Friday, 30 December 2016

Bruce Cockburn - Dancing In The Dragon's Jaws (1979)

Another of those rare beasts round these parts - an album with actual songs, vocals, lyrics and everything.  And one of my favourites of all time.  Bruce Cockburn in 1979 was just getting started on his social-conscience era, whilst toning down the religious elements compared to previous albums, and was playing better fingerpicked-acoustic guitar than ever.  The result was this album - a possible career-best.  Folky, jazzy, just a smidgeon of the reggae obsession to come in the form of a bouncy breakthrough hit - this is pretty much perfection.  Wanted to see out the year on a reasonably positive, hopeful note - reckon this fits the bill.

Sun's up, mmhm, looks okay, the world survives into another day

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Manuel and the Music of the Mountains - Reflections/Carnival (1998 compi of LPs from '69 and '70)

Don't know about you, but I could do with some more rest & relaxation... and a nice bit of escapism.  So here's a twofer reissue from one of my favourite easy listening-bordering-on-exotica bandleaders, the mysterious and exotic Manuel, and his Music Of The Mountains band.

Well, only mysterious and exotic for a few months at the end of the 50s - the Manuel persona was intended to be kept secret, but as soon as his popularity took off 'Manuel' was quickly unveiled as Geoff Love (1917-1991) from Todmorden, West Yorkshire.  The next 20 years saw the release of dozens of these beautifully arranged, sumptiously recorded (the EMI Studio Two sound has aged well) albums, including Reflections in 1969, and one of my all-time favourites in this genre, Carnival from 1971.

Reflections

Carnival

Monday, 26 December 2016

Vladislav Delay - Anima (2001)

I'm guessing a nice chill-out might be what most people are after today - so here's an hour of ambient textures from Finnish electronic musician/producer Sasu Ripatti, aka Vladislav Delay.  This single-track release came out in 2001 - there was a triple vinyl edition, believe it or not.  Not the sort of thing where you'd want to be getting up to change sides every ten minutes!  I got into this about a year ago on the back of a recommendation someone had made on a chat about the sadly missed Susumu Yokota.

Anima

Friday, 23 December 2016

Paul Constantinescu - The Nativity (Byzantine Christmas Oratorio) (composed 1947, rec. 1977)

Here goes, then - a proper Christmas post.  And in line with my recent obsessions, it's from a 20th-century Romanian composer, but no dense, ear-blasting spectralist writing here; instead, Paul Constantinescu (1909-1963) offered up the apex of his interests in Byzantine chant and Romanian folk melodies, in the 1977 premiere recording of his 1947 Nativity.

I've only had this disc for a few weeks, so won't go into too much detail, but suffice to say if you're looking for an interesting alternative to Handel's Messiah, this one from mid-20th century Romania is wonderful stuff indeed.   
Merry Christmas!


Bonus SGTG stocking-filler: for anyone who'd like a freshly-recorded Messiah, this one (file 1/file 2) was recorded a couple of weeks ago and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Monday night.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Penderecki: "Christmas" Symphony / Bruzdowicz: Concertos (1989 compi, rec. '81 and '84)

Still working on something to post with an actual Christmas angle... how about Penderecki's 2nd Symphony - it has Christmas in the title, doesn't it?  Well, not really.  Symphony No. 2 might've been written over the winter of 1979-1980, but it doesn't have any official name, and only became informally known as the 'Christmas Symphony' due to the little snippets of Silent Night that Penderecki included, and can be most clearly heard about four minutes into each movement.

Being a big fan of Penderecki at his most fearsome, e.g. Threnody, De Natura Sonoris, Utrenja etc, the 2nd Symphony was initially a bit of a letdown for me, as was apparently the case for listeners in the early 80s - where's the nail-biting sheer terror?  Not to worry though, as soon as I gave it a chance I found out what a fine, full-bodied work it actually was. Enjoy.

That's only half the disc though, and the remainder is a real treat - one of the very few available recordings of any works by Joanna Bruzdowicz (b. 1943, Warsaw), with a star turn from 'Buddha of the bass' Fernando Grillo.  The Concerto for Double-Bass, here in its 1984 premiere, is a brilliantly choppy work that gives the great bassman free rein to saw, rattle and soar over a nicely unsettling ensemble backdrop.  Lastly, Olympia records (who are becoming a bit of an obsession for me at the moment, appearing to have been quite the reissue goldmine for Eastern European/Russian obscurities) very kindly give us another Bruzdowicz concerto; a single-movement Violin vehicle, and very good it is too.

Penderecki / Bruzdowicz

Monday, 19 December 2016

Psychic TV - Dreams Less Sweet (1983)

Should probably use this week for posting anything Christmassy that I have... no matter how tangential...  What's that song that goes 'Santa Claus is checking his list, going over it twice; to see who is naughty and who is nice'?  Oh yeah, it's Psychic TV.  Any excuse to post the greatest stone-cold (yup, bits of it were recorded in a cave) classic of the post-industrial 80s, Coil notwithstanding - and of course, the core Coil duo were still in the PTV fold at this point, making for an unbeatable supergroup.

I remember listening to White Nights for ages before finding out where that refrain quoted above comes from - it was taught to the children of Jonestown to instill paranoia by the Reverend Jim himself, and all the other lyrics were taken from his horrific final address.  Aside from a cherubic choral rendition of a Manson Family ditty, this was the darkest, and perversely most melodic depths that were plumbed on what was once brilliantly described as 'the Sgt. Pepper of icky music' - wish I could remember what magazine I read that in - and the rest is pretty listenable and accessible stuff considering the roll call of contributors. 

Based around oboe and Reichian marimba, The Orchids is simply gorgeous, one of my favourite songs of all time, and a good chunk of Dreams Less Sweet is the most musically ambitious stuff GPO ever put his mind to - aided in no small part by arranger Andrew Poppy.  19 tracks, many of them fascinating little fragments, zip by in a tight, coherent 43 minutes, and remain a huge high-watermark in the post-TG fallout and in dark, twisted 'England's Hidden Reverse' creepiness in general.  Essential alchemical musick.

A civilization that knows no honour, that knows no respect, that knows not its desires or true meaning; a lie within a lie within a lie

Friday, 16 December 2016

Iancu Dumitrescu / Ana-Maria Avram - Au Dela De Movemur, etc (1991)

Definitely time for another Iancu Dumitrescu release, so why not the one that introduced Ana-Maria Avram (b.1961, Bucharest), his wife and fellow composer, and co-founder of the Edition Modern label.  Only four of the EM albums to date (of which I've already posted two) are in fact solely of Dumitrescu's music.  The rest (aside from a handful of non-Dumitrescu/Avram ones like last week's Cazaban CD) are shared roughly equally on each release, and frequently feature live recordings, a preference that dates back to this three-fifths live release.

Dumitrescu's two works that open the album are both for strings; Au Dela De Movemur for droning, Scelsi-esque (although Dumitrescu disliked the comparison) string orchestra, and two movements of Monades, for six monochords, which make maximum sonic use out of the single-string instruments.

Avram's three are the perfect introduction to her range and specialisms.  The orchestral fireworks of Ekagrata show an early Xenakis influence, and Signum Gemini is an ensemble and tape work highlighting the great Romanian (Ukranian-born) clarinettist Aurelian Octav Popa.  The final piece, and the longest on the disc, is Zodiaque III for prepared piano and electronics, performed by Avram herself.  The sharp piano notes cut intermittently across a droning landscape, before being subsumed entirely in the Radigue-like ambient smog.

Au dela de movemur

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Scott Walker - Tilt (1995)

If you've been following this blog long enough, you might have figured out that my listening habits are insanely seasonal; I'm sure this isn't uncommon though.  So come winter, out comes Scott Walker, especially Tilt and after.  Somehow, apocalyptic dirges that sound like they're being narrated by an atrocity-obsessed malevolent skeleton just need the cold and the dark.

Tilt, the first full flowering of the Scott Walker who ended up on the cover of The Wire in 2012, started subtly with the beautiful cinematic string arrangements of Farmer In The City.  Walker's stunning vocal keens a lament for Pier Paolo Pasolini sounded like a natural update of his late 60s work, but that was only the first six minutes.  The odd scraping sounds and lupine croon of The Cockfighter are soon overtaken by a scalding electronic rhythm and Walker's disjointed lyrics, sounding both bang up to date and arcane, archaic, as the album progressed into influences from avant-garde lieder and industrial music, with strange percussive noises everwhere and a memorable church organ blast on Manhattan.  The spare, clean production holds up well, and the album's bleak themes point the way to where he's been going ever since.  Fingers crossed for another new album in the next couple of years?  I don't doubt for a second he's still got it in him.

I knew nothing of the horses, nothing of the thresher

Monday, 12 December 2016

Harold Budd, Ruben Garcia, Daniel Lentz - Music For Three Pianos (1992)

In a classic case of great minds thinking alike... this same album went up on Opium Hum at the weekend.  Music For Three Pianos is simply too good not to share as widely as possible, so I'm keeping it in the schedule here.

This 1992 collaboration between Harold Budd and two fellow pianists might barely qualify as an album at all, lasting a scant 21 minutes; but it doesn't waste a single note.  After letting these six stunningly beautiful melodies wash over you , there's a definite feeling that a perfectly self-contained album experience has been packed into the brief running time, and that any lengthening would spoil the effect.  I actually experimented with running Music For Three Pianos at half-speed to see how a full-length LP might've sounded - it really didn't work!  Better to just start the whole thing again when it ends - I often do.

The sympathetic production, for which krautrock/Berlin-school legend Michael Hoenig was partly responsible, adds just enough reverb where it's needed; the echoing silences in the opening track Pulse-Pause-Repeat are just as important as the notes.  If I had to pick out a favourite track here - I guess to do so would be more like picking a favourite movement from a perfectly-integrated piano sonata - it would either be the achingingly gorgeous penultimate one, The Messenger, or the gently rolling arpeggios of closer La Casa Bruja, where just like on Plateaux Of Mirror, Budd's compositional economy shines brightest.

Iris: Where are you? Where have you been?

Friday, 9 December 2016

Tord Gustavsen Trio - The Ground (2005)

Feeling like a mellow end to the week again, so here's some prime ECM piano trio comfort food for the short days and long nights.  Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen recorded a trio of these trio albums with bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vepestad from 2003-2007 (he's mainly worked in larger configurations since), and every minute of The Ground's one-hour duration is sublime, sleek melodic material in the best Bill Evans tradition.  Possibly a bit too smooth for some tastes, but for top-flight relaxation this'll do nicely.

Token Of Tango

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Costin Cazaban - Flûtes À Vide, Zig-Zag etc (1998 compi of works 1975-86)

Today's trip into the spectralsphere comes courtesy of Costin Cazaban (1946-2009), a native of Bucharest who ended up settling in Paris to teach, write (as a musicologist and critic) and compose.  No large-scale orchestral fireworks on this, the only release solely dedicated to his works; instead, there's an aural feast of mostly solo instruments being transformed by electronic/tape treatments.

Fernando Grillo's bass playing, for instance, is more sonically reined in here than with Dumitrescu (but to be honest, so are almost all composers on earth), as the basslines and bass-clicks/clunks of Zig-Zag (1974) slip around in the echoing ether.  Parisian flautist Pierre-Yves Artaud is layered in multiple fragments across the liquid landscape of Flûtes À Vide (1986), becoming more percussive around the halfway mark; look out too for some of that same stuttering staccato writing that contemporary Doina Rotaru employed for Daniel Kientzy.

On the remainder of this disc, there's a couple of interesting chamber works, and sandwiched in between them is a Naturalia (1975), a fantastically odd piece for piano, treated piano sounds and strange vocal noises.  This fascinating collection really does reward repeated listens; Cazaban seems to have a had a remarkable talent for shaping a whole sound-world from all the different treated sounds he could record from just one instrument.  Recommended.

Croisements Recherches

Monday, 5 December 2016

Einstürzende Neubauten - Kalte Sterne - Early Recordings (2004 compi, rec. '80-'82)

Time for something nice and noisy again.  This handy primer for early Einstürzende Neubauten came out just over decade ago, and made a good companion for the earlier Strategies Against Architecture 80-83; all the early singles are here, including B-sides, in all their clanking, crashing glory.  The metallic racket hangs together around rudimentary synth stabs and bass guitar, and remains some of the headiest post-punk industrial brainmelt to come out of Europe (other than EN's early albums of course).  Blixa Bargeld is on elemental form on all but the second last track, Thirsty Animal, which features a supremely discomforting star turn from Lydia Lunch.

Leben ist illegal

Friday, 2 December 2016

Vyacheslav Artyomov - Elegies (1990 compi, rec. 1983/1987)

Been getting into Artyomov (b. 1940, Moscow) lately, so time to share.  This 1990 compilation brings together three complementary works for strings and percussion, and feels like an ideal entry point.  A rough comparison might be the Arvo Pärt of Cantus & Tabula Rasa; Artyomov definitely has a spiritual-mystic bent that he fuses perfectly with an interest in the music of Eurasian liturgy and folklore.

Both of the self-contained shorter works on this disc, Lamentations for strings, percussion, piano and organ (1985) and Gurian Hymn for three solo violins, strings and percussion (1986) are beautiful icy blasts of melancholy that are starting to sink in much more for me at this time of year than when I got the CD in high summer.  Long, mournful string lines and twinkling, eerie percussion giving way to solemn bell-tones are the order of the day for these two bewitching pieces.

Taking up the rest of the disc is the three-movement Symphony of Elegies (1977), inspired, according to Artyomov, by some time spent in the Armenian mountains.  The writing for strings here approaches the kind of dense, chromatic clusters you'll find in Ligeti's most unsettling work, and the 20-minute third movement is a thing of otherworldy wonder, giving the chiming bells an austere, mystical centre-stage.

All in all, just the kind of wonderful, haunting music to get its composer blacklisted by the Soviet musical establishment, along with a handful of equally fascinating composers - I'm already starting to like the sound of Denisov's first symphony.  But for today, enjoy this handy Artyomov primer.

Elegies

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Phantom Band - Nowhere (1984)

In the late 90s, this little promo compilation used to come free with some Can CDs - I'm sure I had three copies at one point.  As well as being a decent Can overview, the disc closed with one track from each of the four core members' 80s work, and one in particular really made me sit up and listen, and buy this album shortly afterwards.  That track, a stew of clicking percussion, ominous electronics and mournful spoken vocals, was Weird Love.

Jaki Liebezeit's Phantom Band released three albums between 1980 and 1984, of which Nowhere was the third, and was reissued by Can's Spoon records in 1997.  The others, which I don't have yet, are now available as Bureau B remasters - must get Freedom Of Speech soon, as apparently it's in a very similar vein to this one.

Nowhere, then, (or Now Here according to Liebezeit), is a fantastically odd glimpse into what a stripped-down, updated Can might've sounded like in '84.  Thirteen short-ish tracks of murky, echo-laden dub krautrock based around post-NDW guitars and synths, with an distinctive, off-kilter vocalist.  In this case, stepping up to the mic was Sheldon Ancel, a former US Armed Forces Network announcer.  After an intial groove into outer space, Ancel brings the album's themes sharply down to earth, with post-industrial workaday drudgery like Planned Obsolescence and Morning Alarm.  On the reggae parody Positive Day we get a pisstake of a self-help guru straight out of the 70s/80s self-realization New Age.  Highly recommended; for my money Nowhere is by far the most fascinating post-Can artifact, Holger Czukay's pioneering body of work notwithstanding.

Eating positive food, in a positive mood

Monday, 28 November 2016

Ralph Towner - Solstice: Sound And Shadows (1977)

The last two postings of ECM guitarists both went down well, so here's a third; a third American as well, in Washingtonian Ralph Towner.  Towner's trademark sound, based on chiming 12-string guitars and nylon-string guitars more classical in leaning than jazz, was always going to be a great fit when placed among one of ECM's Nordic crack teams.  So when he was matched up with Jan Garbarek, Eberhard Weber and Jon Christensen for 1975's Solstice, an instant classic was born, and this lesser-known sequel from two years later deserves equal appreciation.

Five fairly lengthy tracks here, giving each player a chance to shine and these rambling, autumnal pieces room to roam.  Distant Hills is the perfect opener, with soft-focus layers of Towner's guitars, stately Garbarek solos, and a subtle underpinning from Weber and Christensen.  For all his guitar genius, it shouldn't be forgotten how good a pianist Towner is as well, and Arion, a definite highlight for me, shows it beautifully.

Solstice: Sound And Shadows

Friday, 25 November 2016

Popol Vuh - Letzte Tage - Letzte Nächte (1976)

Think this was my first Popol Vuh album, and although there's others I love more (see previous posts), Letzte Tage - Letzte Nächte is still a brilliant record.  By this point, guitarist Daniel Fichelscher had equal status to Florian Fricke in shaping the Popol Vuh sound, and it certainly shows on this, their most rock-oriented album.  Right from the start, Fichelscher's chiming layers of guitar are all over the place, the heavier sound edging into to Amon Düül II territory - whose vocalist Renate Knaup is also on board, giving an earthier balance to Dyong Yun's pure tone.

Letzte Tage - Letzte Nächte always makes me imagine that if you took a time machine back to medieval Europe and borrowed a group of musicians to make a mid-70s rock album, this is what it would sound like.  Frequently ominous, with memorable, strange chanting, but always with an uplifting, pastoral change just around the corner, this is the sound of wandering minstrels cranking it up to eleven in search of the enlightenment.

When love is calling you, turn around and follow; last days, last nights

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Oliver Nelson - The Blues And The Abstract Truth (1961)

Simply one of the greatest jazz albums ever made.  More details needed?  Have a look at the all-star cast on the cover.  Still not convinced?  Download and enjoy. Six perfectly composed instant classics, with wonderfully harmonized main melodies each giving way to a round of solo spotlights, either in blues measure or near enough, and a sumptuous, reverb-bathed production.

The Blues And The Abstract Truth has always been a November album for me, ever since checking it out of the library at university, popping it in my Discman and walking through the darkening, windswept and rainy streets of Edinburgh listening to Stolen Moments for the first time.  Kind Of Blue, Blue Train et al became part of my life around that same month, but this album has stayed with me more consistently than any other from the 50s-early 60s canon.

Hoe Down!

Monday, 21 November 2016

Nurse With Wound - Thunder Perfect Mind (1992)

Some more Nurse With Wound is long overdue here - so enjoy one of Steven Stapleton's all-time masterpieces, recorded in late 1991.  Two massive tracks - one lasting 23 minutes, the other 32.  Stapleton had of course been producing side-long epics since day one, but Cold and Colder Still are two of his all-time best.  Sound artist Colin Potter, who would become a long term collaborator, came on board at this point and played a crucial role in buffing up the NWW sound to this new dark psychedelic sheen.

Cold is a glorious racket of grinding, chugging rhythm, mixing in everything but the kitchen sink (although managing to include the smoke alarm by the sounds of it, at the two and a half minute mark), and taking in twisted xylophone-like sounds, sinister haunted typewriters, and god knows what else.  Once this peters out into a odd-legged clanging coda, we're slammed straight into the never-ending dark ambient nightmare of Colder Still.  Gradually gathering pace in its first half, with a subtle, insistent beat that drops out for more mindbending drone, everything picks up pace with the introduction of another rhythm track.  This little bongo loop would be used several more times in 90s NWW, but in its first appearance here it heralds the voices of David Tibet and Rose McDowall intoning some wonderfully bizarre dream imagery.  After this, we're brought a bit more gently back to earth with a stately ambient finale.

Floating up shiny columns of grey green primrose algae

Friday, 18 November 2016

Daniel Kientzy - Kientzy à Cluj (1999)

This post is a shout-out to the always great Spook City USA, for introducing me to today's main performer via a truly essential Octavian Nemescu disc.  Sax virtuoso Daniel Kientzy is French, but has become most closely associated with the Romanian avant-garde.  Since getting into Iancu Dumitrescu, I wondered if he'd ever called on Kientzy, and he has - on a 2005 piece called Nadir Latent - doesn't seem to have been released on album yet though.  So for today, we're heading north west of Bucharest to Cluj-Napoca, the creative hub for the four composers featured on this Kientzy release.

Unlike Dumitrescu, where you're spoiled for choice in readily available releases, Doina Rotaru, Călin Ioachimescu, Cornel Ţăranu and Stefan Niculescu all have slim discographies, let alone findable CDs, making a compilation like this all the more valuable if Romanian spectralism takes a hold on you like it has with me.  These three concertos and one choral work were all written with Kientzy in mind, and make for brilliantly mind-bending listening; the fact that such richly-textured music is led by an instrument more readily associated with jazz sometimes gives the impression of listening to Gershwin's orchestral work on some extremely strong hallucinogens.

Kienty's hardly a typical sax player in any genre, coaxing unearthly skronks from his battery of saxes; one possible comparison might be VDGG's David Jackson, and that still doesn't do Kientzy justice.  The long, low-register lines at the start of the Rotaru piece could bore through solid rock, and her concerto, along with the Ioachimescu one that follows, both feature stabbing, staccato bursts at times that are particularly memorable.  Stay around for the most atypical piece at the end of the disc - Stefan Niculescu's Axion features Kientzy flitting over the top of a Ligeti-esque female choir like some wonderful extraterrestrial version of Hilliard/Garbarek's Officium being beamed across the galaxy.

Kientzy à Cluj : Musique roumaine d'aujourd'hui

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Brian Eno - Another Green World (1975)

Sitting at the crossroads between Eno's earliest art rock offerings and this first ambient explorations,  Another Green World always makes me smile.  There's still a handful of his off-kilter pop songs scattered throughout, with random sung syllables developed into nonsense (but weirdly charming) lyrics.  For the most part, however, this album is composed of gorgeous proto-ambient minatures that prefigure Eno's work with Cluster/Harmonia.  Eno's guitar playing, with that long sustain from all his unique experiments, is possibly my favourite aspect of this album.  Listen to the all-too-brief title track for example, then think of Michael Rother's guitar style in the late 70s - wonder who was really influencing who?

Everything merges with the night

Monday, 14 November 2016

Steve Tibbetts - Safe Journey (1984)

This album came up in conversation under my last ECM post, so with thanks to Chico, I've dug it out for the first time in ages.  Guitarist and souncscaper Steve Tibbetts, a Wisconsin native who works out of of St Paul Minnesota, first appeared on ECM in the early 80s and has retained a rare degree of autonomy on the label.  He records and produces his own records in the US, rather than in the Eicher stable, giving his unique sound an even more distinctive edge.

Safe Journey, the name taken from the Ghana-Burkina Faso border crossing on the cover image, was Tibbetts' second album for ECM and fourth overall.  The sonic landscape establishes itself right from the start of opener Test - imagine Ry Cooder filtered through a Jon Hassell Fourth-World lens; Tibbetts is all about texture and atmosphere, notwithstanding the cranked-up blowouts that follow later in Test.  His sound is also heavily percussive, and four of the tracks here are co-composed with his long-term collaborator Marc Anderson, who dominates second track Climbing.

From there on in, the highlights are many - standouts for me are the echo-laden acoustic guitars on Running, and the most melodic percussion on the album on Any Minute.  The latter has a bit of a Steve Reich feel, and is underpinned with sheets of rumbling guitar, with a cavernous, low-frequency pulse in the percussive bedrock that makes me think of Aphex Twin circa Selected Ambient Works 85-92.  Something else that this album as whole brings to mind, in the tribal, insistent percussion, looped instruments and'sometimes dark ambient atmospheres is Zoviet France, of all things.  Definitely a couple of reference points that I never thought an ECM record would evoke!

Bye Bye Safe Journey

Friday, 11 November 2016

Komitas - Patarag (1989 recording, Male Chamber Choir of the Yerevan Opera Theatre)

Thought we'd go into the weekend on an Armenian note, just like last week - this time with the masterwork by one of the greatest composers ever to come from there, and one who still needs to be better known.  I started listening to Komitas (1869-1935) following the release of the stunning ECM album Luys I Luso by Tigran Hamasyan last year, and went looking for the pure roots of its sound.

Soghomon Soghomonian was ordained Komitas Vardapet(priest) in 1895, taking his new name in tribute to a seventh-century poet, and was responsible for collecting hundreds of Armenian and Kurdish folk songs as well as a modest body of composition both secular and sacred.  The latter had its finest expression in this mass, Patarag (Liturgy) for male choir; the exact completion date is unknown, but it was first published in France in the 1930s, around the time when its composer, traumatised by the Armenian genocide, was spending his final days in a Paris sanatorium.
Komitas in 1902
Even after that, it wouldn't be until the late 80s when Patarag was recorded in full by two different Armenian choirs (oddly enough though, with the same conductor and choirmaster).  One recording was released under the name Divine Liturgy by the US label New Albion; the other came out on the Soviet Melodiya label as a double-LP and as this CD (split into four tracks, as per the four sides of vinyl) that I'm posting here.  This one for me has a bit of an edge: it feels rawer and more austere than the New Albion.  It's also slightly longer, most noticeably starting with a solo introduction which is missing on the New Albion recording; not sure if there's any other substantive differences.  Anyway, enjoy. In the words of Claude Debussy: “Brilliant father Komitas! I bow before your musical genius!” 

Պատարագ

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

John Abercrombie - Characters (1978)

A year or so after appearing on Jack DeJohnette's Pictures, it was John Abercrombie's turn to record the only completely solo album of his career.  A masterclass in gorgeous melodies and perfectly-realised overdubbing, Characters comes across like a looser (semi-improvised at times), more fluid precursor to Pat Metheny's New Chautauqua.  Opening with a sole, echo-laden electric mandolin, tuned as to effectively be a soprano guitar (and Abercrombie staple in this era), the lengthy Parable eventually fills out into a spectacular tapestry of guitar layers.

After this memorable introduction, the meat of the album is composed of beautifully languid duets for different layers of acoustic and liquid electric guitar, plus a further two standout tracks in their use of effects.  Ghost Dance is chilly and atmospheric in its use of reverb and delay, and closer Evensong employs echo/volume pedal effects to almost evoke a small organ or harmonium, before filling out with spindly, rushing arpeggios.  This evocative soundscape closes a great album on a high, and makes you want to start right over again with the other outstanding track Parable.  The fact that there's nothing else quite like Characters in Abercrombie's catalogue makes it all the more essential listening.

Characters

Monday, 7 November 2016

Peter Gabriel - Third Album (1980)

Dug this out for the first time in ages after Friday and the mention of Gabriel in the Gasparyan post.  For me, Peter Gabriel's third album remains a (if not the) high watermark of truly progressive rock - not a note, lyric or effect wasted, just breaking new ground at every turn in service of a unique set of songs.

Gabriel's old bandmate Phil Collins was in the headlines a few weeks back in light of his latest return, to predictable derision in the comment boards and many, many Patrick Bateman quotes.  So even more of an ideal time to dig out this album and listen to the very first sound on it - the gated reverb famously claimed by Collins, Hugh Padgham and Steve Lilywhite in equal parts.  Intruder scared the crap out of me when I first heard it aged about twelve, and it's still a brilliant piece of tightly-wound home invasion thriller-dramatics.

Other great stuff abounds on the 'Melt' album too - what I wouldn't have recognised back in the day was the Music For 18 Musicians influence on No Self Control; there's further Reichiness on Lead A Normal Life.  Don't think I heard The Jam either until my late teens, but I always loved the driving guitar riff on And Through The Wire - Gabriel grabbed Weller from an adjoining recording studio after guessing that he'd have the perfect style for the track.  With I Don't Remember and Games Without Frontiers on board as well, Gabriel's off-kilter commerical stock was rising too; for my money, he never made another album quite as complete and satisying as this one.

Whistling tunes we piss on the goons in the jungle

Friday, 4 November 2016

Djivan Gasparyan - I Will Not Be Sad in This World (first rel. 1983)


Back in more relaxing, near-ambient territory today; but no electronic ambience here whatsoever, just one instrument in fact – the Armenian double-reed wood flute known as the duduk.  Played here by master of the instrument Djivan Gasparyan, backed up only by another duduk drone, 40 minutes of this stuff might on paper seem a bit monotonous, but the pure sound and hypnotic melodies draw you right in.
Original LP cover, 1983
Just the right side of unsettling to be truly mellow, these eight traditional duduk pieces were first released on the Soviet Melodiya label in 1983, and came to wider attention when Brian Eno gave the album its first international release under the ‘I Will Not Be Sad…’ title in 1989.  Having been thrust into the 80s/early 90s ‘world music’ limelight, Gasparyan toured widely and played with/influenced many musicians including Peter Gabriel, most famously on the ‘Passion’ soundtrack to Scorcese’s Last Tempation of Christ.

I Will Not Be Sad In This World

Original CD release, 1989 (picture at top is 2005 reissue)

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Comments 'n' spam

Hi folks,

Got spammed pretty hard today across a whole bunch of posts, and whilst trying to batch-delete it all, I accidentally deleted a few weeks worth of genuine comments as well.... arrrrgh.
 
Apologies to everyone whose comments have been lost.  I really appreciate it every time someone takes the time to comment, makes the whole thing worthwhile.  Please keep 'em coming!

Cheers,
AB

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Arne Nordheim - Electric (1998 compi of works 1968-70)

A handy introduction to the electronic/concrete works by Norweigan composer Arne Nordheim (1931-2010), which were released across two LPs on the Philips label in 1969 and 1974.  The earlier album bore the advice that ‘this record should be played loud’ – and I highly recommend doing so, as all of these five works have so much going on, across a mind-boggling range of textures and dynamic levels. 

The intro to Pace (1970), for example, inspired by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, is anything but peaceful, and calls to mind Luigi Nono’s similarly unsettling work.  Much of Warszawa (1970), a diaristic sketchbook of Nordheim’s time there, is also prime ‘play loud’ material in its collision of cut-ups and electronic manipulation.

The last track on the CD, Colorazione (1968), for organ, percussion and ring-modulators, is probably the most subtle and engaging work.  Everything here is superbly produced, and rewards close and repeated listening.

Lux et Tenebrae

Monday, 31 October 2016

György Ligeti - Requiem / Aventures / Nouvelles Aventures (1985 compi, rec '66/'68)

Could probably have come up with a much more apt halloween post if I put my mind to it, but this'll do the job.  Nicely chosen Bosch detail as the CD cover for starters; a good fit for one of the eeriest requiems ever conceived, as if sung from beyond the grave.  When I first bought this, I got all the expected flashbacks to 2001: Space Odyssey, but once immersed in the full work I soon discovered what a devastatingly effective 'mass for the dead' it really was.

Ligeti completed his Requiem for two choirs, orchestra and soprano soloists in 1965, and its dense, shimmering clustered chromaticism shot into the public consciousness a few years later thanks to Kubrick.  I'd forgotten until writing this that there's also a little of Ligeti's Aventures (1962) at the end of 2001, making it a good companion piece on this CD, as is Nouvelles Aventures (1965), both fascinating pieces of avant-garde vocalisation.

Excuse me, gentlemen, if you'd all line up on this side of the walkway we'd like to take a few photographs. Dr. Floyd, would you stand in the middle...

Friday, 28 October 2016

Growing - The Sky's Run Into The Sea (2003)

Much like Labradford’s Fixed::Context, this album from the Kranky stable interested me on its release.  Think I might have still been reading Mojo at the time, who weren’t/aren’t exactly an authority on droning post-rock like this, but must’ve been a good enough description to make me go out and buy it.

At the time of this album, their debut, Growing were an Olympia, WA trio of two guitarists and a drummer.  Much subtler than say, Earth or sunn o))), they began The Sky's Run…. with a few minutes of gentle echo-delay scraping across the guitars, gradually overpowered by a fog of cymbals, before everything settles down into a drone.  Suddenly, the track reaches its closing section on a burst of delayed lead guitar and very briefly the kind of more familiar crunchy, distorted drone that will become more in evidence in the rest of the album.  Don’t miss the nifty little steal from Norwegian Wood in the closing Pavement Rich In Gold, which also features some vocals, albeit largely buried in the fuzz.

Cutting, Opening, Swimming

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Underworld - Everything, Everything (2000)

‘Imagine Bowie working with Kraftwerk – not in the past, but round about now’ was how Underworld was pitched to me in the late 90s by a fan who was trying to get me to see beyond ‘Born Slippy’s breakthrough on the Trainspotting soundtrack.  So imagine I did – sleek, precise electronica that still feels organic, still gets played live by human beings; and a cut-up surrealist, darkly poetic stream of consciousness over the top – pretty much on the nose for summing up Underworld in this purple patch of their career, which regrettably didn’t entirely survive the departure of DJ/producer/programmer Darren Emerson shortly afterwards.

But this phase of Underworld definitely ended in style – witness this brilliant live document of a May 1999 performance in Brussels.  Karl Hyde’s electrifying presence as frontman is very much in evidence, and all the songs sound great, with an extra freshness from being performed live; the only minor tradeoff being a slight loss of some of the subtleties of the studio albums.  Jumbo, from 1999’s Beaucoup Fish, is my favourite here, possibly as it’s the most understated track, and thus gets more room to breathe.  The concert movie that was released shortly afterwards adds a few more tracks, and shows even more plainly what a great live band Underworld are.  In a note from the CD sleeve that just dates it perfectly, the concert was to be ‘available on DVD and VHS in October 2000’.

Walking in the wind at the waters edge comes close to covering my rubber feet

Monday, 24 October 2016

Steve Reich - Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards / John Adams - Shaker Loops (rel. 1984)

Steve Reich seems to be everywhere at the moment – I’m certainly not complaining! – so as my own tribute during this, his 80th birthday month, here’s his earliest commissioned orchestral work, Variations For Winds, Strings And Keyboards (1979) in its premiere recording from 1983.

Very much a natural progression from Octet and Music for a Large Ensemble, which were composed around the same time, Variations takes a long, winding melody played on the winds and organ, and periodically anchors it with impressive harmonies in the brass.  Reich’s most ambitious piece of writing yet, it was composed for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra but was first trialled in a scaled-down chamber orchestra setting.  The February 1980 premiere of that version, by Reich’s ensemble was broadcast along with an interview on Charles Amirkhanian’s KPFA Radio programme Other Minds – the whole broadcast recording is available at ubuweb , or if you’d just like to hear the recording of the piece in its original incarnation, dl here.

The accompanying work on this 1984 CD was the orchestral version of John Adams’ Shaker Loops (1978), another key work in the US minimalist canon alongside much of Reich and Glass.  The name comes partly from the inspiration of  the repetitive tape loop music of early Reich, partly from the tremulous, trilling sounds in the strings, and partly from imagining a Shaker church dancing in pursuit of spiritual ecstasy.  The four movements go through a variety of moods and speeds, and the whole work is essential listening in its genre.

A final thought  about this CD itself – that’s got to be one of my favourite classical album covers ever; the modern symmetry of that building suits the musical contents perfectly.  Anyone know where the picture was taken? If the building’s still there?

Variations & Shaker Loops

Friday, 21 October 2016

Hans-Joachim Roedelius - Jardin Au Fou (1979)

Like Conrad Schnitzler's Con, Roedelius' sophomore solo effort was produced by Peter Baumann in his Paragon Studio, but that's where the similarities end.  If Schnitzler took us on a gritty, urban train ride through industrial Germany, here Roedelius takes us on a gentle autumnal stroll through Paris or Vienna.  Almost all in waltz-time, Jardin Au Fou is possibly Roedelius' most unabashedly romantic record, full of simple, sun-dappled melodies and perfect arrangements - loads of piano, becoming more fully electronic when necessary, and adding in well-placed cello shadings at key points in its second half.

The bouncy, multi-layered Fou Fou is about as uptempo as Roedelius gets here, other than the odd little trip to the fairground that is Rue Fortune.  Otherwise, this album is a wonderfully mellow Sunday afternoon in the park watching (and smelling) the falling leaves, none more perfectly expressed than the birdsong-like ambience in Le Jardin - although Cafe Central is my absolute favourite here.

Schöne Welt

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Christopher Franke - Klemania (1993)

Picked this up in a charity shop the other week for 50p.  Saw the name, and quickly googled the album to check it was definitely the guy from Tangerine Dream; then realised I could've probably guessed anyway from the track titles.  Even if it's terrible, I couldn't turn it down at that price - it's bound to at least have mild amusement value, surely?

Oh yes, it does. In spades.  If you've always wondered - and I'm sure you have - what a former member of TD would sound like inadvertently playing the main riff from Therapy?'s Meat Abstract (safe to say just a coincidence, unless Franke was somehow aware of Northern Ireland's finest indie metallers) whilst hitting a couple of random sampler buttons marked 'crowd noise' and 'erotic panting', then you've come to the right place.  By the 90s, Franke had turned his attention almost exclusively to soundtrack work, and it certainly shows in the 22 minutes of Scattered Thoughts Of A Canyon Flight (thanks, Tangerine Dream song title generator app!).  There's a lot of fragments here that might've been more than adequate for some 90s thriller or action movie, but ran together they don't make for a coherent piece.

Inside The Morphing Space (thanks again, Tangerine Dream song title generator app!) is more successful in creating the kind of sustained moods that TD themselves might've churned out around the time.  There's at least some decent Berlin School sequencer work going on here, and a more ambient drift towards the end, but as you'd expect the whole thing is completely sunk by the dated, sterile synth gear.  Nonetheless, TD diehards and soundtrack-electronica nerds will find sufficient enjoyment here to give Klemania a whirl - everyone else, do give it a once-over even just for the chuckles.

Silent Waves

Monday, 17 October 2016

Iancu Dumitrescu - Medium III, Cogito etc (1991 compi of works '73-'85)

Couldn't resist more Dumitrescu for today's post - definitely my favourite music at the moment.  In the early 90s, Dumitrescu and fellow composer/wife Ana-Maria Avram started the Edition Modern label to release their music, with much of the early releases concentrating on giving digital re-release to Dumitrescu material that had appeared on LP during the 80s (or even pre-dated those records).

All of this first CD was devoted to such a mopping-up exercise - but one of such mind-bending sonics that it hangs together well as a double-album experience.  Not least because the first three tracks centre on the talents of avant-garde double-bassist Fernando Grillo, heard for the first 23 minutes of this disc with no other accompaniment.  Think that much solo bass could be a bit of a bore?  Let Medium III convince you otherwise, in a scraping, screeching masterclass that sounds like Xenakis' solo cello piece Nomos Alpha being reinterpreted by sunn o))) (Stephen O'Malley has in fact worked with Dumitrescu in recent years).

In the following Cogito (Trompe l'Oeil), Grillo is paired up with another bassist, Ion Ghita, and Dumitrescu's Hyperion Ensemble playing prepard piano, Javanese gong, crystals and metal objects.  Cogito makes full use of the frequency range, sounding almost electronic at times with a needling, feedback-like whine.  The third vehicle for Grillo (who died in 2013 at 67, in an apparent suicide) is Aulodie Mioritică, which fills out the sonic landscape even more with a percussive thunderstorm and slow-motion sheet lightning in the strings.  The CD is then rounded out by two older Dumitrescu works: Perspectives au Movemur, a nice scratchy, spectral string quartet from 1979, and an orchestral work, Apogeum.  This closing piece from 1973 (and the recording appears to be vintage too, sounding a little ropey in places) is worth waiting for, creating a wonderfully unsettling Scelsi/Ligeti-esque atmosphere.

Optical Illusion


SGTG exclusive bonus track:

The 1987 German vinyl release of Medium/Cogito quoted Dumitrescu describing the solo piece as "the hidden, mysterious reverse of Cogito", and suggested that the two works could even be heard simultaneously, in those days presumably with two copies of the LP or with tape recordings.  Want to hear?  Of course you do.  (First two tracks on the CD, mixed together by yours truly. Thanks to a discogs commenter for the info.)


Friday, 14 October 2016

Iancu Dumitrescu - Pierres Sacrées, Harryphonies, Grand Ourse (1991, rec. '85-'91)

Speaking of 'can't believe I haven't posted this yet'...  If Stravinsky was my gateway drug to Pendercki, and Pendercki to Xenakis; then Xenakis was my gateway drug to Iancu Dumitrescu.  If there's a more unhinged composer still out there, I've still to hear them - hope I won't be waiting too long.  But for now, here's my first post of the grand vizier of Romanian spectralism.

If you think you've heard some of the most violent classical music ever written - Black Angels? Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima? Terretektorh? - then sit tight for Pierres Sacrées.  Inspired by a dream of exploding glass plates whilst dozing off on night-shift military service, this piece for prepared piano and 'metallic plates and objects' barely sounds like classical music in any sense.  The close-miked production and deliberate use of feedback and distortion pushes the 1991 work closer in sound to some of the electronic experiments you'd find on an early 80s United Dairies or Come Organisation compilation.

Elsewhere on this CD, there's two versions of Dumitrescu's Harryphonies (named after a percussion instrument of his invention); one more spare and menacing, featuring the late great avant-garde double bass player Fernando Grillo, and one more fleshed out with recognisable orchestral instruments, and ocean-submerged bells.  If you've got a handful of Xenakis or Scelsi works under your belt, this final track on the CD might be your logical starting point, especially in the writing for brass.  And don't miss Grande Ourse (also known by its Romanian title Ursa Mare), as sinister buzzings and rattlings give way to a mournful drone and clicking string bows; had Dumitrescu been heard on record prior to the early 80s, he might easily have made the Nurse With Wound list.

More to come from Mr (and Mrs) Dumitrescu in due course!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Iannis Xenakis - Electronic Music (1997 compi of works 1957-1992)


Can't believe I haven't posted this yet.  The title of this compilation says 'Electronic'; the first major LP release of this material (pic below) called it 'Electro-Acoustic'; but rather than get bogged down in the distinctions, just enjoy some of the most forward-looking composed & manipulated sounds of the mid-20th century.
In 1955, Xenakis connected with Pierre Schaeffer's Groupe des Recherches Musicales, based around the latter's Radio France studio, and started work on the first three tracks here.  Like Schaeffer's material of the era, also expertly manipulated from mechnical sounds, the sense I get from listening to Diamorphoses, Orient-Occident and Concret PH is similar to what it must be like for a Clapton or Hendrix fan listening to Robert Johnson on a crackly 78: the sound is lo-fi but the elemental inspiration is otherworldly.

By 1962, when the 20-minute Bohor was completed, Xenakis' tightly-wound, creaking and clattering percussive electronic stew was reaching new heights of sophistication and well on the way to the sound of Persepolis.  Bohor is the definite highlight here for me; fellow audio nerds might enjoy this little ancedote about the challenges of squeezing this kind of music into vinyl. 

That's not all we get on the CD here, though: Hibiki-Hana-Ma (reverberation flower interval), composed for the Osaka Expo in 1970 and broadcast there on 800 loudspeakers, is a fascinating start-stop melange designed as cross-cultural celebration.  Lastly, Xenakis' constant progress in mathematical compostion and computer programming threw up the utterly bizarre S.709 (1992-1994), sounding like Aphex Twin somehow managing to capture the sound of a released helium balloon flying around the studio.

Διαμορφώσεις

Monday, 10 October 2016

AM 4 ‎- ... and she answered: (1989)

AM 4 (A Monastic Quartet) were a short-lived trio (yes, the oddness starts right there) featuring US-born (transplanted to Vienna since the late 70s) avant-jazz singer Linda Sharrock and two Austrians, pianist Uli Scherer and reedsman Wolfgang Puschnig.  Their only album was released in 1989 by ECM, and remains a fascinating outlier even by the standards of the label's more curious backwaters.

Right from the start, ...and she answered sounds like the soundtrack to a lost David Lynch concept centred around a mid-European 80s jazz club.  The eerily nocturnal Streets And Rivers features semi spoken/whispered vocals over a bed of keyboards and keening sax, with Sharrock wordlessly echoing the sax melody every so often.  But don't be lulled into a false sense of relaxation - the title track, of sorts (see dl link for the full track title) is an ear-splitting reed blast shadowed again by Sharrock's vocal, and underscored by doomy piano notes.  Towards the end this all becomes somewhat reminiscent of Side 2 of Bowie's Heroes, like Sense Of Doubt colliding with Neukoln.

Among otherwise original material are a couple of covers - Ornette Coleman's Lonely Woman features the lyrics written by singer/songwriter Margo Guryan (and originally recorded by jazz singer Chris Connor in 1962), and Over The Rainbow gets the AM4 treatment with shards of piano and ghostly flute all over the place.  Sharrock sings the latter freely but respectfully, mostly faithful to the original melody, which just makes the finished piece sound even more bizarre.

And don't miss Far Horizon - written solely by Sharrock, it's arguably the most conventional track here, not least in its opening sung lines, and it's possibly the highlight of the album.  Also the longest track, Far Horizon features Puschnig and Scherer first filling in the background and then starring in a great middle section, where Sharrock freely vocalises over them in gorgeous whoops.  Give this album a try - there's nothing quite like it.

And she answered: "When you return to me, I will open the cage door, I will let the red bird flee."

Friday, 7 October 2016

Miles Davis - Agharta (1975)

Miles Davis, 1975 - in constant pain from multiple health problems, about to bow out for the rest of the decade - and piloting jazz funk/fusion into its most scorching solar orbit, with flares of avant-garde electronica spitting everywhere. Miles and afro-futurist crew landed in Japan early in the year, and taped two concerts for future release in one day at Osaka Festival Hall.  The evening show was called Pangaea on release, and is pretty good; the afternoon show became the mindblowing Agharta.

Like 'Tatu' from the previous year's Dark Magus concert, Agharta thunders in with a breakneck funk vamp that continually gets derailed by Miles crashing down on the electric organ, so that everyone can regroup and charge ahead again.  He's on organ at least as much as trumpet in this era, colouring the music with massive discordant smears, whilst Pete Cosey on lead guitar shares the limelight by coaxing unearthly guitar sounds through an EMS Synthi serving as an effects unit.  After over half an hour of this (the Japanese CD used here corrects the botched track division from the 90s US release) we get to mellow out a bit with the queasy lounge groove of Mayisha from Get Up With It, but even this is soon taken over by a cracking Hendrix-esque solo from Cosey before calming down again.

The second disc here is one continuous track, starting out by jamming on the Theme From Jack Johnson, before a lengthier respite in an eerie, swampy mid-section based on Ife from the album Big Fun.  There's even a blink-and-you'll-miss-it throwback to So What from Kind Of Blue, before the final section cranks up the volume again if not quite at as frenetic a tempo as earlier in the show.  Percussionist James Mtume is the star of this final stretch, but basically every one of the 97 minutes of Agharta is exhilirating, essential groove.

アガルタの凱歌 [Disc 1]

アガルタの凱歌 [Disc 2]

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Arvo Pärt - Spiegel im Spiegel (Jürgen Kruse, et al - 2007 release)

After all that racket last time, some more pure, serene beauty and quietitude.  This collection, released in 2007 on the Naxos-esque Dutch label Brilliant Classics, is based around one of Arvo Pärt's best known instrumental works, Spiegel im Spiegel (1978).  Used in dozens of films and TV docus as superior soundtrack music, the title of this piece for piano plus [instrument of choice] means 'mirrors in mirrors', or infinity mirror effect, which has a bearing on the structure of the musical phrases.

This album is structured around three versions of Spiegel; first with violin, then viola, then (my favourite) cello.  As with the more famous ECM release Alina, we also get Für Alina for solo piano (1976), a model of pure tonal economy and zen-like stillness.  Unlike the ECM disc, we get a bit more variety here, with the addition of a less well known piano piece in the same tintinnabuli style that Pärt was then developing.  Variationen Zur Gesundung Von Arinuschka (Variations for the Healing of Arinushka) (1977) is a little more lively, moving from a sad to joyful tonality, but is very much cut from the same cloth as Alina, and complements it well.

Between the second and third Spiegels, this disc also adds Pärt's Mozart-Adagio for violin, cello and piano (1992/1997, from Mozart's Piano Sonata in F major (K 280)).  It's a bit out of character from the rest of the programme, and I’m no big fan of Wolfgang Amadeus, but I suppose it’s a breather from the relentless mellowness, and you can always program it out if you find that the sudden change in style breaks the extended meditative mood.

Ruhig, erhaben, in sich hineinhorchend

Monday, 3 October 2016

Max Neuhaus ‎– Fontana Mix-Feed (Six Realizations Of John Cage) (2003 compi of '65-'68 recordings)


Regular visitors here will know by now that I like sharp contrasts - and every warm ambient masterpiece deserves a teeth-grating, bracing, cold shower like this as a follow-up.  Fontana Mix-Feed, originally released as a four-track LP in 1966, gave avant-garde percussionist Max Neuhaus the prime credit as 'Fontana Mix' wasn't a set score composed by Cage, but merely an abstract set of patterns that could be subject to any desired alignment and then followed as a unique set of directions for any instrument(s) the performer wished.

In this case, Neuhaus used contact microphones set atop various percussion instruments, placed in front of loudspeakers to create something much more than simple screeching feedback - shimmering, oscillating waves of tightly controlled noise.  As captured on the CD cover photograph above, Neuhaus sat on stage orchestrating this racket on a mixing desk, like Stockhausen jumping forward a decade in a time machine, listening to Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music and then trying to recreate it on his return.
 original LP cover, 1966
So yep, this album is very noisy indeed, and wonderfully overpowering at high volume; but the joy is in noticing the subtle differences between each of the four live recordings (and on CD, a studio recording and a WDR radio recording) as the performance was affected each time by the physical space of the venue, the exact instruments used, their proximity to each other and to the mikes/speakers, and so on ad infinitum.  I'd love to have been present at one of these performances in the mid-60s, to be overwhelmed by the sheer sonic assault and see the audience's reactions.  A New York Times review from the performance at which track 4 was taped gives a tantalising indication - "This piece was not the kind of electronic music that emanates distantly from the speakers. It felt as though one's own head were part of the feedback circuit."

Fontana Mix-Feed

Friday, 30 September 2016

Harold Budd/Brian Eno - Ambient 2: The Plateaux Of Mirror (1980)

Ambient magister Eno was introduced to US pianist/composer Harold Budd when the former produced & released the latter's Pavilion Of Dreams in 1978.  This follow-up collaboration, Volume 2 in Eno's Ambient series (Volume 1 was the seminal Music For Airports) puts Budd's gentle, "soft pedal" pianism front and centre, with Eno supplying soundscapes from which to build on, and adding varying degrees of synth accompaniment.

From the first moments of First Light, it's clear what an inspired meeting this was.  The track titles are perfectly evocative of the sound worlds they create, none more so than this opener as dawn breaks on a misty, dewy autumnal countryside.  Budd is on acoustic piano for all but two tracks - Wind In Lonely Fences, and the title track - the latter another high point on an album full of them, with an echoing chime-like tone and a proto-Twin Peaks backdrop from Eno.
 
Things get only slightly more uptempo on An Arc Of Doves, with rolling notes from Budd (although he's still utilising as few as possible, as per his brilliantly effective modus operandi) and a warm blanket of Eno synth.  The only other instrument that makes an appearance on the album is a gosammer wall of wordless voices on Not Yet Remembered, cooing a melody that Budd played by transatlantic phonecall to Eno - who, true to form, promptly reversed it.  It should be obvious by now that this album is one of my most enduring desert-island favourites; as long as I can swap the desert island for a windswept Hebridean island to get the optimum environment for it.

Among Fields Of Crystal

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Philip Glass - Music In Twelve Parts (comp. '71-'74, rec. '75 and '87, rel. '88)

Time to work on the Glass deficit on this blog - so how about something featuring the master himself leading his early ensemble, rather than an (admittedly great) interpreter.  The three-hour Music In 12 Parts has been recorded three times to date; this is the earliest, half-recorded in 1975 then finished off in 1987, sounding admirably seamless when you listen to it right through.  I definitely recommend doing so if you've got the time to devote to it - although there's three downloads below, corresponding to the CDs in the original box set, I've set all the track numbers to run consecutively if you want to pop everything into one folder.

'Music In 12 Parts' was originally just the first 18 minutes, the title merely referring to the way the 1971 piece had been scored.  After listening to this wonderfully languid experiment in minimalist stasis, constantly changing when you examine it closely like a living organism under a microscope, a friend asked where the other 11 parts were - inspiring Glass to write them.

From here in, the tempo picks up and largely stays there, running through all sorts of twists and turns in melody, harmony and rhythm.  In the knottiest, rollercoaster-like runs, there's clear precursors of Glass' iconic Einstein On The Beach, most notably towards the end of Part 8.  The finale, however, is arguably the most fun to listen to as it gradually builds its long melody one link at a time; according to Glass, a bit of a sideswipe at having to learn 12-tone music theory in his youth and finally using it for once.

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3

alt links 1 | 2 | 3

Monday, 26 September 2016

Linda Perhacs - Parallelograms (1970)

The story of how this album came about never fails to fascinate me.  Dental hygienist to Hollywood royalty happens to mention to a patient (film composer Leonard Rosenman) that she writes songs; gives him a tape and is excitedly asked to record an album straight away; album vanishes without trace but becomes a cult classic, then records another album after a 44 year gap.  All the while keeping her day job.  I haven't heard the 2014 album, The Soul Of All Natural Things, yet, and I really should sometime; but for now here's the wondrous Parallelograms.

You might be able to guess what kind of album would result from a bucolic Laurel Canyon lifestyle in 1970, but in this case you'd only be part right.  Sure, there's sunny, hazy odes to dolphins, rivers and sandy toes, all of it gorgeous in its own right, but there's other forces at work here too.  Perhacs channeled her synaesthesia into the complex, multi-layered title track, penned late one night on the road by capturing it not in simple words but in geometric shapes.  The undercurrent of strangeness on this album in fact reveals itself within its first two minutes.  After establishing a pastoral scene straight out of the Ladies Of The Canyon playbook, Chimacum Rain twists into a hallucinatory soundscape full of effects-laden xylophone tones, and, to quote the liner notes, "amplified shower hose for horn effects".  Highly, highly recommended.

Quadrahedral, Tetrahedral

Friday, 23 September 2016

Keith Jarrett - At the Blue Note: Saturday, June 4th 1994, 1st Set

It's that time of year again for autumn leaves - to be specific, my favourite rendition of the Joseph Kosma chestnut, stretched to a thrilling 26 minutes by my favourite jazz piano trio.  After four minutes of Jarrett's solo meanderings, the Peacock/DeJohnette engine room revs up and locks in to an upbeat cruise through the melody, followed by plenty of soloing.  From the 13 minute mark onwards, we're into one of these stellar improvs that only this trio can pull off.

The Standards Trio spent a whole weekend's residency at the legendary Blue Note in June 1994, and every note they played was released the following year in a 6-CD box set.  This disc, the first set from Saturday night, was the only one to be released in its own right - presumably  because it's absolutely phenomenal from start to finish.  Everyone's at the top of their game, Jarrett's vocalisations are...tolerable, and the recording quality, as you'd expect, is peerless - perfect jazz club intimacy.  Other than Autumn Leaves, the other extended high-point of the set is You Don't Know What Love Is segueing into a Jarrett original called Muezzin.  Jack DeJohnette switches to hand percussion, and the results are pure magic.

The Days Of Wine And Roses

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Else Marie Pade - Et Glasperlespil (2001 compi of works 1958-1964)

Else Marie Pade was a Danish electronic/concrete composer whose music didn't become readily available until this compilation appeared in 2001.  Like Konrad Boehmer from last week, after working with Boulez, Stockhausen et al, she struck out on her own to produce the first Danish piece of electronic music Syv Cirkler (Seven Circles) (1958) and several other unique works.

Central to this disc is her half-hour suite based on Goethe's Faust, in which complementary frequencies float and pulse around to symbolise the relationships between the characters.  This eerie soundscape from 1962 reaches its apex of creepout with a sinister echoing voice reciting a Dies Irae text, representing the damnation part of the narrative.  The final work featured here, Græsstrået (The grass blade) (1964) is also particularly notable for being based around percussion, prepared piano, violin and concrete sounds in place of pure electronics.  I find this one the most engrossing, probably given its distinct variety from the tracks preceding it.

Oh, and before composing any of this, Pade spent World War II participating in the Danish Resistance, working on a clandestine newspaper, and eventually being imprisoned in the Frøslevlejren interment camp where she scratched compositions into the walls of her cell.  Now that's a full and fascinating life; she passed away aged 91 at the beginning of this year.

Et Glasperlespil