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.

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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.

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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.

 

Perpetual Dawn: The Orb Has Arrived at Last!

It was Pledgemusic’s announcement which first alerted me to the monumental event which was pending in the summer of 2016. The Pledgemusic website reported that:

“On Friday 29th July 2016, electronic titans The Orb will perform their seminal debut album ‘Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’ in full for the first time ever, to mark its 25th anniversary.

For this very special sliver jubilee gig, Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann will be joined on stage by the original cast of collaborators who helped create the magic on this influential, era-defining milestone, plus a special punk icon whose music heavily influenced The Orb.

Paul Cook of Sex Pistols fame will guest on drums and fellow punk legend, original Orb member and ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ co-writer Youth will join on bass.

Psychedelic-electronic-prog heroes Steve Hillage and partner Miquette Giraudy co-wrote ‘Supernova’ and ‘Backside Of The Moon’, and will also bring their mythical shamanistic magic to this special show.

If all that wasn’t coup enough fellow ‘Ultraworld’ contributors Andy Falconer, Tom Green and Hugh Vickers will also guest, whilst original Orb lighting wizard David Herman will transform Electric Brixton into a vintage fractal technical wonderland.

Amidst the late 80s fervor of acid house The Orb explored their own meandering tangent, drawing on hip hop sample culture, krautrock, kosmische, ambience and a wealth of unusual and unlikely sound sources. In doing so they pioneered a more horizontally-inclined alternative to the jacking trax emanating from discerning nightclubs’ main rooms.

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Following a limited number of prototype 12”s from early pre-Orb incarnations, ‘Ultraworld’ was The Orb’s first fully formed, double album realization of the sonic sculpture they’d been finessing, amidst a punk-schooled period of fertile, no-rules creativity.

The album was a critical and chart smash that soundtracked a generation. It still sounds amazing today and its influence on subsequent decades of dance music is immeasurable.”

It had already been a thrilling year – The Avalanches reissued their album, Since I Left You in the UK and Europe to the delight of fans the world over, the Ann Arbor label, Ghostly International reissued Telefon Tel Aviv’s ambient glitch epic Fahrenheit Fair Enough on sky blue wax, John Carpenter issued the second volume of his Lost Themes collection, electronic music veterans, Underworld released Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future to great critical acclaim, proving they still have every ounce of their musical prowess, Klaus Schulze and the late Pete Namlook released a box set of the first four volumes of their ambient Dark Side of the Moog series, and Brian Eno outdid himself for the hundredth time with the ethereal and meditative album, The Ship which had the astonishing ability to stop time with each play.

But it was the anticipation of this reunion of the icons of ambient house which captivated me for the remainder of the year. Sadly, there were delays with the production of the vinyl release. Many, many months passed with infrequent updates from the Live Here Now team. Eventually, the 3CD+DVD edition arrived in the States, but it was the triple blue vinyl edition I was really waiting to get my hand on. Thankfully, today – May 12, 2017 the long-awaited package arrived from the UK.

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The Orb’s Further Adventures Live 2016 was available exclusively from PledgeMusic or at The Orb show at the Royal Festival Hall in London on the 21st of April 2017. The CD edition also features interviews with Alex, Thomas, Youth, Paul Cook, Steve Hillage & Miquette Giraudy, all of whom participated in the event.

The 180g bright blue discs are housed in a heavy triple-gatefold jacket matching that of the CD+DVD release. The packaging and albums are of excellent quality all throughout, making this set well worth the wait.

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This is a wonderful treasure for any fan of The Orb, of chillout music, and for anyone who spent their college days on the backside of the moon. An exciting performance, expertly captured and mastered, documenting a real milestone event for all those involved.

If you buy only one tripped-out exclusive dub-inspired space music anniversary concert album reuniting a generation of the gods of ambient house this century… make it this one.

Manhattan Research Inc: The Magic of Raymond Scott

 

Tonight’s magical listening comes following a heartwarming post by The Bob Moog Foundation and The Raymond Scott Archives. The Archives had recently published a recording of Bob Moog talking about his time with Raymond Scott in the 1950’s when Bob was barely 20 years old. Scott was one of the first musician clients that Bob had direct exposure to, and the experiences with Scott marked Bob’s early thinking about the expansiveness of the musical universe.

It inspired me to pull my copy of the Manhattan Research Inc 3LP set issued by Basta Records in The Netherlands to revisit the wonders of Raymond Scott’s work.

For those unfamiliar, you may know Scott from the recording, “Powerhouse” famously used in several classic Rube Goldberg machine sequences in Merrie Melodies cartoons. The track was also sampled in the intro of Soul Coughing’s “Bus to Beelzebub.”

Here is the original recording:

And here is an official “machine montage” cut by Warner Bros and hosted by The Ramond Scott Archives:

And Soul Coughing’s classic track:

Here’s my copy of the 3-volume set.

Fortunately, the entire set is archived on YouTube – check it out!

It is also worth mentioning that the set features a collaboration with a young Jim Henson from around the time of Henson’s existential college film, The Cube. You can watch the full film here –

The short was titled, LIMBO: The Organized Mind and an animation sequence was produced for it in the early 60s.

Enjoy!

Long Slow Slippy / Eventually But

I’ve just given a first-listen to Underworld’s limited edition special single for the new edit of “Born Slippy.nuxx” which appears in Trainspotting 2. The single arrived in a die-cut jacket with no inserts or download codes, confirming that this mix and its b-side are exclusive to this single. NME reported the tracklist for the movie soundtrack which features the b-side with a parenthetical ‘Spud’s Letter to Gail’ tagged onto the title, and a shorter edit of the a-side, “Long Slow Slippy” will appear as the album closer under the title, “Slow Slippy.”

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Side A is fairly cut and dry – it’s just born slippy.NUXX slowed down a bit. Not remarkable in its own right but perhaps it will have greater significance when I see its use in the film. (Sadly TS2 has yet to hit the States and I’d like to see it proper in the theatre.) The same goes doubly-so for the b-side.

While there is nothing quite as slippy as the original .NUXX, I am fond of a few oddball/fringe mixes which have surfaced over the years. The first is the “Dictionaraoke Remix” by Stop Children, from around the time AVid’s mixes were circulating. It’s basically a Google Dictionary recitation of Karl’s lyrics with the a canned backing beat. The mechanical delivery is really hilarious and worth checking out.

The other is “Born Sleepy”, an ambient downtempo interpretation of .NUXX. Nice for a bit of a wind-down. I don’t see it on YouTube at present but there are still copies kicking about.

But in my recollections of Slippy mixes past and present, there was a faint memory of Karl slowly speaking the lyrics in a measured, low-register tone – a track I hadn’t spun in years and couldn’t quite place.  Thankfully, a bit of digging through my collection, (I have 16 hours of Slippy mixes, alone) produced the track in question – it was an official mix released exclusively on the Born Slippy remix CD [V2 ‎– V2CP 166] issued only in Japan. The track is called “Born Slippy (Down Version)” and features the aforementioned ultra-slow vocals by Karl which work perfectly for this edit. Track it down – it’s really enjoyable.

dsc08424Where it all began – The original Born Slippy .NUXX on Junior Boys Own, UK May 1st, 1995 and the WaxTrax!/TVT US CD maxi single from 1996.

Avant-Pop… and Space Ghost

I took a trip out to my city’s antique mall this afternoon for the first time this year. When I arrived I was surprised to find two They Might Be Giants singles featuring exclusive tracks which were only otherwise available on the 1997 oddities compilation, THEN: The Earlier Years. (The set is fantastic – an absolute essential tour of the duo’s earliest recordings.)

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But the greatest value of my trip was, as always, my conversation with my favorite vendor, Bob the Record Guy. He always knows what titles to pull for me. I chatted him up for his knowledge about the music scene between 1976 and 1984, particularly the better parts of new wave, essentials of no wave, post-punk, avant/art-pop, and gothic/ethereal wave classics. He was happy to make a number of recommendations and sent me home with a few albums to get me started.

I confess that many of the artists and albums listeners take it as read that I would know are entirely new to me at present. Born in ’81, I was a touch too young for it all the first go-round and by the time I hit the age of history-combing musical discovery in college, the all-consuming craze was experimental electronic, ambient, and post-rock music. So while I’m well-versed in late-60s/early-70s synth music and 90s indie pop, my knowledge of that seminally developmental decade in between is limited to my memories of MTV flashback syndication and of dollar bin comp cassettes of 80s radio pop. (And damn it, I’m sick and tired of “Always Something There to Remind Me.“)

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Terrible cassette I purchased at a Lechmere department store in 1992.
From what Bob had immediately available, he sent me home with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s 1984 LP, Junk Culture, (with a startlingly-clearly labeled one-sided 7″ single). While the band’s first four LPs showcase OMD at the best, I was happy to pick up anything for starters.

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But it was the next record I was given which became my favorite discovery of the day. While discussing no wave and other manic, atonal music of the 80s, Bob pulled out a copy of Lounge Lizards’ Big Heart – Live in Tokyo (1986). He explained that, while the album is certainly a far cry from the aggressive dissonance of albums like No New York, that it might serve as a fitting introduction to 80s exercises in what Ornette Coleman termed, harmolodics.

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For those unfamiliar, wiki says, “Harmolodics may loosely be defined as an expression of music in which harmony, movement of sound, and melody all share the same value…” resulting in music which “…achieves an immediately open expression, without being constrained by tonal limitations, rhythmic pre-determination, or harmonic rules.” While I am well-acquainted with standards of free/avant-garde jazz, (I have many of the essentials in my record library), what I didn’t realize was how this philosophy had been embraced by Sonny Sharrock and utilized in his composition of the theme to Adult Swim’s Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Bob brought up the track as an example of harmolodics and spun several tracks from Big Heart which sounded quite similar to the theme. While the first two selections from Big Heart fall a bit flat, those patient enough to go deeper into the record will find that it is arguably the best effort of their catalog.

Home from our outing, I’m surveying my finds of the day and looking forward to more discoveries of albums I should have listened to ages ago. Bob also recommended that I explore the cassette-only label, ROIR (Reachout International Records) founded in 1981 for more great music. Thanks, Bob!

Something Special for Close Personal Friends of Al

I’m really upset with Pledgemusic because they know so very well that every few months, they shoot me an email saying, “Hey! Remember that thing you love? From way back in the day? Well check this sh*t out!” 

Pledgemusic is a direct-to-fan music platform, and their sole focus is raising funds for musicians. They don’t get their grubby hands into ownership or rights over the content, they encourage artists to contribute to charities as part of their projects, work with artists to offer all sorts of exclusive content to pledgers, and is accessible internationally to unite fans worldwide toward the creation of wonderful and unique musical items for the most rabid of a band’s fanatical followers.

Presently en route to my home is the Orb’s Further Adventures Live 2016 25th Anniversary DVD+3LP box set, which was my first encounter with Pledgemusic. But today, they popped up in my email saying… “Psssssst! Look at the thing!”

Now available for pre-order is something special for Close Personal Friends of Al Yankovic. Having grown up with every Al album from his self-titled debut to the present, my nerdcore childhood would never have been the same without him. And to celebrate his discography and 34 years of mandatory fun, Pledge has pulled out all the stops and created the ultimate Al treasure.

SQUEEZE BOX, as it is titled, contains all 14 studio albums plus a bonus Medium Rarities album of demos and rare tracks. All albums have been remastered and pressed on 150-gram vinyl. The set also includes a 100-page collector’s book of rare photos and memorabilia.

It is available in multiple levels of insanity, the highest of which includes a signed test pressing of your choice of any one of the original 14 studio albums, a Zoetrope-animated  turntable mat, retro-style “WEIRD Al” pennant, a magnetic build-your-own-Al, Commemorative t-shirt, and a CUSTOM PAIR OF WEIRD AL SOCKS!

And for $1500 they’ll ship you a signed test press of every one of the albums in the collection… though all 27 copies quickly sold out.

And, oh yeah, the entire set is packaged in a custom-created replica of Al’s signature accordion!

Shut up and take my money.

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An Epic Hip House Anthem

Just arrived from the UK – after years of stalking this rarity it’s finally mine. Distributed in France in 1991, this is the limited edition picture disc of the most monumentally epic hip house / electro-thrash single ever to destroy a pair of speakers.

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It is complete with relentlessly thumping dance beats, over-the-top sampled cheeseball guitar riffs, and Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes screaming to the storm, “I WANNA SEE YOU SWEAT!” ad infinitum. Throw in the bizarre historical mythos of The KLF discovering the lost continent of America in the year 992 and you’ve got a ridiculous dance hit that only The KLF could concoct.

Don’t miss the insane video for the single – “America, What Time is Love?”

“This is what the KLF is about. Over and out.”

The sound of a kick drum… miles away… buried deep within the earth.

Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas Box 10LP +4CD set has just arrived. Of Voigt’s countless one-off side project monikers, it is his work as Gas which has gained the most critical acclaim. And for good reason – this is some of the finest dark ambient minimal techno you could ever hope to find. And after sixteen years of various abridged and modified reissues, Voigt has presented the albums Zauberberg, Königsforst, and Pop in their entirety, along with a bonus disc featuring “Tal 90”, (previously released in Various – Pop Ambient 2002) and “Oktember B” from the Oktember EP from 1999.

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The set is housed in a sturdy slipcase with embossed jackets for each release. The discs are contained in glossy black paper sleeves with GAS logo printed on both sides. The accompanying hardcover 12″ x 12″ art book with digital images of the Königsforst also contains four CDs of the music from the set.

Inspired by Voigt’s youthful LSD experiences in the Königsforst (a German forest situated near his hometown of Köln), served as the inspiration behind these releases. Voigt claimed that he wanted to “bring the forest to the disco, or vice-versa”.

Wikipedia offers an excellent description of the Gas sound:

Each album consisting of several long tracks of dense, hypnotic, atmospheric sound. All Gas material shares a characteristic sound, consisting of an ambient wash of drones and loops, usually accompanied by a repetitive four-on-the-floor kick drum underneath the multiple layers of music. Occasionally a song will just drift on its own ambience.

Indeed, most of the time there is no clear musical progression in a Gas track, as Voigt seems to be more interested in exploring depth of the stereo field, utilizing subtle shifts in sound. Because music under the Gas alias lacks any trace of orthodox melody or chord change many would not describe it as musical. However, the sources of Voigt’s samples are often of musical origin, encapsulating “old pop record stuff” as well as classical music such as Richard Wagner and Arnold Schoenberg.

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It also notes that critics have described Gas music as, “similar to hearing a band playing very far away, underwater, or from behind walls.” By any measure, this is a milestone ambient box set and an essential piece of any ambient record collection.

Introductory Nomenclature

Just arrived from Ann Arbor’s Ghostly International label – the sky blue limited edition reissue of Telefon Tel Aviv’s majestic debut, Fahrenheit Fair Enough. Fahrenheit was originally issued by Chicago’s Hefty Records, and fit smashingly alongside their other downtempo and IDM recordings.

Ghostly International is home to Tycho, Gold Panda, Com Truise, and other crafters of what Sundae Club playfully dubbed “Technostalgic Tunes”. And Fahrenheit is no exception. Here, Telefon Tel Aviv expertly weaves together sparse melodic fragments and the occasional jazzy licks with intricately complex abstract glitch patterns. What results is a marriage of the warm, nostalgic instrumentation one would expect from a band like Boards of Canada seamlessly fused with the atonal mechanical rhythmic constructions of Richard D. James. It is a wonderfully satisfying record which warrants repeated listenings both active and subliminal.

This limited edition release also includes a digital download which features additional Archive ’99 material capturing more of the best sounds the artist has to offer.

A review from the BBC called the album, “Gorgeous, yet completely devoid of cliché… a quiet, unpretentious beauty of a record.” Fahrenheit Fair Enough is certainly some of the finest downtempo IDM music released this year.

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Just in From the Netherlands – An Awesome 1950’s Electronic Music Box Set!

I’ve been on a crazy musique concrete kick lately, buying up classics like Cage’s Cartridge Music and the Panorama of Musique Concrete from ’56.

And just arrived from the Netherlands – Popular Electronics: The Singles Collection

#664/1000, this velvet box set was issued in 2008 by Basta Records – the label which produced the magnificent three-volume Manhattan Research set. This compilation contains faithful reissues of 1950s musique concrete 7″ classics from Dutch electronic music composers Kid Baltan, Tom Dissevelt, and H Badings.

The set contains:

  • Electronic Ballet Music: Cain and Abel (Philips 400 036 AE) (1956)
  • Electronic Popular Music (Philips 315 538 NF) (1957)
  • Electronic Movements (Philips430 736 PE) (1958)
  • and Electronic Music (Philips 430 791 PE) (1961)

Each disc includes the original sleeve and liner notes.

I first got into Baltan/Dissevelt under their Electrosoniks moniker when I found the Philips “Electronic Music” LP from 1962 at my local antique mall. Wonderful stuff!

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