Sebestyén Márta & Szörényi Levente ‎– Szerelmeslemez, 1985

Gorgeous interpretations of traditional Hungarian folk songs, fleshed out in full color with synth and drum machine textures. Effortless vocals predominantly by Sebestyén Márta, a folk singer, composer, and actress who has also worked with Deep Forest (!). There’s something Virginia Astley-esque about the deliberately innocent quality of her voice, though perhaps that’s  a typical affect of traditional Hungarian folk singing–I sadly wouldn’t know. The prolific musician and songwriter Szörényi Levente contributes some vocals as well (presumably in addition to much of this instrumentation, though I can’t find full credits anywhere), and his brother Szörényi Szabolcs produced the record.

I’ve listed the song titles in Hungarian followed by their English translations where applicable. There’s a lot to love here, texturally: rolling, churning synth and drum machine on tracks like “Segélj El Uramisten” and “Szerelem, Szerelem” that reminds me of Sakamoto; more abstract chirping sample play on “Este Lett;” but the centerpiece is the floating, sinewy stunner “András,” previewed below. Impressively, Szerelmeslemez (“Love Record”) only gets increasingly generous with additional eartime. Enjoy!

Ryuichi Sakamoto – Esperanto, 1985

Guest post by Andy Beta (Twitter / IG)

Last year was brutal in almost every aspect, from the social to the international to the personal. Amid such rubble, there was a bit of a silver lining, in that I achieved a noteworthy professional achievement: interviewing Ryuichi Sakamoto for the Gray Lady. We sat one afternoon and sipped tea at a café near his West Village home and discussed his stunning new album, async, and also drifted onto some other topics. He talked about his recent interest in La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 #5 as well as the works of Japanese sound artist Akio Suzuki. “One of his early pieces was a big concrete cube in a gallery and he pushed it so it made a sound of friction on the floor,” Sakamoto enthused. “It’s beauuuutiful music.”

We even briefly touched on one of my favorite solo albums of his, 1985’s Esperanto. Originally commissioned for a dance performance from New York-based choreographer Molissa Fenley, it’s one of Sakamoto’s earliest forays into sample-based music and it’s as bewildering, playful, formidable and forward-looking as anything in his catalog. He told me that the computer he used to make the album was massive, holding his hands out wider than his body to show the size of the actual discs that stored mere seconds of sound. The album also features tasteful percussion work from Yas-Kaz and some guitar slashes courtesy of Arto Lindsay.

There’s news that Light in the Attic will be reissuing an incredible amount of Japanese music over the next few years and while I’m sure that Sakamoto’s work will receive some long overdue reassessment in the west (almost none of his groundbreaking 80’s work is available for streaming, which is just ridiculous), I wonder if an album as far-out as Esperanto will be high on the priority list. That said, recently graphic designer and album illustrator Robert Beatty enthused about Sakamoto’s work and this album in particular, which prompted a reply from Visible Cloaks’ Spencer Doran:

esperanto fun fact: all the tracks are actually 15 minutes long. they recorded it before was finished and didn’t know how long each dance section needed to be edited to so they intentionally overshot the length of each piece. the tapes still exist!

Here’s hoping that full 15-minute immersions into pieces like “A Rain Song” and “A Carved Stone” might re-emerge one day. Until then, enjoy for a limited time this visionary work from the master.

buy / download


[Mix for Self-Titled] OMG Japan 2: Japanese Pop 1980-1989

cover art by Jeff Velker (SC / Twitter)

I’m very pleased to finally share Volume 2 of the OMG Japan mix via Self-Titled Mag.

That proclivity towards inventive genre splicing is all over this mix, actually, perhaps most noticeably as a reggae influence in three very different incarnations. First, Akiko Yano’s steel drum-flecked synth-reggae cupcake “Ashkenazy Who?” is replete with gleefully gnashed vocals, twisted and slung in the mouth as if to mimic warped synth pulses. Next, Junko Yagami leans even more explicitly into reggae fusion on “ジョハナスバーグ” (“Zyohanasubargu,” i.e. a Romanization of the Japanese pronunciation of Johannesburg), a thick synth-funk ode to a global love for reggae, winking with drum machines and synthetic accordian. Last is Pecqre’s “Kylyln,” a spaced-out dub rendition of a song originally written by Ryuichi Sakamoto for Kazumi Watanabe, which comes from one of the most slept-on records in the Japanese canon. It was largely recorded in Jamaica at Channel One and Tuff Gong Studio on a trip organized by Bob Marley himself, as the story goes, at the urging of drummer and diehard reggae fan Masahito Hashido (aka Pecqre). It’s an incredible lineup: between Aston Barrett and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Carly Barrett and Sly Dunbar on percussion, Minako Yoshida’s lead vocals, and Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt singing back-up, one can only dream of being a fly on the wall during those sessions.

Read the rest HERE, and if you like it, you can download it HERE.

Tracklisting:
1. Tabo’s Project – Feel
2. Imitation – Narcisa
3. Jimmy Murakawa – Down? Down, Down! / Stay Outta My World
4. Zabadak – 蝶
5. Akiko Yano – Ashkenazy Who?
6. Junko Ohashi – I Love You So
7. Junko Yagami – Zyohanasubargu
8. Tatsuro Yamashita – Love Talkin’ (Honey It’s You)
9. Yukihiro Takahashi – Konchu-Ki
10. Sandii & The Sunsetz – The Serious Game
11. Pizzicato V – The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
12. Pecqre – Kylyn
13. Joe Hisaishi – The Winter Requiem
14. dip in the pool – Rabo Del Sol
15. Masami Tsuchiya – Never Mind
16. Mami Koyama – Love Song
17. Toshifumi Hinata – サラズ・クライム
18. Ayuo Takahashi ft. Koharu Kisagari – 流れる
19. Hiroko Yakushimaru – 透明なチューリップ (Transparent Tulip)

25 Favorite Releases of 2017

In the spirit of the season, I wanted to share some of my favorite releases of the year. Obviously not exhaustive; just some personal highlights. Quite a few of these are giant major label releases, so I’ll be taking down those download links quickly or leaving them off accordingly. Let me know if links are broken. Happy holidays!

 

Previously: 2016 | 2015

Alice Coltrane – Divine Songs, 1987
buy comp / download
Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir – Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 2, 1987
buy / download
Cleaners From Venus – Going To England, 1987
download
David Sylvian – Secrets Of The Beehive, 1987
buy / download
Depeche Mode – Music For The Masses, 1987
buy
dip in the pool & Masahide Sakuma – 黒いドレスの女 OST, 1987
download
Dolly Parton, Linda Rondstadt & Emmylou Harris – Trio, 1987
buy
Elicoide – Elicoide, 1987
buy / download
Eric B. & Rakim – Paid In Full, 1987
buy / download
Frankie Knuckles & Jamie Principle – Baby Wants To Ride/Your Love, 1987
buy / download
Geoffrey Landers – Many Hands Make Light, 1987
buy
George Michael – Faith, 1987
buy
Haruomi Hosono – The Tale Of Genji, 1987
download
Ichiko Hashimoto – Mood Music, 1987
download
Isabelle Antena – Hoping For Love, 1987
buy / download
Laraaji – Essence/Universe, 1987
buy / download
Masahiro Sugaya – Music From Alejo, 1987
download
Meredith Monk – Do You Be, 1987
buy / download
Michael Jackson – Bad, 1987
buy
Pet Shop Boys – Actually, 1987
buy
Phuture – Acid Tracks, 1987
buy / download
Pizzicato Five – Pizzicatomania, 1987
download
Prince – Sign O’ The Times, 1987
buy
Sinead O’Connor – The Lion And The Cobra, 1987
buy
Yasuaki Shimizu – Music For Commercials, 1987
buy / download

 

Yoshio Ojima – Club, 1983

Another early 80’s anomaly, this one released on only 50 numbered cassettes in wooden boxes with silkscreen and Russian constructivist paper inserts. Ojima is probably best known for his catalog of significant environmental works, most notably the gorgeous 1988 two-album collection for the Spiral in Tokyo’s Wacoal Art Center (volume one of which has been lovingly catalogued here), but also for the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery and the Living Design Center OZONE. He also produced Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Pier & Loft and Motohiko Hamase’s #Notes Of Forestry. (For more Japanese environmental music, see here, here, here, and here.)

Club takes somewhat of a departure from his more ambient works, but you can still hear his propensity for small motifs that build and layer into complex, embroidery-like compositions, particularly on tracks like “Boy In Vision.” Closer “Graduation” is similarly stunning and somber: between its whale-like, slow-motion horns rearing and arcing in the distance, and its deliberately distracting tinny mechanical whirring in the forefront, it reminds me of Hosono’s “Air-Condition,” released the year prior.

Still, if the cover art wasn’t sufficiently indicative, there’s a sense of humor here that isn’t necessarily evidenced elsewhere in his catalog: a spronky suggestion of mechanical toys on “Entrance,” a childlike wonder and marching-feel on “Orientation,” and perhaps most noticeably on the confoundingly good “Club-A.” People who know more than I do about the history of electronic dance music might be able to label this more accurately, but to me this sounds a whole lot like raucous, gnashing proto-techno, or even proto-acid. And then, just like that, we’re returned to the gleefully spaced out synth whirring of “Club-B,” as if nothing unusual had happened. (Though there are a few small nods to futurity on “Days Man” and “Schooling,” whose drum-machine-going-for-a-walk sensibility sounds like a nod to Testpattern–which is a good thing.) As much as I feel like a broken record, this is largely uncategorizable stuff, and a really special window into a genius stretching his legs and taking some worthwhile risks along the way.

download

[Mix for NTS Radio] Hosono Day

I’m very, very excited to share a two hour mix I made of Haruomi Hosono‘s work, which was a contribution to NTS Radio’s Hosono Day last weekend (here’s to hoping it becomes an annual tradition). As you might imagine, this was simultaneously a joy and a total nightmare to make, as Hosono has contributed to over 900 releases and has refused to be hampered by genre–so rather than trying to pick one vicinity and stay there, I instead tried to find a through-line between my Hosono favorites all over the map. Happily, this selection also gives proper airtime to his fascination with Indian instrumentation–Bollywood, Indian classical, folk, and everywhere in between. At the risk of sounding sentimental, I found myself moved to tears more than once while working on this, as it’s astounding to be confronted by the weight of his genius and innovation while sifting through his archives.

And–there’s more! The lineup of contributors to Hosono Day include some of my favorite artists, labels, and curators, so it was a real thrill to be included among them and to hear so many different expressions of Hosono–I would encourage you to listen to all of it. Happy listening, and a belated happy Hosono Day! You can download an mp3 version of it here.

Tracklisting:
1. Haruomi Hosono – Hum Ghar Sajan
2. Haruomi Hosono – The Animal’s Opinion
3. Yellow Magic Orchestra – Seoul Music
4. Haruomi Hosono – Luminescent/Hotaru (edit)
5. Susan – Ah! Soka
6. F.O.E. – Total Eclipse
7. Haruomi Hosono – Laugh-Gas (edit)
8. Love, Peace & Trance – Hush – A Mandala Ni Påli
9. Haruomi Hosono – 若紫
10. Haruomi Hosono – Muji Original Background Music
11. Haruomi Hosono – Air-Condition
12. Haruomi Hosono – Sunnyside Of The Water
13. Interior – Luft
14. Inoyama Land – Wässer
15. World Standard – Pasio (edit)
16. Haruomi Hosono, Shigeru Suzuki & Tatsuro Yamashita – スラック·キー·ルンバ (Slack Key Rhumba)
17. Akiko Yano – Tong Poo
18. Tatsuro Yamashita – Rainy Walk
19. Yukihiro Takahashi – Sea Change
20. Mickey Curtis – Tengoku No Yoru
21. Chiemi Manabe – ねらわれた少女
22. Dark Ducks – Dandy Dandy
23. H.I.S. – Nihon No Hito (Japanese People)
24. Hiroshi Sato – Jo-Do
25. Harry Hosono & The Yellow Magic Band – Worry Beads
26. Pizzicato V – The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
27. Haruomi Hosono – Sports Men
28. Sandii – Zoot Kook
29. Hiroko Yakushimaru – 透明なチューリップ (Transparent Tulip)

Mix for The Le Sigh

I was lucky to have a very sweet conversation with Hayley at The Le Sigh, a website dedicated to the work of female-identifying and non-binary artists. We talked about early electronic music, the rise and fall of the album download blog, and the politics of music writing, among other things. I also made a 90 minute minute mix of music made by women (though to be clear, men contributed to many of these songs in different capacities). As you can imagine, this was way too much to fit into one mix, so I focused mostly on synth pioneers, experimental, and new age, with a few wildcards thrown in. The mix opens with Wendy Carlos giving a verbal walkthrough of some technical aspects of her synth process, and ends with Nina Simone ripping our hearts out. You can download an mp3 version here.

Tracklisting:
1. Wendy Carlos – Electronic Pointillism & Hocketing (from Secrets of Synthesis) / Sonata in G Major, L. 209/K. 455 (Scarlatti)
2. Phew – Expression
3. Delia Derbyshire – The Wizard’s Labratory
4. Pauline Oliveros – Wolf
5. Michele Musser – In The Air
6. Pauline Anna Strom – The Unveiling
7. Laurie Spiegel – Drums (Excerpt)
8. Deutsche Wertarbeit – Auf Engelsflügeln
9. Virginia Astley – I’m Sorry
10. Laurie Anderson – Kokoku
11. Miyako Koda – A Story Teller Is The Sun
12. Björk – Come To Me
13. Kate Bush – Delius
14. Bridget St. John – Many Happy Returns
15. Joanna Brouk – Winter Chimes
16. Alice Coltrane – Er Ra
17. Claire Hamill – Winter: Sleep
18. Suzanne Ciani – The Third Wave: Love In The Waves
19. Gal Costa – Volta (Live)
20. Nina Simone – Don’t Smoke In Bed (Live)

Nuno Canavarro – Plux Quba: Música Para 70 Serpentes, 1988

One of the hardest and best parts about writing this blog has been running up against records that feel impossible to write about, avoiding them for months or even years, and then eventually writing about them anyway. This is exactly that kind of record, and fittingly I’ve been putting it off since day one: its influence is too far reaching to properly recount, it’s too elegant and precise to accurately describe, and I feel too gooey about it, too pierced to possibly set my feelings aside and attempt objectivity. I think that’s alright, though, because Plux Quba is too perfect not to share.

The story starts with a familiar format that, coupled with incredibly prescient music, feels like the foregrounding for a hoax. In 1991, Christoph Heemann brought a copy of Plux Quba to (from what I gather was) an informal listening session with Jim O’Rourke, Jan St. Werner, C-Schulz, Frank Dommert, and George Odjik in Köln, Germany. It was music without context, laboriously made with just an Ensoniq Mirage, a Fostex 8-track tape recorder, and an early 8-bit sampler loaded with pre-recorded, highly modified samples of things like television, radio voices, and a melodica. The story goes that everyone present was floored by it; O’Rourke so much so that when he launched Moikai, his label dedicated to minimal and electronic music, Plux Quba was his first (re)release, remixed and remastered by Portuguese guitarist and composer Rafael Toral. Since then it’s been reissued a few times, most recently by Japanese label Inpartmaint Inc, and while it has had incredible bearing on two decades of experimental electronic music, it seems that Plux Quba hasn’t yet received the widespread acclaim it’s due.

Several reviewers have said that Plux Quba takes inspiration from Robert Ashley’s Automatic Writing. I don’t know if that’s directly true, but I like to think of this record as hermetic, like the music of Charanjit Singh or Woo, bearing the kind of brilliance that often does write its own spontaneous language. It’s much too deliberate to be called an accident–Canavarro was already a well-seasoned musician by this time. And yet despite being recorded at home on very dated, simple equipment, it seems to exist outside of time. Having witnessed the subsequent deluge of glitch music and its offspring, this still sounds truly alien and exploratory, a kind of sonic alchemy. It’s more abstract than what I typically post, so if you typically gravitate towards things that are lyrical or poppy, I would absolutely encourage you to start here, preferably in headphones–though, for what it’s worth, Canavarro himself instructs on the back sleeve that this record must be heard “1. through speakers that are as far apart from one another as possible, and 2. starting from A-5, at a low volume (‘Wask’ and side 2).”

It explores similarly incandescent territory as Canavarro’s remarkable split with Carlos Maria Trindade, often employing the same textural palette and manipulations of vocal samples–slicing them up, stacking them precariously, drawing them out into ghost whispers, and running them backwards. But with a longer playtime and no collaborators, Canavarro is able to fully world-build, perhaps to even create something that feels more circular and complete. Comprised of 15 vignettes, mostly between one and two minutes long, not all of this record is unabashedly beautiful. Parts are deliberately jagged (“Alsee”), faltering (“Untitled 1”), or shrill (“O Fundo Escuro De Alsee”), but it’s precisely their inclusion that allow the record to reach sublime, sparkling heights. The stumbling, out-of-tune baroque of “Crimine” comes to mind–even here, after two and a half minutes of uncertainty, the song abruptly shifts to a perfect, crystalline music box lullaby. The record most perfectly exemplifies its own restrained breed of heartbreaking on the final track, Untitled 8. Slowly building, gently pulsing synthetic marimba, a veil of processed, indistinct whispers, a faraway oboe, and a ship’s bell that, when fully faded out, leave you perfectly positioned to restart the record.

If you’re interested in learning more about the recording process, in my Googling I found out that Fond/Sound has lovingly translated a rare interview that Canavarro gave to Fernando Magalhães into English. You can read it here.

buy / download

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.

[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.