40 Years of Underworld – The Innerspace Collection

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a tremendous fan of the electronic duo Underworld.

At age 15, their album Dubnobasswithmyheadman was my very first exposure to the world beyond Top 40 radio pop, and its award-winning typographical packaging created by the band’s critically acclaimed Tomato design collective directly inspired my pursuit of a design degree and an 18-year career in the field.

Checking my latest stats, my Underworld collection now comprises 77 physical releases and artifacts, memorabilia, subway posters, books, prints, magazine articles, DVDs, VHS tapes, etc, as well as over 600 digital albums, EPs, mixes, concerts, and other materials – over 8100 tracks including concert videos. With new material being released every week, they’re showing no sign of slowing down, and they continue to expand my scope of musical appreciation with each new release.

Here is the physical portion of my collection to date. (For scale, the green print at the center is a subway poster from the UK measuring five feet in height.)

Underworld Physical Collection Complete 02-22-2020

Below is an itemized inventory of the physical collection. The 8100-track digital library is too large to post here but is itemized in the Innerspace Labs Workbook previously published in this journal.

Artist Title Format
Screen Gemz Teenage Teenage b/w I Just Can’t Stand Cars 7″ single (sleeve reproduction) 7″, Single
Freur Matters Of The Heart 7″
Freur Get Us Out Of Here LP, Album
Freur Look In The Back For Answers 12″
Freur Doot Doot CD
Freur Doot-Doot 7″, Pic
Freur Doot-Doot 12″
Freur Doot-Doot 12″
Freur Runaway (Dun Difrunt) 12″
Freur Doot-Doot LP, Album
Underworld Going Overground Melody Maker Magazine January 22, 1994 Magazine
Underworld Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future LP, Album
Underworld Spikee / Dogman Go Woof 12″, Single
Underworld Beaucoup Fish 2xLP, Album
Underworld A Hundred Days Off 2xLP, Album
Underworld A Hundred Days Off 2xLP, Album
Underworld Born Slippy 12″, Single
Underworld Dark & Long 12″, RE
Underworld Two Months Off 12″
Underworld Second Toughest In The Infants 2xLP, Album
Underworld Rez / Cowgirl 12″
Underworld Stand Up 12″, Maxi
Underworld Glory! Glory! 12″, Single
Underworld Underneath The Radar Cassette
Underworld Underneath The Radar 7″, Single
Underworld Change The Weather LP, Album
Underworld Long Slow Slippy / Eventually But 12″, Ltd, S/Edition
Underworld Barking 2xLP, Album
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman 5CD Box Set
Underworld Underneath The Radar LP, Album
Underworld Underneath The Radar LP, Album
Underworld Cowgirl / Rez 12″, Ltd, Whi
Underworld Pearl’s Girl 12″
Underworld Jumbo 12″, Single
Darren Emerson Global Underground 020: Singapore 2CD
Darren Emerson & Tim Deluxe Underwater, Episode 1 2CD
Underworld Videos 1993-97 Footwear Repairs By Craftsmen At Competitive Prices VHS
Underworld tomato: onyx pearls DVD
Underworld Underworld Live – Everything Everything DVD
Underworld Barking (Super Deluxe Edition 2CD+DVD+book+autographed print) 2CD+DVD Box Set
Underworld 1992-2002 2CD
Underworld Born Slippy CD
Underworld Change the Weather CD
Underworld Dinosaur Adventure 3D (US) CD
Underworld Dinosaur Adventure 3D (JAPAN) CD
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman CD
Underworld A Hundred Days Off CD
Underworld King of Snake CD
Underworld Pearl’s Girl CD
Underworld Second Toughest in the Infants CD
Underworld Underneath the Radar CD
Underworld Underworld Singles Box Set 3CD Box Set
Underworld Limited Edition Barking Art Print (Hand numbered #64/650) Art Print
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman A2 sized Promo Poster Poster
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman Concert Tour Memorabilia Keyring Keyring
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman T-Shirt (unofficial) T-Shirt
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman Coffee Mug (unofficial) Coffee Mug
Underworld Dubnoboasswithmyheadman Custom Chromebook Skin and Keyboard Inlay Laptop Skin (Custom)
Underworld Everything Everything 150cm x 100cm UK Subway Poster Poster
Underworld Underworld Press Photo Photo
Underworld Rowla/Juanita 12″
Underworld Oblivion With Bells 2xLP, Album
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman 2LP, Album
Underworld Second Toughest in the Infants Remastered Super Deluxe Edition 4CD Box Set
Underworld Beaucoup Fish Remastered Super Deluxe Edition 4CD Box Set
Underworld and Iggy Pop Teatime Dub Encounters LP, EP, Limited Edition, Clear
Underworld Drift Series 1 7CD+Blu-Ray DVD Box Set
Tomato mmm.. skyscraper i love you: A Typographical Journal of New York Art Book
Tomato Process: A Tomato Project Art Book
Eno • Hyde Someday World 2xLP, Album, S/Edition
Eno • Hyde Someday World 2xLP, Album, S/Edition
Eno • Hyde High Life 2xLP, Album
Eno • Hyde Someday World 12″ x 12″ Art Print Art Print
Eno • Hyde Brian Eno and Karl Hyde with Flowers in Vase Against White Background Postcard Postcard
Eno • Hyde Brian Eno and Karl Hyde on Stage Before a Concert Postcard
Karl Hyde Edgeland 2xLP, Album, 180
Karl Hyde Personal Live Photograph Photograph

Supplemental Note:

Following the acquisition of the final four Underworld multi-disc super-deluxe box sets for my archival project, I found that my collection had outgrown its space in my record room and I wanted a storage solution which would blend seamlessly with my vintage decor. I took careful measurements and trekked to my city’s antique mall and found a large antique wooden crate the exact dimensions (to the very inch!) that I was hoping to find.

It’s a perfect vintage solution to house my collection of nearly eighty Underworld releases! The sturdy wooden crate features weathered stamping for 120lbs of (Ben) Franklin brand sugar. Here it is in my home, fitted appropriately beneath a framed promotional print of my favorite album by the duo.

Ben Franklin Wooden Crate with Underworld Collection Inside 02-22-2020

Volume Leveling Server Project a Success!

I’m pleased to share my success with a project I first began in June of 2019 but had shelved until today! I’d constructed an ambient playlist on my server of ~130,000 tracks for background listening which I enjoy for an average of 19 hours each day while I work and while I sleep. Unfortunately I found that many tracks were mastered with considerable differences in signal processing / dynamic range compression / equalization. The result was that some albums had a perceived loudness far greater than others, which disturbed my concentration and my rest. 

Thankfully, a bit of research revealed that I was not alone with this concern, and that digital audio engineers addressed the issue by incorporating a feature into the ID3v2 standard outlined by hydrogenaudio as the “replaygain 1.0 specification.”

Most digital music library software applications feature a replaygain function, permitting the user to apply, automatically or manually, gain adjustment values stored in the metadata of the music file to nudge the volume up or down as required, and my Linux desktop audio software was among them. 

Automatic loudness measurement, (the formula for which is available on the hydrogenaudio wiki), can be applied to selected tracks individually, or to the loudness of an overall album. The album option, hydrogenaudio notes, “leave(s) the intentional loudness differences between tracks in place, yet still correct for unmusical and annoying loudness differences between albums.” 

The challenge was to find a mobile media server client which retained and interpreted the replaygain values during transcoding. I experimented with various mobile applications to find one which natively supported both gapless playback and replaygain.

Researching forum discussions on the subject lead me to an independent fork of my preferred media server application available for Android. The project was a success! After batch processing the replaygain values for the ambient segment of my library, the adjustments I applied to the track metadata were successfully interpreted and rendered during playback in the mobile application!

This small victory will have a profound impact on my daily and nightly listening sessions. I’m so glad I kept my notes and revisited the project!

Replaygain Screenshot 01-24-2020

Enography: The Collected Writings of (and about) Brian Eno

I’ve been reading texts on artist, producer, and self-proclaimed “non-musician” Brian Eno for years, and thought it might be a good idea to start tracking all of the books examining his work in my library. I extracted a list of all Eno-related texts from moredarkthanshark.org and added a few other rare titles from my own archive. Referencing data from my Goodreads account I built a spreadsheet to catalog which texts I’ve read, which I have in physical form, as well as the ones I have as ebooks. I then used an aggregate book search engine to secure physical copies of most of the texts I was missing to build as complete a library as I was able. There are three titles I’ve yet to claim, but they command higher prices than I was ready to import to the States for this first stage of the project.

Pictured below are thirteen of my favorite titles on the subjects of Eno’s work, and ambient and generative music in general. There was a week delay in the project after book #13 was lost in the post and I had to order another copy, but at last I have them all.

I was particularly excited to secure a copy of Sound Unbound published by MIT Press, which compiles essays on sample/mashup/remix culture collected by Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky), and which features a Forward by Cory Doctorow, my favorite essayist on the subjects of digital rights activism and copyleftism. And like the Moondog book I recently ordered, it is packaged with a companion compact disc of the works discussed.

Pictured are the following:

Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports by John T. Lysaker
Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music by Christoph Cox
Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds by David Toop
A Year With Swollen Appendices by Brian Eno
Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond by Michael Nyman
Brian Eno: His Music And The Vertical Color Of Sound by Eric Tamm
The Ambient Century by Mark Prendergast
Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture by Paul D. Miller
On Some Faraway Beach: The Life And Times Of Brian Eno by David Sheppard
Another Green World (33 1/3 Series) by Geeta Dayal
Brian Eno: Visual Music by Christopher Scoates
Brian Eno: Oblique Music by Sean Albiez
Music For Installations (companion book to the ltd ed. 2018 9LP vinyl box set) by Brian Eno

as well as the official Oblique Strategies deck Eno produced with artist, Peter Schmidt.

Also read but not pictured: 

Music Beyond Airports – Appraising Ambient Music by Monty Adkins

I really look forward to diving into the yet-unread titles from this indispensable collection. These books will be wonderful company through the chills of winter and shall serve as an intellectually stimulating start to 2020!

02 Brian Eno Book Collection (sm for web)

Innerspace Labs’ Year-End Large Library Catalog

With Thanksgiving off from work and the whole day to myself it felt like the perfect opportunity to run some metrics on my archive to provide me with some valuable insight as to the development of my larger libraries just in time to close out the year. 

And it couldn’t have come a more fitting time, as I’ve been filled with inspiration and have been actively expanding my archive thanks to the magnificent ambient soundscapes showcased on the syndicated radio program, Hearts of Space

I maintain a complete broadcast archive of every transmission of the program since 1983 – over 1200 hours of ambient space music. These tone poems accompany me for eight hours every day at the office, and all through the night as I sleep. (For someone as hyperproductive as I am, this music is a godsend as it helps to quiet my overactive mind.)

Captivated by these contemporary instrumental works, I’ve spent the last few months compiling complete discographic archives of the artists featured on the program, many of whom have over one hundred albums in their respective catalogs spanning the history of ambient and space music. It’s a labor of love, and infinitely rewarding as I enjoy the company of their music all throughout my waking and restful hours.

I had previously compiled a digital archive of all official and unofficial Tangerine Dream releases, including the Tangerine Tree live recording archive totaling 298 discs of electronic ambient music. 

Soon thereafter I assembled a complete discography of the 45 releases by modern classical composer Harold Budd. I’ve loved his soft-pedal technique ever since I first heard his collaborations with Brian Eno.

Inspired by the Hearts of Space program I continued this effort by building a lossless library of the 72 releases by veteran ambient composer, Robert Rich. Rich has been featured on 84 transmissions of Hearts of Space and is a staple figure of the genre.

From there I built an archive of the 161-album catalog of his collaborator and Hearts of Space favorite artist, Steve Roach. Roach’s recordings are informed by his impressions of environment, perception, flow, and space and are considered to be highly influential in the genre of new age music.

Next I compiled a complete 100-album discography of the late master of Tibetan singing bowls, Klaus Wiese. Wiese played tamboura on Popol Vuh’s classic Hosianna Mantra and Seligpreisung LPs and is considered by some as one of the great ambient and space music artists.

I then secured a 149-disc library of the German dark ambient / drone ambient musician, Mathias Grassow. His Wikipedia entry notes that “[his] music often has a meditative and emotional and spiritual context, which induces deep feelings of introspection in listeners.”

I did the very same for the Berlin minimalist composer Andrea Porcu, who performs under the moniker Music For Sleep, and for UK experimental artist 36 (a project of Dennis Huddleston), and for other prominent figures of the genre. 

These explorations directly resulted in a number of physical media investments like the Hearts of Space first transmission LP limited to 500 copies worldwide, Robert Rich’s Premonitions 4LP box set (also limited to 500 copies), and the limited edition Nighthawks / Translucence / Drift Music autographed vinyl box set comprising the complete collaborations of Harold Budd and John Foxx.

I last published a feature on my playlist projects five years ago so it seemed like a good idea to recalculate the number of albums and total runtimes for the artists and record labels representing the largest segments of my library as a means of both organizing large sets of data and to serve as a reminder of catalogs I still need to explore in full. And while the former project from 2015 included large-scale genre maps I thought that this time it would be more productive to focus on specific artists, producers, and record labels specializing in a particular sound to highlight large libraries in my archive.

So that tabulation is consistent and equally weighted across various collections, I’ve calculated totals based on the total number of discs, so that a 30-disc box set weighs accurately against a single-disc release.

I factored collections of greater than 20 albums as being eligible large libraries. I was going to render a set of graphs of the results as I did with large playlists in 2015, but given the sheer number of eligible sets I felt that the data is most clearly expressed in a basic table. This list of approximately one hundred artists accounts for roughly 1% of the artists in my library, but over 75% of the total albums cataloged.

Here are the results, organized from largest to smallest libraries. I’ll divide the results into three categorical sets – first complete artist / record label discographies, followed by libraries of old time radio broadcasts, and close with box sets of audiobooks.

Here are the discographies:

Largest Discographic Archives by Artist / Record Label:# of Discs
Hearts of Space Radio Broadcast Archive1232
The Progressive-Kraut-Psych-Avant garde Rock Collection (Vols I-VIII)753
Underworld600
The World’s Greatest Jazz Collection500
Psybient DVD Packs Map317
Tangerine Dream and Tangerine Tree Live Archive298
Big Band Music Digital Archive259
FAX +49-69450464 Catalog (Pete Namlook)254
The KLF / Kopyright Liberation Front / JAMS / Justified Ancients of Mu Mu / The Timelords189
Steve Roach161
Ninja Tune Records154
Mathais Grassow149
Future Sounds of London & Amorphous Androgynous141
Lemon Jelly137
Keith Jarrett135
Max & Dima: Sapovnela Studio Sessions131
Throbbing Gristle131
111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon111
Miles Davis109
Daft Punk104
Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno100
Flea Market Funk: Funky Soul & Rare Groove100
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention100
Hit the Brakes DJ Series100
Klaus Wiese100
RYM Top 100 Downtempo / Trip Hop LPs100
Sigur Ros100
Nurse With Wound99
Franz Liszt97
Thelonious Sphere Monk97
Good Looking Records: Archive of LTJ Bukem’s Intelligent D’n’B Label94
Deuter89
Franklin Mint’s 100 Greatest Recordings of all Time88
Vangelis87
Richard D. James / Aphex Twin86
Karlheinz Stockhausen86
Jimmy Smith85
Klaus Schulze81
Ravi Shankar81
Ludwig Van Beethoven80
Sun Ra and the Arkestra74
John Cage73
2manyDJS / Radio Soulwax72
Robert Rich72
They Might Be Giants72
Café del Mar71
Peter Gabriel68
Philip Glass68
Ornette Coleman66
Mike Oldfield65
Muslimgauze63
Tom Waits63
The Orb63
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers62
Spacemind Psybient Mix Series62
Cornelius60
Attention K-Mart Shoppers: K-Mart Corporate Muzak (1973-1992)58
DJ Food & Solid Steel Radio Sets58
Porcupine Tree58
Parliament / Funkadelic57
Ambient Music Guide Podcast (2015-2019) by Mike G55
Cocteau Twins52
Herbie Hancock52
Ash Ra Tempel / Manuel Göttsching50
Early Experimental Electronic Music (1940-1976)50
Bill Laswell49
Early Moog & Synthesizer Library48
Jimmy McGriff48
Harold Budd45
Ryuichi Sakamoto44
Duke Ellington42
Bob Marley & The Wailers40
Captain Beefheart40
DJ Prestige39
Fela Kuti: The King of Afrobeat39
Enya37
John Fahey36
Fluke35
Low35
Arvo Pärt33
Electronic Supper Club33
Robert Fripp33
Charles Mingus32
Jah Wobble31
Moog Indigo: Classic Albums of Space Age Bachelor Pad Music31
Claude Debussy30
John Coltrane30
The Flaming Lips30
Chant Ambrosien: Sacred Music From the Middle Ages to the 20th Century29
Music For Sleep (Andrea Porcu)29
Kruder & Dorfmeister28
Moondog28
Cabaret Voltaire26
William Basinski26
Son House: Walkin’ Blues (The Complete Recordings)25
Top 25 Psybient Ultimae Records Releases25
Autechre24
36 (Ambient Composer Dennis Huddleston)22
Biosphere21

And the Old Time Radio series:

Old Time Radio:# of Discs
Dragnet298
The Adventures of Superman171
The Goon Show168
X Minus One (1955-1973)122
CBS Radio Mystery Theater: The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes83
BBC Radio: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes79
The Shadow (1937-1954)75
The Complete Sherlock Holmes Audiobooks60
Flash Gordon26
Orson Welles Mercury Theater 193820

And Audiobooks:

Audiobooks:# of Discs
Ray Bradbury425
Isaac Asimov348
Douglas Adams268
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle207
Philip K Dick124
HP Lovecraft (Dark Adventure Radio Theatre Complete Programs)17

The next libraries I intend to collect are Conny Plank’s 122-release extended discography, Dieter Moebius’ 65-album map, Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ 115-release catalog, and the 126 releases by Klaus Schulze, Pete Namlook, and Tetsu Inoue.

This new data will prove to be immeasurably useful for my annual reports and as a mental bookmark of large libraries I’ll continue to explore throughout my work days and subliminally while I sleep each night. And I have exciting new listening equipment arriving in the weeks ahead which will further enhance my sonic experience so stay tuned for an exciting feature to kick off the year 2020!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Underworld – DRIFT Series 1 Box Set

Closing out the year at Innerspace Labs with a monstrously mammoth undertaking by my favorite electronic duo, Rick Smith and Karl Hyde of Underworld with the newly-issued DRIFT Series 1 Box Set – the 600th addition to my Underworld release library!

From Wikipedia:

DRIFT is the ongoing music-and-video experiment by the British electronic music group Underworld, launched on 1 November 2018 with consecutive tracks and music videos being released online, on a weekly basis. Individual new tracks are being made available through the band’s official website, as time-limited free downloads, along with accompanying videos published on YouTube — followed by collective “episodes” released as digital EPs on music streaming platforms. 

It’s Underworld’s second digital distribution project, after the 2005–2006 series Riverrun, which stand and some of my favorite deep cuts from these veterans of progressive house music. 

Released on Smith Hyde Productions via Caroline International, DRIFT Series 1 (Boxset Edition) contains seven CDs comprising all 52 of the weekly-issued tracks from the project. The set also includes a Blu-ray DVD with the 30 videos produced for Series 1 as well as an 80-page book. The box set has nearly 2 hours of content that wasn’t issued during the weekly digital releases.

UnderworldLive.com provides a captivating summary of the project: 

What is DRIFT?

• It’s precisely one year inside the minds of Underworld.

• It’s a journey that began on 1st November 2018 when Underworld released the track Another Silent Way and set off with no map, no fixed destination and a simple mantra (“Drift is the opposite of ‘normal’ or ‘usual’ practice; we’ll do this until we’re dust.”) ‘Rick Smith and Karl Hyde’s aim was to create and publish music and film episodically for 52 weeks and see where the journey took them. Within a few weeks, the experiment found its own path, prompting the electronic pioneers to react to previous releases and create new works accordingly. Over time, the duo’s innate curiosity opened up a unique space in which they could experiment, learn and explore new frontiers – together and with others (including Tomato’s Simon Taylor, Australian improv-trance band The Necks, techno producer Ø [Phase], Japanese noise band Melt-Banana, economics writer Aditya Chakrabortty and members of Black Country, New Road). During the 52 weeks, five self-contained episodes were released (respectively in November, January, March, May and August) – collectively, they formed DRIFT Series 1.

• It’s a unique and expansive audio/visual document of that open and constantly evolving recording process – seven discs of immersive and exploratory music that dive deep inside the band’s psyche. And it’s also a carefully picked single disc sampler that guides the listener straight through the centre of the project.

• It’s a series of extraordinary films that take you from Shibuya Crossing to the Moroccan desert to rural Essex via the inside of supercomputer.

• It’s a book that delves into process and explores the motivation behind one of the most ambitious creative endeavours ever attempted by a recording artist.

And… at the heart of it, there’s some of the best music Underworld have ever made – as much a progressive leap forward into the unknown as their classic debut dubnobasswithmyheadman.

The series was well-received by critics, with a normalised Metacritic score of 86 based on 6 reviews indicating universal acclaim and stands as the band’s most-acclaimed studio release to date. Mixmag called the album “absolutely stunning.” 

As with other collaborative efforts from the duo like Teatime Dub Encounters (with Iggy Pop) and Downpipe with Mark Knight & D. Ramirez, DRIFT Series 1 features a number of guest artists.

From International DJ Mag:

Guests featured in the collection included techno producer Ø [Phase], Japanese noise band Melt-Banana, trance outfit The Necks and economist Aditya Chakraborty (no, really) as well as long-term collaborator Simon Taylor, with whom Underworld founded the Tomato design and film collective. 

Tragically there are few published reviews exploring this release in the detail it deserves. (This article was drafted before the commercial release of the box set, so there will likely be more reviews to come once the release is available to the public.) Though the band themselves provide a brief write up accompanying each digital single which are archived at underworldlive.com/drift.

Thankfully, Adam Blyweiss of treblezine.com offers some insightful observations which contextualize both the strengths and shortcomings of this massive project. I’ll quote a few sections from his article but encourage readers interested in exploring the DRIFT series to read it in its entirety here. Blyweiss writes:

I’m pretty sure Rick Smith and Karl Hyde struck the word “small” from their vocabulary long ago. Performing as Underworld, nothing they have ever done can be described as such. Their biggest hits are epic in length and strength, their albums cavernous, their ideas complex enough to require dedicated studios, design firms, and streaming media channels.

The techno form has always had detractors of its monorhythmic and monotonal origins, and responsive artists who dare to twist those as far as they might go. With that in mind, Drift Series 1 is a daunting work, and a daunting listen. To the uninitiated or less-dedicated, there are moments when Underworld stray so far from being, well, Underworld that they sound like faded copies of other artists, the promise of experimentation turned into heavy-handed gimmickry. Disc four, with the episode “Space,” includes heretofore unheard gestures with melody and songwriting that can sometimes descend into irritating Flaming Lips territory (“Hundred Weight Hammer”). And for as pretty as the piano feature “Brilliant Yes That Would Be” is, it’s still just lifted from the modern classical motifs of Eno, Glass, and Satie.

Further, there are moments where Smith and Hyde’s equipment and sample libraries threaten to overwhelm listeners with countless variations on what is ultimately the same theme. Many of these songs are long, shifting treatises on the groove—multipart, meditative throbs that recall the days of “Juanita/Kiteless/To Dream of Love”—that in a vacuum might stun but revisited over and over might make even the most dedicated fan a little numb.

But he makes sure to express the merits of the project – 

Still, so much of Drift Series 1 reminds us that Underworld are just worlds apart from most other house derivatives of today, let alone the contemporaries who rose up with them in the heart of the 1990s’ big beat and intelligent dance music movements. 

For another thing, Drift Series 1 brings to the lexicon some of Underworld’s most memorable contributions since Beaucoup Fish in 1999. “Listen to Their No” is a fresh dip into their well of ecstatic house conceits, and “Imagine a Box” is a dour, eerie acid ghost story. “S T A R,” meanwhile, is an infectious little speed demon of a track that rests somewhere between nursery rhyme and children’s word game, matching up the activities of established fantasy characters like Tom Thumb and Robin Hood with modern names like Dr. Dre, David Beckham, and Rosa Parks. This and other cuts like “Another Silent Way” (originally released set to footage of UK drift racers—“drift,” get it?) find Smith and Hyde continuing to sneak more cheekiness into their music this late in their careers, and they’re all the more entertaining for it.

The last song of disc one, “One True Piano Need Hand,” is their first real attempt at droning noise, while disc three, “Heart,” is the box set’s locus of high weirdness anchored by the stuttering improvisations of “Poet Cat.” Frankly, Underworld scatter horns and strings, jazz and classical throughout Drift Series 1, from the patches of “Altitude Dub” to disc five’s choral denouement, “A Moth at the Door.” Smith and Hyde also make room in this music for contributions from Australian experimental band The Necks, none so thorough as the set’s sixth disc of collaborations between the bands based on songs released earlier in Underworld’s project. While the first two songs (42 minutes!) lean heavily on The Necks’ tender jazz interplay, Underworld’s stamp is clearly on the closing half-hour-long “Appleshine Continuum,” a composition suggesting the massive remixes and studio bootlegs from the dubnobasswithmyheadman days.

Underworld bravely use the broad expanse of time and creative space covered in Drift Series 1 to explore sounds and arrangements not yet heard in their repertoire. There’s also plenty of evidence that what brought them to the dance—and the dancefloor—not only never went away, it’s as sharp as ever. Surely not even UW superfans are going to like everything they hear in this collection, but there’s so much worth giving a chance. And hey, there’s always the sampler. And next year.

I also must mention a parallel drawn between Underworld and one of my favorite kosmische musik artists which I found mentioned in a feature by Simon Tucker of LouderThanWar.com:

John Doran of The Quietus recently compared Underworld to German pioneers CAN and that comparison is perfect. Like CAN, Underworld always seem to be in a constant state of evolution and knee deep in the high-art of experimentation. What they also share with their German predecessors is the sheer wealth of quality that they produce with DRIFT being the ultimate example of this. Fired up and free from the leash, Hyde and Smith now plan on continuing the project into 2020. They are now the gatekeepers and the spirit guides. Cerberus and Snoopy. As they continue we wish the road rises up to meet them and we will be following them every single step of the way for this is a story that has many enthralling chapters left to be written.

Stunning.

Series 1 explores a gamut of electronic subgenres. The Discogs entry for the release cites no fewer than a dozen genre tags for the release, including Techno, Leftfield, Experimental, Downtempo, Electro, Abstract, Future Jazz, Minimal Techno, Progressive House, Drum n Bass, Ambient, and Spoken Word.

DRIFT is, as Blyweiss wrote, a daunting and somewhat overwhelming undertaking, but one which is fantastically rewarding and welcomed by fans who wished for new Underworld music. As I mentioned, this release brings the grand total of discs in my Underworld library to an even 600, comprising well-over 8,100 tracks, many of which clock in at anywhere from 40 minutes to hours in length. These six hours of new content will be enjoyed again and again this winter and I look forward to the next DRIFT installment in 2020!

Published in: on November 16, 2019 at 7:55 am  Comments (2)  
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Robert Rich – Premonitions 1980-1985 4LP Set

Just arrived at Innerspace Labs – hand-numbered copy #114/500 of Robert Rich’s Premonitions vinyl box set.

A veteran of the minimal drone genre, Robert Rich has been a major figure in the ambient music scene for forty years. I maintain a complete discographic archive of Rich’s 63 full-length releases totaling 72 discs of content in lossless archival FLAC including the seven-hour Somnium and eight-hour Perpetual: A Somnium Continuum sleep concert DVDs. However, very little of Rich’s extensive catalog has ever been available in the vinyl format. 

In an interview with Anil Prasad for the web-based music magazine, Innerviews Rich remarked that he wanted to work beyond the ~20-minute limitations of an album side so he gravitated toward cassette releases early in his career and later to DVD-audio. Presently, the only two of his releases currently listed for sale on Discogs’ used record marketplace in the vinyl format are Numena from 1987 and Stalker (with Brian Lustmord) from 2018. So I was absolutely delighted to discover the Premonitions 1980-1985 collection offered on vinyl directly from Rich, himself!

In a letter to Rich’s listeners on his official website, he writes:

Here’s one for the folks who keep asking me whether I’ll release an album on vinyl. Four discs of music from my formative years, most of it never before released. It also contains the strongest sections of the 1984 “Live” cassette, and the cyclic introduction from the original “Inner Landscapes.” I made new 24/96 digital transfers from original master tapes. It’s coming out in Germany on the label Vinyl On Demand (VOD122), and I’ll import 40 copies for listeners here in the USA. International shipping will be expensive for this, as it’s big and heavy, so I request to my European, Asian and Canadian listeners that they go directly to VoD to order the set. It’s at this link: http://www.vinyl-on-demand.com/-1-402-472.htm 

If you are in the USA and you want to reserve one of these 40 copies of “Premonitions”, for purchase through our order form, you can use the CONTACT link up above on this site, and let me know your name, email, and shipping address. I’ll contact you when the records arrive. The price will be around $75 plus shipping. If more than 40 of you want to reserve a copy, I might be able to import more, but it will help me to know how many because they are a bit expensive. Thanks for listening! – Robert

And from the Notes section of the compilation’s entry at Discogs:

This 4LP box set focuses on Rich’s early stage of composition and performance,1979–1985. Most of this music is previously unreleased, or came out on limited cassettes from the UK Auricle Label or Swedish Psychout Productions, which later became Multimood, and released his album “Numena” in 1986. Edition of 500 copies.

Discogs member, Richard Gurtler drafted a contextual review of the set which is also featured on the official Bandcamp Page for the release as well as on Robert Rich’s website. In his introduction he writes:

This amazing sonic document was released at the end of April 2014 on German Vinyl-On-Demand label run by Frank Maier, who passionately focuses on releasing various limited vinyl editions, which are mainly taken from various rare tape releases or feature unpublished material. VOD’s catalog includes huge list of artists from industrial, noise, avantgarde, ambient… scene and each release with its packaging is a true piece of art. “Premonitions 1980-1985”, released as a 4LP Box Set in limited edition of 500 copies with extensive liner notes about each track and including an official hand-numbered certificate card for each customer, is no exception, a pure visual bliss awaits after its unwrapping!

But the most in-depth details on this fantastic release are provided by the Vinyl-On-Demand site linked in Rich’s letter. It offers Rich’s own liner notes on every selection featured in the set –

Selene & Ether 27:05

Recorded in summer of 1980 with Paia modular, newly acquired Prophet 5 and homebuilt Radio Shack analog delay, recorded direct to cassette at home. Unreleased until now. This was my first recording that ever got radio airplay, from “Music From The Hearts of Space” on KPFA in Berkeley, CA. I think that was around my 17th birthday. A note to myself inside the cassette case reads, “The sound first dwells in darker figures that sometimes inhabit dreams, then slowly lifts, collecting energy from harmony. The last is a sea of time, the atmospheric pillow.” An almost Vangelis-like grandiose middle section was a rare departure for me. Until I got the Prophet 5 I could never attempt a sound like that. 

A little story about this synthesizer: I was still 15 years old when I made friends with a college DJ named Rick Huber, who also worked at synth company Sequential Circuits. I wanted to start a band making noisy improvisations, so Rick introduced me to his co-worker Rick Davies. (We remained life-long friends, and made some rather embarrassing musical experiments with co-conspirator Jon Spencer.) Sequential’s Prophet 5 was the first polyphonic synthesizer with digital memory, and it was very expensive in 1978. Unfortunately the first version of the Prophet was quite fragile and broke constantly, almost impossible to calibrate, and plagued by catastrophic component failures. Sequential offered an upgrade to their early customers, offering to exchange (for a fee) any Rev.1 Prophet 5 for an improved Rev.2. Then they sold the fragile Rev.1’s to their employees (the only people who could keep them running) with a promise not to re-sell. The company never wanted to see them again. My friends at Sequential purchased a handful of these lemons, and kindly snuck one into my hands. Selene and Ether was one of the very first things I recorded with it.

Collage for Low Tones 18:35 1980

Recorded summer of 1980 direct to cassette, an improvisation with analog delay and Paia modular. I had completely forgotten about this recording until I started going through archives for this release.

I built the analog delay from a circuit board sold through Radio Shack, called the “Electronic Reverb” kit. Nineteen years later (1999) I began to get back into analog modular synths after meeting Paul Schreiber, who had recently started a new modular company called Synthesis Technology. As Paul and I became friends, I learned that he once worked for Tandy Corporation, designing kits for Radio Shack. Paul had in fact designed the analog delay kit that I used so heavily during these early years. The instructions suggested modifications to allow feedback into self-oscillation, and a switch to slow down the clock, creating a very grungy echo. These modifications turned the delay into a crazy oscillator, one of my main instruments for creating noisy pieces like this one.

Ghosts 8:42 1980

Inside the cassette box where I found this recording, my notes say: “Ghosts is a sound collage consisting of many layers of randomly tuned sinusoidal frequencies, whose amplitudes were also randomly chosen. The sound was inspired by multiple resonances of the wind through a certain cave in the Sierra foothills.” I think I was being a bit coy, as it sounds to me like an improvisation with Prophet 5 and Paia modular synth using resonant filters imparting different pitches from a pink noise source.

Clouds  26:15 1983

I remember being quite happy with this drone improvisation when I recorded it, but I never officially released it because some other pieces around that time felt more like a breakthrough. Apparently I made cassette copies for a few people to hear, as I have seen pictures of handmade tapes with this on them, called simply “Modal Improvisation.” This performance employs a resonant all-pass filter using a Curtis chip that I built onto a blank circuit board, responsible for the shimmering stepped tones of the low drone.

Nocturne 25:40 1983

I remember working for several weeks to prepare the elements for Nocturne. I did not have a multitrack recorder at the time, but I had two cassette decks and a reel-to-reel. I assembled extra layers onto cassette, in order to mix to 1/4″ reel while performing live instruments. I remember this piece being much harder to create than others at the time, and it felt less satisfying to me when finished. The original tape is 40 minutes long, and I wanted it to feel completely calm and stable, yet slowly changing around the steady drone, a sort of infinite music, acting in a certain way upon the mind only when played for very long durations. Alas, in the thirty years since attempting this sort of trancelike effect in very slow music, my attention span has gotten shorter, and I am rather surprised to look back at my youthfully obsessive attention to microscopic details.

Live in Monterey CA September 15, 1983 25:30

These are the beginning and ending sections of a two hour ambient concert performed at an art exhibit opening by painter Todd Friedlander. Most of the performance consisted of nature recordings combined with very quiet drones. The closing section was an interpretation of the piece “Nocturne” that I had recorded the previous month, but that piece sounded different each time I played it.

Live at Stanford University CA, March 13 1984 25:27

This “concert” actually took place in my dorm room at the co-op house where I lived during my third and fourth years at university. I recorded most of Trances and Drones here (when I probably should have been studying.) My roommate Miguel Helft patiently tolerated my pile of electronics that cluttered the room. A few friends asked me if they could listen to me play, so I made this casual home concert for three or four people, and recorded it to my new Revox B77. The 90 minute recording turned out better than expected. 

Early in my efforts to release my own music, I made friends with an ardent listener in Köping, Sweden named Hans Fahlberg. After he discovered my first release Sunyata, Hans began writing me letters with funny cartoon illustrations of laughing heads prancing around naked on tiny legs. After I released Trances and Drones, Hans wrote me asking if I had any unreleased music, as he wanted to start a cassette label. This would be his first release. I didn’t feel that my earliest experiments were suitable, so I sent him edits of the two live recordings that appear here. These became Robert Rich Live, catalog 001 on Psychout Productions. Hans soon changed his label name to Multimood Records and released my first LP Numena, and many excellent albums by artists including Peter Frohmader, Roedelius, O Yuki Conjugate, Paul Schütze, Jeff Greinke, and others.

In the late 80s, the Freeman brothers in the U.K. replicated small quantities of Live and Inner Landscapes for their Auricle label. Among my early releases, Live was the only one that I did not remaster for CD, because I felt that it would not hold up to digital scrutiny. This vinyl version is the first official reprinting since those cassettes.

3A Guitar Drone 8-15  14:46  1983

I don’t actually remember playing this. I discovered it while digging through the archives. I found several pieces from the summer of 1983, all untitled and described as “guitar drone” or “guitar rhythm.” Most of them sound similar to each other. It appears I was aiming for a certain relationship between the echoed strumming and the cloudy loops made from brushing guitar strings lightly. I recorded two of those attempts to reel-reel tape, so I presume those were more “serious” or premeditated, while this version only shows up on a cassette master, like a practice version or an afterthought. Among the different attempts, this may be the most interesting, although perhaps not the highest fidelity.

CCRMA Voices  7:22 1984

This is one of the few computer compositions that I finished while taking the computer music course at Stanford’s CCRMA, the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. It uses Bill Schottstaedt’s PLA language to create a simple two-operator FM voice, with random pitch, duration and inflections within the range of a human voice. 

Inner Landscapes Introduction 9:12 1985

This comes from a live concert performed in Berkeley, CA, later released as the 90 minute live cassette Inner Landscapes. In the late 1990s, Mike Griffin at Hypnos approached me about remastering some of my early work for CD. Inner Landscapes and Sunyata seemed worthy candidates at the time. I had to remove some material from Inner Landscapes to get it to fit onto CD. Except for this sequencer improvisation at the start, the remainder of that concert was deep and very slow; so I decided to cut this piece and keep the CD consistently deep and atmospheric. This intro remained an orphan until now. 

Manna 17:15  1980

Here’s another piece that I forgot about. It comes from the burst of recordings I made as soon as I got the Prophet 5 in 1980. This uses a patch technique called “random arpeggio” where each voice fades in and out at different rates by its own modulations, sounding a bit like tape loops. The bleepy tones come from the Paia modular, with tape echo adding its telltale warble. 

Robert Rich @ 2007 Nearfest

This historical artifact offers a rare glimpse at an ambient master’s earliest work, composed using his first synthesizers at the age of 17 while attending Stanford University. In his Interview For Ambient Visions in January of 2005 Rich described how, at the age of 13, he used his savings from two years of paper routes and gardening money to purchase and construct PAiA modular synths, and eventually graduated to a Revox B77 half-track 1/4″ reel-to-reel, a pawn shop lap steel guitar, and a Sequential Prophet 5 rev 1. In the interview Rich states that he began to experiment with alternate tunings as he was inspired by Harry Partch and Terry Riley. The recordings from this set explore Rich’s development as an artist during this pivotal period.

How could I pass it up? 

The Ultimate Index v3.0 – The Innerspace Labs Media Exploration Master Workbook is LIVE!

It’s been a magnificently productive day at Innerspace Labs and we’ve reached what is to date our most prestigious milestone. I published a feature last March about the evolution of my life-long list-making of sound works, cinema, and literature that I’ve been meaning to explore. These lists also served to touch upon some of the special collections in my archive.

In the previous article I described how this process began with leather pocket journals, and as the scale of my library grew I began to publish annual print editions itemizing large collections.

Innerspace Labs Archive Index Books 2013

Innerspace Labs 50 Top Artists Book

These efforts were radically transformed several years ago when I migrated to Google Drive. But as the years passed and spreadsheets and documents multiplied, it rapidly became apparent that I needed to consolidate all of these various lists into a single, deep searchable index otherwise countless lists would be forgotten and disappear into the digital void of my Google Drive.

Thus began the Innerspace Labs Master Workbook project this past spring. Though this venture posed several new dilemmas. As the workbook grew to nearly 200 tabs, I received this error stating that Google Workbooks are limited to 5 million or fewer cells.

Google Error 5 Million Cells Spreadsheet Workbook.png

And it quickly became evident that navigation of all those tabs was painfully arduous in the mobile environment, as was its loading time. Thankfully, after careful research into various potential solutions, I’ve implemented a system of scripts and formula expressions which make navigating this large workbook a snap and its interactive response time nearly instantaneous.

By combining over 200 named ranges, and incorporating a primary dynamic drop-down and a dependent secondary drop-down field, along with an “=INDIRECT(CONCATENATE” expression calling named ranges based on user input, I’m now able to hide and lock all but one master sheet and made the entire workbook navigable from that single homepage.

The home sheet offers the user a primary drop-down of LITERATURE, SOUND, or VIDEO, which in turn controls a secondary dependent drop-down to populate and auto-alphabetize a list of all related content for that category.

I’ve also employed a script which is triggered by Google Clock to rescan the entire workbook for newly-added lists and to automatically incorporate them into the search fields alphabetically and by category as the workbook continues to grow.

I understand that it may not have significant value to anyone other than myself, but it’s intended to serve as a reference document along with the over 200-pages of archive summaries I’ve drafted in a companion Google Doc. With this easy-to-reference Workbook, I can pull up a list in seconds and start exploring. My hope is that the project helps introduce me to some spectacular content and that it helps me rediscover forgotten areas of my library.

The next phase of the project is to apply uniform formatting to all lists, as these were drafted independently over the course of nearly a decade, so I apologize for the crudity of its present format. And of course, there may be errors or omissions among the lists. But you know that I’ll work tirelessly to make this project as accurate and accessible as I can.

Here is a link to a copy of the latest version. It showcases and attempts to organize ~26,000 of the most noteworthy elements of my personal library and related subjects of interest. All cells are locked for editing except the two dynamic drop downs, which is sufficient for general users to explore and interact with the document. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a labor of love that I will continue to work on and which I hope will enrich my life as it continues to expose me to some of the greatest works of the ages.

SPECIAL FEATURE: Pieces—A Thousand Albums At The End Of America

Bill Boulden - Pieces - A Thousand Albums At The End Of America (Vinyl Rip - Each of 1000 Copies is Unique)

I’m honored to share an extraordinarily unique recording for this installment at Innerspace Labs. This is Bill Boulden’s (aka Spruke’s) innovative project, Pieces—A Thousand Albums At The End Of America.

From his Kickstarter page:

Spruke’s previous Kickstarted ambient music album Music To Die Alone In Space To featured the same album being rerecorded 310 times with unique variations for every backer. On Pieces, he will expand on this concept by adding an innovative new system of distributed storytelling.

This follow-up project tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic near future – a story spread over 96 LPs. Boulden partnered with Meep Records, a single-run lathe-cut vinyl manufacturer, to make it possible for the first time to own literally the only copy of an album in existence.

Boulden describes the album-within-an-album concept he employed for this record:

When America falls, the musicians of the time period don’t sit around and let it happen. These albums contain fragments of the music of this alternate future. They appear in fits and starts between other tracks; ten seconds as a lead-in to a piano piece, or a thirty-second interlude between two tracks, or maybe fifteen seconds of radio static between ambient passages where you can hear a radio station almost tuning into this song but not quite finding it.

I’ve hired hip-hop artists, barbershop quartets, folk singers, grrl garage punk, country singers, and more from this hypothetical future that may never come to pass, to come back in time and put their songs in tiny pieces on this album.

[The album presents a dystopia where] America is broken and abandoned. Relics from humankind’s brief stay are slowly being reclaimed by nature, and one damning question lingers: What happened here?

Boulden explains “Distributed Storytelling” thusly:

Cassettes. Handheld recorders. Radio broadcasts. Voicemails. When Americans saw their country dissolve around them, they left all of these and more lying everywhere, and you’ll hear fragments of them as you move through a unique copy of the album… but never the whole story.

He leaves it up to the backers of the project to collaborate and piece together the full narrative. The LPs are not numbered, so there is no official chronology or oversight of the 96 segments. They were engineered through Boulden’s generative compositional process, and once the rules were set in motion the story unfolded on its own. The unique one-off discs were priced at $80-110 apiece and all copies sold out to the original backers of the project.

The social participatory factor here is exciting. Some of the backers shared their uniques on twitter as #BitsOfPieces. You can search that hashtag to find people swapping uniques and new material comes up on every copy.

The canonical edition was a randomly selected copy from the series, (Boulden believes it to be #36 or so), that was the copy chosen to print en masse and put on Spotify, iTunes, etc. Approximately 200 LPs were pressed of this edition.

The opening minutes of the canonical (wide-release) edition of the record set the stage with disembodied beeps and somber off-key sour synths. We are quickly introduced to curious smatterings of disconnected conversations about the dismal chaos that has come of America. These fractured dialogues are fast-forwarded and rewound from dusty old cassettes and fade in and out from distant radio signals on an imagined archaic analog tuner. We are wandering through the smoldering aftermath seeking signs of survival in a bleak 1980s vision of a dark near-future.

Musique concrète with a beat, this album offers captivatingly voyeuristic post-apocalyptic field recordings and static-laden AM / Ham / shortwave radio broadcasts with a bizarre displaced out-of-time personae.

Pieces… is richly hauntological and brimming with digitally-processed but authentic sounding artifacts of characteristically analog phenomena, including radio broadcasts, snippets of sorrowful minor-key piano melodies, retro television commercial segments, station-tuning and detuning, vinyl crackling, and tape wow and flutter. It features an impressively wide dimensional soundstage ranging from distant and lonely vocal echoes to vintage answering machines to in-your-face distorted guitar shredding, with looming drones and sustained synths to tie it all together with brilliantly seamless finesse. And the mastering quality is top-notch with a zero noise floor to let the artistry take front and center stage.

Pieces… is a work of 21st century studio wizardry richly in the spirit of classic Musique concrète and Eno’s generative methodology. (I also can’t resist its recollection of perhaps a Gothic incarnation of The Firesign Theater’s Bozos LP, particularly reminisced with the clapboard opening and fractured radio adverts.) And there is undeniably a hearty dose of John Carpenter’s desolate and foreboding 80s synths present here. But the record isn’t just the score to such a film. With all the scattered original vocal samples it effectively conjures the visual of an unmade motion picture as well.

There are no verses or choruses. There is only the persistence of the constantly-shifting ambient foci with strange new sounds vying for the listener’s attention at every turn. The album is a highly-engaging dystopian dramatization reminiscent of War Of The Worlds with the enhancement and magic of modern production which rewards dedicated listening. Pieces… is easily the most fascinating and impactful recording I’ve heard this year.

Five stars for its progressive concept, for its vision, for its implementation, for its production, for its social participatory element, and for music that truly deserves some attention.

A Promotion And An Introvert’s Dream

I was recently promoted at work and given the largest desk on the floor which is affectionately referred to as “The Fortress of Solitude” by my team. It’s off by itself with four enclosed walls making it an incredibly quiet and private space which is a dream for an introvert like myself. My supervisor was confident placing me there because he knew I could work independently but would also continue to supervise and interact with new members of the team to assist them as needed.

I wasted no time in making the space my own – a home away from home. I ordered a few antique art pieces, a Persian style rug, I printed custom posters and had them framed, ordered limited edition lithographs, and had a second bronze bust of Beethoven cast to match the one I use in my home office for use as headphone stands in each space.

To ensure that each of the pieces would function well in the space, I took a moment between tasks at work to sketch out a rough template of the work area’s measurements and where I planned to place/hang each artifact. Here’s the (very) rough layout.

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It took a few months for all of the art works to be created, printed, or to ship from their nations of origin, but it’s all come together. The final step was to replace the boring wheeled plastic desk chair with something more my style. Thankfully I scored a vintage red armchair for just $7 at a local garage sale.

Here are a few shots of the results.

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The last item has just arrived and is now handsomely framed on my office wall. This is the limited edition bonus A2 lithograph from Brian Eno’s new Extended Edition of Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, exclusively shipped to the first 250 persons worldwide to submit their orders upon the announcement of its release last May.

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The print showcases the lunar surface depicted on the original album cover from 1983. The piece is a perfect complement to the official Hearts of Space nebula poster I ordered from the ambient radio program that has been wishing space fans safe journeys for nearly forty years.

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The Beethoven bust turned out fantastic and really adds a refined touch to the space –

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My dual desktop wallpaper is a photo of the century-old chalkware “Nipper” statue and 1911 Monarch gramophone proudly displayed in my dining room in celebration of “His Master’s Voice,” the legacy of RCA, and the history of recorded music, and a small cast iron figure of Nipper sits humbly between the two monitors.

Here’s the actual statue in my home –

Chalkware Century Old Nipper and 1911 Monarch Replica Gramophone 02-12-19 - Close Up Pulled Back a Bit

and the cast iron figure –

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Also on display is my recently-acquired “His Master’s Voice” antique art mirror –

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a portrait of James Joyce, mantel clock, and I found a vintage lamp and shade to complement my burgundy-and-brass theme –

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a collage I assembled of influential figures in the history of experimental music titled, “The Rest Is Noise” –

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DJ Food (Strictly Kev)’s poster of all the releases from the late Pete Namlook’s ambient FAX +49-69/450464 record label –

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an engraved tea chest –

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and a limited edition t-shirt graphic I framed of post-rock legend Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Faulty Schematics of a Ruined Machine from their majestic F# A# ∞ LP –

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There is also a fun antique style console radio clock –

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and I produced a high-res scan of Brian Eno’s sheet music for his seminal Music for Airports LP and formatted the layout to frame beautifully in a 10×13 frame above my desk.

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And on the far wall behind my desk I’ve framed the Apollo print and a classy 24” x 36” portrait of Miles Davis taken in 1948 in NYC from the Herman Leonard Collection.

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The Persian style area rug finishes off the space nicely, and makes it feel extra cozy.

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It’s a serene work space and really makes me feel at home.

Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports book by John T. Lysaker

Brian Eno's Ambient 1 - Music For Airports by John T Lysaker 06-30-19

When I learned that Oxford University Press had just published a volume of its Keynotes series wholly dedicated to examining Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports, I raced to secure a copy.

The keynote was written by John Lysaker, the William R. Kenan Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Philosophy Department. Researchgate.net reports Lysaker’s project goal with the book was to provide “a 30,000 word study of Eno’s seminal album. This short study will explore the nature of ambient music, situate the album in 20th century avant garde music practice, and consider multiple forms of listening.”

Lysaker outlines the origins of this exploration in the Acknowledgements:

I test-drove some early thoughts at a meeting of the American Philosophies Forum. This was a great prod in the right direction, and comments from other participants proved useful as the project developed, as did the opportunity to concretize those remarks in an article, “Turning Listening Inside Out” which appeared in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy.

(He also acknowledges) the writings of Geeta Dayal, David Sheppard, Cecilia Sun, Eric Tamm, and David Toop (and included) the titles of their books alongside others in the section called Additional Sources for Reading and Listening. (He also thanks) the tireless laborers that maintain two websites: MORE DARK THAN SHARK and EnoWeb. Each has gathered numerous interviews that are resources for scholars and fans alike.

The Introduction quickly frames the tasks undertaken by the book:

This short study is for listeners who want to think and reflect on what Eno’s LP has to offer, and in a way that deepens future listening rather than replaces it with scholarly prose.

Five chapters and an afterward follow. They blend musical and historical analysis with occasional philosophical reflections on what “music” means in a context as provocative as the one convened by MFA.

Chapter 2: Music for Airports and the Avant-Garde touches upon a number of pivotal composers and works which paved the way for MFA. David Toop’s Ocean of Sound is discussed, as are Debussy, Ives, Schoenberg, Luigi Russolo, Pierre Schaeffer, Edgar Varèse’s Poème électronique, Michael Nyman, La Monte Young, Steve Reich, Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting In A Room, David Tudor, Cage, and Riley’s In C. Lysaker demonstrates how each of these predecessors provided an environment for Eno’s composition and he concludes the chapter by succinctly identifying the properties and musical concepts embraced by Music for Airports:

…in a short book, one is forced to make choices, and I elect to provide what I consider MFA‘s most immediate context… …Rather, I’ve been marking conceptual, technological, and sonic shifts that helped make a record like MFA possible, and we’ve encountered several.

  • Music can be built around something other than a motif, or basic musical phrase.
  • Microtones and the dissonances they introduce can be musical.
  • Traditional harmony (and even harmony altogether) neither exhausts nor is required for a musically legitimate arrangement of sounds.
  • Any sound is suitable material for a musical composition.
  • New technologies for the generation and reproduction of sound are not only welcome but necessary.
  • The presence of unintended sounds, i.e. noise, is an acceptable (and inevitable) part of a musical work.
  • Musical works can productively interact with the sonic environment in which they are produced.
  • Single tones and chords are musically complex and interesting, particularly when sustained for lengthy periods of time or subjected to extended repetition.

Chapter 4: Ambience explores the nature and function of the general umbrella of various ambient musics. Satie’s musique d’ameublement (“furniture music”) is examined, as is divertimenti music of the eighteenth century. Lysaker goes on to contextualize Cage, La Monte Young, Pauline Oliveros and the Deep Listening album, Moby, Aphex Twin, Thomas Köner, Wolfgang Voigt, Robert Scott Thompson, Max Richter’s Sleep, William Basinski, Stars of the Lid, and FSOL, as well as a brief history of Muzak and the 1950s Capital Records “Moods in Music” series.

Lysaker quotes Eno’s description of MFA‘s movement “away from narrative and toward landscape” and says that “MFA‘s somewhat amorphous and discontinuous sonic material seems to suspend its listeners somewhere in the space between hearing and listening.”

He describes the state of reverie induced by MFA, and suggests that it “enters life differently – obliquely, gently, but nevertheless, at least on occasion, transformatively.”

The final Chapter 5: Between Hearing and Listening – Music for Airports as Conceptual Art effectively summarizes the conceptual nature of MFA:

At one extreme, futurists like Russolo tried to humanize those sounds, creating compositions that strove to translate the sounds of the world into an expanded but nevertheless fully realized musical idiom. At the other extreme, Cage sought to let sounds be sounds through compositions that removed as thoroughly as possible his taste, judgment, and skill as a composer.

When interpreted conceptually, the approaches of Russolo and Cage create an opposition: either (a) art absorbs nature in the self-enlarging process, versus (b) art exposes nature in a self-effacing one. The former offers us culture over nature, whereas the latter labors to displace human activity from an emerging culture-or field-of sounds. MFA eludes this opposition, seeking neither a denatured culture nor an ascetically cleansed field of sounds. Instead, it enacts itself as one aspect of the world operating on another. By working with its world, and by clarifying itself with theories that naturalize the human desire to make art, it presents itself as nature unfolding, taking nature, cybernetically, as a dynamic system of interactions that includes its (and our) own efforts.

Lysaker presents and describes various forms of listening, including background listening, foreground or performance listening, aesthetic listening, adequate listening, and regressive or narcissistic listening. He then offers a metaphor for the reader to consider the type of listening warranted by MFA through a different “lens” of prismatic or immersive listening.

He goes on to observe the subtle differences between listening to MFA across different media formats, from compact disc to vinyl, and then explores the vastly different texture, spaciality, and sonic palette offered by the instrumental realization of the album by Bang on a Can which displaces the monochromatic character of “2/2,” effectively enlivening and humanizing the track.

The book concludes with an Afterward framing the enduring influence of MFA, and the author closes with a brief list of further reading and listening materials. Additionally, Oxford University Press created a website to accompany the book that features audio clips of many musical passages discussed over the course of its chapters.

The short text was a delightful and engaging read, and the philosophy explored by the author is never lost to overly-academic pomp. The book is a thoughtful and knowledgeable reflection on a critically influential work of music which continues to influence and inspire musicians and listeners alike over forty years after its release.