[Interview] Pauline Anna Strom

Fearlessly individualistic and fiercely independent, Pauline Anna Strom self-released a vibrantly diverse series of LPs and cassettes between 1982 and 1988. Long regarded in hushed, reverent tones as one of the finest yet most obscure composers to spring out of the West Coast home-produced cosmic synthesizer music of the 80s, Strom strove to create a sensationally heightened world of alternate reality, pulling from a past and future that isn’t quite ours. Strom’s internal vision is likely so vivid in part because she was born blind, something she feels has strengthened her musical abilities. RVNG Intl. has recently released an expansive and gorgeous 80 compilation of her work, named for her sometimes-moniker Trans-Millenia Consort, a title she uses as a “personal declaration that I have been in previous lives, that I am in this life, and that I shall in future lives be a musical consort to time.” You can buy the compilation here.

Interview by Caroline Polachek (Chairlift, Ramona Lisa, CEP)


Where are you right now?

You mean physically where I am right now? I’m in San Francisco, at home. My studio is here. I do everything here at home at the apartment. Thank god this city has rent control!

Do you live near a park, or nature at all, or are you mostly indoors? I ask because I’m very curious what your relationship with nature is like. 

Well, when I was married and had a husband that could see and we drove places in the car, I’d spend time at the ocean and different places like Muir Woods. Since I’m on my own now I don’t get to go as much. But my deeper connection with it is in my mind, and my brain, combining experience in time gone by and what I hold onto, and what I can sense and feel. Does that make sense?

Absolutely. Are there any specific sonic memories of nature you go back to a lot?

I used to take a recorder, a Sony TC-D5M, and headphones, and record wherever we were and bring the sound and process it, whether it was the ocean, or just the air and trees, or animals, those kinds of things, and just give it space to breathe and to live in with a lot of different effects by giving it the depth and precision of timing. Does the make sense? A challenge to me would be now to create those same sounds, not through sampling or recording, but actually creating them using synthesizers, using all the parameters, time signatures, wave forms, frequencies, everything like that. The challenge is to create sounds, create water. Not just the wave, but to create water—does that make sense?

Well, as a listener I get the impression you’re already doing that in your work—for example, very literally with the Aquatic Realms record. 

All of the sounds that you heard in Aquatic Realms were all created sounds on the Prophet 10.

Yeah, I could tell, almost because they seemed kind of uncanny. The first thing that hit me was an awareness of “Okay, she’s recreating nature with what at the time was very new technology.”


But the more I listened to it, it made me think about how the deep sea world actually sounds quite like electronic music in the first place, which then flips inside out again when you remember that nature is actually informing technology development, whether we’re conscious of it or not: deep sea creatures with all the lights, or geometric perfection, efficiency, all that. It sent me on kind of a spiral. 


But your records preceding Aquatic Realms almost seem to exist in a kind of pre-nature place, or post-nature place, like plants, animals, trees, human voices don’t belong in that world. It’s too pure. I imagine a primeval earth, before life exists or after it’s been destroyed. 

That’s the way I think. Usually I create things with my mind and then try to create them in sound as I go, but what you’re expressing is exactly right. I’ve never felt at home in the present time. It’s always like, “I’m here but I’m not in the right place.”

I think a lot of people feel that, they just don’t manage to find an escape. Do you ever feel like that’s the task as an artist, to create the place you feel at home?

I think so. I’m the kind of person who could go to Mars and be perfectly content as long as I had my animal, my music, perhaps a mate, someone I could love, and be able to read.

What kind of animal do you have?

She’s a Cyclura, a lizard. 

Does she make any sounds?

The closest she’ll come, and I’m going to have to try to catch that sometime, is you know, Mommy picks her up and carries her around and she’ll go (whispered) “hhhhhheh” (laughs). Like, “This woman is dragging me around like a rag doll!”

She sighs! A sighing lizard! 

Yes, she does! That’s as far as her capability goes. But I believe that these sounds…probably I could even get a stethoscope and listen to her heart, record that kind of thing too, the blood flowing through her body. But what I’m trying to say is that I’m not really in tune with present time and modernity as we know it today, but the the far flung past, distant future, the primitive.

But both those states only exist in our imagination, and in that way could you say they’re just extensions of yourself?

Yes. Yeah, I do.

You mentioned earlier the idea of “timing”—the way you might handle samples within time, and that’s something that feels quite unique about your work. I come from a pop background where the dynamics, the changes between patterns, is what creates excitement or emotion. You get big moments of impact and movement. But the thing that struck me about your music is how you’ve so completely smoothed out dynamics, and the changes really sneak up on you like watching weather. It doesn’t guide the listener the way pop does. 

Right, right. In other words, you follow a formula.

Not a formula, it’s just a different language—almost like a dance using dramatic synchronized gestures verses a wash of ambient ones. 

Ah, I get it.

It’s a different way of using the same tools. But what I’m curious about in your work is how you use synths like voices coming in and out to create a fairly static picture that always has a very even amount of motion going on—it never goes dead or peaks; it’s like watching an aquarium. And with that in mind, going back to the idea of timing—what does it feel like for you when you’re working with a single layer of sound and deciding its timing? What’s your relationship with knowing when to bring things in and out?

It’s just kind of intuitive—I let it flow and it just happens, without a preconceived way of doing it. It’s right. I live in it. When I’m creating it I live in it, I surrender to it and become it.

Have you ever worked with voice?

Just my own. I’ve worked a lot with processing my own voice. There are a few where I used heavy effects and allowed my voice to come from different areas, and I also sometimes mix with my headphones on. But yes, just allowing the voice—not in the way you would think of singing, but making it like an instrument.

What about synths as voice?

Oh! I don’t have any problem with that at all, especially because there’s so much we can create. In those recordings I used a Prophet 10, a DX7 and an E-mu Emulator…that was all analog equipment. But now I can do all the same things digitally, so I’m learning a whole new world where I’ll have much more control—but it’s structured in a totally different way.

What’s your setup like now?

Right now I don’t have much, just a Korg Kross and an Ultra Novation, and the thing with these machines is (sighs) the manuals. I want the parameters manuals and the operations manuals, and of course there’s no speech driver in the machines. I wish those companies would put something like that in there, because everything is on a display so I can’t get really deep into something the way I want to. So I have a friend that’s patiently, verbally recording the manuals for me.

Would you ever make those audio manuals accessible to the public? 

You can download them from the companies once you do the warranties and all that, but then they’re secured. I wanted to download the manuals into my Victor Reader Stream, which is a device made by Humanware. I wanted to download it into my Victor so I could go through it page by page, but the manuals don’t transfer across devices. So that’s why he’s verbally recording it for me. I don’t think I could upload it for the public, but I do think if they made speech drivers for the machines to allow for a setting you could use as you scroll through the display, it could tell you what’s there and how to get to things. And that wouldn’t be hard to do.

Would you ever collaborate with a synth company to make a system like that?

Yeah, I would.

That would be amazing. 

Yeah. See, with the device I use, I download lots of books from the library and bookshare, podcasts and news services. I can do all that on the Victor and their manuals are burned into the software internally. So when I got the Victor and learned it, I went through the user manual and it showed me all the correct keys with error messages and everything. If they can do that then surely it must be possible with other electronics. But back to music! I really do like the Korg, and another thing is I wanted a workstation. I like it, I really do, and it’s great to be able to save everything on the SD cards.

Is it at all like using an 8-track?

Yeah, my Yamaha QX1 was an eight track recorder. It was digital but it used a floppy disk! (laughs) But I’ve alway been one to save things. I don’t feel comfortable unless I’ve got that backup, like, “I’m going to lose it all!”

At the time, all this gear, especially the digital stuff, was brand new territory. How did you first start experimenting with it and learning it?

I fell in love with the Prophet 10 right away. After that there was the CS80 then the DX7…I’d learn as I’d go. I’d learn through repetition—you could explain something to me technically and it’d probably go right out of my head, but when my hands start doing what I know to do I learn that way. And I just experimented and gradually worked through it all.

Do you ever have dreams where you’re programming? 

No, but I get lost emotionally, and I work at night. I live downtown and it’s noisy, so the quietest time to do anything, when the energy is slower, is at night. So I’m a night person because of that, in a lot of ways. But if I start at six in the evening, it could suddenly be six in the morning and I wouldn’t even be tired. Time sort of stands still. It goes by and you don’t even…you probably experience this.

Yeah. I experience it with editing especially, where you lose so much time listening to long stretches over and over again to just make one adjustment to one little thing. 

The way I did it all—I guess you classify it as overdubbing? I never know what the completed piece is going to be. I just start with an idea and work with it, then build upon it track by track without a plan, just going on what feels right. That’s how I basically did it, and how I’ll do it again once I go digital. Did you ever work with a TX816?

No, what is it? 

Ahh, Yamaha only made a few of them. I’ll tell you, when I eventually make money, the Yamaha—they have a wonderful workstation—that would be the be-all-end-all for me. When they came out with the DX7 they also came out with something called the TX816 which was a big box and it had eight little DX7s. You controlled them through the DX. I’m hoping that I can figure out a way in time, cause I made a lot of sounds for the 816 and you played them through the DX7 and the keyboard…and, oh, I got creative! I got lost. There are some really unique sounds in that thing. I can get lost in creating sounds. Equally intriguing is getting lost in the sounds, and that thing really allowed you to build and build. In other words I would create a sound but it wouldn’t be just one—it would go through all eight boxes and allow you to create some kind of sound you’d never think of. God, I love it, I love that stuff! It’s almost like a drug.

Speaking of drugs, you do have a couple tracks—

(laughs) Oh yeah, I know where you’re going…

I was just curious because some of it feels bleak, and I wondered if you were being critical of drug experience or people’s reliance on them—

You’re talking about Plot Zero and “Mushroom Trip” and those pieces? I wasn’t being critical. I looked at those pieces like a mind trip without chemicals.

Were you going based on other people’s descriptions or your own memories?

My own! (laughs) There’s a very short piece—I’m sure it’s lost, it’s not out there—it’s called “Domestic Peace.” It’s probably all gone, because you know the tape deteriorates, but I put a plate on the table, utensils, and I set all my effect so you’d feel like you were setting that plate down in a vast canyon.


And I set the utensils, then I stir fried some vegetables and added that, then poured a glass of water, but then made the water seem to go from one side of the room to the other, and then I added in a baby voice (makes baby voice), and the only music in the whole thing was synthesizer flute very subtly in the background at one point. But what I was creating was a scene. I’d love to do more of that, create different scenes. I remember once a friend of mine was having a Halloween party and he knew I had an imagination, and he wanted a piece for the party, and he called me 24 hours ahead of time so I had to put it together very quickly. I created a heartbeat and a few gongs on the Prophet. They were going to have a guy laying in a coffin, and I created an attack on a woman. I did the voices of both the male attacker and the woman, and then to decapitate somebody I dropped a cabbage in a bucket of water. I created this whole scene and they loved it, but other people I played it for either hated it or were fascinated. But that’s something I want to get back into—making scenes and elements and scenarios with sound. There’s a lot in my mind I could come up with like that.

How do you feel about the potential for virtual reality or interactivity, the fusing of that technology with music? 

I think it’s perfect. I’ve had this preconceived idea in the back of my mind. I’m not a live player, but I think I could interact with things like that. Not the same as a concert, but like what you’re describing. My lizard’s name is Little Soulstice, with a “u,” like “soul.” I could picture this project involving lizards and reptiles in a soft way, with them floating in the air in virtual reality. Little Soulstice floating through the air, creating sound and music and light. There’s a lot that could be done with that kind of stuff.

You mentioned light. What’s your relationship like with light?

I see things in my head. I dream in color. I see things and know how they should be. I just…know. If I go out on the balcony right now I know the sun is there because I can feel the heat. The blindness to me is a nuisance more than anything.

When I listen your work I imagine an immersive 3D environment, which I know isn’t an accident. You’re so tuned to environmental sound. The kind of focus it must take to create the depths of these environments—

I think I know where you’re going. On the album with more Asian material, Japanese Impressions, it has those pieces “Tea Garden” and “Warriors Of The Sun.” I’ve never learned or experienced any culture or nationality of music, but I can sense how to do it myself. Does that make sense?

But you must have listened to music from other cultures, no? 

I mostly listen to classical. A lot of Bach, Chopin, a lot of early music too. Gregorian chant, a lot of very early medieval stuff.

So many electronic musicians specifically reference early music and Bach. Why do you think that is?

Maybe it has something to do with the frequencies and the harmony? I’m not sure. There must be a connection in that way.

There’s something futuristic about—

It’s timeless.

Beyond being timelessly enjoyable, something about the intervals just feels…

Ooohhhh yeah. Speaking of timing, when I had all that equipment, I didn’t just look at the Prophet or the DX, but everything at once. I had a whole rack of that stuff, but I looked at the whole thing as one big synthesizer. I’d use the effects a part of the composition. With the QX1 when you edited, creating intervals that weren’t even played but just layered using effects, the whole setup is one big instrument. I did it all as part of the composition. It’s so expressive, there’s so much you can do. And now of course with these machines, everything in that rack is software now—you can do all that and it’s all in that little thing, in one keyboard. You don’t need tons of stuff like you did before! My hangup about computers, though, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, is the obsolescence that’s built in. I want a solid state machine that I can rely on fifteen years from now. Even if I got something else, I want to be able to transfer work…you see where I’m going? That’s what I resent about all of this.

That’s a good point. A violin you can pick up fifty years later and it’s still a violin. 

Yeah. We’re forced through obsolescence. I don’t have a smart phone and I don’t want one. I have a little flip phone. We’re on a landline right now, plugged into the wall. But I can’t do this “every three years you gotta buy the latest thing”…when it comes to making my work I need something I can rely on, that I can trust, so I’ll never have to throw all my past work out the window. Ugh! That’s a big part of my upset with the whole thing. (laughs)

I’ve been screwed by that a few times, and yet I keep coming back to it without a second thought. It’s something everyone takes for granted too.

You mentioned that one of the pieces you heard, Aquatic Realms, where you hear the water dripping? When I created the water dripping on the DX, when I created water dripping with my fingers—you’ll think I’m crazy, but I could feel the texture of the water in my fingers as I played. You can’t do that on a computer. You can’t feel that kind of connection on a computer.

They do make very good midi controllers now that give you the contact a piano or a nice synth would have.


But zooming out a bit, I wanted ask you about the RVNG reissue. How do you feel having the music repackaged for a new audience? 

I’m very happy with it. I think it’s a beautiful job and I have no complaints about it. But you know, maybe because the label is out east and I’m here, I know it’s real but I sort of feel a disconnect. Nobody’s fault, but the reissue is a reality out there, but not for me. When I can begin to create new things, that’s where I connect with reality.

Do you have plans for new music?

Ohhhh yeah, once I can get these manuals!


Thank you to Pauline Anna Strom, Caroline Polachek, Matt Werth,
Brandon Sanchez, and RVNG Intl. for facilitating this interview.

Baffo Banfi – Ma, Dolce Vita, 1979

Guest post by Peter Harkawik

I recently found myself in line at an airport Starbucks, earbuds pumping the second and standout track on Giuseppe “Baffo” Banfi’s excellent 1979 album, Ma, Dolce Vita. The scene was transformed. I watched as headset-clad baristas twirled in a choreographed dance of whipped cream and chocolate sauce, gleeful panache emerging in their faces. Glowing QR codes passed under holstered laserbeam scanners. Boxes of soy milk changed hands in time with symphonic Moog crescendos, and petulant children spun on Samsonite between rounds of stereophonic cabasas. Such is the power of great music: to transform the ordinary into the sublime. I’m no expert in prog, Berlin School, Italian Library, or anything that qualifies me to write about this record. I just like it.

Banfi was a member of the hallowed Biglietto per l’Inferno (“Ticket to Hell”). As the story goes, Klaus Schulze took an interest, but when Trident folded in 1975, leaving their second album in limbo, the group disbanded. Banfi went on to release several solo albums on Schulze’s Innovative Communication label. Ma, Dolce Vita, the entirety of which is reprised on the compilation Sound of Southern Sunsets, is his second, and I’ve been able to find out very little about it. The cover suggests an Archizoom kiosk, half a Joe Colombo or perhaps something made by the German artist Rebecca Horn. (Apparently it’s a photo by Ezio Geneletti.) It is an album that very quickly outstrips its hazy psychedelic trappings.

Dolce Vita opens slowly with “Oye Cosmos Va,” which, like much electronic music of its era, would not feel out of place in a Carl Sagan special. Its plodding, trippy synthesizer loops quickly give way to the more expansive and exuberant sound of “Sweet Summer on Planet Venus.” A driving beat propels this airy, probing melody through multiple sonic landscapes. It’s a jubilant effusion of interleaved percussive elements that resolves quickly as the gas runs out on each layer. It will always leave me wanting more. “Vino, Donne E Una Tastiera” picks up with a syrupy, rattlesnake swagger, suggesting the dim saloon of a spaghetti western. “Astralunato” employs a contrapuntal bassoon-like sound that I’ve only heard used to such great effect by the British armchair duo Woo. It gives the song a sort of self-satisfied, delirious schmaltz that ambles along at its own pace. The album’s final track, loosely, “Fantasy of an Unknown Planet,” is a dark, arpeggiated voyage, accompanied by tentative high-hat and ersatz flute. 18 minutes in length, it builds steadily to a climactic bass line dropout and melodic redoubling.

If last year’s Blade Runner sequel is a testament to the enduring sound of the synthesizer, then Ma, Dolce Vita, like the original film, reminds us that the 1970s still sound like the future.

David Casper – Crystal Waves, 1984

Another gem from private issue new age icon David Casper, one of the later follow-ups to his excellent Tantra-La. Like that record, Crystal Waves manages to blend a laundry list of instruments (cello, played by Jami Sieber; marimba, played by Scott Cossu; ch’in [yuequin, aka moon zither, played by T’ao Chu-Chen], h’siao [Chinese bamboo flute], ocarina, crystallophone) into something that never sounds at all busy. That unhurried spaciousness is even moreso the case for this record than for Tantra-La. While a very careful and thorough use of acoustic environment brings to mind open landscapes rather than large rooms, and while there’s definitely some highly detailed multi-tracking going on, the precision and directness of the sounds seem to belie their numbers–which is to say, Crystal Waves masquerades as a very effective minimalist line drawing until you stare at it for awhile and realize it’s a full-color impressionist oil painting. It’s rendered in tones that are so delicate, translucent even, that you might not realize right away that they’re there.

This is particularly the case on the second side of the cassette, which, for our purposes, is the “Crystal Waves I-IV” tracks 4-7. It’s composed entirely of tuned crystal glasses:

Each glass was played individually with meditative attention and recorded, grouped, and re-recorded in a lengthy blending process. In order to attain a broad spectrum of sound from a simple source, tape speed, equalization, and harmonic balance were changed to produce sounds reminiscent of bass and cello, flutes and horns, organs, bells and gongs, and other sounds suggestive of electronic synthesis. Sometimes as many as thirty glasses may be heard at once, each with its own pulsation and timbre, produced acoustically by finger on glass.

The depth of field and texture Casper achieves with glass alone is remarkable, as is his gift with drawing heat out of sounds that might otherwise be predisposed towards frostiness. He’s just as skilled with his treatment of strings as he is with glasses: in spite of the wide openness of these songs, there’s a direct suggestion of reassuring warmth that I find myself feeding on over and over in the wintertime. I also just realized that it’s been a year almost to the day since I posted Tantra-La, so clearly these records are seasonally significant to me. I hope you love this as much as I do.

buy / download

Michael Stearns – Planetary Unfolding, 1981

A cosmic touchstone. Highly influential and ahead of its time. For the unfamiliar, Michael Stearns’s work was regularly featured on the Hearts of Space radio show, and his large catalogue of output includes scores for movies like Chronos and Samsara. In terms of purity of spaciousness, I can’t help but think of Steve Roach’s Structures from Silence (and unsurprisingly, the two went on to collaborate on several projects), but this is much denser and more detailed, filling in the gaps between broad instrumental strokes with many smaller layered sounds. It’s gorgeous stuff, and having realized that it’s been awhile since I posted anything in this wheelhouse, I think this is the most polished return to form I can think of. Try it in headphones!


Sebestyén Márta & Szörényi Levente ‎– Szerelmeslemez, 1985

Gorgeous interpretations of traditional Hungarian folk songs, fleshed out in full color with synth and drum machine textures. Effortless vocals predominantly by Sebestyén Márta, a folk singer, composer, and actress who has also worked with Deep Forest (!). There’s something Virginia Astley-esque about the deliberately innocent quality of her voice, though perhaps that’s  a typical affect of traditional Hungarian folk singing–I sadly wouldn’t know. The prolific musician and songwriter Szörényi Levente contributes some vocals as well (presumably in addition to much of this instrumentation, though I can’t find full credits anywhere), and his brother Szörényi Szabolcs produced the record.

I’ve listed the song titles in Hungarian followed by their English translations where applicable. There’s a lot to love here, texturally: rolling, churning synth and drum machine on tracks like “Segélj El Uramisten” and “Szerelem, Szerelem” that reminds me of Sakamoto; more abstract chirping sample play on “Este Lett;” but the centerpiece is the floating, sinewy stunner “András,” previewed below. Impressively, Szerelmeslemez (“Love Record”) only gets increasingly generous with additional eartime. Enjoy!

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 20

Here’s my most recent episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio. This one is comprised of entirely early Western vocal music (technically some of this is toeing the line into the Baroque period), almost completely a capella (I actually haven’t listened back to this to check, but I think there might be an instrumental drone or two in here), and mostly sacred, though I think at least one of these songs are non-devotional love songs. I’ve listed the composer as the artist, and then the performers in parentheses after the song title. In full transparency, I’m neither an expert on this stuff nor am I at all religious–I just really love this music, and I think it makes an ideal winter hibernation soundtrack. I hope you like it too. You can download an mp3 version here. Stay warm!

1. Hildegard von Bingen – O Lucidissima (Rosa Lamoreaux & Hesperus Ensemble)
2. Claudio Monteverdi – Ah Dolente Partita
(Emma Kirkby & The Consort of Musicke)
3. Pérotin – Plainchaint: Viderunt omnes fines terrae (Tonus Peregrinus)
4. Tomás Luis De Victoria – Kyrie (The Tallis Scholars)
5. Léonin – Viderunt Omnes, 2 Part Organum (Tonus Peregrinus)
6. Claudio Monteverdi – Donna, Nel Mo Ritorno (La Venexiana)
7. Unknown composer, 12th century Aquitanian monasteries –
Lux refulget (Sequentia)
8. Carlo Gesualdo – Sabbato Sancto, Responsorium 5 (The Hilliard Ensemble)
9. Walter Frye – O florens rosa (The Hilliard Ensemble)
10. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – Motet Nigra Sum (The Tallis Scholars)
11. Pérotin – Beata viscera (The Hilliard Ensemble)
12. Unknown composer, 13th century England – Conductus:
O Maria stella maris (Anonymous 4)
13. Léonin – Pentecost: Repleti sunt omnes (Red Byrd)
14.Thomas Tallis – Spem in alium (Motet for 40 Voices) (The Tallis Scholars)

The Coconuts – Don’t Take My Coconuts, 1983

The Coconuts were an offshoot project of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, the brainchild of August Darnell, a Bronx-born composer who’s an absolute genius with big band sounds, Latin jazz textures, and cuttingly clever lyrics. The Coconuts were initially the trio of backing singers in Kid Creole & The Coconuts, but went on to release two full-lengths on their own, with production from Darnell (who was married to Adriana Kaegi, member of The Coconuts and co-founder of the original Kid Creole lineup. Less relatedly, I just excitedly realized that Fonda Rae was at one point a member of the Kid Creole band).

Don’t Take My Coconuts is killer song writing, fully fledged arrangements, and charismatic vocals together in full force. To be clear, the ladies of The Coconuts (Kaegi, Cheryl Poirier, and Taryn Hagey) were creative powerhouses in their own right–their vocal delivery is razor sharp and manages to be seductive even while covering “If I Only Had a Brain” (this is my second Wizard of Oz-related post this week, so make of that what you will). They were incredibly strong performers, able to stay in impeccable character while flawlessly executing fairly complicated choreography in perfect unison. The video for “Did You Have To Love Me Like You Did?” is a showcase of amazing outfits, spot-on choreo, and some, uh, monkeys–it’s embed disabled, so it’s different from the video previewed below, but you can watch it in full here.

I still haven’t found any clear origin story for “Ticket To The Tropics” (no relation to the Gerard Joling song, as far as I can tell), which has a different melody but the same lyrics as the Cristina track of the same name. I can’t find detailed credits for either of the two songs, but given the overlap in sensibilities I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some personnel cross-pollination going on in there somewhere. Enjoy!


Mix for Sanpo Disco

Honored to contribute a mix to Sanpo Disco, a very inspiring Melbourne-based mix series that I’ve been a fan of for a long time. This is meant to be a pushback against the most brutal New York winter in recent memory: tropical and Latin textures, pillowy synths, ocean waves, sunny Japanese garage pop, crickets. Yes, that’s John Martyn covering “Over The Rainbow,” and it’s just as weird-good as you’re hoping. You can download an mp3 version here. Cheers, and stay warm!

1. John Martyn – Over The Rainbow
2. Art of Noise – Crusoe (Ambient Version)
3. Pili Pili – Be In Two Minds
4. Yoshiaki Ochi – Ear Dreamin’
5. Unknown Cambodian Artist – Side B, Track 1 (Edit) (Sayonara Sound Productions 16)
6. Akira Ito – W・A・T・E・R
7. Sally Oldfield – Blue Water
8. The Coconuts – Did You Have To Love Me Like You Did?
9. Yuki Okazaki – アイドルを探せ
10. Grace Jones – The Crossing (Ooh The Action…) (Edit)
11. Ana Gabriel – Parece Que Fue Ayer (For C)
12. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Put Your Hands Up
13. Karin Krog – Hymn To Joy
14. Sven Grünberg – Temaga
15. Владимир Леви & Ким Брейтбург – Не Уходи, Дарящий
16. World Standard – 私の20世紀 (My 20th Century)
17. Piero Milesi & Daniel Bacalov – Camera 2 Parte

Ryuichi Sakamoto – Esperanto, 1985

Guest post by Andy Beta (Twitter / IG)

Last year was brutal in almost every aspect, from the social to the international to the personal. Amid such rubble, there was a bit of a silver lining, in that I achieved a noteworthy professional achievement: interviewing Ryuichi Sakamoto for the Gray Lady. We sat one afternoon and sipped tea at a café near his West Village home and discussed his stunning new album, async, and also drifted onto some other topics. He talked about his recent interest in La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 #5 as well as the works of Japanese sound artist Akio Suzuki. “One of his early pieces was a big concrete cube in a gallery and he pushed it so it made a sound of friction on the floor,” Sakamoto enthused. “It’s beauuuutiful music.”

We even briefly touched on one of my favorite solo albums of his, 1985’s Esperanto. Originally commissioned for a dance performance from New York-based choreographer Molissa Fenley, it’s one of Sakamoto’s earliest forays into sample-based music and it’s as bewildering, playful, formidable and forward-looking as anything in his catalog. He told me that the computer he used to make the album was massive, holding his hands out wider than his body to show the size of the actual discs that stored mere seconds of sound. The album also features tasteful percussion work from Yas-Kaz and some guitar slashes courtesy of Arto Lindsay.

There’s news that Light in the Attic will be reissuing an incredible amount of Japanese music over the next few years and while I’m sure that Sakamoto’s work will receive some long overdue reassessment in the west (almost none of his groundbreaking 80’s work is available for streaming, which is just ridiculous), I wonder if an album as far-out as Esperanto will be high on the priority list. That said, recently graphic designer and album illustrator Robert Beatty enthused about Sakamoto’s work and this album in particular, which prompted a reply from Visible Cloaks’ Spencer Doran:

esperanto fun fact: all the tracks are actually 15 minutes long. they recorded it before was finished and didn’t know how long each dance section needed to be edited to so they intentionally overshot the length of each piece. the tapes still exist!

Here’s hoping that full 15-minute immersions into pieces like “A Rain Song” and “A Carved Stone” might re-emerge one day. Until then, enjoy for a limited time this visionary work from the master.

buy / download

[Mix for Self-Titled] OMG Japan 2: Japanese Pop 1980-1989

cover art by Jeff Velker (SC / Twitter)

I’m very pleased to finally share Volume 2 of the OMG Japan mix via Self-Titled Mag.

That proclivity towards inventive genre splicing is all over this mix, actually, perhaps most noticeably as a reggae influence in three very different incarnations. First, Akiko Yano’s steel drum-flecked synth-reggae cupcake “Ashkenazy Who?” is replete with gleefully gnashed vocals, twisted and slung in the mouth as if to mimic warped synth pulses. Next, Junko Yagami leans even more explicitly into reggae fusion on “ジョハナスバーグ” (“Zyohanasubargu,” i.e. a Romanization of the Japanese pronunciation of Johannesburg), a thick synth-funk ode to a global love for reggae, winking with drum machines and synthetic accordian. Last is Pecqre’s “Kylyln,” a spaced-out dub rendition of a song originally written by Ryuichi Sakamoto for Kazumi Watanabe, which comes from one of the most slept-on records in the Japanese canon. It was largely recorded in Jamaica at Channel One and Tuff Gong Studio on a trip organized by Bob Marley himself, as the story goes, at the urging of drummer and diehard reggae fan Masahito Hashido (aka Pecqre). It’s an incredible lineup: between Aston Barrett and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Carly Barrett and Sly Dunbar on percussion, Minako Yoshida’s lead vocals, and Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt singing back-up, one can only dream of being a fly on the wall during those sessions.

Read the rest HERE, and if you like it, you can download it HERE.

1. Tabo’s Project – Feel
2. Imitation – Narcisa
3. Jimmy Murakawa – Down? Down, Down! / Stay Outta My World
4. Zabadak – 蝶
5. Akiko Yano – Ashkenazy Who?
6. Junko Ohashi – I Love You So
7. Junko Yagami – Zyohanasubargu
8. Tatsuro Yamashita – Love Talkin’ (Honey It’s You)
9. Yukihiro Takahashi – Konchu-Ki
10. Sandii & The Sunsetz – The Serious Game
11. Pizzicato V – The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
12. Pecqre – Kylyn
13. Joe Hisaishi – The Winter Requiem
14. dip in the pool – Rabo Del Sol
15. Masami Tsuchiya – Never Mind
16. Mami Koyama – Love Song
17. Toshifumi Hinata – サラズ・クライム
18. Ayuo Takahashi ft. Koharu Kisagari – 流れる
19. Hiroko Yakushimaru – 透明なチューリップ (Transparent Tulip)