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.

 

Wolfgang Voigt – Lost in Königsforst

Wolfgang Voigt - GAS - Nah Und Fern 2LP
Through a wonderful stroke of good fortune, I am now honored to have claimed a copy of Nah Und Fern for my vinyl library.  A milestone compilation – both for Wolfgang Voigt, performing under his legendary moniker GAS, and for the incredible impact the recording had on my own musical experience.

GAS is ambient minimal techno in its purest form.  Voigt’s samples are ghostly sonic elements – formless and featureless.  There is no melody, no key, no pitch, and no progression for the listener to cling to.  Instead, the pieces, (all untitled), pulse steadily in place, with no discernible beginning or end.

Voigt, himself describes it as “GASeous music, caught by a bass drum just marching by, that streams, streams out through the underwood across the forest soil.”  The music of these projects were inspired by Voigt’s LSD experiences in the Königsforst forest near Köln.

There are four albums in the GAS project – Gas, Zauberberg, Königsforst and Pop.  Released between 1996 and 2000, the albums were later compiled into a 4CD box set titled Nah Und Fern in 2008 on the Kompakt label.

This limited vinyl release consists of four side-long edits, the first of which is exclusive to the LP.

GAS was my initiation into drone music, and led me on a rewarding path of discovery with albums like Jimmy Cauty’s Space, Robert Rich’s Somnium,  Black Swan’s vinyl-only releases, and later to Voigt’s own influences – namely Wagner and Schoenberg.  A delightful friend and ambient guru first played GAS for me in his bookshop, and the rest was history.

But Nah Und Fern does not come cheap, and I confess that I approached the purchase with some hesitation.  Thankfully all my doubts were vanquished when I learned that the gentleman who sold me his copy was a fellow member of the Youtube Vinyl Community!

Critics have called it many things – 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.”  One thing is certain – this is drone music at its finest.

Published in: on December 12, 2014 at 10:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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Top 10 Drone Albums

After the positive response I received to yesterday’s ambient/ethereal post, I’ve decided to share my top 10 drone records, complete with links to the media so that you can preview (most of them) in their entirety before you order.  So here they are…*

My All-Time Favorite Drone Top 10:

Gas (Wolfgang Voigt) – Nah Und Fern (4 CD set of Gas, Zauberberg, Königsforst and Pop)

Disc 1: Gas

Disc 2: Zauberberg (album playlist)

Disc 3: Königsforst (album playlist)

Disc 4: Pop

Black Swan – The Quiet Divide

Black Swan – In 8 Movements

Alvin Lucier – Music on a Long Thin Wire

William Basinski – Disintegration Loops

La Monte Young – Dream House

Tim Hecker – Ravedeath 1972

Brian Eno – January 07003 Bell Studies For the Clock of the Long Now

Robert Rich – Somnium – the greatest sleep concert you will ever hear (7 hr DVD)

And finally,

Sound And Silence: ‘Remembering Sept. 11th At The Temple Of Dendur (feat. The Wordless Music Orchestra’s premiere live performance of Basinski’s Disintegration Loops.)

Download the complete concert from NPR here.

I would love to see your own drone top 10 lists.  Please feel free to share!

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* DISCLAIMER: The Innerspace Connection does not own the rights to any of the media content in this post, nor do we receive any financial benefit directly attributable to said media.  At the request of the copyright holder we will act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the infringing material.

MASSIVE Experimental Music Haul!

This past week I was bitten by the avant garde bug and dropped a few hundred on all the milestone recordings I had read about in my travels. It was excellent timing as I was surprised along the way when several rare but essential discs landed at my local antique mall and at the outstanding record shop in my old home town.

Morton Subotnick - Silver Apples of the Moon
Morton Subotnick – Silver Apples of the Moon (1967)

This was one of the first early electronic records I heard back in college and I suddenly decided that I needed it and everything like it. At that point the only New Music recordings in my library were Charles Dodge – Earth’s Magnetic Field and a few works by John Cage.

Morton Subotnick - A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur

Morton Subotnick – A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur (1980)

While youtube browsing Subotnick’s other recordings I found “A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur” which is a virtual assault on your table’s cartridge. It’s a ceaseless rapid-fire onslaught of quick, staccato mechanical tones described as “a ghost score – gesture sketches on magnetic tape.” This beautiful disc turned up at the antique mall that very weekend beside a selection of John Cage and Iannis Xenakis works and I snatched it up instantly.

Steve Reich Music for 18 Musicians
Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians (1974)

This album goes without saying. It is one of the most widely recognized minimalist pieces, on par with Riley’s In C from 1968.

League of Composers - Electronic Music Winners

Electronic Music Winners – First Recordings of the League of Composers – ISCM International Competition (1976)

(From the cover: ) In the autumn of 1974, the League of Composers-International Society for Contemporary Music organized an International Electronic Music Competition, the first undertaken by the organization. Tapes of electronic music compositions were solicited from the composers and electronic music studios all over the world. A distinguished panel agreed to select the winners.

When I dug deeper for information I discovered that parts of the Lansky and Krieger pieces were sampled by Radiohead in “Idioteque” on Kid A!

Electrosoniks - Electronic Music
The Electrosoniks – Electronic Music: A New Concept of Music Created by Sonic Vibrations (1962 PROMO Stereo)

This is the single most phenomenal experimental work I’ve ever encountered in my travels. It has everything – glorious explorations of bizarre, alien noise and free jazz (such as “Twilight Ozone”), Cage-like treated piano works (particularly the finale, “Pianoforte,”) and hints of synthesized melody that recalls the short “bleep bloop” playfulness of Perrey and Kingsley. It’s out there, but enjoyable at the same time. The only copies I found online were listed at over $200 but I happily swung this clean promo from an antique dealer’s collection for $30.

When I got it home and dropped the needle on it for the first time I discovered something even more exciting.  As the second track, “Moon Maid” began I found myself singing “The Martian Hop” by The Ran-Dells.  I stopped the record and cued up the novelty hit and sure enough, the entire opening of the song was lifted directly from the first thirty seconds of “Moon Maid.”  I scoured the internet, the Wikipedia and the Ran-Dells official webpage and it appears that for the last 50 years the sample has been credited to the Ran-Dells as “the first pop record to use additive synthesis from sine wave generators.”  I promptly revised the Wikipedia entry to acknowledge the work of Tom Dissevelt and Dick Raaymakers, (aka Kid Baltan) – The Electrosoniks!

Stockhausen - Electronic Music

Stockhausen: Electronic Music – Gesang der Junglinge & Kontakte (1962)

Produced by the electronic studios of West German Radio, Cologne, 1962

When I walked into my hometown’s finest record shop and inquired about Stockhausen, the owner turned to me and asked, “Do you have any yet?”

I confessed that I didn’t.

It was like a red alert went off. He looked up and called out, “Hey, he doesn’t know Stockhausen! Get the West German Radio Recordings!”

As I prefer strange electronic sounds I remembered Kontakte and Gesang der Junglinge being two memorable tracks from youtube and the 75 LP-rip megatorrent I picked up of his work. This was an original German pressing in unplayed condition so I didn’t pass it up!

The Copper Plated Integrated Circuit - Plugged in Pop

The Copper Plated Integrated Circuit: Plugged in Pop (1969)

This was a novelty recording produced by Sear Music Productions, Inc and released on the Command label. I already own Dick Hyman’s Age of Electronicus and Electric Eclectics (both released that same year on Command) so I trusted that the label wouldn’t let me down.

Can - Tago Mago (ltd colored vinyl edition)

Can – Tago Mago 2LP (1971)

Limited edition heavy colored wax reissue on United Artists. One of Can’s most experimental adventures. “Peking O” is a wild standout track.

Can - Future Days

Can – Future Days (1973)

Limited edition reissue on colored wax

Here Can journeys into proto-ambient territory with a lengthy and memorable title track. This is the album that introduced me to Can.

Can - Peel Sessions

Can – Peel Sessions 2LP (recorded 1973 – 1975)

Ltd edition colored vinyl reissue

These improvised recordings from John Peel’s studio are affectionately referred to as “the lost Can album.”   Thank you, John Peel for the hundredth time.

Can - Ege Bamyasi

Can – Ege Bamyasi (1972)

Yet another limited colored vinyl reissue

Features “Vitamin C” and “Spoon,” which I believe are some of their most famous tracks.

Each of the Can reissues are out of print but I was able to pick them all up at once from a single seller, each at cost and all with free shipping!  You can’t pass up an offer like that.

Terry Riley - A Rainbow in Curved Air

Terry Riley – A Rainbow in Curved Air (1972)

Spectacular melodic ambient minimalism. Each track is a side-long. Side B, “Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band” has turned up on a number of psychedelic compilations.

Perrey & Kingsley - The In Sound from Way Out

Perrey-Kingsley – The In Sound From Way Out!: Electronic Pop Music of the Future (1966)

As soon as this appeared on my record shop’s Facebook page I raced to the phone and asked them to hold it for me. It actually came in with a pile of early synth albums.

The In Sound is officially the first electronic pop recording. (1966) If you liked the humor and fun of Raymond Scott’s Manhattan Research, Inc you’ll LOVE Perrey & Kingsley.

There is a compilation set called The Out Sound From Way In which is much easier to come by, and it includes Moog Indigo which features the classic synth track, “E.V.A.”

Jean Jacques Perrey - The Amazing New Electronic Pop Sounds of

The Amazing New Electronic Pop Sound Of Jean Jacques Perrey (1968)

This was right behind The In Sound and I wasn’t about to miss my chance to take them both home. Again Discogs currently lists copies of this album for $53 but I got both titles for a total of $35.  Even better, the money went to support my favorite record store.

Pierre Henry and Spooky Tooth - Ceremony

Spooky Tooth / Pierre Henry – Ceremony: An Electronic Mass (1969)

While digging for avant garde albums the store owners handed me this gem and said they were confident I’d be taking it home. They were right. They explained that this collaboration ended the career of Spooky Tooth. It is, indeed, OUT THERE.

And finally, right up there with The Electrosoniks for explorations of the bizarre, I ordered this last but critically essential album.

Louis and Bebe Barron - Forbidden Planet

Louis And Bebe Barron – Forbidden Planet (1956) – 2012 National Record Store Day green vinyl ltd ed reissue

After previewing just the first minute online and reading that it was the first completely electronic score ever produced for a film, I just had to have Louis And Bebe Barron – Forbidden Planet (1956).  The original pressing was limited and most copies were signed by the musicians.  I quickly learned that the 2012 reissue reportedly cleaned up much of the surface noise that was experienced with the original PLANET label pressing.  To my surprise the copy I picked up turned out to be the limited edition 2012 transparent green Record Store Day issue; only 500 copies worldwide!

These eighteen classics are a wonderful start to my experimental music collection.  My new McIntosh pre-amp and power amp will arrive soon, and I’ll be sure to post an update testing my finest LPs with my new Ortofon 2M Red.

The Song Remains the Same

My massive birthday post is still on hold as I battle the US Post Office over a significant insurance claim involving the largest gift.

Today I was reading a wonderful science article with the amusing title, “Pop Music Too Loud And All Sounds the Same: Official.”  For the first time a pool of a million songs were compared and a trend was discovered that pop music has become louder and more bland as time passes.

I found the article linked on Reddit, and many pages deep into the comments section I was ecstatic to find links to several amusing and informative Youtube vids which I already knew and loved, along with a fantastic clip I’d missed from ’11 titled, “Shitty Pop Song.”

So for all my readers who share my distaste for contemporary pop , I offer the following.  If you stay with me through these few vids, the final clip is an absolutely outstanding 18 minute documentary about the world’s most sampled 6 second drum loop.  It has been a favorite of mine since ’06.

Enjoy!

“Shitty Pop Song”

“Four Chord Song”

“The Lick”

And finally – “The World’s Most Important 6-Second Drum Loop”

To anyone who stays through all these clips… we need to hang out.

Published in: on July 26, 2012 at 11:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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