David Casper – Crystal Waves, 1984

Another gem from private issue new age icon David Casper, one of the later follow-ups to his excellent Tantra-La. Like that record, Crystal Waves manages to blend a laundry list of instruments (cello, played by Jami Sieber; marimba, played by Scott Cossu; ch’in [yuequin, aka moon zither, played by T’ao Chu-Chen], h’siao [Chinese bamboo flute], ocarina, crystallophone) into something that never sounds at all busy. That unhurried spaciousness is even moreso the case for this record than for Tantra-La. While a very careful and thorough use of acoustic environment brings to mind open landscapes rather than large rooms, and while there’s definitely some highly detailed multi-tracking going on, the precision and directness of the sounds seem to belie their numbers–which is to say, Crystal Waves masquerades as a very effective minimalist line drawing until you stare at it for awhile and realize it’s a full-color impressionist oil painting. It’s rendered in tones that are so delicate, translucent even, that you might not realize right away that they’re there.

This is particularly the case on the second side of the cassette, which, for our purposes, is the “Crystal Waves I-IV” tracks 4-7. It’s composed entirely of tuned crystal glasses:

Each glass was played individually with meditative attention and recorded, grouped, and re-recorded in a lengthy blending process. In order to attain a broad spectrum of sound from a simple source, tape speed, equalization, and harmonic balance were changed to produce sounds reminiscent of bass and cello, flutes and horns, organs, bells and gongs, and other sounds suggestive of electronic synthesis. Sometimes as many as thirty glasses may be heard at once, each with its own pulsation and timbre, produced acoustically by finger on glass.

The depth of field and texture Casper achieves with glass alone is remarkable, as is his gift with drawing heat out of sounds that might otherwise be predisposed towards frostiness. He’s just as skilled with his treatment of strings as he is with glasses: in spite of the wide openness of these songs, there’s a direct suggestion of reassuring warmth that I find myself feeding on over and over in the wintertime. I also just realized that it’s been a year almost to the day since I posted Tantra-La, so clearly these records are seasonally significant to me. I hope you love this as much as I do.

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Kudsi Erguner & Xavier Bellenger ‎– Conférence Des Roseaux (Ney & Kena), 1984

Another one in a collection of recordings made in locations with amazing natural reverb. This one was recorded over the course of two days in September of 1982 at the Abbaye de Senanque, a Cistercian abbey in Provence. Kudsi Erguner is a Paris-based Turkish ney-flutist, composer, and musicologist, and has contributed to a handful of Ocora records. Xavier Bellenger (here on the kena, or quena, flute) is a French ethnologist and musician who went on to collaborate with Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis. As far as I know, Conférence Des Roseaux was completely improvised.

With the details out of the way, this is music that speaks for itself. Crystalline, deeply expressive, bird-like flute duets that, despite having been recorded indoors, evoke huge space. To me, the audible joy of two very skilled musicians having fun making sounds together is what makes this such a special record.


Cristina – Cristina, 1980

So good. Cristina was a Harvard drop-out who was working as a writer for The Village Voice when she met (and eventually married) Michael Zilkha, who was in the process of getting the now-legendary ZE Records off the ground. He encouraged her to record a song called “Disco Clone,” written by a former Harvard classmate of hers, which became ZE’s first release in 1978 and featured John Cale production (and, moreover, is really good).

Cristina (later reissued as Doll in the Box) was the first of her two full-lengths. Short and sweet, it was produced by August Darnell of Kid Creole & The Coconuts, and you can hear his signature brassy tropical camp all over it. The heavily textured Latin-jazz percussion brings to mind some of New York no wave’s more polished, dancefloor-ready groups, except it’s fronted by a snarky, jaded Betty Boop. Cristina’s vocals are simultaneously flippant and flirty, often splintering off into multiple personas in dialogue with each other. She leans into that heavy-handed sardonicism even more on her follow-up, Sleep It Off, a grittier piece of electro boasting a proto-Slave to the Rhythm Jean-Paul Goude cover. While Cristina was met with moderate acclaim, Sleep It Off was a commercial flop (so dumb! it’s really good!), leading to Cristina’s musical retirement (though she’s still a writer). Thank you Caroline for putting me onto this!

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.

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.

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.

Masahide Sakuma – Lisa, 1984

Beautiful and diverse solo release from Plastics member Masahide Sakuma. The album traverses both mood and genre: ambient minimalism, modern classical, industrial, avant-garde, medieval, and…vaudeville? Acoustic guitar, synth, strings, electric guitar, synthesizer, vocals, samples, flutes and percussion. Some tracks have a sparse cinematic feel suggestive of Mark Isham’s Vapor Drawings, which came out the year prior. Lisa is so diverse and strange, it could take years of listening to fully unpack.

Produced by prolific avante-garde jazz composer Seigen Ono, the album is another entry in the phenomenal Music Interiors series released from 1984 to 1985, including a couple albums by Ono himself as well as Yoshio Suzuki. Worth exploring!

Dolly Mixture – Demonstration Tapes, 1984

Really gorgeous, stripped-down new wave and punk-tinged pop rock recorded between 1979 and 1983 and then self-released as a double vinyl in 1984–the trio’s only full-length. Though Dolly Mixture’s sound hits a sweet spot between punk and girl-group pop (unsurprisingly, as the story goes that the band was born from a mutual love of The Undertones and The Shangri-Las), the three actively pushed back against Chrysalis Records’s attempt to market them as a girl group, keeping their sound loose and lo-fi and their songs short and sweet.

This is more rock-centric than what we usually post around here, but that’s what I grew up listening to, and I’ll always love it. Demonstration Tapes has an immediate appeal: swooning harmonies, sophisticated top lines, and a room-tone warmth slightly ahead of The Vaselines and Beat Happening. Disarming in how dry and direct (but still irrefutably pretty) it is. Good for fans of Marine Girls. Kurt Cobain would have loved this. I’m always surprised it doesn’t get tossed around more. Ideal late summer headphones music.

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.

Masumi Hara – Yume No 4-Bai, 1984

Experimental pop. Brooding ballads with Enya-like synth sweeps and sparse, kick-heavy upbeat tracks that playfully reference dub reggae, hip hop, samba, disco, and even polka. Lush atmospherics, vocal layering, and liberal delay effect. Most songs have several minute long intro sections before opening up.

A lot of people participated in the making of this album. Most are unknowns, with one big exception: Hideki Matsutake of YMO fame. I actually found this record by digging through his absurdly long list of credits on Discogs. You can check out more of his work by grabbing these albums by Mkwaju Ensemble, Miharu Koshi, or Ryuichi SakamotoYeah, I know…the album art is incredible.