live in the cracks / and these are the rails at the edge of the world.”  The phrases are puzzling  and disconnected, but function beautifully in an abstract sort of elegance.  This is what Underworld does best – and precisely what they’ve achieved with their wonderful new record.

Die Welt ist Klang: A Tribute to Pete Namlook (Revisited)

Recently I revisited a lossless archive I’d picked up of the 8CD box set, Die Welt ist Klang: A Tribute to Pete Namlook. (Readers may recall my introducing the set when I discovered it in January of 2015). The re-visitation was an effort to remedy my terrible neglect of the many large collections I’d acquired but never given the proper, dedicated listen that they each deserved.  

As I surveyed the list of artists who’d contributed to the project, It quickly became evident that I had done a particular disservice both to the collection and to my own ears for having passed over something so significant.

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Die Welt ist Klang is a tribute to Peter Kuhlmann, aka Pete Namlook. Namlook was a prominent ambient and electronic-music producer and composer, and the founder of the German record label FAX +49-69/450464. During the span of his career, Namlook and his label release 135 wonderful albums. Namlook also famously collaborated with Klaus Schulze for the monumental 11-volume series, The Dark Side of the Moog.

After Namlook’s passing in 2012, artists from his label and his fans banded together to produce a tribute album in his memory. This included artists like Bill Laswell, Dr. Atmo (of Silence), and F.U.S.E. (an alias of Richie Hawtin), as well as ambient veterans like Spacetime Continuum, Higher Intelligence Agency, Biosphere, and Oliver Lieb.

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Die Welt ist Klang is the result of their efforts.  The set comprises four discs of 47 tracks contributed by FAX +49-69/450464 alumni, and four additional CDs of 44 tracks from their fans.  About half of the tracks were never before released and several were composed specifically for the set.  Die Welt ist Klang is handsomely packaged in a custom wooden box and includes a 24-page booklet.  

The set was released by Carpe Sonum Records and distributed by EAR/Rational Music. EAR/Rational was the official North American distributor for the FAX label and Carpe Sonum was created to keep the ambient spirit alive, beginning with this wonderful tribute collection.

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From their official website:

Carpe Sonum’s goal in the coming years is to make the CD (and hopefully vinyl) a cherished and valuable commodity for you in this digital age and have the way we handle music dubbed “the Carpe Sonum treatment”. In everything we do, in every detail, we think about Pete and if he would be proud of what we do as well.

There have been three runs of the tribute set produced to date.  There was an initial run of 500 copies sold via bandcamp.com followed by two smaller runs of 100 copies each. Proceeds from the sale of the release go to Namlook’s family.

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I wasted not another moment’s hesitation and secured one of the remaining copies from the label for my own. Some might call it an irrational purchase, as I don’t even own a device with which to play these CDs.  But sometimes music is more than the physical object. This collection is an objet d’art – a symbol of the celebration of a lifetime of music – and a collaborative triumph between artists and their fans.  It’s precisely the sort of album I want in my library.

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As of the writing of this article, EAR/Rational Music is offering the unsold copies from the third run for auction on eBay.  It is a wonderful piece of ambient history and a fitting tribute to a man who did so much for the genre.  I’m proud to have added it to my collection.

RIP, Peter Kuhlmann 25.11.1960 – 08.11.2012

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NOTE: All of the images above are official photos from the Pete Namlook Tribute Bandcamp page.  Support great music and order your own copy of this box set while they’re still available!

20th Century Electronic & Avant-Garde vinyl collection

Keeping the Topsters.net trend going!

Here in all its glory is my 20th Century Electronic & Avant-Garde vinyl collection (plus all my super-cheesy Moog records for good measure.)

The hand-down killer of this entire list is the 3LP set of Raymond Scott‘s Manhattan Research Inc. issued by Basta in Holland.  Click to view it big, big, BIG!

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The Best Concert of 2015

Tonight I was privileged enough to be in attendance at a small but incredibly exciting musical event in Buffalo, NY.

At 7pm my beloved musical cohort and I braved the maddened event parking at the local university, and worked our way past the velvet ropes and bustling crowds who apparently were awaiting a performance by The Decemberists. We continued down a nondescript narrow corridor to an intimate black box theater – the locale for the REAL excitement of the evening.

Black Box 2015 was presented by The Lejaren Hiller Computer Music Studios at The University at Buffalo. The annual multi-channel electroacoustic event was hosted by the Studio’s director, Professor Lippe. Lippe’s compositions have received numerous international prizes, and he studied under composers including Boulez, Stockhausen, and Xenakis – some of the most prominent figures of 20th century electronic sound.

Below is a brief summary of the featured works of the evening.

Lippe’s Ivocean (1978) was created using early analog synthesizers (Moog IIIP, Buchla, et al.), using these instruments to craft new timbres which still sound exciting and undated nearly 40 years after their recording.

Maggie Payne’s Crystal (1982) consists of muti-tracked shimmering tones which slowly washed over and around the theater much in the same way that light plays upon a crystalline prism.

Gayle Young’s Avalon Shorelines (2015) is a multi-channel soundscape which uses recordings of the titular waterfront toward the construction of an elaborate and multi-dimensional sonic landscape. Field recordings of crashing waves were accompanied by her performance on an Amaranth – an instrument of her invention played with two bows and reminiscent of a Japanese koto. The instrument produced a range of sounds all of which conjured images of a steel ship groaning and rollocking against the waves of an angry sea.

Brett Masteller’s electro-acoustic work, Trio of Duets was a modern drone piece built from instrumental sound samples, enveloping the theater in an impenetrable fog somewhere between high-volume broadcast static and moving through a gale in slow motion.

John Chowning’s Phoné (1981) was an exciting experience. Chowning is best-known for having discovered the FM synthesis algorithm in 1967, which allowed for the synthesis of simple but rich sounding timbres. The sounds experienced in Phoné calls to memory many of the pivotal recordings of electronic sound. There are skittering, playful melodic fragments, sudden bursts of white noise, and microtonal runs much like those employed by Stockhausen, Subotnick, Louis and Bebe Barron, Perrey & Kingsley, and Beaver & Krause during the 1960s and 70s. There is even a delightful and mischievous touch of Raymond Scott a la his adverts for the Bendix Corporation.

But the crowd-favorite of the evening was the Ethan Hayden’s “…ce dangereux supplément…” (2015), a dynamic and engaging piece for live and recorded voices. Hayden stepped up to a podium with several sheets of what appeared to be a random spilling of pronunciation symbols and odd scribblings. They were, in fact, intricate experimental notation in the classic form of musique concrete. For the next eight minutes, he stood, wearing a headset microphone, and produced a captivating performance of furious jabberwock-speech, tongue clicks, grunts and pops. Both his energy and skill were truly mesmerizing, and for nearly ten minutes he made an incredible amount of noise without once venturing near what anyone could call a coherent sound. His performance ended with thunderous applause – surely one to be remembered.

I spoke briefly with each of the performers about their work and was excited to learn that much of the professors’ sound catalogs are available to the public at the University library. I’m planning the first of many visits this summer for further research.

My readers should also take note that Hayden published a book on Sigur Rós’s ( ) for the famous +33⅓ series in August of 2014. I’ll certainly be securing a copy for my library.


Gayle Young’s Amaranth

The Illectrik Hoax – Waking up from a Lifelong Retromusical Hibernation

I’m feeling incredibly inspired.  It’d been a week of stagnation; I’d looked at my record collection and had said to myself, “wow… I’ve successfully built an autobiographical library of the greatest examples of each niche genre I love – downtempo electronic, avant-garde jazz, the Berlin School… and many others.  But NOW what do I do?

With the purchase of Underworld’s 20th anniversary deluxe edition of their masterwork, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, I’d come full circle to the album which first-inspired my life-long musical journey.  But something was missing.

Dubnobasswithmyheadman 20th Anniversary Edition

The 20th Anniversary Box Set of Dubnobasswithmyheadman

The majority of my knowledge of electronic music focuses on early revolutionaries of the genre – the tinkerers and innovators of monstrous noise machines.  I’ve archived classic milestones from the grating clamor of Luigi Russolo to the soothing sounds of 20th century ambient music, concluding with Basinski’s soundtrack to 9/11.

But I’d really lost touch with modern music, instead obsessing over the rich and vibrant sounds of 1969-1973.  Thankfully, a siren sound lured me to the official website of DJ Food in the last few weeks, and, on a whim, I compiled an archive of his 35 Solid Steel Radio shows, and with the entire weekend ahead of me pledged to dedicate some serious listening time to these programs.

Solid Steel Radio

These would be the first “modern” recordings I’d heard since the dream pop halcyon revival of the late 90s and first years of the new millennium.  And with the opening minutes of the very first set, my ears piqued and I was swept away.

His “A Weird World Reader” mix is described as a trip through the recent EP ‘One Man’s Weird Is Another Man’s World’ featuring tracks, samples and influences that make it what it is.  The first track is a 17 minute tour de force collaboration with The Amorphous Androgynous – a track called, “The Illectrik Hoax.”  10 minutes passed in a single breath and as the track concluded and I returned to the physical world, I leapt from my listening chair.  Locating my girlfriend and fellow music junkie, I fit my studio monitors firmly upon her ears and cued the track up a second time.  Her eyes closed and her head began to groove with the rhythm.  I paused the track asking what she thought, but her only response was a whine of discontent translating to, “play more!”

A Weird World Reader

The wonderfully weird “Weird World Reader”

Minutes later I had the full album playing in my studio and was absolutely enamored by the mysterious, sci-fi soundscapes of the record.  Best-absorbed in its entirety from start to finish – this is a concept record of infectious rhythms and strange sounds which successfully transport the listener to the “Weird World” Food alluded to in the Reader mix.  Long before the end of the album, I’d searched Discogs.com for a copy and phoned my local shop to order one for my library.

The Search Engine is a 4LP set of 45RPM discs housed in a magnificent quad-gatefold sleeve.  True to DJ Food’s usual form, it features eye-popping artwork that is best-viewed in its proper 12″ format.

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Discogs classifies the record as “Abstract, Breakbeat, Broken Beat, Downtempo, Experimental, Hip Hop, Leftfield music.” – effectively a mishmash of all my very favorite words.  Thank you, DJ Food for breaking me of my pretentious retomusical fanaticism, and for initiating me into the music of the now.

UPDATE: New findings reveal that the 17-minute mix is exclusive to the 2012 Record Store Day smokey psychedelic vinyl edition, limited to 1500 copies worldwide.  I’ve just tracked down a sealed copy and it’s on its way to me now.

Here’s the complete track – “The Illectrik Hoax (A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Mix by the Amorphous Androgynous.)”

RSD Edition AA Single

Die Welt ist Klang: A Tribute to Pete Namlook (Carpe Sonum)

Just when I’ve sworn off my compulsion for collecting albums, something beautiful turns up that and makes me reconsider.  I’d promised myself that I’d exercise greater selectivity in my album purchasing – opting only for the crème de la crème for my library.  Today’s featured box set is exactly the kind of album I’m talking about.

After the untimely passing of Pete Namlook in 2012, Carpe Sonum Records was formed by EAR/Rational Music, (the North American distributor of FAX and related labels) and issued a handsome limited edition 8-disc box set celebrating his music.  The first four discs explore the 20-year history of Namlook’s legendary FAX +49-69/450464 record label.  The label featured ambient electronic artists, many of whom collaborated with Namlook on their FAX releases.

The remaining four discs feature exclusive recordings submitted by fans of the label.  Released in two limited runs in 2013, the box set has since sold out.  However I am pleased to announce that Carpe Sonum is now accepting donations and pre-orders for a reissue of the set AND are considering a 10LP edition!  All sales proceeds will go to Namlook’s family.

You can subscribe to their mailing list for updates, contribute your own tracks to the project, or simply offer a financial contribution to help make the release happen.  Visit Carpe Sonum for more information!

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February Featured Artist: Mr. Karl Hyde

A dear friend recently stated that “Sometimes I think the only point of going to college was for me to find out about Underworld’s A Hundred Days Off album.”  I replied that it was one of the most beautiful sentences I’d ever read.

And it came at an opportune juncture, as there is brilliant Underworld news afoot.

Karl (the lead, founding member) has released his first-ever solo record.  And you need to go buy it right now.

Karl Hyde - Edgeland

I touched upon this album in my post from mid-December, which served as more of a sample analysis of the LP than a proper review, but now that I’ve had time to really digest the album I thought it appropriate to explore the record and his recent live performances in greater depth.

Karl’s debut solo show at The Union Chapel on April 25th 2013 featured several UW rarities and classics, many performed live for the first time in his 35-year career.

The genre tag for the new LP is listed as “Ethereal” and honestly I could not dream up a more fitting term.  It explores the more intimate progressive sounds which kept bringing listeners back to A Hundred Days Off, and to many of Karl’s more exploratory “deep cuts” over the years.

This first-ever live track is “8 Ball,” originally issued exclusively on the soundtrack to the film, The Beach 14 years ago.  Karl concluded the Union Chapel show with this treat, and it’s wonderful to see him filled with joy at the end of the performance.

And here is “Dirty Epic” from the same show. “Epic” was the first track on his first release as Underworld Mk2.  Underworld Mk1 was a synth pop extension of his earlier band, Freur. But Dubnobasswithmyheadman was brilliantly progressive and a milestone in the history of electronic music. Karl’s stream-of-consciousness sexually-charged lyricism takes center stage in this more intimate interpretation of the now 20-year old trance anthem.

And finally, here was the mind-blowing surprise track of the night. Watch below as Karl performs the track which first exposed him to musical celebrity – the Welsh synthpop one-hit-wonder Freur released in 1983 – “Doot Doot.” This is the first time in 30 years that Karl has performed the song.  And without the electric drum kit or synth keyboards, it takes on a much more mature mood.  Fans who have been following Karl since his humble beginnings were awestruck to hear the track performed by a a man who, at the age of 57 has guided the direction of electronic music for the last three decades.

Now onto Edgeland – Karl’s first official release without his bandmate, Rick Smith.  I came to this record without having heard a single note before I dropped the needle on my own copy.  I made no hesitation about ordering it – Karl has never let me down and Edgeland proved to be no exception.

Karl_Hyde - Edgeland 2013-5.16.2013 Inner Jacket

A few words on Edgeland’s production value:

This is an elegant and mature recording – rare form in an electronic genre plagued by contemporary trends like brostep and heavily-compressed electro pop.

Examining “Perfume” we find a simple, low-fi sawtooth wave paired with a melody supplied by Karl’s Gibson SG guitar.  But headphone listening reveals several other instrumental nuances.  Similarly, subtle choral harmonic effects support and enrich his vocals.  Both of these effects are masterfully executed and clearly separate this record from the bland pop that dominates the genre.

And here is the video of the album’s single – “The Boy With The Jigsaw Puzzle Fingers.”

The track exudes Karl’s intellectual refinement and his overwhelming joy.  The record is a proud sonic declaration of who he is – capturing the musical voice that exists within Mr. Hyde, outside of the sold-out arenas in Tokyo, and away from the rave anthems of the music festivals.  We are hearing Karl’s true voice, independent of Underworld, of the genre, and free of expectation or responsibility.

And his voice is beautiful.

Thanks, Karl.

Karl Hyde Press Photo