Thursday, May 30, 2013

TIMR 13: staalplaat material series

Staalplaat is a innovative and interesting label. Early supporters of muslimgauze, the Morte aux Vache live series plus many more; they have always appreciated varied formats and presentation. Picture disks, sets, individualized covers (Muslimgauze Azad with a piece of newspaper), limited editions - reflecting the range you would expect from a medium sized small label. 

But in many respects the high point for me was the material series. Not explicit like the Morte series or Muslimgauze releases, this was a subtle grouping tied together by aesthetics. And by what I think represents a pinnacle of what can be done with a jewel case. I present my case:

The disk itself was a little used beauty called AB-CD I think. It was a full 5 inch disk made of transparent colored plastic (a shade that was appropriate for that release). In general the music was about 20+ minutes - or what would normally be a 3" cd. Only that part of the disc  was silvered, giving a darker central region with a lighter coloured halo. Simple but very effective. 

The jewel case was clear plastic see-through - nothing special there - but it was etched with the details. Generally artist/release & track titles on the front , recording details, staalplaat info etc on the back (with some variation). Subtle minimalism (though a pain if the case broke [see below] as it was unique).

Finally, instead of cover insets, there were pieces of material, different for each release - the ones I have are:

  • Massimo: minimo - gold brown card with a wave pattern on it giving a 3d effect - the disk is gold yellow
  • Kozo Inada -  a[] was that plastic sheet with ridges that is used to give postcards depth or movement - this is blobby parallels, red disk; d[] is in a yellow transparent case, yellow disk and the insert a small yellow plastic mesh
  • Goem: Punik - insert an orange card with regular small holes
  • Heimir Bjorgulfsson: "Machine natura(...)" - clear case with green tray, green disc and a green wallpaper insert
  • Pure: low - full length CD with speckled copper label, the insert is a fine copper mesh
  • Thilges 3: Polka - clear disk with white label, the insert is thin sheets of polystyrene
  • Radboud Mens: "Sine" - the disk is dark blue and the inserts are incredibly heavy metal mesh which just about destroyed the case on the trip over here (big picture at top)
a[] open (top), Goem (bl) d[] (br)

Discogs lists one I haven't got, and you can go there to see better pictures.

Bjorgulfsson (tl) Massimo (tr) Thilges 3 (bl) Pure (br)

I have a couple of other releases using the same format

  • Pimmon: Orquesta del arrurruz - is listed in the series at Discogs, but I don't agree. The AB-CD format is used, but the information is printed on the cover not inscribed. It is a lovely piece though, as instead of inserts it has green truf-like material , a light green disk and some green felt instead of screenprinting on the disk, in a green jewel case (without the disk-insert).
  • Muslimgauze: Ayatollah dollar - uses much the same format without a cover insert (there is a back one) and a number of his releases came in cases that had the information etched on.
  • Radboud Mens: Pulse - printed on the cover is radiating grid which together with a similar print on the disk gives nice moire interferance patterns.
  • Banabila, Vennik & Bobby: "Cards on the table" - clear case, printed information, clear AB-CD but in the disk tray there is a piece of plastic table cloth and a playing card (and the catalogue number, like Pimmon, is in the right range.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mike Oldfield

I was thinking about music the other night and realised I had forgotten about Mike Oldfield. 

And yet I think he is one of my musical teachers. 

Tubular Bells was and is an amazing work. Not only the music which is sublime, but in its very existence. For all his faults I think we need to thank Richard Branson for this. The world of pop music was not unfamiliar with extended works, but these were mainly prog rock & somewhat marginal. Here was a lyric combination of folk, a little rock, humour, lightness, melody which was captivating - being on the exorcist soundtrack probably helped, but on its merits it was a hit. 

Hergest Ridge, Omnadawn and the double disk incantations continued the longform structure, and while not as groundbreaking or commercial, are great  albums. 

I followed Oldfield for a while after that as he moved into albums with separate tracks and vocals. Ok the earlier albums were movements segued into each other but they were more of a whole than an album of tracks. And then, perhaps recognizing this, he started doing all sorts of extra tubular bells II, 3, millennium, 2003 ...

Apparently it's 40 years old now - but I still love those first 4 albums. They opened my mind to long form music - helping me get into classical music later. And when riding I often sing the song from Hergest Ridge. Hey and away we go....

Saturday, May 18, 2013

David Bowie Is in my room

Well, it finally arrived. 

I must say it is a beautiful book. The cover is orange with a sort of rubbery feel & semi-negative photos on it - Ziggy on the front, later rugged Bowie on the back. 'David Bowie Is inside' printed on the spine - the Is theme is used throughout the book, he is Is Blowing our minds, Is Putting out fire with gasoline, Is A human being, Is at given moment of time a given moment of time, even Is Referenced and Is Indexed 

The inside is beautiful, even sumptuous with the expected catalogue collection of essays, which while I haven't read them all yet looking interesting and varied. Life, album covers, impact on fashion, visual imagery, sexual revolution, writing and so on. I am sure there will be some pseudoish stuff in there, but hey this is an art catalogue. Go here to get to the V&A site

As a visual artifact we are obviously going to lose the sound aspect of the exhibition, which by all accounts was quite spectacular. But we do get loads and loads of images: costumes in full view and close up of detail and also in concert photographs, photos from the life, lyrics, drawings and paintings, draft covers, variants, simple lyrics given as a single line of text on each of facing pages and more. A visual feast well worth getting  (You can buy this from the V&A website, who direct you to their Amazon shop page. But if you buy it direct from Amazon it is cheaper. Though not a cheap book).

It's the sort of book to return to and savour. And to also make you think about Bowie and Bowie's impact on you. And as this is a spot for me to reflect, here goes.

When I review my musical life Bowie plays a rising, plateaued, rising again trajectory. After hearing the second self-titled album which is usually considered his first one, Bowie was in my hearing but not essential (I got an american import of **The Man** with the strange cartoon cover in a sale - and wasn't ready for it). As for many listeners, I should think, he sort of sank into a background until **Ziggy Stardust** - an album that I knew the songs from but didn't own till later. In that period I will admit ELP or Jethro Tull or even Elton John were higher in my consciousness. After that though, I became a more consistent buyer, **Pinups**, **Diamond Dogs**, probably not **Aladdin Sane** first up. The release of *Man who fell to earth* reignited the fire a bit & Young Americans & Station to  Station came more to the ofre (I think the Lennon duet helped). Then there was my stated **Low** epiphany. Interestingly, like many epiphanies I can recall it - and I happened to have a diary of that trip to England and there is no mention of **Low**, the radio, Crashing in the same car while we were driving or the album. Some mention of Eno later though.

That said, Bowie was back. I closely followed from that point for the next decade - even the seeming commercial dredge of **Let's Dance** and its relatives. Then Bowies quiet phase as he restructured his finance. I was excited by the return: I enjoyed **Black Tie** and **Outside** was a return to Eno, complexity and difficulty (and was probably overstretched as it is, but has some great songs) and **Earthling** was ahead of the game. Then we hit the period where my reviewing seems to have overwhelmed mainstream listening, then **Heathen** which I love, reality which I came to later and now the dramatic return.

In terms of my Bowie collection I have all the albums (I did own the Decca one but have never bothered to relisten) digitally, vinyl or CD: including the **sound and vision** box set (the second edition with 4 CDs, digital version), the best of DVD which includes the wonderful Top of the pops clips with beused young brits watching on & pretending to 'dance'.  A couple of bootlegs - scary monsters outtakes and the lost Toys album. 

I saw him live once - the Stages tour. It was good to do, but I think in retrospect disappointing: the sound was terrible, the songs too much like the records, the show quite downbeat. Looking at the costumes some of the early personas looked pretty weird - David Bowie Is pushing the boundaries! But I have got recordings of life shows from most of his various periods & enjoy them.

And a couple of other books, bought for the kindle have been interesting.

David Bowie Is in my life - and has really been a part of it for the last 40+ years. And David Bowie Is never disappointing really - the albums which are at the bottom of peoples lists of Bowie Albums From Worst To Best are (a) often near the top of someone elses and (b) better than most else which is or was going around and (c) different to the other albums in that list which means there is always something new fresh different to listen to.

I feel privileged to have been able to grow with Bowie's changes (I just inserted a note above that I wasn't ready for it when I bought The Man & that is true of other artists as well, you have to learn what they are trying to do; my late coming to Miles Davis is another example) and the pleasure of being able to think about when his musical journey and my life intersected (what was going on in my life when the thin white duke documentary came out for example). To have had one artist whose life has burned bright at the same time as I have developed is probably unique: there are not that many pop musicians who have such an extended strong career (Robert Fripp and Brian Eno come to mind, not surprisingly). Crooners - yes; classical - yes; jazz - yes; but not pop/rock I think, and not ones who have developed changed and effected so much change (I proffer the Rolling Stones as exhibit A).

And somewhat topically David Bowie Is given the best ever cover version with the Space Oddity from the space station. A good version sonically, but when tied to the so appropriate and so not bluescreened visuals it was a treat.

Monday, May 13, 2013

TIMR 12: supportive labels

Here, in the CD section of my Ikea Billy bookcase, is a special section for labels that have small labels which supported me amazingly when I was into high level reviewing. This is a brief acknolwedgement for them - some of which will get a special mention later. But as the TIMR is about things around me which have meaning for me when I look at them, here is a bit of a trip down memory/thankyou lane.(Later we may have an artist special)

  • Public Eyesore and Eh? - Bryan Day
  • NoType - actual releases from the amazing netlabel
  • KrKrKrKr and related New Zealand labels - David Khan
  • Mystery Sea
  • Burning Shed
  • Fencing Flatworm
  • TwoThousandAnd
  • Accretions - Marcos and Marcelo
  • Bowindo
  • Foton
  • Crouton
  • Pax
  • Henceforth
  • Absurd
  • Humbug
  • AES
  • Throat
  • BipHop
  • The Foundry - eM
  • Grob
  • pfMentum
  • Consume
  • XI

And more I am sure

Thursday, May 9, 2013

TIMR 11 : aube shrines

A bit of a different flavour - though still music and design.

Darrin (of course) sold me Aube's Four Shrines - a series of collaborative cassettes from his label G.R.O.S.S. in 1996. The four cases are stuck on a red corrugated plastic cross, and a continuous red string weaves around to hold the covers closed. This was released under his real name Akifumi Nakajima and there are 3 duo collaborations and a final shrine which features all four artists. To be honest, it is not something I have played a lot but I love the look of it. It now sits as a small shrine on top of my bookcase with a couple of pieces my sister brought from South America and a St Francis Carol got in Italy. Along with my 3D Shroud of Turin postcard and windup fire-spitting nun it is a fairly godless room.

And in a lower 'niche' in my bespoke CD stand - made by Wilkins and Kent on Brunswick street (I have had about 4 CDbookcases from them and also a stereo stand which was made to my specs) are two Aube covers: Metal de metal which was the first one I bought and Seton. The disks are not in them but slimline covers in the A section - many of the most attractive covers are actually pretty inconvenient, short lived or dangerous: with this the metal band could wear, the metal or stone could damage the disk or with ChopShops lead one, unfolding the metal everytime would be laborious. I have a few Aube CDs and transferred cassettes, and it's music I will put on when I want some noise and distraction, but it isn't the most seductive of sounds. But in the right time and place, it works.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

TIMR 10: hipgnosis and roger dean

I had planned on doing this anyway, but reading about the death of Storm Thorgerson gave it some impetus.

If you listened to much music in the late 60s and the 70s - actually what I mean is if you looked at the covers of the albums you were playing - you would be hard pressed to avoid the impact of the design team at Hipgnosis or the artistry of Roger Dean.

Hipgnosis was initially linked to Pink Floyd (many of their icon covers are from the team) but many other groups like 10cc, Genesis and peter Gabriel, Led Zepplin, The Nice, Wings, XTC and many many more their covers - and inserts: the graphic design of George Hardie was always a striking feature of many lyric sheets - his graphics were very much ruler drawn, with often a detached architectural feel. He would often 'illustrate' the lyrics (I am thinking of Fischer Z). Admittedly some covers were crass (and horridly sexist even then and more so now, chewing gum and crotch shots come to mind) some overly cooked - but most are iconic images that take the sound and give it some vision. The two books here have given me much pleasure beyond those albums with Hipgnosis covers I have.

For many Roger Dean is Yes and vice versa. His covers for their albums (and stage designs) are probably his most well known, but he did other covers and other work. His idea for a listening pod always struck me as a great idea, and his organic architecture (developed in the covers) was also intriguing. 

All three of these books have great text to go with them  Hipgnosis explaining their thought processes, techniques and discussion with clients (it is interesting to see how ideas rejected by one group are taken by another such as the XTC typed cover). Roger Dean talks about his philosophy, techniques and history to the essayist, so it is a little more distanced. The Dean book is also album cover sized - so you get the full impact of the pictures.

the album cover book - very Dean lettering - came out in 82, and includes a section on punk and new wave as well as recent years, themes and styles (which show notable trends), japanese, singles and portfolios. So a nice range of material.

None of it is the same as holding those large cardboard sleeves and taking out lyric sheets and other inserts. But a nice reminder of a past time: there don't seem to be many books of cassette or CD covers! 

Some covers I recall:

  • Ringo - with a Klaus Vorrmann illustration for each song
  • Elton John - Captain Fantastic with poster, lyric book and biographical comic
  • Starless and bible black - Tom Phillips (Another green world too)
  • John Cooper Clarke with the book of poems in a shirt pocket
  • Simple Minds Sister feelings call & Sons and fascination as a double album
  • XTC englishsettlement in the green cover and the full double album
  • UB44 with a hologram on
  • Curved Air's second album which unfolded
  • Even the excess of ELP WBMFTTSTNELAGELP
  • Bill Nelson Close encounters double album with a 7" single, speaking of which
  • Elvis Costello Armed forces with a live single
  • All sorts of inserts
  • and on and on