Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bindlestiff: pianoforte

Sneaking in by subterfuge, another comment on Dave Stafford. I will not deliver a full review here as I will be repeating myself too much and some may be concerned that I am a little monomaniacal here. So, Bindlestiff LOUD and quiet

Bindlestiff existed from 1992 to 1996 in California and is Dave Stafford on guitar & loops and Bryan Helm on synths, keyboards and loops. These two disks are part of a small set of releases, and both emerged from a heady period of recording before Bryan left town. (They recorded 6 albums before falling into silence until the transatlantic file exchange album Dreamtime that was reviewed in April). 

The prime objective was to record Quiet. This is a collection of gentle ambience, but during the recording the pair also played around with new jams or other tracks which were more active and these tracks became LOUD. Together they create a nicely balanced, broad  ambient collection. And it is interesting to note that virtually all of the tracks on the 2 albums (or the double album) are live takes. The following is a look at some of the tracks - somewhat representative. 

Quiet offers a drifting ambient experience - the washes of synth togther with synth and guitar loops are not inactive - this isn't minimal ambient although in some of the loops (and in LOUD as well) there is a hint of classical minimalism in the keyboard repetitions. These often provide a delicate bed for the other components. On a track like Simple truth there is a musicbox looping throughout while keys push chords slowly through. Unusually Dave plays a straight guitar (described as jazz) rather than the ebow drones which appear in most other tracks. The pieces vary in length - 5 are less than 5 minutes, 3 are 7 or 8 and there are 2 long ones (11:30 and 23:30). So there is a mixture of short excursions as well as long explorations. Pacific gravity builds beautifully, a three note bass loop, over which Dave and Bryan gradually add different keyboard sounds (there are no guitars on this - thanks again, liner notes on Pureambient) - long tones, chimes, washes - building density. And all the while the bass loop loops on. Some tracks came as surprises - Hibernation was found on the tapes and Dave isn't totally sure how it formed! But is is a lovely drift. The album ends with Into blue - a long ambient piece with that trick of seeming static but being full of activity when you listen closely.

Suspend your disbelief opens LOUD, one of 8 tracks that clock in at under 4:15, with a guitar ebow solo over rapid Glassian bubbles below (which are not looped). It says the album is not really loud, anything can be cranked up, but fast. And its sensibilities stray more into the prog rock (! - see post on what is prog) in terms of the moods and structures. Passage by day is one of the resurrected from the sessions tracks - over a very fast drum loop long guitar notes slide.Another jam - A remarkable experience - has a bright percussive drum/synth loop for the guitar to wind its way through. A strange seaside organ experience underlines Sleep it off - a lovely light touch - basically all Bryan with Dave twiddling some knobs.One of the longer pieces  - Fantasia - is a wall of sounds building and layering becoming dense and complex, catching itself before chaos overtakes it. Followed by the driving wildness of Heavy water - these tracks are asking to be played loud. The density and intricate nature of the music here is amazing.

I can see why Dave remembers this collaboration with such affection - the interplay between the two musicians is subtle and delightful, creating albums which entrance, excite, intrigue and please. And like all good ambient music it avoids the unfortunate tendency of some to wander into anodyne new age territory. 

1994 is a Bindlestiff year that was recorded but not released. Dave has a plan to go through the master tapes and create an everexpanding virtual album. This would be added to as new tracks were remastered and couple eventually be enormous. While the mechanism of paying for it have to be determined (I think a track by track sale could lead to excessive credit card international costs; you could sell bundles or subscriptions: now the first albums are up I have found that Bandcamp has a basket, so you can buy an unlimited number of tracks at once.) it represents an interesting appropriation of the limitlessness of the Internet to create new music distribution models and reinvent the concept of the album (Perhaps Dave & I are members of the last generation who appreciated the aesthetics of the album (sides, sequence) and still clings to the concept of listening to an album.) 

My final point is to note that I have purchased all of the releases by Dave mentioned on the blog (other than the previously pointed to free compilations from pure ambience (link at the side)). This is not because they are cheap - 5 pounds a disk is very good value though - but because I have found (as the varied reviews across the last few months will attest) varied, exciting and interesting music which spans deep ambience through ambient guitar and into experimental/art, yeah even progressive (though what that is is debateable), rock music. At various times over the few months that I have known this music I have played different albums at different times for different reasons - and always enjoyed and appreciated it. And you can't ask for much more than that.

And another final point - for some reason I want to call them Brindlestiff but I don't know why.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dave Stafford announces first eternal album - updated + more

In an interesting development from Mr Stafford - the first of his eternal albums. These will be ever growing depositories of app driven music & of Bindlestiff's lost year (a review of 2 of their albums is coming up). 

This is one way of approaching the issue of how to get your music heard. Currently  45 tracks at 17p a go. I have discussed with Dave the option of other pricing mechanisms - as a user based in Australia I am worried that I might get an international purchase charge for each track. But it is an interesting concept that deserves exploring. 


Second album now up
Based on the music app Scape

And now the third based on nanostudio

And a fourth based on Mixtikl a generative instrument mentioned on the blog. 
I have downloaded a few tracks and so here goes
first - my concern re multiple charges is fine as Bandcamp allows you to put tracks in a basket and then pay for them at once - way to go.

  • Fairlight pro - I have listened to a few and downloaded 3. These have a bit of the feel of Dave experimenting with, exploring and enjoying the app. They are quirky little moody pieces. I have three longer ones and they hold together well
  • Scape - these are great pieces of music - Scape is a quality product. If you own it you may not want to download these (I haven't) as you have access to the original instrument. But for people who don't, these are fabulous Eno-ish (not surprisingly) minimal ambient. And I can see if I wanted to play some scape type pieces & didn't have my iPad handy they would be good.
  • Nanostudio - I picked 4 tracks - longer ones - and here Dave is closer to his general ambient side. A mix of slow burning tracks (slow, slower) but also some with beats in them. 
  • Mixtikl - absolutely brilliant slow drone ambience. I tasted a couple briefly and then immediately downloaded all available tracks. Demonstrates the power of the app & the skill of the musician. 
The pricing is partly track length related (one 5 second track is free or a bit, shorter pieces ar 17p longer ones 30p - or more) and generally good value. The pick and choose is great - I am more attracted to the nanostudio than the fairlight, but enjoy them all.

Monday, June 24, 2013

What is Prog

Classifying anything is an interesting exercise, and one I discuss with my students. We have, for example, columnar and cuboidal epithelium - these are defined by their classical examples (and look like the names suggest) and yet there is a continuum - slightly taller cuboidal epithelium, shorter columnar, through to something which is midway between the two. If you tracked down through the trachea an into the lungs you would move from pseudostratified columnar to columnar to cuboidal and finally to squamous. And you probably wouldn't (until that last) find a sudden change, but rather a gradual change and shortening. But we like to put things in boxes.

And I am no less a creature of that than anyone else - have used various terms over time and also been unsure what grindcore and other dance forms I hear about are.

So prog rock?

In some ways it is defined by what it spawned - punk was a reaction to it. A blog by Dave Stafford, a purchase of Porcupine Tree and an article about them all made me wonder what it is.

Of the groups I listen to some are core prog rock: King Crimson, Genesis, Yes and ELP; Jethro Tull are often put in there as well, as are Pink Floyd. And, as I say Porcupine Tree (I bought a live double album by them becaise I kept reading the name, Steve Wilson is remastering KC and the money actually went to charity). So what might they have in common?

Complex instrumentation - yes, they all have more that guitar, bass and drums: though some only a little beyond that: Tull in its later incarnation won the hard rock grammy and never really got into strings or much synth; Porcupine Tree sound like a standard rock combo to me; throw the Beatles into prog if this is the criteria. The others, OK - and also showing classical training (you can't go much beyond staging Pictures at an exhibition!)

Extended song cycles: KC's only real one was the second side of Lizard. But Cat Stevens had the Foreigner Suite, The Incredible String Band is playing here at the moment & the first album of theirs I got (from my sister) was U. And is Dark side really a suite or some songs held together by intertrack stuff? I might accept longer average track length, moving away from simple songs.

High level musicianship - which includes a whole lot of other people. Is 10CC prog rock?

Bloated overstretching: KC was never bloated, and I don't think Tull was. ELP went along way on that line, as did Yes. But again I don't think they were orphans here. 

Lyric directions - a fair bit of teen angst (but that is rock more broadly), some science fiction mystical stuff (again, so what), paranoia: but again we could be in the realm of a whole host of bands.

Cover art - Roger Dean and Hipgnosis scream prog rock: but they also did covers for other genres and forms (books, advertising) but they perhaps create a bit of the aura.

Perception of their audience - they recognise that their audience is willing to countenance complex and long pieces of music, that they trust the artist enough to give them something different, to try new directions and to travel with them (although not always happily [I still have mixed feelings about the Beat KC]). But again, this is not just prog. Bowie, the Beatles, Eno, Bill Nelson to more or lesser extents (off the top of my head) have trodden different pathways: not just one album (like Neil Young's Trans, which I happen to love) but regularly to some extent (I don't have enough Yes to really tell). And let's not mention Miles Davis (oh, I just did).

In the end it's hard to see what these bands have in common to be called prog - let alone others I have only really read about (Van der graaf, Focus, and many more). If you lay the factors over each other there isn't really a set that says this is prog to me. 

Reflecting on it, perhaps if we say for each of these groups 'who are they like' that gives an answer to the key prog rock artists: they aren't really like anyone else. They may have imitators - and when they stop sounding unique they go off (Tull around Rock Island). They become just another rock band (and often a bad one: ELP during and after Works). 10CC isn't progressive because it was working within the accepted song format.

So, I think I think that Progressive in terms of rock music primarily denominates groups that extended - progressed - rock into new different and exciting areas including outside the song format (why Bowie and the Beatles aren't prog). Which is why I probably wouldn't put Tull in that camp. And now it has come to cover anyone who works within the tropes established by those prog pioneers.

Or maybe I am just an old man reflecting what was the main music of my youth.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

TIMR 16: ...i listen to roden's book

I am slowly circling round my Roden obsession. Eventually to present it, but here is something else of his in my room. 

It is interesting that my two favorite artists collect postcards. Tom Phillips' a postcard century is a great extract from his collection containing 20 cards for each year from 1900 to 1999 - including their text. Roden also collects - though primarily original photocards with an often musical bent. These have often  appeared on his blog (link at side). |

In addition he gathers old singles - in all denominations - musical, spoken, self recorded, flexidisks - whatever. Again some have appeared on the blog or in a radio show he curated. 

Last year the two came together in a book published by dust-to-digital, an imprint that specializes in resurrecting old musics.

... i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces (music in vernacular photographs 1880-1955) is a beautiful book. Through nearly 200 pages we are presented with a wonderful array of photographs of people related to music in various ways: playing, collecting, advertising, amateurs or professionals (players and photographers). Most are black and white, sepia in various tones. Some are damaged, other faulty, annotated. 

Each picture tells a story, but usually one we don't know and which we try and tell ourselves. The book can be wandered through at random, imagining the world around them. Roden has curated his collection carefully - as you go through there a periods of theme: machines, relaxed guitarists, holding a stringed instrument, families, music horns. But these swiftly disappear and smaller and larger themes echo through. There is very little text - a thoughtful introduction and well chosen quotes. The pictures are able to stand alone.

Embedded in the inside covers are the two disks. Again, a seemingly random selection of tracks from his esoteric collection. Cohering around various sound effects, there are home recordings, folk songs, spirituals, country, blues: crackling music that comments very obliquely on the photographs.

The images and sounds here are far from the music of Roden's oeuvre or the images that are available on his website or catalogues (or for those lucky enough to see/hear his works live). What we have is a glimpse of the broader life of the artist (together with his blog) which allows us to see (I originally wrote understand, but that is unrealistic) a more three dimensional artist.

And as well as that it is a beautiful book - solid, robust and wonderfully produced. The, as does Amazon. It is money well spent

Thursday, June 13, 2013

TIMR 15: a box of singles

This box is a perfect size for what in many ways is/was a perfect medium - the 7" single.

And inside I have:

  • steve roden: one stone
  • Taming Power releases 1 (selected works 1996-97) and 13 (Fragments of the name of god)
  • Early morning records (Askild Haugland's) 2 compilations of experimental music
  • Muslimgauze - Hammer and Sickle, a very early release; Minaret Speaker, a lovely heavy vinyl picture disk; and Red Crescent a single sided release with etching on the non-music side
  • Buckets and Batteries self-titled release in a hand made envelope sleeve
  • Neck Doppler - Sit down backed with Straight Outta Mongolia - complications
  • Sheffield - The bridge (clear vinyl) and Barbed - Pocket reminder, both from Elevator bath
  • j.frede - isolate in a sewn cloth sleeve, an early submission for review
  • Higgins/Felipe - Proerties/ribbons and He-Pea - Falafel avantgarde, both from Public Eyesore
  • 10 releases from Drone Records before they started sending me CDs of their releases (which I don't blame them for at all, asting their precious actual vinyl releases on me). These come on a nice heavy vinyl, some coloured - I have blue with green highlights,orange with black,picture disk, puke green, clear red, clear, clear with yellow highlights, and of course black.
Also in here, because it came in a faux 7" cover is an ambient collection - The walls are whispering - that steve roden sent me.

So why when 99% of my vinyl and my record player is in the roof do I have these here? Because like all the things in my room they mean something to me. It could be who/how I got them, the fact they remind me of the generosity of labels and artists to reviewers, of the time when my reviews seem to have engulfed part of my life but also were appreciated by artists and readers, and because they are more than just 7" pieces of vinyl: they have colours and packaging which make them collectible to me. Below, unidentified, are some of them (either covers or disks) - on the right are 8 of the Drone releases, the left has a goodly selection of the other disks in order if you want to try & identify them).

Monday, June 10, 2013

TIMR 14: music collection

These are pictures of some of my music collection.  My main in-room cd selection can be seen in the banner - there are more in my roof. But these contain my digital collection and subsets which are what I mainly play from. 

Here, on the back of my desk, beside the Shinjuku Thief collected box is my main hard drive. 1Tb, my second drive, has everything I have digital and want to keep - self recorded vinyl, purchased mp3 and ripped CDs, downloads from the web (mainly from web labels). My first (smaller) drive is at work with a selection of the music - it is a bit frustrating at times when recent acquisitions or genres aren't there - but I can live with that. 

My main organizing principle is genre - I use it to group net labels (stasisfield or zeromoon are genres for example) or real labels (accretions, dorobo) or artists with a lot of representation (steve roden, muslimgauze, miles davis, taming power) & then all my own genres (such as electropop, ambient, environminimal, beaty, NZ, Nordic etc) to give a total of 107 genres for my 42736 items in 302Gb. 

And here, sitting on my pioneer sound system are three of my players. On the left my iPhod - my original 3GS phone which served me well as a phone, even after I killed the camera taking pictures in the rain, but has become effectively a touch once I upgraded to the 4. It's not pictured here, cause I use it to take the pictures, but it is part of my portable paraphernalia - it has a small memory so I just have a few artists that can provide instant solace - eno, roden, fripp, stafford. 

The old iPod doesn't get much use - its battery isn't charging but I've put some netlabels and harder stuff on it for those times you need an extreme. 

And then there is my Mambo X - my first player. I bought it because iPods were expensive and tied to iTunes and DRM. I looked at a lot of options & got this one because it had a line in with the ability to record. And my collection started by ripping CDs in soundjam but also hooking this up to my amp via the earphone jack and recording. It was lo bitrate, sometimes distorted (had to re record) and always a full side of vinyl. But despite that some of those recordings are still listened to parts of my collection. The Mambo sadly is of historic value only - the battery failed and the power jack got loose & wouldn't charge - and it's probably not worth getting fixed. Plus the folders/file interface was a little tedious!

Sitting on my kitchen sound system is the iPod classic - 120GB of the mainstreamish sort of stuff I can play in the 'public' areas of the house. It's probably the one I'll take away with me. 

And there is another one - an iPod touch which carol uses mainly for some podcasts. As my iPad is a work machine I have a few music apps (the Brian Eno range, figure, glassworks, mixtikl), but don't use it for storing or playing music. 

Sometime (most times) I think I have too much music. I remember the days when I only had a few albums and knew them all - and I can still sing the songs in my head. But while the choice can be overwhelming at times, I do like the thought of all the wonderful and varied music I can hold and listen to from these devices. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Dave Stafford (3) Transitory

OK - the next in my series of Dave Stafford reviews - the why & wherefore are listed in the beforeposts.


I bought this one on Dave's advice - Gone Native diverges from his 'signature' looping period, from which he suggested this.  And more recent correspondence has confirmed this as his favorite. 

Again there are extensive liner notes on line, so I can say this was created under some constraints. The pieces were made sequentially and independently; the first side was allowed to take time while the second half were to be made quickly; one word titles. The result is a lovely ambient loop album which doesn't suffer at all from the loss of post production track sequencing, where the quality doesn't drop in the second more intuitively performed works and the tracks have one word titles. (To be honest I would only call this a constraint if the words were picked first & the music written to suit them.)

We open with a string quartet sample at the centre of Circa, the guitar waltzing through and its gentle swooping reminds me of The Sinking of the Titanic in its reflection of nostalgia.

Then Raga, long held notes over Indian percussive loop. It builds and cycles, entrancing and eternal.  And then in what I think is one of his few missteps it ends - bang. No fade. This was a conscious decision to alert us to prepare for a new track. I just thought perhaps the download was truncated. I am still shocked by it each time I play the album.  A few tracks do it. 

While many of the tracts are like perpetuum mobile, Quartet slips between a drone and string-woodlike loops, dropping the drone for sections or with staccato breaks. Again a sudden end, but more fitting. 

Pulsar is a reverb cloud of spacey shards, as the name would suggest, while Arena is swooping ebow layers. This ends the first 'side.

Exert a short surging peaceful guitar loop/shimmer with a hymnal feel opens side 2.The organ tones of Vivid maintain the mood with a stately ebow with some almost subliminal orchestral samples. This is a subtle and deceptively simple track of which Dave is understandably proud. 

We are then Awash. A white noise is placed under loops that slither between guitar organ and voice tones. A nice twist is that by relooping the loops a decay is added to the mix. Relatively, perhaps deceptively, simple Pelican is a beautiful slow ebow tides.

The album ends with the longest (10+) piece - Wind. The flip to the indian mood of Rags, this has a Celtic air. A pipe-like loop swirls upwards in a layered loop before it trips and drops with a speedy little dance. 

A bonus track - Round - is added, but more of a bookend as it is 'merely' Circa backwards. It is faded in slowly and as it comes out of the darkness it is surprisingly recognizable, suggesting that the components that build it are quite symmetric with minimal attack or decay, but enough to give the track a strange familiarity. It drops away, returns and finally faded. 

It is fascinating that an album of loops ends with a track that loops back to the beginning. Dave could have claimed this was always his plan, buy admits the serendipity that is behind this satisfying structure. 

This is a beautiful ambient album which Dave places among his best and I would consider among the best ambient albums. It reminds you how great music is being produced around the world which is often found by luck - if I hadn't commented on his blog on Scape I wouldn't have found this music. 

I have one more album I want to review, mainly because it is another different side of Stafford & I want to indicate his breadth. But it won't be the last album of his I buy.