OPITOPE- THE DAWN OF MEMORIES PHYSIS (SPEKK, 2014)
I’ve long had a soft spot for the Japanese label Spekk. Now ten years old, Nao Sugimoto’s imprint champions an approach to design and sound that make Spekk a close cousin of 12k—a connection made concrete with its first release, an album by 12k head Taylor Deupree that is one of his best.
Dormant for the past few years, the label now returns with the release of a new album by Opitope, the duo comprised of Chihei Hatekeyama and Tomoyoshi Date. Their first record, Hau—also released on Spekk— is a small gem, finding a comfortable balance between the hushed, pastoral work of Tape and the processed grandeur of Deupree or perhaps Asuna. It feels intimate and widescreen at once, which is to its credit. A new Opitope album, Physis, is now available and the duo appears as adept as ever at mining that sound.
Also of interest: a second new Spekk title for the year—Celer’s Zigzag—is out next month, apparently influenced by ’60s and ’70s minimalism—as well as new wave…
FRANCESCO MESSINA- PRATI BAGNATI DEL MONTE ANALOGO PRATI BAGNATI DEL MONTE ANALOGO (CRAMPS / DIE SCHACHTEL, 1979 / 2013)
Die Schachtel did a laudable thing in reissuing this relatively obscure split LP that first appeared on the venerable Cramps label nearly twenty-five years ago. Messina and Raul Lovisoni (whose pair of deeply meditative pieces for harp, glasspiel, and voice occupy side B here) are not here as collaborators so much as kindred spirits. There is a story behind this music that involves an “unfinished metaphysical novel” (as expanded liner notes suggest) and mysticism but ultimately the pleasures of this album are almost immediately apparent and need no context or justification.
Prati bagnati del monte Analogo appears now, remastered by Stephan Mathieu, on LP and CD. Both have new artwork as Lovisoni apparently hated the original cover, which suggested an odd pairing of Art Deco and new age iconography. I’d recommend searching out the CD as it includes three bonus tracks by Messina, which were to be the second side of music before Lovisoni became involved with the project. They’re startlingly good, especially “Reflex,” an eleven-minute piece for piano and tape delay which is indebted to Charlemagne Palestine’s strumming music approach.
LA MONTE YOUNG & THE THEATRE OF ETERNAL MUSIC- 28 XI 63 THE OVERDAY (EXCERPT) THEATRE OF ETERNAL MUSIC (bootleg, 1963 & 1964 / 2013)
Right around Christmas, a new La Monte Young bootleg appeared, mysterious and without direct attribution, as these things often do. I only found it through Fusetron, where it sold out almost instantly—so it appears here as a download. (I don’t have much compunction about bootlegging bootleggers.)
Three of the four tracks here—all excerpts of longer pieces—have found their way onto previousunofficial releases, while the excerpt of “30 X 63 Day Of Hummingbird Night” appears to be new. Having just finished Edward Strickland’s (excellent) survey Minimalism: Origins, I’m reminded while listening to this music of how strong John Coltrane’s influence was on Young and many of his peers. Conrad, Cale, and Zazeela mostly lay down the tonal foundation here while MacLise and Young push towards some kind of ecstatic blur on hand drums and sopranino saxophone, respectively. Somehow “less is more” and “more is less” both apply at the same time, in a fascinating way.
Though I think I prefer Young’s later work with Zazeela more than the recordings made with this group, it’s foundational music for many other artists and should absolutely be encountered, at least in passing.
THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS- DEDICATED TO THE ONE I LOVE DELIVER (DUNHILL, 1967)
This is a picture of my mom when she graduated college in 1964. I’m posting it because she was an inspiring and exceptionally gracious person and she passed away three weeks ago on New Year’s Eve. Recognizing that I am writing anonymously to mostly strangers, I won’t go into specifics, but I wanted to acknowledge her here—her impact on me is profound and everlasting.
Part of how I have dealt with her being gone is to listen to some songs she liked. This is one of them, a really great one.
In compiling this list, I realized just how much music I listen to that I don’t find a place for discussing on this site. In part, that’s because I feel more competent writing about some kinds of music more than others; it’s also because I sometimes think that people expect a certain kind of music on this blog and that those people might not particularly care what I think about, say, R&B. While I also continued to listen to a lot of drone or ambient music, little of it was released this year. Instead, I spent a significant amount of time exploring early American minimalism and Hindustani vocal music.
So with all of these pseudo-apologies out of the way, of the music that came out in 2013, here’s what I am most grateful for, in alphabetical order:
The 1975- s/t (Vagrant) Beyoncé- BEYONCÉ (Parkwood/Columbia) Disclosure- Settle (PMR/Island) Golden Grrrls- s/t (Slumberland) Gunplay- Cops & Robbers (mixtape) Tim Hecker- Virgins (Kranky) King Krule- 6 Feet Beneath the Moon (True Panther/XL) Mary Lattimore- The Withdrawing Room (Desire Path) Stephan Mathieu- The Falling Rocket (Schwebung) Daniel Menche- Marriage of Metals (Editions Mego) Quasimoto- Yessir, Whatever (Stones Throw) Justin Timberlake- The 20/20 Experience [first part, not the second] (RCA) Toro Y Moi- Anything in Return (Carpark) Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City (XL) Waka Flocka Flame- Duflocka Rant 2 and Duflocka Rant Halftime Show (mixtapes) Kanye West- Yeezus (G.O.O.D./Def Jam) Yo La Tengo- Fade (Matador)
Benoit & Sergio- Bridge So Far (Hot Creations) CHVRCHES- Gun (Virgin) Ciara- Body Party (Epic) Classix- All You’re Waiting For [feat. Nancy Whang] (Innovative Leisure) Miley Cyrus- Adore You (RCA) Daft Punk- Get Lucky [feat. Pharrell] (Columbia) Doc Daneeka- Walk On In [feat. Ratcatcher] (Numbers) Drake- Started from the Bottom (Cash Money) Ducktails- Letter of Intent (Domino) Duke Dumont- Need U (100%) [Skreamix] (Win/Downtown) The Juan Maclean- Feel Like Movin’ (DFA) Kool A.D.- Moneyball (self-released) Bruno Mars- Treasure (Atlantic) Perfect Pussy- I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling (self-released) Kelly Rowland- Kisses Down Low (Universal Republic) Sampha- Dual (Young Turks) Todd Terje- Strandbar (Disko) (Olsen) Robin Thicke- Blurred Lines [feat. Pharrell & T.I.] (Star Trak) The xx- Jamie xx edits (Young Turks)
JULIE LONDON- I’D LIKE YOU FOR CHRISTMAS (LIBERTY, 1957)
Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating. I hope you’re with people who make you happy and finding some time to play The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album—but also this, which is maybe my favorite non-traditional Christmas song. I originally discovered this on the Christmas Cocktails comp during a prolonged, somewhat unexpected interest in the revival of lounge, exotica, and studio orchestra music of the fifties. (I was left cold by the swing revival, however.)
The year this was recorded, London commented on her singing style in Life, saying, “It’s only a thimbleful of a voice, and I have to use it close to the microphone. But it is a kind of oversmoked voice, and it automatically sounds intimate.” Can’t really say it better myself, but I love the close harmonies of the backup vocalists and how they subtly change the pronouns in their chorus; “I” becomes “she”, so they’re not just echoing her words, they’re directing them to you, the listener—part pleading and part commanding you to make her wish come true. For some people this is probably a bland kind of music, but I think it’s impeccably produced and arranged. (And written—by Bobby Troup, pictured above at the piano with London. The two were married for forty years.)
MARK MCGUIRE- DECEMBER 10, 1991 (FOR BRITTANY KAY MCGUIRE) THE SOUNDS OF XMAS (SELF-RELEASED, 2006)
In the wake of the surprise Beyoncé album and the recent copyright-extension release of some 1963 Beatles’ recordings, I feel compelled to discuss Mark McGuire’s The Sounds of Xmas, which was originally recorded in 2006 but only released to the public this month. Like the Beatles recordings, it’s a digital-only release that is announced as being available for “a limited time,” though I’m sure the internet will make sure it lives forever.
Honestly, I’d be drawing attention to McGuire’s music regardless of how well it syncs up with some larger trend—it remains true that his work has meant more to me than anyone else’s in the past five years, and I’ve certainly written about him many times before on this site. But this album-length release is a real gift; literally so in its initial distribution, which was only to family and friends, and also in the sense that it is an important addition to his ever-growing discography. Recorded when he was not yet twenty, The Sounds of Xmas is comprised of five pieces for electric and acoustic guitar and, crucially, samples of his family at Christmastime taken from home videos. Technically, it dates to before McGuire released music under his own name or even the Cat Nap alias—this is some of his earliest recorded work, chronologically in line with the Bad Habit CDRs. Emeralds was still in its infancy as well, but you can absolutely hear shades of work like No More Spirits Over the Lake here.
This disc explores a simple but beautifully executed idea, wherein the people who the music was intended for are also unwitting players in the music’s composition. McGuire has utilized sampled conversations throughout his career, either of his own family (on Living With Yourself and this year’s “Adaptions [of the Human Spirit]”) as well as others’ (most notable on Let Us Be the Way We Were, a tapestry of movements linked by dialogue from American Movie.) The piece streaming above, “December 10th, 1991 (for Brittany Kay McGuire)” is exemplary, driven by a hovering guitar motif and (I think?) a wordless vocal, smeared and acting as some kind of aural horizon line. The moody intimacy of the music, which continues for over thirteen minutes, eventually transitions (improbably and joyously) into the sounds of Stevie Wonder’s ”Isn’t She Lovely?” playing in a room as a man announces to McGuire and his brother that their cousin Brittany has been born.
This sort of moment is something McGuire has achieved again and again—the examination of a moment (either big or small) that is at once specific and personal but also, to some extent, universal. Listening to The Sounds of Xmas as a whole, you begin to feel like you know the McGuire clan—who they are, what they do, and why one of their own would care enough about them to create this kind of love letter.
TAYLOR DEUPREE- LIVE IN YORK (MAY 4, 2006) LIVE1:MAPPING (12K, 2009)
My post back in October about Taylor Deupree sent me down a rabbit hole for a month or so, just soaking up as much of his music as I had time for. I especially gravitated to some of the stray singles and EPs that appeared in the last five years. Live1:Mapping is a digital-only compilation of select moments in concert that appeared in 2009. This relatively brief (5+ minutes) piece is from a concert in York, England.
Sequenced last on the album, it unfolds beautifully as a kind of coda. The woozy tones seesaw and vaguely evoke some kind of archetypal vision of a harmonica played under a starlit sky while also nodding to the lunar weightlessness of Eno’s Apollo. Ending your day with this music is a decision you’ll likely not regret.
STEVE LACY, YUJI TAKAHASHI, AND TAKEHISA KOSUGI- FLYING OFF DISTANT VOICES(COLUMBIA, 1976)
A slight detour from what I usually listen to (and write about), and I have to admit I am not familiar with Lacy or Takahashi’s other work. However, in my sporadic but sincere quest to deepen my knowledge of Takehisa Kosugi, I sought out this LP and am gratified to become familiar with it.
The side-long title track hits a lot of hallmarks of free improv, or at least what I know of it: generous space for silence; a distinct rejection of structure while still maintaining forward momentum; and an embrace of atonality. (A reductive, but somewhat accurate assessment, I think.) “Flying Off,” streaming above, finds Kosugi on violin, vigorously bowing to generate a sort of soundbed while Takahashi and Lacy dialogue. I’m pretty taken with Takahashi’s glissandos and the way Kosugi’s violin rises and recedes reminds me of John Cale’s work on "Black Angel’s Death Song"—again, probably not the most accurate reference point, but true to my own listening experience.
The CD issue of this in Japan added on a collaborative LP between Takahashi and Masahika Sato released in 1974. Lacy and Kosugi are absent on those tracks, but I’ve included them in the download link above. The collaboration lives on in Takahashi’s two most recent albums, which feature sessions with the saxophonist and violinist.
After a long listening drought, I recently returned to a couple of favorite 12K releases and am now trying to catch up on some of the highlights I might have missed. This is one of them—the inaugural 7” on the label after more than a decade of CD-only releases, not surprisingly presented by the founder of 12K himself, Taylor Deupree.
I think the reason I stayed away from the label for some time is that I heard a certain sameness in the music across artists. Much of it is delicate and lovely, perhaps to the extent that individual albums don’t always differentiate themselves from the pack. Compound that with Deupree’s visual design which frames most of the releases, and there developed (in me at least) a feeling of, “Oh, I have others like this. Why do I need another?” And I’m now at a point where I just have to admire that consistency and I’m eager to hear more.
"Worn" is the B-side to "Weather" (hence the name of this EP)—both pieces are flush with languor and essentially invite you to forget your troubles. The addition of the room tone/hiss adds a layer of texture, heightening the laze of it all. I’d encourage you to download this as a digital release, as it comes with a 23-minute version of “Worn” that is itself easily replayable.
JIM O’ROURKE- OUT WITH THE OLD AVANTO 2006 (AVANTO RECORDINGS, 2006)
With the recent, sudden appearance of eight volumes of unreleased material from his archives (and a ninth entry of the Old News records coming soon as well), I’d understand if you might politely decline the offering of further rarities from Jim O’Rourke. That said, this is one of my favorites. There’s no real history of this piece articulated anywhere, but as its title suggests, “Out With the Old” appeared in 2006 but was grounded in recordings O’Rourke had made in the early 1990s.
For reasons I’m not entirely clear about, O’Rourke unloaded a lot of his early compositions in the mid-00s; maybe he wanted to maintain his profile between the more song-based Drag City albums, or perhaps a decade of distance allowed him some perspective and peace with this body of work, which was decidedly more drone-based than much of his catalog. Either way, I just remember being blown away by records like Two Organs and Mizo No Nai Umi and wondering how much of this stuff he had in the vaults. The fact that he has not one but two outlets for issuing older material now suggests it’s nowhere near exhausted.
Anyway, to return to “Out With the Old”: it’s gorgeous and spectral, right from its opening moments. Nearly thirty minutes long, it gains depth and complexity in its second half but seems unburdened by expectations of how it should develop or end. With stacked layers of organ building the narrative of the piece, it’s reminiscent of the aforementioned Two Organs, which still has a grip on me that I can’t quite articulate. To his credit, O’Rourke was pretty open about who influenced him in these early years—people like Phill Niblock, Tony Conrad, Folke Rabe, inspirations-turned-collaborators—and I hear a bit of Rafael Toral here too.
The other pieces on Avanto 2006 are of interest. Conrad turns in “Dagadag for La Monte,” which takes a simple set of notes and then runs it through various effects. The overall impression is of a musical phrase stretched out like taffy, still intact but fundamentally reconfigured. Ralf Wehowsky, who may be more familiar to you as RLW, turns in an epic patchwork of children’s voices, distant tones, and processing in the vein of Peter Rehberg. But it’s really the O’Rourke piece that towers over the two that come before it.
An excerpt of “Out With the Old” streams above; Avanto 2006 is available for download here.
ASUNA- PLURAL ROOMS OBJECT SET AND MOTION_ (APESTAARTJE, 2003)
This is one of my all-time favorite pieces of ambient music, capable of inducing an especially blissed-out alpha state while consistently evolving over the course of nearly eighteen minutes. Asuna (Naoyuki Arashi) has maintained a slow but steady release schedule—pairs of new albums have appeared every two years or so for the past decade. I’m partial to Organ Leaf, his 2003 album on Lucky Kitchen, mostly comprised of field recordings, bells, and reed organ. “Plural Rooms” appeared that same year on a compilation from the venerable Apestaartje label, now dormant.
I think that I’m drawn to this piece in part because it almost feels like generative music, as if it were Discreet Music played at double speed. There’s more to it than that, though; there’s a skilled hand this work, which floats but also soars and dovetails. I listened to it once while watching two sets of tracks repeatedly intersect and realign parallel to each other from the window seat of a high-speed train. The simultaneous blur of motion and emphasis on structure seemed like the best compliment to the music I could have ever imagined.
(N.B. : The first half streams streams above; click on the song title to download the piece in full.)
Soundings, MoMA’s first-ever exhibit devoted to what could broadly be defined as sound art, is now up through November 3. Going into it, I was excited that some pieces and/or artists who I respected greatly were being given space at such a world-renowned institution; I also figured that I would be a little disappointed by what was (and wasn’t) there, that it would inevitably fall short of what it could be. And those feelings are pretty much the same ones I left with. There are some wonderful pieces in this show and I’d suggest that it is mandatory viewing/listening for anyone interested in a field as amorphous as this one is. But it’s hard not to think of how it could have been great, as opposed to just good. Here are some stray thoughts I had on my walkthrough:
-I was very much into Tristan Perich’s Microtonal Wall, pictured above. The first piece you encounter upon entrance into the show—and it is an encounter, because it’s virtually impossible to ignorable—is a wall of sound, not in the Spector sense but literally a set of 1,500 speakers arranged alongside the hallway. With each speaker tuned to a slightly different pitch on a spectrum of sound, it’s a needling piece that also invited physical interaction. I walked up and down it numerous times, just hearing the minute changes and experiencing octaves. It’s a simple but conceptually strong piece.
-When I visited Soundings I was in the middle of reading the recently reprinted anthology of essays, Sound By Artists, originally published in 1990. Some of it is outdated, but the introduction by Dan Lander had some interesting ideas relation to a question that kept going through my head while viewing the exhibit: how “musical” can sound art be? Lander writes:
"The terms experimental music and sound art are considered by some to be synonymous and interchangeable. In fact, it is difficult to identify an art of sound precisely because of its historical attachment to music. Although music is sound, the tendency has been to designate the entire range of sonic phenomenon to the realm of music. With the introduction of noise—the sounds of life—into a compositional framework tending towards the ephemeral and avoiding referential, artists and composers have created works based on the assumption that all sounds uttered are music.”
Little of what you experience in Soundings would be considered by most to be music. That wasn’t especially surprising, but it reminded me of how sound art is maybe “supposed” to be amusical or that it can’t engage in traditional structures of music, at least not without subverting or dismantling them. I don’t know how I feel about that, though I imagine that kind of divide might have originally risen out of a sincere need or desire to recontextualize new approaches of sound. The point is that little of the sound in these galleries is especially emotional to listen to in conventional terms—which is fine, it’s just an observation.
-Susan Philipsz’s Study for Strings is mostly an exception to that statement. Essentially, she stripped down components of a score by Pavel Hass, who was murdered at Auschwitz, so that only the cello and viola arrangement plays. The result is a sort of elegy, a composition whose fragmentary nature serves as a meditation on longing, memory, and identity. That said, I think Janek Schaefer’s Extended Play, which appeared four years before Study for Strings, covers quite similar ground in a more emotionally and aesthetically resonant way.
-Jana Winderen’s room of pitched-down recordings of animals and insects—sounds usually beyond the threshold of human audibility—allows visitors to sit in a dark room, close their eyes, and invite the sounds into their imagination. It’s moderately engaging, but I thought it would have been more interesting conceptually just to play the sounds in the space as they are heard (or not heard, as it were) in the natural world. (I recognize this might seem annoying— though apparently Stephen Vitiello, whose A Bell for Every Minute is featured in Soundings, made a work quite similar to this, where subaudible sound became visible as it shook the speakers through which it was amplified.)
-Christine Sun Kim’s piece on paper—half-transcription, half-abstract exploration of how to visualize sound—was new to me and some of my favorite work in the show. Obviously the fact that she is deaf adds a complex layer to it but I think that it’s part of what feels vital and challenging about it.
-I can’t believe Stephen Cornford isn’t represented in this show. What a complete oversight. It would have been nice to see more about sound art from decades past given that this is MoMA’s first survey (and I imagine the second isn’t coming around especially soon), but even with the history left out, Cornford should be there. Christian Marclay and Steve Roden too.
-Regardless of any grumblings, the show is worth your time.
JASON LESCALLEET- AN ARCHAIC CODE ARCHAIC ARCHITECTURE (NNA TAPES, 2013)
2012 saw Jason Lescalleet’s music reaching its broadest audience yet—a relative statement when discussing an artist often trafficking in tape manipulation and in-situ experimentation, but true all the same. The combination of his corrosive LP with Aaron Dilloway on PAN and the double-cd Songs About Nothing—structured in the shadow of Big Black and then casting its own—earned him attention and praise from sites and publications that had barely acknowledged him before.
You might think that someone who works with tape as a medium would put out a lot of cassettes, but Lescalleet’s first appeared only three years ago. Since then, he’s released a couple on Chondritic Sound and now Archaic Architecture on NNA. If you’re looking for some of the harsher elements of Lescalleet’s sound, you might be surprised by this one—it’s perhaps his most serene and conventionally “pretty” music yet. Like those Chondritic Sound tapes, Archaic Architecture presents two side-long pieces that unfold gracefully and deliberately. On the A-side, streaming above, the tonal bed is based around arcing passages of synth and organ; it’s reminiscent of some of my favorite long-form ambient pieces, like Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s Floating Weeds or Kevin Drumm’s ImperialHorizon—weary but gorgeously compassionate. Though the B-side’s title, “Organ Music #3,” evokes little, the sonics of the piece seem to deliberately conjure the feeling and imagery of traditional church music. The flecks of tape are more pronounced here, with the overdriven organ shifting in and out of focus. A sterling pair of pieces.
I’m not sure if the Locust label (sometimes referred to as Locust Music) is still active; there hasn’t been a new release in a few years and its website exists solely of an error message, neither of which would suggest signs of life. If it’s done for, there’s quite an impressive legacy of music left behind, including many records that could probably now be reissued to some fanfare. I’d like to think that Wooden Guitar is one of them.
The description on the cover of this compilation is perfect: "an inspired excursion into the creases and folds of modern day deltadelica and a loosely worn blues by four unaccompanied guitarists doing their thing and going it alone for a really long time." Those guitarists are Jack Rose, Steffen Basho-Junghans, Tetuzi Akiyama, and Richard Bishop. Each delivers a piece between 15 and 20 minutes in length, displaying mastery of composition as well as performance. (Basho-Junghans, for reasons that aren’t articulated, was allotted a second track which, even at six minutes, feels like an interlude compared to the epics that bookend it.)
To put it succinctly, each participant does what they do here extremely well. Rose’s “Red Horse II” is a reworking of the near-title track from Red Horse, White Mule; lyrical and enchanting, packed with gorgeous declarations and digressions alike. Basho-Junghans—whose adoption of Robbie Basho’s surname as his own tells you much about his influences—delivers “A North Thuringian Raga.” Likewise, the title here does a nice job of stating this German guitarist’s ability to synthesize Western and Indian modes. (Sir) Richard Bishop’s “Corpuscle” seems grounded in more of an American—I guess I’ll just say it, Fahey-esque—style, with little of the Middle Eastern flourishes found on Salvador Kali or Fingering the Devil.
Oddly, the standout for me now might be the piece that once frustrated me most. Tetuzi Akiyama—maybe most well-known for his electric, minimalist deconstruction of the blues, Don’t Forget to Boogie—offers “Time Between.” Littered with extended periods of silence, stray harmonics and fractured, brittle chords, it maintains a steadfast momentum that nevertheless breaks from the style and sound of the other pieces on Wooden Guitar. Hearing it now, I can more clearly understand the impact Derek Bailey had; it also reminds me of the most recent Oval records, where plucked, pinging guitar tones unexpectedly came to the fore.
GRAHAM LAMBKIN- UNTITLED DRIPPING JUNK (PENULTIMATE PRESS, 2010)
Last year, I posted one of my favorite examples of loop-based music—an eleven-minute untitled piece by Sitbon that churns and chimes, offering no real sense of beginning or end but instead an experience of immersion. I’m getting the same oddly emotional impact here from Graham Lambkin, proprietor of the Kye label and accomplished solo artist and collaborator (with Jason Lescalleet and Keith Rowe, among many others). It’s from a CD-R that accompanies Dripping Junk, a book of Lambkin’s illustrations and sketches published by Penultimate Press.
I find myself putting this on and adding to it, creating counterpoints or basslines and then wondering if they were there to begin with. It’s a simple piece of music that retains an element of mystery—not an easy thing to do.
Today is my birthday, but you get the gift! I had submitted this mix to Experimedia a few weeks ago but never heard back about it, so I’ll post it here instead. Notes and tracklist are below, click through to the soundcloud page to download it.
LISTEN TO MY ARENA: A CAPPELLA SOUND
The creation of this set was inspired by a marathon viewing of Charlemagne Palestine’s video work—most of which was deeply physical and anchored in the relationship amongst body, voice, and space. Making a mix of a cappella performances suddenly seemed exciting and challenging, though I’ve stretched that self-imposed boundary by including some tape pieces that use the manipulation of voice as their starting points.
1. Alvin Lucier— I Am Sitting in a Room (1969) 2. Charlemagne Palestine— Surrealistic Studies I (early 1960s) 3. Can’t— Miracles of Life (2006) 4. Brian Eno— 2/1 (1978) 5. Valet— Touch Me I’m Sick (2010) 6. Liturgy— Untitled I (2009) 7. Yoshi Wada— March 14, Part 1 (latter half) (1978) 8. Fransisco Sanchez— Canto de Hacha (Chopping Song) (1978) 9. Steve Reich— Come Out (1966) 10. La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela— Oceans (1968) 11. Inca Ore— Vista Maria (2007) 12. Julianna Barwick— Sunlight, Heaven (2009) 13. Artur Zmijewski— Polish Mass: Kyrie (Trio) (2001) 14. Richard Youngs— No Longer in This Perdition (2007) 15. Charlemagne Palestine— Untitled for Solo Voice (1979) 16. Alvin Lucier— I Am Sitting in a Room (1969)
A few favorite artists have released new music in the past two or three weeks—rather than tackling them all one by one, I just wanted to post some links as a way of getting the word out.
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma just released 7 CD-Rs (also available digitally) in a series entitled Music from the Headlands Center for the Arts. Each volume contains 40 minutes of music spread out over two tracks, sourced from recordings made when he and Paul Clipson were in residency this past spring. I’ve only had a chance to check these out cursorily, but they appear to feature his usual approach toward texture and composition but utilizing field recordings instead of traditional instrumentation. The first piece from the first volume, “Another Void,” is streaming above.
Sean McCann has a trio of records out on his Recital imprint, including a new LP of his own, Music for Private Ensemble. A deluxe edition exists for just a few dollars more that includes a CD of additional material. A sample of the album is below:
Keith Fullerton Whitman has a new split LP out with Floris Vanhoof on Shelter Press. KFW’s side features “Jardin Electronique,” which consists of three short pieces and then “Automatic Drums with Melody,” a 9-minute synthesis of the elements presented in that trio. It’s probably the most explicitly rhythmic music from him in some time.
Lastly, Mark McGuire has a new album out soon on the Inpartmaint label in Japan called Along the Way but prefaced its release with the appearance of Tidings III. Apparently there are physical (CD-R) copies of it that were made for his spring Japanese tour, but more immediately gratifying (and cheaper) would be to stream or buy it from his bandcamp page:
Tidings III includes synths and processed vocals alongside his guitar work. These are three extended pieces, totaling nearly 80 minutes of music—the closer, “January 5, 2013,” is 40 minutes alone, his longest single composition. McGuire is definitely continuing to explore areas of sound beyond the guitar…this might lean too hard on new-age signifiers for some, but for others it will hit a sweet spot. Probably closest in mood to the first disc of Guitar Meditations Vol. II, for the fanatics out there.
STEVE REICH- MELODICA MUSIC FROM MILLS (MILLS COLLEGE, 1986)
Hard to believe I’ve not posted anything about Steve Reich before, since his music is such a foundational point for me. I first encountered him when I was sixteen via the appearance of Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ on a free CD that accompanied CD Review,a now-defunct music magazine my dad subscribed to. “This sounds like that section of 'Djed' with the vibraphones that I like” was more or less my reaction and after picking up Music for 18 Musicians shortly thereafter, I was captivated. Even though I find his work of the past fifteen years to be less invigorating than that of his first thirty, I believe that there is a lot of life left in the idiosyncratic style of composition he introduced and refined.
"Melodica" was originally created and recorded in 1966 but only released twenty years later on Music for Mills, a compilation celebrating the centennial of Mills College. (The fact that Reich, Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros, Pandit Pran Nath, and Morton Subotnick, among so many others, are included speaks to vibrant legacy the school still holds today.) Reich allots it only a few sentences in his Writings on Music, 1965-2000:
“Melodica is interesting in two respects. First, it has almost exactly the same rhythmic structure as Come Out. The two pieces listened to one after the other are an example of how one rhythmic process can be realized in different sounds to produce different pieces of music. Second, I dreamed the melodic pattern, woke up on May 22, 1966, and realized the piece with the melodica (a toy instrument) and tape loops in one day.”
While this was Reich’s last purely tape piece, it was his first experiment with phasing instruments (as opposed to spoken language), which is a process that would come to characterize his composition style. “Melodica,” scored for a single (and rather brittle-sounding) instrument, is more in line with the dry textures of 1967’s “Violin Phase” or its 2001 reincarnation, “Electric Guitar Phase.” As with those pieces, the short repetitive phrases of “Melodica” might sound needling or maybe even grating at first, but by the halfway point you’re swept up in the patterns that encompass the stereo field, and you’re free to latch onto whichever strikes your fancy in the moment.
From the information available online, I’m having a hard time discerning whether Caboladies officially disbanded or are just relatively dormant. Certainly both Eric Lanham and Chris Bush have remained visible with some heraldedreleases under their own (or assumed) names, but it’s been a few years since any newly recorded material has appeared. Hope more might appear on the horizon soon.
Personally, I always thought “the ladies” were very good, but rarely great. That’s no put-down—being very good is…very good!—but I often felt like their music was building towards a transcendence that didn’t materialize. Crowded Out Memory, though, is thoroughly satisfying and a successful, complete statement. Released on Steve Hauschildt’s now-defunct Gneiss Things label, it’s a 30-minute suite broken down into three parts. Excerpted above is its opening third; I love how the swarm of tones that announces the arrival of the record eventually give way to the sparser patterns and rhythms. The reveal of the shimmering synths near the end of the sample here never fails to make me smile. This is a gently psychedelic piece of music, with hints of Black Dice and the kosmiche of decades past bubbling into the mix.
“‘On Sight,’ the first song on Kanye West’s Yeezus, is a vengefully ugly piece of music. The snarling pile of synths that jump-start the song are so corroded that it’s difficult to discern where the beat is, or if Kanye’s voice falls on it. It is the most bracingly amusical moment of the rapper’s career— it hits like a blast from a riot hose.”—
I’ve been sitting with this for a few days and I still feel like this last line (from Jayson Greene’s recent piece on Pitchfork, "Kanye’s Sold Soul") is really misguided. I’m going to make an assumption—I could certainly be wrong—that Greene hasn’t felt the impact of a riot hose firsthand. Neither have I. Maybe it really does a visceral, physical impact comparable to that of an especially dirty acid-house synth line.
I’m being flip, but here’s what I think is most interesting about this passage: Yeezus, as many have pointed out, is rife with questionable allusions to (and evocations of) slavery and the civil rights era. Whether one feels like they are justifiable or merely sensational, they’re deliberate choices. Did Greene, in writing about the album, feel entitled to echo this approach and make a similarly jolting choice with his simile? This seems at best misguided and at worst offensive. (Not as offensive as many moments on Yeezus, but still.) His piece is all about context (in particular, the context of soul samples in Kanye’s music) but in this instance, I feel like Greene really unburdens himself of any responsibility to the context of the imagery he employs.
SEAN MCCANN, MATTHEW SULLIVAN & JEFF WITSCHER- BARB BARB(SALON, 2012)
This release managed to fall completely under my radar last year even though I am a fan of all three musicians involved. This single, 30-minute piece is closest to McCann and Sullivan’s solo work (though oddly not the concrète explorations of their collaborative LP, Vanity Fair); Witscher’s hand in it is difficult to hear, at least to me, but he’s clearly in there somewhere.
Consisting primarily of extended, processed passages of what sounds like an orchestra at quarter-speed, there’s a muted romanticism to this music. Despite its glacial pace, there are refined dynamics at work here, especially in the final minutes, when a quiet lull gives way to a candescent climax.
Never got too deep into FSA, but this is an absolute winner and a perfect example of how their version of space rock blended elements of ambient, psych, and shoegaze with captivating results. Lots of artists emphasize texture instead of traditional song structure—many do it beautifully—but I appreciate that the core of “At Night” remains Dave Pearce’s voice and strum while other elements accumulate around them. With the vocals perfectly teetering on the edge of intelligibility, the recurring phrase “while I dream of…you" manages to stand out.
Easily one of my favorite singles, I paid a stupid amount of money for this lathe cut upon its release because there were only 25 made. It was all worth it for these two pieces, maybe the most lullaby-like music KFW has made—well, with the exception of his "Lullaby," recorded under the Hrvatski alias. Both sides are available via the link above.
Chronologically, this 7” appeared at a time when Keith’s music seemed to be getting more complex and dizzying—I’m thinking of the different iterations of Generators—but this music is disarmingly gentle. Its closest cousin would be the tape on Ekhein he released a couple of years later in 2011.
I recently acquired a USB turntable and am in the process of digitizing some of my vinyl. Besides allowing me to listen to a number of new LPs that I had purchased, it’s given me an excuse to revisit some music that I haven’t played in possibly a decade. Here’s a 7” that I couldn’t really parse when I first picked it up; at the time, I’m pretty sure I wanted something from O’Rourke more in line with what I had heard on Bad Timing or Eureka— nevermind that years separated those projects and that dozens of O’Rourke’s projects found release in the interim.
Listening to it now is a more immediately engaging experience—I know a little more context for this style of playing (some Fahey, some Bailey) and I appreciate how melody and resolution emerge, however obliquely. Especially since the 7” format is pretty rare for O’Rourke (the one on Touch from a few years back is the only other example I know of), it’s a worthwhile listen.
CHARLEMAGNE PALESTINE- PIANO PIECE FOR SIMONE ILLUMINATIONS (2010, ALGA MARGHEN)
The Simone referred to in the title here is Simone Forti, choreographer and occasional collaborator of Palestine’s. Illuminations is credited to them both and primarily consists of two recordings of the duo, but this piece is Palestine alone at the piano. Recorded in 1971 but unreleased for nearly 40 years prior to its appearance in 2010, these are fascinating sessions. The title track and “Wed Oct 13th 1971” feature the pair conjuring sound from bells, glasses, and a molimo—“a corrugated tube meant for connecting the gas stove,” state the liner notes—amongst the assorted yelps and yawns of their own voices. It’s pretty out-there and challenging to listen to, but grounded in what seems like a sincere mix of exploration and humor.
Appearing after the manic din of what came before, “Piano Piece for Simone” is a sort of palette cleanser. If you’ve heard his "Beauty Chord + Voice" (from the Voice Studies LP), this is in the same vein—almost heartbreakingly fragile, it is grounded in Palestine’s patient, gentle piano work and then elevated by his ghostly falsetto. Unlike “Beauty Chord + Voice,” “Piano Piece for Simone” has a genuine climax to it, as those early arpeggios turn into a wash of glissandos and his wordless incantations find themselves edging closer to the ecstatic. This recording is a great reminder that Palestine has never warmed to the use of the term “minimalism” when discussing his music—he’s much more comfortable with “trance,” regardless of whatever connotations it might already have.
I’ve made this out-of-print LP available here. Apologies for the crackly transfer—it’s actually from a brand new copy. (Though I’m grateful for Alga Marghen’s archival work, google “alga marghen” and “pressing” and you’ll discover that many of their LPs suffer from surface noise, which is a shame, especially when it comes to music like Palestine’s or Eliane Radigue’s.)
Two La Monte Young bootlegs surfaced at the end of last year—one was an LP featuring two excerpts of a Raag Bhairava purportedly from the Theatre of Eternal Music era, accompanied by no artwork and only the barest information. It’s very good, but the other that (suspiciously?) appeared around the same time holds far more fascination for me. The A-side is part of what has been labeled Day of the Holy Mountain—specifically, part 2a of this set, which I just reblogged from Doom and Gloom from the Tomb. Especially when excerpted here as a 20-minute side (as opposed to when absorbed as part of an 80-minute session), its impact is immediate and remarkable. I’m sometimes a little skeptical of David Keenan’s messianic proclamations, but his observation that this music is “joining the dots between early free jazz reveries, dervish music and the sound of ‘holy minimalism’” feels accurate and well-articulated.
The B-side though, which is given the title “Oceans (aborted session for a 1969 CBS LP),” is the real discovery. To my knowledge, this has not appeared on previous releases of Young’s, official or otherwise. It’s extremely, almost elementally basic—a recording (done by David Tudor) of Young and his collaborator/partner Marian Zazeela overlapping their voices in a series of reedy, mesmerizing drones as they sit on the edge of an ocean. In between extended passages of vocalizing, there are disarmingly mundane asides muttered by Young to Tudor about the minutiae of microphones.
Though this is pure speculation, the idea of Young and Zazeela cutting a record for CBS in 1969 makes sense, especially coming off the success of Terry Riley’s success for them with In C just a year earlier. “Oceans,” as presented here, was never meant to stand on its own, but when experienced as such, it becomes the most profound eavesdropping you’ll ever do.
CHRISTOPHER WILLITS- FILTERED LIGHT, FOLDING, AND THE TEA (12K, 2002)
I’m not sure if it’s too early for a glitch revival, but I’d imagine/hope that if one does arise down the line, Folding, and the Tea would stand as a benchmark. Warm and melodic compared to some of the more minimal, clicks-&-cuts material coming out of Europe at the same time, Willits “folding” guitar technique and MSP processing is still a cousin to the work of Oval and Pan Sonic. (There’s a shared interest in Deleuze, at least.)
Arguably the centerpiece of the album, “Filtered Light,” allows for extended immersion in the gently hiccuping rhythms and “folded” phrasing of the guitar work—which, it should be noted, is essentially unrecognizable as such. The leaps and reversals from note to note that result from Willits’ process allows the listener to fill in the gaps as the scattershot clipping provides a percussive push forward.
TERRY RILEY & DON CHERRY- DESCENDING MOONSHINE DERVISHES LIVE KÖLN 1975 (bootleg, 1975)
The recent appearance of this set as a bootleg LP has brought another round of (always-deserved) attention on it. The interplay is truly affecting and remarkable, hitting In a Silent Way-style peaks for me. (Riley’s interpolation of “Shortnin’ Bread” on the final improvisation is a nice touch!) This music is very much worth your time; that said, don’t go crazy spending $30 to $70 on the vinyl when the mp3s (which probably were the source for the LP anyway) are still very much available.
BLACK JOKER- UNTITLED (2) WATCH OUT! (PACIFIC CITY/OLDE ENGLISH SPELLING BEE, 2008)
Last year, in reference to the Inner Tube album that Mark McGuire and Spencer Clark collaborated on, I wrote, “One day, I’m sure I will really enjoy a record involving either of the ex-Skaters; I have not yet experienced it, though.” That moment has come, as I’ve been impressed with this one from 2008, attributed to Clark’s Black Joker alias. Some other people must have thought it was especially good too, as it is the only one of Clark’s numerous tape/CD-R from the era that received reissue on vinyl, courtesy of Olde English Spelling Bee.
The label’s press release for Watch Out! cites Angus MacLise as a reference point, which is certainly evident. The modal keyboard improvisations and the quick tape splices also evoke Terry Riley, or at least the experience of hearing a Terry Riley record being played in the next room over, given the determinedly low fidelity on display here. There’s a sense of an evolving journey on these two sides, though there’s no particularly clear endpoint.
It’s grey and rainy here, so instinctively I returned to this album. I’m always partial to “sketches” albums, where each individual piece feels fragmented but somehow they all collectively achieve a certain cohesion and scope. I feel like Loren Mazzacane Connors’ Airs or (more recently) Sean McCann’s Mammoth Mountain are in this tradition—Moth is gloriously so.
Years ago, while helping to organize the year-end concert at my college radio station, I looked into how much it might cost to fly Mick Turner to New York (from New Zealand) purely because I had a vision of him performing outdoors at dusk. That entirely impractical dream never came to fruition, and it poured on the day of the show anyway, but I think the integrity of my idea remains. Turner has such a unique tone and his guitar work always seems crepuscular and intimate.
HANS-JOACHIM ROEDELIUS- GERADEWOHL SELBSTPORTRAIT VOL. III- REISE DURCH ARCADIEN (SKY RECORDS / BUREAU B, 1980/2013)
I’ve been listening to this track a lot this past week—Selbstportrait Vol. III was just reissued by Bureau B. It’s astonishing how comfortable this sounds next to different strains of electronic music that came after it, whether it’s ambient-leaning IDM like Boards of Canada or analog revival work by Oneohtrix Point Never. A perfect balance of melody and melancholy.
DENNIS JOHNSON- NOVEMBER (as performed by R. Andrew Lee) NOVEMBER (IRRITABLE HEDGEHOG, 2013)
Pictured above is the score (as transcribed by Kyle Gann) for the first four minutes of Dennis Johnson’s November, which received its New York premiere last weekend at Issue Project Room courtesy of pianist R. Andrew Lee—only 54 years after its composition. From what I understand, those first four minutes were the starting point for a performance that ultimately lasted roughly five hours; its inaugural recording (also done by Lee and just released on the Irritable Hedgehog label) clocks in just shy of that length.
As someone who is just starting to explore the origins of minimalism, I find the existence of this piece to be really fascinating in how it helps (re)construct the history of this strain of music. The line that has been trotted out about November is that it inspired La Monte Young to compose The Well-Tuned Piano, his own lengthy solo piano piece that originated in 1964 and has gone through various iterations (and tunings) since then. The impact of Young’s piece was tremendous, and it’s tempting to view November mostly as a precursor or influence as opposed to experiencing it on its own terms. Listening to Lee perform November now, with its accumulation of motifs, chords, and colors, the music is divorced from time and context. Melancholy but resilient, this is music to inhabit (or invite to inhabit you). Perhaps a little more austere than the Michael Nyman piece I posted last week but occupying a similar space…
The Root Blog posted a nice little Q&A with Sean McCann this week in anticipation of the reissue of Prelusion on vinyl. (My favorite exchange: “Who do you love?” “Most everyone a little, a few people quite a lot.”) Root Strata is heralding this release as the “definitive” version of the album, which seems to mean chopping off a minute of “Divine Portal,” renaming it, and excising “Remain” entirely. I don’t know if it was simple practicalities (the original’s running time was too long for one LP but not really long enough for two) or that McCann is no longer fond of the piece, but I always thought that “Remain” was a fitting capstone to all that came before it.
McCann is a gifted multi-instrumentalist, but I’m especially excited whenever his violin appears in the mix and, if memory serves me well, it’s entirely absent on the trio of pieces that now constitute the Root Strata release. On “Remain,” sustained, arcing lines are woven in and out of meter and melody in a way that recalls Eno’s deconstruction of Pachelbel’s Canon on the B-side of Discreet Music. There’s a worn tension to the music that is simultaneously sad and graceful.
The original version of Prelusion (and dozens of other releases) are available to stream and purchase on McCann’s Bandcamp page.
“I like to believe that all uses of a technology alter and define that technology. Any tool is subject to redefinition through its uses, and dependent on its placement within wider social and cultural contexts; for example, my Dad’s use of a screwdriver to open a tin of paint, or a friend’s use of a shoelace to commit suicide.”—Mark Fell, in last month’s "Collateral Damage" column in The Wire. The last part in particular is one of the more startling turns of phrase I’ve come across and has stayed with me since I first encountered it.
KEVIN DRUMM- JUST LAY DOWN AND FORGET IT IMPERIAL HORIZON (HOSPITAL PRODUCTIONS, 2009)
An emotional, anxiety-producing day last week led me to revisit this hour-long piece. I have never really investigated the influential harsh electronics work that burnished Drumm’s reputation, and my impression is that Imperial Horizon is something of an outlier in his body of work. Regardless, I continue to be struck by how empathetic this music is, if one can categorize a non-living thing as such.
Perhaps a better way to think of it is as something akin to a rorschach. There is enough space in this slowly evolving music to accept whatever you want to project onto it or demand of it. Even the piece’s title—“Just Lay Down and Forget It”—offers multiple interpretations. Until recently, I had always thought of it as dismissive or defeatist, but now I see that it can be read as calming, assuring the listener of the opportunity to move on.
For me, this is a cherished listening experience. If others have recommendations about where to proceed next in Drumm’s considerable discography, I welcome suggestions.