January 28, 2015

Tangerine Dream - Zeit, 1972

Guest Post by Joel Ebner

In over twenty years of record collecting, there are only a few albums I've bought, sold, then repurchased at a later date. Of those albums, Zeit is the only album I bought twice because I'd had a complete change of heart about the music. As a teenager, the promise of Zeit (translated simply as "Time") seemed on paper to be a godsend. Its associations with German kosmische favorites Faust and Neu! and its lineage of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works II and Oval's Systemisch sent me on a mission to track down a copy. Only thing was, I found myself completely unsatisfied with the record once I'd heard it.

Saw-toothed synth patches, 8-bit samplers, and reverb-drenched guitars made sense to my 18-year-old brain. but cellos? The opening moments of the album, "Birth of Liquid Plejades"—conjured from dramatic, legato strings—were too classical, too 20th century for me to find a link to the techno-futurist ambient artists of Warp and Thrill Jockey. And I certainly wasn't given much latitude by the record's length: well over an hour of long-form, rhythmless space is a lot to ask of even the most patient and adventurous listener, and after about 20 minutes I simply couldn't make my way through composition in its entirety. For years, Zeit sat on the shelf until my senior year of college, when I sold it in a big stack of records.

I think I found a used copy of Phaedra 7 or 8 years later, giving me cause to ask whether my initial assessment of Zeit had been hasty. Upon second consideration, I was astounded. Had I changed, or had the record? Had the earth shifted under my feet? Today, in those cellos of "Plejades," I now hear tragedy, and surprise, and sadness. Subsequent album tracks which I'd once glossed over—perhaps due to their increasing atonality—unfold slowly, a nascent universe, patient yet hostile. I look at that stark record cover—is it an eclipse? a black hole?—and I see the infinite promise of the world swallowed by the inevitability of death. It's all there: the origin and the collapse, in one amazing record.

I spent this last weekend listening to Zeit after reading about Edgar Froese's passing, and have found it difficult not to hear a funeral dirge, a tacit acknowledgement by Froese some forty odd years before the fact that he will be gone someday, that we'll all be gone someday, that all the planets and the stars and space and music and possibility, it'll all be gone. But I'm still here. And though I'm not sure that it was impossible for me to recognize and relate to the themes contained in Zeit as younger man, I certainly understand them better now. It only took me a little time to figure it out.

buy / download

January 25, 2015

Tangerine Dream - Alpha Centauri, 1971

The beginnings of kosmische, a term coined by Edgar Froese himself. Tangerine Dream's second record, and their first with synthesizers (Froese on an EMS VCS 3), though organ and flute take center stage. Hints of early new age, though it seems as if Tangerine Dream wasn't content to make pretty music, perpetually undermining their melodic moments with shrill, razor-sharp edges. Sixteen year old Chris Franke on percussion. Froese also plays the coffee machine on the title track, though I can't quite figure out where. Rather than describe this to death, I'll leave you with some liner notes:

The music material of this album was felt by Tangerine Dream 
This album is dedicated to all people who feel obliged to space

January 24, 2015

[RIP] Edgar Froese - Stuntman, 1979

Legendary synth pioneer and driving force behind German experimental band Tangerine Dream has passed away this week. In addition to Tangerine Dream, Froese recorded a number of solo records reaching across many different genres and sounds. Stuntman is a standout, as it incorporates several of these styles simultaneously. It has the beat oriented jammers, the classical bits, the ambient head trips, and of course, impeccably executed swirling synths. There are fun references too! In the track below it sounds as if he's playing indigenous Andean flute melodies. Moods vary from light, playful, and warm to dark, brooding, and chilly. 

In honor of this Kraut / Berlin-school maestro and his massive body of work (Tangerine Dream has over 100 releases alone) we'll be posting Edgar Froese stuff all week. Stay tuned!

buy / download

January 23, 2015

Testpattern - Après-Midi, 1982

Another gem from the Yen Records treasure trove (Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi production, blah blah blah). Cheeky, unhurried, fairly minimal synth pop, with a dusting of tittering bleeps, bloops, and sleigh bells for dimension. Mostly dry and Disneyland plump, but of course nothing Hosono is quite what it seems. Après-Midi is far from simplistic--there are plenty of well-executed jabs at western pop music (and culture), and then there's the surprise "Catchball," which is a deep, dark grinding proto-techno drum groove. Enjoy!

January 21, 2015

Finis Africæ - Prima Travesía, 1984

In what had to be the most fun studio sessions ever, Spanish musical project Finis Africæ leads you into some deep zones while giving you a tour of their enormous collection of instruments. This album contains an impressive array of sounds, including the accordion, adufe (moorish tamborine), aulos (Greek flute), autoharp, bass, bombo (Argentine drum), cuatro, electric guitar, mandolin, sicu (Andean panpipes), sitar, slit drum, oud sanfona (Argentine hurdy gurdy), darbouka (goblet drum), tar (North African drum), violin, cymbal, synthesizer, and vocals. There's very little information online about this group. From what I understand, it's primarily the project of guitarist and producer Juan Alberto Arteche. Groove after balearic weird-world nu-age groove.

January 14, 2015

Mix: Winter (Outdoors)

I made this mix with the hope that you'll listen to it outside in headphones.
If you like it, download an mp3 of it here.

1. 0:00 David Sylvian - Preparations for a Journey 
2: 3:10 Stellar OM Source - Alpine Architecture 
3. 5:30 Meredith Monk - Strand (Gathering) 
4. 7:20 Bernard Xolotl - Perseverance (Excerpt) 
5. 13:10 Actress - Untitled (Excerpt) 
6. 14:50 Emerald Web - Flight of the Raven 
7. 16:40 Muslimgauze - Sapere Aude 
8. 20:00 Deutsche Wertarbeit - Auf Engelsflügen 
9. 25:10 Woo - Hopi 
10. 28:00 Dip in the Pool - Rabo del Sol 
11. 32:40 Kraftwerk - Ananas Symphonie 
12. 35:00 Don Slepian - Sea of Bliss (Excerpt) 
13. 37:00 Drahcir Ztiworoh - Elephant Dance (Excerpt) 
14. 41:40 The Hilliard Ensemble - Veni Creator Spiritus (Comp. Pérotin) 
15. 48:40 Fripp & Eno - Wind on Water 
16. 54:10 Li Garattoni - Here is Silence 
17. 55:50 Roedelius - Wenn der Südwind Weht 
18. 59:40 Barbara Buccholz - Öd

January 13, 2015

Chris & Cosey - Songs of Love & Lust, 1984

Ex-Throbbing Gristle members Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti lead you into their bedroom with their signature brand of relentless, game-changing mechanical techno pop, delivering hit after icy hit. A quick google search will tell you much more about this album and C&C, as both it and they are absolutely legendary.

This album is particularly special to me because Jen and I met at a Carter Tutti (another incarnation of Chris & Cosey) show in Brooklyn that I helped set up. It's also special because the video for "October Love Song" (below) served as my introduction to the world of outsider music. Be forewarned: you might cry.

January 8, 2015

Clara Rockmore - Theremin, 1977

Clara Rockmore may have the coolest story of all the early electronic musicians. Born in 1911 in what is now Lithuania, at four years old she was admitted to the St. Petersburg Imperial Conservatory where she studied violin under Leopold Auer. To this day, she's still the youngest student ever admitted to the conservatory (probably a good thing). A teenage arthritic condition left her unable to continue playing the violin, leading her to study the theremin (the first mass-produced electronic instrument, and arguably the coolest because it's played by manipulating electrical signals in the air rather than by touching anything solid).

She was an instant theremin prodigy and went on to help Léon Theremin*, who might have been slightly obsessed with her, make a lot of changes to its design in order to realize its full potential. She insisted on a faster left hand to permit staccato, rather than having it be "all molasses, all glissando." She also wanted a five octave range instead of three (which made it way harder to control the pitch but allowed for greater melodic possibility), increased sensitivity of the pitch antenna, and a lowered profile of the instrument. Despite touring extensively to widespread acclaim, she only finally recorded her performances at the behest of Bob Moog himself (as in "Ugh Bob made me do it lol") in 1977. Thanks Bob! There's a very sweet conversation between Clara, her sister, her nephew, Dr. Moog, and Dr. Thomas Ray which takes place over what appears to be a candy-tinted Tim Burton-esque dessert table that you can watch here.

*Read more about another insane thing that Léon Theremin made here.

TLDR: Nobody has ever inhabited the theremin like Rockmore. Maybe the original female electronic music virtuoso, as she was touring with her custom-made theremin in the 30s. Watch some videos of her channeling sounds out of thin air like a ghostly medium, face far away and ecstatic, and try not to cry. Otherworldly, but deeply human.


January 7, 2015

Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir - Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, 1975

Heartbreaking, eerie, and otherworldly, this album is actually a compilation of various recordings dating back as far as 1952, when the choir was first formed by Bulgarian composer Philip Coutev. As the women in the choir are from all over Bulgaria, the music is a hodgepodge of differing vocal styles from the country's quite isolated provinces. Marcel Cellier compiled these songs in 1975, but it went largely unnoticed until its rerelease by 4AD in 1986, to overnight worldwide renown. Volume II of this compilation won Cellier a Grammy in 1989. That same year, Kate Bush released The Sensual World, which featured three Bulgarian female soloists. The choir has been touring worldwide since then, and everyone and their dog loves them (as they should). Find out much more here and here.

The title translates to "The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices"--an apt description, as it's a complete mystery to me how music this majestic and unsettling can actually exist. It completely changed my concept of the relationship between dissonance and beauty. Powerful stuff!


January 5, 2015

Selda Bagcan - Selda, 1976

Selda Bağcan got real big in the 70s as one of Turkey's most well-known politically-minded musicians, and from what I understand, became somewhat of a household name. Her sound was a progressive wash of psychedelic guitar funk and angular synth heat, applied liberally to Turkish folk songs as scorching backdrops for her emotive, razor-sharp vocals and political critiques. Unsurprisingly, she was thrown in jail three times and was stripped of her passport, but was eventually freed and went on to tour extensively. She resurfaced again in 2006, when Finders Keepers reissued her self-titled LP with some previously unreleased tracks. That's when I first heard this record--my sister gave it to me, and it just about blew my 16-year-old brain open, since I didn't have much of a grasp on the roots of psychedelic music, or what Turkey was. This record is a classic for many, so I hope this serves as a friendly reminder that it's still bubbling hot (with the exception of string-infused weeper ballad "Dam Üstüne Çulserer," flecked with fountain sounds and spiny percussives, which is more of a slow-burner). Note: I'm posting the original album, without the rerelease tracks and with the songs in a different order. It sounds better than ever, almost 40 years later. Enjoy!

January 3, 2015

Uchu - 1st, 1998 & Buddha, 1999

Guest post by Lolo Haha

Ooh boy yes. This record. These records. I've been jamming these albums for years, wearing a subtle grin whenever passing it onto folks, knowing I was passing along some transcendent holy grail to bring friends to the next level.

I downloaded this rip off of Mutant Sounds back in 2007 while depressed and studying abroad in Paris smoking entirely too much hash alone in my room and letting my hair grow out to the point where my host mother had our program supervisor sit me down and ask me if I was feeling depressed. I remember that the first night I listened to this was after I had my first experience buying hash from someone on the Seine River. French friends told me to just wait by the Seine and someone would come up and offer, so like a naive boy I waited at the river for 40 minutes until two guys walked up and asked 'T'veux du shit?' which basically means 'u want sum weed?' After I said yes one of the guys sat down next to me, looked all around, then took his left shoe off and put his hand in, pulling out a long, thin, lump of brown what? and showing it to me, asking for 20 euros. I had no idea what was going on but I handed him the 20 and then his friend came up and said 'Fait-le payer trente!' which was saying I should actually pay 30 for it. He backed away with the brown what? and my 20 euros demanding 10 more, which I readily and angrily supplied, sure I was getting duped and that it was bunk stuff I was buying. Turned out hash was good tho mmmmm

Dig in to this dynamic duo for a cosmic journey by Acid Mothers Temple members Higashi Hiroshi, Ayano, and Kawabata Makoto. 100 copies limited edition CDR. They proudly state on their website: “No synthesizer, no sampler, no programming, —– only guitars!!” so know you're getting into some 'legit' vibes here. These Japanese psychedelia masterminds have shown me the way.