[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 20

Here’s my most recent episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio. This one is comprised of entirely early Western vocal music (technically some of this is toeing the line into the Baroque period), almost completely a capella (I actually haven’t listened back to this to check, but I think there might be an instrumental drone or two in here), and mostly sacred, though I think at least one of these songs are non-devotional love songs. I’ve listed the composer as the artist, and then the performers in parentheses after the song title. In full transparency, I’m neither an expert on this stuff nor am I at all religious–I just really love this music, and I think it makes an ideal winter hibernation soundtrack. I hope you like it too. You can download an mp3 version here. Stay warm!

Tracklist:
1. Hildegard von Bingen – O Lucidissima (Rosa Lamoreaux & Hesperus Ensemble)
2. Claudio Monteverdi – Ah Dolente Partita
(Emma Kirkby & The Consort of Musicke)
3. Pérotin – Plainchaint: Viderunt omnes fines terrae (Tonus Peregrinus)
4. Tomás Luis De Victoria – Kyrie (The Tallis Scholars)
5. Léonin – Viderunt Omnes, 2 Part Organum (Tonus Peregrinus)
6. Claudio Monteverdi – Donna, Nel Mo Ritorno (La Venexiana)
7. Unknown composer, 12th century Aquitanian monasteries –
Lux refulget (Sequentia)
8. Carlo Gesualdo – Sabbato Sancto, Responsorium 5 (The Hilliard Ensemble)
9. Walter Frye – O florens rosa (The Hilliard Ensemble)
10. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – Motet Nigra Sum (The Tallis Scholars)
11. Pérotin – Beata viscera (The Hilliard Ensemble)
12. Unknown composer, 13th century England – Conductus:
O Maria stella maris (Anonymous 4)
13. Léonin – Pentecost: Repleti sunt omnes (Red Byrd)
14.Thomas Tallis – Spem in alium (Motet for 40 Voices) (The Tallis Scholars)

Quarteto em Cy – Quarteto em Cy, 1964

Originally comprised of four sisters from Bahia (Cybele, Cylene, Cynara, and Cyva; their real names), Quarteto em Cy has been enormously prolific and has also undergone many lineup changes over the years. I’ve been unsure which record of theirs to begin with since this blog started, so I’ve decided to start at the beginning and share their debut (and also their first of maybe five self-titled records), from what Brazilian music snobs consider to be their golden period (although they weren’t signed to the legendary Elenco label until 1966).

Swooning vocal harmonies delivered with expressive precision and set over meandering jazz and bossa textures. No reason not to be listening to this today.

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 piece of folk 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 using only 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 reaping wheat, manage to worldlessly distill the bucolic ethos of what Aaron Copland needed 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!

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.

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.

20 Favorite Releases of 2016

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. Let me know if links are broken. Happy holidays!

Previously: 2015

Arthur Russell – World Of Echo, 1986
buydownload
Bill Nelson – Getting The Holy Ghost Across, 1986
buy / download
Cocteau Twins – Victorialand, 1986
buydownload
Cocteau Twins & Harold Budd – The Moon And The Melodies, 1986
buy / download
Coil – Horse Rotorvator, 1986
download
David Hykes – Harmonic Meetings, 1986
buy / download
Double Fantasy – Universal Ave, 1986
buy / download
The Feelies – The Good Earth, 1986
buy / download
Felt – Forever Breathes The Lonely Word, 1986
buy / download
Geinoh Yamashirogumi – Ecophony Rinne, 1986
buy / download
Hiroshi Yoshimura – Soundscape 1: Surround, 1986
download
Isabelle Antena – En Cavale, 1986
buy / download
Janet Jackson – Control, 1986
buy / download
Just-Ice – Back To The Old School, 1986
buy / download
Linda di Franco – Rise Of The Heart, 1986
download
Nu Shooz – Poolside, 1986
buy / download
Riccardo Sinigaglia – Riflessi, 1986
download
Toshifumi Hinata – Reality In Love, 1986
download
Virginia Astley – Hope In A Darkened Heart, 1986
download
Zavijava Orchestra – Rivers Of Light, 1986
buy / download

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 7: Voices Special

I made a two hour mix for NTS Radio of songs with vocals that are significant to me. I had originally set out to focus on experimental vocals, but I realized that so much of what might sound experimental to western ears—Tibetan chant, Inuit throat singing, Chinese folk—is deeply traditional, not experimental at all. Instead, I approached this as two hours of vocal milestones, be they from technical, stylistic, or emotive standpoints. It’s not possible to make a two hour comprehensive survey of strong vocal traditions, nor of the most important singers, though there are quite a few of both categories in here. Putting this together was hard, and while I could easily have spent years digging and rethinking, I set a month time limit to ensure that I would finish it at all.

As I was making this I also thought a lot about how Björk framed her almost entirely vocal record Medúlla as a response to September 11th–both the event itself and the subsequent wave of patriotism and xenophobia that she experienced as a foreigner living in New York. Making an all-vocal album was, for her, a coping mechanism and a means of trying to reconnect with what it means to be a human.

Lastly, a note that this isn’t as listenable or poppy as the mixes that I typically make, though I did try to arc it in a way that feels good. I’m not really sure what its ideal listening environment is–it probably involves headphones–so I hope that you enjoy it all the same! If you’d like an mp3 version you can download it here. Thank you for listening 💜

Tracklisting:
1. The Impressions – For Your Precious Love
2. Meredith Monk – Strand (Gathering)
3. Geinoh Yamashirogumi – Genesis (abridged)
4. Bessie Griffin & The Gospel Pearls – Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
5. Philippine Madrigal Singers – Pamugun (comp. Francisco Feliciano)
6. Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes – Jusqu’à Ce Que La Force De T’aimer Me Manque (excerpt)
7. Emma Kirkby & Gothic Voices – O Euchari (comp. Hildegard von Bingen)
8. Björk – Pleasure Is All Mine
9. The Ronettes – Baby I Love You (Isolated Vocals) (excerpt)
10. David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir – Arc Descents
11. Unknown Artists – Sumi Yeinyo (Hani Crying Song) (Southern China)
12. The Beach Boys – Surfer Girl (Alternate Version)
13. John Jacob Niles – Go ‘Way From My Window
14. The Tallis Scholars – Spem In Alium, Motet for 40 Voices (comp. Thomas Tallis)
15. Geinoh Yamashirogumi – Doll’s Polyphony
16. Young Thug – All Over
17. Ghédalia Tazartès – Une Voix S’en Va
18. Yma Sumac – Taita Inty (Virgin Of The Sun God)
19. Arthur Miles – Lonely Cowboy, Pt. 2
20. Angkanang Kunchai With Ubon-Pattana Band – Isan Lam Plearn (excerpt)
21. The Hilliard Ensemble – Viderunt Omnes (comp. Pérotin)
22. Ustad Ghulam Ali & Asha Bhosle – Salona Sa Sajan Hai Aur Main Hoon
23. Patti Page – Confess (excerpt)
24. Monks of Gyütö Tantric College – Sangwa Düpa (excerpt)
25. Amália Rodrigues – Gaivota (excerpt)
26. Unknown Artist – Akazehe Par Une Jeune Fille (Burundi)
27. Anna Homler & Steve Moshier – Sirens (excerpt)
28. Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir – Stani Mi, Maytcho (Get Up, My Daughter)
29. David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir – Rainbow Voice
30. Lucy Amarualik & Mary Sivuarapik – Song Of A Cooking Seal Flipper
31. Dr. Octagon – Halfsharkalligatorhalfman
32. Judy Henske & Jerry Yester – Rapture (excerpt)
33. The Hilliard Ensemble – Sabbato Sancto – Responsorium 5 (comp. Carlo Gesualdo)
34. Linda Jones – Your Precious Love (excerpt)

The Hilliard Ensemble – Carlo Gesualdo: Tenebrae, 1991

Another expert overview of a favorite composer’s work from the venerated Hilliard Ensemble. Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) was an Italian prince, count, and renaissance composer, who is mostly known for his madrigals, particularly those that disregarded the tonal conventions of the time and explored extreme chromatic progressions and unprepared changes of harmony, i.e. changes without a harmonic bridge. This was arguably without precedent, and wasn’t really seen again until late 19th century impressionism. The music is notoriously difficult to perform live, with careening harmonies making it particularly easy to veer off-key. In spite of the daredevil compositions, the songs are stunningly beautiful, if a bit nervewracking. Stravinsky was a big fan. Aldous Huxley, who once listened to Gesualdo while under the influence of mescaline, wrote the liner notes for a 1956 LP of Gesualdo’s work. Herzog made a pseudo-documentary about him called Death for Five Voices.

Perhaps somewhat relatedly, Gesualdo was also known to exhibit characteristics of serious mental illness, was a repeat murderer, and a masochist, leading some to suspect demonic possession. After the murders, the story goes that he was so paranoid that he went on a tree-cutting rampage around his castle so as to be better able to see potential threats from far away. It’s also believed that he may have ordered his own death. He’s become a vampire-esque figure of fascination for many (I can’t help but think of Gilles de Rais), an interest that seems a bit fraught to me–but I can’t argue with the music. Enjoy!

buy / download: disc 1, disc 2

The Tallis Scholars – Spem In Alium, 1985

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) is considered by many to be one of the most important English composers ever to have lived, and is definitively one of the most important composers of early choral music. His crowning achievement, “Spem In Alium,” is a ten minute long 40-part motet that borders on psychedelic: ceaselessly shifting, simultaneously hyper-precise yet almost shapeless. From Wikipedia:

The motet is laid out for eight choirs of five voices. It’s most likely that Tallis intended his singers to stand in a horseshoe shape. Beginning with a single voice from the first choir, other voices join in imitation, each in turn falling silent as the music moves around the eight choirs. All forty voices enter simultaneously for a few bars, and then the pattern of the opening is reversed with the music passing from choir eight to choir one. There is another brief full section, after which the choirs sing in antiphonal pairs, throwing the sound across the space between them. Finally all voices join for the culmination of the work. Though composed in imitative style and occasionally homophonic, its individual vocal lines act quite freely within its elegant harmonic framework, allowing for a large number of individual musical ideas to be sung during its ten- to twelve-minute performance time. The work is a study in contrasts: the individual voices sing and are silent in turns, sometimes alone, sometimes in choirs, sometimes calling and answering, sometimes all together, so that, far from being a monotonous mess, the work is continually presenting new ideas.

I’ve been listening to this album for ten years and it’s still disorientingly beautiful. The other works in this collection are gorgeous in their own right, with “Sancte Deus” and “Miserere Nostri” being personal favorites. Not included are his “Lamentations of Jeremiah,” cited as his other masterwork; I’m also a chump for “If ye love me“…there are plenty of other compilations worth seeking out. Happy December, but also, listen to this all year round.

buy / download

David Hykes & the Harmonic Choir – Hearing Solar Winds, 1983

“This recording was made in L’Abbaye du Thoronet, a 12th-century Cisterian monastery in Provence, where I had previously brought the choir in 1978. The simple harmonic geometry of the abbey seemed perfectly proportioned to magnify the choir’s music and let it resonate within its sacred space. Working there was an incredible challenge: our sensations, our breathing, and even our thoughts and emotions became intensely amplified.”

–David Hykes, liner notes

Hearing Solar Winds is a milestone for the human voice. Much of Hykes’s work originates from Tantric Tibetan Buddhism and western Mongolian khöömi, or overtone singing. Yet in this context, recorded live in a French abbey over the course of two evenings, it’s a completely different beast from traditional throat singing. It’s less active and more drawn out, less human and more ghostly. It shimmers–did a songbird get trapped in the abbey, or was someone playing an unimaginably tiny glass flute? “Telescoping,” and of course “Rainbow Voice,” quite literally sound like light being split through a prism: when producing harmonics, “the voice acts as a kind of sonic prism, ‘refracting’ sound along a frequency spectrum which extends upward from the fundamental tone.”
Elsewhere, Hearing Solar Winds is as much about sonic illusion as it is overtones. Several tracks employ the Shepard scale, which is a “sound consisting of a superposition of sine waves separated by octaves, with the base pitch of the tone moving upward or downward. This creates the auditory illusion of a tone that continually ascends or descends in pitch, yet which ultimately seems to get no higher or lower. It has been described as a ‘sonic barber’s pole.'” Upon first listen, the effect is disorienting and even a bit nauseating, as it’s difficult to understand where you are, tonally. If you don’t mind losing track of your body, Hearing Solar Winds Becomes less of an album and more of an hour long meditation–cosmic not because of shimmering synth pads or floating arpeggiation (there are none) but because of its direct sonic verticality. This is the real deal.
Incredibly, Hearing Solar winds is David Hykes’s first album. He went on to release five more albums with the unbelievably precise Harmonic Choir, and five more without them. (Side note: “Rainbow Voice” was featured in the soundtrack for Dead Poets Society.) He’s worked extensively with sound healing and spirituality, developing a comprehensive approach to “contemplative music” called harmonic chant, about which there’s a nice interview with him here. I would highly recommend a rainy day listen of Hearing Solar Winds on good speakers, without doing much of anything else.

buy / download