At It Again – New Works from Brian Eno and Underworld’s Karl Hyde

Friday saw the debut of Brian Eno’s latest album – The Ship following the release of ts epic 21-minute self-titled single.

DSC06858.JPGThe Ship accompanied by an official postcard from Eno • Hyde

Like so many of Eno’s albums, this record serves more to inspire thoughtful consideration and reflection than it does casual enjoyment. Unlike Discreet Music or Airports, this is not sonic wallpaper or furniture music, though it resonates a similar ethereal sonic quality. The Ship has a somber and harrowing essence, serving as a dire reflection on the Titanic disaster and the horrors of WWI. But the record maintains a meditative and cerebral tone rewarding to any listener who’ll give the album their full attention.

The double LP includes more of Eno’s art prints. The works are semblant of the visualizations from his 77 Million Paintings generative software. Not particularly inspiring, they function better conceptually rather than visually.

Also this week, Eno’s recent collaborator Karl Hyde released a short art film of an installation he produced for Underworld’s latest album, Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future. I found the fervent and tactile quality of Hyde’s work more engaging than the static nature of Eno’s prints.

Hyde’s Tokyo Street Poem features Soundscape by Underworld’s other half, Rick Smith and was exhibited at Parco, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan in March 2016 as part of the Tomato 25th Anniversary Exhibition.

Underworld also recently premiered a choreographed dance film for the album’s track, “If Rah”, but once again, I believe the concept was better executed by other artists in years prior.

Amelia: A Film by Edouard Lock With La La La Human Steps (2002) features David Lang’s cover of “I’m Waiting For My Man” with choreographed dancers Mistaya Hemmingway and Jason Shipley-Holmes. The film is striking and visually captivating.

Sigur Ros produced an equally effective film piece for their valtari film experiment – a collection of 16 short films made for the valtari album. The 2012 film features Ekki múkk, Valtari, Rembihnútur and Varúð. It is a passionate and emotive work.

If you missed my feature on Underworld’s latest album, check it out!  And I’ll be back next Saturday with my latest culturally-inspired creative and research projects.

Stay tuned!

CENTVRY I: Early Music Masterworks

January has been a busy month so far! 77 new albums were introduced to the library this month and I’m going to get right into them.

After neglecting a title which repeatedly surfaced on ambient charts over the years, I finally experienced Edward Artemiev’s 1972 score to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Russian masterpiece, [I]Solaris[/I]. Originally released in Japan in 1978, the album finally found an American issue in 2013 on the Superior Viaduct label. True to my usual form, I was difficult and went after the Russian 2013 issue on the Мирумир label, as it was the only edition to feature the dramatic Italian movie poster artwork on the album’s cover.

Eduard Artemyev - Solaris OST (1972)
Eduard Artemyev – Solaris OST (1972)

The Solaris score is haunting arctic ambient music evocative of the loneliness and isolation of deep space. I now understand why the recording so persistently surfaces on lists of great ambient music.

Also pictured above is Ethan Hayden’s contribution to the 33 1/3 book series. I was lucky enough to witness Hayden’s performance of his electroacoustic vocal composition, “…ce dangereux supplément…” at the University at Buffalo, which you can hear for yourself by clicking the title of the piece. As an expert on linguistics, I can think of no better artist to write on the subject of Sigur Ros’ ( ) – an album whose vocals are in an entirely fictional language.

But on to my next avenue of exploration. After falling in love with the microtonal music of Harry Partch this winter, it seemed a fitting next step to begin to survey early music of the first century and beyond.

After about 30 minutes of research, I compiled quality collections of these musics.

Some quick research on classic choral music revealed several quality performances I quickly picked up:

  • Monteverdi Choir – Bach’s Mass in B Minor
  • Moscow Choral – Russian Orthodox Music (conductor Hiermonk Amvrosiy)
  • BBC Symphony Orchestra – Mozart’s Requiem
  • The Orthodox Singers – Basso Profondo From Old Russia

And from the legendary Tallis Scholars:

Russian Orthodox Music

  • Missa si Bona Suscepimus
  • Spem in Alium
  • The Best of the Renaissance (2-disc set)
  • The Complete English Anthems
  • The Three Masses
  • Victoria Requiem
  • The Palestrina 400 Collection (4-volume set)

From there I delved deep into Early Music, and identified a label well-known for their works in this field.  Harmonia Mundi has two box sets I knew I’d need:

[Harmonia Mundi] Sacred Music: From the Middle Ages to the 20th Century (30-volume set)

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[Harmonia Mundi] Early Music From Ancient Times to the Renaissance (10-volume set)

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I was also interested in sampling an assortment of Tuvinian Throat-Singing albums, so I picked up:

Deep in the Heart of Tuva (Mongol Strupsång)

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Horekteer – Tuvan Throat Singing Virtuoso

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Huun-Huur-Tu – The Orphan’s Lament

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Shu-de – Voices from the Distant Steppe

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Tuva- Voices From The Center Of Asia [Smithsonian Folkways]

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Tuvinian Singers & Musicians – Chöömej – Throat Singing From the Center of Asia

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…as well as a related selection – David Hykes’ Hearing Solar Winds – an album of harmonic choral overtone music.

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If these 64 discs weren’t sufficient to begin my exploration of Early Music, I happened upon some fantastic vinyl box sets of Gregorian, madrigal, and music of the Middle Ages.

Delightfully, the first two I came across bore the Harmonia Mundi logo of the digital albums I’d found online. It will be wonderful to hear several selections from the label both in lossless FLAC and in their original vinyl formats.

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The next two set I found were collections from the Musical Heritage Society (MHS), an American mail-order record label founded in 1962 . Each set included lyrics in both Latin and in English. These sets were issued in 1974-5 on LP and on 4 cassettes.

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I found one final set in today’s travels – The Everest label’s Treasury of Gregorian Chants – a 4LP box set from 1967.

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Featuring the Trappist Monks’ Choir of Cistercian Abbey, Monks of the Benedictine Abbey. and Bennedictine Monks of the Wanderille de Fontenelle Monastery, the release was the winner of the French Grand Prix du Disc – a prize later awarded to Jean-Michel Jarre ‎for his classic Oxygène LP.

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And best of all – all of these collections were in clean, like-new condition with no visible wear from play or handling. And where else can you find all this beautiful music for $11 cash?

I’m looking forward to months of enlightening listening experiences.

The Best Concert of 2015

Tonight I was privileged enough to be in attendance at a small but incredibly exciting musical event in Buffalo, NY.

At 7pm my beloved musical cohort and I braved the maddened event parking at the local university, and worked our way past the velvet ropes and bustling crowds who apparently were awaiting a performance by The Decemberists. We continued down a nondescript narrow corridor to an intimate black box theater – the locale for the REAL excitement of the evening.

Black Box 2015 was presented by The Lejaren Hiller Computer Music Studios at The University at Buffalo. The annual multi-channel electroacoustic event was hosted by the Studio’s director, Professor Lippe. Lippe’s compositions have received numerous international prizes, and he studied under composers including Boulez, Stockhausen, and Xenakis – some of the most prominent figures of 20th century electronic sound.

Below is a brief summary of the featured works of the evening.

Lippe’s Ivocean (1978) was created using early analog synthesizers (Moog IIIP, Buchla, et al.), using these instruments to craft new timbres which still sound exciting and undated nearly 40 years after their recording.

Maggie Payne’s Crystal (1982) consists of muti-tracked shimmering tones which slowly washed over and around the theater much in the same way that light plays upon a crystalline prism.

Gayle Young’s Avalon Shorelines (2015) is a multi-channel soundscape which uses recordings of the titular waterfront toward the construction of an elaborate and multi-dimensional sonic landscape. Field recordings of crashing waves were accompanied by her performance on an Amaranth – an instrument of her invention played with two bows and reminiscent of a Japanese koto. The instrument produced a range of sounds all of which conjured images of a steel ship groaning and rollocking against the waves of an angry sea.

Brett Masteller’s electro-acoustic work, Trio of Duets was a modern drone piece built from instrumental sound samples, enveloping the theater in an impenetrable fog somewhere between high-volume broadcast static and moving through a gale in slow motion.

John Chowning’s Phoné (1981) was an exciting experience. Chowning is best-known for having discovered the FM synthesis algorithm in 1967, which allowed for the synthesis of simple but rich sounding timbres. The sounds experienced in Phoné calls to memory many of the pivotal recordings of electronic sound. There are skittering, playful melodic fragments, sudden bursts of white noise, and microtonal runs much like those employed by Stockhausen, Subotnick, Louis and Bebe Barron, Perrey & Kingsley, and Beaver & Krause during the 1960s and 70s. There is even a delightful and mischievous touch of Raymond Scott a la his adverts for the Bendix Corporation.

But the crowd-favorite of the evening was the Ethan Hayden’s “…ce dangereux supplément…” (2015), a dynamic and engaging piece for live and recorded voices. Hayden stepped up to a podium with several sheets of what appeared to be a random spilling of pronunciation symbols and odd scribblings. They were, in fact, intricate experimental notation in the classic form of musique concrete. For the next eight minutes, he stood, wearing a headset microphone, and produced a captivating performance of furious jabberwock-speech, tongue clicks, grunts and pops. Both his energy and skill were truly mesmerizing, and for nearly ten minutes he made an incredible amount of noise without once venturing near what anyone could call a coherent sound. His performance ended with thunderous applause – surely one to be remembered.

I spoke briefly with each of the performers about their work and was excited to learn that much of the professors’ sound catalogs are available to the public at the University library. I’m planning the first of many visits this summer for further research.

My readers should also take note that Hayden published a book on Sigur Rós’s ( ) for the famous +33⅓ series in August of 2014. I’ll certainly be securing a copy for my library.


Gayle Young’s Amaranth

Sigur Rós’ First Three LPs available for Pre-Order NOW!

Sasquatch Music Festival - Day 2
Attention all shoegazers and post-rockers:

In December 2014, VinylCollective.com reported that pre-order pages were beginning to appear for reissues of Sigur Ros’ first three classic albums.

Sonic Records in Halifax has the Icelandic quartet’s first three LPs – Von, Ágætis byrjun, and Svigaplatan (The Bracket Album) each listed from XL Recordings with a reported release date of 16.02.2015.

At present, completed sales of the 2013 reissues are holding steady around $75 each on Discogs and as much as $150 on eBay, but these new deluxe reissues will be only $29.98 (though available again in limited numbers.)

Sigur Ros had posted a teaser video hinting at the releases in 2014.  Check it out below.

Each of the three albums have a pre-order page active on Amazon.co.uk, but ( ) has yet to surface stateside.

I for one am not going to risk missing out.  I’ve pre-ordered the import and will be happy to add it to my library.  Have you ordered yours?

Amazon US preorder | Von | Agaetis Byrjun

Amazon UK preorder | Von | Agaetis Byrjun | ( )

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The Merits of Nostalgia and a Cozy Placebo Effect

And so it came to pass that my beloved McIntosh C39 pre-amp was not made happy by replacing the volume pot.  I’d decided in advance that if that didn’t fix it, I would cut my losses and consider, for the first time in my 30+ years, to explore the possibility of a brand new pre-amp/power amp combo.

My first McIntosh - a MAC 4280.  RIP 2013.

My first McIntosh – a MAC 4280.

I am fully aware of the tried-and-true code of the audiophile – quality vintage gear will generally out-perform and out-last newer contemporaries dollar-for-dollar.  But after repeatedly battling oxidation, bad resistors, and a few bad volume pots for the better part of three decades, I was ready to consider something new.

The Next Generation: My McIntosh C39 Pre-Amp (RIP 2014)

The Next Generation: My McIntosh C39

My life-long trusted audio adviser and best-friend tossed a few suggestions my way, namely the emotiva xsp-1, some newer Rotel models, and the most alluring of his suggestions – the Parasound Halo p3.  But for the interim, I had a local hi-fi shop tune up my Yamaha CR-840 – the first real amp I ever had.  Years ago channel A stopped working, and oxidation built up rending the amp nearly-unusable, but I’d never given it up, as it was a very special gift.  Thankfully the shop returned it to me the next day in PERFECT working condition!

I’d forgotten how great it sounded.  Please understand – I know it’s not remotely in the same class as some of the finer amps I’ve used, but the warm and familiar tone of this amp transports me back to college and all the memories attached to those years.  I completely acknowledge that this nostalgia trip is in no way a measure of the amp’s technical performance.  It is of no quantifiable measure an amp comparable to my MACs or, likely, to the Parasound amp.  But I will fully-embrace the head-trip it brings and am more than satisfied to use it until the right upgrade comes along.

Next up? Parasound Halo P3

Next up – Perhaps the Parasound Halo P3

To make the amp-swap official, I chucked the eyesore of a component rack that I’d picked up from a thrift shop.  30-seconds of Craigslist searching produced a nifty 60s record shelf for only a few bucks to serve as both a surface for the amp and as additional record storage.  Better still – the funky elderly couple selling it were ridiculously adorable and had mirrored-and-velvet-patterned wallpaper with matching decor all about their home.

Not kidding.  This... with mirrored panels.

Not kidding. This… with mirrored panels.

The shelf has a very “college” feel to accompany the amp, and the space was PERFECT to relocate all my LPs pressed between 1995 and the present.  All my favorites are in here – DJ Food, Boards of Canada, Lemon Jelly, DJ Shadow, The Orb, Underworld, Stereolab, Spiritualized, The KLF, St Germain, Bonobo, Aphex Twin, Cinematic Orchestra, Sigur Ros, Pantha Du Prince, Low, Beck, The FLips, with just enough room to sneak in nearly all of Brian Eno and Tom Waits’ albums.

The Nostalgia Corner

The Nostalgia Corner

This is as good a time as any to resolve to listen to more of my records in 2015 – to enjoy what I have instead of always searching for the next grail.

And there you have it – an objective and meticulous audiophile reduced to a nostalgic dolt by his trust old amp.  Think what you will, but I’ll be happy here, spinning some great tunes.

Eno & Hyde Postcards from their first two LPs

Eno & Hyde Postcards from their first two LPs

The History of Modern Ambient Music: Part 2 – 1993-2014

The conclusion to my 2-part Ambient Milestones series is now published on YouTube!  The exciting final element to the feature arrived in the post just a few days ago and I am delighted to share it with you all.

Or click here for the HD version.

The Summer Search for Rare Wax

While re-visiting some of my classics from artists like múm and Mark Kozelek, I found myself really enjoying The Album Leaf’s In a Safe Place.  It’s a wintery, sparse record that merits repeated listening.

A quick bit of research revealed that Jimmy LaValle (the lone member of The Album Leaf) had collaborated with Jón Þór Birgisson, Kjartan Sveinsson, and Orri Páll Dýrason (most of the members of Sigur Rós) and Gyða Valtýsdóttir (formally of múm) at Sigur Rós’ Sundlaugin studio for the album.

It’s no wonder the record is so enjoyable.

And what was even more surprising was that one year later, in 2005, LaValle mixed his next record with the help of Jón Þór Birgisson and Joshua Eustis of Telefon Tel Aviv.

With the hands of so many great artists in this music, and the sounds of a Rhodes piano and a Moog synthesizer in the mix, The Album Leaf has a sound which is just as enjoyable a decade later, and will continue to provide listening pleasure in the decades to come.

If you’ve been following this blog since June of this year you’re quite aware of my love of Black Swan, (drone for bleeding hearts.)

Black Swan continues to operate shrouded in mystery.  I’ve recently acquired 2012’s Aeterna and Heaven as well as 2013’s Redemption (swan plague).  Each is darker and more minimal than the disc which preceded it, and every title is magnificent.  Like all Black Swan releases, this is music for your best headphones.  Sadly these three titles have not yet seen a vinyl release.  I would contact the label, Ethereal Symphony but there is just as little information about the label as there is about the artist.  Clearly these are self-releases, as the titles are only available on CD-R or FLAC and the only (8) releases on the label are those of Black Swan, so the mystery continues.

Here is the opening track from Aeterna – “A Lesson in Slow Flight.”

My hunt continues for a copy of Popol Vuh’s Hosianna Mantra (featured in August 20th’s This Week’s Listening – Early Krautrock, Proto Ambient, and Musique Concrete)

Sales of the original German pressing from 1972 (Pilz 20 29143-1) average around $72.  There is currently a NM gatefold copy for sale, (in the USA, no less!) but it is marked at $120 and I’m saving my vinyl cash for something else at the moment.

Pilz ‎– 20 29143-1 1972
But what was truly staggering was the revised album art which appeared on the Celestial Harmonies (CEL 004) US pressing in 1981.

Gone was the ornamental, silver foil spiritual cover – and in its place was a hyper-minimal, post-modern painting of a circle, (or a sun, perhaps?)

Celestial Harmonies ‎– CEL 004 1981
Fortunately, the German Think Progressive label restored the original art for their 1998 reissue of this lovely recording.  (TPLP 1.803.023)  The TP issue can be picked up for around $45.

Here again is Hosianna Mantra.

But pricier records aside, I joined a few fantastic friends for a day of gallivanting at my local Antique World, where my favorite record dealer gave me a wonderful West German early ambient/drone record by Peter Michael Hamel.

Hamel was altogether new to me but I quickly learned that he is a veteran minimalist associated with the late-1970s New Simplicity movement.

The album is titled, “Bardo” – a Tibetan word meaning “intermediate state” or “in-between state,” a term which aptly describes the cycling organ tones throughout the two side-long recordings of the record.

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This elegantly minimal album is lush with the warm sounds of the pipe organ, electric organ and analog synthesizers, performed by Hamel and Ulrich Kraus.

It’s always exciting when your record dealer knows you well enough to provide you with something wonderful that you’ve never heard. A delightful addition to my library – especially for only $8!

The opening track, “Dorian Dervishes” runs 21:47.  Here is the opening 6 minutes.

I will close this post with two absolutely essential early-electronic gems, both from Germany.

The first is Cluster’s self-titled debut release from 1971. Roedelius, Moebius and Plank produced a proto-ambient milestone which should be required listening of anyone interested in the history of electronic sound.

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Time practically stands still when you tune in to this beatless masterpiece.  The three untitled tracks run just over 44 minutes but when the record ends the listener may feel disoriented and unsure whether minutes or hours have passed.

Have a listen to the closing track.

The other LP I’m after is Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4.  Recorded at the height of synth pop, this experimental record was a pioneering electronic album which pre-dated the house/techno-era that would follow.

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And 31:13 into the single-track album of relentless, unyielding loops and minimal percussion, Göttsching begins noodling jazzy guitar riffs over the rhythmic loops, taking the listener’s trance to an even deeper level.

The album’s title is the most common opening move in a game of chess.

Enjoy!

Attack of the 50 foot Mixtape

It’s been an intense week of genre-hopping and crate digging, (over 50 new albums in all) and I’m just going to lay it on you.

The most exciting find is easily the new Paul McCartney 12″ bootleg – Balearic Rarities.  Comprised of Paul’s forgotten 80s experiments with dance music and what might be labeled as early techno, it’s a far cry from the McCartney we know and love.  Similar tracks appeared on an older double LP bootleg titled, The Lost McCartney II Album.  Here’s “Check My Machine.”

Another bootleg I found was from Beck around the Midnight Vultures era which includes a Bruce Haack cover.  If you’ve never listen to Bruce, check out Electronic Lucifer and The Way Out Record for Children.  You may remember the clips of Haack’s appearance on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood which I featured on my old blog.

Along the same vein as Beck’s idiosyncratic musical styling, I’ve finally completed my Cornelius discography, consisting of 36 albums, singles and EPs.  Cornelius has often been tagged as “the Japanese Beck.”  Here’s a classic favorite, “Star Fruit Surf Rider” from his Fantasma album, which Matador records released as his American debut.

Also lovin’ new tunes from It is Rain In My Face, (the solo work of Matt Jones from Brooklyn.)  Delicious chillwave.

If you’re into lo-fi/bedroom pop like the tune above, mark your calendars for July 5th.  Trevor Powers aka Youth Lagoon will be releasing his first 10″ album and from the free singles he’s posted on the Web, it’s one to watch for.  Check out “Cannons.”

I can’t say enough wonderful things about Jimmy LaValle’s solo project.  Jimmy was originally the guitarist for Tristeza, but over the last 12 years he’s toured and released a number of albums as The Album Leaf.  In a Safe Place was recorded in Sigur Rós’ Sundlaugin studios with the help of Jón Þór Birgisson (of Sigur Ros) and Joshua Eustis (of Telefon Tel Aviv).  His song “Micro Melodies” appeared in the documentary film, Moog – a must-see for all analog synthophiles.

The Album Leaf’s earliest recordings were similar to Brian Eno’s Music For Airports.  Over the course of the next few releases, he ventured further into ambient post rock territory.

In early 2010, The Album Leaf released A Chorus of Storytellers, this time with a full band.  Like his past efforts, Storytellers is comprised almost entirely of instrumentals.  Still, “Falling From the Sun” is a song which dispels any notion that lyrics might impede upon his near-perfect formula for songwriting.

Then there are those quazi-novelty records that I buy more for the cover art than anything else.  Funky Entertainment was a flea market find, the last hurrah from the 70s disco funk band, Brainstorm.

It turns out Soul Coughing wasn’t the first band to use a 50s girl in a space suit for album art.

You may have seen Tara Busch’s videos on Youtube.  You may also know her from Analogsuicide.com. Tara is best known as “the chick on the Web who sang ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ backwards.”

The Crazy CD packaging of the year award goes to Tara for her limited edition Pilfershire Lane box set. The CD comes with a stainless steel pop up model, interchangeable face plates, a recordable circuit, Polaroid 600 photo, and a splice of 16mm film.  Check out the assembled model in the clip below.

One last spaced-out treat for you, courtesy of goldenrecord.blogspot.com.  Listen to “Hang On Sloopy” by The Brooks Arthur Ensemble Featuring Kenny Karen released in 1971.  Golden Records likened it (quite accurately) to the bands Suicide and Spacemen 3.  I could easily see J Spaceman performing this live!

Brooks Arthur Ensemble – Hang on Sloopy 1971