April 20, 2017

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 12


My newest mix for NTS Radio is meant for springtime walking around. (Mom, I think you might like this one.) I'll be posting an mp3 download version in a week from now. I know it's been a little quiet around here--I've been tied up with another project, but am looking forward to sharing more music next week. Thanks for listening!


Tracklisting:
1. Bill Nelson - Wildest Dreams
2. I-Level - In The Sand
3. Isabelle Antena - How Can They Tell
4. Phill & Friends Band - This Man
5. Ayumi Ishida - Bye Bye Jet
6. Gal Costa - Sebastiana
7. Ntombi & Survival - Think More About Me (Edit)
8. Wham! - Blue (Armed With Love)
9. UB40 - Don't Break My Heart (Edit)
10. Herb Alpert - Rise
11. George McCrae - I Get Lifted
12. Boz Scaggs - Lowdown
13. Yasuko Agawa - L.A. Night
14. Stereolab - Dear Marge

April 10, 2017

Haruomi Hosono - Mercuric Dance, 1985


A favorite. Not purely an ambient record, as there are a handful of more jittery, percussive tracks in the second half, but a good deal of this is, for me, ideal music to work to. Ringing, jewel-like washes of synth, but with a certain weight that similarly intentioned records seem to be lacking. The navy blue cover feels very apt--there's something angular and a bit severe about this that I love. Recontextualized elements of traditional Japanese drumming throughout. I think this was made for a modern dance performance, but can't find any additional information online--if anyone knows, please fill us in. Enjoy.


March 29, 2017

Jansen/Barbieri - Worlds In A Small Room, 1985


Arguably an apotheosis of the long and fruitful 80s Japanese and British musical cross-pollination. Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri were both founding members of Japan, alongside David Sylvian, and the band toured with Masami Tsuchiya of Ippu-Do and Yukihiro Takahashi of YMO. Jansen and Barbieri both contributed to Ippu-Do's Night Mirage, and Tsuchiya went on to release his mini-album Alone the same year as Worlds In A Small Room. At this point it becomes unclear who is influencing whom and in what order, as the opening track of Worlds immediately calls to mind the signature staggered synth swells of Alone. Later in the record, "Moving In Circles" is a direct, if gritty nod to the theme from Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, so it's unsurprising that Japan bandmate David Sylvian worked closely with Sakamoto and the two even riffed on the Mr. Lawrence theme together, with Jansen contributing drums, and Seigen Ono mixing. I suspect Ono might have had some indirect influence on Worlds's stark prettiness. Here on the Japanese release of Worlds, "Moving In Circles" gets a bonus reprise, but this time with vocals from Jansen, sounding like a less theatrical Sylvian--a reminder that the two are brothers as well as bandmates. "Mission" sounds for all the world like a murky YMO demo circa BGM (a very good thing). The following year, Jansen and YMO's Takahashi went on to collaborate on the excellent Stay Close. There are probably dozens more inlets of inspiration and collaboration evidenced on this record--this is just scratching the surface. (*closes out of 25 tabs*)

Perhaps more importantly, this is a stunning record that only opens up with increasing generosity upon further listens. "Breaking The Silence" and the later "The Way The Light Falls" are unrepentantly beautiful but without any wasted gestures. There are still surprises, though--a few rays of koto on "Distance Fires," a synthetic organ, a sudden swerve towards pop, towards classical. Sparse, mysterious, and nostalgic, this is a movie score waiting for a movie that's good enough.

As a footnote to all of this, there's a gorgeous collection of Jansen's archival photos on his website, including members of Japan, Sakamoto, Tsuchiya, Yukihiro Takahashi, and many others (notably this one of Sakamoto in the studio during an Akiko Yano recording session.)


March 27, 2017

[Mix for Blowing Up The Workshop] #73


Honored to contribute a mix to Blowing Up The Workshop, which is a very useful archive of mixtapes including many from my own musical and curatorial heroes. I was thinking about escapism, cinematic déjà vu, anime soundtracks, hyper-optimistic fantasy about the experience of tourism, courtyards, commercials, and ruins as I put this together. If you like it, you can download it here. Thanks for listening!


Tracklisting:
1. Jun Miyake - Good Morning Yamanashi 
2. Giovanni Venosta - Woman In Late 
3. Lena D’Água - Tao 
4. Nuno Canavarro - Untitled 8 
5. Forrest Fang - The Luminous Crowd 
6. Einojuhani Rautavaara - Cantus Arcticus I: Melancholy 
7. Kurban - Masto A Iran 
8. Maria Marquez & Frank Harris - Canto Del Pilon 
9. Iury Lech - Barreras 
10. Marcel Pérès & Ensemble Organum - Offertoire "Diffusa Est Gratia In Labiis Tuis" (comp. Machaut)
11. Masami Tsuchiya - Never Mind 
12. Pale Cocoon - Sora 
13. Connie Francis - Siboney 
14. Kenji Kawai - Nightstalker 
15. Jansen / Barbieri - Breaking The Silence 
16. Hiroko Yakushimaru - Tomeina Churippu

March 23, 2017

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 11


My newest mix for NTS Radio was inspired by spring, melodrama, seasonal affective disorder, women looking at men with suspicion, heartbreak, long hair, and Ennio Morricone. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version here. Thanks for listening!


Tracklisting:
1. Beverly Glenn-Copeland - Ever New
2. Arthur - Valentine Grey
3. Linda Smith - I So Liked Spring
4. Sammi Smith - Help Me Make It Through The Night
5. Connie Converse - How Sad, How Lovely
6. Connie Francis - Vaya Con Dios
7. Dusty Springfield - The Windmills of Your Mind
8. Shirley Collins - Adieu To Old England
9. Judee Sill - Lady O
10. Barbara Moore - Drifting
11. Claire Hamill - Speedbreaker
12. Renée Fleming - The Trees on the Mountains (comp. Carlisle Floyd)
13. Joyce Heath - I Wouldn't Dream Of It
14. Bessie Griffin & The Gospel Pearls - I Believe
15. Patsy Cline - Sweet Dreams
16. Elena Ledda & Mauro Palmas - Sett'ispadas
17. Hollins & Starr - Cry Baby Cry

March 20, 2017

Toshifumi Hinata - Sarah's Crime, 1985


Guest post by Ian Hinton-Smith

Difficult to put into words. How to describe Sarah's Crime? Smooth, evocative, dreamy, and deeply romantic. Perfect solo listening. Much like Soichiro Suzuki of World Standard on later albums like Canon, I'd dub Toshifumi Hinata a master of thoughtful, gentle composition.

While there's very little information available about his background, it's known that Hinata spent time in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Surrey, South of England. Lazy English Sundays have certainly been captured on "Premonition." You can almost hear his cream tea and plate of buttered scones rattling on the piano as he plays, looking out of a window onto the lawn. "Pavement," with its pastoral field recordings, rain, thunder, and church bells, might also tell of his time in Surrey. Like those two tracks, so the rest of Sarah's Crime has a cinematic quality that evokes a feeling, a place, even a storyline.

"Boardwalk" is a jazzy little moocher: sandy toes, seagulls in the South of France, and a sweet melodica/accordian duet. More than a hint of Pink Floyd's "St. Tropez" but with a winking ballroom grandeur. The remarkable opening title track instantly conjures up a yacht slipping towards the horizon as the credits roll. Swells of violin filling the sails, synth pads rolling in and out like ocean waves, with perfectly prim drum machine drama. Like much of the record, it's unabashedly romantic, but stops just short of saccharine. Tasteful as ever.

"Memories" feels like a take on the Korgis' "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime." Plaintive piano chords, reverb-drenched harmonica, and a touch of Angelo Badalementi mystery transport you to a swaying cornfield. The standout track, however, which is alone worth the price of admission, is "Chaconne." Vaporous whisps of slow curving chords pinned down by a Philip Glass/John Carpenter style repetitive chiming bell loop. Just as you're drifting away on it (I often have this on my sleep playlists), it spikes up a notch, almost into drama, but the heartrate remains relaxed and sleep is only moments away. I adore this track. Four years of hearing it nearly every night and I never tire of it.

Something worth mentioning about this album, and Hinata's style generally, is that his use of melody and phrasing over sublime chord patterns is like having someone reading aloud to you. Chord changes set up a scene while melodies conjure up slow but meaningful narratives. If An Artist Of The Floating World is ever made into a movie, the soundtrack is ready to go.

Finally, I'll leave this review, as Hinata does, on closing track "Pentimento" with a question mark: does a failed romance amount to nothing? Or does the second half, where happy memories appear to come drifting back in passionate swells mean that it was worth it even if it's over? Sit by the window, listen, and try to figure it out. I'm still trying. It's alright not knowing sometimes.

download

March 17, 2017

[Interview] Phew


Phew has had a decade-spanning, genre-hopping career and has cemented herself as an experimental music icon. She was a member of Aunt Sally, a punk band at the heart of the Kansai No Wave scene, and has collaborated with an incredible list of musical luminaries. Her debut self-titled record from 1981 has been canonized by Japanese record collectors and post punk devotees alike. Still, it’s perhaps now, working with only her collection of analog hardware, that she’s at her most powerful. She has just released Light Sleep, a collection of six tracks culled from three CD-Rs that had previously only been available at her live performances. If you're not yet familiar with her work, it's an ideal place to jump in, and you can buy it here. In conjunction with Blank Forms, Phew will be making her US debut on April 6th at First Unitarian Congregational Church in Brooklyn. Tickets are available here.

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You said in a recent interview that you wished you could “sing like dance, and use electronics like singing.” There’s some really beautiful footage online of you playing in Tokyo in 2014, and the whole thing sort of feels like a dance.

Thank you. For me, when I play live I’m definitely concentrating on the physicality of the performance. But I do have to be in control, although there is an element of merging—you treat the machines like an extension of your own body.

You’re committed to using analog gear instead of digital, but it's of course harder to use and less predictable. Do you feel that the unpredictability has turned into a central part of your live performance?

Yes. I performed in Paris last night, for example, and it took about five minutes into my set to be able to match the sound I had been producing in sound check—but you just run with it. It’s definitely harder, but it’s also fun and satisfying to perform that way. To finally get the sound right is like catching a wild horse and making it your own.

How much room do you leave for improvisation and live composition during performances?

I go into it with a big sketch of what I want from a song, and from there it’s like filling in a coloring book. It’s never going to be the same twice, and that’s the fun part. If something’s not working, I’ll do something else.

You’ve also said that you don’t think you’re a singer in the conventional sense, because you don’t aim to communicate a story or incite feeling within the listener. It seems as if you've resisted ideas about what the voice “should” do as a “human instrument.” Still, your voice is really powerful and evocative. Do you feel you use voice as a texture, or even as a machine?

Yes—it’s definitely still an instrument, but the way I treat voice is hugely influenced by how I listened to music when I was a little girl. When I was ten or eleven years old, the Beatles’ Abbey Road came out, so I was listening to a lot of the Beatles without understanding any of the English. I was tasting voice in the same way as I would guitar, with no understanding of lyrical meaning. I’ve used voice that way ever since, texturally.

You’ve said that you hated the 80s in Japan—that everyone was drunk on money, and you didn’t even want to leave the house. It’s interesting because I imagine most people think of the 80s as a musical explosion for Japan, especially given what people were suddenly able to do with synthesizers.

I don’t know. I wasn’t even listening to contemporary music at the time. I was mostly listening to music from the ‘50s. A lot of Elvis Presley.

Right, you even did an Elvis cover. Did your parents listen to Elvis around the house while you were growing up?

No, they were listening to more jazz. Especially my dad. But I hated it—I was totally allergic to jazz.

Interesting! I would have guessed there’s a lot of avant-garde jazz influence in your music.

Maybe subconsciously. I feel better about jazz now, but if there are jazz influences in my music they’re unintentional.

You’ve also mentioned the Sex Pistols being a big influence on you as a teenager.

When the Pistols came out I was roughly the same age as their members. Seeing them live was influential, but it was less about their music specifically than about punk as a movement. UK punk was a huge influence in my desire to have a band, but Aunt Sally was less about making a political statement than embracing the possibilities of punk, musically. The main takeaway from punk, for me, was a lack of leadership, a lack of any “pop star” identity.

Has music ever been a form of protest for you?

In the 80s, it absolutely wasn’t. We were just making music. We never even thought about the fact that having three women in a punk band could be radical. Now, in 2017, it does feel more like a protest. But it’s less about having a specific message, and more about the live performance and considering the experience of the audience. There’s something very small and fragile about that relationship, and that’s the most important and radical aspect of making music for me.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that you've always gotten the best out of all the collaborators you’ve worked with over the years, playing to their strengths while still keeping the music balanced. It always sounds like you, even when you're playing different genres. What do you look for in a collaboration?

I look for someone that changes me, someone that allows me change into something I didn’t expect. That’s the most exciting part. Surprise, flexibility.

A lot of people are referring to Light Sleep as a return to the sounds of your first record. To me the sound feels more intimate and specific—the gestures feel smaller and more detailed, a lot of the beats feel like microbeats. It’s more delicate. Is this kind of intimacy a product of working without collaborators?

Yes. The recordings on Light Sleep were made before my record A New World. The songs are rough sketches, like drawing an object in pencil, which is probably the intimacy and scale that you’re hearing. I also recorded them in my bedroom, so they're meant to be small.

Do you have plans or projects for when you’re done touring?

I want to do a performance in collaboration with a video artist. I’d like it to be somewhere in between a vocal performance piece and an installation, so it would probably be in a gallery or museum setting.

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Thank you to Phew, Juri Onuki, Cora Walters, Lawrence Kumpf, and Keiko Yoshida 
for facilitating this interview.

March 13, 2017

[Mix for LYL Radio] The Oddlogs Episode 4


I made a two hour guest mix of long-form instrumentals for Lyon/Paris based online radio station LYL Radio. The Oddlogs is their series of guest sets with different music bloggers from around the world, and their lineup has been excellent thus far so I'm honored to be in such good company. I wanted to take advantage of the long time slot to use lengthier, more meditative tracks that are less synth-heavy and more acoustic-centric, with (almost) no vocals. There's also a lot of excellent natural reverb and room tone in here. In the spirit of the music, I recorded my talkback segments in my bathroom for added reverb, and made my best attempt at ASMR-esque speaking. For what it's worth, I think it makes a solid snow soundtrack. If you like the mix, you can download an mp3 version without my speaking in it here. Enjoy!


Tracklisting:
1. Joanna Brouk - Winter Chimes
2. Raul Lovisoni - Amon Ra
3. Daniel Lentz - Lascaux
4. Daniel Schmidt & the Berkeley Gamelan - Faint Impressions
5. Daniel Kobialka - Orbital Mystery
6. David Casper -Tantra-La
7. Ernest Hood - From The Bluff (Excerpt)
8. Roberto Mazza - Artigli Arguti
9. Vincenzo Zitello - Nembo Verso Nord
10. Pandit Ram Narayan - Rāga Kirvani
11. Seigén Ono - Suimen-Jo Niwa
12. Joel Andrews - The Violet Flame, Part 2 (Excerpt)
13. Stuart Dempster - Secret Currents

March 8, 2017

Claire Hamill - Voices, 1986


This blog started with the intention of sharing records that more people should hear, and I think that's more the case for this record than any other thus far. It occupies a strange mid-point, both in visibility and in the context of the artist's body of work. It's been reprinted a handful of times, and its Discogs recommendations include acts as disparate and big-league as Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, Tracy Chapman, and Prefab Sprout (begging the question, who exactly is listening to this record?). Claire Hamill debuted on Island Records, opened for Jethro Tull, and made several very big-budget albums. She dabbled in folk, synth pop, and electro before landing on Voices, which has been (somewhat confusingly) labeled as new age. It's perhaps owing to that very difficulty in pinning her down or understanding her body of work that her work itself, with its dazzling high points, seems to have slipped through the cracks. We missed the trees for the forest.

But backing up: after an audition for Island founder Chris Blackwell, Hamill released her debut at seventeen, an impressive folk record that belied her age. It immediately drew comparisons to Joni Mitchell and was advertised in Time Out with the tagline "When most girls are frantically hunting husbands, starting work in Woolworths or learning to type, Claire has finished her first album." (Happy International Women's Day, by the way!) But despite her label's high hopes for megastardom, her records continued to fall flat of large-scale acclaim. After a few more folk-rock efforts on a new label, Hamill ended up on CODA Records, Beggars Banquet's "new age" imprint. She released Touchpaper, an ambitious electro-sophisti-pop record about which there are some great notes here, and then, while living in the English countryside married with a new baby--"a sweet time in my life"--decided to make a record out of just her voice. Entirely self-written, self-produced, and featuring just a bit of synth and drum machine, Voices feels like a pared-down predecessor to Camille's Le Fil. She uses her voice not just as a choir but as strings, as as keyboard, and as texture, all the while staying attentive to inclusions of inhales--they're emphatic, but never oppressive. Songs like "Harvest," which so clearly evokes a chorus of women singing while reaping wheat, manage to worldlessly distill the bucolic ethos of what Aaron Copland need an entire opera to do. Despite repetitive motifs and loops, nothing ever slogs. Everything moves.

What's really shocking about a first listen, though, is how clearly you can hear threads leading directly to and from so many important artists. At the risk of sounding like the token music journalist who compares every female artist to every other female artist, you can explicitly hear the Celtic-tinged multi-tracking that Enya would go on to make a career out of, Kate Bush's emotional fluency, a Cocteau Twins cavernous goth sensibility, Julia Holter's polished baroque, Virginia Astley's loving chronicle of the English countryside. Nothing folky, but totally pastoral. A (mostly) worldless spectrum of feeling. There are jewels to be found throughout Claire Hamill's career, but Voices is her strongest, and perhaps most unsung, stroke of brilliance.

A note that while I always encourage you to buy records you love whenever possible, Claire has been personally funding her continued independent music-making, so if you love this as much as I do, please consider buying it!


March 7, 2017

Kenji Kawai - Ghost In The Shell, 1995


A few days ago, poor Steve Aoki revealed his remix of the iconic 攻殻機動隊 (Ghost in the Shell) theme for the forthcoming remake. The remix is the EDM equivalent of trying to embroider lace with a power drill, and incensed anime fans have flooded the comments with rage (as well as with links to the also-iconic theme from the Stand Alone Complex series). Rather than adding further insult to injury, I wanted to share the original soundtrack, as it's one of the best anime soundtracks (and arguably one of the best soundtracks, period).

To make the aforementioned theme, scoring giant Kenji Kawai combined Bulgarian choral harmonies and traditional Japanese vocal techniques into a wedding song with lyrics in the ancient Japanese language Yamato Kotaba. The theme is repeated in three different variations, all of which should give you goosebumps. The rest of the soundtrack is gorgeous, murky atmospherics: submerged keyboards, sparse taiko, synthetic strings, ominous clanging, a lone (Spanish?) guitar. If you haven't seen the movie, song titles like "Nightstalker" and "Floating Museum" should be able to paint a sufficient picture. The real curveball is the closer, sometimes listed as a bonus track, which is a bubblegum pop sung in Cantonese. Many reviewers complain about the inclusion of the jarring closer, but I think a slightly psychotic ending makes sense in the context of a movie about fragmented personhood in a cyberpunk dystopia. Bonus round: here's a very beautiful live performance of the theme.


March 3, 2017

Don Cherry & Latif Khan - Music/Sangam, 1978


Another Don Cherry collision with terrific results. Originally recorded in Paris in 1978, this only had a 1000-copy run in France and, despite being considered one of Cherry's strongest works by die-hard fans, was mostly forgotten until its reissue in 2009. I think this is one of the earlier works of Indo-jazz fusion ever, and it's arguably one of the more successful--while Cherry had a propensity towards cultural dabbling, he avoided many of the pitfalls of "world music" aesthetic through his commitment to musicianship, collaboration, and sensitivity. Also, he sings a bit!

Ustad Ahmed Latif Khan was a tabla virtuoso, avid composer, and member of the Delhi Gharana. He also had perfect pitch and used it to great advantage, tuning his daya (right drum of the tabla) to the same pitch as his baya (left drum of the tabla)--typically the baya is between a fifth and an octave below the daya, but Khan's tuning allowed for an unusually deep, full tone of the bass notes. He stood out both for this tonal precision and because of his taste for irregular and extremely syncopated rhythms. From the liner notes:
“Sangam” means “meeting place” in Sanskrit. Don obviously knew exactly what he wanted to do, and Latif immediately understood, his fingers fizzing across the tablas at frightening speed, his perfect pitch making him the obvious person to tune the disparate instruments in Don’s armoury to those in the studio, which included a grand piano, a B3 Hammond organ and chromatic timpani.
 It was Don who suggested that Latif overdub new tabla parts to enrich and add complexity to the first takes. We could reasonably have expected to spend the night doing this because this was the first time the percussionist had done this. It took him all of five minutes to get used to listening to the first tracks over the headphones before playing them without the slightest mistake. When we got to the timpani, which he was playing for the first time, his keen sense of pitch and tone once again did miracles. During one take, just for the fun of it Latif started to play a fairly slow, disconnected duple time, moving on to three and then four… all the way up to 19 by which time his fingers were whizzing invisibly across the skins, leaving us in awe and him looking as if he didn’t know what the fuss was all about. All this just made Don even keener to impress his musical companion for a day… and so he did, with great ease and a complicity created by their shared love of music.
Of course, the subtleties of this album call for greater analysis, for example the meeting between the Malian doussou n’gouni and Indian tablas, the Hammond organ taking over from the tampura, 5 1/4 time as if it were the easiest thing in the world, the reinvented Indonesian gamelan… and the lyricism of the (pocket!) cornet.

March 1, 2017

Seigén Ono - Seigén, 1984


Ouch, so beautiful. Seigén Ono's debut album was released when he was 26 years old, though he had already worked with David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto, and went on to become one of Japan's most sought-after producers and engineers. I feel as if this record has been steadily opening up for me over the past year, finally cracking wide during (surprise surprise) a headphones listen. It might feel a bit austere at first, and there are definitely a few explicit nods to western minimalism, but it's deceptively generous, even lush. Incisive modern classical, a few bits of very Japanese smooth jazz, and an avant-garde sensibility. Featuring some songwriting from Yasuaki Shimizu and a slew of razor-sharp session musicians. An incredible network of moody textures, all perfectly atmospheric. Part of the perennial favorite Music Interior series, the entirety of which will probably be posted here eventually, realistically. The liner notes call this "a perfect production of beauty," and the statement doesn't even feel hyperbolic.

Note that this includes two additional tracks but not the two bonus tracks from the recent reissue, which doesn't seem to be readily available for sale anymore, though they're well worth it if you find a copy.


February 23, 2017

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 10


My newest mix for NTS Radio is a 坂本龍一 (Ryuichi Sakamoto) special! Not an exhaustive overview, just some personal highlights. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version here.

In related news, if you're interested in listening to my NTS show live, my time slot has just moved to every fourth Wednesday at 1pm EST/5pm GMT, which I hope will be a more convenient time for many. The next one will be airing on channel 2 on March 22nd. Thanks for listening!


Tracklisting:
1. Ryuichi Sakamoto - Thousand Knives
2. Yellow Magic Orchestra - Neue Tanz
3. Ryuichi Sakamoto - You Do Me
4. Ryuichi Sakamoto - E-3A
5. Virginia Astley - I'm Sorry
6. Ryuichi Sakamoto - A Carved Stone
7. Ryuichi Sakamoto - Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
8. Hector Zazou - Hapolot Kenym
9. Ryuichi Sakamoto & Thomas Dolby - Fieldwork (London Mix)
10. Yellow Magic Orchestra - Kai-koh
11. Akiko Yano - Ashkenazy Who?
12. Ryuichi Sakamoto - Whales (NTT Data 1990)
13. Ryuichi Sakamoto & Robin Scott - Once In A Lifetime

February 22, 2017

Steve Tibbetts - Big Map Idea, 1989


An ECM favorite. Moody, pensive fourth world guitar (dobro?) ramblings, with tabla, kalimba, cello, pianolin, cello, and a slew of percussives by Tibbetts's long-time collaborator Marc Anderson. Steel drums have never sounded so chilly! In spite of Tibbetts's propensity for eastern instruments and modalities (and even for direct sampling, as in the field recordings of Nepalese chanting in the last three tracks), this record has always felt inescapably Appalachian to me. (Spoiler alert: the opener is a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Black Mountain Side.")


February 16, 2017

Dorothy Carter - Waillee Waillee, 1978


Guest post by Peter Harkawik

I was recently digging through sidebars on musical sculpture, when I stumbled upon two enchanting private press albums by the late Dorothy Carter—mystic, free spirit, wizard of the strings. According to a tribute by her bandmates The Mediæval Bæbes, Carter was born in New York in 1935, studied at Bard and the Guildhall School of Music, and in her later years toured Europe, playing festivals, cabaret, and at least once, a concert in a cemetery. She reportedly lived in a drafty loft in New Orleans, where she collected giant zithers, hosted salons, and played her brand of medieval folk music wherever she could. By another account, she “lived in a commune, worked on a Mississippi steam boat as a ships boy, raised two kids and ran away to a Mexican cloister with an anarchistic priest.”

Somewhat more secular than her 1976 debut Troubador, Waillee Waillee alternates between darkly enigmatic, inward melodies, and jaunty, exuberant hymns. Songs like “Along the River,” while populated with some familiar folk imagery—woodland creatures, mollusks, and rosemary bushes—are absent of the studio chicanery that so often accompanies it. Flutes, maracas, and tambura, some played by new age pioneer and instrument-builder Constance Demby, join Carter’s expert plucking and hammering to great effect. Her vocals might draw comparisons to Karen Dalton, Bridget St John, or perhaps Linda Perhacs, but here, in the service of her wistful paeans to nature, they stand alone. On the album’s haunting title track, Carter croons, “When will my love return to me?” with uncomplicated sentimentality, like a forlorn lover trapped in a block of ice. “Dulcimer Medley” and “Celtic Medley” are sprightly instrumental ballads that would not be out of place in a scene from Barry Lyndon.

For me, the standout on this album is "Summer Rhapsody." Seven minutes long, expansive and majestic, it begins with a rumble like a jet engine, building to a crescendo of feverish dulcimer. It’s here too that the recording really sparkles, as though the dulcimer's harsh textures are pushing the tape to its very limits. While it might sound like a hurdy-gurdy, the corpulent drone is produced by a steel cello, an instrument resembling the sail on a medieval cog. Here we see the fruits of Carter’s decades-long collaboration with artist Robert Rutman, who, like Walter Smetak, Ellen Fullman, and others, pioneered a hybrid art that was neither purely aesthetic nor musical. It was with his group the Central Maine Power Music Company, formed in Skowhegan in 1970, that Carter first toured, playing unconventional shows in New England planetariums, sculpture gardens, and museums.

Part of what’s so incredible about Waillee Waillee is that as much as it is a psych-folk record, it is also completely at home with the experiments of Terry Riley, Charlemagne Palestine, Yoshi Wada, Pauline Oliveros and Laraaji. Carter was a fascinating figure whose devotion to her chosen instruments was legendary. I hope you enjoy this record as much as I do.


February 14, 2017

Bill Nelson - The Love That Whirls (Diary Of A Thinking Heart), 1982


As the title suggests, this is an record about love, but in typical Bill Nelson fashion, it's neither saccharine nor sentimental. It's full-blooded, angsty, and churning, and the song titles are unabashed: "Eros Arriving," "The Bride Of Christ In Autumn," "Flesh," "Flaming Desire," and my favorite, "The Crystal Escalator In The Palace Of God Department Store."

This was recorded the same year in which Nelson contributed to both Yukihiro Takahashi's What, Me Worry? and Masami Tsuchiya's Rice Music (alongside Ryuichi Sakamoto, Hideki Matsutake, and Steve Jansen), and you can really hear the Japanese pop influence on tracks like "Empire of the Senses," "A Private View," and "When Your Dream Of Perfect Beauty Comes True"--the dry, playful spronky synth whirr and scritching drum machines feel strongly YMO-esque. Elsewhere, it's signature Nelson cinematic new wave, and a couple more brooding instrumental tracks ("Portrait Of Jan With Flowers" is a favorite).

As an aside, I'll be tweeting favorite songs about love, lust, and heartbreak all day, so please unfollow and follow accordingly.


February 9, 2017

David Casper - Tantra-La, 1982


Snow day favorite from private issue new age icon David Casper. Drawn-out, weightless instrumentation: piano, glass harmonica, kalimba, sheng, xiao, cello, upright bass, oboe, flute, ocarina, pennywhistle, gong, and synth--but never particularly busy, in spite of all that. Enjoy!


February 6, 2017

Geinoh Yamashirogumi - Symphonic Suite AKIRA, 1988


It was very moving that a handful of you reached out to check on me after a week of silence--I appreciate the concern! I've been a bit absent for two reasons, the first being that trying to do anything on the internet these days invariably gets derailed by a wormhole of endless bad news. The second (happier) reason is that my partner and I just moved into an apartment together last week, so I've been in heavy nesting mode, and now that we're done fighting about whose duvet cover to use I can finally look around and feel funny about feeling this happy.

I've been holding off on a Geinoh Yamashirogumi post because I felt nervous about picking one record, but here we are. Geinoh Yamashirogumi is a massive musical collective, purportedly several hundred members deep, that emerged when a choir founded in 1953 began testing the limits of what choral music can do. Their study of world music and eventually digital audio techniques led them to release a series of records in which they covered an enormous amount of ground, culminating in a trio of records concerned with the cycle of life and death. Luckily, one of those three records happened to be the Akira soundtrack.

There are a lot of repeating motifs across the trilogy, both thematically and in direct sonic parroting. All three use choirs to astonishing effect: Balinese kecak aided and abetted by reverb and multiplication; individuals pacing back and forth and winding their voices around one another, frantic, fuming, barely even singing; Japanese Noh undercut by taiko; buzzing hives of thousands hulking thunderously; whispers volleyed back and forth for minutes on end; traditional spiritual chant gone off the rails--songs that are so intensely evocative of huge, folk-futurist environments that they're uncomfortable to listen to in your apartment (though they work very well on the subway). They also all lean heavily on gamelan: interestingly, in the 1980s MIDI synthesizers couldn't accurately replicate the tonality of the traditional gamelan ensemble, so the group had to custom-program their synthesizers in order to build the necessary micro-tuning tables.

I picked Akira from the trilogy because it hinges the three together: Ecophony Rinne (1986) brought the group to the attention of director Katsuhiro Otomo, who (as the story goes) wrote the group a blank check with which to make this soundtrack--meaning that this record enabled them to push their technical possibility forward and further develop the musical language that they had already been speaking for years. I love the case this album makes for what movie soundtracks can (and perhaps should) do, the way it refuses to be background music (or even conventionally cinematic) but instead dives into the movie's messy chaos and bounces around and off of it, building and dying in time. The closing "Requiem," as the title suggests, starts as a reverb-soaked Western mass, but the organ goes astray and eventually loops back into the opening "Kaneda" theme, at which point it becomes clear why Katsuhiro Otomo commissioned a score from a group obsessed with life and death cycles: the inhabitants of Akira are fixated on the past in a desperate attempt to avoid repeating their catastrophic mistakes in the future. The parallels extend further: the music of Geinoh Yamashirogumi is a splicing of traditional folk spirituality with advanced programming, and Akira's Neo-Tokyo still clutches to religion in spite of its pseudo-futuristic setting. Cleverer and weirder still is when a prog-pop song steps in after eight tracks. It's jarring enough to make you wonder if you're listening to a different record, until within seconds you pick up on the familiar jegog percussive backbone, which makes such perfect sense that you might feel more "in on the joke" than you ever have before. Brilliant from all angles.

Lastly, I'd like to point out that moreso than with most records, having a "preview track" here doesn't make much sense, as this album is so diverse and can only really exist as a whole. Please take the track below with a big grain of salt, and if you're at all interested, do consider a listen in its entirety in headphones.

January 27, 2017

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 9


I spent the weekend after the inauguration at the New York Women's March and finishing this mix. I wanted to use all American dance music as a way of recognizing the enormous creative debt we owe to people of color and the LGBTQ community. Since I'm not great at cross-genre mixing (yet!), this veers mostly towards disco. As such, I was also thinking a lot about the recently departed David Mancuso as I worked on it. I recorded this live, so I hope you'll excuse some imperfect mixing and enjoy some very perfect songs. If you'd like an mp3 version, email me: jen@listentothis.info Thanks for listening!


Tracklisting:
1. GQ - Lies
2. Finis Henderson - Skip To My Lou
3. Scherrie Payne - I'm Not in Love / Girl, You're In Love
4. Vincent Montana Jr. & The Philly Sound Orchestra - That's What Love Does
5. Kenix ft. Bobby Youngblood - There's Never Been (No One Like You)
6. Karen Carpenter - My Body Keeps Changing My Mind
7. The Pointer Sisters - Telegraph Your Love
8. Mariah Carey - Make It Happen
9. Curtis Hairston - I Want You All Tonight
10. George Benson - Give Me The Night
11. Krystal Davis - So Smooth
12. Sharon Redd - Never Give You Up
13. Lace - Can't Play Around
14. George McCrae - Rock Your Baby

January 25, 2017

Daniel Lentz - On The Leopard Altar, 1984


Such a cool record. This was Daniel Lentz's first album and was one of the seven releases on the short-lived Icon Records. Though Lentz's background seats him pretty squarely in the realms of academia, On The Leopard Altar avoids much of the dryness that I associate with minimalism--it's more generous, unafraid to lean into pop sensibility and pleasure. (Fittingly, he went on to make two records with Harold Budd.) "Lascaux" is a gorgeous nine minutes of 25 tuned wine glasses resonating in and out, with nothing added but reverb, and it acts as a new age drone meditation piece, with glasses serving as both shruti box and chimes. "Requiem" attempts to capture the experience of hearing a lone singer in a large, empty cathedral, with big church bell tolls, rolling keyboard chimes, a vocalist bathed in Julee Cruise-esque reverb, and a few pretty incredible overtone moments. The gorgeous title track is very warm, present vocals delivered with a choir boy-esque straight tone purity, over rolling keyboards and (I think) more wine glasses. On "Is It Love" and "Wolf Is Dead..." we hear more typically minimalist long-form weaving of gamelan-inspired rhythmic pulses in the vein of Reich and friends, and vowel-based vocal pulsing in the vein of Monk and friends, but even these are structured in ways that suggest a pop sensibility.


January 19, 2017

Wally Badarou - Colors Of Silence, 2001


I shared Badarou's Echoes a while ago, and will probably share Words of a Mountain at some point, but I think his most recent solo release tends to get overlooked. Though the title pegs it as yoga music, there's very little conventional new age to be found here--it feels more like the hotel lobby music of my dreams. I've never used it as a yoga accompaniment, but I have done a lot of deep cleaning with it, and I would imagine this would be great driving music. Alternately playful, tropical, nostalgic, reggae-tinged, meditative, cinematic, and as one would expect, endlessly smooth. Badarou himself seems to be conflicted about the work, citing poor promotion and "intimate" distribution. He disavowed it as an instrumental record, instead calling it a compilation of high-quality demos that were put together quickly for a friend's project. Nobody needs me to say that Badarou is a genius; this is just a reminder that his wizardry holds fast even under unideal circumstance. (If you also listened to CFCF's Colours of Life a gazillion times, you'll love this--the sonic palettes and titles are so akin that I suspect it's a direct nod.)


January 16, 2017

Miyako Koda - Jupiter, 1998


Solo record from Miyako Koda (dip in the pool, Love, Peace & Trance, personal style hero). A bit hard to pin down, as there's a wide range between tracks, but it all feels very true to Koda's aesthetic: alternately playful and very sober, shifting readily between straight tone choir-boy-esque vocals and spoken word (spoiler alert: closer "A Sea of Love" is an ASMR goldmine). Micro-glitch balearic jazz and delicate electronic pulsing with a bit of a Laurie Anderson feel. Production by Haruomi Hosono, Yasuaki Shimizu, Towa Tei, and Gonzalez Mikami.

To the best of my knowledge, the original recording (download link below) isn't available for sale anywhere, but you can buy a very good six track mini-album of reworked tracks from Jupiter, featuring an all-star lineup (including mastering by Seigen Ono) from Chee Shimizu's 17853 imprint here.


January 11, 2017

CHBB - CH-BB, 1981


Compilation of four self-released cassettes (each with 50 copies made), recorded in 1981 from power duo Chrislo Haas (Liasons Dangereuses, Der Plan, Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft) and Beate Bartel (Einstürzende Neubauten, Liaisons Dangereuses, Mania D, I have a major crush). The compilation was released unofficially on vinyl in 1998 and to the best of my knowledge, hasn't been released since. As it's a compilation, there's a lot of range--industrial, noise, bouncing new (no?) wave on closer "Go Go Go!", and the incredible proto-techno "Neger Brauchen Keine Elektronik," which I still can't believe happened in 1981. Gritty and very, very good.


January 9, 2017

Bastion - Bastion, 1984


New wave pop from the Republic of Macedonia (then Yugoslavia). This was their only release, and unlike a lot of things in this vein, it's great from start to finish. Spronky, bouncing, a little bit of angst and grit. Even the obligatory "slow track"is a strung out wash in the best way, with judicious use of fretless bass. If this is for you, it's definitely for you.


January 6, 2017

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 8


I made the first version of this mix two years ago as I was starting to see the continuity in a lot of the music I was gravitating towards, though I didn’t have much vocabulary for it at the time. Since then I’ve started to think of it as intimate music (not the same thing as music for intimacy)—it’s music that conveys a closeness to the musician and an awareness of the space that the musician occupied. It’s often acoustic, doesn’t see much post-production, and has a very present room tone. It’s warm and sometimes a bit rough. It leans towards baroque folk, strings, and piano. None of these are hard and fast rules though—Ernest Hood’s Neighborhoods breaks most of them and is still peak intimate music. It’s more of a feeling than a genre.

I was really happy with the original mix, and since I published it fairly early on I don’t know if it got much eartime, so I was excited to rework and extend it a bit. I think of it as a fireplace soundtrack, although any quiet nighttime indoor space seems like a safe bet. I hope you have a moment with it. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version here.


Tracklisting:
1. The Rising Storm - Frozen Laughter
2. The Durutti Column - Sleep Will Come
3. Bridget St John - Many Happy Returns
4. Harold Budd - Albion Farewell (Homage to Delius, for Gavin Bryars)
5. Connie Converse - There is a Vine
6. Woo - Taizee (Traditional)
7. Unknown - Pumi Song
8. Robbie Basho - Variations On Easter
9. Clara Rockmore - The Swan (Saint-Saëns)
10. Lewis - Like To See You Again
11. Carlos Maria Trindade - Plan
12. Patti Page - The Tennessee Waltz
13. Raul Lovisoni - Hula Om (Excerpt)
14. Kate Bush - Something Like A Song (Home Demo 1974)
15. Yasuaki Shimizu - Suite No. 2: Prélude (Bach)
16. Donnie & Joe Emerson - Love Is
17. Rosa Ponselle - The Nightingale and the Rose (Rimsky-Korsakov)
18. Henri Texier - Quand Tout S'arrête
19. Molly Drake - I Remember
20. Virginia Astley - Sanctus
21. Arthur Russell - A Sudden Chill

January 4, 2017

Vincenzo Zitello - Et Vice Versa, 1988


Hope you want more harp, because that's where I'm at for the time being. Vincenzo Zitello tends to get tossed around with the Italian minimalists, but this is a little too swirly and baroque for me to consider true minimalism--his interest in Celtic music means that he often turns up on new age compilations. These were compositions written specifically for the Celtic harp, and like many of my other favorite harp records, there's lots of room tone. Ideal winter record. (If anyone has a rip of his 1986 tape Frammenti D'Aura Amorosa, I'd really love a copy!)