Linda Cohen – Leda, 1972

Gorgeous minimal classical guitar on the first of three full-lengths from the largely self-taught Linda Cohen. Her fingerpicking pulls from folk, baroque, and blues, and given that she opened for Joni Mitchell, John Fahey, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott at Philadelphia’s Second Fret in the late 60s, I would imagine these were influential artists for her. Though she was an active musician through much of her life, Cohen was most passionately a teacher, teaching classical guitar for 35 years at the Classical Guitar Store in Philly, where she was a fixture in the music scene. Her life was sadly cut short by cancer in 2009.

Leda is an exercise in restraint. Meticulously fingerpicked, just barely fleshed out with synth, theremin, celesta, tapes, and percussion. Much of the additional instrumentation is so subtle that it might not register without headphones–this is very much acoustic guitar music. Warm with room tone and (at least on this rip) crackling vinyl pops, it’s also prime cold weather, indoor listening. It includes instrumentation and effects from Charles Cohen (no relation), among others; with cover art by Milton Glaser. Sparse and masterful. Thank you Chad for the tip!

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[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 8

I made the first version of this mix two years ago as I was starting to see the continuity in a lot of the music I was gravitating towards, though I didn’t have much vocabulary for it at the time. Since then I’ve started to think of it as intimate music (not the same thing as music for intimacy)—it’s music that conveys a closeness to the musician and an awareness of the space that the musician occupied. It’s often acoustic, doesn’t see much post-production, and has a very present room tone. It’s warm and sometimes a bit rough. It leans towards baroque folk, strings, and piano. None of these are hard and fast rules though—Ernest Hood’s Neighborhoods breaks most of them and is still peak intimate music. It’s more of a feeling than a genre.

I was really happy with the original mix, and since I published it fairly early on I don’t know if it got much eartime, so I was excited to rework and extend it a bit. I think of it as a fireplace soundtrack, although any quiet nighttime indoor space seems like a safe bet. I hope you have a moment with it. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version here.

1. The Rising Storm – Frozen Laughter
2. The Durutti Column – Sleep Will Come
3. Bridget St John – Many Happy Returns
4. Harold Budd – Albion Farewell (Homage to Delius, for Gavin Bryars)
5. Connie Converse – There is a Vine
6. Woo – Taizee (Traditional)
7. Unknown – Pumi Song
8. Robbie Basho – Variations On Easter
9. Clara Rockmore – The Swan (Saint-Saëns)
10. Lewis – Like To See You Again
11. Carlos Maria Trindade – Plan
12. Patti Page – The Tennessee Waltz
13. Raul Lovisoni – Hula Om (Excerpt)
14. Kate Bush – Something Like A Song (Home Demo 1974)
15. Yasuaki Shimizu – Suite No. 2: Prélude (Bach)
16. Donnie & Joe Emerson – Love Is
17. Rosa Ponselle – The Nightingale and the Rose (Rimsky-Korsakov)
18. Henri Texier – Quand Tout S’arrête
19. Molly Drake – I Remember
20. Virginia Astley – Sanctus
21. Arthur Russell – A Sudden Chill

Mix: Winter (Indoors)

I made this mix for ambient indoor listening, thinking about the last few moments of winter and a little bit of thawing for spring. It’s heavy on vocals, folk, and acoustic instruments, so it may be more of a background listen. If you like it, download it here.

1. 0:00 Arthur – Wintertime
2. 2:50 The Durutti Column – Sleep Will Come
3. 4:38 Bridget St John – Many Happy Returns
4. 6:51 Harold Budd – Albion Farewell (Homage to Delius, for Gavin Bryars)
5. 9:22 Connie Converse – There is a Vine
6. 10:54 Woo – Taizee (Traditional)
7. 13:06 Unknown – Pumi Song
8. 14:13 John Jacob Niles – Go ‘Way From My Window
9. 16:27 Clara Rockmore – The Swan (Saint-Saëns)
10. 19:19 Lewis – Like To See You Again
11. 23:41 Unknown – IV
12. 25:39 Patti Page – The Tennessee Waltz
13. 28:32 Gigi Masin – Parallel Lines
14. 30:57 Yasuaki Shimizu – Suite No. 2: Prélude (Bach)
15. 34:55 Donnie & Joe Emerson – Love Is
16. 37:55 Rosa Ponselle – The Nightingale and the Rose (Rimsky-Korsakov)
17. 41:11 Henri Texier – Quand Tout S’arrête
18. 42:43 Molly Drake – I Remember
19. 45:41 Virginia Astley – Sanctus
20. 47:40 Nico – Afraid
21. 51:11 Arthur Russell – A Sudden Chill

Clara Rockmore – Theremin, 1977

Clara Rockmore may have the coolest story of all the early electronic musicians. Born in 1911 in what is now Lithuania, at four years old she was admitted to the St. Petersburg Imperial Conservatory where she studied violin under Leopold Auer. To this day, she’s still the youngest student ever admitted to the conservatory (probably a good thing). A teenage arthritic condition left her unable to continue playing the violin, leading her to study the theremin (the first mass-produced electronic instrument, and arguably the coolest because it’s played by manipulating electrical signals in the air rather than by touching anything solid).
She was an instant theremin prodigy and went on to help Léon Theremin*, who might have been slightly obsessed with her, make a lot of changes to its design in order to realize its full potential. She insisted on a faster left hand to permit staccato, rather than having it be “all molasses, all glissando.” She also wanted a five octave range instead of three (which made it way harder to control the pitch but allowed for greater melodic possibility), increased sensitivity of the pitch antenna, and a lowered profile of the instrument. Despite touring extensively to widespread acclaim, she only finally recorded her performances at the behest of Bob Moog himself (as in “Ugh Bob made me do it lol”) in 1977. Thanks Bob! There’s a very sweet conversation between Clara, her sister, her nephew, Dr. Moog, and Dr. Thomas Ray which takes place over what appears to be a candy-tinted Tim Burton-esque dessert table that you can watch here.
*Read more about another insane thing that Léon Theremin made here.
TLDR: Nobody has ever inhabited the theremin like Rockmore. Maybe the original female electronic music virtuoso, as she was touring with her custom-made theremin in the 30s. Watch some videos of her channeling sounds out of thin air like a ghostly medium, face far away and ecstatic, and try not to cry. Otherworldly, but deeply human.