More Minimal Ambient Classics

A visit to the legendary Bop Shop in my old home town of Rochester, NY yielded two delightful surprise acquisitions. The first was one of the three of Harold Budd’s 1970s and 80s classic output missing from my vinyl collection – Abandoned Cities. (I now need only The Pavilion of Dreams and The White Arcades to complete my collection.)

Harold Budd - Abandoned Cities

The other was an equally unexpected but similarly important work of early ambient music – a German import from Grönland Records combining two classic recordings of Can’s co-founder, Holger Czukay with the great David Sylvian.

Plight & Premonition / Flux & Mutability is a double reissue and remaster of their late-80s collaborations experimenting with abstract ambient soundscapes which are sparse, sombre, and atmospheric. Pitchfork contributor Robert Ham remarked that these recordings laid “the groundwork for years of ambient music that would follow.”

David Sylvian & Hogler Czukay - Plight & Premonition and Flux & Mutability

“Each feature two long instrumental works built around drones from a synthesizer or guitar interrupted by random shortwave-radio intrusions and occasionally disorienting tape edits.”

The first disc, Plight & Premonition, originally released in March of 1988, comprises drones of harmonium, synthesizer, piano, and guitar. The second disc, Flux & Mutability followed in 1989. Allmusic describes its ambience as “deep, expansive atmospheres with eerie samples and vacuous walls of sound” and calls the album “an important selection for fans of electronic minimalism.”

Both the Budd classic and this new remaster from Grönland are exquisite additions to my library of pioneering early ambient music. My next ambition is to secure a copy of the Editions EG 1981 reissue of Budd’s debut on Eno’s magnificent Obscure Records label in 1978. The Pavilion of Dreams is ethereal, holy, and exquisitely beautiful and has been a long-standing favorite recording of mine in the realm of the genre’s origins.

Just Keep Spinning – Reflections on Music Collecting

A friend kindly recommended my latest film screening – So Wrong They’re Right, a low-budget indie VHS documentary on offbeat 8-track collector culture and the 8-Track Mind zine. I’ve been exploring UK hauntological music and art lately so the retro subject matter fit right in. It was great to hear Wally Pleasant’s “Rock n’ Roll Yard Sales” on the soundtrack.

And serendipitously, while watching the film a related short appeared in my social media feed – an informational demo film to educate consumers about the upcoming compact disc format produced in 1982.

And WFMU just shared that Atlas Obscura published a feature yesterday called, “Inside the World’s Best Collection of Unintentionally Funny VHS Tapes” with this hilarious short!

Much like the VHS culture documentaries, Rewind This and Adjust Your Tracking, the 8-track film made me reflect on my own music collector hobby and how in the past year I’ve really put the breaks on my vinyl habit. Unlike vinyl, most 8-tracks are practically given away and as interviewees of the film profess, they’ve had to plead with Goodwill store managers just to get them to put their 8-track stock on the sales floor. (There are exceptions, of course. Discogs currently offers over 8,000 8-tracks in its marketplace, the second-most-expensive of which is a mint tape of Trout Mask Replica presently priced at $1,500.00.)

Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica 8-Track Tape

But conversely, with vinyl, I’ve reached a point in my collecting where all the remaining titles on my wish list command $80-$550 apiece. And the days of scoring elusive original pressings of releases you’re after at your local VoA are long gone after the store’s inventories have been thoroughly picked over by eBayer resellers or by hipster employees who pull all the good stuff before it has a chance to hit the floor. And for my personal tastes, thrift shops have never been a good resource for the kind of content I seek.

Thankfully a lot of the rare early electronic, drone, and import tape music of the last century, and even of the 90s during vinyl’s darkest days, are being remastered and reissued by Dutch, German, and UK specialty labels, but with shipping you’re still looking at $60 minimum per release so I’ve resolved to reel in my habit and to spend more conservatively this past year.

It’s left me to wonder what the future holds for my hobby. I really enjoy the research and the unconventional subcultures surrounding the format, I just don’t know to what degree I can continue to participate in the acquisition and trade of the albums, themselves. And vinyl has been a significant part of my identity for many years, so I question how I’ll continue to occupy myself beyond this bizarre little pastime.

Thankfully, I have more music at present than I could experience in a lifetime, so at the very least I can kick back and enjoy exploring my archives. And I can continue to supplement my web-based research with more contextual studies from books specializing in my favorite genres. My next read will be Mars by 1980: The Story of Electronic Music by David Stubbs and should provide hours of reading enjoyment and hopefully an intimate understanding of a century of electronic sound.

Whether as a collector or just a researcher, this is indeed the finest time to be alive. Sites like Discogs and RYM provide instantaneous access to release data and listener reviews which previously took days or weeks of calls and form submissions to the LoC to obtain, and every day more and more fans upload thousands of hours or rare and exotic content from their collections to YouTube and file-sharing networks. It’s a curious phenomenon because when everything is accessible, nothing is rare. So, arguments for the paradox of choice aside, this is the greatest time in history for the inquiring listener. I plan to keep reading and listening, and maybe one day score a few of my remaining white whales.

Whatever your preferred format, be it 8-track, LP, cylinder, cassette, CD… just keep spinning.

Unexpected Musical Magic

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

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

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

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

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

Tune in!

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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The Innerspace Labs Top 100 Albums

Recently a vinyl community I frequent held a month-long event where members shared their Top 30 LPs. I had a wonderful time coming up with my list and writing small reviews for each title. Unfortunately, I had a terrible time limiting my list to just 30, and it quickly grew to a Top 100. (And even then, I’ve cheated here and there with multi-disc box sets and discographies.)

But it all seemed too good not to share here at Innerspace so please enjoy a gallery of 100 of my favorite albums. Mouse over any thumbnail for artist and title info and click any image to expand and view the full-resolution photograph. All albums are presented alphabetically by artist.

Have I made any glaring omissions? Any indisputable electronic classics? Let me know! Perhaps we’ll have to push it to 200…

Enjoy!

Daydreams of Exile – An Exploration of Dub Techno

This weekend’s musical exploration began, and it so often does, with a single catalyst. That agent was the arrival of the latest addition to The much-hailed KLF Recovered & Remastered series, titled The KLF Remix Project (Part One).  This limited edition promotional comp features an assortment of delicious deep cuts and rare and exclusive mixes breathing new life into the long-deleted KLF catalog.

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One of my favorite selections from the comp is a surprising remix of “Me Ru Con” – an acapella track from The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu’s 1987 What The Fuck’s Going On? LP.  This is the album The KLF are pictured burning on their follow-up album, Who Killed The Jams?  The Remix Project compilation presents Steve Rowlands’ “Me Ru Con (WTF Mix)” which transforms the unassuming and humble recording into an ethereal mix of radio signals, steel drums, and atmospheric beats.  The mix really gets you grooving and stirs all sorts of nostalgia for the legacy of the band.  If you have the opportunity, pick up this comp (as you should all titles from the series).  It does a fantastic job of filling the void left by the absence of the KLF.  And for a remix comp the collection functions extraordinarily well as a cohesive piece – consistent with all of the releases in this fantastic series.  The Remix album is packed with dark ambient dub and dub techno beats and fueled my aforementioned muse resulting in this weekend’s discoveries.

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Yearning for more dub techno greatness, I turned to my own archive and performed a search for genre values including “dub” + “techno”.  Surprisingly, there were a number of discographic archives from artists whose names were familiar but whose body of work had escaped me. Several online sources indicated that one of the resulting artists – Basic Channel were universally heralded as the founding fathers of the subgenre in Berlin in the early 1990s.  Basic Channel is Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald, who appeared in my library under the alias, Rhythm & Sound.  Ernestus owns the Hard Wax store in Berlin and together, the duo has released numerous minimal dub 12-inch singles as Basic Channel, Cyrus, Round One/Two/Three/Four/Five and other aliases.  This is an ideal starting place to familiarize yourself with the genre.

Finnish electronic musician and producer Sasu Ripatti creates dub techno albums as Vladislav Delay, and interestingly intersected with Basic Channel member Moritz von Oswald where he provided percussion for a series of LPs released as The Moritz Von Oswald Trio between 2009 and 2012.

Oswald also collaborated briefly with Thomas Fehlmann as Schizophrenia.  They issued on lone split single – a self-titled track on the b-side of Sun Electric’s “Monolith” in 1995, but the track is a stand-out classic.  And listen close – the single samples Ash Ra Tempel’s “Sunrain”, the opening track from New Age of Earth from 1976.

Andy Stott is another dub techno artist from Manchester.  His work began around 2005, but his most critically-acclaimed recording is his 2012 LP,  Luxury Problems, receiving awards from both Resident Advisor and from Pitchfork Media.

Digging further into my library I discovered Canadian electronica musician Scott Montieth’s work as Deadbeat as well as his collaboration with Paul St. Hilaire from 2014 titled The Infinity Dub Sessions.

Also well-represented in my collection was Rod Modell and Stephen Hitchell’s catalog performing as cv313 on the Echospace label.  Modell’s solo project under the moniker Deepchord is also fantastic, particularly his releases from the series  of “Deepchord Presents Echospace” albums produced with  Souldubsounds owner Steven Hitchell (aka. Soultek).  Discogs notes that these recordings were “produced using nothing but vintage analog equipment, Roland Space Echo, Echoplex, Korg tape delay, vintage signal processors, noise generators, Sequential Circuits 8 bit samplers & numerous analog synthesizers” featuring an array of “sounds, static, tones and field recordings, including paranormal activity captured and recorded in Chicago & Detroit.”

Fluxion is another figure worth exploring in this category.  A pseudonym of Konstantinos Soublis (aka K. Soublis), Fluxion is an electronic music producer from Athens Greece.  The artist’s profile states that his music “has a characteristic of slowly evolving parts and contemplating elements which form lengthy musical pieces. His sounds are heavily processed to a point where the origin of a sound has little to do with the end result.”  – soundscapes in which a listener may lose him/herself.

Berlin artists Robert Henke and Gerhard Behles performing as Monolake are also noteworthy, if not for their catalog perhaps for the fact that together they founded the Ableton music software company, responsible for instrument and sample libraries used by countless musicians over the last 15 years.

One of the better-known German sound projects of the genre is Andy Mellwig and Thomas Köner’s catalog performing as Porter Ricks (whose name is based on a character from the series, Flipper).  Their sound is described as “a project that lies between clubs and art.”

In fact, Köner also works as a multimedia installation artist and gained critical acclaim for his digital opera, The Futurist Manifesto.

It’s really wonderful to have a music library as a resource for genre explorations like this.  And extra special thanks to those behind the KLF Recovered & Remastered series for the quality tunes which inspired this latest journey.

A Tour of the Listening Room!

My birthday is fast-approaching, and as you would suspect, I am impossible to shop for.  Despite this challenge, my fiance has successfully surprised and delighted me with her creative gifts more and more with each passing year.

This year I had more than once wondered aloud how much I would love a 2-row record bin to flip through my collection record store style.  But, as other household expenses have always taken precedence, I’d never gone ahead and ordered one.

But yesterday, my fiance with her thrifty eagle eye spotted a wood-framed beer cooler roadside with a large rectangular aluminum-lined cavity that, as luck would have it, measures precisely wide enough for two deep rows of polybagged LPs!  It even has an additional shelf underneath for oversize box sets!

It’s been so long since I’ve done a video, and this new acquisition seemed the perfect opportunity for an updated tour of my listening room.

Note: I neglected to mention in the video – Underworld’s quintessential album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman is not missing from the collection I present – it is framed on the wall opposite the Eno • Hyde Someday World art print!

A few of the unmentioned items featured include:

Atop the Bookshelf:
William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops Box Set
Cyril Ritchard Reads Alice in Wonderland + Facsimile Clothbound HC of the first edition
Tangerine Dream – In the Beginning…
Tom Waits – Orphans
Underworld – Dubnobasswithmyheadman Super Deluxe Anniversary Ed.
Underworld – Barking Super Deluxe Ed.
20 Years of Jethro Tull: The Definitive Collection
The Motown Story: The First Decade
Miles Davis at the Fillmore Box Set
Harmonia – Complete Works

Atop the Jazz/20th Century Avant-Garde/Funk & Soul/Blues/ and Proto Electronic Shelf:
Klaus Schulze + Pete Namlook – The Dark Side of the Moog Vol I-IV
Music From Some Guys in Space (Fan-Made Box Set)
FAX +49-69/45046 / Carpe Sonum – Die Welt Ist Klang: A Tribute to Pete Namlook
Lemon Jelly – lemonjelly.ky
Lemon Jelly – Lost Horizons
Lemon Jelly – ’64-’95 DVD box
The KLF Recovered & Remastered Collection (with new titles I’ll be featuring soon!)
and the Buckner & Garcia – “Pac-Man Fever” square pic disc

As for the contents of the record bin; I think I covered each of these in the vid… but let me know if you’re wondering about any titles in particular!

Thanks so much for watching and extra-special thanks to my dear fiance for doing the impossible year after year!

 

Published in: on June 4, 2016 at 11:31 am  Comments (1)  
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The Rise of the Collective Market

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Over the course of the last decade, we have seen a significant transition of power – the stranglehold of the market loosening from the hand of the corporate gatekeepers as they are largely replaced by more efficient systems built by the citizens of the internet.

These markets crowd-source the knowledge of community members who are proficient in a particular field of interest, who develop databases, forums for discussion, and flat-hierarchal markets in which to distribute goods far more effectively than by previous corporate models.

For example; Abebooks and Alibris each do a magnificent job of empowering consumers and booksellers alike, by creating an easily navigable flat structure marketplace where bookshops large and small can offer their titles to a global community without any additional overhead.  This creates a buyer’s market where millions of titles are available at impressively low prices.

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Discogs is another successful user-supported market.  The site’s users construct and maintain a detailed database and thriving marketplace of millions of music titles ranging from Billboard chart toppers to incredibly rare test pressings.  By adhering to a core, (and greatly facilitated) organizational structure of data submission, the site is able to crowd-source a vast and well-organized database.  The site also automates personal collection appraisals based on market history, right down to the condition of each item.  The site even offers catalog submissions via UPC scanning to make library building a snap.  And its marketplace is empowering for record sellers great and small as well as for music consumers the world over.  Like other online markets, there are significant cycles of inflation, but regulation likewise occurs naturally.

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Etsy offers a market for artisanal creative projects.  And Audiogon is a community to help educate users about pro audio gear with both a forum and a trade-and-sell market of its own.  For every need that arises, knowledgeable users in the community establish a market specializing in that service.  This is a core tenant of the cooperative nature of the internet community.

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As with any eBusiness construct, several key advantages separate these ideal virtual markets from the antiquated corporate retail brick-and-mortar chain stores which came before them.  Firstly, their operating overhead is minimal to non-existent, whereas physical stores must constantly grapple with expenses like construction, maintenance, electricity and heat, staffing expenses, and insurance.  And the physical limitations of a building cripple a store front’s merchandise selection which is often restricted further by the distributors with which the corporation has aligned itself.

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By stark contrast, online markets shed all of the restrictions of physical space.  Most of these markets are user-supported so little staffing is required, and buyers can purchase any of millions of available products from other users anywhere in the world without corporate loyalty to a particular supplier.

These independent markets are far superior to their predecessors in every way, disseminating operating expenses and rendering the monopolistic behemoths obsolete and irrelevant.  And as digital media rises to overtake the physical goods market, this obsolescence will only exponentially increase.

We are witnessing the end of the gatekeeper era.  The Net has given rise to a new and better model of distribution –  marketplaces which empower buyers and sellers alike.  These markets, built upon fundamental automation structures and cooperative operation far more effectively serve the interests of the community.

As John Perry Barlow famously declared in his Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace to the governments of the world:

Cyberspace does not lie within your borders.  Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project.  You cannot.  It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions…

You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces…

You are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace.  These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.

The century-long corporate dominance of our marketplaces is at its end.  Together we have built something better which works for all of us.

We have won.