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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Michael Stearns – Planetary Unfolding, 1981

A cosmic touchstone. Highly influential and ahead of its time. For the unfamiliar, Michael Stearns’s work was regularly featured on the Hearts of Space radio show, and his large catalogue of output includes scores for movies like Chronos and Samsara. In terms of purity of spaciousness, I can’t help but think of Steve Roach’s Structures from Silence (and unsurprisingly, the two went on to collaborate on several projects), but this is much denser and more detailed, filling in the gaps between broad instrumental strokes with many smaller layered sounds. It’s gorgeous stuff, and having realized that it’s been awhile since I posted anything in this wheelhouse, I think this is the most polished return to form I can think of. Try it in headphones!

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Hiroshi Yoshimura – Wet Land, 1993

A less-heard but very deserving later work from the master, Hiroshi Yoshimura, by multiple requests. Though you’ll recognize a familiar fascination with water sounds, here the focus is on synth rather than piano. A love for pastoral, rolling keyboard motifs is still very present. If anything, by 1993 Yoshimura had burrowed even further into the tension between the natural and the artificial: though Wet Land is clearly preoccupied with visions of nature, here they’re rendered in hyper-synthetic, heavily produced language, and are all the more beautiful for it. Though this is busier than his earlier material, much of it feels in keeping with the hope Yoshimura and his peers had for “environmental music”–which, according to Ashikawa, was

…music that could be said to be an object or sound scenery to be listened to casually. Not music which excites or leads the listener into another world, it should drift like smoke and become part of the environment surrounding the listener. In other words, it is music which creates an intimate relationship with people in everyday life…Also, [it] is not the music of self-expression or a completed work of art; rather it is music which by overlapping and shifting, changes the character and the meaning of space, things, and people.

This is long out of print; however, if you’re interested in Yoshimura’s work, his Music for Nine Post Cards (the first installment in the Wave Notation series) was recently reissued by Empire of Signs and is available for purchase here.

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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)

Veetdharm Morgan Fisher – Water Music, 1985

Morgan Fisher, a London-born musician and photographer, has had a long and dense career in which he’s covered a lot of ground–both literally and figuratively. You can read about it in detail here, but some highlights include touring with Queen, building an ambient music studio in Japan (at which Water Music was recorded, among others), and working with Hosono, dip in the pool (he plays piano on “Dormir”), Roedelius, Yoko Ono, Yasuaki Shimizu, and Julee Cruise. He is still very active.

It seems that he’s acquired many names over the course of his life, and I can’t find any information about the origin of Veetdharm, under which this and a few of his other releases are listed on Discogs, but my guess would be that it was given to him either during his time living in India or in Medina Rajneesh, a Suffolk commune of Osho disciples housed in a giant mock-Tudor manor.

Water Music is immediately reminiscent of Yoshimura’s Surroundthough it predates it by a year. If anything, it’s slightly denser and more piano-driven, but aside from an obvious thematic interest in water, the two records share a delicacy and a proclivity towards synth pads that seem to evaporate rather than decay. As I understand it, the entirety of this record was improvised and recorded over the course of two days on synthesizer, piano, tape delays, bowed guitar, and shell chimes. The original was released on the legendary Cherry Red label; this extended version is from a CD-reissue released in, I believe, 1997. It’s very, very beautiful. Thank you, Ian, for bringing me here!

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Carl Matthews – Call For World Saviours, 1984

Weightless, shimmering ambient; sometimes dark and sometimes cosmic. A Steve Roach-esque floatiness, but stringier and more pastoral.

This was re-released by Sandpiper Records in 2003, but the label seems to no longer be active and has put all its releases up for free download on archive.org — there are a few other Carl Matthews releases available there if you’re interested.

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[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 13: Joanna Brouk Tribute

My newest mix for NTS Radio is a two hour tribute to Joanna Brouk, who passed away this month at 68. Considered one of the early founders of New Age, Brouk never referred to herself as a composer, but rather insisted that she was a vessel for the music that flowed through her. Her work sat somewhere in between new age, drone, minimalism, and classically inclined ambient, with a curiosity and a roughness reminiscent of pioneering early electronic music. You can buy her excellent compilation released last year by Numero Group here. There’s also a great interview with her here in which she talks about her early processes and her work in sound healing.

She often said that it was the space between the notes in which interesting things start to happen, and that music has to slow down in order to get there. I put this mix together of things that, to me, are similarly interested in space and silence. Some of these songs were written by her contemporaries; others are just things that I hope she might have liked. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version via dropbox here. Thank you for everything, Joanna!

Tracklisting:
1. Joanna Brouk – Healing Music (excerpt)
2. Francesco Messina – Prati Bagnati Del Monte Alalogo (excerpt)
3. Kudsi Erguner & Xavier Bellenger – Apu-Caylioch / Le Seigneur Des Étoiles
4. Kevin Braheny – Lullaby for the Hearts of Space (excerpt)
5. John Clark – The Abhà Kingdom (excerpt)
6. Masahiro Sugaya – 水-(1)
7. Craig Kupka – Clouds II (excerpt)
8. Iasos – The Winds of Olympus
9. Daniel – Quartz Crystal Bells (Side A) (excerpt)
10. Daniel Kobialka – Planetary Mysteries
11. Ojas – Shiva Dance (excerpt)
12. Jansen / Barbieri – The Way The Light Falls
13. Hiroshi Yoshimura – Water Planet
14. Alice Damon – Waterfall Winds
15. Joanna Brouk – Golden Cloud Layers

Daniel – Quartz Crystal Bells, 1988

Pristine crystal overtones. Most of this moves at glacial speeds, with a few stretches of more active composition. While singing bowls go back hundreds of years, crystal singing bowls (made from silica quartz) weren’t manufactured until the mid-80s when they were used to grow silicon computer chips. They weren’t marketed as healing instruments until the early 90s, meaning Quartz Crystal Bells is one of the pioneering recordings of crystal singing bowls. Recorded live on a set of twelve bowls between 8″ and 18″ in diameter, with Daniel Lauter as well as Donna Soszynski and Kim Atkinson on the bowls, and recorded by Bernard Xolotl (reminder to post some Bernard Xolotl).

This is a decent quality tape rip with some room tone, but if you like it I’d highly recommend buying a re-mastered version directly from Daniel, which is divided up into five tracks rather than two sides.

[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

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.