August 31, 2016

Yungchen Lhamo - Coming Home, 1998

Beautifully sparse downtempo album by Yungchen Lhamo, celebrated Tibetan musician and cultural ambassador whose birth name literally means "Goddess of Song." Lhamo fled her home country by traveling across the Himalayas in 1989 and has been living in exile in New York ever since. Her work has been met with worldwide renown, winning awards and performing with the biggest artist of the 90s: Annie Lennox, Billy Corgan, Peter Gabriel, and Michael Stipe, among others. More information can be found on her foundation's website

I came across Coming Home by way of Listen To This favorite Hector Zazou, who produced it. Released on Peter Gabriel's Real World Records (Gabriel also provides drone on the release), the album features Lhamo singing her own compositions, as well as traditional Tibetan chants, in her extraordinarily expressive voice. The majority of the vocal backing consists of an ambient soundscape with light percussion and Tibetan stringed instruments, mellow with scattered moments of intensity, and full on trip hop. Please consider buying this record.

August 26, 2016

Michael Shrieve with Kevin Shrieve & Klaus Schulze - Transfer Station Blue, 1984

Classic. Michael Shrieve is a drummer who was one of the founding members of the original Santana band and is featured on their first eight records. I haven't spent enough time with his other work to have a sense for it, but Klaus Schulze feels like the dominant force behind Transfer Station Blue--it sounds squarely like guitary Berlin school, using Shrieve's insistent percussion as a vessel with which to drive Schulze's pulsing, icy synth work (as well as guitar from Kevin Shrieve, who may or may not be Michael's brother). The two long tracks ("Communique - ''Approach Spiral'" and the title track) are the centerpieces, both using long, tense build-ups and ominous arpeggiations to propel to a particularly anthemic release on the title track. The two shorter tracks, "Nucleotide" and "View From the Window," explore more kosmische and new age territory, though they're still plenty sinister. Good for fans of Double Fantasy (guys, that record is so good, go listen to it), and anything slick and shivery and German.

August 24, 2016

Tasaday - L'Eterna Risata, 1991

Delirious narcotic ramblings mix with tribal beats and ambient soundscapes on the final release from Italian experimental group Tasaday. While definitely industrial -- plenty of percussion from non-instruments -- L'Eterna Risata also employs a wide range of less industrial textures, including horns, bells, synths, pan flute, and what sounds like a hammer dulcimer. Heavy usage of vocal samples and live vocals make this more accessible to ambient and psych fans.

There's not much information online about this band, other than that they formed in 1983 from the conjunction of two bands, Die Form and Nulla Iperreale. The name comes from an isolated tribe of 26 people who were discovered living a "stone age" lifestyle in a cave in the Philippines in 1971, unaware of the outside world.


August 19, 2016

Joanna Brouk - The Space Between, 1981

My favorite release from the venerable Joann Brouk, considered one of the founders of New Age music, who studied under Terry Riley and Robert Ashley at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music, and whose work you're already familiar with if you've listened to the worldbuilding I Am The Center compilation.

Streamlined, super minimal, classically inclined ambient that avoids a lot of the ornamentation and explicit emoting of new age. Just chimes, synth, and piano. Leave it on repeat for a few hours.

August 17, 2016

David Astri - Do It Right, 1983

Very mysterious record! The only release from Baltimore artist David Astri, and also the only release (I think) from PCM Records. Rereleased (I think) in 2014 on now-defunct Award Records, and not much information available about any of it.

This is essentially a boogie funk record, and for fans of the genre, it doesn't get much better than "Get Down To It" and "Do It Right" (RIYL George Benson, RAH Band, etc.). The song that I immediately fell in love with, and has since wound up on an embarrassing number of mixes that I've made, is "Safe and Sound," which sort of reads like a slow funk ballad, but between the inadvertently creepy lyrics delivered with saccharine little girl breathiness, the unexpected moments of warped dissonance, the impeccable percussion details, and the oddly muffled production, it's unlike anything I've ever heard. The seven minute closer, "Dancing Digits," is an ecstatic instrumental disco stomper, but with what sounds an awful lot like an acid house synth line riding on top. Oh, there's also a five minute tropical steel drum interlude that sounds like it could score a ride at Disneyland. In a good way, sort of.

I really, really wish this record were 15 minutes longer. And speaking of, apparently there are four unreleased tracks floating around from these sessions--if anyone has them, I'd really love to hear, will bake you cookies, etc.

August 12, 2016

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 3

Listen to my third episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio below. Zheng, classical guitar, dilruba, harp, violin, piano, tambura, flute, vibraphone, synth, lots of tabla, a bit of drum machine. Mostly instrumental, and hopefully well-suited for background music while working. Made this while it was raining; I think you can hear it. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version here. Enjoy!

1. Forrest Fang -- Meditation
2. Luis Paniagua -- Neptuno
3. David Sylvian & Holger Czukay -- Flux (A Big, Bright, Colourful World) (Excerpt)
4. Francesco Messina -- Fine Novecento
5. Vincenzo Zitello -- Nembo Verso Nord
6. Kate Bush -- Watching You Without Me
7. Toshifumi Hinata -- Sarah's Crime
8. Satoshi Ashikawa -- Still Park Ensemble
9. Yoichiro Yoshikawa -- Nube
10. Sth. Notional -- Yawn Yawn Yawn

August 11, 2016

Peter Michael Hamel - Organum, 1986

Supremely beautiful recording from German minimalist composer and author of the 1978 book Through Music to the Self: How to Appreciate and Experience Music Anew, which I swear I was reading in my town's library growing up when I was supposed to be doing readings about the Civil War.

The album looks and feels likes something that might have made its way into my library stack as well. Recorded at the Academy of Music in München with pipe organ, conch, and Tibetan cymbals, this is a pipe organ study, exploring a range of moods as well as Hamel's impressive knowledge of eastern and western scales and motifs. Much of the music comes on crescendoing waves of arpeggiation, from calmer melodies to dense, almost unbearable chaos--only to be sliced through by a return to peace.

For anyone interested in more of Hamel's, his 1977 release Nada is also very good.

August 8, 2016

Forrest Fang - The Wolf At The Ruins, 1989

Big, big record. A Chinese-American violinist, Forrest Fang released this and a slew of other records on his own label, Ominous Thud. The Wolf At The Ruins was out of print for twenty years until it was recently remastered by Robert Rich and rereleased on Projekt Records. 

I hesitate to call this an ambient record, as it's very dense and often busy music. Fang calls it a turning point in his sound, through which he began combining sonic palettes and recording methods in novel ways. Between traditional Chinese music, Balinese gamelan, synthetic textures, violin, zheng, yangqin (Chinese hammered dulcimer), bells, Terry Riley-esque tape delay techniques, and polyrhythms, there's a lot going on here. Cosmic, ambitious, and occasionally gridlike à la Steve Reich, this reaches some incredible highs but arguably does not make for passive listening. Don't sleep on this one.

The reissue includes two bonus tracks which are very, very good and which I'm not including here in hopes that you'll buy the album directly from Projekt. Worth it.

August 4, 2016

Iury Lech - Música Para El Fin De Los Cantos, 1990

Stare down at the eternal enigma with Ukranian-born, Madrid-based transdisciplinary artist Iury Lech's stunning, deeply emotive ambient work.

August 1, 2016

Cesar Mariano & CIA - São Paolo Brasil, 1977

Guest post by Paul Bowler (Universal Music / twitter)

Cesar Mariano is best known as the producer, arranger, and one-time husband of Elis Regina, though he recorded a wealth of classic recordings as a pianist in his own right. Famed for his ability to swing, Mariano’s 1960s recordings with the Sambalanço Trio and Som Três masterfully paired jazz modes with bossa nova rhythms.

This 1977 album saw him shift towards jazz fusion, delivering an uncompromising take on the genre, full of dramatic tempo changes and neat Brazilian twists. "Metropole" begins with a hard-edged, Herbie Hancock-esque funk workout before slowing to a crawl of dreamlike synths, with the deepest of basslines and a dramatic, sprint-like finish. "Estação do Norte" switches from elegant classical piano to a Rhodes-led carnival of sunshine melodies, whistles, and manically charged percussion. Mariano’s unaccompanied, dextrous piano opens "Futebal de Bar" before a cavalcade of percussion is unleashed – cut frustratingly short. Standing toe-to-toe with the fusion greats, it’s little wonder that prices for original pressings are eye-watering. Grab a copy below.