A First Foray into ECM Jazz

In an effort to introduce more novel content into my daily listening and to challenge myself a bit, I’ve decided to explore the ECM label, particularly the Touchtone remasters. In 2008 ECM issued forty of their most popular albums spanning 1971 to 1993 in the form of affordable cardboard sleeved compact discs. A few of the names were familiar, most notably Jon Hassell who I know from his Fourth World: Possible Musics tribal ambient LP produced in collaboration with Brian Eno. ECM’s motto is, “the Most Beautiful Sound Next to Silence” and I was eager to test their claim.

Ambient themes seemed to be a suitable point of ingress for the genre of ECM jazz, as I am most comfortable with long-form soundscapes which emphasize sonic texture over melodic structures. I quickly found my way to a few introductory recordings well-suited to this task:

• Ralph Towner’s Solstice and Batik LPs (ECM chamber jazz) described as hauntingly beautiful, with elements of drone and wall of sound, characterized as smooth and mellow

• Jan Garbarek & the Bobo Stenson Quartet – Witchi-Tai-To – a classic understated work of spiritual jazz from 1974

• Tomasz Stanko’s Litania: The Music of Krzysztof Komeda, showcasing hypnotic, atmospheric Polish jazz performances

• And the label’s most prominent artist, Keith Jarrett’s critically acclaimed Facing You and The Köln Concert LPs which are described as smooth, calm, and soothing instrumentals, featuring impassioned improvisation with moments of great intensity. Köln is considered a revolutionary work of contemporary jazz.

It’s a curious place to find myself as a listener and chronicler of music. I’ve read very little in the way of jazz criticism and am only rudimentarily acquainted with both its theory and contextual history. That made this territory a unique and satisfying venture from the familiar to something new and interesting.

Witchi-Tai-To

Witchi-Tai-To is an hypnotic and surreal exercise in spiritual jazz with a mellow and meditative quality characteristic of many ECM releases. It definitely inspires me to track down lush and uplifting spiritual jazz classics like Alice Coltrane’s Journey to Satchidananda and Pharoah Sanders’ Karma and Black Unity LPs.

facing you

Jarrett’s Facing You was awe-inspiring. This was clearly bold, new territory for solo jazz piano. Jarrett’s improvisation is personal, intense, and fantastically dynamic. Still, there is a gentleness to his performative style that makes the album incredibly accessible and satisfying.

koln concert

The Köln Concert is absolute heaven. From the first notes, it’s evident why this is celebrated as the best-selling solo album in jazz history and the all-time best-selling piano album. And the circumstances of the performance make the magic of this music all the more remarkable. Evidently, Jarrett was suffering significant back pain and was wearing a brace the evening of the performance. The pain had cost him several nights’ sleep and following the drive from Zürich he was thoroughly exhausted. Jarrett arrived at the opera house only to discover that the piano on which he was to perform upon was small and poorly-tuned rather than the Bösendorfer grand he’d requested. But with only a few hours before the concert, Jarrett made the very best of the situation and went on to improvise one of the greatest concerts ever captured to tape.

Solstice

Solstice is arguably the best of Towner’s catalog, forty minutes of instrumentals wedding sustained drones with elements of fusion and chamber music. It approaches the dreaded label of “new age” music but is jazzy enough to escape the bland realms of near-self-parody commonly associated with the genre. Never overly-energetic, the album is consistently subtle and darkly atmospheric.

batik1.jpg

Batik is a similar work equally noteworthy for Towner and for Jack DeJohnette’s abstract drumming on the album, especially his contribution to the title track.

litania.jpg

I found Litania to be highly accessible and thought-provoking. It’s gentle enough to provide a sonic wallpaper but sufficiently engaging to activate my mind and send me into a trance of self-reflection. The three variations of “Sleep Safe and Warm” are intimately soothing but the most intriguing selection from the album is “Night-Time, Daytime Requiem” which wanders placidly for more than twenty minutes of atmospheric bliss. “The Witch” changes up the dynamic a bit with the addition of an electric guitar but keeps with the ambiance of the record. The album could function well as dinner jazz but seems to lend itself ideally to quiet, solitary exploration.

What I enjoyed most about each of these releases was ECM’s consistently ascetic, restrained, and meditative properties. While the recordings dabble in free jazz and avant-garde experimentalism, they remain at all times refined and gently ethereal. It was a most rewarding venture, and I’m excited to continue exploring more of “The Most Beautiful Sounds Next to Silence.”

More than likely my next survey will be of the fifteen albums Arvo Pärt issued under ECM. Sublime listening awaits!

 

 

 

Man with a Movie Camera

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

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

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

a3338c257bdf632b77221fe4317645d1

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

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

cinematicorchestra_moviecamera_albumcover

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

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

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!

dorothy-104-electric-love_b-webdorothy-104-electric-love_2-webdorothy-104-electric-love_4-webdorothy-104-electric-love_3-webdorothy-104-electric-love_h-web

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!

The Grand Unified Theory of innerspaceboy

I love a good challenge, and last night I presented myself with a most delightful dilemma. As of late, I’ve created a stockpile of obscuro musically-themed graphic tees to thoroughly confuse the unsuspecting public. And with the plethora of imagery available from avant-garde sound and cult cinema, I could go on forever printing these tees. But I’d never be able to wear them all.

And so I set myself the challenge – to conceive and implement the ultimate autobiographical tee – a single design which sums up all of my specializes interests. The Grand Unified Theory of innerspaceboy.

And then it came to me. What better way to showcase my academic pretension, my musico-cultural obsession, and my meta-hip snobbishness than with a custom tee emblazoned with a Fruchterman-Reingold graph depicting the web-like interrelationships between my 60 favorite sub and micro genres?

I quickly constructed a dataset of my favorite musical niches and formatted them as a CSV denoting each node and edge for the graphic. (For example: Post-Punk is an amalgam of elements from funk, dub, electronic, and experimental musics.)

I was pleased to discover that my favorite data visualization application, Gephi (previously employed in the creation of my 550 Favorite Artists of 2014) was supported by Linux and in a short time I produced this splendid graph. Behold, ladies and gentlemen: The Grand Unified Theory of innerspaceboy.

CLICK HERE for the hi-res!

Grand Unified Theory of HipI’m insane.

30GB of Lost Cassettes From the 80s Underground

As many of you have undoubtedly heard, whether from FACTMAG.com, AJournalofMusicalThings, eTeknix, or WeAreTheMusicMakers, Archive.org has delivered yet another windfall of lost music. Hot on the heels of Attention K-Mart Shoppers, Mark Davis’ personal collection of KMart muzak cassettes, another user has uploaded a massive archive of independently released obscuro cassettes from the 1980s.

The tapes were originally digitized by noise-arch.net and donated by former CKLN-FM radio host Myke Dyer in August 2009 and includes cassettes ranging from “tape experimentation, industrial, avant-garde, indie, rock, DIY, subvertainment and auto-hypnotic materials”.

Jump on this 30GB treasure trove – it’s what all the hip vaporwave kids will be sampling in the weeks ahead.

Here’s the torrent direct from The Internet Archive.

Pile of Audio Tape Cassettes

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!

36d39e0df51fee349f6195cf10832739