November 29, 2016

Paul Horn - Inside The Great Pyramid, 1976

I’ve been hesitant to share this record because I can’t tell if everyone already knows it—it seems a bit dadcore, and I think it sold a bajillion copies—but it’s something I keep reaching for when fall turns to winter, so maybe y’all will enjoy it. I mentioned Paul Horn in my post about Pauline Oliveros the other week, and have been appreciating it even more in light of her recent passing.

Paul Horn was a legendary jazz flautist, saxophonist, and composer, and considered to be a new age pioneer. Inside The Great Pyramid was part of his “inside” series, in which he recorded site-specific music in places of spiritual significance, oftentimes making him the first person to record music in those locations. In addition to sneaking a tape recorder into the Taj Mahal, he was the first westerner to be granted permission to perform in the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, considered to be the spiritual nexus of Tibetan Buddhism. This was the first recording made in the Great Pyramid of Giza, and I think that most or all of it was recorded in the King’s Chamber right at the heart of the pyramid. The story goes that Paul began by hitting the large granite sarcophagus in the center of the room with the flat of his hand, which emits a resonant tone of 438Hz, slightly lower than an A. (You can hear this in the opening track previewed below.) Horn tuned his flute to that and improvised from there.

As you might expect, the natural reverb and room tone is arguably the most interesting part of the record. Horn is an incredible flautist, and he vocalizes a bit too, but the weight and air of the pyramid steal though show, especially given that the pyramid's strong resonance was a deliberate feature of its architecture.

November 25, 2016

Bola Sete - Ocean, 1975

Swooning solo guitar. Sete’s fingerpicking is some of the best ever, and this release catches him at a particularly special moment: his samba, bossa nova, and jazz roots are out in full effect, but this was his first release on John Fahey’s label Takoma, and Fahey’s influence shows. Ocean dabbles in folk (seemingly from multiple traditions) and has that same expansiveness that marks much of Fahey’s work—music that, at the risk of sounding trite, seems to slip outside of time.

Side note: for those in New York, I'll be doing a guest set of Japanese pop heavy hitters with Evan Neuhausen on WNYU (89.1 FM) tonight at 7:30. Spoiler alert: there will be bird sounds.

November 21, 2016

Imitation - Muscle And Heat, 1982

A lot to be excited about here: dense, textural Japanese new wave with heavy funk and no wave influences. Tropical and African textures and a big band brassy sound bring Talking Heads to mind, while the playful cultural splicing and occasionally dubby production feel akin to Yasuaki Shimizu. In particular, “Watashi No Suki Na Kuni,” though much denser and more guitar-driven, suggests the relentless march and weightless, nonchalant vocal float of “Shinzo No Tobira.” While the bombastic and dance-oriented tracks are immediately attractive, I think the record’s hazier, more subdued moments are some of its strongest: the more pared down and moody “Exotic Dance” lets incredibly detailed percussion come to the forefront, and the closer, “Oriental Oriental,” despite acting as the final word on a very raucous record, has all the unhurried silvery chic of an Avalon-era Roxy Music instrumental. Try it; you’ll like it!

Note: though the music has held up very well, this recording is fairly beat up and will not sound good on laptop speakers.

November 18, 2016

Raul Lovisoni & Francesco Messina - Prati Bagnati Del Monte Analogo, 1979

Such a special record. Split between Raul Lovisoni, whose work I don’t know too much about, and Francesco Messina (there’s a track from his very strange and very good Medio Occidentale on this mix). The A-side is a 24 minute long synthesizer bath, with swaths of meandering piano on top (there’s definitely something harp-like happening too, though it’s not listed in the credits). It sounds like a hot spring in the wintertime, with synth pads acting as clouds of rising steam. The B side is two ~10 minute tracks by Lovisoni, both very different from the A-side and from each other. “Hula Om” feels markedly more “indoors” than Messina’s cosmic title track. It’s just a repeating harp motif, though at a few points you can hear bird sounds filtering through a window, something being dropped in the next room, clothing shifting around, and the creak of somebody’s knees, all of which feel fitting given the raw and warm spatial textures that bring three seemingly disparate tracks together. The closer, “Amon Ra,” also a Lovisoni composition, is mostly clear, ringing overtones courtesy of a crystallophone, with some sparse patches of vocal chanting. The embrace of truthful, unedited sound, both across the synthetic landscape of the A-side and the acoustic sparsity of the B-side, makes Prati Bagnati del Monte Analogo feel like a diary or a photo album: these are bare bones, beautiful songs as they happened, where they happened, and that’s more than enough.

November 15, 2016

Kiki Gyan - 24 Hours In A Disco 1978-82

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of David Mancuso, founder of the Loft party, disco enthusiast, instigator of the record pool system, DJ, audiophile, activist, and New York legend. Mancuso devoted his life and resources to creating safe spaces for many, but especially for the gay community, to dance to the best music in the best possible environment. He rejected beatmatching and mixing in favor of respect for sound quality and unaltered recordings played in their entirety, he prioritized dancing by refusing to overcrowd his parties, he avoided slavishness to genre, and he pushed back against inflated alcohol prices and club profiteering by instituting a BYO policy. He also fought in the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs' longest administrative trial to date against their insistence that he get a cabaret license (which he ultimately avoided by not selling food or beverages). He believed a DJ should have good taste, push the envelope, and use songs to spin narrative arcs, but not show off or get in the way of the music. He drew inspiration from time spent outside as a child, having grown up in an orphanage in rural upstate New York: 
“I spent a lot of time in the country, listening to birds, lying next to a spring and listening to water go across the rocks. And suddenly one day I realized, what perfect music. Like with sunrise and sunset, how things would build up into midday. There were times when it would be intense and times when it would be very soft, and at sunset it would get quiet and then the crickets would come in. I took this sense of rhythm…”
In the spirit of David’s work, I wanted to share a record that, though not a canonical Loft favorite, embodies the ecstatic, high energy disco for which the Loft is known. I wish very much that I could share Feeling So Good, the original LP that produced one of Gyan’s more famous singles, “Disco Dancer,” but it’s all but nonexistent ( if you have a decent rip you'd like to trade!). Several tracks from Feeling So Good appear on this compilation, though everything I’ve heard from the record is excellent. I’m realizing as I write this that it’s a bit odd to make two very remarkable, very different people share one post, so I hope this comes off alright.

Kiki Gyan was a Ghanaian musician and child keyboard prodigy who went professional at the age of 12, dropped out of school (“There was too much music in me, I couldn’t stay in school”) and was recruited to the British Afro-pop band Osibisa when he was 15. He toured internationally with the band until beginning his tenure as a very in-demand and expensive session musician in the best London recording studios before he was 21. His musical skill earned him a reputation as Ghana’s answer to Stevie Wonder, and he went on to make a series of very ambitious disco records, aiming at international stardom. Drug abuse interfered, and despite numerous attempts at intervention and rehabilitation, Gyan quickly declined, became unable to make music, and died at 47 from AIDS and drug-related complications. It was a terrible loss in many ways.

24 Hours In A Disco is entirely long tracks, befitting Gyan’s style—his wicked musicianship and joy predisposed him to long-form relentless disco funk jams that were tailor-made for the dance floor. These are songs that impossible to sit still through.

Thank you Kiki, thank you David—here’s to hoping that love saves the day.

November 14, 2016

Pandit Ram Narayan - L'Inde Du Nord: L'art Du Sarangi, 1971

Another favorite from the Ocora catalogue. Pandit Ram Narayan was the first internationally successful sarangi player, credited as responsible for the introduction of the sarangi as a solo concert instrument in Hindustani classical music. He’s also responsible for developing simplified sarangi fingering techniques, and elements of his tone and inflection have been widely mimicked and adapted by subsequent generations of sarangi players. There’s lengthier information about the ways in which he pushed the boundaries of both the instrument and the genre here.

The short version of the story is that this record is incredibly beautiful, and serves as a plain reminder of why the sarangi was traditionally treated as a filler instrument during solo vocal performances, meant to imitate the vocals. Ram Narayan’s sarangi is so expressive that it feels human: crying, lilting, taking melismatic nosedives and acrobatic leaps. It’s piercing but never shrill. It’s something you should hear before you die.

Note: I spent awhile wavering between sharing the original recording, which has some room tone, vinyl pops, and a sound that is both richer and muddier; and the remastered version, which is cleaned up and has a sound that is clearer but thinner. I settled on the original, but if anyone feels strongly about hearing the remastered version (which includes an additional râga), let me know and I’ll post it.

November 11, 2016

[RIP] Leonard Cohen - New Skin For The Old Ceremony, 1974

I was deeply saddened to learn last night of the death of poet, novelist, and musician Leonard Cohen. For the countless fans that have connected with his music over the course of his 50 year long musical career, Cohen has served as equal parts companion and court jester, writing lyrics that were usually equal parts beautiful and cynical, mixing barbed love songs with enigmatic social commentary and plenty of self-deprecation. This was all packaged in his distinctively conversational lilt, a voice that I used to love to fall asleep to until I spent some time with his post-Songs From A Room work and realized just how biting and angry he was. Around the same time I started to suspect that his feelings towards women might be more complicated than I had thought--after all, he came of age in the 50s. All of this is to say that he wasn’t just the love-worn troubadour that the "general listening" CD collection staple The Best Of Leonard Cohen would have us believe. He was messy, cryptic, and seemed to contradict himself readily.

I wanted to share New Skin for the Old Ceremony today for a couple of reasons. It houses some of his more potent political songs, specifically “There Is A War” and “A Singer Must Die”—songs that are lyrically vague enough to be timeless, and as such feel apropos on a day as bilious as today. It also marks a turn in instrumentation for Cohen, incorporating new percussive textures, violas, mandolins, and jazz inflections—still minimal, but more orchestrated than the bare bones guitar-and-vocals of his previous records. From there, it’s easy to see a mostly straight line building up to the unabashedly synth-pop critic’s darling I’m Your Man. Finally, New Skin is the Cohen record to which I feel most attached: in particular, the brutally worded “Why Don’t You Try” has been a reproving reminder to ask uncomfortable questions about loneliness and codependency after every break-up I’ve gone through since I was a teenager. As with much of his music, New Skin offers new insights with every listen, so we're all the more grateful for his large and generous body of work. Thank you for everything, Leonard.

November 9, 2016

Nina Simone - In Concert, 1964

November 7, 2016

Gail Laughton - Harps of the Ancient Temples, 1969

You might already know Gail Laughton from the inclusion of “Pompeii 76 A.D.” in the canonical I Am The Center compilation, or from the same track’s inclusion in the Blade Runner score. Alternately, if you’re big on 1940’s rom-com, you may have heard Laughton’s harp recording pantomimed by Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife—Laughton also instructed Grant in harp-syncing and apparently served as a body double for some close-up shots. Though Laughton worked in Hollywood and played on many cartoon and film soundtracks—John Wayne, Looney Tunes, etc.—Harps of the Ancient Temple was his only solo release, and a radical conceptual departure from his typical work.

Harps uses ancient sacred rituals, each catalogued by year and location, as jumping-off points for his neo-classical and heavily impressionist-influenced interpretations. “Japan 375 A.D.,” for example, seems to mimic a koto played in a Japanese pentatonic scale. Much of the record is exactly as pillowy and perfumey as you might hope for from a harp record that’s regularly slung around by new age devotees. Still, many tracks lean into dissonance and spin out ominously, building to what feels like like an unobstructed fall down a very long spiral staircase in the closing track, “Atlantis 21,000 B.C.” Lots going on here, but happily this works well for both active and passive listening. Fans of Joel Andrews will appreciate this, and similarly it’s cloaked in a dense hiss of room tone.

November 3, 2016

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 6

Listen to my sixth episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio below. I thought a lot about musical migration as I was making this: cross-pollination as a result of colonialism; exotic fantasy, escapism, and essentialism; and Brazil, both as a place of origin and as a source of inspiration. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version of it here. Enjoy!

1. Carpenters - Invocation
2. Fé De Sábio - Crepúsculo 
3. Isabelle Antena - Otra Bebera 
4. Yellow Magic Orchestra - Shadows On The Ground 
5. The Beach Boys - Til I Die (Alternate Mix) 
6. Caetano Veloso - Gua 
7. Mudd - Summer In The Wood 
8. Orchestre Raymond Droz Avec Pierre Cavalli Et Son Orchestre - Passarinhos 
9. Light House - 南太平洋 
10. The Coconuts - If I Only Had A Brain 
11. Googoosh - Sahel Va Darya 
12. Brenda Ray - Another Dream 
13. Miharu Koshi - 逃亡者 
14. Nightingales Recorded by Jean C. Roché - In A Waste Ground Beside A Stream In Provence, June 
15. Mariko Fuji - 雪 
16. Aaliyah - At Your Best 
17. Mike Oldfield - Into Wonderland

November 2, 2016

The Hilliard Ensemble - Carlo Gesualdo: Tenebrae, 1991

Another expert overview of a favorite composer's work from the venerated Hilliard Ensemble. Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) was an Italian prince, count, and renaissance composer, who is mostly known for his madrigals, particularly those that disregarded the tonal conventions of the time and explored extreme chromatic progressions and unprepared changes of harmony, i.e. changes without a harmonic bridge. This was arguably without precedent, and wasn't really seen again until late 19th century impressionism. The music is notoriously difficult to perform live, with careening harmonies making it particularly easy to veer off-key. In spite of the daredevil compositions, the songs are stunningly beautiful, if a bit nervewracking. Stravinsky was a big fan. Aldous Huxley, who once listened to Gesualdo while under the influence of mescaline, wrote the liner notes for a 1956 LP of Gesualdo's work. Herzog made a pseudo-documentary about him called Death for Five Voices.

Perhaps somewhat relatedly, Gesualdo was also known to exhibit characteristics of serious mental illness, was a repeat murderer, and a masochist, leading some to suspect demonic possession. After the murders, the story goes that he was so paranoid that he went on a tree-cutting rampage around his castle so as to be better able to see potential threats from far away. It's also believed that he may have ordered his own death. He's become a vampire-esque figure of fascination for many (I can't help but think of Gilles de Rais), an interest that seems a bit fraught to me--but I can't argue with the music. Enjoy!

buy / download: disc 1, disc 2