February 23, 2017

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 10: Sakamoto Special


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.