Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Hi - something of a traditional last post of the year - not a best of but a few things I have come across and been up to.
First, much of my recent listening has been to podcasts, and I have found a few, available via iTunes, which have filled my time or look like they will in the future
Guardian music weekly - a half hour or so of banter, a couple of interviews, a lost pleasures section (to be named) and a singles review. The music comes in snatches (a minute or so of the 3 reviewed singles, a minimontage of other releases, bits in the interviews) but it is a very enjoyable show.
WNYC soundcheck - about an hour a day of comment, live performances and interviews. A very wide remit from classical through hiphop to latin. Not always right up my alley, but nicely varied to give some good listening.
NPR All songs considered - like an expanded Soundcheck: mainly because it has an hour a week to go into depth. Have only recently found it, but their The Beatles 40th anniversary special was stronger than Soundchecks, for example, and they devoted 2 hours to 1000 recordings to hear... They also feature extensive music samples.
NPR Live concerts: now this is a find, concerts by Bjork, Nick Lowe, Radiohead, Bon Iver, Tom Waits, Fleet Foxes and many many more. Excellent.
I've been listening to a lot of classical music lately, partly due to the generosity of Bigpond here in Australia. It now has DRM-free MP3s and a generous pricing of classical multidisk sets: they charge standard album prices irrespective of the number of disks. Which can be a minor problem as, mentioned before, they don't include the disk number in their ID3 tags. Some recent pleasures are Bernstein's The Americans set (all 20th century), some Hindemith and a full set of Shostakovich symphonies. At the moment they have a 50% discount on gift vouchers, which means a set costs $8aus. I am looking forward to a voucher for Xmas and have planned to download the full symphonies of Nielsen and Miaskovsky, more Hindemith, some Lutoslawski, complete Dvorak quartets and maybe even some single albums!
Helping me decide is another present - Alex Ross's The rest is noise - an award winning survey of 2oth century classical music.
Anyway, have a great break and the blog will be back reviewing in the new year.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The final disk in this trilogy of Eh? releases is number 44 - Croatan Ensemble's Without. They are bill k and jason p on strings, laptop, electronics, mics, pedals, synths, pipe instruments and generators.This is another longer album (60+) compiled from various improvised sessions. The album is tripartite, and the structure reflects the music.
The world ending in a festival of light and Concentration camps open the disk. These are dense combinations of tones, loops, hissing, buzzing with hidden components that reminded me to some extent of Fripp&Eno in structure and the guitar in Concentration. The World is full bodied, assaultive and slowly changing, while Concentration moves through more changes, pulsing and shimmering guitar dropping to long tones before rebuilding. At this stage I was also reminded of Eno's comments about improvisation also being about knowing when not to play.
But then came the three parts of The ideology of control. Here there is a sparser production with more control of elements moving in and out. Domestication has a bit of a beat, pulsing, encroaching deep tones with some accentuations but more minimal, distant metal tones somewhat edgy. It flows straight into Normalisation with rhythmic tapping, scrapes, gentle guitar and an overall brooding mood. Slides into Surveillance, a slow burning buzzy building dark ambient finale.
Defacement ends the album, another shift, again more minimal - opening with insistent pulses, voices enter, building to a density similar to the opening tracks, and ending with a siren.
Over the length of the whole album there is a good balance between the dense static ambience and the more subtler varied material - which makes the full listening experience an exciting journey. I think that this has been a good year for Eh? as they develop a diverse and diverting roster: satisfyingly unpredictable.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Hot on the heels of 1000 recordings to hear before you die, Toby Cresswell's 1001 songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories and Secrets Behind Them, Pitchfork's 500 greatest songs and Robert Dimery's 1001 albums you must hear before you die comes 666 notes to hear before you go deaf from Anita McSusic.
Working from a severely limited sound palette - after all there are only so many notes available, even when you take the sharps and flats or just look at the black and white keys of the piano - McSusic finds an artistic diversity within this constraint. She has, for example, identified an A flat in The Rolling Stones Symphony for the Devil which is markedly different to the A flat in the third movement of Beethoven's fifth symphony. Or, taking another example, a shifting B in the middle of a Kronos quartet glissando and one in Nine Inch Nail's Ghost IV.
For each of the notes she has identified, McSusic weaves a fascinating text, exploring how the composer reached that particular note and why she has selected it: a C sharp in Brian Eno's Discreet Music, appearing briefly at 15:32 apparently is a response to a draft caused when Robert Fripp entered the studio while Eno was creating the piece, and the tape slowed marginally. Eno discusses how he debated whether to rerecord the whole section or let that note pass. As it was one of a number of Cs within the work, and following pulling out an Oblique Strategy card that read 'Do not pass: go', the note remained. As you listen to this note in the book, the pitch has a subtle tenderness that is not present in some of the other C sharps.
When talking about historical notes, where there is no composer to discuss the material with, interviews with current performers explore how they respond to the notes McSusic has identified, and how they decide to play them. Intriguing twists emerge from this - for example the different ways that the Emerson and the Duke quartets play an F flat in Shostakovitch's 7th string quartet.
Each note has been identified in a particular recording which is available on CD - this makes it possible to find all 666 notes precisely - they are often surrounded by similar notes and identifying the one in question can be difficult. There is some discussion of putting all 666 notes onto a single CD, but that would detract from the thrill of the hunt. And the notes need to be heard in their context.
The book is organised around a sorting principle based on the composers first name, the not as written in German and the difference in the year of recording and composition. Luckily both the table of contents and the index are comprehensive and assist in navigating through the book. Though ones like this are meant for dipping.
Yes - as with all lists there will be notes that you wonder why they aren't there, and countries who are under represented (very little from Australia for example, though the opening note of Rolf Harris' Sun arise gets a guernsey). But if you want to explore notes written by people as diverse as the Sex Pistols and Stravinsky, Steve Reich to Stevie Wright, Mellencamp to Miaskovsky look out for this book, and take part in the on-line debate about those missing notes on the official website..
Thursday, November 20, 2008
From Nebraska, Man's last great invention bring is None. (eh?43) - a departure from Eh/'s standard productions (as you would expect) with a striking cover which is a coloured copy onto transparent paper, stuck on to the white card with adhesive labels, and the information (title, band etc) appears to be typed (yes, there is a dent where the full stop is). Track titles are n, o, n, e, . and the untitled 6th track (why couldn't they think of a five letter title?). And musically, as hinted in the Beard review, this explores different territory again for the label.
The Myspace page lists a cast of thousands (well 16) across strings, vocals, percussion, keyboard, film projection and more. The music could best be described as psychedelic minimalism - washes of sounds, echoed instruments and chanted vocals for an extended 70 minutes.
The album opens in almost silence - just a tape hiss into which deep long synth lines and ringing guitar emerge. A sweet ethereal voice sweeps through (my thoughts are the Cocteaus, but slower, or Dead Can Dance) supported by bass, and sliding directly into the second track (o) continuing the pace and method, building into clouds of sometimes almost industrial sound. A held tone takes us into n, with looping percussive scrapes, and here singing takes the track into quite a dramatic, almost harsh, climax (with perhaps a little too much distortion) ending with a dying tone.
e (the fourth track) opens quietly, redolent tapes hiss again building some subtle tones and then focusing on echoed bass and possibly guitar with some percussive effects and a flt-flt distortion. Towards the end a vocal line comes in, more keening and at times sounding almost like a Middle Eastern horn, but sliding into . (5) where some guitar adds to the mix with more vocals.
The final track again emerges from the silence, strange distorted sad voices (sounds of coughing can be heard, suggesting live recording, other noises too - maybe a site recording - but the overall feel is liver than the others), percussion, water flowing and a darker sound. A full drum kit takes a solo, and involves us in a much more activity, with a bleaker mood - possibly the tone of the voices - and broader instrumentation (pumps of woodwind, scraping guitars, synth woobles).
This is a broad, expansive album, creating sweeping atmospheres with the title 'tracks' while the untitled final third of the album presents a more forceful side of the ensemble. This sounds improvised, suiting the eh? remit, but with an ambient edge. Engrossing
(final note: I have described the album in three parts as that seems to be how the sounds flow. The editing however is poor - 2 second breaks between tracks which are obviously designed to flow together, breaking the atmosphere)
Sunday, November 16, 2008
One of the pleasures of this 'job' is that you can follow a label if you are lucky enough to get linked in with one. Since the first large parcel of releases arrived from Bryan Day, the Public Eyesore and now Eh? journey has been nothing less than fascinating - there is very little predictable about what these labels put out: the three in the recent slim envelope are a case in point. Eh?39 Beard of Sound, Beard of Sand by Gamma Goat is the first up for show.
Apparently a three piece, this shows that Americans do understand irony. The low-fi approach is taken to new and unusual areas by this mutant rock band. There are 11 tracks in this 33 minute blast. Three, Precaution procedure, Outstanding citizen and Civil suit are short metallic, rubbish-bin style percussion pieces, with a little bit of processing thrown in (the legalistic titles must mean something to someone!) that act as bridges.
Mighty big boots is slow ponderous rock and roll, death metal vocals and sort of melodic (what is that cycling, slapping sound at the end - it recurs on another track) and is followed by another musical track, Goats on top with a swampy rhythm Beefheartish vocal accents, muddy recording, with wind out of tapping percussion, the electric guitar and whooping. Slurpy scrabbling introduces the slow bass and drums of Bowleater, electric guitar twangs and more distant vocals. Things descend further into lo-fi with Barren which sounds like it was recorded live in a club, the cheap cassette deck hidden under voluminous clothing resulting in a distorted thump rocker with shouted vocals which has got something to it, somewhere. Death metal growling returns with In the dessert - slow driving bluesy, buzz sliding guitar and drums.
The last three track take another track: Traps the golden light of being is a skillful rapid percussion piece with jangling guitar; the high short string guitar continues in Dealin' cards/ante up which introduces some processing - backwards sounds, echoey bass, strange highlights and drum riffs, which are taken even further in Killing ducks with nunchuks which has reversed sounds and strange squeals.
OK - a strange perverse rock album - you might not buy it as a stand-alone, but as part of the ever exciting and suggestive PE/Eh? magical mystery tour it actually grows on you.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Nearly a year ago I noted the return of Stasisfield as a more active label. Since then there has been an ongoing flow from them during 2008 which has been great to see. The music has traversed the general remit of the label - some electronica (much of it), ambience, a bit of worldy manipulated music (Gregory Taylor's delightful gamelan pieces), improvy (
John F Berky runs an excellent Bruckner website, one aspect of which is that each month he mines his archive for a symphony to make available as a free download. These can be from vinyl (or even acetate) though some occasionally from CD, and are interesting (eg Hindemith conducting no.7), unusual and of course out of print. Initially they were only available for a couple of months, but John has recently decided to keep 12 months worth up. The recordings are exemplary - no hint of vinyl noise - and provides you with multiple versions of the symphonies for those interested (2 versions of No's 1, 4 and 7, and singles No's 2, 3 and 6). The site is here - for 10 current downloads. There are some other shorter pieces also available elsewhere - follow the side bar.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Following the previous post on Andreas Brandal, available for free download from Twilight are two other Brandal albums:
The dead station is the first Twilight release and suggests some of the positions and directions heard in This is not for you. However it also contains some of the more angular edgy forms that appear on the next album.
Insects is a shorter more recent one (available as a download or a cd-r with extra track and individual print) and uses the burring chirping side of the music to bring a narrower palate that does suggest insects. Integrated with this, though, is a range of other sounds that provide additional depth to the layers of insect - whip tones, slowed voices, musical moments.
Both of these two albums are worth sampling to give you an idea about the eh? release, which to my mind is both broader and more coherent
Lupus Golem is Brandal plus Hans Kristian Senneseth and Bjørn Kåre Berntsen and there is an EP on Twilight - Minotaure. This is a noise trio piece - heavy percussion, dense guitar feedback and more, stomping bass plodding along. Then shifting into slightly quieter, restraints which are soon broken through. Heavy dramatic gothic but also nuanced, this is an intriguing and fun thundering 20 minutes.
The tenor of Twilight Luggage is perhaps suggested by their latest release - Jliat's So what do you think I should do? I haven't been following his Noise series - just noted the reviews - and remember fondly his drone period. This is 30+ minutes of constant harangue: deep jet engines, scratching noise, guitar feedback chords cutting through like laser pulses, occasional computer burble as a lighter sound, and weaving through a distorted crackling which could be speech if you listen really hard (but then the brain will make speech out of sound). A strong emetic which should be taken carefully in measured doses. Not something i would listen to on a regular basis, but once in a while...
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Eh?40 is a departure from the improvisational mood of the label, but then you come to expect that from anything related to Public Eyesore. Brandal is a Norwegian who has been working on various projects since the 80s and releasing solo-work for about a decade. He runs a label - Twilight Luggage - which has one of his albums plus collaborations and some other groups. More on them in the next post. Is This is not for you for you? When I first put this on I had been listening to The Tone Generation podcasts (mentioned here) They immediately came to mind - but this then goes beyond that. So here are some thoughts.
The burning room with long slow tone melodies, crackles that move around, throbs and notes noises that slide in and out is a stately piece of concrete electronica. Ringing tones and gongs of the title track are lovely with muted crinkling and crunches. Soft tones form bookends to a rising ratchet and gentle voiceiness in The ghost opera. Acoustic guitar appears in Sleep miracle along with more tones soft and high gentle ones before a long scraping fade. A door opens at the start of Abreg ad habra taking us into an exploration of plucked notes (metal?wire?), a deep hum, billows that builds and releases, longer harmonica notes and strange crackles join in a fascinating extension.
Scifi tones, drifting restrained radiowaves all Shine. Then an aleatoric ambience of The mirror stage full of gentle stuttering, high and deep tones, wind, drifting simple warmth and guitary shimmers. Concluding with Julien torma where loose cable skitters, a deep hum, sweet tones and guitar strums contrast harsher tones and clicks which emerge, sliding into harp-like reverb tones and crackles as the track ends.
This is an excellent album - amongst the often improvised and lo-fi recordings of Eh? it provides another view of where music can go - and this one definitely is music and belies its title for the sort of people I imagine reading this blog. Some more has dropped in from the label in the last few days, so expect some more noisier stuff soon - and meanwhile get this.
(And it's nice the see Eh? website get the full catalogue/review structure of Public Eyesore)
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Thanks to K Krebs, via Facebook of all things (which I am exploring) a pointer to a set of Symphonies from Dutch Radio 4 celebrating 120 years of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. They are mainly romantic, and come as a single file (the Bruckner is 85 minutes) but with a pdf cover. You have to register which is not much to ask. A nice set anyway.
go to here
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Within various personal constraints I don't think of myself as a music pirate. So first my confessions. When Napster first came out I had a try and downloaded a King Crimson album but left it at that and I don't bittorrent. While most of my MP3 collection is either purchased (iTunes, Classics online and Bigpond) or downloaded from label/individual sites freely available, I do have a fair chunk of MP3 recorded vinyl (iPod or similar hooked up to amp via the earphones, giving long, single disk side or tape recordings: no-one else would want!) or ripped cds (again, only personal use). And I did associate 'We7', 'adverts' and 'audacity' in the same sentence/s - but those tracks would be downloadable 28 days later ad-free, and at that time the ads were for We7. And I did let them know when I got a few downloads that were ad-free straight off.
So the only real impact of drm for me is that the iTunes tracks won't play on my eeepc as it runs linux, and I had to burn the wma tracks to cd and rip to get MP3s. So I was pleased when Bigpond started selling MP3s (with some great classical bargains - a 17 cd Chopin complete set for $16.50: though their tagging doesn't include disk number at the moment which is a nuisance and another matter).
Anyway, my computer recently died, but luckily all the music is on an external disk, and I decided to make a dvd of my Bigpond wmas for security. Did that, then tried to play them (to check the copy) to no avail. The originals wouldn't either. So I went back to the Bigpond site FAQs and found that the tracks will only play on the computer you bought them on - and if you want/need to play them on another you need to repurchase them. Now I understand the reason the rights management, and agree with most, but this is outrageous. When you bought a new stereo, turntable, cassette player you didn't need to rebuy all your various forms of music. It takes management to extreme levels. And explains why people do pirate the stuff.
Luckily for me I had MP3'd them all (legally?) and now will only buy their MP3s - which are totally drm free: what a turnabout! I wonder how many people have really read that fineprint? At least iTunes allows a reasonable number of registered computers.
OK, so this is probably not news to most, but I feel better getting it off my chest.
Monday, October 20, 2008
I am not sure how this came to me - iii records are based in Japan, and Ogogo is Igor (guitars, though there seems to be other instruments) and the album is Linden. It is based around 12 paintings by Ron Linden that are reproduced in the quality booklet. The paintings are flat semiabstract images, painted with muted colours. Some feature curved diamond shapes, that the final image, USSUR, confirms are eyes. Some represent three-dimensional cubist still lives, others flat compositions or almost calligraphic or musical notations of the eyes and stave bars (some are among those on show at his web site). Anyway, on the whole non-figurative and a big ask to create a musical interpretation. While I can see some trends in the music, I am not sure my reading of the music/image relationship is the same as Ogogo's - but that is irrelevant as it is the music which counts. There are four 'styles' that I can identify on the album.
The first three tracks (Eye spring, Flygel and Pidgin) follow a pattern that seems common of putting the most confronting music first. These comprise extremely choppy D'n'B percussion with guitar pulses and sorties together with some found sounds, but also with patches of calm. Initially these are not inviting tracks, but repeated playing provides more access. The style crops up again later in the album - Murdrus dueluct is another that is fast and distorted.
OK, my second category is electronica: comes in both fast and restrained, and takes the guitar/percussion mix and adding other instruments and more samples. Sabbatarian is full on with water sounds, choppy organ and a skittering guitar and has voice samples in near the end, the crackles, wargame tones and abstract noises of Preplay actually reflect the images. Shem the Penman is fast distorted and chopped/cut, changing density (and neither image nor music recall Finnegans Wake to me), and more chopping eruptions on Ussur.
Strangely classified by me as musical, or perhaps simple would be better: Eroscope features a slightly distorted keyboard melody, which is varied and modified with subtle restraint, Ohfey is a guitar solo with some gentle electrobacking.
Finally more structured pieces: Obdura moves through a solid rhythm loop and burr, a voice and plane sample, peacock calling, a mower the rhythm returns, peacock returns then drum and voice and finally a crushing crackle in the last half minute. My favourite The K is a long piece featuring a goose, rhythm guitar and a baroque like melody which weave in and out through each other. A beautiful light touch in this almost 9 minutes (any track featuring a goose has my vote, and an album with peacock is furtehr ahead!).
Two additional tracks: Eroscope vs Eye spring (dance remix) puts the rhythm of the first under the musicality of the second, to good effect, while the TRS remix of Pidgin is a reasonable reinterpretation but not at all radical.
On the album these tracks, other than the last two and the bursting of the first three, are mixed and shuffled together. The sequence works pretty well, and the elements which flow through (sirens, bird sounds) give the whole some coherence. Definitely an album that gives you access to its complexity and pleasures after a few listenings have got you in tune with the aesthetic. Not one to relax to but rather stimulating.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Early on in the blog I recommended We7 as a place to look for free music. The model they used was free downloads with an advert at the beginning (about 10 seconds) and after 28 days you could download an add free version. At the time I suggested that the ad-model could easily be circumvented. They moved to include a streaming option a while ago.
However, in some recent 'Great news!' from the site. After commenting on more music being available and a new dsign, as a third point they indicate there will be no more ad-free downloads, and that downloading anyway will be limited to the UK. Streaming is still available - and they have expanded their roster (but they have also decreased it: the ELP bootlegs are no longer available, nor the Vidna Obmana). But there are other streaming sites, and a large population (eg me) who don't want to stream.
Anyway, it was a bold experiment and fun while it lasted.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The thanks to Steve Roden for choosing us as his link of the day for The Wire magazine - and his kind words. Airform Archives is definitely my daily link. The Portal looks like an interesting place to hang out
And so welcome anyone who has come this way from there.
And so welcome anyone who has come this way from there.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Mystified again - this one from a label called small-doses which does some very nice packaging (here the disk forms an integral part of the heavens, and the torn card creates a horizon. Mystified describes this as a 'concept album of sorts', without explanation - and being Mystified this could be musical or concept - his recent collaboration with Saluki Regicide was split so that 'one is assigned all frequencies below 1kHz, and the other gets everything above' - and the outcomes were later mixed together. And it works! It's a Webbed Hands download.
Skywatchers is some beautiful minimal ambiences - the tracks seem to offer a balance between two levels - the higher ringing buzzing washing hissing shimmering elements and deeper pulsing throbbing rumbling multifaceted components underneath. As in the beautiful evolving high ringing tone in Dark shimmer with a multifaceted rumbling undertone, active hissing like rain with big pulsating throbs of Big and round, or Saturated sky's soft ringing washes and pulse. Hollow resonant tones stutter towards a melody in Tactile waves and overall a minimalism that teeters on the edge between the conscious and unconsciousness, between a focus and an indefinable thereness which slowly evolves and twists just beyond awareness. Lose yourself while watching the sky.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
I have decided not to continue with my virtual avenue account for the old style emailed ampersand. If anyone needs a copy of their review let me know - sorry about the broken links. It just didn't seem worth continuing the outlay.
Note: this does not mean the blog is dead, just the archive of old reviews
Note: this does not mean the blog is dead, just the archive of old reviews
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
For a long time Bristol was for me some rhyming slang often used in English comedies. Then recently it cropped up in some great TV - Teachers, Afterlife, Skins, and a 'reality' series on learning to drive - and the city has become somewhere we want to visit next time we are in the UK. Then there is the music - some significant bands have come from the region - Pigbag, Portishead, Massive Attack, The Pop Group, Flying saucer Attack: in reality most regions have some names to call their own.
Anyway, this little diversion has been prompted by a parcel that arrived last week from a Bristol cd-r label Void of Ovals (try the link - it doesn't always work) with 3 releases and minimal information. While they are all 5" cds, they are 20minutes or less, so count as minialbums.
Eftus Spectun has been here before - they have an album on Public Eyesore reviewed in ¬es - favourably and commenting on the great variety of material. The Talons Snag Binary is just about the opposite, and something of a concept minialbum. For 15 minutes a guitarist and drummer seem to be having a jam. There is a constant swinging between periods of melodic picking and subtle drumming, even some almost silent short periods, and power chords with harder drumming that slips occasionally into noise. Sometimes the guitarist quietly mumbles. Early on there is a futtfutt sound that you think could be bad mastering of the cd, or perhaps some roto speakers, but as time goes on this magnifies and starts to sound like reverb on the guitar which gets bigger and bigger until the final minutes of the track are more like a fading electrobubbling in which the original instruments are lost and an essence extracted. The overlay of what is an interesting guitar/drum improv with the degrading filter adds an extra layer to this that makes it an intriguing 15 minutes.
Another short improv from Goalkeeper Wanted - Mouthful of Cherries is 15 minutes of drums, guitar, bass and keyboards (as far as I can tell) and the sound is meant to suggest it was 'written and recorded wearing boxing gloves'. Slow ponderous percussion with a high sustained casiotone vibrato, joined by chiming gong-like guitar. A cymbal solo with guitar, more drums and then some spooky electronics into a spacey ambient section with metallic percussion and shimmerings. Into some slow percussion with arrows of sound before a bass comes in, scrabbling. A slow and thoughtful section and a nice guitar solo, with percussion driving along throughout. A build up towards the end before easing off into a scrabbling slidey fade. A complex and appealing little workout as it rings through its changes.
The only seemingly composed album is Oliver White's The Orient, which is apparently a soundtrack to an unreleased film. It is also a little longer - a bit over 21 minutes. It shifts between concrete sections where short cut-up sounds (or manipulated in these modern ways) bounce around, to sections with sonography, like bird sounds or water, percussive echoed sections and a few snatches of melody. The moods change very quickly - it would actually be nice to have it as a longer album where the different sections had a chance to embed themselves or develop more. But this is what we have and while it is hard to imagine what sort of film it would support, it does provide an evocative electronic atmosphere, shifting almost randomly, but very satisfying. (another what-it-isn't would be a version where there were track breaks where the sound changed, allowing more random shuffling).
OK - these are all short, and anyone thinking of buying them should take that into account - but I have played each a number of times and enjoyed them: can't say fairer than that.