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.

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