Transitioning the Seasons with Spirit of Eden

I’m admittedly a latecomer to this seminal and influential work, but it’s better late than never. And it’s thrilling to know that despite my exhaustive hours of daily music surveys and research that there are still reflective, beautiful gems still waiting to be discovered.

And so it is with Talk Talk’s 1988 LP, Spirit of Eden. The album is critically-lauded as a progenitor of the genre which would come to define the decade that followed. Wikipedia’s article on Talk Talk’s co-founder and songwriter, the late Mark Hollis calls attention to the fact that, “While they were commercial failures in their own time, these albums have come to be seen as early landmarks of post-rock music.

Two quotes from Hollis resonated deeply with my own philosophies of music and composition. In an interview with Danish TV, 22nd February 1998, Hollis said:

“Before you play two notes, learn how to play one note. And don’t play one note unless you’ve got a reason to play it.” 

And in an interview with BBC Radio 1’s Richard Skinner around the release of their next album, Laughing Stock, Hollis adds:

“The silence is above everything, and I would rather hear one note than I would two, and I would rather hear silence than I would one note.”

Wikipedia’s entry for Spirit of Eden offers some insight into the album’s composition:

The album was compiled from a lengthy recording process at London’s Wessex Studios between 1987 and 1988. Often working in darkness, the band recorded many hours of improvised performances that drew on elements of jazz, ambient, blues, classical music, and dub.

But it was the praise-filled Pitchfork article on the album which inspired my first-listen, where the album was rated a perfect 10/10 score. The lengthy article offers a much-deserved contextual examination of the album and a few key remarks caught my attention:

In interviews, he would point to Miles Davis and Gil Evans’ orchestral jazz masterpiece Sketches of Spain, or the zen experiments of John Cage, or Vittorio De Sica’s avant-garde film The Bicycle Thieves as touchpoints for his inspiration. 

The thrill of this music is the same thrill of listening to some of the great works of jazz, classical, and pop: the soul of Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, the obtuse landscapes of Morton Feldman, the production and patience of Brian Eno. Today, this coming together of spirit and sound still feels like a radical and mysterious feat of popular music.

This was unequivocally an album I needed to hear.

And The Guardian described the album as a blend of “pastoral jazz, contemporary classical, folk, prog rock and loose blues into a single, doggedly uncommercial musical tapestry” which would be labeled “post-rock.”

Whatever label one elects to apply, this is an exquisite specimen of sound-art, and warrants repeated listenings on reflective winter evenings such as this.

And a dear friend and ambient composer offered an insightful remark on the album, saying, “What especially impresses me is how fluid and organic it is in evading any traditional sense of ‘rock music’ at all — and this is especially apparent in much of the soft dynamics. Any sense of music at all is almost not there, as if the music is on the verge of dissipating into silence.”

RateYourMusic files the album under the categories of jazz-rock, chamber jazz, art rock, and chamber music, and its user-base charts the album as #2 for its original release year, hot on the heels of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. And the site offers no shortage of poetic descriptors of Hollis’ style, calling it “atmospheric, passionate, peaceful, religious, introspective, meditative, lush, soothing, spiritual, bittersweet, lonely, sparse, sentimental, pastoral, soft, ethereal, melancholic, progressive, calm, uplifting, and hypnotic.”

Hypnotic indeed. I immediately tracked down a copy of the UK-issued 180g 2012 remastered edition with a companion 96kHz/24bit stereo DVD. It’s the perfect soundtrack to usher in the spring.

Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden 180g 2012 2LP remaster with 96kHz 24bit stereo DVD + bonus track

Published in: on March 14, 2020 at 9:24 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

(06.30.2019) The KLF – Welcome To The Past (Unedited) [WAV]

The privilege of hearing exclusive private releases can sometimes be the most rewarding and fulfilling musical experiences in an archivist’s life. And so it is with this brand new edit. The history and context of its composition is cryptic and shrouded in mystery, with very few search results on the internet, (I count three in total at the time of this drafting), which make the honor of receiving a copy all the more exciting.

From the very little information available publicly, it seems that this was originally released in an unknown number of exclusive edit singles, (at least 39 as evidenced by what members have compiled and contributed to theritesofmu wixsite at https://theritesofmu.wixsite.com/klf-kommunications/welcome-to-the-past-puzzle). It appears that the new complete(?) cut titled, “Welcome To The Past (Unedited)” was issued June 30th and distributed directly by the artist via private email in WAV format.

One of the previously-issued segments have been filed on Discogs here:
https://www.discogs.com/The-KLF-Welcome-To-The-Past/release/12381982

But the new complete (?) WAV now has an entry of its own:
https://www.discogs.com/The-KLF-Welcome-To-The-Past/release/13822393

The WAV’s Discogs entry sheds little additional light on this mysteriously wonderful release. It has what appears to be placeholder artwork as I’ve found no record of official art for the track, but the Discogs entry does provide a few other pieces of information.

klf

First, it confirms the total run time of the track to be 41:47 (corroborated by the WAV file I received), and bears the style tags of “ambient,” “synth pop,” and “trance.” It also offers a catalog number as part of the unofficial (but intensely professional) series, with this entry marked as “KLF 000RE.”

Distribution is denoted as UK and Europe, but with my understanding that this was a non-physical digital release issued via email I would say that the UK and Europe designation serves more a point of origin rather than an official region for the release. (I am in the US.)

But on to the track itself. The KLF Recovered & Remastered series is infamous and highly-prized for good reason, with several titles outshining even the original incarnations by Bill and Jimmy, themselves. Live From The Lost Continent is the greatest concert that never was. This Is Not What Space Is About and This Is Not What Chill Out Is About are each a pure triumph of the art of remixing and are powerfully epic listening which transport the listener to new worlds of experience.

Welcome To The Past (Unedited) is no exception to the incredibly high standard of production and musical cut-up artistry maintained consistently throughout the continuing Recovered & Remastered saga. It is frankly astonishing how much dynamic and fresh content its creator has been able to construct from the finite bank of the KLF’s catalog. He effectively breathes new life into their music and meticulously and masterfully assembles an array of seemingly innocuous samples of sirens, trance beats, and train station field recordings into a seamless and transportive opus of provocative proportions.

The final minutes of the mix are evocative and stirring, tugging wistfully at the heartstrings of every KLF devotee who has followed their zenarchistic madness from 1987 to the present day. Perhaps it is silly to romanticize trance music built upon discordian mythos and mayhem, but Welcome To The Past is an exquisite specimen of remix culture and a pure and proper celebration of the legacy of The KLF.

Five stars. Pure joy. “This is what the KLF are about. Over and out.”

Just Keep Spinning – Reflections on Music Collecting

A friend kindly recommended my latest film screening – So Wrong They’re Right, a low-budget indie VHS documentary on offbeat 8-track collector culture and the 8-Track Mind zine. I’ve been exploring UK hauntological music and art lately so the retro subject matter fit right in. It was great to hear Wally Pleasant’s “Rock n’ Roll Yard Sales” on the soundtrack.

And serendipitously, while watching the film a related short appeared in my social media feed – an informational demo film to educate consumers about the upcoming compact disc format produced in 1982.

And WFMU just shared that Atlas Obscura published a feature yesterday called, “Inside the World’s Best Collection of Unintentionally Funny VHS Tapes” with this hilarious short!

Much like the VHS culture documentaries, Rewind This and Adjust Your Tracking, the 8-track film made me reflect on my own music collector hobby and how in the past year I’ve really put the breaks on my vinyl habit. Unlike vinyl, most 8-tracks are practically given away and as interviewees of the film profess, they’ve had to plead with Goodwill store managers just to get them to put their 8-track stock on the sales floor. (There are exceptions, of course. Discogs currently offers over 8,000 8-tracks in its marketplace, the second-most-expensive of which is a mint tape of Trout Mask Replica presently priced at $1,500.00.)

Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica 8-Track Tape

But conversely, with vinyl, I’ve reached a point in my collecting where all the remaining titles on my wish list command $80-$550 apiece. And the days of scoring elusive original pressings of releases you’re after at your local VoA are long gone after the store’s inventories have been thoroughly picked over by eBayer resellers or by hipster employees who pull all the good stuff before it has a chance to hit the floor. And for my personal tastes, thrift shops have never been a good resource for the kind of content I seek.

Thankfully a lot of the rare early electronic, drone, and import tape music of the last century, and even of the 90s during vinyl’s darkest days, are being remastered and reissued by Dutch, German, and UK specialty labels, but with shipping you’re still looking at $60 minimum per release so I’ve resolved to reel in my habit and to spend more conservatively this past year.

It’s left me to wonder what the future holds for my hobby. I really enjoy the research and the unconventional subcultures surrounding the format, I just don’t know to what degree I can continue to participate in the acquisition and trade of the albums, themselves. And vinyl has been a significant part of my identity for many years, so I question how I’ll continue to occupy myself beyond this bizarre little pastime.

Thankfully, I have more music at present than I could experience in a lifetime, so at the very least I can kick back and enjoy exploring my archives. And I can continue to supplement my web-based research with more contextual studies from books specializing in my favorite genres. My next read will be Mars by 1980: The Story of Electronic Music by David Stubbs and should provide hours of reading enjoyment and hopefully an intimate understanding of a century of electronic sound.

Whether as a collector or just a researcher, this is indeed the finest time to be alive. Sites like Discogs and RYM provide instantaneous access to release data and listener reviews which previously took days or weeks of calls and form submissions to the LoC to obtain, and every day more and more fans upload thousands of hours or rare and exotic content from their collections to YouTube and file-sharing networks. It’s a curious phenomenon because when everything is accessible, nothing is rare. So, arguments for the paradox of choice aside, this is the greatest time in history for the inquiring listener. I plan to keep reading and listening, and maybe one day score a few of my remaining white whales.

Whatever your preferred format, be it 8-track, LP, cylinder, cassette, CD… just keep spinning.

Arctic Ambient (or) Ambient House at 30,000 Ft

I’ve really been enjoying my copies of Gas’ Nah Und Fern vinyl set and the deluxe edition 9LP set of William Basinki’s epic Disintegration Loops. It seemed long-overdue that I retrace my musical steps to the summer of 2009 when I’d first crossed paths with a fellow music-lover and ambient guru who introduced me to Gas in the first place.

Gas - Nah Und Fern

He’d mentioned several similar artists which I briefly sampled but never fully-explored.  There’s no better time than the present to remedy that mistake.

This friend had a particular affinity for Nordic-based “arctic-ambient” music – frigid soundscapes of isolation and desolation. Still these recordings had a cerebral and meditative quality that really draws the listener in and that’s something I really need in my life at present.

So I began my re-visiting of 2009 with an artist whose name happened to surface in one of my online vinyl communities. (Call it a sign if you’d like.) Biosphere is Geir Jenssen – a Norwegian musician specializing in ambient electronic music. It was while researching him that I first-encountered the term, “arctic-ambient” and I just had to hear more. In 2001 users of the online rave community, Hyperreal voted his Substrata LP as the best all-time classic ambient album. It was this very album which surfaced in the vinyl community and inspired my rediscovery of the genre, and I was truly impressed by the transportive quality of the record.

Another artist I recalled as having worked with Biosphere was HIA. Higher Intelligence Agency is the music project of Bobby Bird of Birmingham, UK. I was instantly excited to learn that he had released two ambient glitch albums on Pete Namlook’s brilliant FAX +49-69/450464 label of which I make frequent mention.

HIA collaborated with Biosphere on two live recordings, namely the frigid Polar Sequences in 1996…

…and the more temperate Birmingham Frequencies in 1999.

These are wonderfully expansive, atmospheric recordings and make for excellent headphone listening.

But stripping things down to the very shell of ambient music I found the next half-forgotten memory of the summer long-passed.  Deathprod is Norwegian artist Helge Sten. (I envision Norway as being absolutely overrun with ambient laptop musicians.) If you only buy one Deathprod album, get the self-titled Deathprod box set. (Not cheating – box sets are okay in my book.) The 4-disc set comprises Morals and Dogma, Treetop Drive (a long-deleted album from 1994), Imaginary Songs From Tristan Da Cunha from 1996, and “Reference Frequencies” (a disc of previously unreleased, rare and deleted tracks). Better-still, Deathprod Collaborated with Biosphere in 1998 on the album, Nordheim Transformed.

Christian Fennesz (performing simply as “Fennesz”) of Vienna, Austria has produced a number of albums in the same stark, ambient-electronic vein. Highlights include his 2004 album Venice,

Endless Summer from 2001

and Black Sea released in 2008.

I also enjoyed his collaborations with ambient veteran, Ryuichi Sakamoto – Cendre (2007)

…and Flumina (2011).

Fennesz creates white-noise washes of modified guitar loops very much in the spirit of the Frippertronic tape works of Fripp and Eno and Sakamoto adds a refined touch of modern-classical solo piano.

Deaf Center is the last major piece of this dark ambient puzzle.  Norway’s Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland produce epic and theatrical minimal soundscapes.  To steal a beautifully-concise description from RYM user, Son_of_Northern_Darkness – Deaf Center is, “a nice soundtrack to the construction of your own snow-coffin.”

Neon City was an impressive first-outing for the duo, but their first full-length LP released the following year, Pale Ravine stands as their most cohesive work thus far.

Neon City

and the haunting, Pale Ravine

To close with something a bit more lively, Sweden’s own Carbon Based Lifeforms leans more in the direction of psybient music, with their heavy usage of melodic loops, echoes, and steady rhythms. This is ambient music with a vibrant pulse. Check out World of Sleepers

So thank you, my old friend for sharing such wonderful music with me.  I’m sorry it’s taken me all these years to really explore it, but better late than never!