Alan Hovhaness,"Opening a Window to Cosmic Love: Private Acetate Discs 1946-55"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a3810934024_10.jpgAn ear-opening collection of radio broadcasts, live performance recordings, and sketched works in progress from a prolific period in the life of this highly distinctive American composer. In the 1950s, Hovhaness was composing around 12 major works a year, in addition to extensive traveling for research and teaching. He may well have suffered from hypergraphia - an overwhelming urge to be constantly creating - and it is a wonder he found time to be married six times.

Canary

Born in Somerville, Massachusetts in 1911, to a Scottish mother and Armenian father, Alan Hovhaness had a clear vision and unstoppable determination. From a very young age he loved nature, mountains in particular, and felt the need to compose. Sibelius' 4th symphony was an early inspiration, and Hovhaness' description of the unison melodies in the piece "so lonely and original, [they] said everything there was to say‚ and not only about music" can be applied to many of his own compositions, including on this release. He attended the New England Conservatory at age 22, and actually traveled to Finland in 1935 to forge a friendship with Sibelius. Two years later his 1937 Exile symphony was lauded as the work of a genius by English conductor Leslie Howerd. Yet things did not proceed smoothly: he had four unsuccessful applications for Guggenheim funding, and when he did win a scholarship to Tanglewood, quit after feeling marginalized and humiliated by teachers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. The phrase "ghetto music" was allegedly bandied about by Bernstein, who you might think would have been sensitive to such tosh, but it apparently doesn't work that way.

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  1390 Hits

Hany Mehanna, "Music For Airplanes - Instrumental Showpieces & Scores for Egyptian Films and TV‚Äã"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a0473231558_10.jpgHany Mehanna is a key figure in the development of keyboards in Asian music. As a young man he played accordion, organ, and synth in the orchestra of legendary singer Umm Kulthum and—along with Ammar Al-Sheriyi—learned to create quarter tones by using oscillators. In a later prolific period composing music for 93 films and 38 television series, Mehanna forged his own distinctive sound: a balance of traditional Arabic melody types or maqams and hypnotic experimental electronics. Remastered from his personal reel-to-reel tapes, this album showcases that balance on 19 otherworldly tracks. I like the fact I can never predict what any piece will sound like based on how it starts, even on very short tracks. Mehanna’s only other solo album, The Miracle Of The Seven Dances, was reissued in 2018 after being rediscovered in a record shop in Casablanca.

Souma

The album kicks off with “Hanady” blipping along like a wheezing, psychedelic, video game belly dance augmented by electric violin and the guitar of Omar Khorshid. On this track, and on the entire album, nothing is allowed to limp along into over-repetiive normality or to descend into an indecipherable mess. "Haya Ha’ira” is more raw, blasting into being with a razor blade guitar-like slashes and dazzling percussion and it’s over too soon. Bizarrely, the precisely chopped rhythm of "Walad Wa Bint” is virtually a compete blueprint for the verse singing on the early Stiff Records 45 “(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea.”

“Rhela” has the kind of galloping rhythm and lustrous twang often associated with doomed British producer Joe Meek, as Mehanna throws hypnotic organ phrases over a frenzied beat. His breathtaking ability to layer electronics, strings, and solo instruments is evident on the library robo-funk of "Less Al Thulata” and the spaced out "Al Qina’ Al Za’ef” with (I think) twinkling synth, a lonely horn, smooth strings, and what sound like wah wah imitation vocals. There are actual vocals on "Dal Al Omr Ya Waladi,” an impressive dusky moaning which is a good counterpoint to the intriguing reedlike instrument which shares carrying the melody. Again, the mix is fabulous and the atmosphere beautifully relaxed.

On the cover Hany Mehanna almost looks like one of the heroic resistance fighters from Gillo Pontecorvo's documentary The Battle of Algiers, except—rather than a machine gun—he’s got an accordion strapped over his shoulder and stands in front of a small Farsifa organ. It is worth remembering that Farfisa organs have been used by everyone from Reich and Glass to Suicide and Cabaret Voltaire, as well as Giorgio Moroder, Pink Floyd, Sly Stone, Miles Davis, Percy Sledge, XTC, Sam The Sham, K.Frimpong, and Stereolab. Back on this album sleeve, Mehanna looks for all the world like he is sending a message on an early 1990s fax machine. In the top right a plane heads East across a circular object which might be a representation of the sun, or a piece of exotic garb I don’t recognize. The image is reminiscent of the cover from the cassette release Relaxation Tape For Solo Space Travel by The National Pool, the concept of which purports to be an actual aid for would-be cosmonauts. Music For Airports stays within the earth’s atmosphere but it definitely travels to some subtle and glamorous places. The album fell between the cracks a little with its December 2021 release date.

I haven’t had time to research the films and TV shows for each track, but the imagination may quickly run to mustachioed detectives, flared trousers, glamorous girls fallen in with a bad crowd, cool cars, cocktails, speedboats, nightclubs, ill-gotten gains, spies, shortwave radio, fistfights, heat and dust, baba ganoush, gloriously melodramatic day time soaps, switchblades, Sid James, cigarette holders, white dinner jackets, and all that jazz. The album title makes sense in the context of the modernizing of Egyptian economy in the 1970s, with a jet-set, Operation Nimbus Moon, and President Sadat standing on a destroyer when reopening the Suez Canal. Hany Mehanna's tunes fit in with any concept of freedom, and his rhythms showed up in popular songs which soundtracked the Arab Spring of 2010-12. This collection ends on a real high with the thrilling and poignant "Damat Alam" sandwiched between the Opening and End themes to “Al Dawarma.” No need to round up the usual suspects such as Basil Kirchin or eden ahbez. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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  1191 Hits

Robert Haigh,"Human Remains"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a2112077871_10.jpgWith apologies to Laurie Speigel after whose album the label takes its name (and Sylvia Tarozzi), it must be said that solo piano is at the core of Unseen Worlds. Their standards are high, as evidenced by recent releases such as James Rushford's Musicá Collada/See The Welter and "Blue" Gene Tyranny’s Detours. Human Remains is Robert Haigh’s third (and best) release for the label. His composition and playing superbly balance immediacy and detachment. This balance places a subtle disguise or mystery over these compositions. I detect a similarity with the approach of Werner Herzog in many of whose films the audience is allowed to feel and react without heavy-handed close ups.

Unseen Worlds

Robert Haigh is well known to brainwashed, of course, as a veteran of the UK underground since around 1980 via Nurse With Wound, Omni Trio, Silent Storm, Sema, and Truth Club. He is a natural fit for Unseen Worlds since, as he has said, piano is at the root of all his compositions. My view is that his solo piano works should have him up to his ears in film commissions, as they are jammed to the gills with poignant and unfussy (or anti-virtuosic pieces) and imbued with an essential immediacy and detachment. On earlier records, Haigh has borrowed titles from film, such as "Juliet of The Spirits” and “Ipcress Girl,” so I am guessing that he would take on the right project. An excellent longer piece on Human Remains titled “Signs of Life” got me thinking about Werner Herzog—since he made a film of that name. Herzog has argued, in one of his more believable utterances, that filmmaking is about creating immediate and profound connections with people. Robert Haigh certainly makes music according to that axiom and seems also to follow another choice of the master filmmaker. In the book A Guide For The Perplexed, Herzog mentions his decision to not move the camera in too closely to an actor’s face, since it will be “more fascinating to the audience if they see you as big as an ant in the landscape.” He adds “I have never wanted to see an actor weep. I want to make the audience cry instead.”

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Robert Takahashi Crouch, "Jubilee"

I don’t know exactly what synth-like equipment Robert Takahashi Crouch uses to generate these sounds and maneuver them into place, but these three pieces are very impressive. This is an album of abstract music and it is useful for reference to have detailed context of Crouch's personal challenges and struggle as outsider, victim, self-destructor, or whatever. I read those between my first and second listens to Jubilee and it definitely helped.

Room40

The opening track "Ritual" has a tense vibe and a sense of emotional heavy lifting is achieved by huge slabs of grinding, vibrating, texture, which emerge and then blend or get overlaid like shifting tectonic plates of sound. There is a weird feeling of aggression, but this feels turned inward rather than aimed at the listener. I felt involved with the music but it also came over as both detached and claustrophobic. An odd pair of descriptors, perhaps, but I hear Jubilee not unlike how I see the doomed grey void of the Rothko Chapel: it drew me in but kept me at arms length). According to Crouch's contextual notes, the next track “I have been part of evil doing” is an acknowledgement that even the abused may do "bad" things to others which they come to regret. This shorter work, which takes it’s title from “People Like Us” a 2007 record by The Dears, has a calmer, gentler, softer, air - an excellent variation against the weightier “Ritual.” This quite lighter mood leads perfectly into “Reconciliation” which is just as beautiful. This final track begins with the recounting of a survived bridge suicide attempt in a sample from a poem by Ted Berrigan from the 1975 record The Dial-a-Poem Poets: Biting Off The Tongue of a Corpse. The placement of a human voice here is another fine contrast, and the somber tone and graceful pace of "Reconciliation" succeeds in uniting the whole album with a powerful renewal of hope and forgiveness (especially the latter). The three sections together make Jubilee a really coherent and satisfying recording, located betwixt sound installation art and electronic expressionism, with an emotional edge that gives it a tangible feeling of integrity and maybe even hope for personal growth.

This is a fine album which I would prefer to listen to again than revisit the Rothko chapel (though I love Rothko's other works). In fact I have already heard Jubilee six or seven times, despite the title being a reference to a work by the so-called anarchist poet (with a trust fund) Hakim Bey to whose writing I have a strong aversion. To call him a juvenile imitation of William Burroughs would be flattery. It is certainly possible to view him as an incoherent creep, spinning deceitful tips for weekend rebels or oozing his pitiful justifications for pedophilia like puss from an open wound. It is debatable whether his blather is worse than the illogical, pseudo-freedom loving gasbag rambles of Ron and Rand Paul when they butter-up their constituents with easily-decoded defenses of racism. I personally can't stomach a message of forgiveness from any of them and the fact that Andrei Codrescu got suckered into feting Bey also does nothing for my digestion. Thankfully all this is merely a matter of opinion, perhaps worthless, certainly available free on the internet as is the entirety of Bey's writing. Crouch's record is worth more.

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  1096 Hits

Robert Ashley, "eL/Aficionado"

Robert Ashley’s enigmatic opera of interrogation was frequently performed between 1987 and 1993, and a previous recording was released on Lovely Music in 1994. The cast of a 2021 production in Roulette, Brooklyn, are featured on this new rendition, with Kayleigh Butcher, as The Agent, and Brian McCorkle, Bonnie Lander, Paul Pinto as Interrogators #1, 2, and 3. Above and beyond Ashley’s melodies, each participant singer is assigned their own distinct pitch around which they improvise vocal inflections to portray intent and meaning. eL/Aficionado displays the compelling depth of Ashley’s dazzlingly creativity, which is somewhere on a line leading from Edward Hopper and Samuel Beckett to Laurie Anderson and Len Jenkin.

Lovely

This piece has a clarity of enunciation and easy pace (Ashley favored 79 beats per minute) which gives it a hypnotic and relaxed feel. Yet it is also a work of complexity and intensity which sustains interest over repeated listens. I recommend a least four or five o really get into it. I love the way the language of personal ads and descriptions of real estate heighten the atmosphere of double meaning. These could be coded assignments, perhaps target subjects for The Agent detailing their locations and plans of their residences to aid home invasion, snooping, or worse. The singing and narration are mostly not easily identified as operatic in the classic sense, but they establish the necessary mood. The use of synths adds to the sense of a Kafkaesque trial in a dream landscape. I am reminded of an excellent presentation by Matmos of Ashley’s Private Lives at a festival in Knoxville in 2017, where I nodded off briefly at one point but awoke quite confident that, given the use of repetition and the skillfully disguised material, I had not missed a vital clue. The hypnotic mood of eL/Aficionado is similar; as meaning goes in and out of focus, reassuring voices become sinister, and whispers mislead or give helpful prompts. Yet repeat listens offer up some real jewels, for example the meaning (in The Agent’s department) of the word “brother” and the reference to a “time displacement exercise” and information which must be taken "to the grave." Part gumshoe exit interview, part meditation on the way artists interpret (and alter) their surroundings, part comment on the universality of double lives, part snapshot of the shifting reliability of memory, part critique of society as spectacle; eL/Aficionado is as mysterious and life-enhancing as spending purgatory unable to leave the grounds of the Getty museum because you lost your companion and forgot where you parked.

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  1541 Hits

Michèle Bokanowski, "Rhapsodia/Battements solaires"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a2418575639_10.jpgThis electro-acoustic release by Michèle Bokanowki consists of two pieces. "Rhapsodia" from 2018, is a stunning work in two movements with a short interlude, dedicated to choreographer, Marceline Lartigue. "Rhapsodia" is as close to perfection as I can imagine music to ever be, with the texture, the pace, the changes, and the timing of the changes all working in an organic and unhurried way. "Battlement solaires" from a decade earlier, is the soundtrack to Patrick Bokanowski’s film of that name. Initially I felt this second piece might be best heard with visual images, but by the third hearing I utterly love it as a stand alone work, too.

Recollection GRM

In these compositions, Bokanowski makes incredibly subtle changes and only after each element and has fully blossomed. She is such an experienced composer that the spiritual depth and attentiveness to uncluttered illumination in these tracks is at times quite staggering. If these sounds were a fireworks display, it is as if she does not let the momentum lag yet never obscures a single spark or any fading light trail with another rocket until they have been properly seen. This requires confidence, honesty and patience. Her music does not labor over specific ideas, or attempt to trigger vague or irrational feelings, or nostalgic sentiments. There is no need to approach it as a puzzle to be solved or message to be deciphered. There are hundreds of possibilities here and I will not isolate any one idea, other than to say take the time to allow the music to bloom and ripen. About five years ago I attended saw a showing of Patrick Bokanowski's L'Ange/The Angel at the Nasher Sculpture Center, in Dallas. Michèle Bokanowski created the soundtrack for that exquisite film; her music matching the images with such amazing quality and sensitivity. It almost brings a tear to my eye to recall that the couple were present for the screening, sitting together, looking very humble and decidedly un-showbiz. Bless them both as artists and bless you for listening to Rhapsodie/Battements solaires and seeking out L'Ange.

samples available here

  1811 Hits

Trip Shrubb, "Trewwer, Leud un Danz"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a3667722917_16.jpgUnder a name (Trip Shrubb) taken from a gravestone in Northamptonshire, Michael Beckett presents a cool subterranean selection from his own 84-track transformation of one of the best records ever released: the Anthology of American Folk Music originally compiled by Harry Smith in 1952. Smith, a painter, filmmaker, and obsessive collector of everything from paper airplanes and string figures, to quilts and Ukrainian Easter eggs, curated the Anthology from thousands of 78 RPM records. Trewwer, Leud un Danz is an appropriate companion piece, which matches the obsessive nature of Smith’s vision, serves as a bizarre reminder that a lot of "old, weird, America" comes from older, weirder, Europe, and could also pass for a great soundtrack to Harry Smith’s simply wild experimental films such as Heaven and Earth Magic.

Faitiche

I am reminded of Eric Cantona, the footballer who faced criminal charges and widespread moral outrage for leaping into a hostile crowd and kung-fu kicking then thumping a particularly obnoxious fan. Asked if he wished to express regret, Cantona replied "I have one regret, I would have loved to have kicked him even harder."  Well, no one is going to accuse Beckett of half-measures. In fact, I suggest that the reason he has sampled and "effected" the living blood, skin, and bone (plus marrow) daylights out of the original source material is because he loves it so much. Either way, he has given it an absolute shellacking. This is no pale representation of the real thing. Nor is it a smug authentication by an earnest arty type in exchange for them basking in reflected glory. The icing on this sauerkraut is that Beckett has even further disguised the material by translating song titles into the "Low German" dialect. Harry Smith himself would not recognize them in a blind hearing. I gave up trying to work out track titles after, possibly, cracking a couple. The psycho jet-lagged juju-dub rendition of "Wake up, Jacob" (originally by Prince Albert Hunt’s Texas Ramblers) lurches and swings so strangely that it could get away with being retitled "Jackie Mittoo’s Shoes In a Tumble Dryer (dub)".

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Derek Monypeny, "The Hand As Dealt"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a1804512090_10.jpgTitled after a phrase in Richard Meltzer's writings to do with an eternal sense of perseverance through sound,The Hand As Dealt is dedicated to Terry Riley, Don Cherry, Alice Coltrane, and Egyptian singer Umm Khoultoum (lesser known in the West, but the incomparable and legendary "Orient Star” and “The Fourth Pyramid” in the East). Inspired by the notion that through profound adversity there is a higher reason to play, inherent in the sound itself, Derek Monypeny plays this hand, simply and brilliantly. With his guitar tuned to DADGAD, and an indian instrument called the shahi baaja tuned somewhere in the region of D major, he also, in terms of equipment and technique, pays mind to a path trod by Riley, Reich, Oliveros, Fripp, and Eno.

2182

This album has a clear flow, running East to West and back again, at times fierce and frantic, at others, gentle, stretched out, and unhurried. By some standards, most of these pieces are very long, but time is relative and cultural. For instance, it was not unusual for Umm Kulthum to perform three songs over two hours. The music retains a raw magic, even as Monypeny uses a lot of e-bow and a myriad of different effect pedals. For example, a key song "South Van Ness Vickie” is gentle and cosmic: as a loop of a little guitar figure runs throughout the song, and he improvises over that using a Mellotron simulator pedal (the EHX Mel9), a time lag accumulator*, amp reverb, and e-bow. The combination sparkles with a spontaneous, almost-sensuous quality. His use of the shahi baaja is not the superficial embrace of a traditionally Eastern instrument, as attempted by countless groups whipping out a sitar in the name of psychedelia. If anything, on The Hand As Dealt the differences between the (Western) guitar and (Eastern) shahi baaji are more or less erased, bringing them closer together.

 

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  1866 Hits

Opium Warlords, "Nembutal"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a3521227934_16.jpgIn 2010, the Opium Warlords’ MySpace page claimed they sound like "a bad Bolivian Metal band practicing a riff.” Fair enough, but at times their ponderous, doom-laden, brooding, drone-metal shows signs of being more than just another fatberg clogging the sewers of musical culture. My introduction to the group was Live At Colonia Dignidad. Nembutal is a better produced recording, with more variation in speaking, singing, and what sounds like movie dialogue samples. The pest of cliched lyrics such as on “Destroyer of Filth,” is laughable and disappointing, because at other times the words are mysterious and intriguing, sung powerfully and with room to breathe. In those moments, allied with portentous guitar work and a contemplative tempo, Nembutal is nicely out of sync with the flashy haste of modern life.

Svart

To be honest, my girlfriend went away for a few days, and I decided to spin a couple of albums overlooked in 2020. Alabaster dePlume’s To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 was a great listen, somewhere between the pastoral hum of Anthony Phillips and the clear, sparse jazz of Jeff Parker’s Suite For Max Brown. It has now been picked up by the same label as Angel Bat Dawid. No such liftoff as yet for Opium Warlords, although like tripping into a predictably cartoonish puddle of lumpy brown medieval sludge, they do make for a bracing contrast. The album starts and ends with a couple of monolithic tracks, but “Threshold of Your Womb” is as strangely hypnotic as being attacked by a tribe wielding gamelan gongs and a fuzz pedal. Two creepy pieces about women suffering a tragic fate are also good, but I’d have preferred if one or both had a male victim. If you call yourself Opium Warlords the subject matter is going to be unflinchingly dark, methinks, but the flashes of subtlety here - guitar tone, song pacing, running order- hint at greater promise. For example, the contrasting guitar work of “Solar Anus” is great. It is as if they are simultaneously not trying and trying too hard.

As detailed in his book 45, Bill Drummond (of Big in Japan, The KLF and more) once made up an entire Finnish underground scene for his own purposes, and recorded singles by these imaginary groups (The Daytonas, Gormenghast, The Blizzard King, Aurora Borealis, and The Fuckers). But he never came up with a name as good as Opium Warlords. The group is the solo project of Sami Albert “Witchfinder” Hynninen, who has added the witch-finding part to his title since I last looked. He has not changed his sound a great deal, though, and I am not changing my opinion too much. For the Opium Warlords to broaden their appeal, they need to continue to refine their sound and improve their lyrics. Maybe also listen to some Chrome. Yet, perhaps the "Bolivian metal" self-mocking and the daft mumbling and growling is a ruse; after all, it is said that the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to make us believe he doesn't exist. And the name is marvelous; conjuring histories of deceit, greed, and war, the British in China, the French in Vietnam, the heroin labs of Marseille, the Golden Route, the release of Lucky Luciano and the role of the Mafia in assisting the Allies in opening a second front in WWII, Fidel Castro’s exploding cigar, Oliver North’s covert exploits in Colombia and Iran, CIA tolerance for Afghan opium production and export, and the alleged payment of $43 million to the Taliban government for crushing opium production, just months before the US invasion of Afghanistan with the support of the Afghan opium warlords.*

samples available here

*Ed Felien: The Big Payoff

  1709 Hits

Keiji Haino / Jim O'Rourke / Oren Ambarchi, "Each side has a depth of 5 seconds..."

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a2652108554_16.jpgRecorded live at Tokyo’s Super Deluxe club in 2017, this trio's 10th release is dedicated to Hideo Ikeezumi, founder of the incredible P.S.F. label and Modern Music store who died the same day. Mr.Ikeezumi was a fierce and relentless advocate for Japan’s underground scene and an early champion of Haino. For this concert, the three agreed their unrehearsed improvisation would be “electronic” but not which instruments any of them would play. Haino also uses a double-reed horn, the suona, traditionally used in a variety of settings and rituals including funerals, producing blaring, high-pitched sounds for both the living and the dead. I find this a bold, delicate, fascinating, and ultimately rather moving, album; albeit with a title far too long to mention in such a brief review.

Black Truffle

Other than the suona, it is not always possible to know who is making which sound, and that does not really matter. The important thing is to hear the trio responding to each other brilliantly, without flashiness, and feel the music retaining it's intensity even as the longer pieces take their time to develop. These improvisations have (known and unknown) creative methods by which elements of harmony, melody, and rhythm are achieved. The group's abstract expressionism, unpredictable, coherent, and deliberate, allows gives plenty of opportunity for subjective interpretation. At times I imagined an airtight module in space, at others un-manned train trucks engaged in dubious activities far beneath a mountain. I heard traces of bleeping static buzz and pictured a dystopian wilderness, stalactites thawing and dripping in a radioactive cave, locusts crawling inside air ducts, an astronaut's life support system going into crisis mode, a security patrol blasting horns five light years away, and the feeling of waking from a nap to find the launderette is flooding. As with several albums by the group, it is possible to see Haino as the central figure, perhaps like an actor in a film, with O’Rourke and Ambarchi setting up the lighting, or changing the scenery, but on the other hand things seem nicely balanced, with perfectly equal exchanges. For example, as the suona wails with longer and longer notes like a grief stricken bird crying out into eternity, alternated with passages where Haino must be catching his breath, O’Rourke and Ambarchi provide deeper and lower tones, some gong-like sustain, a section of higher-frequency twinkling and pulsing, slow bass notes and a fading signal.

The shorter final track (of four) is full of whooshing, crackling, echo: a beautiful coda as if the machines somehow continued to play after the trio had gone, suggestive perhaps of a residue of life, or the detection of brain wave activity after physical death. By the way, Dewey Redman used to play the suona (which he called a “musette”) as did Mick Karn, who listed it as a “dida.” I must add that the album cover is stunning - Lasse Marhaug’s photograph from Norway, of the Ellingsrudåsen station on the Oslo metro, line 2. The last stop on the line; the exit that goes into the forest.

samples available here

  2195 Hits

Fehler Kuti, "Professional People"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a2160160686_16.jpgSeeing this release announced as music for "squares" or gated communities, unlikely to appeal to your "woke friends" made me approach it as one might any potential minefield. Learning that Julian Warner, aka Fehler Kuti, is a cultural anthropologist, actor, writer, editor, speaker, art festival curator and producer didn’t lighten the mood much as I feared an onslaught of dry polemic. What a relief then to simply get hooked by these hypnotic tunes - several of which were lullabies for Warner’s newborn child. Professional People reveals as a transcultural concept album, lightly touched with softly spoken wit, 8-bit space jazz, cosmic Euro-pulse, pan, chant, Afro-neon groove, wordless harmony, and melancholic synth. Some of the song titles can act as political signposts, but lyrics are few, mostly oblique, and any message subliminal: hidden in plain sight amid references to bureaucracy, cars, office buildings, home, leisure, gardens, and security. There is no holy indigestible agitprop, no denial of anyone else’s struggle, and Warner leaves academic language and analyses of class, race, and history for the books. He’s razor sharp, but kind, and rather than cutting with words he sprinkles sardonic humor and personal history in with broader observations. The whole record invites everyone to swing along together in our various states of alienated inclusion. Phew. I won’t hear many more enjoyable albums this year.

Alien Transistor

With the aid of stalwarts from The Notwist, Fehler Kuti builds a laid back sound with drive but also plenty of breathing space. Markus Acher's brilliant drumming is key, and Micha Acher adds sousaphone and trumpet flourishes. Equally, Sascha Schwegeler's steel drum helps make "Transatlantic Ideology" a standout track. Here Kuti gently references a popcultural and socio-theoretical Afro-Americanophilia in Germany that must be addressed as it deflects from anti-racist movements and away from other racist exploitations (systematic exclusion of Romani people, capitalist exploitation of eastern European migrant laborers). Off record he points out that Black Germans do not make up a racialized labor underclass, so in this sense the leftist fetish of the African American plight is devoid of its revolutionary potential when directed at the Black German. I say "gently" but, as with several stunning lines laid into the fabric of this album "Is a black man humanoid?" made me jump. I uncomfortably recalled the satirical essay "Are The Jews Human?" which got that awkward old stick Wyndham Lewis into a spot of critical bother. Whereas Lewis was brilliant but easily depicted as a brute, Warner’s unflinching honesty about his own status as a professional "manager of color" is his calling card. He insists his class are using the paradigm of diversity as a tool to escape their fate, without changing the class relations as a whole. Who better, then, to warn us: "This song is a song to end all ties, to say goodbye to old, and say hello to new, lies." If that sounds heavy, it’s actually as catchy as The Bonzo Dog Band doing "Terry Keeps His Clips On."

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  3239 Hits

Giusto Pio, "Motore Immobile"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a2188747627_10.jpg

The recent news of the death of Franco Battiato drew me to Giusto Pio’s solo debut album, a classic of Italian minimalism. Produced by Battiato in 1979 and first released on Cramps records, Motore Immobile was generally ignored before languishing in obscurity. The Soave label reissued the album on vinyl in 2017, the year of Pio’s passing, and issued a vinyl repress shortly before Battiato died: an appropriate symmetry for two men who worked so beautifully together. The quality of their musicianship and compositional skill is such that, with simple organ drone, modest voice, delicate violin, and resonant piano, a vivid and sacred impression is created.

Soave

There is no law against trying to describe the subtle mystery and calm in this magnificent recording, but there probably ought to be. Let me first, then, defer to an expert writer on minimalism to succinctly describe those elements that Pio uses to achieve so much. As Alan Licht says "on the first side/title track, he uses a droning organ and moves very calmly from triad to triad, superimposing the next one briefly before moving on, occasionally expanding the sound with octave doubling and then just as quickly subtracting the lower tones. Intermittent humming and violin provide additional notes. On the second side, 'Ananta,' he uses a piano flourish to introduce each triad, landing on the tonic note each time."

The organ on the title track is played by Danilo Lorenzini and Michele Fedrigotti. Giusto Pio himself adds violin, and Martin Kleist doesn’t so much sing as hum almost beneath the surface of consciousness. Pio's violin playing has the care and precision of a sculptor or surgeon, shaping the music, and paring it down to bare bones. Matching the human voice with the organ drones produces a profound and spiritual harmony. Earlier in life I found the organ (in church) overpowering. It seemed at times to obliterate the congregation, as might a tool of class-based domination. While achieving a stunning musical purity, Motore Immobile also preserves the importance of the human voice. I have now come to love the organ, and recent works such as Kali Malone's The Sacrificial Code, where the instrument appears to be alive and breathing, have helped with that. For Pio's second piece, "Ananta," Lorenzini plays organ and Fedrigotti switches to piano. It too is an unforgettable work, dazzling as sunlight hitting colored glass objects in a Venetian shop window. Motore Immobile has a place among other classics of the period, such as Roberto Cacciapaglia's Sei note in logica (1979), Luciano Cilio's Dialoghi Del Presente (1977), and Franco Battiato's L’Egitto Prima Delle Sabbie (1978) that is assured for all time.

samples available here

  2202 Hits

"Strain Crack & Break: Music From The Nurse With Wound List Volume One (France)"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a3526392432_10.jpgThe Nurse With Wound List is a unique passport to musical discoveries located beyond the horizon of well-trodden flat Earth popular culture. NWW's founder member and sole curator, Steven Stapleton, has teamed with the Finders Keepers label to issue one track by every artist mentioned in the directory of obscurity. The second edition (Germany) is highly anticipated, but this first volume announces a high standard with gems including those from Horrific Child, Jean Guérin, Lard Free, Pierre Henry, and ZNR. Compilation albums can tend to be patchy, but this one is a consistent gift, probably because it originates from a lengthy real world exploration, the kind of which will never be replicated by any amount of fast clicking through the digital haystack. The Strain Crack & Break series is going to confound the expectations of seasoned crate diggers and newcomers alike.

Finders Keepers

Nurse With Wound’s 1979 debut Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella was recorded in six hours and the general reaction can best be described as underwhelmed bemusement. UK music weekly Sounds awarded it ????? instead of using their normal 1-5 stars rating system. The title comes from the surrealist book Les Chants de Maldoror, and NWW dedicated the album to the Nihilist Spasm Band and also Luigi Russolo (author of the Futurist manifesto The Art Of Noises). However, the infamous reputation of Chance Meeting is chiefly due to it containing a list of NWW's favorite uber-obscure artistic influences and inspirations. This idea was taken from an album by German free jazz artist Wolfgang Dauner. Stapleton and co-author John Fothergil argued for months, culling choices from around eight years of rabid record collecting. In Stapleton’s case, this began in 1971 aged 14, when he bought his first Amon Düul album. The pair scoured Soho, and traveled through the UK and Europe scouring second hand shops for anything deemed original or boundary shattering. By 17, Stapleton was living at sound engineer Conny Plank’s house and working as roadie for the band Guru Guru. France is thus a tiny sample of a vast, doggedly idiosyncratic, collection.

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  2885 Hits

"Sound Storing Machines: The First 78rpm Records from Japan, 1903-1912"

This set all too briefly demonstrates why, from Henry Cowell to Tim Hecker, via La Monte Young, Alan Hovhaness, Olivier Messiaen, Lou Harrison, Benjamin Britten, and Ákos Nagy, many Western composers have been inspired by the sacred other-wordly elegance of gagaku music. Based on the tracks by Suenaga Togi and gagaku musicians from the Imperial Household Orchestra, a whole album by them is high on my list of coveted items. There are a variety of other styles here, with dazzling twangy sounds from the three-string samisen, Zen-meditative bamboo flute, a xylophone made of stones, boisterous songs from puppet theater, and enough surface noise to satisfy any connoisseur of hiss and crackle.

Sublime Frequencies

Anyone familiar with Victrola Favorites will have an inkling of what to expect from this set of ultra-rare early 20th century recordings from Japan, collected by Robert Mills: 78 rpm-related exotica in the form of intriguing photographs, a variety of sounds, with good information concerning the instruments, plus cultural and historical context. Sound Storing Machines is nowhere near as lavishly packaged as Victrola Favorites (few releases are) but it comes with enough generous and intriguing information to distract from the listening process. This is not a criticism, but I decided to approach it with several full listens without reading any background, without concern for like or dislike, and merely with openness, and the spirit of “disinterestedness.” John Cage has suggested that for the making of music to have the possibility for complete and fulfilled moments one should make music “as the Orient would say” for the love of making it, as opposed to the pursuit of fame or wealth. Listeners and musicians alike should approach music disinterestedly, in order to integrate the personality - which is "why we love the art." Without much thought I first listened at low volume on tiny inbuilt laptop speakers. I began to think that this music is the perfect pitch for earbuds,which I don't possess, and only later I tried using good quality headphones at even lower volume. I will never play this album loudly through speakers.

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  2717 Hits

Phew / John Duncan / Kondo Tatsuo, "Backfire of Joy"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a0700186680_16.jpgThis short release captures the only performance from the trio. Recorded at Hosei University, Tokyo, on John Duncan’s first visit to Japan in 1982, it is a fascinating document both in the context of that visit but also in terms of the creativity, emotion, technique, and improvisation. The participants are meeting here for the first time, although they were familiar with each other’s work through tape exchange. Duncan is finding and processing shortwave radio signals, Tatsuo using piano, tape loops, and synth textures, and Phew vocalizing in English and Japanese. 

Black Truffle

On the first of two pieces, "Backfire," the group plunges straight into a tense section dominated by percussive tape loops and Phew’s hybrid chant-song. The effect is of a woman plodding around in metal boots and tinkering on a broken stylophone while absentmindedly reading aloud the labels of electronic appliances. Yet she is actually offering up a kind of liturgy “I already sold you… an electric plug, an electric bell, an electric cooker, an electric kettle, an electric toothbrush, an electric knife...don’t let me sell you... an electric chair.” If this is a serious message against consumerism or the death penalty then the paradoxical mundane glamor in the charming tone and rhythm of her voice elevates it far above dull moralizing. Around the seven minute mark comes a halt and bare smattering of applause gives way to a more mournful flow, with chiming and buzzing synth melodies. Then Phew switches to Japanese and the abrasiveness ratchets up in a thumping swirling climax.

“Backfire" is the more gritty and dissonant of the two pieces but the creative extemporization holds together very well. Pearls are made by grit, and the second, slightly shorter, “Joy” has a soothing and ecstatic atmosphere and more breathing space for the music. There is a wonderful feel to this track, and Duncan’s spluttering bursts of shortwave noise provide perfect contrast to elegaic singing and echoing piano notes. A slightly over-the-top comparison would be stalactites dropping into a moonlit pool of molten silver. Phew manages to sound as if she’s singing backwards.

The tape exchange meant these collaborators will have had an idea of what the others would bring to the performance, but it is intriguing to wonder if some of the audience knew of Duncan's previous events and expected to be challenged by upsetting or confrontational elements. To describe him as notorious would (still) be a massive understatement. It is arguable that this recording only exists because of his self-exile from the USA. He had acquired a reputation for transforming his personal experience into disturbing art and also using disturbing art to trigger transforming personal experiences in others. I refer in particular to the 1980 performance combining two separate but linked events: an audio recording of Duncan allegedly having sex with a cadaver (which he’d obtained by bribing a mortuary assistant in Mexico) and projected photographs of his later vasectomy, presented to a Los Angeles audience as Blind Date - a depiction of male rejection turning into rage and self-punishing loathing. This work made his earlier Scare from 1976, wherein people answered their door to be confronted by a figure (Duncan) in a head mask, pointing and firing a blank-loaded gun in their face before fleeing, seem relatively benign. Blind Date provoked a backlash of such fierce critical and personal opinion that two years later Duncan relocated to Japan as something of a cultural leper.

Backfire of Joy occurred as Duncan was deliberately submerging himself into a new country and the alienating effects of a foreign language. A creative dialogue works here, though, with Phew and Tatsuo at least equal partners in the trio. The record can be enjoyed without an understanding of how Duncan's upbringing and personal history affected his art. Equally, the event did not rely on Reichian breathing exercises or rather “hyperventilation used to create a complete loss of physical and psychic control" or the need for an audience to confront or dissolve the personal armor preventing us from getting in touch with our true nature. That’s just as well, as I won’t be shedding my armor any time soon - at least not the visor and codpiece.

Samples can be found here.

  2086 Hits

C-Schulz, "Frühe Jahre"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a0634048495_16.jpgIn 2017, C-Schulz’s late '80s-early '90s work was compiled in this mesmerizing album. Barely in his twenties, Schulz created some genre-defying music which, although clearly located between the kosmische music of 1970s Germany and early techno-electronica, resists easy classification or dating. The compilation is impossible to become bored with since it is memorable and satisfying yet so unpredictable that it is strangely difficult to recall the atmosphere and pace of individual tracks. This sprawling array of shifting sounds can perhaps be understood as the equivalent of a classic neuroscience memory test where the subject tries to recall 20 unrelated items after they have been covered by a cloth. I remember a Dada collage, industrial rhythms, a tiny piece of acid funk, library musique-concrete, heavy breathing, carbonated liquid cracking ice cubes, galloping static and clattering train tracks, looped chanting, economic radio news chatter, giggling children, a growling beast, a racing heart beat, poignant brass and synth tones.

Unseen Worlds

For all the juxtaposition and surprise, this is an uncluttered and precise soundtrack of sustained tension which, decades later, sounds neither dated nor gimmicky. Music does not need a purpose but Schulz's could be suited for waking an astronaut from a deep space pod in the year 3000, or for having a panic attack sipping cocktails in a late-1960s airport lounge as the Mike Sammes Singers refuse to be drowned out by occasional road drills. Marcus Schmickler co-produced many of the 20 tracks and he contributes liner notes. Frühe Jahre came to my attention three months ago when (aged 64) I began a vicious bout of shingles. When it seemed nothing could distract from that nightly agony, thank God for these glorious, innovative, and timeless recordings.

samples available here

  2243 Hits

Schnitt, "Wand"

https://www.forcedexposure.com/App_Themes/Default/Images/product_images/product_page/N/N069LP_PROD.jpgOn their second album, Schnitt (the duo Moritz Illner and Markus Christ) arrange distinct units of brass, silence, scratchy art-installation noise and sparse deep bass into a tuneful, compelling post-rock collage. Given that Illner’s sole instrument is a vinyl record-cutting machine it is perhaps remarkable that Wand is so musical. Via headphones the dynamics of this recording come alive, and I love that nothing is overdone or (10 tracks in 27 minutes) overlong.

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  4272 Hits

Mort Garson, "Mother Earth's Plantasia"

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0263/1575/products/sbr3030-plantasia-300_1024x1024.jpg?v=1553025556Plantasia has become a well-known record despite a limited initial 1976 release to anyone buying a houseplant from the Mother Earth store in Los Angeles. This was music for plant owners to create an environment of optimal growth - simple haunting melodies composed on a moog.

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  4102 Hits

Qluster, "Elemente"

https://i1.sndcdn.com/artworks-000385424448-73rter-t500x500.jpgElemente is a dynamic and hypnotic record, not at all reliant upon listener knowledge of the three incarnations of K/C/Qluster nor of the relentless creativity of Hans-Joachim Roedelius. The trio play a range of analogue synths and tracks are coherently sequenced into a whole album: two elements which combine to give a richness, depth and balance to their expression.

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  5664 Hits

Jason Wietlispach, "Oak Creek Recordings"

Jason Wietlispach, Oak Creek RecordingsThis confident and well-balanced record by multi-instrumentalist and producer Jason Wietlispach confounded my high expectations. From the intriguing choice of instruments and the way they are played and recorded, to the subtle variety and flow of the music, it is an inspired assemblage of diverse musical elements. Some are finely layered and deliberately structured, others more improvised, but all add to the unfussy atmosphere and clear sense of direction pervading Oak Creek Recordings.

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  5012 Hits