December 31, 2009

Happy 2010!

Well, a couple weeks ago I thought I would write up some sort of Best of 2009 list, but I realized that this whole blog is basically my Best of '09 list, and I'm too tired now to come up with a proper list before midnight anyway! But anyway....

What an amazing, intense, crazy year! I got a record deal, got into graduate school, visited Amsterdam and Rome, ended a major long-term relationship, bought some gear, went completely broke several times, sold some gear, got really excited about DJing with Ableton Live, played some live Ethernet shows, put out my first full-length CD, got over 30 reviews, all positive, including some proper print magazines like The Wire, and moved from Northern California to Portland, Oregon, two weeks ago as of tomorrow! And probably a number of other things, as well!

In 2010 I will be playing lots of Ethernet shows, as soon and as many as possible, basically, at least around the Portland/Eugene/Vancouver area. I have several hours of new material that I’m really happy with, but that I have been feeling like is not suited for Kranky, more like it has been improving my “chops” and production skills. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do with this past year’s worth of new tracks… I would love to put out a proper techno 12″, as I’ve made some dub techno and IDM-tinged tracks that I’m finally pleased with (and just because I love vinyl!). For Kranky, I will be working on something very deep and special, and I’m looking forward to exploring the brand new Native Instruments Absynth 5 synthesis engine, as Absynth 4 was the main compositional tool behind “144 Pulsations”.

So, my best wishes to all in 2010, I have a feeling its going to be a good one!

If you haven’t yet, please check out my Myspace page, where I’ve been posting all of the reviews of my Ethernet CD, as well as a brand new interview for The Offline People!

Happy New Year!

December 15, 2009

FREE DOWNLOADS: Rush Hour Recordings broadcasts & mixes

OK, obviously I have been getting busier and busier the past couple months, and this blog has slowed down! Since I started the blog earlier this year, I've written reviews of about 70 of my favorite albums, as well as several record label and artist profiles, and a smattering of bonus links to interesting articles or free downloads. Since this Summer, I've been taking online classes in a new masters degree program, and have been preparing to move to a new state since November... currently, my move-out date is this coming Saturday! This month I have mainly been listening to misc. new techno and classic acid house tracks, especially since I discovered the excellent selection of WAVs available for purchase from Juno Download, which seems to offer the best prices I've found. Besides brand new releases from Delsin, Ann Aimee, M>O>S and Rush Hour, Juno is also offering much of the Chicago Trax Records back-catalogue from the '80s; an awesome selection of classic acid house, a sound I've really gotten into in the last couple years. Its nice to see the classic material being released online in full, lossless quality, as the original vinyl is either stupefyingly expensive in the collectors' market, or just old and worn out-sounding! I also got a 25th Anniversary promotional shirt to celebrate and represent.
So, this month I may not actually find any time to review any music, until I'm done with my move around Xmas. In the meantime, I will be listening to the huge collection of mixes, audio specials and video reports available from Rush Hour Recordings' Broadcast webpage, which I somehow didn't notice when I wrote the label profile about them back in May. Rush Hour is one of my favorite labels promoting the sound of Amsterdam, and this year saw some great new 12" and CD releases, including Daniel Wang's Balihu collection, and re-releases of some early Rick Wilhite/KDJ 12"s and old '80s Chicago Trax 12"s too! Once again, there are literally tens of hours of free listening enjoyment here, so check it out and catch the A'dam vibe! Keep checking back on this blog, too, as I will be posting some sort of Best Of 2009 list in the next week or so!

November 29, 2009

TIP!: $1 CD sale at

Just got home from thxgiving week with the fam, heavily jetlagged and zonked, not a fan of air travel. I was pleased to find a small brown envelope in my mailbox, however, containing 6 CDs in transparent plastic sleeves from Brainwashed! I noticed last week that they are having a blow-out sale on some CDs without covers/packaging, including the entire 3CD Brainwaves 2008 compilation, the first disc from the classic '02 Brain In The Wire compilation, and some brand new releases on their Killer Pimp sublabel! The CDs are priced at only $1 each, which is what you'd pay for ONE TRACK on iTunes or Amazon, and let's face it, a real CD will always sound better than MP3, especially for this kind of full-frequency-spectrum experimental music. For 6 CDs, I paid $7 total with shipping! Brain In The Wire is worth $1 just for the Windy & Carl exclusive version of "Trembling", but you also get unreleased tracks from Legendary Pink Dots and their dub side project Twilight Circus, and a lovely drone and guitar piece by Christoph Heemann and Andreas Martin. The Brainwaves 2008 compilation is well worth $1 for each CD, for the Windy and Benoit Pioulard collaboration as Lambs Laughter, a mysterious track by Coil member Peter Christopherson as the Threshold House Boys Choir, and copious, top-notch tracks from a number of Kranky artists like Nudge, Strategy, Lichens and more. I also grabbed the new Lithops album, a side project of Microstoria and Mouse On Mars guy Jan St. Werner, as I recalled enjoying the quirky, microsound/IDM-ish '98 CD "Uni Umit" but hadn't heard anything more recent by him. There are some dodgy, noise-ridden freak-out tracks in the mix, which I tend to skip, but surely there is something for everyone's taste on these cheap discs! If you're feeling a bit more spendy, grab some of their fantastic Eye DVDs as well!

November 17, 2009

Stuart Dempster, Tom Heasley & Eric Glick Rieman - Echoes Of Syros (2009, Full Bleed Music)

When I recently wrote about Tom Heasley's “On The Sensations Of Tone” CD, I checked out his Myspace page and was excited to read that he'd recently been working with Stuart Dempster, a founding member of Pauline Oliveros's Deep Listening Band. This Fall, Heasley released two CDs on his in-house Full Bleed Music label, the first being a collection of older free-jazz trio recordings, and the second a live collaboration with Dempster and keyboardist Eric Glick Rieman entitled “Echoes Of Syros”. Recorded live in Oakland, CA, the album has a very “free” and improvised feel to it, but manages to explore some very deep and lush sonic territory. In fact, I found the opening 34 minute-long title track reminiscent of the drone-ambient mastery of Steve Roach's “Magnificent Void” or “Early Man”, yet entirely organic in instrumentation. The highlight for me is still Heasley's dense, blasting tuba soundclouds, giving even the most potent analogue drone boxes and synthesizers a run for their money, but now they are blended with other-worldly layers of mouth sounds, circular breathing and “extended instrument technique” on trombone, didjeridu, conch shell and garden hose by Dempster, substituting sonically for the abstract synth noise, field recordings and resonant filter sweeps of traditional electronic ambient music. Reiman completes the trio on “prepared” Rhodes electric piano, which seems to take more of an indistinct, background role, with occasional rhythmic note taps and soft harmonic swells. The overall sound is almost primitive at times, evocative of whale sounds and bellowing beasts, with occasional soft percussive noise rattling in the background (presumably Dempster's “toys”, as credited on the cover), transitioning into long sustained drones that sound slightly Eastern-tuned. The final two pieces, “Interzone” and “The Chimaera” delve into more atonal, experimental textures, emulating bird sounds and whinnying horses via found-percussion, noise makers and horn toots. Not exactly meditative, but intense journeying music and very nice for deep listening!

November 16, 2009

FREE DOWNLOAD: Dead Milkmen - Acoustic set at Crash Bang Boom 10/30/2009

Well, this month has been all about free online listening for me, as I am nearing the end of my second online class and am now preparing to move next month! This weekend I enjoyed hearing the latest offering from Joe Jack Talcum's Bootleg Of The Month archive: a brand new "unplugged" Dead Milkmen set recorded at what-used-to-be Zipperhead punk boutique in Philly, recorded just a little over two weeks ago! As a DM fan since I got "Metaphysical Graffiti" on cassette in 5th grade, it is amazing to see the band still rocking nearly 30 years after their start (with a few breaks since the mid-'90s, of course), and the performance is funny and entertaining with a lot of energy. Unfortunately there is a screaming child who interrupts nearly every song for the first half of the performance, but maybe I am a little sensitive to crowd noise... Anyway, the recording sounds almost as good as being there. Even better, three video clips totaling about 18 minutes have made their way onto Youtube, so check those out for the full visual experience!

Download the show audio here!

Videos are here, here and here!

November 10, 2009


So yesterday I discovered's impressive archive of Smashing Pumpkins shows, and since then I have been browsing it constantly and unearthing even more gems! As it turns out, has an insanely huge Live Music Archive, which features recordings from any band that has given their "OK" to have their live tapes shared. For the most part, this is jam band territory, with a gargantuan collection of Grateful Dead shows and their modern descendants. However, as a wander through the Artist Index reveals, there are many other non-jam bands featured. Besides Smashing Pumpkins, there are a number of other early-'90s-era alt-rock bands, including some junior high favorites of mine like Gin Blossoms, Spin Doctors and Hum. But I was most excited to find an amazing collection of Acid Mothers Temple shows, ranging as far back as some early radio performances from '98 on XFM UK and KFJC-FM in CA, all the way up to as recent as *last week*, when Kawabata Makoto played some solo shows in Oakland and SF! I have a preference for Kawabata's solo material, which tends to be more drone-oriented rather than an acid rock freak-out, so it was great to find these brand new performances, plus another from last summer! As if this wasn't enough, I next found a great selection of post-rock bands, including Fly Pan Am, Kranky-alumnae Low, Bardo Pond, all old faves of mine although I have to confess I haven't heard any of their new stuff since about '02. But the next biggest shock was not one but two huge archives, one for Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the other for their side-project/continuation A Silver Mt. Zion, each offering not five, not ten, but over 35 shows by each group, spanning a period of ten years! Well, I feel so overwhelmed I have no idea where to start, but luckily many of the shows feature listener reviews to give you a sense of the quality (I always prefer soundboard (SBD) or FM sources to audience (AUD) mic recordings, no matter how clear, but its not a strict rule). Enjoy!

November 9, 2009

FREE DOWNLOAD: Smashing Pumpkins - Live at VPRO Studios on 1993-06-30

The amazing Internet Archive has always been a useful tool for tracking down old websites that have gone offline, and is also a massive repository for public domain audio and video. Many artists allow their fans to share concert tapes there, much like the cassette and DAT trading scene of the '80s and '90s. While a predominance of music at is jam band-oriented, there are some amazing gems like the previously mentioned Ohrwert tracks, and a large collection of Smashing Pumpkins concerts spanning their entire career, available in high-quality MP3 and lossless FLAC formats (go FLAC!). One in particular stood out to me; a flawlessly-produced acoustic set recorded on the Siamese Dream tour at the Netherlands VPRO Studios. There is a trippy little 6 minute interview in Dutch with Billy Corgan's responses in English, followed by a 24 minute set of five Siamese Dream tracks plus a great, moody cover of Thin Lizzy's "Dancing In The Moonlight." A lovely audio treat for a weary Monday!

Get it here:

November 6, 2009

Ohrwert - Gaussian Skies (2009, Cism)

Ohrwert is the dub-techno project of Arjen Schat, a producer from the Netherlands who has been releasing an impressive volume of tracks over the past two years, mostly for free download via netlabels. A 12" release on the Millions Of Moments label in '08 brought some significant attention, and since then there have been a steady stream of LONG tracks and EPs released mainly on the web. The style is an homage to the classic Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound template of the mid-to-late '90s, which, as I trace it, was refined by Rod Modell/Deepchord in the early '00s and is now being emulated by a wide array of artists to varying degrees of success, with some more recent efforts exploring fascinating new sonic territory and others sounding like tired rehashes made with cheap gear/software. Ohrwert manages to avoid the dub-techno blahs, and has a very impressive collection of hardware gear including a nice rack of Moog FX units, a Korg MS2000, Moog Little Phatty and other synthesizers, and the classic Dynacord Echocord Super tape-echo. Over the period of a year beginning of March '08, Ohrwert released a more-than-full-length collection of tracks called "Reduct", the most recent being part 9 released back in April, with each part featuring two tracks. Adding up the whole series, along with the "Lost Reduct" which can be found on, you get over three hours of free dub-techno, and most of it is really top-notch. Earlier this month, the Cism netlabel from Smolensk, Russia released a new two-track EP by Ohrwert called "Gaussian Clouds". Clocking in at over 35 minutes, the two tracks unfold at an extremely slow and graceful pace, with multiple layers of shifting and morphing synthesizer textures. "Floating Shores" starts with a heavily processed wind-like filter noisescape, slowly leading into soft ambient pads, deep bass drones and soft arpeggiations ala Kompakt's Pop Ambient, while the second track, "Transition Sphere," explores pulsing and stabbing chord textures, slowly building into a head-nodding techno thump ala Basic Channel. Ohrwert's music stands on its own as an excellent entry in the book of dub-techno, with literally hours of listening enjoyment available for free download!

October 30, 2009

Yokota - Psychic Dance (2009, Harthouse)

I have been a fan of Susumu Yokota's techno and ambient records since I heard the widely-acclaimed "Sakura" and its follow-up "Grinning Cat", two fantastic psychedelic ambient albums in the vein of Brian Eno's classic works, and featured on many album-of-the-year lists at the time. As I further explored Yokota's prolific catalog, I realized that he alternated between lush ambient abstraction and straight-ahead deep house/techno, with several amazing albums and 12"s deconstructing disco samples and soulful house grooves, my personal favorite being the '02 full-length "Sound Of Sky". Since then, Yokota has released roughly one album each year, with each one exploring a different genre or variation of techno or ambient. In '06 he released the brain-bending "Triple Time Techno", which applied the waltz meter of 3-beats per bar to techno, followed by the more-abstract, melodic "Love Or Die", moving back into ambient/experimental territory. Back in the mid-'90s, Susumu released two albums and a couple 12"s on the seminal German techno label Harthouse, and 12 years later he has returned to his "Yokota" alias with a full-length digital download-only release called "Psychic Dance". The album is a strong return to Yokota's oldschool, acid and minimal techno roots, eschewing strange time-signatures and melodic textures in general for heavy, intricate drum machine programming with lots of weird spatial effects and filter tweaks. Occasionally some harmonic chord stabs enter the mix, but for the most part these are purely rhythmic explorations, with each track named after a different neurochemical/drug like "Ritalin", "Paxil", "Betanamin", etc. The vibe is high-energy and pounding, slightly industrial-edged and very dance-able, referencing modern minimal, progressive and Detroit styles. Yokota's masterful programming and sound library are showcased in a new techno format, with many intricate layers of rhythmic elements constantly shifting in and out of the mix, keeping things interesting and engaging. At 76 minutes long, its worth the 8 bucks!

October 28, 2009

Convextion – s/t (2006/8, Down Low Music)

I have to admit I am very much a late-comer to Detroit techno, and basically never even heard Juan Atkins or Jeff Mills or Underground Resistance or any of the other “masters” of the genre until the last couple of years. In '06, the Echospace Detroit camp of Rod Modell and co. released several double-12”s with a lot of buzz around them: a remix collection and re-issue of Convextion's “Miranda” from '96; a similar remix & re-issue set of Model 500's “Starlight”, a “classic” minimal Detroit techno track from '95; and the fantastic Deepchord release “Vantage Isle”, the latter both featuring remixes by Convextion. Convextion is one of several aliases used by TX-native producer Gerard Hanson, who released a relatively sparse selection of five 12”s over a period of 8 years from '95 to '03, considered very high-quality slices of Detroit/dub techno and commanding high prices on eBay, plus some electro-oriented 12"s as E.R.P.. In '06, Convextion finally released a full-length 2LP collection of tracks composed over the previous 10 years, but I didn't get a chance to hear it until it was released on CD last year. While I was at first slightly put-off by the Detroit sound, which has a very raw, synthetic-sounding quality with a heavy focus on minimal synthesizer patches, bleep-n-blooping arpeggiators and relatively simple, plodding drum machine programming, but I gradually realized that the album was just extremely pleasant to listen to and created a very hypnotic, chilled out atmosphere. The ten tracks are somewhat of an homage to classic Detroit and '90s styles, and even from my own limited listening experience I can recognize elements of early '90s techno blended with a nod towards the Basic Channel sound. The tone of the album is abstract and mysterious, with the steady beats functioning more as a trance-inducing throb than a dance-able groove. The long tracks steadily evolve and change up regularly enough to prevent monotony, and the synth programming is top-notch. Without making use of any trendy DSP FX or vocal samples, the album manages to maintain a timeless quality. Its not exactly innovative or ground-breaking territory being explored, but its relatively rare to find a full-length album of home-listenable techno music that works from beginning to end, which Convextion accomplishes impressively.

October 25, 2009

Late-October misc. round-up!

Well, I have been in heavy work-mode this month, and realize I haven't been thinking in “review” terms much. So I thought I would just post a few blurbs of things that I have been listening to or reading this month, but haven't felt motivated to write more than a sentence or two about.

Chris Ware's “ACME Novelty Library” - I was never much of a comic book fan, although I did my time as an anime geek in the mid '90s (when Pokemon hit the US I realized being an anime fan had “jumped the shark”, so to speak), and I grew up reading Tintin and Asterix. One comic I have been a long-time fan of, however, is Chris Ware's “ACME Novelty Library”, best known for the “Jimmy Corrigan – The Smartest Kid In The World” series, not to mention the blatant uncredited “inspiration” for Stewie from Family Guy. The comic has an incredible visual style suggestive of old-time newspapers and vintage early 20th century comic art, a slightly twisted sense of humor, and a heavy melancholic mood. I recently discovered that Ware had started a new series, and was self-publishing annual hard-cover issues of the “Novely Library”, including a collection of his new “Rusty Brown” series about the pathetic adult life of a comic book nerd in the '70s. The most recent issue was #19 released last Fall, so presumably a new installment is due anytime now. Strongly recommended even if you aren't a traditional comic book fan.

Early SKAM vinyl – Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, you can track down just about any “rare” release that anyone has ever made a big deal of or paid insane amounts for. Among IDM fans, the SKAM label's early releases are considered some of the most collectible and drool-worthy, with people paying hundreds of dollars on eBay for a Lego Feet 12” or one of the MASK compilations, at least back in the early '00s. I suspect the crazed demand has died down since the tracks have hit Youtube and other online sources, and for me it is fascinating to hear what the fuss was all about; some beautiful electronic abstractions and oldschool glitchy rhythms, an occasional diamond in the rough, and a lot of dated, somewhat-annoying experimentation aka “wankery”. Highlights for me are the early Gescom 12”s, marking Autechre's transition from “artificial intelligence tracks” to “insane/genius Wintermute computer-deity music”, and of course the early works of Boards of Canada and Bola.

Stars Of The Lid – I finally got to hear the epic 3LP “Refinement Of The Decline” and “Avec Laudanum” EP and was truly blown away. Deep, lush and organic, classical-sounding drones and memorable melodic passages all made with stringed-instruments and horns. Reminiscent of a more-soothing GY!BE. What made me laugh, though, was the somewhat inappropriate track titles. Do tracks like “That Finger on Your Temple Is the Barrel of My Raygun” or “December Hunting For Vegetarian F-ckface” suggest moody, minimal drone ambient pieces or rather something like quirky indie noise-pop songs to you? They sound like Smashing Pumpkins track titles to me...

Tom Heasley – has two new CDs out on his in-house Full Bleed Music label, one a collection of jazz trio recordings from '99, and the other a new set of live drone improvisations with Stuart Dempster and Eric Glick Reimann, some really great stuff! I actually wrote a review of it last week but found out the CD hasn't been officially released in stores yet, so I'm going to wait until next month to post it.

Labels I am digging – Contexterrior and Tuning Spork putting out great minimal stuff, taking the intricate Villalobos sound in a more dance-able direction. Balihu Records compilation on Rush Hour collects some great '90s-era disco-tinged house tracks by Daniel Wang and co, great Metro Area-style sound. Kompakt with a new Kaito album, a new Total collection, a great 12” by Coma with a smooth, minimal groove, and a new full-length by.. Gus Gus?? Remember the killer “Polyesterday”? Hyperdub 5 Year compilation generating a well-deserved buzz, bring on the King Midas Sound full-length!

Finally, here is a charming anime-style ad for Louis Vuitton, based on the psychedelic artwork of Takashi Murakami, which has made an appearance on Nobukazu Takemura's “Finale” CD cover as well as more recently at the SF MOMA. Music by Yellow Magic Orchestra!

October 19, 2009

FREE DL: The Black Dog - In The North EP (2009, Dust Science)

The Black Dog have relaunched their Dust Science record label, releasing futuristic dubstep and what they are calling "dark house" tracks, with a focus on their local Sheffield, UK scene. To celebrate, they launched a viral internet campaign promoting a free MP3 release, and today the link arrived in my mailbox. Titled "In The North", the EP collects four new tracks by Dust Science artists, all new to me, besides TBD:

A1. The Black Dog – Tesco (Dark House)
A2. Carl Taylor – Walk On By
B1. Grievous Angel – Show Love v1
B2. The Bass Soldier – You Still Live With Your Mum

[links removed 11/4/09]

The EP will only be up for free download until Nov. 4th! The Black Dog's track is the highlight for me, along with The Bass Soldier's blend of dubstep effects at a minimal house tempo, and the whole release is a nice selection of UK techno. I've been told its grim up north...

October 12, 2009

BONUS LINK: Sonic Warfare by Steve Goodman

During my time at Mills College, I wrote my MFA thesis on The Use of Sound For Control, Healing and Empowerment, and have often thought about expanding or updating it many times in the last few years. I found, however, that the more I learned, the more questions it raised, and the more implications of major "classified" warfare applications I came across. While my thesis gave examples of some of the military applications of sound, as well as subliminal audio in public spaces and broadcast signals, I also ran into a lot of conflicting data, and particularly denials that any such activity was happening, or even possible; for example I would find de-classified research from the CIA showing they had a strong interest in subliminal audio influence, post WWII, but mainstream newspaper articles down-playing it and calling it nonsense. I also found that some of the more metaphysically-oriented elements of "sound healing" research I had studied in school really did not seem to have much "proof" to them, or provide any method to verify their validity; for example, there are multiple schools of thought in assigning different tones or frequencies to the "chakras" or energy centers in the body, but the actual source for this data is totally obscured in history, and may have come from a totally non-scientific, or just intuitive/"channeled" source. So, on one hand we have the military applications of sound being essentially covered-up, downplayed or unreported, and we have the "sound healing" applications muddied with lots of vague, spiritually-oriented data that do not necessarily have any scientific validation behind them (although most proponents of sound healing would tell you they simply haven't been scientifically validated YET, and practical evidence suggests there is "something to it"). I was left feeling like it would take a whole book to fully research and explain all the various viewpoints involved, and even then I suspected that the questions would not be answered. And so, I was excited to find a link to Steve Goodman's blog for his upcoming book Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect And The Ecology Of Fear. Goodman is the founder of the innovative Hyperdub label, widely credited with bringing dubstep to the global stage, and a solo artist under the name Kode 9. Goodman is also a musicologist and sonic researcher, and has turned his focus to the military uses of sound. He also posts regular articles and videos on his blog, and has even referenced some of the same articles I came across in my own research at Mills. I am glad someone has taken on such a massive, and relatively "dark", subject and I look forward to seeing what he's uncovered, and his conclusions. The book is available for pre-order online and is printing at the end of December.

October 10, 2009

Slowdive – Just For A Day (Remastered & Expanded) (1991/2005, Castle Music)

I have been a long-time fan of the shoegaze genre since I first heard My Bloody Valentine, along with “dream pop” music pioneered by gothic-tinged artists on the 4AD label like Cocteau Twins, in the early-mid '90s, but I have to admit I totally missed Slowdive during their active career. In '03, I found two of their CDs, “Souvlaki” and “Pygmalion,” in the cheapo used bin at Amoeba Records in Berkeley, and was instantly in love with their sound. Blending the aforementioned MBV's distorted guitar sound and alt-rock sensibility, reminiscent of Smashing Pumpkins to my ears, with Cocteau Twin's ethereal vocal soundscapes and dreamy rhythms, Slowdive produced three albums of some of the most pleasant, abstract pop music of the '90s. I think the '94 CD “Souvlaki” may have been the band's most popular release, with a darker, melancholic tinge and more perceptible, song-form lyrics, while the following year's “Pygmalion” was apparently regarded as a “let down”, seeing the band exploring more electronic, minimalist and experimental territory, which I actually really enjoyed. Still, my favorite album has to be their first CD from '91, “Just For A Day”, which was reissued in '05, remastered with a second CD full of their first EPs and a '91 Peel Session. The sound is soothing and hum-able, with catchy melodic hooks and a steady, reverb-laden drumbeat, spacey synthesizer pads, endless layers of guitar drones and blissed-out vocal harmonies. I hadn't encountered Slowdive's EPs before the reissues, but they are all just as high-quality as the album tracks, with the epic two-part “Avalyn” and the sublime “Shine” standing out as intense and beautiful highlights. “Souvlaki” and “Pygmalion” were also both remastered and reissued in '05, with another bonus CD included with “Souvlaki” compiling the rest of the band's EPs. All three albums are absolute classics of '90s shoegaze!

October 8, 2009

Loscil - Strathcona Variations (2009, Ghostly International)

[Once again, I find that 'real life' has impinged on my internet/music review time. I also wrote most of a post the other day and then had the whole thing spontaneously delete, with no ability to "undo", so I am not really feelin' it. My "144 Pulsations Of Light" CD is now out on Kranky, and I have been busy preparing live Ethernet sets as well as DJ sets of deep house, Kompakt and minimal-oriented techno stuff and dubstep. I found two local club spaces with good sound systems, and will begin a hopefully-regular series of gigs in the next week or so!]

Until recently, I never paid much attention to Myspace, but since I've been trying to promote my Ethernet material, I set up a myspace page and added a bunch of my favorite musicians as my "friends", although I know only a handful of them in real life. What I like about Myspace, though, is that many artists use it as a place to post links to new free stuff they've made, which otherwise tends to get missed, or is unreleased elsewhere. In this case, I happened to come across Loscil's page, and noticed a new MP3 release announcement. Loscil's previous release was the '06 Kranky album "Plume", which I have to admit I haven't actually heard (although I recently found his excellent '01 debut CD "Triple Point" and was intrigued to find that parts of it had a lot in common, sonically, with my own CD, though I wasn't familiar with his work before a couple months ago). More recently, I found a very nice free full-length netlabel release compiling Loscil's more minimal drone-scapes, called "Stases: Drones 2001-2005", featuring twelve extremely subdued but pleasant textures, some apparently "based upon the backgrounds" from his Kranky album tracks. The netlabel release makes a great companion for Loscil's new "Strathcona Variations" EP, a collection of three ambient pieces totalling about 20 minutes. The tracks are a soothing blend of organic pads and pulsing electronic sounds, with subtle hypnotic rhythms and moody, classical-sounding orchestral passages. The third piece of the set, "Midnight Princess," has a somewhat forboding atmosphere, but overall the EP is low-key and pleasant deep listening music. Best of all, its only $3, so go grab it along with the free "Stases" collection (and don't forget Windy & Carl's "Akimatsuri" for $2 from! Bargain drone bonanza!

September 30, 2009

Traum Schallplatten various artists - Traum 100 (2008)

Traum Schallplatten is a minimal/ambient/abstract techno label in Cologne, Germany run by Jacqueline Klein and DJ Riley Reinhold, better known (to me) as Triple R. Triple R produced a very deep and trippy house mix called "Friends" for Kompakt in '02, featuring moody and melodic tracks by artists from several local labels, including Traum. I can't recall if I heard "Friends" first or the excellent '01 Traum compilation "Elektronische Musik - Interkontinental", but both made a lasting impression and introduced me to many top-notch house and ambient artists. Some favorites of mine were Broker/Dealer, a duo from San Francisco with a great '80s analog sound, the hypnotic arpeggiating textures of Philippe Cam and Waki, Tomas Jirku's psychedelic found-sound minimalism, Anton Kubikov, better known as SCSI-9, and Oxtongue, who later produced the first Kompakt Pop 12". Many of the artists hopped around between labels, including Traum's sub-labels Trapez and My Best Friend, and while I followed Kompakt, Traum and a few others pretty closely from around '02 until '05, I'm not *made of money* and eventually I was overwhelmed by the massive output coming from Cologne. However, in the past year or so I have been getting back into following, if not always buying, current house releases. Last summer, Traum celebrated their 100th release and 10 year anniversary with the "Traum 100" compilation, featuring new tracks by many of the same artists I had loved on those older collections; Broker/Dealer, Fairmont, Process, klick-meister Thomas Brinkmann, and some more recent minimal stars like Minilogue, Moonbeam and Gabriel Ananda. The sound is deep and mellow, with chilled out synthesizer sequences and a jazzy swing in the grooves, and a heavier focus on minimal grooves than I recall from earlier releases. There are definite similarities to Kompakt's trance-influenced melodics and experimentalism, which is understandable as the music all came from the same scene, but Traum offers their own unique spin on futuristic ambient/house crossovers and abstractions.

September 28, 2009

BONUS LINK: Mnml Ssgs blog

[Another entry in the "there is so much free music on the web, I'm not sure if or why anyone buys CDs anymore" file]
I came across the Mnml Ssgs blog from a link to a Delta Funktionen DJ mix posted on Myspace, and was impressed to find a whole new mix series hosted there, featuring a variety of top "minimal" DJs. So far there have been 38 "Ssgmx's" in the series, featuring some intriguing sets by Kompakt Pop Ambient folks Klimek, abstract beat producer Shed, and Mule Electronic's deep and chilled Koss. Additionally, the author of the blog (apparently a touring DJ himself, but I can't find any identification of who it is) posts regular round-ups of podcasts and free DJ mixes from all over the web. Also some very astute and humorous music criticism, which I always appreciate as I tend to not even BOTHER writing about music I don't like, even though there are many current "dub-techno artists", not even to mention "experimental musicians", I would like to name-check and demolish in print. A nearly endless supply of DJ mixes and insightful commentary, all free, thanks Mnml Ssgs!

September 27, 2009

BONUS LINK - The Black Dog monthly DJ sets

After referencing The Black Dog in my previous review of the new Delsin compilation, I realized I hadn't heard any of their new stuff in several years. I had always enjoyed their quirky, melodic IDM tracks as Plaid, such as their '97 Warp Records album "Not For Threes"which featured a vocal collaboration with Bjork that got a lot of people's attention (they had already done remixes for Bjork's "Debut" as The Black Dog, and later remixed "All Is Full Of Love"). Their early Warp releases as The Black Dog helped define the Artificial Intelligence/IDM sound of the '90s, and have a great old-school sound. On their website, I found that The Black Dog are still going strong, with new CDs and 12"s, and a free DJ mix series they are now producing each month. Their second mix was posted at the beginning of September; a lush, beatless ambient set featuring a couple Kranky artists, Stars Of The Lid and White Rainbow, and recent favorites like Intrusion. The Black Dog blog is updated regularly with new DJ charts, live dates and downloads, and streaming samples of every single TBD release are available from the side menu.

The Black Dog - 02. Sometimes – Ambient DJ Set/Mix

September 25, 2009

Delsin various artists - Delsin II (2009)

One of the labels I've really been enjoying for new dance/techno music in the last couple years has been Delsin, operating out of the Netherlands since the mid-'90s. I had heard some buzz around some Delsin artists in the early '00s, like IDM artist M>O>S, aka Aroy Dee who had a bunch of releases on Rush Hour Recordings, and Yotoko, a side-project by the prolific "broken beat" producer Domu, but I didn't really start paying attention to Delsin's techno releases until I heard the '05 compilation "Planet Delsin : Interstellar Sounds Of Stardust". The general aesthetic of Delsin is oriented towards the pure, experimental synthesizer sounds of classic early '90s IDM, blended with the rhythmic patterns of Detroit techno, and brings to mind early Warp Records and Rephlex artists like Polygon Window, The Black Dog or Bochum Welt. Many of the artists compose with minimal palettes of bleeps and bloops and unprocessed, old-skool drum machine beats to craft catchy house hooks, working both as an homage to classic analog synthesizers of the past, and as a forward-thinking futuristic movement in dance music. This year, Delsin released an even greater follow-up compilation called "Delsin II", a 2CD set featuring many of the best tracks from the past couple years of 12" releases, with copious liner notes featuring a label profile and artist interviews. Highlights for me include the moody, melodic atmospherics of Taho and D5, the gritty, lo-fi stomp of Redshape, and the pounding, hypnotic patterns of Delta Funktionen, Quince and Newworldaquarium. While some of the tracks get into territory that I find a bit too robotic, simple or lo-fi sounding, almost all of the artists on this collection can be depended on for regularly releasing high-quality new tracks. Delsin has kept up a steady release schedule, with a new 12" every couple months, and I frequently check their website to see what's new. (BONUS LINK: I particularly enjoy the large collection of free DJ sets and live performances available for download, such as this interview and classics-laden DJ set by label boss Peel Seamus, or this deep and dubby set from Quince.)

September 22, 2009

BONUS LINK: Autumnal Equinox Dub-Techno Mix by Ethernet (me!)

Happy Fall Equinox to all!

I am pleased to present a deep and hazy mix of some of my favorite dub-techno classics. Thanks to the cool Self-Titled online magazine for sharing my mix! The mix was put together in Ableton Live 7, with most of the tracks ripped from vinyl, and a couple of the newer tracks bought online in WAV format from Beatport, and features live dub FX and delay manipulations by yours truly. Oh yeah, the Bluetrain track is B2 from “Factory Dubs” ‘00!

Download the mix here!

My CD “144 Pulsations Of Light”, which is more in the drone-ambient territory rather than dub-techno, is out on Kranky on Oct. 5th! Here is the All-Music Review, featuring short clips of each track!

September 19, 2009

Microstoria - Snd (1996, Mille Plateaux/Thrill Jockey)

I spent my junior year of college as an exchange student in central Japan in '00-'01, and took every opportunity to explore the endless winding streets of Kyoto and Osaka. Looking back now, I marvel at the number of concerts I was able to attend, considering the full-time load of classes and Japanese homework I had to deal with every week, and I feel good that I made the most of my limited time there (well, maybe I bought too much manga). One of my favorite places to see shows was the Kyoto Club Metro, a weird little space half-way down a flight of stairs at one of the Kyoto subway stations, which apparently used to be a conductors' bar and hang-out area. There were shows at the space pretty much every single night, as I recall, with lots of punk, ska and weird '60s-'80s pop mash-up DJs. They also hosted a bunch of amazing IDM and experimental nights, including a Rephlex night with Cylob and Freeform, and a deafening night of non-idiomatic improv and turntable destruction from Christian Marclay and Lee Renaldo, followed by Boredoms' DJ EYE. I also went to see Mouse On Mars on their "Idiology" tour there, and was very impressed by the opening laptop set by Jan St. Werner and Markus Popp as Microstoria. I had previously heard Popp's Oval project, when he made a big buzz in the electronic music community with the albums "Systemisch" and "Dok", released domestically on Thrill Jockey, but I had found the material I heard to be too sonicly harsh for my taste, with a focus on gritty CD-skipping digital rhythms. I recognize now that Popp's "Ovalprocess" was pretty revolutionary for its time (early-mid '90s) and predated much of the laptop scene of the next ten years. Teamed up with Werner, also a member of Mouse On Mars, the abrassive side of Oval was tempered into a soft-spoken glitch ambience with a futuristic edge of digital ice. When I returned to the US, I found Microstoria's "Snd" CD and recognized similar textures to what I'd heard live, if even more subdued. Considering the time frame of this album, the experimental DSP processing and granular synthesis effects put to use must have been produced with relatively cutting-edge technology/software, predating the release of the genre-defining Max/MSP Macintosh software. The "Snd" album has a calm ambient atmosphere, with occasionally jittery computer manipulation that creates a psychedelic vibe. Organic sounds of bells, reed instruments and field recordings are occasionally perceptable, but the tracks generally explore abstract, if constantly shifting, territory. Listening to it 13 years later, the CD still sounds impressively futuristic and forward-thinking. The album also led to a follow-up remix collection called "Reprovisors", which featured many big-names in the avant-garde/laptop scene of the time, including Jim O'Rourke, F.X. Randomiz, Stereolab, and Christoph Heemann, bringing the group wider attention from the post-rock/experimental crowds.

September 14, 2009

BONUS LINK: XxXy free mix from Example Magazine July '09

I recently came across one of XxXy's tracks in a long dubstep mix and was so impressed I had to search for more. Part of the Mindset label collective, XxXy presents a further evolution of the Basic Channel/Deepchord-meets-dubstep sound, with deep sub-basslines and intricately crafted beats that resemble a blend of 2562 and Burial. There are a few tracks for free listening at the XxXy myspace page, and this free mix was recently posted for download from a UK blog called Example. I predict the full-length from this artist will be big news...

September 11, 2009

Ghosts On Water - Senshu (2005/8, Faraway Press)

Ghosts On Water is a project between Andrew Chalk, who runs the Faraway Press label in the UK, Daisuke Suzuki, boss of the "industrial"/experimental Siren label in Tokyo, and his wife, Naoko Suzuki. Chalk is one of the masterminds behind the amazing Mirror, and has been releasing solo and collaborative material since the '80s. Daisuke Suzuki is a drone and field-recording artist who has been recording since the late '90s, with a debut appearance on a single-sided 7" in collaboration with David Jackman and Michael Prime, followed by releases every year or so, mainly in Japan. The trio's first CD was "The Days After", released in '03 on Chalk's in-house Three Poplars label, and was Chalk's first collaborative project since his work with Christoph Heemann as Mirror. Earlier this year, I became aware of Chalk's new Faraway Press label, and noted that several new CDs had been made available for mailorder. All of the Faraway Press releases are hand-made, with extremely high-quality cardboard gatefold cases, hand-painted/stamped covers and inserts, obi-strips and plastic sleeves, and limited to a few hundred copies. "Senshu" was originally released in a tiny edition of 100 in '05, but was re-issued in '08 in an additional 250 copies and is still available. The CD itself is an awe-inspiring work of drone minimalism and acoustic textures, with soft melodic guitar patterns creating a hazy atmosphere of bell-like tones on the opening track "Ukigiri", followed by "Koyurugi", a slow crescendo of meditative, bowed-metal-sounding drones, ending with the subdued climax of "Untan", a blend of plucked notes that sounds like a koto, and blurry clouds of organic drone textures and field recordings. All of the titles and liner notes on the CD are written in Japanese, but I found a translation here. The evocative titles actually give the pieces even more depth. The whole package makes "Senshu" a very personal-feeling piece of artwork, and I look forward to hearing more of Ghosts On Water's new material.

September 7, 2009

Celer - Engaged Touches (2009, Home Normal)

Celer was the ambient project of Will Long and Danielle Baquet-Long, prolifically releasing nearly 40 CDs between '04 and '09. Tragically, Danielle passed away suddenly this summer at age 26. Together as Celer, and with Danielle's solo Chubby Wolf project, they generated a buzz online with their masterful dronescapes and processed field recordings, featuring beautiful, often hand-made covers/packaging and poetic titles and liner notes. The majority of Celer's output was self-released on CDr, but in '08 they began releasing CDs through labels and gaining more widespread attention. I first encountered good reviews surrounding "Nacreous Clouds", released on and/OAR in '08 and featuring a verbose and surreal press release and slightly-improbable description of their creative process. Whatever the truth of their sonic sources, the Celer material I have heard is a heady blend of electro-acoustic, organic and synthesized ambient textures, at times melodic and blissful, and occasionally dissonant and unsettling. This weekend, I happened to search Celer on iTunes, and found one of their most recent releases, "Engaged Touches", on sale for only $3.99 (I also found a really nice Windy & Carl compilation track called "Warm Like December" for $.99, tip!). Released on limited CD in April of '09 on the Home Normal label, "Engaged Touches" consists of two long tracks totaling 67 minutes, with each track divided into evocatively-titled movements. "Part 1" begins with a reverb-drenched field recording that sounds like a train station environment, and then transitions to a gorgeous classical-sounding movement, with instrumentation that almost sounds like orchestral strings, but belies its synthesized nature with noisy, artificial-sounding decays. The train station sounds return periodically, puntuacting the movements and transitioning to each subsequent tonal texture. In the second part, the instrumentation starts with a sound similar to accordions, but gradually becomes increasingly other-worldly and singing bowl-like. The classical tones and vintage radio-esque sounds that occasionally swell within the mix give "Engaged Touches" a distinctive and pleasant vibe, with a soft-spoken, mysterious and melancholy tone developing over the course of "Part 2", until a rich crescendo of orchestral chords propels the listener to a blissful finale. This album impressed me, and has more to offer than the "average" drone record! Celer's most recent CD "Brittle" has just been released at the end of August, so check that out as well! (BONUS LINK: Devin Sarno & Celer, live '07 "Symphony 19")

September 6, 2009

BONUS LINK: Brainwashed : The Eye video series is home to the band pages of many leading figures in the avant-garde, electronic and ambient genres, and also functions as a record label, periodically releasing CDs and DVDRs, as well as posting weekly podcasts and album reviews. The Eye is a video series of interviews and concert footage initiated in mid '03, with a nonstop torrent of new features each month up to late '06, when the releases slowed down to a semi-monthly schedule. The videos are available for streaming or free download in .MOV format (some are hosted on Youtube), while high-quality DVDRs can be purchased for $10 from the Brainwashed store. An amazing array of innovative sonic artists are showcased, and like the Red Bull Music Academy archives, it is almost overwhelming to choose a starting point. But my eye was immediately caught by features like: an early interview with Keith Fullerton Whitman when he was calling himself Hrvatski in '03, a great Windy & Carl video showcasing their Stormy Records store and live performances, the amazing full-length Andreas Martin feature that the guitar solo video I recently posted was excerpted from, a cool little interview with Ulrich Schnauss, and not one but two psychedelic performances by Edward Ka-Spel and The Silverman, one with The Legendary Pink Dots and the other in collaboration with wild theremin-player, Nicoletta. All this, plus sometimes-rambling interview clips, and a cool feature from '03 on the Mutek Festival, featuring some awe-inspiring live Coil footage. Hours of brainwashing entertainment!

September 4, 2009

Windy & Carl - Akimatsuri (2006/9, Blue Flea)

This week, the ambient guitar duo Windy & Carl reissued three of their older albums for digital download via Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, etc.; Their first two, pre-Kranky, albums, "Drawing Of Sound" and "Portal", and a limited edition CD from '06 entitled "Akimatsuri". The CD was only available for sale at the Brainwaves festival in Arlington, MA that year, celebrating the 10th anniversary of Brainwashed, and was limited to just 500 copies, each featuring one of ten photographs by Christy Romanick. I was excited to see the album reissued, featuring a previously unreleased bonus track, and even better: is offering the album for only $1.98! The original album itself consists of one 33-minute long track divided into five movements, each with a Japanese title (Akimatsuri meaning "autumn festival"). The tone is lush and melodic, weaving soft patterns of guitar notes and bowed strings, transitioning from calm and soothing to slightly melancholy, as a subdued organ plays alternating chords beneath sliding electric guitar tones. Swells and crests of other-wordly tones rise up in the latter movements of the piece, suggestive of cellos and flutes, but assumably produced by guitar. There is a distinct "falling leaves" vibe; the summer is over. I always enjoy the textures W&C are able to produce from such simple, organic instrumentation, not to mention the fact that they're able to reproduce it flawlessly in their concerts, and "Akimatsuri" does not disappoint. The bonus track "Seiche" offers an additional 5 minute post-script of gentle drones with a warm, meditative feel. C'mon, its only $1.98, check out some great new ambient music!

September 3, 2009

BONUS LINK: Joe Jack Talcum's Bootleg Of The Month archive

I have been a fan of The Dead Milkmen since I was in 5th grade, when a friend and I started listening to his college-aged brother's tape collection and found their newest (at the time) album, "Metaphysical Graffiti". Besides the hilarious and occasionally raunchy skits and clever lyrics, I loved the guitar sound and experimental instrumentation on many of the tracks, and still consider the album an all-time favorite today. (I also remember listening to tapes of Love & Rockets and John Zorn's Painkiller, but neither of those thrilled me so much...) Throughout junior high and highschool I collected the entire Dead Milkmen catalog on cassette tape, but missed my chance to see them on the "Not Richard But Dick" tour, after which they broke up. However, almost exactly a year ago today, The Dead Milkmen announced they were reuniting to play an Austin, TX music festival, and have continued to play shows since, even announcing an upcoming tour this Fall! (unfortunately for me, it appears to be all East Coast dates) Even more exciting to me, however, was the discovery of singer/guitarist Joe Jack Talcum's personal website, where he hosts a monthly-updated archive of bootleg recordings of The Dead Milkmen and their many side-projects, dating from the early '80s to present day DM shows! Amazing, and all free! Of course I was excited to find some demo sessions from "Metaphysical Graffiti" as well as the first performance of material from "Soul Rotation" under the alias of The Draco Reptilians, and even some bootleg tapes I had collected on the tape trading scene back in the '90s (Tipitina's!)! This is genius stuff, go grab some!

September 2, 2009

BONUS LINK: Mimir - live in Antwerp, Belgium, Feb 12 2005

Mimir is a sort of a super-group project between members of The Legendary Pink Dots, prolific brothers Christoph Heemann and Andreas Martin, and experimentalist and occasional Sonic Youth-member Jim O'Rourke. In contrast to many of the limited LPD releases, the Mimir CDs were actually find-able in US shops, distributed by Drag City in connection with Heemann's Streamline label. The music is an expert blend of drone experimentalism and acoustic improvisation, resulting in a magical, organic sound. After a hiatus of several years, a limited edition picture 7" of 500 copies was released for mailorder from To make things even more exclusive, only the PRE-ORDERS of the release would receive a bonus DVDr of four music videos by LPD, Mirror, Andreas Martin and Mimir. Luckily the magic of the interwebs has unearthed these videos for public viewing on Youtube. This performance by Mimir in Belgium is of a track from the 7", and is actually part of a long playlist of Brainwashed-related artists with a lot of great clips. If you don't watch the whole playlist, at least check out the following video of a virtuoso guitar solo performance by Andreas Martin!

August 31, 2009

BONUS LINK: Nobukazu Takemura & Aki Tsuyuko - Live at Empty Bottle, Chicago IL 1999-11-19

This 40 minute performance by Childisc label founder Nobukazu Takemura and vocalist/synthesizer artist Aki Tsuyuko has been floating around on the web for many years, and is the only concert footage I have ever encountered. I was lucky enough to see the duo perform in Kyoto, Japan the following year during my two semesters as an exchange student and the performance was a similar style; abstract digital glitch ambiance and looping vocal textures and generative rhythms. Apart from some rather peculiar extreme close-ups, this video is very watchable and the sound quality is good.

Check out the video for "Lost Treasure" as well!

Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto - Insen (2005, Raster-Noton)

Writing about the "melancholy piano noodling" of '90s videogame soundtracks last week, I was reminded of a fantastic collaboration between piano-meister Ryuichi Sakamoto and uber-minimalist Carsten Nicolai, under his Alva Noto monicker. Sakamoto was an innovator in Japanese electronic music throughout the '70s and '80s, as a member of the Yellow Magic Orchestra, which was sort of like a Japanese Kraftwerk, and a popular soundtrack composer. With a prolific back-catalog of over 50 albums, not to mention 12"s, concert DVDs and other multimedia projects, I have to admit that I am only familiar with a handfull of Sakamoto's recordings, and mainly his material from the late '90s on. His '00 "BTTB" album of solo piano compositions on Sony Classical was a particular favorite of mine for many years, with that distinctive melancholy sound that I love. Carsten Nicolai, meanwhile, has been prolifically releasing CDs of his own since the mid-'90s, usually under the names Noto or Alva Noto. A pioneer of the micrsound genre, his compositions make use of tiny slices of digital audio, simple sine waves and noise pulses to craft intricate rhythms and textures. The majority of his releases have been on the influential Raster-Noton label, well known for their innovative and avant garde packaging and presentation, for example in their buzz-generating countdown-to-the-millenium 20' To 2000 series of 3" CDs or the [O]acis Box. While I appreciate Nicolai's craft and innovation with extremely futuristic sound design, I am not a huge fan of actually listening to most microsound CDs more than maybe once, as they tend to make me feel like I am stuck in some sort of digital computer nightmare. Even before I heard the Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto collaboration, however, I knew that the combination of Sakamoto's gentle piano textures with Nicolai's digital processing mastery would be exciting. And indeed, their '02 debut CD "Vrioon" made a big splash with critics and fans, with both artists producing a synergy of exciting ambient sound greater than the sum of its parts. Noto sculpts micro-rhythms and soft textural sequences around Sakamoto's clouds of notes, occasionally processing the piano through glitchy granular filters, making for both a meditative and other-wordly sonic experience. After a three-year break, I found their second CD "Insen" to be even more engaging and memorable, and the follow-up "Revep" EP continued to maintain the high standards, including a fascinating reconstruction of Sakamoto's "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" soundtrack theme. More recently, a CD+DVD set called "utp_", documenting a live concert with the German Ensemble Modern, was released last year, which I've not yet heard. Any of the Noto + Sakamoto CDs you can find are worth hearing, and genuinely unique music by two masters in different fields of ambient sound.

August 30, 2009

Dub Tractor - Delay (2000, FX Records)

Dub Tractor, the IDM project of Anders Remmer, is another long-time favorite of mine that I first heard about on the IDM mailing list in the late '90s. While there were a pair of albums and several 12"s released in Europe between '94 and '99, it wasn't until the '00 CD release of "Delay" that I was able to find any of his stuff in US shops. The album has a very smooth and chilled out downtempo/IDM feel, with glitchy beat programming and quirky sound design, blended with a strong dub influence. There is a heavy element of sub-bass, spring reverbs and tape echoes applied to the downtempo beats, as laid-back synthesizers breathe soft chords over the mix. While dub aesthetics and sound effects play a major role in Dub Tractor's sound, it rarely crosses over into reggae territory, besides on the very Pole-sounding "Drive". Instead "Delay" has more in common with the sound of early '90s Warp-style IDM ala The Black Dog or other "Artificial Intelligence" artists, with an updated instrumentation and lush analog-sounding dub FX. Following "Delay", Dub Tractor was picked up by City Centre Offices, home of Arovane and other soft-spoken melodic IDM producers. The excellent '01 split 12" with Opiate presented four more tracks in the same vein as "Delay", while the next full-length "More Or Less Mono", featured lush and glitchier production as well as some soft, fuzzed-out vocals and very pleasant guitar processing. Dub Tractor's most recent release was "Hideout" in '06, which I haven't heard, and City Centre Offices will be releasing a new full-length CD this November. The catchy melodies and low-key rhythms of "Delay" still get stuck in my head, nine years later.

August 25, 2009

GENRE PROFILE: '90s-era Videogame Piano Collections from Squaresoft + Falcom

Many fans of ambient music have a soft spot for subdued, melancholy piano noodlings as composed by Harold Budd or Ryuichi Sakamoto. While technically this might be more appropriately classified as "neo-classical" music, it is essentially just really pleasant keyboard music. One source for music in this same style is Japanese videogame soundtracks, which often were inspired by the early works of Sakamoto or fellow-Yellow Magic Orchestra-founder Haruomi Hosono, who composed many game and anime soundtracks from the '80s to current day (his sublime Night On The Galactic Railroad is a personal favorite). Beginning in '92, Squaresoft began releasing Piano Collections for their Final Fantasy games, beginning with volume IV, which was FF2 in America. As a bit of a game/Japan nerd in my teenage years, I tracked down an import copy of the "Final Fantasy IV Piano Collections" CD and was blown away by the gentle reinterpretations of the many catchy pieces of music featured in the game. While vol. V of the game was not released domestically, vol. VI, released as FF3 in the US, was a classic among many of my friends, and the Piano Collection was equally impressive. All of the pieces in the Final Fantasy series were composed by Nobuo Uematsu, whose distinctive composition style reminds me vaguely of Debussy and Tchaikovsky. The soundtracks also came with piano sheet music, but I have to admit I never got my chops up enough to play any of it smoothly. I haven't kept up with the newer editions in the Final Fantasy series as I stopped buying video games after the Sony Playstation, but the music is still memorable and the CDs stand on their own. While Squaresoft got a lot of the attention of game music fans in the US, there was also some fantastic music produced for the under-appreciated Turbo Grafx 16/Turbo Duo system, known as the PC Engine in Japan. The Ys game series in particular gained a strong cult appreciation for some of the highest quality game music ever produced at the time (early '90s), and a pair of "Ys Piano Collections" were produced. While both were enjoyable, my personal favorite was "Symphony Ys '95", which featured long-form synthesized symphony renditions of themes from the first three games in the series. As far as I can tell, all of the game music was credited to Falcom's in-house Sound Team J.D.K., a shifting group of fantastic composers whom I have never heard of otherwise. While these CDs were only released in Japan, they were occasionally available via import mail order in the '90s, or at weird little bootleg shops in Chinatown, NYC, where I found many gems. One particularly amazing find was the "Legend Of Heroes Piano Collection" released in '96, also by members of Sound Team JDK. Legend Of Heroes was pretty much unknown in the US, with only one volume of the series released on the Turbo Duo under the name "Dragon Slayer". The piano collection has tracks from the first four games in the series, so much of it is unfamiliar to me, but the overall sound and vibe is just beautiful, with a melancholy edge strongly colored by childhood nostalgia. If you are not familiar with the games, I could see how the music might make less of an impression, but much of it stands on its own and makes for very soothing, evocative ambient sound. Finally, no discussion of videogame music can forget to mention Yasunori Mitsuda, composer of the epic Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross series and many more. Unfortunately, a Chrono Trigger piano collection CD never came to pass, but the sheet music is out there and people are posting their renditions on youtube...

August 20, 2009

SUMMER UPDATE & BOOK REVIEW: The Franklin Scandal - Nick Bryant (2009, Trine Day Publishing)

I realized again I have been so busy that I've been neglecting this blog. Luckily I did not get caught up in the recent round of lay-offs at my college, and I am nearly finished with my first online class that I've been taking since June. My taste lately has been swinging back and forth between very minimalist ambient music and early '90s alt. rock from my youth, neither of which I feel particularly motivated to write about. A lot of the time that I'm not working on my class assignments, I've been either working on my own music or just reading books, so I haven't been in "reviewing mode" lately.

I did want to make a point of posting a link to this new book that arrived in my mailbox this week. The book is called "The Franklin Scandal: A Story Of Powerbrokers, Child Abuse & Betrayal" by Nick Bryant. It is an in-depth investigation into a major political scandal that happened in Nebraska. The scandal was originally exposed in a book by Senator John DeCamp in the late '80s, and updated in the mid '90s as details and witnesses have continued to emerge. A British production company made a documentary on the scandal called "Conspiracy Of Silence" that was to be shown on the Discovery Channel, but the airing was canceled at the last minute for undefined reasons. An unfinished production copy of the documentary has since been leaked onto the internet and has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on Youtube and Google Video. What originally appeared to be a "simple" case of stolen funds from a local credit union, led to the unearthing of a nationwide child prostitution ring catering to the political elite of America, with implications of black-mail at the highest levels of government. As more details emerged for public scrutiny, a massive and obvious cover-up by law enforcement and FBI went into action like something out of an X-Files script, leaving a trail of mysterious deaths and "suicides" in its wake. Bryant spent seven years uncovering even greater levels of detail, more witnesses and tons of corroboration on what actually happened, all of which adds up to an expose of serious corruption in our government that has been ongoing for decades. The book can be ordered from Trine Day Publishing, who offer a wide variety of fascinating material, in fact right on the front page I am seeing Anthony Sutton's "America's Secret Establishment" which I also recommend strongly.

To end on some musical notes, I was sad to hear that Daniel Baquet-Long from the prolific ambient duo Celer passed away recently. I only recently became familiar with their music, but I am very impressed by what I've heard so far ("Capri" and the sublime "Nacreous Clouds"). The latter was put out on CD by the excellent, ultra-minimalist/field recording label and/OAR, who released a CD by one of my professors at Mills, Maggi Payne, several years back which was great but you can't get it anymore. I have also been fiending for the hand-made, limited releases on Andrew Chalk's new label Faraway Press, but you have to order them directly from the UK and I am too broke right now. An mp3 from my Kranky CD has been making the rounds on some music websites, and I also have a little blurb (and photo!) in the Electronic Reviews section of The Wire magazine, that blew me away. Finally, here is an early '80s post-punk track by music journalist Vivien Goldman that has been stuck in my head recently:

August 13, 2009

BONUS LINK: Dub War NYC presents Podcast #09: Headhunter

[from the “there's so much free music on the internet, I'm not sure why anyone would ever want to pay for a CD again” department] I came across this DJ mix by dubstep master Headhunter, whose “Nomad” album was a favorite of mine last year. It is the ninth Podcast in a series produced by Dub War NYC, and many innovative artists have been featured, including other personal favorites like Peverelist and Ramadanman. The mixes are available on iTunes or for direct download from the RSS feed. The link was posted on the Dubstep Forum, which seems to be a very active discussion board worth checking out:

August 11, 2009

Tom Heasley - On The Sensations Of Tone (2002, Innova Recordings)

During my time at Mills College in '03-'04, I got to see many concerts of cutting-edge electronic and avant-garde music all over the SF Bay Area. One evening, some friends wanted to go into SF to a performance space in The Mission that was having an ambient night. By the time we got there, all the bands had already played, including the one my friends wanted to see, except for the last performer of the evening, Tom Heasley. When we entered the space, which was upstairs in a big funky warehouse loft full of art/junk/debris, I was struck by a blissed-out wall of sound composed of deep, soothing tones and a washed-out shimmer and crackle reminiscent of ancient records. My first thoughts were that it must be a cutting-edge laptop performer making electronic ambient music in the vein of the recent Kompakt Pop Ambient series I had been enjoying at the time. Instead, when I got to the top of the stairs, I was surprised to encounter a man sitting on a stool playing a tuba, with a bank of pedals at his feet. As I watched him play long sustained tones on his horn and occasionally stoop to adjust settings on his pedals, I realized the entire texture was being created in real-time via his tuba! Using a loop pedal, Heasley would layer up harmonic notes, breaths and vocalisations through his tuba, similar to creating tape loops on an old reel-to-reel, resulting in an immense and enveloping sound with a fabulous organic, bass-y character. Everyone in the space was reclining on pillows and the place was fairly full, making me wish I had been there for the whole evening. Even now I have no idea what the name of the place was, it may have just been an artist's/collective's residence for all I know. After the performance, I picked up Heasley's then-newest CD "On The Sensations Of Tone", subtitled "Ambient Tuba". Consisting of two long tracks adding up to about an hour, the aesthetic of the concert was reproduced with great effect, both soothing and haunting at times. I lost track of Heasley's more recent work until earlier this year when I came across his myspace page, where he has posted some fascinating blogs including an announcement that he will be working with Stuart Dempster of Deep Listening Band fame. His more recent recordings have featured Heasley on dijeridoo as well as chanting/overtone singing, and his most recent CD is a collaboration with drummer Toss Panos. Heasley's music is an exciting, unique organic sound for people who think they've "heard it all" in the drone/ambient genre!

August 6, 2009

Alio Die - Password To Entheogenic Experience (1998, Hic Sunt Leones)

Alio Die is the ambient project of Italian musician Stefano Musso. Since the early '90s, Stefano has been running his own Hic Sunt Leones label, releasing CDs of his own and many other contemporary Italian ambient artists. His first CD "Under An Holy Ritual" was released in the US in '93 by influential gothic/darkwave label Projekt, and generated a lot of attention in that scene. In '97, Stefano collaborated with ambient pioneer and originator of the "sleep concert", Robert Rich on the "Fissures" album, released on Fathom, a sub-label of Hearts Of Space, home of Steve Roach, Michael Stearns and others throughout the '90s. Alio Die makes use of many organic instruments such as frame drums, gongs, bells and stringed instruments along with field recordings and mellow electronic sounds to sculpt meditative, introspective textures. "Password For Entheogenic Experience" was a personal favorite of mine, consisting of one long track lasting a little over an hour. Beginning with the soft buzz of insect noise and birds, the album slowly slides into an endless drone of what sound alternatingly like bowed strings and soft horns, playing a gentle sustaining chord that is both soothing and mysterious. The meditative, other-wordly energy of the album is expressed by the ancient mushroom shaman artwork on the cover. The drone is occasionally punctuated by soft frame drum and chimes, as the tones rise and fall in amplitude, until the last ten minutes or so when a crescendo beings to build, suggestive of buzzing reeds or obscure Asian instruments. The album is timeless and calming, and one I've returned to many times. Stefano has continued releasing albums every year, and has recently been playing shows in Europe.

July 30, 2009

BONUS LINK: Red Bull Music Academy Video Archive

Red Bull Music Academy Video Archive

Wow! I just came across a website full of lectures, interviews and sessions with an amazing array of modern electronic musicians, sponsored by toxic headache-in-a-can Red Bull, including this incredible two-hour interview with Wolfgang Voigt (Gas, Love Inc., Kompakt boss, etc.) from '08:

There are nearly 250 video lectures with many artists who I've never seen interview footage of before, and I am particularly excited to see lectures from Moritz Von Oswald of Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound, Theo Parrish and many other dance music and dubstep innovators. Go watch now!

July 29, 2009

Mamoru Fujieda - Patterns Of Plants (1997, Tzadik)

Mamoru Fujieda is a "post-minimalist" modern classical composer from Japan who released a pair of CDs in the mid-'90s on John Zorn's avant-garde Tzadik label, reviews of which were some of my first exposure to the label, home to many influential contemporary classical and art-noise names. One can always expect a page-length explanation of each piece in a Tzadik release, as the pieces are frequently the result of some complicated academic sound production scheme. Fujieda's "Music For Plants" is ostensibly composed based on the scientific charting of electrical impulses in the leaves of plants, and the sonic result is a very pleasant palette of gentle plucked string sequences using mysterious-sounding alternative tunings that reference Greek and Asian modes. The pieces are presented in a series of collections, each consisting of four patterns played on different combinations of 17 and 20-string koto, hitsu (25-string zither), sho and viola da gamba, as well as one collection of solo harpsichord pieces. The music has a graceful, soothing quality, with a slightly alien edge due to the non-Western tunings, and makes for very pleasant ambient music. Fujieda continued to compose collections of patterns in the series throughout the '90s and '00s, and released a second collection entitled "Patterns Of Plants II" late last year on Tzadik, continuing in similar directions with mostly the same instrumentation (minus the harpsichord). The new collection has a slightly more lush tone, with more movement and a bit more emphasis on the higher frequencies of sustained sho and violin tones in contrast to the mellow koto plucking on volume one. My preference goes to the subdued calm and slightly more sparse/spacious instrumentation of the first collection, but both sets are well worth hearing.