Personal Collection or Archive?: A Closer Look at What Defines a Library

archive

I was recently contacted by Dan Gravell, founder and programmer of the server-based music management software, bliss. Bliss received praise from Andrew Everard of What Hi-Fi and their official website calls it a tool “for people who care about their music collection.” Dan posed several questions about my library, and about what differentiates an average personal music collection from a true archive. He suggested that my response might prove useful as a journal entry at Innerspace Labs, so I’m sharing my response for others who might ask the same questions about their own meticulous collections.

So let’s dive right in –

Regarding the difference between run-of-the-mill “playable” music libraries and what one might call an “archive,” there are a few primary factors which could differentiate the two. The first is one of practical function and intent. If a library is for personal use for playback alone it is most likely the former, whereas a consciously organized collection of significant size and scope which is representative of a particular period or culture and which sheds contextual light on that era might serve a greater, almost scholarly purpose as an archive. Uniformity of structure, organization, navigability, and accompanying supplemental metadata enhance a library such as this to greater usefulness than mere playback. And it appears that it is precisely this focus on consistency by which Dan has endeavored to empower users like me with his bliss project. Another important factor is the long-term sustainability of an archive, which I’ll touch upon momentarily.

Next Dan asked whether my source media is exclusively physical. My collection comprises only a few thousand LPs, with a significant focus on the history of electronic sound. This spans the gamut from early notable works of musique concrète to the Moog synthesizer novelty craze, all the way through the international movement of ambient electronic music. I’ve also a predilection for archival box sets, like the Voyager Golden Record 40th Anniversary set with companion hardcover book and the special release from The John Cage Trust, as well as the previously unreleased collection of Brian Eno’s installation music issued earlier this year on vinyl with a new essay by Eno. But the bulk of my library is digital. This is both for practical and financial reasons, as digital libraries are far easier to maintain. (I don’t blog about digital nearly as often, as 450,000 media files are nowhere near as fascinating as a handsome limited edition LP!)

Dan also inquired about my workflow, which is critical to any archive. Early on in the development of my library, (around 2002-3), I began ripping LPs with the following process:

Exclusive analog recordings are captured using a Denon DP-60L rosewood TT with an Ortofon 2M Red cart, powered by a McIntosh amplifier (later replaced with a vintage Yamaha unit), and are saved as lossless FLAC via an entry level Behringer U-Control UCA202 DAC. I previously utilized a Cambridge Audio DacMagic DAC but after it failed I opted for the Behringer and it has been more than sufficient for my needs. Audio is captured using Audacity on my Linux-based DAW and basic leveling and noise reduction are performed but I minimize post-processing to maintain as much of the original audio’s integrity as possible.

Dan specifically inquired as to where the library information was stored (barcodes, etc) and asked about my policies on which metadata are included. This is fairly straightforward, as nearly all of the vinyl recordings I ripped pre-date the use of barcodes or were limited private releases with only a catalog number, which I bracket as a suffix in the release folder path.

Polybagged LPs are stored vertically and organized by primary genre, then by artist, then chronologically by date of issue. Due to the entropic property of vinyl playback, discs are played once as needed to capture the recording and subsequent playback is performed using the digital files. I employed a dozen static local DB applications over the years for my records, but eventually migrated to a Discogs DB which increases accessibility while crate digging in the wild and provides real-time market value assessment for insurance purposes.

But honestly, I almost never need to perform the rip myself, as the filesharing ecosystem has refined itself to the point where even the most exclusive titles are available through these networks in lossless archival FLAC with complete release details. There has never been a better time to be alive as an audio archivist.

Once digitized to FLAC, my assets are organized with uniform file naming conventions with record label and artist parent folders and parenthetical date of issue prefixes for easy navigation. gMusicBrowser is my ideal playback software for accessing large libraries in a Linux environment. Release date and catalog numbers have been sufficient metadata identifiers, as subsequent release details are only a click or a tap away on Discogs. Occasionally I will include a contextual write-up in the release folder where warranted, like in the case of William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops 9LP + 5CD + DVD set as it related to the events of 9/11.

Next Dan inquired about how my archive is accessed. I employ Sindre Mehus’ Subsonic personal server application on my Linux DAW to make all of my audio and music video film content accessible from my phone, tablet, or any web-enabled device. I use both the official Subsonic app and the independently-developed Ultrasonic fork by Óscar García Amor for remote access of my library, (about eight hours daily). You can see a short video walkthrough of the features of the app that I put together here:

To return to his initial question about what differentiates a playback collection from an archive, my own library incorporates a few key factors which might lend itself to the latter:

– lossless bit-perfect FLAC wherever possible
– index documentation
– a systematic process guide for new acquisitions
– a 76pp manual highlighting special collections and large libraries of the Collection
– disk mirroring in multiple physical locations for preservation and sustainability
– fire protection for further indestructibility
– routine disk operation tests to mitigate risk of data loss
– complete discographic record label chronologies suffixed with catalog numbers
– elementary data visualizations created using Gephi and Prezi web-based tools
– the use of TrueCrypt whole disk encryption to prevent unauthorized access
– and the active use of Subsonic and Ultrasonic for enhanced accessibility

And scale is another noteworthy factor in my circumstances. Just to cite one example, I’ve collected every LP and single issued by the electronic duo Underworld that I’ve been able to get my hands on, and the digital audio branch of my Underworld collection comprises 482 albums, EPs and singles, including 2850 tracks and DJ sessions totaling well over 385 hours of non-stop music, spanning 36 years of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith’s work in all of their many incarnations. This collection is uniformly tagged, organized into a network of categorical root folders, and substructured into chronological subfolders by date of release. And the complete record label collections are a definite differentiator from the majority of casual-listening libraries.

I understand that my archive is small compared to the 12-20 TB libraries of some more seasoned users, but I feel that discretion and selectivity are virtues of my personal collection so that I can focus on only the most exquisite and remarkable recordings of my principle genre foci.

So what about your own collections? Do you employ standardized uniform file naming conventions and organizational standards? Do you supplement your library with relevant documentation to add context to your media? Does your collection offer insight into a particular era or musical culture? And do you take measures to ensure the longevity and sustainability of the work? If so… you might just have an archive.

Supplemental Note:

A good friend was kind enough to offer his thoughts about what sets an archive apart from other collections, and his remark was too good not to share. He said –

I think another major difference between the average personal collection and an archive is retention and adaptation.

A casual listener or collector wouldn’t have the retention of a true archive. The individual may build some playlists or even some advanced structure for locating and listening to music, but there is a very good chance that after some time, that particular music will get buried by the newer, or the most current thing the user is listening to. The casual listener may not want the huge or growing library, so when they feel they have moved on, the music will be removed from their collection. I cannot see someone who is keeping an archive remove anything from their collection. So retaining the entire collection and not removing anything because they are bored with it would be a difference.

I also mentioned adaptation. This is a rather basic idea but would be rather important in the grand scheme of things. Lets say you have a collection of 100 songs, all with 4 points of meta data. You realize as you begin to add more songs to your collection, a 5th point of data is needed. A casual listener may leave those 100 songs in the current state they’re in, with the 4 points of data. The archivist would need to go back, and add that 5th point to all 100 songs, and the new ones. Add another zero to those numbers and that can be a daunting, but necessary task for the archivist.

I really appreciated his input!

An Echo of Nothing: Archival Recordings From the John Cage Trust

I am so honored to have received this historic collectible as a gift from a dear friend. This is a promotional copy of the new recording of Nurit Tilles’ superlative performance of John Cage’s classic Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (1946-1948), commissioned in honor of Cage’s Centenary and produced in conjunction with the John Cage Trust. Commercial copies of this deluxe 3LP audiophile set were limited, (befittingly) to just 433 copies worldwide.

The performance was recorded March 21 – 23, 2011 on a Steinway Model-D Piano at The Fisher Center For The Performing Arts at Bard College under the supervision of creative directors Donna Wingate and Naomi Yang for the John Cage Trust. The set was released on September 5, 2012. Most critics agree that Sonatas and Interludes is the finest composition of Cage’s early period – his magnum opus for prepared piano, and this release serves as the definitive archival audiophile edition for collectors and lovers of Cage’s work.


The set includes a handsome heavy hard-shell slipcase containing a custom 10-page gatefold sleeve with metallic foil stamps and imprints, archival material, a 40-page color companion book with an introduction by Anthony B. Creamer III, as well as photographs and essays by Mark Swed and James Pritchett. The discs are pressed on 200-gram vinyl with archival audio at 45RPM. The packaging is exquisite and thoughtful and the set is a wonderful celebration of Cage’s 100
th anniversary.


The John Cage Trust was established in 1993 as a not-for-profit institution whose mission is to gather together, organize, preserve, disseminate, and generally further the work of the late American composer.
It maintains sizeable collections of music, text, and visual art manuscripts. The Trust also houses extensive audio, video, and print libraries, which are continually expanding, including two piano preparation kits created and used by Cage for this composition, as well as a substantial permanent collection of his visual art works, which are made available for exhibitions worldwide. Save for a 2011 CD recording of Cage’s 1989 performance at Skywalker Ranch in Nicasio, California titled, “How To Get Started,” this is the Trust’s lone public audio release.

From the official press statement:

“If the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 marked the end of the 19th century, then John Cage’s birth that year represented the start of a new one, musically speaking. Cage created hundreds of works and to my ears Sonatas and Interludes is one, more than any other, that will stand the test of time. Like a Merce Cunningham dance, there is something new to experience with each encounter of this magnificent piece. By my count, there are over 20 recordings of Sonatas and Interludes with each performer (and production and engineering team) bringing something new to the realization. However, this is the first recording of this seminal piece ever presented in a 45 rpm format for the audiophile. It is my hope that listeners will marvel at the breathtaking sonics of the recording, but more than that — the superlative performance by Nurit Tilles. When Laura Kuhn and I first discussed this project we immediately locked on Nurit. Her preparation and playing is nothing short of magnificent. And as wonderful is her playing, Nurit’s beautiful spirit comes through with verve in these grooves. A noted filmmaker said there is no history, only historians. This recording is historic.”
– Anthony B. Creamer III (Executive Producer of the set)

Creamer contributed to a discussion about the set on the Steve Hoffman forums where he remarked, “If you have first class playback equipment you will think there is a piano in the room.” His claim is no exaggeration. The care that went into the recording and mastering of this set is top notch and fitting for an archival work such as this. Forum user ScottM praised the quality of the extreme fidelity and wide dynamics of the release.

As Creamer mentions above, Sonatas and Interludes is likely the most recorded work in the Cage edifice. As such a listener might ask why we need another recording of these works? Amazon Vine Voice member, Scarecrow notes that each performer brings their own emotive world to these pieces. And the magnificent attention toward sonic quality and archival production makes this an unparalleled and definitive edition for Cage collectors.

For musicians interested in faithfully performing Sonatas & Interludes, Jesse Myers’ Piano Studio website offers a comprehensive performer’s guide to the prepared piano for this piece.

John Cage Sonatas And Interludes – Nurit Tilles Track Listing:

LP1

1. Sonata I

2. Sonata II

3. Sonata III

4. Sonata IV

5. First Interlude

6. Sonata V

7. Sonata VI

8. Sonata VII

LP2

1. Sonata VIII

2. Second Interlude

3. Third Interlude

4. Sonata IX

5. Sonata X

6. Sonata XI

LP3

1. Sonata XII

2. Fourth Interlude

3. Sonata XIII

4. Sonata XIV and XV Gemini (after the work by Richard Lippold)

5. Sonata XVI


Packaging fetishists will also enjoy this black-gloved unboxing feature produced by Acoustic Sounds in Salina, KS for the city’s own Quality Record Pressings who produced the LPs for this set.

I have two other vinyl recordings of Sonatas & Interludes in my library. The first was pressed in 1977 on Tomato Records and packaged with A Book Of Music (First Recording). The recording is of Joshua Pierce’s performance from July 26 & 27, 1975 on a Baldwin piano.

The second is featured on side B of disc 1 of The 25-Year Retrospective Concert Of The Music Of John Cage, recorded in performance at Town Hall, New York, May 15, 1958 issued by Italy’s Doxy label.

But unequivocally, this promotional copy of the John Cage Trust edition instantly became my favorite Cage artifact. It will be treasured and enjoyed for years to come.

A very special thank you to my dear friend for this generous and thoughtful gift!

Brian Eno’s New ‘Music For Installations’ – Meditative Magic for the Modern Age

Just arrived at Innerspace Labs – Brian Eno’s stunning new super deluxe limited edition 9LP vinyl box set, Music For Installations!

“If you think of music as a moving, changing form, and painting as a still form, what I’m trying to do is make very still music and paintings that move. I’m trying to find in both of those forms, the space in between the traditional concept of music and the traditional concept of painting.”

– Brian Eno

From the official press release from Astralwerks Records:

‘Music For Installations’ is a collection of new, rare and previously unreleased music, all of which was recorded by Brian Eno for use in his installations covering the period from 1986 until the present (and beyond). Over this time, he has emerged as the leading exponent of “generative” music worldwide and is recognised as one of the foremost audio-visual installation artists of his time.

These highly-acclaimed works have been exhibited all over the globe – from the Venice Biennale and the Marble Palace in St. Petersburg to Beijing’s Ritan Park and the sails of the Sydney Opera House.

The elegantly minimalist set’s packaging was designed by Eno with long-time collaborator Nick Robertson. The set is housed in a 12 x 12 rigid box containing 9 LPs and each album is packaged in a beautiful die-cut sleeve. The collection comprises music from Brian Eno’s installations past, present and future.

For those of you who would challenge the practicality of having to get up and flip 18 sides of ambient music, you’ll be pleased to learn that the vinyl edition includes a digital download of these new and rare selections so you can enjoy Music For Installations anywhere you like, uninterrupted.

Also included in this handsome set is an exclusive 64-page book containing a brand new essay by Eno and which features rare and previously unseen photographs from his various exhibitions from 1997 to the present. The set is ideal for long time admirers and collectors of Eno’s catalog. Even for the fan who already has it all, Installations offers new content never before available to the public.

The press release notes that 50% of the music contained in the box set has never been available in any format and the rest has only ever had very limited CD direct-to-consumer release. See the complete track list below for original release info for all of the featured recordings.

Brian Eno - Music for Installations Box Set 03

While the set is a wonderful treasure for any lover of Eno’s generative or installation music, there were a few omissions that we were sad to see left out of the collection. The set lacks ‘Compact Forest Proposal’ ‘Quiet Club’ ‘Music for the Long Now’ and the extraordinary ‘Extracts from Music for White Cube, London 1997.’ Just the same this is an incredible collectible that should satisfy anyone who has been chronicling Eno’s evolution over the course of his illustrious career.

When I tried to pre-order on March 16th, Amazon did not yet have a vinyl edition for sale, and to date lists only one copy as available. But I’ve always steered clear of Amazon for limited edition internationally-dispatched vinyl sets because they have no standard for packaging and there is a high damage rate for their vinyl fulfillment.

Next I tried https://www.enoshop.co.uk but the site charges an additional $65.87 for international shipping bringing the set to over $300. Thankfully, I found that Bleep.com had the vinyl edition for pre-order, shipping for either $14.05 standard or $22.78 with tracking and confirmation and signature upon delivery, (and I chose the latter). I’m glad I ordered when I did because the set has since sold out from all official distributors.

For the last year I’ve been riding the tail end of the bell curve of vinyl collector fetishism. And so I had to put some serious thought into whether or not to invest in this particular set, especially at its price point. My rational voice cited the impractical nature of the format as an argument against the purchase. But the collection appealed to my emotive side which justified the work as an important historical document from one of my most inspirational artists. It’s an ideal collectible for the man or woman who already has everything Eno, and as a limited edition set there is a sense of urgency to pre-order while it’s still available or pay a much higher price once the window of opportunity has passed. In the end, it felt like an exceptional piece that was well worth the cost to include in my collection.

This is a proud addition to The Innerspace Labs ambient library and one which I’ll enjoy for years to come!

Brian Eno - Music for Installations Box Set 01

Track list

Music From Installations (previously unreleased):
01: ‘Kazakhstan’
Premiered at the Asif Khan-designed installation ‘We Are Energy’ in the UK Pavilion at Astana Expo 2017 in Kazakhstan
02: ‘The Ritan Bells’
Premiered at an installation by Eno at Ritan Park in Beijing, China as part of the British Council’s ‘Sound in the City’ series, 2005.
03: ‘Five Light Paintings’
Premiered at an installation by Eno called ‘Pictures Of Venice’ at the Gallerie Cavallino, in Venice, Italy, 1985.
04: ‘Flower Bells’
Premiered at an installation by Eno called ‘Light Music’ at the Castello Svevo in Bari, Italy, 2017.

‘77 Million Paintings’ (previously unreleased):
01: ‘77 Million Paintings’
Premiered at the inaugural exhibition of ‘77 Million Paintings’ at La Foret Museum Tokyo, Japan, 2006.

‘Lightness – Music For The Marble Palace’ (previously only available as a limited-run CD, via Enostore only):
01: ‘Atmospheric Lightness’
02: ‘Chamber Lightness’
Premiered at the Eno installation ‘Lightness in the Marble Palace’ at The State Russian Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, 1997.

‘I Dormienti’ / ‘Kite Stories’ (previously only available as separate limited run CDs, via Enostore only):
01: ‘I Dormienti’
Premiered at an eponymous installation by the Italian sculptor Mimmo Paladino at The Undercroft of The Roundhouse in London, 1999.
02: ‘Kites I’
03: ‘Kites II’
04: ‘Kites III’
Premiered at an installation by Brian Eno at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, Finland, 1999.

‘Making Space’ (limited-run CD previously only available at Eno installations and on the Lumen website):
01: ‘Needle Click’
02: ‘Light Legs’
03: ‘Flora and Fauna’ / ‘Gleise 581d’
04: ‘New Moons’
05: ‘Vanadium’
06: ‘All The Stars Were Out’
07: ‘Hopeful Timean Intersect’
08: ‘World Without Wind’
09: ‘Delightful Universe (seen from above)’
Compiled by Eno for sale exclusively at his installations, this was first made available while guest artistic director of the Brighton Festival, 2010.

‘Music For Future Installations’ (previously unreleased):
01: ‘Unnoticed Planet’
02: ‘Liquidambar’
03: ‘Sour Evening (Complex Heaven 3)’
04: ‘Surbahar Sleeping Music’

The Sound of Homecoming: The Complete Collaborations of Harold Budd and John Foxx

2018 has been a year of great personal development and growth, and as such, I’ve found myself time and again seeking warm, familiar tonalities rather than venturing into the unfamiliar and novel territories I’d explored in the years prior. I found it comforting to revisit long-standing favorite composers who created a sense of returning home each time I revisited their catalogs. That is precisely what made this latest discovery such a joy for me at this point in my life.

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Harold Budd is unquestionably one of the foremost veterans in the field of ambient composition. His trademark soft-pedal technique is instantly captivating and calming, and while he may not be breaking any new ground in the genre, that’s not what his listeners are seeking. Budd commands a mastery of his craft seldom matched in his field, and he’s consistently delivered quality contemplative soundscapes for nearly fifty years.

At 81 years of age, Harold Budd has shown no sign of slowing down. He’s collaborated with numerous artists, including Brian Eno, Robin Guthrie, The Cocteau Twins, Clive Wright, Eraldo Bernocchi, Bill Nelson, Andy Partridge, Daniel Lentz, Fila Brazilla, & U2. Budd retired briefly in 2005 but quickly returned to composition and released ten more albums and this magnificent new acquisition in the years that followed. I’d always wanted a vinyl keepsake of Budd’s music, but much of his catalog was limited to compact disc, including the Budd Box seven-disc set. That what made this discovery an exciting addition to my library.

From the original VinylFactory announcement in September:

Translucence, Drift Music and Nighthawks are being released on limited edition 3xLP by Demon Music for the first time.

Translucence / Drift Music is a 2003 double studio album from ex-Ultravox frontman John Foxx and ambient composer Harold Budd. Minimalist composer Ruben Garcia joined the duo to feature on their third album Nighthawks.

The triple vinyl package also features artwork by Jonathan Barnbrook, the graphic designer who created the Grammy-winning art for David Bowie’s Blackstar.

This box set features the complete Budd/Foxx recordings – seminal collaborations of the ambient genre. Nighthawks is dedicated to Garcia, who sadly passed away in 2013. At the announcement of the box set, Popmatters.com noted that, at the album’s 142-minute runtime, you’re going to need a lot of candles. They called the set, “lovely and provocative” with occasional chromatics and discord. “The City Stops for Snow” was described as “painting a picture of urban stillness” with its interplay of tiny overtones over top the many sustains and echoes.

This is the first time these recordings have been available on vinyl, and Demon Records did an exquisite job. The discs are 180g heavyweight vinyl, housed in a rigid slipcase. This release also comes with a limited print signed by John Foxx.

Harold Budd & John Foxx - Translucence Drift Music Nighthawks Box Set

Rateyourmusic user, dvd offered some valuable insight about the impact of this music on the listener:

It is very strange: after I listen I find it really difficult to recall any more specific details of the music itself. … The music is so transparent, like there is nothing to grab onto, and it just sort of drifts in and out on the edge of consciousness on its own. Maybe this is not a bad thing for ambient music, and likely part of what the creators were going for based on the title(s). For all its subtleties, the music still feels like it has some power over my mental state, as if it puts me in sort of a weird trance: something that’s vaguely serene and beautiful.

Paste Magazine shared similar remarks about the tranquil calm of this set, calling it “almost unbearably beautiful.” The impressionistic nature of the soundscapes was described as evoking images of “silhouettes of birds cutting across an early evening sky or slowly floating on a quiet, still body of water” and “tramping through a blanket of white on a quiet boulevard.” This is precisely the sort of contemplative music which brings me that feeling of homecoming.

I discovered Budd’s compositions early in my musical journey, initially through his collaborations with Brian Eno. The Pearl and The Plateaux of Mirror were albums I instantly knew I needed to have on vinyl, and they were followed shortly thereafter by an original pressing of his critically-acclaimed collaboration with Cocteau Twins for The Moon and The Melodies. But other than the aforementioned titles and a pressing of The Serpent in Quicksilver, I’d never been able to find a release on vinyl that truly felt like it celebrated and showcased Budd’s best work. And sadly the Budd Box has only been issued on CD. So imagine my excitement at discovering this recently-issued collection of the complete Budd & Foxx recordings!

Mike Powell of Pitchfork fittingly described Harold Budd’s characteristic sound as existing “in that misty place between ambient, new age, and minimalist composition, where everything is gentle and nothing lasts for long.” Powell described Budd’s quietly recognizable style as “intimate and intuitive; fragile but warm; seductive but just a little bit mysterious, like the soft tinkling of a presence in the next room.”

But perhaps the most fitting description comes from the set’s designer Jonathan Barnbrook who explains:

These are pieces that I return to again and again. Separate from his (John Foxx) more electronic work, they have a humanity and serenity that only comes with a great musician working in collaboration with others greats in an empathetic, understanding style. The music has a delicate, reflective quality – of human beings that have lived life and realise the beauty of it all, the joy and the suffering. They ask us to stop and consider, and that despite it all we should never desire to change a moment of it.

TheQuietus published a wonderful interview with John Foxx at the launch of this box set. His remarks revealed much about the albums’ composition and his thoughts about their collaboration. Foxx stated that he, “especially wanted to extend the harmonics of the piano strings resonance and sonic decay and use that as a live, real-time expansion of the sound.“ He went so far as to call Budd “a modern-day Satie.”

And describing the production process, Foxx said:

We also used another completely unique property of recording – reversed time. By reversing sounds and recording reverbs, then playing them forward and applying further layers of reverberation, you can enrich the already extended harmonics. You also have the miracle of reverberations moving simultaneously forward and backwards in time, and a truly complex interplay and texture going on between them. We took all this layering and multiplying as far as we possibly could, while still observing the delicacy and emotional tone of the pieces. All you have to do is listen and feel.

Allmusic.com summarized Budd’s sound as “distinctively dreamy, often extraordinary and occasionally ominous” and likens his technique to that of Erik Satie and Claude Debussy. Budd’s slowly morphing reverberant and shimmering atmospherics certainly have an impressionistic quality, and the parallels drawn to these greats are not inapt.

To those who might precipitously dismiss these works as simple new age music, I’d offer this closing remark from The Brighton Festival’s Guy Morley who said, “I think the impact of Harold is yet to be realised. Tonally, Harold has always come from a very deep and instinctive place. You don’t need a degree in composition. Its simplicity belies its originality.”

By any measure, this box set is a fantastic keepsake for anyone who enjoys the godfathers of ambient music.

Tracklist:

LP 1 / Translucence

1.Subtext
2.Spoken Roses
3.Momentary Architecture
4.Adult
5. Long Light
6. A Change In The Weather
7. Here And Now
8. Almost Overlooked
9. Implicit
10. Raindust
11.Missing Person
12. You Again

LP 2 / Drift Music

1. Sunlit Silhouette
2. The Other Room
3. Some Way Through All The Cities
4. Stepping Sideways
5 A Delicate Romance
6. Linger
7. Curtains Blowing
8. Weather Patterns
9. Coming Into Focus
10. After All This Time
11. Someone Almost There
12. Resonant Frequency
13. Avenue Of Trees
14. Underwater Flowers
15. Arriving

LP 3 / Nighthawks

1. Down A Windy Street
2. Now That I’ve Forgotten You
3. The Invisible Man
4. Fugitive Desire
5. From Then To Now
6. When The City Stops For Snow
7. The Shadow Of Her Former Self
8. Music For Swimmers
9. Lovedust
10. Nighthawks

In Fulfillment of the Prophecy: Future Sound of London’s Lifeforms Has Returned!

Future Sound of London - Lifeforms

“We wanted to release a very immersive, mind-blowing piece of music that was long and would deeply drench you in it. Lifeforms was redefining ‘classical ambient electronic experimental’ — that was the phrase we used.” – Garry Cobain, FSOL, 2007

For the very first time since its original issue twenty-four years ago in 1994, Universal has reissued Future Sound of London’s masterpieceLifeforms on vinyl. The project was born of a fan-created Change.org petition, and the label responded and agreed to the community’s insistence that the original duo oversaw mastering and production of the release.

Much has been written over the years about this iconic recording. Ken Micallef interviewed FSOL for emusician in 2007 and said, “the Future Sound of London helped usher in the modern era of electronic music…” [mixing] “…techno, ambient, jazz, folk and even operatic samples for a sound that would some 15 years later be dubbed “‘folktronic.’”


Micallef noted that the duo “claim influences as diverse as Cocteau Twins, Claude Debussy, A Certain Ratio, Rachmaninoff, Eno and Tangerine Dream.” The album also features Robert Fripp on “Flak,” Talvin Singh’s tablas on “Life Form Ends,” and Toni Halliday from Curve doing a “vocal texture” on “Cerebral” as well as the treated sweeping vocals of Elizabeth Fraser on the single version of the album’s eponymous title track.


Fun Fact: In November of 2017, the Guinness Book of World Records finally acknowledged FSOL’s “Lifeforms” as being the very first record-label-sponsored internet music download! 

FSOL Lifeforms Guiness Book of Worlds Records Certificate 11-23-17Photo Credit: Gaz Cobain. Used with permission.

Add to this stellar concoction the influences of Brian Dougan’s father who was involved with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop inspiring Lifeforms’ almost musique concrète feel, and the result is an immersive and engaging album spanning two discs of provocative abstract soundscapes.


A milestone recording long overdue for reissue, Lifeforms finally returns on vinyl to reawaken our passion for the mysterious, alienesque, and magical futureworld it so expertly painted more than two decades ago. Whether you’re discovering the album for the first time or revisiting a beloved classic, Lifeforms is a mind-bending psychoacoustic journey that will reward any listener with a desire to explore.

lifeforms_future_sound_of_london

Freshly Framed – A Touch of Zen

Freshly framed and hanging proudly in my home are the four watercolor lithographs included with original UK pressings of Brian Eno’s Before and After Science. These were painted by Peter Schmidt who worked with Brian Eno to develop the legendary Oblique Strategies deck designed to help artists break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking.

I’ve wanted these for many years and they add a touch of Zen-like charm to my home that I’ll enjoy for years to come.

Brian Eno - Before and After Science Watercolor Lithographs by Peter Schmidt (The Framed Final Piece) 01-26-18

A First Foray into ECM Jazz

In an effort to introduce more novel content into my daily listening and to challenge myself a bit, I’ve decided to explore the ECM label, particularly the Touchtone remasters. In 2008 ECM issued forty of their most popular albums spanning 1971 to 1993 in the form of affordable cardboard sleeved compact discs. A few of the names were familiar, most notably Jon Hassell who I know from his Fourth World: Possible Musics tribal ambient LP produced in collaboration with Brian Eno. ECM’s motto is, “the Most Beautiful Sound Next to Silence” and I was eager to test their claim.

Ambient themes seemed to be a suitable point of ingress for the genre of ECM jazz, as I am most comfortable with long-form soundscapes which emphasize sonic texture over melodic structures. I quickly found my way to a few introductory recordings well-suited to this task:

• Ralph Towner’s Solstice and Batik LPs (ECM chamber jazz) described as hauntingly beautiful, with elements of drone and wall of sound, characterized as smooth and mellow

• Jan Garbarek & the Bobo Stenson Quartet – Witchi-Tai-To – a classic understated work of spiritual jazz from 1974

• Tomasz Stanko’s Litania: The Music of Krzysztof Komeda, showcasing hypnotic, atmospheric Polish jazz performances

• And the label’s most prominent artist, Keith Jarrett’s critically acclaimed Facing You and The Köln Concert LPs which are described as smooth, calm, and soothing instrumentals, featuring impassioned improvisation with moments of great intensity. Köln is considered a revolutionary work of contemporary jazz.

It’s a curious place to find myself as a listener and chronicler of music. I’ve read very little in the way of jazz criticism and am only rudimentarily acquainted with both its theory and contextual history. That made this territory a unique and satisfying venture from the familiar to something new and interesting.

Witchi-Tai-To

Witchi-Tai-To is an hypnotic and surreal exercise in spiritual jazz with a mellow and meditative quality characteristic of many ECM releases. It definitely inspires me to track down lush and uplifting spiritual jazz classics like Alice Coltrane’s Journey to Satchidananda and Pharoah Sanders’ Karma and Black Unity LPs.

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Jarrett’s Facing You was awe-inspiring. This was clearly bold, new territory for solo jazz piano. Jarrett’s improvisation is personal, intense, and fantastically dynamic. Still, there is a gentleness to his performative style that makes the album incredibly accessible and satisfying.

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The Köln Concert is absolute heaven. From the first notes, it’s evident why this is celebrated as the best-selling solo album in jazz history and the all-time best-selling piano album. And the circumstances of the performance make the magic of this music all the more remarkable. Evidently, Jarrett was suffering significant back pain and was wearing a brace the evening of the performance. The pain had cost him several nights’ sleep and following the drive from Zürich he was thoroughly exhausted. Jarrett arrived at the opera house only to discover that the piano on which he was to perform upon was small and poorly-tuned rather than the Bösendorfer grand he’d requested. But with only a few hours before the concert, Jarrett made the very best of the situation and went on to improvise one of the greatest concerts ever captured to tape.

Solstice

Solstice is arguably the best of Towner’s catalog, forty minutes of instrumentals wedding sustained drones with elements of fusion and chamber music. It approaches the dreaded label of “new age” music but is jazzy enough to escape the bland realms of near-self-parody commonly associated with the genre. Never overly-energetic, the album is consistently subtle and darkly atmospheric.

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Batik is a similar work equally noteworthy for Towner and for Jack DeJohnette’s abstract drumming on the album, especially his contribution to the title track.

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I found Litania to be highly accessible and thought-provoking. It’s gentle enough to provide a sonic wallpaper but sufficiently engaging to activate my mind and send me into a trance of self-reflection. The three variations of “Sleep Safe and Warm” are intimately soothing but the most intriguing selection from the album is “Night-Time, Daytime Requiem” which wanders placidly for more than twenty minutes of atmospheric bliss. “The Witch” changes up the dynamic a bit with the addition of an electric guitar but keeps with the ambiance of the record. The album could function well as dinner jazz but seems to lend itself ideally to quiet, solitary exploration.

What I enjoyed most about each of these releases was ECM’s consistently ascetic, restrained, and meditative properties. While the recordings dabble in free jazz and avant-garde experimentalism, they remain at all times refined and gently ethereal. It was a most rewarding venture, and I’m excited to continue exploring more of “The Most Beautiful Sounds Next to Silence.”

More than likely my next survey will be of the fifteen albums Arvo Pärt issued under ECM. Sublime listening awaits!

 

 

 

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.

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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!