Reflective Music – Learning How To Listen All Over Again

It began with a revisitation to Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel / Why Patterns? album. Headphones fit cozily around my ears, I’d decided to disappear from my office environment one Sunday afternoon and explore the more thoughtful headspace afforded by Feldman’s tranquil piano melodies. I was instantly transported, and the record prepared me for some reflective and solemn music to while away the hours at my desk. Resultantly, I soon found myself compiling a list of essential listening I was keen to either revisit or to explore for the first time in the spirit of that mood.

Rothko Chapel

Morton Feldman – Rothko Chapel / Why Patterns?

The list would be a survey of key recordings of German ambient music both classic and contemporary. Berliner ambient essentials including:

  • Nils Frahm – Wintermusik and the post-minimalist Felt LP
  • Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds collaborative work, Trance Frendz
  • British-German composer Max Richter’s 8.5-hour post-minimal ambient opus, Sleep, as well as his critically-acclaimed Memoryhouse and The Blue Notebooks LPs
  • Thomas Köner (a member of Porter Ricks and Kontakt der Jünglinge) – Permafrost
  • Cluster & Eno’s self-titled 1977 album recorded in Cologne
  • Eno/Moebius/Roedelius – After the Heat, featuring the haunting album-closers, “The Belldog”  and “Tzima N’Arki”  
  • Alva Noto – Xerrox Vols I & II (the sound of desolation, itself)
  • Highlights from Wolfgang Voigt’s recordings under the Gas moniker – Pop, Königsforst, Zauberberg, and his triumphant latest effort, Narkopop
  • Popol Vuh’s choral classic, Hosianna Mantra
  • Klaus Schulze’s space music debut epic, Irrlicht from 1972
  • Hans Zimmer’s score to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar
  • Favorites from Tangerine Dream – the albums Zeit and Phaedra
  • And for a taste of ambient darkjazz, Bohren & der Club of Gore’s Black Earth LP

I was awestruck by the listening experience of the first three recordings, so much in fact that I remained with them for the duration of the week. I spent days and nights immersed in Richter’s Sleep, never tiring of the fundamentally succinct central theme which carries throughout the entire opus. And even now, six days later, I am still reveling in the gentle elegance of Frahm and Arnalds’ pastoral melodies.

But more importantly, I found that I was not engaging these works as I had so often approached 20th-century music. I confess that I’ve routinely engaged recordings in an overtly-academic fashion. I obsessed over structure, form, and socio-cultural context. I preoccupied my mind with where each composition fell in relationship to the artist’s other works. I examined music so critically, that I failed to experience it emotionally.

There were notable exceptions to this standard – particularly those ambient recordings I chose to engage through music meditation. When consuming specific works of consequence for the first time, (and again thereafter if they became beloved favorites), I would don my circumaural cans, swaddle myself in blankets, extinguish all lamps, lay still in bed, and let the music fill me. The most recent album to receive this treatment was Brian Eno’s monumentally intimate album, The Ship from 2016.

What I found so arresting about these contemporary releases from the top of my list was that they explored the ambient genre differently than by their vintage predecessors. I quickly surveyed the albums and discovered that I had developed an affinity for post-minimalism. Borne of a reactionary movement to the impersonality of minimalist works in the 1960s, these artists aimed to resolve minimalism’s often cold and over-intellectual nature by introducing more expressive qualities, often evoking the body and aspects of sexuality. The resulting works are intimately affecting, soothing, and serene with more organic sonic textures than the mechanics of traditional minimalism.

It was that very quality which inspired in me such a novel and emotional response. Frahm’s Felt LP exquisitely embraced these organic elements, captured in its unique compositional process.

Felt.jpg

From the ErasedTapes label’s website:

Having recorded his last album live in a large, reverberant church, Nils Frahm now invites you to put on your headphones and dive into a world of microscopic and delicate sounds – so intimate that you could be sitting beside him.

Recorded late at night in the reflective solitude and silence of his studio in Berlin, Frahm uncovers a new sound and source of inspiration within these peaceful moments:

Originally I wanted to do my neighbours a favour by damping the sound of my piano. If I want to play piano during the quiet of the night, the only respectful way is by layering thick felt in front of the strings and using very gentle fingers. It was then that I discovered that my piano sounds beautiful with the damper.

Captivated by this sonic exposition, he placed the microphones so deep inside the piano that they were almost touching the strings. This brought a host of external sounds to the recordings which most producers would try their hardest to hide:

I hear myself breathing and panting, the scraping sound of the piano’s action and the creaking of my wooden floorboards – all equally as loud as the music. The music becomes a contingency, a chance, an accident within all this rustling. My heart opens and I wonder what exactly it is that makes me feel so happy.

It is his emphasis of those very sounds, which in traditional recording would be trimmed away as nuisance rather than beauty, which make Felt such an intimate and captivating listen. To quote a card from Eno’s Oblique Strategies deck – “Emphasise the flaws.” I found myself holding my breath so as not to miss the curious “non-musical” sounds present in the recording. I permitted the music to create a space for pure experience, rather than considered analysis, which I found immeasurably rewarding and satisfying.

And it is that exemption from quantification – the absence of left-brained cognitive study which freed my mind to just enjoy the music.

I don’t feel compelled to pore over academic texts examining post-minimalism. I feel no urge to read critical papers from music journalists on the merit or inferiority of works of this musical category. I just want to experience it. And that is wonderful.

 

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!

Vinylmania! Night in Buffalo, NY!

I had an absolute blast at the local Vinylmania record show last night!  I went to the event hoping to get some Klaus Schulze LPs (but honestly was not expecting to find any). I was blown away that one killer table hooked me up with several of his albums on the Brain label, all in fantastic condition!

I also took home The Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy vol 2 LP, and J.R.R. Tolkien Reads & Sings The Lord of the Rings (all from that same table.)

We also picked up an original Roxy Music tee for my fiance.  An excellent way to celebrate my birthday!

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An Exploration of Kosmische Musik Essentials (2 of 2)

Welcome to the conclusion to my 2-part feature on kosmische essentials.  First, an apology to readers who expected to see Neu’s first two albums, La Dusseldorf, Faust, and Harmonia.  I fully recognize the importance and grand influence of these artists, however they’ve thus far been absent from my collection.  They will surely be added in due time, but for now we’ll begin with another essential – Germany’s Can.

Can recorded three milestones of krautrock between 1971 and 73 – namely, Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and my favorite – Future Days.  Fans may argue that their debut album Monster Movie was a far more important record, but these three albums feature some of the most mind-blowing tracks I’ve ever heard.  This is effectively the opposite of Kraftwerk.  Instead of Ralf and Florian’s polished industrial mechanized music, Can offers chaotic, psychedelic tunes and spontaneous lyricism that made them icons of the genre.

These are the United Artists marbled vinyl pressings from around 2009.  I’m uncertain whether or not these are authorized reissues, but no corners were cut on the quality of either the heavyweight gatefold jackets or the quality of the colored vinyl.  Absolutely essential.

Can - Tago Mago

 Can – Tago Mago (1971)

Can - Ege Bamyasi

Can – Ege Bamyasi (1972)

Can - Future Days
 Can – Future Days (1973)

Popol Vuh is another artist with a dauntingly extensive catalog of albums.  I’ll highlight my personal favorite – Hosianna Mantra – minimal choral music from Germany recently reissued by a small independent record store in Spain.  The pressing restored the original album art (after the 1980s American issue replaced the gorgeous cover with a boring large yellow circle).  Better still, the disc shipped with a bonus 7″ single and a poster, limited to 500 copies worldwide.  Wah Wah Records continues to release long out-of-print titles and is a label well-worth exploring.

 Popol Vuh - Hosianna Mantra 07 Seven Inch Sleeve

Popol Vuh – Hosianna Mantra (1972)

Another essential deep into the territory of Berlin School ambience is Manuel Gottsching’s Inventions for Electric Guitar from 1975.  This, in my humble opinion, is space rock perfection.  An expert’s blend of guitar, trance inducing rhythm, and delay and echo effects.  There’s really very little else happening on this record, but Gottsching transports the listener to the furthest reaches of outer space.  This is music for interstellar travel.


Manuel Gottsching - Inventions for Electric Guitar

Manuel Göttsching – Inventions for Electric Guitar (1975)

And Inventions became the precursor to Gottsching’s most important work – E2-E4 from 1984.  Allmusic was spot-on when they described the record as sounding like the house music of the 20 years that followed its release.  Gottsching focuses all his energy on the delicate interplay between guitar loops, drum synths, and sparsely-interjected tones from an accompanying synthesizer.  This is pure trance… from 1984.

Manuel Gottsching - E2-E4

Manuel Göttsching – E2-E4 (1984)

But perhaps no individual had as expansive a solo and collaborative catalog in the Berlin School than Klaus Schulze.  Irrlicht (1972) was Schulze’s first official solo album, recorded just a month before Zeit.  This is cerebral, classically-influenced cosmic music – a magnificent milestone of the genre.

Klaus Schulze - Irrlicht

Klaus Schulze - Irrlicht

Klaus Schulze – Irrlicht (1972)

If you buy only one Klaus Schulze record, (and there are well over 100), please consider the massively successful double LP – X from 1978.  X is hypnotic and entrancing modern classical music and is universally acclaimed as one of Schulze’s finest efforts.  The album is subtitled, “Six Musical Biographies” as each track is named after one of Schulze’s greatest inspirations.  This is not passive listening – these songs, many in excess of 20 minutes in length, are engaging explorations of synthesized sound.

Klaus Schulze - X

Klaus Schulze – X (1978)

Also recommended are Schulze’s 12-volume collaboration with Pete Namlook – The Dark Side of the Moog series, and for the fan who has everything-Schulze, I encourage you to look into The Ultimate Edition – a 50-disc collection of box sets featuring numerous live and non-album recordings.  It clocks in at 65 hours of material and I love cuing it up at work to transform my 9-5 into a calm and meditative atmosphere.

Here I’d like to touch quickly upon a non-German record that was really in the spirit of what Schulze and his fellow Berlin-schoolers were up to in the late 70s.  Steve Hillage, one of the primary figures of the Canterbury scene in the UK recorded Rainbow Dome Musick for the Festival for Mind-Body-Spirit in 1979.  While not geographically qualifying as “Berlin School,” it is most definitely of the same caliber as its German counterparts.

The album features Hillage on guitars, the Fender Rhodes, and ARP and Moog synthesizers.  A smattering of Tibetan bells and the sound of a running stream make the album approach the then-budding territory of New Age music, but Hillage’s musicianship and penchant for the avant-garde exempt the album from the flood of forgettable New Age music of the era.  If you like Schulze’s solo work, you really should check out Rainbow Dome Musick.

Steve Hillage - Rainbow Dome Musick

Steve Hillage – Rainbow Dome Musick (1979)

 I always end my multi-album features with something unique – and this is no exception.

Public Service Broadcasting is a London-based duo who create retro-futuristic electronic music much in the spirit of classic krautrock.  They use samples from old public information films, archival footage and propaganda material, to (quote) ‘teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future’.  PSB combines classic synths with banjo, ukulele, sax and trumpets all propelled by a nearly-motorik beat.

Public Service Broadcasting - Inform Educate Entertain

Both their album art and their music bear the streamlined magnificence of the Futurists.  My two favorite selections are The War Room EP and their first full-length release, Inform, Educate, Entertain.  I’ve also just pre-ordered their exciting new record scheduled for release this February.

Public Service Broadcasting – Inform Educate Entertain

But to close with a proper German record, I can’t leave out my recent acquisition from December of 2014 – GAS.  Wolfgang Voigt’s legendary titles released under the Gas moniker were combined in an abbreviated double LP, Nah Und Fern in 2008 on the Kompakt label.  Recorded between 1996 and 2000, Gas is perhaps the ultimate vision of the Berlin School’s musical philosophy.  To recap the brilliant descriptions from critics upon its release – zero-gravity club music, tunes for lucid dreaming, underwater techno, or as Wire put it, “an outdoor rave, heard floating through the air from a neighbouring village.”  This is precisely the sound of Gas.

Gas - Nah Und Fern

Gas – Zauberberg (1997)

Gas – Königsforst (1999)

Gas – Pop (2000)

My next German music purchases will likely include the first Cosmic Jokers LP, Schulze’s Timewind, and Froese’s solo debut – Aqua on the Brain label.

I hope these featured essentials are helpful to anyone venturing into kosmische music for the first time.  Have I left out any of your own favorites?  Let me know!

Space Music (Literally)

If you had to sum up what Earth is like, what would you say?

“Sounds of the Earth” – The Voyager Golden Record was Earth’s message to the stars in 1977.  It recently exited our solar system in September of 2013 with the Voyager I space probe, and carries greetings in 55 languages, and sounds ranging from a child’s laughter, to whales singing, to a Brandenburg Concerto and Blind Willie Johnson playing the blues.

Voyager Golden Record

Sadly, only two copies were pressed, and each affixed to the Voyager I and II.  In fact, the copyright owners for the images and music on the actual record signed agreements which only permitted the replay of their works outside of the solar system.

Fortunately for we Earthlings, CD copies of the images and recordings of the Voyager Golden Record were included with Murmurs of Earth – a deluxe hardcover book detailing the contents of the historic LP.  Warner New Media would eventually release a CD-ROM version of the album in 1992.  And thankfully, each of these releases surface with some regularity on Amazon and eBay.

Murmurs of Earth Hardcover
Here is the complete LP:

But to take space music one step further – in 1993, Brain/Mind Research and LaserLight Digital ‎released a 5-disc set titled, Symphonies of the Planets.  These recordings were based on electromagnetic data of the outer Solar System, as recorded by instruments on board the Voyager I and II.

Symphonies of the Planets

The result is over two and a half hours of low-end drone frequencies.  Wonderful study-music and a great way to make your listening room feel ten times its actual size.

Disc One of Five:

And what entry on the subject of Space Music would be complete without the soundtrack to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage?

The Music of Cosmos
The Music of Cosmos (1981 LP)

This will forever be the sound I associate with space, and I’m sure the same goes for the millions of others who grew up watching Sagan’s Personal Voyage.  More than any Tangerine Dream album, more than  Tomita’s reimagining of  Debussy’s work on the Snowflakes Are Dancing LP, and more than any Fax/Namlook/Schulze record… the Cosmos soundtrack is an album for the ages.

But on to the present day, the space music that everyone is talking about today is Alan Silverstri’s score to the new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey
Here is a track from Vol 1 of 4, now available on iTunes.  Silverstri is known for his work conducting and composing film scores, such as the memorable soundtracks for the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump,  but perhaps most importantly it was his score to Carl Sagan’s Contact film from 1997 that made him the ideal composer for this, the latest project made in Carl Sagan’s memory.

We’re crossing our fingers for a 4LP box set when the series completes.

East Meets West on this Glorious New Remaster!

Hosianna Mantra 72

The year was 1972.  Florian Fricke had recently sold his Moog synthesizer to Klaus Schulze, trading his trademark electronic sound for piano and African and Turkish percussion.  Hosianna Mantra is, on the whole, a far more organic album than the releases which preceded it.

The album showcases violin, tamboura, piano, oboe, cembalo, and 12-string acoustic guitar, accompanied by soprano Djong Yun’s haunting vocals.

Allmusic editor Wilson Neate recalls the timeless healing quality of this record, and Fricke, himself called it, “a mass for the heart.”

I had been searching the corners of the Web for a copy of this record for the better part of 2013.  Unfortunately it was only issued in the US one time, in 1981.

Celestial Harmonies, the label which produced the ’81 reissue, had the looney idea of replacing the breathtaking foil emblazened portait art of the album with a stark, white cover bearing a single yellow circle.  While I’m normally a strong proponent of minimalism in design, this was not the place for it.

Hosianna Mantra 81

And so my search continued, with most original pressings selling for $75-$100.

Then, by an act of sheer luck (or perhaps divine intervention!) I discovered that a label and record shop in Barcelona had been remastering and reissues LPs from bands like Amon Duul, Between, Embryo, and Popol Vuh!

As good fortune would have it, this very September, Wah Wah Records Supersonic Sound issued the disc I was after.  Remastered from the original studio tapes, this disc featured a gatefold sleeve, promotional print of the band, and a double-sided tri-fold insert with liner notes by Popol Vuh expert Dolf Mulder.

As an added bonus, the album shipped with a 7″ single with pic sleeve that reproduces the original, rare 45 by Korean soprano Djong Yun featuring “Du Sollst Lieben” and “Ave Maria”, written by Bettina Fricke and backed by Popol Vuh.

Only 500 copies were produced so I phoned up their shop in Barcelona and locked in my order.  The disc arrived in the post this evening, and I’m delighted with the new pressing.

Below are hi-res photos I’ve just taken of the new record, and you can listen to the album in its entirety at the end of this post.

01 Sleeve Front

02 Sleeve Back

03 Gatefold Sleeve
04 Promo Print

05 Insert

06 Insert Reverse

07 Seven Inch Sleeve

08 Seven Inch Sleeve Reverse Detail

9 Seven Inch Label A

10 Seven Inch Label B

11 Side 1

12 Side 2

Enjoy the music!

The Mega-Box-Set Post

Recently, while exploring the early Miles Davis recordings, I discovered the Miles Davis Quintet LPs released on the Prestige label in the years before his signing with Columbia.
For the past several months I’ve been enjoying the 72-disc Complete Columbia Recordings Collection so I picked up a digital archive of the Miles Davis Quintet albums and enjoyed the sessions very much.

Their final four albums released on the Prestige label were Cookin’… (57), Relaxin’… (’58), Workin’… (1959), and Steamin… (’61) …with the Miles Davis Quintet.

cookin

relaxin

workin

steamin

A quick scan of discogs.com made it clear that original pressings were out of my budget, but that remasters were pressed throughout the 80s and early 90s and readily available, still sealed, for around $20 apiece.  The total with shipping would be $86 for the remasters, so I spent a few extra days investigating a cheaper option.

The following Saturday I found my answer!  In 1972 and 1974, Prestige released two double-LPs with matching artwork and typography remastering all four of the albums I was after.  Better still, I acquired both sets in VG+ for a total of $21.

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Proud additions to my Miles Davis collection!

Next I jumped at the opportunity to order a copy of Moondog’s second self-titled LP from 1969.  It was my first exposure to the legendary blind avant-garde classical street performer and Odin-impersonator, and I knew I had to have it for my library.  The LP was reissued in 2003 but I secured a clean original pressing for $50, so I was happy.

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Later, while discussing early German avant garde-music with a coworker, he mentioned The Second Viennese School, which I investigated as soon as I was home from work.  There is a digital Collection available which includes Webern: The Complete Works (a 6-disc set), Schoenberg: The Piano Music, and the 1909-1935 Berg Collector’s Edition, (an 8-disc set).  I will be exploring these recordings while reading about the composers more in the coming weeks.

Out of curiosity I searched for the term “avant-garde” in the digital marketplace and found a wonderful set to further my education.  The Progressive/Kraut/Avant Garde/Psych Collection contains 753 albums totaling over 517 hours of material, most of which are out of print on vinyl.  Resources like these are excellent starting points for those taking their first steps into progressive rock and who learn best by actually listening to these rare recordings before ordering the original pressings.

Also on the subject of volumous box sets, there is a magnificent 8-DVD collection which I can’t recommend enough for listeners looking to explore the psybient genre I featured in my previous post.  The discs are expertly organized – the first disc compiling the works of Simon Posford (Celtic Cross, Dub Trees, Hallucinogen, Shpongle, The Infinity Project, etc.)

And DVD #6 is a compilation of fourty official psybient various-artists collections.

In all, the set contains over 329 hours of psychill albums and is an essential collectable for archivists or for anyone in need of some meditative chill-out music to spin while they’re working.

And the final multi-disc set of the week is the limited-edition Klaus Schulze: Ultimate Edition which compiles 50 CDs of previously unreleased or limited-release recordings into one massive set of ambient bliss.

I’ll be playing each of the collections highlighted above at the office for certain.

And to celebrate my new career (and having my own office for the first time in my life), my girlfriend presented me with a 24×36 framed print of a young Miles Davis to hang behind my desk.

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I added a framed original pressing of Birth of the Cool to the adjacent wall and picked up a new pair of speakers for my desk.

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I’m going to like it there.

An Evening of Ambient Trance Classics

I had a quiet evening to myself, and I took advantage of the free time and finally sat down to explore Klaus Schulze and Pete Namlook’s Dark Side of the Moog 12-disc series.

Each of the track titles play off of classics from Pink Floyd’s catalog, such as “Wish You Were There,” “A Saucerful of Ambience,” “Obscured by Klaus,” and “Careful with the AKS, Peter.”

From Dark Side of the Moog I moved on to Pete Namlook’s solo efforts and quickly discovered that he had founded a record label, Germany’s Fax +49-69/450464 (and yes, that is his fax number.) Nearly 450 releases premiered on the label from 1992 until his death in November of 2012, and additional research revealed that Namlook, himself was performing with the ~40 artists and under various monikers which comprised the label’s catalog. FAX earned a reputation for ahead-of-the-curve, timeless electronic ambient music, which still sounds fresh today unlike many of the 90s fad electronic artists who came and went over the decade.

Unfortunately, Namlook released only 500–1000 copies of the majority of the titles on his label.  Then I found a 17 LP retrospective of FAX’s finest work called the Final Vinyl Collector’s Box Set. Sadly, there were only 25 copies produced worldwide.  The set was meant to be officially released, but at that time Fax changed to a non-vinyl distributor and so the boxsets have never been officially released. However, Pete Namlook confirmed that this is an original Fax release. The last copy to surface sold for $550 in 2010.


While scouring the web for more information, I cued up what I had of Namlook in my library, beginning with his 4CD set performing as “Air” from 1993-1996, which was released as a box set in ’97, and then on to 2003’s Ten Years of Silence – a 5CD set of his tribal ambient work as Silence.

Most of my experience with 90s electronic music had been limited to the major downtempo releases from the decade, and the Air Collection inspired me to look deeper into the psychedelic ambient genre.

I quickly found two noteworthy compilations on Namlook’s label titled The Ambient Cookbook volumes I and II.

The first was a 4-disc box set from 1995 which highlighted various artists from the FAX archive.  The second volume, released in 2002, introduced four more discs demonstrating how the ambient genre had evolved over the decade.

If you’re exploring Fax +49-69/450464 Records for the first time, these collections are an excellent place to begin.

Moving onward, ambient trance music led me to psytrance, which I then narrowed further to the psybient subgenre. This was the 90s incarnation of slowbeat space music, described by a RYM user as “Gas on uppers.”

I entered the term “psybient” into youtube and several 1 – 10 hour playlist results populated.  The first track I heard was Russian artist, Cell’s “Audio Deepest Night.”

I loved the minimal beats and sparse, echoey vocal samples. Looking up the artist, I found that the track appeared on disc 4 of a 7-volume series called The Fahrenheit Project on Ultimae Records, released between 2001 and 2011.  The series featured various Russian and French deep techno artists and was released simultaneously in both countries.

I am working my way through the series and enjoy everything I’ve heard thus far.

So ended a productive night of exploration.  The 36 discs described above will keep me busy for the rest of the weekend.  I welcome any recommendations for further listening that you may have to offer.

Additionally, two more rare LPs arrived in the post this week.  Stay tuned for details.

The Sound of a Barking Dog on a Loop

I took a few days off this week and dove deep into a pool of ambient exploration.

The ambient kick was jump-started by my discovery of several William Basinski releases I found which were missing from my collection.  After tracking down copies of these albums and split seven inch records, I now have the following in my library: (please let me know if I’m missing anything)

1998 & 2007 – Shortwavemusic
2001 – Watermusic I
2002 – The Disintegration Loops I
2002 – The River
2003 – The Disintegration Loops II
2003 – The Disintegration Loops III
2003 – Untitled 7inch [w Andreas Martin & Christoph Heemann]
2003 – Watermusic II
2004 – Silent Night
2004 – The Disintegration Loops IV
2004 – Variations – A Movement In Chrome Primitive (Die Stadt)
2005 – Melancholia
2005 – The Garden of Brokenness
2006 – Variations For Piano and Tape
2007 – El Camino Real
2008 – The River (Alternative Mix)
2008 – The River [Alternative Mix]
2008 – Untitled 1-3 [with Richard Chartier]
2009 – 92982
2010 – Vivian and Ondine
2011 – A Red Score In Tile

There is also a new album pending release, titled Hymns of Oblivion.  You can preview a full track on the label’s website, but I implore you – do not look it up.  Basinski has changed his sound significantly and sometimes… change isn’t a good thing.  I’ll sum up his new project in a few short words which should effectively dissuade you from pursuing it any further.  Dreadlocks.  Leather pants.  Shirtless.  And High-Pitched Wailing.  He had a solid 10 year run, and we’ll leave it at that.

William Basinski - Hymns of Oblivion
Fortunately a newer artist was there to pick up the torch with some impressive drone work I discovered from an ambient blogger.  Black Swan has recorded two full length LPs to date.  Black Swan (in 8 Movements) in 2010 and The Quiet Divide in April of 2011.

Black Swan (in 8 Movements)

Black Swan - The Quiet Divide
Both were released by Experimedia and make for a most satisfying listen.  A word of caution, however – this is not blissful easy-listening ambience.  Black Swan is dark and melancholy, but hauntingly beautiful.

Another collection I’d been meaning to acquire for a few years now is the Dark Side of the Moog series.  Pete Namlook, Klaus Schulze (and Bill Laswell on select albums) collaborated to produce 10 albums between 1994 and 2005, each with a title playing off the recordings of Pink Floyd.

After securing the 10 album set, along with The Evolution of The Dark Side of The Moog (a “best-of” disc) I discovered that in 2008 Namlook released an 11th volume of the series.  It is available in both stereo and 5.1 surround formats.  I picked it up immediately.

Pete Namlook & Klaus Schulze
I also watched three of the KLF’s films – Waiting, The Rites of Mu and The Stadium House Trilogy.  I’ve watched The White Room before and will get to Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid in the coming weeks.

Waiting was a 42 minute ambient recording venture on the Isle of Jura.  It was filmed in 1990 and was available via mail order from the K Foundation.  Elements of Chill Out and their other recordings are clearly audible all throughout the film.  A ltd. ed. soundtrack was available (mis-labeled as Waiting For The “Rights” of Mu) which features the audio from both films.  After watching the movie I dug through my KLF archive and was surprised to find I already had a copy.

If you dig minimal ambient electronic music you should definitely pick up a copy of this last album.  The minimal cover art intrigued me so I queued it up and instantly fell in love.  The LP is available from Discogs for under $15 so I’ll have it soon enough.  Listen to Pantha du Prince’s album, This Bliss.