Tuesday, April 30, 2013

TIMR 9: eno box sets

The Eno CD box sets: released in 1993 they come in a nicely designed box from Russell Mills reflecting Eno's interest in soft-porn playing cards and 50s images. And also with ready made coffee stains and cigarette burns.

They weren't Eno's first box. Working backwards 1983-1973 was a vinyl collection of 11 albums that included a couple of rarities: an EP with singles (RAF and 7 deadly finns) and some instrumental tracks. And music for films 2. Luckily for me (who had all the main albums) Impact records in Canberra broke the sets up, so I could buy the missing disks and the box.

This set was rumoured for a while, and was going to be called Familiar strange and Strange familiar (as in making the familiar strange - an oblique strategy). But eventually there were called I and II, or Instrumental and Vocal.

Instrumental has Music for Films 1 and 2, a couple of tracks from Another green world and Before and after science on disk one, collaborations (such as Fripp, Budd, Bowie or Cluster) on disk 2 and long Eno pieces on 3 (some in edit).

Vocal has almost all of the four 'song' albums across the first 2 disks (with some frustrating omissions) and the singles, then the third disk is again collaborations (Cale, Cluster, Byrne) and the grabber - some tracks from My squelchy life - the almost released album which circulated in review copies but was then pulled. Some tracks were reworked for Nerve net - but this was a sought after item at the time.

The material was reproduced using Sony's Super-bit mapping - to give higher fidelity 20 bit sound instead of the standard 16 bit on most CDs. Wow!

But it was great to get all of this on CD. The quality control on some aspects of the packaging was iffy: I remember I had to return one disk which was duplicated, and it was probably made harder in the plants because the screen-printing on the disks seemed to put I or II almost randomly (2 of the disks in Box II have ENO I on them). So enough rarities, better production, plus the fantastic content. A great pair of boxes.

This link to discogs has some nice images of Eno Box I to give you a better idea!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

TIMR 8: talking heads

This is the one that almost got away.

When we lived in Canberra a godsend was Impact Records - back in those glorious days of independent record stores that imported albums. Their selection was great and every year there was the Impact sale where you could pick up things to try and delight in - especially 12" single - there are many in the loft from there. I would buy anything from Factory (single or album), things I had sort of heard of, ones which looked interesting, and then the must haves like Bill Nelson's Das Kabinet and La Belle et La Bete. And of course buying stuff in the not sale - my first Severed Heads for eaxmple (The Big Bigot, aus version with free 12").

One day there was the latest Talking Heads. Speaking in Tongues. But it was a premium price. Why? Because of the Robet Rauschenberg cover.

The album comes in a clear plastic container - not a sleeve. The disk itself is clear vinyl (I bought a YMO cause it was on red, my favourite Jona Lewie is on blue). But the killer is three plastic disks printed in red, blue and yellow which sit in the sleeve - transparent red and yellow above the album, blue below. The blue has album details which can be rread from the back. But the main impression is from the front where the colours overlap, blur with the album, have elements which align but others which don't - which altogether give a unique impression and a Rauschenberg artwork to own.

Couldn't afford it. And when I could it had gone. So along with PiL's Metal Box it was a missed opportunity. Yes I still had the music (with this a cassette which had some extended plays, and the double album Second Edition from PiL). But...

Until, through our connection via Muslimgauze, I saw that Terry Bennett had a copy for exchange. Which I jumped at and am now the happy owner of.

When looking at Ebay etc I am surprised about how relatively cheaply you seem to be able to find these. I can't fathom why.

The plastic sleeve is starting to yellow with age, I've never played the disk, but it is a wonder.

Friday, April 26, 2013

DGM live

In TIMR 5 I mentioned the record label Robert Fripp set up DGM - Discipline Global Mobile which reflect the philosophies of the organisation: discipline which is something essential to guitar craft and the Bennett/Guerdjieff teachings, global obviously and mobile being able to respond quickly.

It was started in 1992  to circumvent issues with copyright and distribution which have plagued Fripp like many musicians. In the first phase it release disks from King Crimson and spin offs and solo albums, Fripp, various of his interregnum groups (League of Gentlemen, Sunday All over the World), various guitar craft combinations and an expanding roster of related acts. The physical side of the label seems to have been dwindling of late, most energy seeming to be focussed on the ongoing rerelease of anniversary King Crimson editions

In 1998 they started the started the Collector's club: initially a subscription service and then individually purchased CDs of live concerts. And this is still going.

However, DGM have also embraced the idea of downloads quite dramatically - some have said to fuel Fripp's desire to see everything he ever recorded being released, but probably more significantly to beat the bootleggers (and in fact overwhelm them) and to meet the desire of fans for live recordings.

I first went over to the DGM live website a few years ago when I read about a live Fripp/Eno recording - it was of a bootlegged Paris recording from 1975: 3 disks, one of which is background and test loops. One advantage DGM have over the bootleggers is that their engineers (particularly david Singleton) work on any available recording (including master tapes, desk tapes, cassettes, bootlegs) to retrieve the best sound and the maximum concert. Usually these are terrific, but you are warned of poor quality. Anyway, the Fripp and Eno is fantastic - I had had a tape recording of someone's vinyl bootleg but this was great.

A bit later I bought the final Fripp & Eno recording, the Cotswalds Gnomes, which was a combination of sketches, outtakes and tracks from their career: a nice collection of various curiosities.

When David Bowie's new album came out there were reports that Fripp had leaked the secret recordings, because in his diary on DGM he had mentioned a dream he had had of working with Bowie. He had not in fact been asked to play - and would have considered it even though he has withdrawn from creating music. This intrigued me so I did some searching and found that yes he had withdrawn - the ongoing legal battles (culminating in the rap ripoff of 21st century schizoid man where the sample was used without his knowledge or permission). A great pity.

But, for me it reintroduced me to DGMlive, and as it was around Christmas when you get access to money and segueing into my birthday, I have been rather excessive in my purchases.

The site contains a variety of concerts

  • Frippertronic sets from the 70s and 80s where the base tracks (some of which were on albums such as God Save The Queen) have often been reunited with their subsequent solos.
  • Soundscape concerts from the mid 80s to the most recent available 2006
  • Some free soundscape soundworks from 2005 and 2006
  • King Crimson and Project concerts
  • Fripp with others such as Travis, Slow Music, the League

And the number is huge - the search is good but I had to page through all the Fripp related releases (which includes KC) to find the soundscapes which I have now made a spreadsheet of.

Now, I have never been a big live album person - I will and have bought ones from my favourite artists but have few if any bootlegs. And one or two from various stages of their careers seems to do me (eg the Bowie various live CD and DVD {though I don't actually watch the DVD, I rip the soundtrack and listen to that} or KC across the various combinations) so the collectors club didn't really interest me.

But the soundscapes are different - I bought all the albums when they came out & have recently got the last 2 physical releases. As the output of one person focussed on that moment, each is different. And from the DGM selection I have bought a large number (Ok - count the concerts: somewhere over 35 not including 4 free sculptures and some short excerpts). And also four concerts from Projekct Six - Fripp and Belew - because while Belew is not a great favourite of mine he is on electronic drums and Fripp solos over that magnificently.

The main reason I have bought so many is that each is different - even when they are consecutive nights the themes and responses change and develop; and there are changes across time.

However another reason is DGM's excellent pricing policy. There are 2 aspects. First, related to the length of the concert. Shows which were less than 35 minutes or so (usually when Fripp was a support act) are $7, regular length is $10 and a few where he was in residence for an extended period are about $14. But the real sucker-innerer is the tour sets. The first ones I bought were a series of churchscapes in the UK and you got something like 6 for $20; a recent upload of the nordic start to that tour was $16 for 6. So it makes sense if you like them to buy a whole tour - for the projekct tour I wasn't really sure but it was only 4 concerts and getting the 4 was only slightly more than buying one to try (which I did with the 1981 tour, but as that was 12 concerts it wasn't too bad). But the Projekct set has become a favourite.

Most of these have not been released as CDs (though on now is At the end of time, a CD from the Churchscape tour, much of which can be purchased across a few concerts) and some old CDs now out of print are available. Surprsingly not all concerts that are sampled on CDs like Live in the USA are available as downloads

This music is so magical, sublime, varied, exciting, relaxing that any one concert has much to recommend it - I might not play all 12 concerts from June 2004 in a row, but slowly I am recognising each's distinctive features. I don't regret getting any of them - but have probably paused for the moment!

Also, the site has something called Stormy Monday's selection where an engineer goes through and selects a track or two that may be of historic interest - a KC rehearsal, something from the Vicar, a Fripp outtake - these are available for free download for a couple of weeks, and then removed, eventually to become a 2 'disk' download (to buy). I have been following this year and putting together an interesting and eclectic collection.

(NB all prices are for MP3, FLAC is also available for a little more
The images are randome ones from a couple of concerts)

prepublishing update: last week a new set of concerrts from 1983 was augmented: there were three and now there is a set of 22 for about $70. Relatively short concerts but most (haven't paged through them all) include a 'lecture' by Fripp.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

TIMR 7: roden catalogues

steve roden will crop up a few times across this series. If I had to pick a favourite all round artist it would be him. I find his music sublime, but also appreciate his work in the broadly defined plastic arts. These are three catalogues I have which to some degree cover both. (I have restricted myeself to catalogues of exhibitions rather than CDs of installations which often include a booklet)

First, translations & articulations, a small brochure (1997 - griffin contemporary exhibitions, Venice Ca) bought, as you might guess, from Peril. There are a couple of essays and reproductions of some of the works in the exhibition. And there is also a cd to accompany it, which is what attracted me at this early stage, when steve was primarily music to my mind. The images show at this stage the range of steve's art - thre are sculptures, drawings donme withNot Wheels stencils, spidery additions and text to alphabet cards and colourful paintings. And an essay on his video work. The music included is of space enclosed by planes or surface, and my review from years ago:
When I first heard Of Space... at Peril it sounded like someone moving furniture about upstairs, but there is probably a more subtle source! Anyway, a slow echoing drag-noise, bumping like a microrecording of a match strike, forms the ground loop for this piece. After some 5 minutes it is joined by a repeating synth line and hollow bass, and these elements, together with some minimal percussive components, weave their way around each other for the remainder of this 22 minute disc, ending in a long slow fade as the music disappears from our aural environment.'
Fast forward to 2010 and two exhibitions, a retrospective and new work. when words becomes forms was at the Pomona College at the end of the year and  features new work - in two parts. First, an installation called bowrain - a construction where steve 'translated' a small drawing of Buckminster Fuller's into a large structure like giant pick-up sticks based on a code he 'saw' in the original drawing, built using random processes and incorporating coloured twine, video and a soundwork in the final piece. There are pcitures here and avideo on the web. The other translation isn a series of paintings inspired by postcards accompanied by texts from Michael Ned Holte which are impressionist poems. This reminded me of Tom Phillips who has done a variety of things around repainting postcards (and also reminded me of his Works/Texts to 1974 which has paintings created in the size of the book). Steve, however, rather than reproducing them takes their essence and implies them in his work. One beauty of this catalogue is that the paintings are small and reproduced in actual size. The colours, lines, brushstrokes are all there to see - and the catalogue includes a wrap around which reproduces small versions of the originals.

And there was also an extensive retrospective in between (a 20 year survey) at the Armory Centre for the Arts in Pasadena that stretched into 2011, and which had another lovely catalogue. Here there is a sample of art from across various periods of roden's career from 1990 to 2010 to be sampled and savoured - not life size but the flavour of the range of his works is apparent from drawings through to paintings and sculptures, textual pieces to video stills. It also has a CD accompanying it which has 3 excerpts from installations in 1999, 2004 and 5 and a piece from 2010. These are, as usual, excellent pieces which are disappointing only in their length. blinking lights at night developed from a recording of the rhythms of lights on a bay and recorded on a 7" which can be heard is only 4 minutes, there is 10 minutes of translation which is lines and spaces (to be covered later). duet, which was at the show is the longest at 11 minutes. And observatory, which was also at the show, is 7:28 that makes you want more, as a soundwork based on recordings including natural ones that makes you want it to just keep going.

One of the many regrets in my life is that I haven't seen a steve roden installation or exhibition, nor beento a concert. Books, images from the web, CDs and MP3s (the 4hrs 45minutes of the Soundwalk show is mesmeric) will have to be it unless he gets here or I get to one of the many places in the world (which are not Australia) that he gets to.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dave Stafford (2) Dreamtime and Sky Full of Stars

In my ongoing introduction to the works of Dave Stafford, 2 more albums - I am not reviewing in either chronological order, nor the order of my discovery, but rather in pairs that work together. These two albums belong together in my mind for structural and musical reasons, as well as being recent releases. 

We'll start with Dreamtime which is actually by Scorched by the sun and was released in January this year through bandcamp. SBTS is Dave Stafford with Bryan Helm - and while this is the first release by this 'group' Stafford and Helm go way back to 1989 where as alumni of guitar craft they formed The dozey lumps and Luxury yacht (1 album a piece) but more significantly formed Bindlestiff which released 6 albums in the 90s. These albums are well sampled on the 2 free pureambient compilations available on the site, and vary in ambience and intensity, but all very listenable. 

For various reasons there was a musical hiatus, but eventually Bryan sent Dave a link to a site with 12 pieces in it (as noted by David Byrne in his book, transcontinental collaborations are now able to spawn news ways of working). The basis for an album! When he started to work on the pieces, adding his layers, Dave initially fell back on his role as the guitarist in the duo (Bryan was keyboards) but it didn't work. And then he realised that his m-tron mellotron e-synth would work perfectly. He then set to work adding his parts (he has hinted that a bonus release of his and Bryan's components) to the 12 tracks, all bar some piano on the first part, played using the m-tron; then adding a mellotron solo in the middle of the album, and mixing the tracks so that the 11 'seams' are, while not invisible, at least not obvious and so the track unfolds as a single mutating and modulating piece. And it does work very well - this is true furniture-music {coincidence - while looking at the pureambient site I came across a single of a cover of Bill Nelson's furniture music: my reference here was of course to the original Satie quote} ambient where you can have it as background music but that repays closer listening. The album opens with an active ambient piece and closes with vocal tones singing a melody to layered synths. In between there are layers of drones and loops, notes and sounds drift through the mix - a descending riff, a call, some atonal, edgy loops - a mellotron flute, the satisfying intermission solo. And while each is part is an ambient gem, as they are sewn together to make a complex quilt the album becomes a complete experience that is more than the sum. Other than for musicological reasons, or that old faithful completism, I don't think the two halves of the album should be released as it is the combination that works (my first though was, hey yeah, that could be interesting, but I changed my mind).

Fast backwards to 2011 and Dave releases Sky Full of Stars. This was my fourth purchase, bought because it was described as a mellotron album - all keyboards (and bought before Dreamtime). While many of his releases are guitar/loop based I seem to be jumping about sampling his whole range (the looping will be in the next review). But when I first played it I was a little confounded - I had expected Epitaph-like flute or choral tones, the sort of things that bought 60s & 70s progrock to life! But here were long held tones layered, building density and texture. And then I was dumbfounded as, as I said to Dave in a two word review, it is simply beautiful. What the synth retains from the original is a warmth and depth of tone - and apparently you can recapture the sound of the original as Dave has used those on Dreamtime and Gone native. These pieces almost glow, and I have played them through my sound system to gain the full value from the tones. In New day dawning the deep resonances give a solid quality to the sounds. Elsewhere the tones pulse, drift, ring and just sing: there is also a sense of stately majesty throughout the album. There are tunes - The other half of your soul has a melody dancing slowly over the drones - and long evolving pieces (the title track is almost 18minutes based around some delightful backward tones - the shorter pieces tend to be more active). But if you like tonal drifting keyboard ambience with occasional pulsing, you will love this: as with many great albums it is really indescribable. Other than Simply beautiful

Saturday, April 20, 2013

TIMR 6: taming power tapes

A shelf of cassettes - 40 altogether.

In 2003 I received my first (unsolicited) package from Askild Haugland, from Norway, accompanied by a personally typed letter. It was one of the many pleasures of reviewing that people entrusted their music to me, and that I got the opportunity to be regularly surprised.

Askild records as Taming Power and releases on his own Early Morning Records. Except for a couple of compilation 7" records, all the material on the label has come from Askild,  and I think (again, except for a compilation) this is the sole media for Taming Power.

Since then I have had the privilege of getting all of the Taming Power releases. It includes these 40 tapes and 19 vinyl disks (7", 10" and 12"). The only CD is a promotional copy of a compilation TP appeared on. So why is this important to me?

Before talking about the music there are some aspects that underlie the appeal of Taming Power:
First, the adherence to 'old' technology resonates with me - you are limiting your audience but being true to yourself. Some of the cassettes were editions of 12 and up to 20. With trhe vinyl the issues have got larger partly reflecting the economic realities of disk production, and unfortunately that has also made it harder to Askild to keep releasing material.
Then there is the look - EMR has a house design based on Askild's writing, layout and (in mnay cases) photography.Vinyl releases have images which until the last few were pasted onto the front and back. The back cover includes details of the recordings and the instruments. In the cassette days, again the covers were individually designed (you can't tell in the photo, but the spines of each release have a different calligraphic-like work on them. The inside cover has all the details again. Inside the folded cover, though is a set of images (the same size as the cover) like a small pack of cards. For EMR cassette release #1 (1997) this include forests, a bird of paradise, B&W reproductions of colonial photos and electronics diagrams. In #39 (2001) the cover folds out with images of a glass roof and the inserts are processed colour photos. Other releases have Askild's drawings, more photography and found images. (Tape 40 is a later compilation of outtakes from EMR 10"-010)
Finally; I noted the details on the back - an Askild is meticulous in documenting his works. They are tape looped pieces and for each we know the instruments and equipment used, and also the dates for the final master and the components that have been used to make it . These have got more detailed over time: so on EMR 10"-005 the tracks are simply named by their date (eg 3-5 on side 1 are all 4-10-1998) by 10"-010 each of the tracks on side 2 has 2 dates (eg 17-9-01VII/9-7-02IV) indicated record and mix dates. The most recent (EMR 2x12" - 018: a double album, and you may have noticed the catlogue number includes the media size) has tracks like the third on side 3 where there are 3 dates in the title, but then a complex, bracketted list of 17 dates/recordings which led to the final 26-6-09. I have to admire and respect someone who has this focus on their music making.

So - the music. The various releases come in two naming formats: one is basically descriptive Six pieces, Selected works 1992-98, Autumn works 2002. But others are more specifically descriptive For electric guitar and tape recorders, 16 movements for electric guitar.(Some vinyl are rereleases of cassette material)

And this is what really impresses me about Askild. He has used tape recorders and cassette recorders as tools and instruments and found a way of working with them, using his guitar and a developing array of other instruments (the radio, resonant bowls, casiotones, the voice). The resulting oeuvre is surprisingly varied within the selfimposed constraints. There are guitar solos with a classic simplicity of melody line, complex layered and looped pieces that develop a drone ambience, passages of noise, guitar pieces that are layered and modulated through the tape (no effects other than distortion and delay): in short a voice that is distinctive and also very satisfying. I have (I am afraid) digitised the lot and can happily put on any of them and enjoy the works. And can happily recommend (and have) any or all of them.

And as I sit here the tapes are down to my left, the records are behind me, and a selection of images that Askild sent me separately sit in a frame on the bookcase, changed regularly.

But the final thing, why the collection gets on this list, is that I think I am the only person (or one of a maximum of 12 people, based on the smallest tape release) who has a complete collection of this material. I am humbled to realise that Askild was willing to send halfway round the world not only the original releases on vinyl for review, but then entrust the cassette collection to me.

Taking the sentiment from the start of this further, since the early days of the internet which I was lucky enough to be part of (I remember FTP, the text based pages, the first browsers with images and the massive growth since) the connections between people in disparate parts of the world sharing information, music, passions has been amazing. This collection - along with others that will pop up on TIMR remind me of these long distant friendships and interactions

Thursday, April 18, 2013

TIMR 5: soundscape posters

Another of the musicians that has been active throughout my listening life.

Jeff Howard sold me a second hand copy of In the court of the crimson king. I would love to say I was hooked, but I wasn't. I enjoyed it, but Moonchild confused/bored me. I think I bought Groon when it came out, cause it was cheap, and was put off less by the awful sound than by the improvisations. As far as I remember the next step was Larks tongue in aspic, bought for me by my sister. And this did it for me - I was the right age, had listened to enough varied music to get it, an it hooked me. I went back and bought the intervening albums: I still am ambivalent about In the wake of poseidon, love the songs, extended cycle on side 2 and the cover of Lizard and think Islands is great (though Ladies of the road is a bit cringeworthy in its lyrics). And of course worked forward through Starless and bible black, Red and USA. The same sister bought me The great deceiver.

King Crimson went quiet and I followed Fripp through the work with Eno, the solo albums of Frippertronics, releases with Andy Summers, Exposure, League of Gentlemen. Loved them all,

Then came the next Crimson, and I bought all the albums, but was not really into - I still sing some of the songs to myself, but have never got digital copies. I think it is Adrian Belew's vocals but am not sure (I will have to get copies and retry). 

But I have continued to follow Fripp. In the nineties Discipline Global Mobile started up - Fripp's own label. I used it to keep up with his developing soundscape series, new King Crimson, the four disk Epitaph set, the Project box set, crafty guitars and more. Releases featuring Fripp always included fascinating essays about music and the music industry.

Around the turn of the millenium I lost contact with some music - I didn't buy David Bowie at that time. I think I was so focussed on the new music coming through the reviewing stream I didn't have the time or energy to keep up with old friends. As posted earlier I am right up with Bowie now, have bought the two 2000s Soundscape CDs & will post about where DGM is now.

But from that 90s period on my wall (the only things other than the Eno/Schmidt prints) are three posted released at the same time as the box 1995 Soundscapes live. The covers to the soundscape albums are (often) these horizontal abstracts that for me evoke misty beaches and are gorgeous. I would have bought them anyway, but this set was signed (in silver) by Robert Fripp. I am not an autograph hunter, but this makes a beautiful set more special.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

TIMR 4: ryuichi sakamoto playing the orchestra

There are not many albums I have bought primarily for the packaging. Most of my 'treasures' were music I wanted anyway (Muslimgauze, Dorobo, Tull, Eno).

I will admit to buying Horses on the basis of Mapplethorpe's cover image of Patti Smith (and the reviews) as the picture intrigued me & what I heard of the music in the record store booth I wasn't sure about.

Darrin sold me some stuff on the basis of the music and the packaging - Aube Metal de metal and then Seton, though by then I was enjoying the music. Chopshop lead and metal cover on Smolder, the mesh of Tension, charge, discharge or Gunter/Wehowsky triple 3" Un ocean de certitude. Or John Wall's albums. But it was primarily on the basis of his advice.

This box I bought just because it was beautiful.

I knew about Sakamoto from various directions, including the soundtracks, but didn't own any of the releases. I saw this in a shop in Brighton (Melbourne) in the window, at not much above normal CD price as I recall. The box is designed to look like weathered paint. There is a false base with beads in it, so that it rattles. Taking off the lid you see the two layers of card that look like wooden constructs with rice paper that has been pierced in each 'window'. Lift this out and the main CD in a slimline case is on the bottom. The box has sections which resemble wrapping paper as well as the weathered paint.

But there is also a 3" CD - hidden inside the lid, held in place by four of the wooden (card) struts. The liner notes continue the theme of the wooden struts. The pictures below are from an even rarer Japanese edition which has a second 3" disk. What you can see here is 
top left - the base of the box
bottom left - the inside of the box with inserts and rice paper holes
top middle - the lid
bottom middle - inside of the lid, with the extra cd
right top - the liner notes
right bottom - the main disk
(far right - extra 3" CD in this Japanese issue

I did take a picture myself but this one does it more justice (my aim is to mainly use the amateurish pictures taken in my room - so I might add it below)

As far as the music goes, well it is a colection of orchestral soundtrack pieces and is as good or bad as you'd expect that to be - I have other albums by him and play them more often.

But I never regret that this one did not get away, unlike PiL's Metal Box or Talking Heads' Speaking In Tongues (but more about that later)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bowie's back

Surprisingly, at the moment Bowie can't feature in TIMR, because he isn't in any special way. I have some CDs, some downloads (and a couple of eBooks) and DVDs that together add up to his recorded output plus a couple of bootleg concerts and compilations (Toy, Scary Monsters outtakes) with only the Serious Moonlight DVD to get. But none of them are THINGS in the personal definition of this series. (That will be changed soon when the catalogue for David Bowie Is arrives from Amazon - interestingly Amazon is the vendor for the V&A exhibition, but the book is more expensive if you buy it via the V&A rather than Amazon directly [which is subtly referenced in the title of this post])

That all said, the music is more important than any physical things (though I hope their stories are interesting) and Bowie has been part of my musical life since he started. I remember Chris Kendricks playing me what is really the first Bowie album, selftitled or Space Oddity in his room, taping it (of course) and following him on and off since then. Low we know about, saw the Stages tour at Randwick racecourse with terrible echo from the stands, bought Lust for life and The idiot on the back of Bowie (love them both), enjoyed the peaks and troughs to varying levels (Let's dance wasn't that bad), was pleased to see the resurgence through Buddha, Outside (not sure about it - I think he was trying too hard), Earthling and on.

And thought that when he seemed to go into retirement that a fabulous career had wound up leaving a fantastic legacy of his own music and that which he had influenced.

So I shared the excitement and concern when I woke up and heard there was a new single. I was sure he had managed things since getting his rights back that this wouldn't be a 'do it for the money return', and it was a new album not a 'let's do a hit album live thing' (I love Cockney Rebel and have collected them and Steve Harley, but the Psychomodo tour worries me - I saw Adam Ant on a recent TV appearance here and it was terribly sad; and Thick as a brick II is enjoyable but..., and you can't really blame people from reusing  and developing their successes).

I prebought the album, got the single and was amazed. A beautiful haunting memory of his time in Germany, melancholy nostalgic voice of experience. Watched the video once on You-tube and enjoyed the distancing vision. And the cover art is a clever combination of feigned humility: remove my image but you all know what it is & who I am. But I hope it didn't cost mush.

Anyway the album was delivered electronically (I didn't listen to the streaming: our bandwidth is limited and work watches like a hawk). And away I went (with some precognition based on the initial reviews).

I won't try a track by track consideration, it is too well known, but rather some random comments.

The title is a nice tweak on 'today is the first day of the rest of your life' - it is what he did on the next day. It could also be a biblical reference to Genesis, first day, second day etc.

The next day is a strong opening track, but strangely disappointing: it too clearly echoes the sound and feel of Lodger, particularly Repetition I think. So bitter sweet - is this going to be a retrospective? And while the album does recall many of Bowie's periods, I think though that it is fresh enough (and his career has always, not surprisingly, reflected its past). The Lodgerlikeness continues through the next three songs, all with great hooks: Bowie can write a great melody - perhaps I have identified the key to his longevity! (Interesting while 'researching' this piece I found a look back at Lodger that identified it as a lost album in terms of significance to the canon - maybe this album will resurrect it).

Sadly, Where are we now is not representative of the album, even slightly, which is a shame because it is a beautiful song beautifully sung (and Bowie uses the full range of his vocal styles on the album) produced with restraint (overall), and 'the moment you know you know you know' is a wonderful lyric.

I think Valentine's day is a great song, but it disturbs me. It is commented on as a song about gun violence and school shootings. But it is facile, as that is what you really can expect from a 3 minute 'pop' song; it could be ambiguous as to whether Valentine is in the speakers head or a character,  but the assumption is the first, and thus it merely posits mental disturbance as the cause.I suppose it is a hommage to the 50s & 60s Teen tragedy song a bit like 10cc Johnny don't do it but from a different perspective; but not a comment on current events.

I love the 60s psychedelia of I'd rather be high, which is more of a character study, though 'be pleading for some teenage sex' even from a character sounds odd from a person of Bowie's age! Dancing out in space is another hooky song (I am not sure if this another in the line of outerspace songs, or the dancing is in space on the dancefloor).

You feel so lonely you could die has had some good reviews as a teen angst song along the lines of Rock and roll suicide, and it is one of his big buildy ballads, climaxing, and again harks back to the 60s songs again - backing vocals and the build. the die-ie-ie-ie. But the true album closer Heat is a fascinating glimpse of where Bowie could have gone (could go?). the comparisons to Scott Walker are apt - both the lyric obscurity ('the peacock in the snow..my father ran the prison..I can only love you by hating him more' - it sounds like it is referencing something) and the fractured music. The main difference is this is one track and not a whole album, which makes it much more revisitable. And is less relatable to previous songs - some of the Brel stuff perhaps.

The instrumentation, mix, orchestrations on the album are outstanding. Again, if this is the last album it will be a great ending - but what he has done here is also again think that there could be another Bowie album. We don't need it, his reputation is set so he doeasn't need it, but if another as good as this made its way out we would be very pleased.

And bonus tracks? They are on the download and the CD. Outtakes perhaps, but in what way really bonus?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Dave Stafford (1) Gone Native

So many people making good music across the world - as with the Knife, how you find them can be serendipitous.

I came across Dave Stafford after getting Scape (the app) and wondering if anyone had posted about how it works - what are some of the decision processes. Anyway, I found the best discussion was by Dave, and over the course of a few blogs he described his developing skill and excitement with it. I commented on that blog & later ones on other related topics. Followed him on twitter. A piece he wrote on the anniversary multidisk Larks Tongue In Aspic set indicated we had similar tatse.

The he wrote a long piece on Prog Rock and I could see he was a couple of years younger than me, but his muscal taste and development were similar to mine (though he is a music maker) though he got into more diverse groups and saw more live than me. And looking at his discography I could see an homage to Consequences. More comment exchanges followed.

So I decided that I really out to buy and listen to some of his music. So I went for Gone Native, the most recent and one described as reflecting his guitar prog rock side (the title of the website/label PureAmbient gives a hint to his broader range).

So I bought the album - electronic download. While I was there I also 'bought' the 2 free compilations that pull together works primarily by Dave and some of his collaborations. I highly recommend both as giving a good taste of the diversity of his styles: in addition to looping ambience, there is crafty guitar work, prog and experimental and more.

Anyway, Gone Native immediately lets you know where it is going - the opening Thanks, frank bursts out of the speakers with a ripping guitar solo over a crackling drum and bass support. Yes, this is driving ecstatic rock. Now guitar histrionics were never really my thing with prog rock (keyboard, flute, strings maybe) but exposure to Fripp, Nelson, Oldfield broadened my interests and across the album there is a range of guitar styles and approaches so that it is not a tiring testosterone fest. What it is a joyful exploration of various forms which include guitar (and many explorations within that including loops, e-bow, different stylings - you cdan hear hints of influences, but always incorporated and refreshed through Stafford's ear and own style).

For example Caladan is a eastern baroque piece with serpent-like woodwinds, the title track opens with cello and a rhythm loop and then builds before returning;. Whatever souls are made of is more ambient, and returns with an ambient mix later, there is an eponymous guitar line in Sinuous thread, and the bass of Wettonizer is reflected of the name and has hints of King Crimson. The first part of the album is quietly concluded by Flying solo which has a gentle guitar solo with a more aggressive piece in the middle and then a gentle fade.

And at this stage I would be happy to call it a great album - energetic, exciting, varied and joyful. And don't imagine it is 'just a guitar' album - there are some great synth lines and all sorts of other things happening.

However there are another 7 tracks, which are more ambient (described below). When I first listened to the whole album it seemed to me that there might be a benefit in mixing the tracks and moods a bit. But I looked at the blog and noted a piece about the writing and sequencing of the album.

Basically he sees it as two sides, as in the old album days, based on the music and how it was written. When I saw this the set clicked into focus. I have retitled them disk 1 and 2 (one is about 40 minutes, the other 30, which is more like a disk than a side) and I consider one the rock album and the other ambient. Within the first album there is a relaxing of the mood as you go through - but by splitting them it makes them work better for me as pieces: I will listen to one of the disks or the other depending on my mood or fancy.

So, on to disk 2. These are more ambient but also active - and recorded in shorter spaces of time. Layered and complex, they have space to explore and develop the possibilities of looping, atmospheric. The guitar (or guitar synth) is still very present - such as the delightful e-bow solo that is Wide open spaces, the stripped to the loops Whatever souls are made of ambient mix, and the processed guitar of Desert power 1 - drone mix. As a literal alternative to the more structured, written pieces on Disk 1, the second disk is passage into a different space (The blog mentions a track called The gemenon blues (long form) which appears to have been dropped from the final running order, which is a shame as it reads as an interesting dark twist!) And whether a Hidden track (named as such) really works on a download album ... there is the period of silence, and it is a nod to the genre.

So to conclude, this is a very satisfying double album - complex driven songs and intricate ambience.

Dave indicated that the album wasn't representative of his range - including the looping ambient side, though Disk 2 is indicative. And so I explored further, to be considered later

TIMR 3: jethro tull 20 years

There will be some recurring themes across this series, related to music, packaging, aesthetics and more.

This is the cover of the booklet which came with the 20th anniversary set from Tull. They are a band I have followed across the years, though some of the music as they got more 'rocky' around the rock island and catfish rising time left me a bit cold: always reminded me of Dire Straits.

But they have always been interested in great packaging. Stand Up originally included a stand up version of the band when you opened the gatefold (which I never had); Thick As A Brick is probably as well known for the newspaper that it came in as the music - an amazing read; Living In The Past had the structure and feel of a photo album - really thick card covers. Later albums were more along normal lines. The 20th box set was a box, while the 25th was more cleverly packaged as a cigar box.

Tull also went out of their way to make the compilations (those landmark ones) special - there was a lot of non-album material. LITP had a few album tracks but most was singles, some live stuff and extras (the sort of tracks that later featured on cds as extra material). The 20th again had lots of unissued music - live, radio, chateau d'isaster, extra tracks - while the 25th had more live material, remastered tracks and also rerecorded ones. Great value.

Which raises another of the themes - sequencing albums. In the vinyl days artists spent a lot of time deciding the order of the tracks on each side, which track would start side 1 or 2 or 3, how to balance moods, themes, and listening trajectories. As we go digital this is being lost for a number of reasons. People seem less interested in an album - there are very few times I have bought only one or two tracks, but the common method these days seems to cherry pick. It is sometimes harder to find the time but I try and get immersed in the whole experience. Then there are cds, which have no sides and contain as much music as an old style double album - perhaps we don't listen to it all because we are getting too much, artists and buyers think if there is 80 minutes it should be filled, so we play parts, or go for random play.

The importance of sequencing was shown clearly in the 20th set. As vinyl or cassette it consisted of 5 albums - each with a theme (essential, radio, rare, flawed gems, the other side). When this went to cd it was totally lost as the structure was lost and the disks spread across different cds. A real loss - regainable but the originally thinking was hidden.

I think that we should be willing to accept shorter cds that can reflect a more thoughtful approach to sequence and listening flow. With downloads it is even easier as the tracks can simply be assigned albums through track and disk numbering in the metadata. This can allow artists to present the material even more obviously in the way they have structured it.

And as buyers, more is not necessarily better - the amount of time to fill a cd can lead to excess, indulgence or more crap filler. 

(Thanks again to Dave Stafford who I discussed this issue with)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

TIMR 2: my speakers

OK - I love music but am not an audiophile. The first stereo I had was the family one, which a guy at school rigged up a doohickey I could use that allowed me to use earphones instead of the speakers - long late night listening. For my 21st I got my first (and only) component system: a Pioneer. This lasted for years - decades - with addition of different speakers, a new turntable, cd player, tuner and cassette player: but the amp remained, getting a bit crackly at the knobs. Listening through the computer became more common, playing cds and then MP3s. So I needed good speakers.

My first harman/kardon sound sticks lasted me less than a week: I bought them cause they looked great as well as their sound reviews, but this was the first USB model and my laptop couldn't support them. So they went back. Eventually I got the new set, with the earphone jack, and they have seen me through. I love the look of them - the combination of lookatme while also being transparent, the blue woofer glow at night.

So it was a blow when I got home one day and found the dog had chewed through one of the speaker cables. Luckily I found another electrician who could help & he rejoined the two ends and we have sound again.

They aren't my only listening source. I did get a new Pioneer microsystem that takes ipods, iphones and also plays cds (it has digital radio, but we don't). I had a small JBL speaker dock that I take on holidays, which will be supplanted by the soundfreq kick I got for my birthday. Small but with great sound; bluetooth so I can play with Scape and listen on good speakers; and it can charge, and has audioin for my old ipods (2 ipods, an old iphone which is now effectively a touch, ipad and iphone). For listening in the family room I have a Griffin dock - a quite big thing which has excellent sound.
And earphones for when I'm walking. 

Nothing earth or ear shattering, but on the whole good sound solid reproduction as far as I can tell. and I'm happy

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Musician's books and MP3

I've been reading a few books that reflect on some of the things I go on about here. (Some are just fun - like Keith Richard's which I only really bought cause the Kindle edition was briefly $2.99 or books about Bowie).

Neil Young's Waging Heavy Peace is a good read - a combination of reminiscences, reflections on his current state of mind, commentary on issues. One thing that really bothers him is MP3s - he feels that they lose too much of the sound (containing something like 15% of the original information [which reflects the changed way we have come to think about thigs as per James Gleick]). He is developing a new system called Pono which will provide digital music with the richness and content of vinyl. He even sings about in on the new album (which I bought through iTunes)

Well, as indicated by TIMR 2, I have never had a high end system, and while there are things I miss about vinyl it wasn't the sound. Despite my best efforts disks got dirty, scratched and just gained that surface noise. many things I like to listen to now would have got lost within that.

And then I was halfway through How Music Works. David Byrne combines some degree of memoir with reflection on audio-technology - the changes that the way we listen to, record and play back music has changed and how that has changed music.

I was pleased to read 
'After years of hoarding LPs and CDs, I have to admit that I'm now getting rid of them. I occasionally pop a CD into a player, but I've pretty much completely converted to listening to MP3s either on my computer or, gulp, my phone.'
which is pretty much my state at the moment - I have a ceiling full of vinyl which my head says get rid of but my heart says no. But all it is doing is sitting up there.

Another issue he crosses paths with here is how the changing technology has affected the size of music pieces. Vinyl really limited the side to 20+ minutes, 40 for an album (more for a bloated double or triple). With CDs we could go to 80 minutes. Now with digital there is really no limit (he doesn't mention looped music like Scape which can be left to play indefinitely, but that fits too).

In some ways the removal of size limit could be a blessing. As I have argued, I think that the CD led people (artists and purchasers) to expect 80 minutes, and that a short album was a rip off.(Robert Palmer's Clues faced a similar vinyl issue at 16minutes per side). This led to too much filler as people had to make every album a double. The trend to reissues with bonus tracks overcame this a bit - but many of the bonus tracks were not used originally for good reason.

There is a place for long disks - many do work & compilations/history sets work very well. As on old vinyl boy the 20 minute side is my touchstone. Artists thought about the sequence and the songs which would fit together. 20 minutes also seemed the right length - hence the use by some artists of 3" CDs (like the Metamkine series, which is in my room).

But with digital maybe we need to think more about virtual disks and suites. OK, sell albums, but through the metadata call one collection of songs Disk 1 and another Disk 2 (I'll expand on this idea in my first Dave Stafford review). Or collect pieces as suites; complete stand alone EPs which are self contained (not single and remixes or fillers); or other models (for example, almost crowdsourcing: you pay for the album, and get the songs as they are produced).

With self-selling the price structure could reflect this - the artist can set the price dependent on the amount of time to create and the amount of music - a general price for an 80 minute album, a bit less for a 30 minute suite, a bit more for an extended 100+. (DGM live for example charges less for a soundscape below about 40 minutes and a little more for really long ones: they also have a reduced price if you buy a whole series - another model which self-sellers could use).

David Byrne demonstrates that all aspects of the music industry develop, and the loss of vinyl means sides and sequencing have dropped below the radar, but as we move to no time restrictions at all, some form of shaping needs to come into play.

TIMR 0: black box

When I worked in the city I found a record/cd shop in the Taft's arcade (I think it has a real name). The shop was Peril. 2 guys ran it Peter and Darrin. Sensing someone with a taste for the new, Darrin started pointing me towards various artists. Many of my still favourites are down to him - Steve Roden, Muslimgauze, Fax, Ikeda and of course the Dorobo label.

Because what I learnt later as I followed the shop to Swanston street (Peril 305) and then Elizabeth Street (Peril Underground) was that Darrin was Verhagen the man behind Shinjuku Thief and the label Dorobo and Iridium.Over time I collected all the output, plus more things he recommended.

It was thanks to Darrin I got into reviewing - he pointed me towards Vivisect who took my early and varied reviews (I always seem to go beyond the remit of my review home, hence the Ampersand), and my groundwork there got me in with Jasper and ambeince - then to my newsletter and blog.

I also became even more aware of packaging and the look of a label - Dorobo has a distinct presence and aesthetic which mutated into the Iridium and the editions. The consistency was developed in the music as well - without constrain it: Darrin himself worked in a variety of styles/persona, the Shinjuku Thief, Shinjuku Filth, Professor Richmann, eventually under his own name and e.p.a. while working in dance scores, straight albums in various forms and game soundtracks.

This is the black perspex box that holds the last 3 dorobo releases: you can just make out black | mass engraved on it and the disk numbers and the Dorobo logo. Inside three albums (e.p.a. black ice, shinjuku thief matte black and darrin verhagen black frost) continue the theme in black covers with gloss with music which is edgy and as minimal as the packaging. 

This piece initially came into the series as a nod to Darrin and as another item in the collection of beautiful and special pieces (I also have the wooden box that houses the Witch Trilogy). But then when I looked at the photo I saw that it was something of a self portrait, but also of part of the room. So reflecting (no pun intended) some of the themes of this blog (my musical journey; the music; the packaging; thanks to people along the way) I have decided to call this number zero

Thursday, April 4, 2013

TIMR 1: Before and after science prints

In the days when albums were albums and made of 12" vinyl the album cover was a marvel. It could contain lyrics, images, stories, books and more. A few will come up in this series.

Brian Eno's Before and after science was itself a fantastic album - a series of odd songs that covered the territory described by Eric Tamm from hymns, through quirky pop to almost rock. You'd buy it anyway. But included in the sleeve were 4 art prints. Images by Peter Schmidt were included, and listed on the back cover as part of the album (Fourteen Pictures).

They are simple but beautiful pictures, and since buying the album they have graced the walls of rooms in various houses we have lived in. They are now in my office here - peaceful ambient images, which like the music get renewed each time you look at them