Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Unbearable Itch: a tribute to Little Fyodor

It is not often that a cover version improves or equals the original - I still think Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is the best. 

I have only heard one Little Fyodor album, reviewed ages ago on the blog (Peace is Boring, from Public Eyesore), so can't speak comprehensively. But this set of covers The Unscratchable Itch (PE122: available from Public Eyesore) of his songs often improve and develop from either the originals I have heard or the impression given by that earlier release. The good ones emphasize the lyrics or musicality of the works, provide a diversity of voices & don't include the distracting babushka. As I wrote before, Fyodor can write a great hook & many are on display here. 

We open with Ralph Gean singing All my clothes are uncomfortable which seems to be close to the Fyodor ethos but Gean's voice has a more serious tonality which adds to the song. I believe in god (Patrick Porter) is also close to home but develops the song while on Get out of my head the Voodoo Organist gets down and rocks. 

The version of You give me a hard-on by Dan Susnara demonstrates where things can go wrong - a fake crooner with cheesy special effects tries for comedy and fails - emphasized by The Inactivists later version of the same song. With sax and guitar and some fabulous orchestration it takes the song seriously and makes it really cool but adds anger to the vocal. This is one of the highlights, along with Boyd Rice's The blackness which impresses with its simple dark production and female chorus.

I won't comment on every track - good or bad - but some of the other high points are Amy Denio who extracts the seriousness and music on The god gripe song and injects some pleasant female harmonies; a swampy psychedelic Happy people from Brian M Clark. A couple of tracks cutup the vocals and add electronica - Cruising (bummer scene) from Diablo Mountain sounds like a remix and Darren Douglas Danahy provides a change with abstract electronics and distorted vocals on No relief in sight.

Lasse Jensen does two songs - a cool translated version of I want an ugly girl and a smashup Everybody's fucking: playing around with song lyrics and just having fun.

Outside these there is a live death metal noise version of Won't somebody fill the void (Blood Rhythms), a rockabilly I wanna be the buddha (Evan Cantor), shouted punk That was a mistake (Us from the Superfuture) and Nervesandgel is a growling devil on Doomed. And much more 

The sequence is good - the first few tracks being more consistent with what I know of Little Fyodor and then moving into a range of directions with the music. And again, he can write hooky tunes, thoughtful lyrics and thought provoking comedy.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Three from Eh?

The first batch of new reviews - I have grouped these Eh? releases because they seemed to have something in common and yet be distinct. The main feature is that they are relatively restrained, closer to the ambient end of freeform, and also are not instrumental groups as such.

The July Amalgam (Eh?74): this album is in two parts. The first half is Wilsey, Kreimer and Graves playing on July 6 while the second substitutes Bachmann for Wilsey on the seventh. There is no detail on the disk about who plays what, and a web search was not much more helpful. Which has the advantage of listening to the sounds and letting them speak for themselves. The instrumentation seems to include things to bang and pluck, scrape and pling. There is perhaps some electronics - at times there are some deep tones coming through.

The first part, with 6 shorter pieces, seems a little more active, though both are quite restrained in their development. There is a track with a sound like paper being scrunched on it, another has something that is almost like a sample of one of those barrels of laughs, and some feedback. The 3 longer tracks in the second part develop more slowly and spaciously (spacily?), again there are some electronics, hints of voices, tones, uncertain sounds like crackling water. 

This album appealed to me as a nice abstract work to have playing in the background or to let move into the foreground. The pieces meander through their course, not trying to approach the state of music, but more an air of focussed intensity that develops into its own space.

Looking on the web, dotolim seems to be a small venue for live webcast performances. Alice Hui-Sheng Chang, Park Seungjun and Jin Sangate performed their live at dotolim in Jan 2010 (Eh?70). Park and Jin provide a backdrop of ambient whitenoice crackling electronica through spring reverb, speaker, standlight, hard disk drive, radio and PDA. This varies in intensity and volume, although generally restrained and quiet sometimes plucky, others pulsing. The key to the release is Alice's voice - she is credited with 'extended vocal technique' and she has quite a range - sounding at times like Yoko Ono, Tuvan throat singers, quavery tones, moaning, a sax and more. The group move through their 48 minutes rising and falling, building and releasing, in a work that again provides a thoughtful mood.

And then Jean-Marc Montera on guitar and fx and Francesco Calandrino on lofi stereos, manipulated audiocassettes, field recordings, clarinets recorded on 1 March and release on 'Idi Di Marzo' (Eh?64)(mysteriously as, as the Italian hints, Idi is ides). Their album together is quite a slippery beast though. The first track has scraping and rapidly played guitar over a protean bed of electronica that shifts and cuts like an audio whirlwind - buzzing crackling whining, samples emerging briefly, though a longer choir sings. Things get more restrained in the next track, with a hint of Calendro's clarinet which becomes more obvious on subsequent pieces, particularly track 4. As you listen your mind focusses on the electronica - the child's voice or the whooping in 3 perhaps - and then to the guitar which uses a range of tricks (scraping, percussive, treatments) and straight playing in varied styles. The balance between the 2, and the interplay, is well judged and satisfying. There is also a flow to the album - as it moves to the conclusion it passes through a noisy ragged track 5 with voice samples more prominent and then the more rocking conclusion of track 6.  This is a driving album, which pulls you along and demands that you listen to it. 

After finishing the review I realised that the albums are perhaps more different - if I had kept it at 2 we would be fine with a tying together here. July Amalgam and Dotolim both have a quiet earnestness - I see these groups sitting playing with serious faces to a group of intense audience members, they work the silences and subtly modulate; while in Idi there is more excitement and extravagant drama. I am not a ranker: each of these albums works its field skilfully and is satisfying in their own way - either as ambience or as pummelling noise.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Scape versus Mixtikl

Two of the main ambient music generators, discussed here and also pointed to in relation to Dave Stafford's Eternal Albums.

Following his experience with them Dave has initialled rated them equally

But just two days later realised Mixtikl won

A view I would agree with - based on my review-notes on my post & an email to Dave concerning his Mixtikl eternal album

It is one of the best drone albums I've heard for a while - dronier than most of  the forest. It is subtle and supple. 

I am trying to think of the word for scape. Toy is wrong, but something like that. It is almost impossible to create a bad scape - but that is due to the constraints: only 2 general drones at once, maximum element count. And then really nothing. 

Mixtikl is, despite it generative basis, an instrument. I can create mainly crap pieces cause I don't have the time, experience or ear to learn it. The examples they give you show the genre range. The pieces on the eter/bum work because even on your first excursions you understood the parameters of selection and then manipulation. 

Anyway. Congrats on some brilliant pieces there. 

Looking forward to downloading and lisatening to the 4 new mixtikl tracks - a album which is both good value (all tracks are long) and, more importantly, beautiful ambience

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

TIMR 22: fossils and drones

In 1996 we went on holiday to San Francisco. My father-in-law  was a visiting professor at Berkeley & so Carol's parents rented a house & we visited for 3 weeks. It was a fabulous holiday. 

We loved SF, it felt like somewhere we could live (though when we took a bottle of wine out the first night & were told they don't serve liquor it was a bit of a jolt to our BYO selves). The house was in El Cerito, a few Bart stops up from Berkeley. A strange suburb for a holiday, but the mall was just down the road and I loved wandering the supermarket. And the wonderful Bart was only a couple of minutes walk away. 

I loved amoeba in Berkeley & got some good second hand bargains (some Muslimgauze, Bill Nelson) and the Storm of Drones was also a SF find. It was a period when I was into FAX & went to meet Charles Uzzell Edwards over in Mill Valley (these days I'd love to see Steve Roden or Michael Bentley).

We all had a weekend together in Yosemite, with a stop in Sonora. Beautiful. 
The next weekend Carol & I flew to Phoenix, hired a car, and drove to the Grand Canyon. An amazing drive and the end was worth it - truly somewhere photos can't do justice to. We often laugh about the crows playing in the updraft. 

These 2 fossils were from a shop at the canyon, run by the woman we had booked our accommodation via email in those early Internet days. They are probably from Morocco or somewhere like that & the trilobite is glued together. But it's the memories. 

To further date me, I have a diary of the trip which I typed on my Newton with external keyboard. I still have the Newton too - but doubt I could extract the files. 

My only trip to America but a very happy one for many reasons. And encased in these rocks are three weeks of memory. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

First albums are best albums

In the Muslimgauze post I noted Veiled Sisters was my first purchase, and also realised it is probably my favorite album. Musing on this brought to mind a whole series of favorite firsts: these are the albums that I either bought or became aware of first and which I would pick as their best

  • David Bowie: Low
  • Brian Eno: Another Green World
  • Severed Heads: Come Visit The Big Bigot
  • Jerhro Tull: Living In The Past. My sister had Stand Up and Benefit which would compete with this, but I bought this before I had Aqualung
  • Steve Harley: The Best Years Of Our Lives. I love the weirdness of Psychomodo & enjoy the first album. Prima Dona has some personal resonances, but Best Years is he best. 
  • Yes: Tales Of A Topographic Ocean. I had been offered the early ones but never bit. 
  • Incredible String Band: U. Passed on by my sister who didn't like it. Rambling weird absorbing. 
  • King Crimson: Larks Tongue In Aspic. More complex, as Jeff Howard sold me In The Court which I don't remember playing much & like, but my other sister bought me LTIA & it blew me away, so it was almost like another group. So stays this side. 
  • ELP: Pictures At An Exhibition
  • Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down
  • Phillip Glass: Einstein On The Beach
  • John Martyn: Solid Air
  • Heaven 17: Penthouse and Pavements
  • UB40: Signing Off, though love Present Arms In Dub
  • Cat Stevens: Catch Bull At Four. I had Teaser from my sister so could count as the first, but I am discounting it (It's my theory), and Foreigner does come a very close second
  • PiL: Second Edition
  • 10cc: The Original Soundtrack

So then I had to see where the theory didn't hold. 

  • Steve Roden. Splint is close to the top, but probably not. I would highly recommend it as a great example of his work. But I actually baulk at picking a best/favourite 
  • Beatles: heard too many albums and tracks through the 60s to be able to identify a true first. 
  • Pink Floyd: the first i bought was Relics (with the Alfred E Neuman cover) and still very fond of, but Wish You Were is the best
  • John Foxx: Mysterious Ways is probably my favourite, but some of the early return ones are also good, but I think The Garden was my first purchase, probably before underpass. But then I wonder if some MW singles came in there.
  • U2: Unforgetable Fire was the first , but Zooropa is probably my favourite. 
  • Bill Nelson: too many to choose, but Love That Whirls would probably be chosen, and wasn't my first
  • Talking Heads: Remain In Light, though Fear Of Music comes close (not really sure which came first, but probably Fear)
  • Elton John: though in the mists of time it is hard to trace the contact exactly, but Madman/Honky Chateau/Don't shhot me hit my consciousness about the same time & are my favoutites.

And then, why the trend? I came up with

  • First loves - the nostalgic attachment to our first romances. The rosy glow of memory. Which is possible, but e still have the thing it is not just a memory. I can play any Brian Eno album, but will tend to pick AGW. It's not that I think I remember it as the best, I can reaffirm it at any stage. 
  • Timing - I got onto a musical bandwagon at the right time. Probably explains most - the choices are from an accepted golden age for most of them. And I just have a personal preference for a particular one from then. 
  • Sheer bloody mindedness - I won't agree that Thick As A Brick is Tull's best!
  • Immersion - if this was my first album I probably played it more, got familiar with it & it was a pathway to earlier albums and excitement over later ones. 
  • I also recognise that a lot (most) of these are from long term relationships, which seems to go with the immersion theory.  These albums led me into the artist, became the touch stone.

Anyway, just some thoughts

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

TIMR 21: Muslimgauze

Iranian Womens Table Tennis Team
A couple of objects to represent my Muslimgauze collection/obsession. 

Bryan Jones, Manchester based musician, was a fascinating and confounding character. His interest in the Arab/Israel conflict, and then more widely the Muslim/west interactions provided a polemic for his music often heightened by choices made by his labels for cover images: and his music was often denounced as antiisraeli or antisemitic. But for every Hebron Massacre, Azzazzin, Vote Hezbollah or Rape of Palestine there were many Arab Quarter, Gun Aramaic, Lahore & Marseille, Azad or Hand of Fatima. And albums or tracks often belied a wicked sense of humour. 

The music is far from polemic. Rhythmic, melodic, infused with samples, hypnotic, distorted, monolithic, subtle are some possible descriptors. In simple terms Muslimgauze work in a relatively narrow range, but does it with a skill and facility which makes each album different. 

Perhaps the main criticism that can be made is that Muslimgauze's reputation may have benefitted from judicious editing. He initially released his own albums and then found labels who were willing to release just about everything (& he released on many labels simultaneously - but mainly Staalplaat and Soleilmoon), including a subscription series. Thus there is a huge catalogue - not a problem for the fan (except the full-on collector) but can make it hard for someone looking from outside to find a way in. It also means that albums are referred to by their 'period' sound (early rhythmic, late crunchy) or broad classifications. 

On the issue of how much is too much, I think that the net has in many ways closed that question. Artists can now make available as much of their creation as they want easily and cheaply - examples would be DGM, Dave Stafford's eternal albums or YouTube channel - and if people want all you can offer, fine: no one is made to buy anything. And for the monied collectors there are multibox anniversary etc reissues (anyone want to buy Road to Red for (pounds)150?). 

My first Muslimgauze release was Veiled Sister - from Peril - a beautiful slowrhythmic ambience. As a bit of an obsessive I started collecting. In those early days the Internet was used to arrange physical exchanges. I swapped Fax items for Muslimgauze and my collection grew. I bought some from Staalplaat, and also started getting free ones when I got on their reviewer list. 

Bennett deceiver
Along the way I came in contact with Terry Bennett who runs the Messenger, a website dedicated to Muslimgauze, including the essential discography. I think Terry did much to keep the Muslimgauze flame alight. 

Anyway, I became the 'official' reviewer for the website & many of my reviews appear attached to releases there. Terry also sent me copied of some releases - only ever out of print items, with recreated covers. 

The complete oblique
One of my proudest musical moments is an acknowledgement on the cover of the release Terry did of pre Muslimgauze Bryn - the Complete Oblique. Funny, seeing my name on a physical release really chuffs me. 

(Other proud moments, for the record, every time an artist has thanked me for a review, when people send me unique or very limited releases. Humbling moments: when I look at all the music that people have entrusted to me to comment on).  

Anyway, I have too much Muslimgauze and indeed too much music. I can never play anyone enough - if I started my iTunes library this morning it would keep going for nearly 200 days. But I regularly play something by Muslimgauze and am never disappointed. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

TIMR 20: before the web

There are a lot of things in my room from before the web. But this book reminds me of what fandom was about. 
From the Joy Division web site. Seems this came out in many editions - growing as it went. And worth about $80!

The web beyond its initial origins was partly built by fans. I remember the early days when it was FTP, text based, HyperCard stacks. Twin Peaks was almost the quintessential web show - the mystery, clues, plots were expounded on the web. The other big thing was JFK conspiracy sites. For music (or film or books) there were news groups of traded information, images& sometimes even sound. 

This 'book' came out in 1984ish (I got a real surprise when I read that - I didn't realise it was that long ago). It is a complete guide to Joy Division and New Order full of essential information:

  • A discography for JD then NO (including bootlegs), a concert list (essential for making sure you have all possible boots)
  • photos of the front and back of boots - 18 pages, 3 per page (how many would there be now!)
  • Lyrics - including singles, live albums (Still), peel sessions up to Power Corruption and Lies. 
  • Some FAC numbering info and details. 
  • The main 2/3rds though is clippings - music press, fanzines, reviews (albums and gigs) not all in English, collected over 4 years to give a history. 
I remember pouring over this, checking the lyrics, working out if my combination of bootlegs gave me all the JD recordings, cross referencing. 

I supplemented it with the more glossy history An ideal for living which had more concrete data on demos etc. 

The physical nature of it made it seem more special - something you had to buy and keep - not a website you could quickly find it all on - and I don't think you would read that informal history that the cuttings give on a website.

I must admit I got into Joy Division late - the Love will tear us apart single and the news of Ian Curtis' death - perhaps being in Australia meant that the buzz around them was muted. But I soon got into JD/NO, got a bootleg tape of the Warsaw releases, a bootleg disk which had some of the then unreleased sessions (but now have them all nice digitally thanks to the box set), and have followed New Order pretty closely, though fading a bit after techno - lots of the 12" singles, the Substance double cassette was terrific and have the Retro box set.

Notice, JD/NO didn't make it into the guilty pleasures list - 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Write for iPad/iPhone

As you know I have an iPad, iPhone and iPhod and I use all three for things like email, note writing, reviews etc. There are a few frustrations like mailbox not saving drafts, having things at different stages on different things. So I have started to do a lot of my drafting on Write. 

At base it is a simple note taking app - as you can see. For some reason I like the night mode, and there are a few fonts to choose from. Above the keyboard is a line of shortcuts - it would be nice if they were editable (I'd like an ', or brackets, as I use them a lot - but that's fine). In the centre is a mouse button which makes navigating around the screen easier, and can switch between cursor & selection mode. 

The right panel is the sharing screen - it is editable so you can hide what is an extensive list - but I usually use copy to move the text to blogger or email etc. 

The main beauty of this excellent editor though is its integration with Dropbox - files are updated and I can then edit them on any if my devices, or even computers. So I can draft this on the phone while out feeding the horses, then polish it up on my iPad before uploading it to blogger. 

The list of files gives a taste of what I'm up to

The interface and design is flat and gorgeous - will port to ios7 easily. There are aspects I don't use, like using it for HTML markup & rich text would be nice (if the bold button bolded the text rather than adding the HTML code - but again, not a worry). 

Anyway, Ash has finished eating so I'll finish this later. 

When looking up the web link I saw another pair of features which I have scratched the surface of - device linking. You can pair them and use one as the keypad & the other as the 'screen', and also share clip boards - use one device to web surf, copy something & then paste into the doc on the main device. A nice little trick. 

Anyway, this is the link to the page about the app