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.

July 24, 2009

Ippei Matsui & Aki Tsuyuko - Natsu No Zenbu (2008, Lekoodo)

Aki Tsuyuko is a Japanese artist who first caught my attention with her '99 "Ongakushitsu" album on Nobukazu Takemura's Childisc label, as well as appearances on several of Takemura's albums and tours. "Ongakushitsu" is an abstract, instrumental ambient record with a very unique sound. Tsuyuko improvises graceful, child-like and slightly bizarre melodic patterns using relatively lo-fi-sounding, simple synthesizer tones. The vibe is relaxing and poetic, but with a distinctly other-worldy essence. When I wrote a label profile of Childisc and Moonlit, Aki Tsuyuko's website had recently gone offline. A few months earlier, there had been an update announcing the release of a new hand-made CDr release entitled "Natsu No Zenbu", released via a label called Lekoodo. I ordered the CD for 1350yen, shipping included to the USA. The album features 27 tracks, adding up to nearly 72 minutes, and comes in a nice plastic sleeve with paper inserts and colorful labels. The tracks heavily feature Tsuyuko's multi-layered solos, with many of the pieces returning to similar motifs, including gentle piano melodies, playful synthesizer and hi-pitched sinewave sequences, field recordings of trains and apartment noises, and strange lo-fi sampler experiments and spoken word/vocal improvisations. Vocals, guitar treatments and other effects are provided by Ippei Matsui, who has released CDs in Japan under the name Teasi. He also collaborated with Tsuyuko in '06 at a Tokyo art installation called "Namae Ga Nai", recordings of which can be heard on Matsui's myspace page. They are also joined by Yasushi Yoshida from Japanese group Suspiria, providing strange vocalisations, cassettes and toy bells on four songs. While some of the spoken word passages, totally in Japanese, left me a bit disoriented, the album as a whole is a very pleasant, mysterious listen and continues further explorations of the sound of Tsuyuko's previous album "Hokane" from '06. Incidentally, "Ongakushitsu" is still available domestically on reasonably-priced 2LP, via Drag City's Moikai sub-label, pick up both! (In case you can't figure out the Japanese, you can order "Natsu No Zenbu" by emailing lekoodo@hotmail.co.jp.)

Greg Davis - Mutually Arising (2009, Kranky)

Greg Davis has been releasing electronic music and running the Autumn Records label since '01, featuring IDM-tinged compositions by some well-known artists including Kranky-alumnus Keith Whitman. Davis has released CDs and records on an array of notable labels including RKK, Carpark, and Lux Nigra, as well as his excellent first CD for Kranky in '04, entitled "Somnia". His earlier material has a strong laptop drone sound, making use of organic field recordings processed with granular synthesis fx, creating a constant sense of movement and evolving tones, occasionally giving way to unprocessed recordings of guitar or found sounds. In contrast, "Mutually Arising" has a very minimalist sound, and according to the liner notes, the sound source consists of a pair of classic analog synthesizers, the Korg Mono/Poly and the Crumar Stratus, processed through "various pedals" and finally, computer. The album consists of two extended pieces, each well over 20 minutes in length. In the first piece in particular, "Cosmic Mudra," there is much less of a feeling of movement, instead the experience is similar to an immense wall of sound (depending, of course, on how loud you like to listen to this sort of music), slowly shifting textures over such lengthy periods of time that the transitions are almost imperceptibly subtle, until you realize you have been enveloped in a new sound. The effect is somewhat penetrating and intense, but with a transcendental, meditative quality, as though depicting the ascension of consciousness through various bardos or astral planes, with an effect that reminded me strongly of the Kawabata Makoto/AMT sound that I love. I especially enjoyed the second piece, "Hall Of Pure Bliss", which has a more emotive, somewhat-melodic texture. Constantly shifting filters keep the sound in a perpetual state of motion, shifting around the stereo field, with a very soothing effect to help calm back down after the intensity of the first piece. Whereas "Cosmic Mudra" climaxes in higher-and-higher frequencies, "Pure Bliss" slowly fades into the depths. "Mutually Arising" demands patient, focused deep listening, which I enjoyed as a meditative practice and is also something I aim for in my own music, and I can imagine that live performances of these pieces would be very effective.

July 16, 2009

ARTIST PROFILE: Mirror (Andrew Chalk & Christoph Heemann) (UK,Germany)

I previously mentioned that part of my first introduction to "noise music" was via the tape trading scene in the mid '90s, when I was obsessively collecting Skinny Puppy bootlegs and studying all their side-projects and referenced inspirations. This led to an awareness of projects such as Edward Ka-Spel's Legendary Pink Dots, a super-prolific gothic-folk-tinged psychedelic experimental group, who put out an endless stream of cassettes and vinyl in limited editions, often hand-numbered. This pattern was repeated by many fringe, noise and ambient artists throughout the '80s and into the '90s, and developed a mystique among traders searching for "rare releases" (I myself was chuffed to acquire a second-generation copy of Skinny Puppy's "Back & Forth" cassette, #14/50). While sometimes the quality of these tapes was questionable, there was a certain intimacy and personal connection with the artist as the acquisition of their music became a quest. The privilege of being one of a very few to experience a recording could border on the mystical, assuming of course that the music was well-crafted in the first place. As CD-burning replaced cassettes, and mp3s began to get people's attention in the late '90s, a file sharing program called Hotline was released on the Mac. Similar to FTP, but incorporating a message board and chat room, a list of servers could be perused, each with a short description advertising their contents/focus. By sharing some of my Japanese collection, I was able to gain membership on a server run and frequented by some relatively well-known names in the modern underground music scene, and was schooled heavily on all manners of avant-garde music. One focus on the server was the projects of Andrew Chalk and Christoph Heemann, who at the time were collaborating on a project called Mirror, and releasing incredibly gorgeous, ornate pieces of audiophile-quality vinyl in tiny editions. Heemann had started composing in the '80s as a member of a German group called H.N.A.S., which translates to Moose Without A Sofa, and was sort of like an early, kraut-Boredoms, dadaist freakout project, which again released a bunch of mega-obscure, collectible trinkets that collectors obsessed over. In the '90s, Heemann founded the Streamline record label, which released a variety of excellent darkwave ambient music, including a lovely collaboration with Edward Ka-Spel and Silverman from LPD, plus occasional-Sonic-Youth-collaborator Jim O'Rourke, as Mimir. Another favorite of mine was Heemann's collaboration with Merzbow, which featured psychedelic Max Ernst-esque collage cover art by O'Rourke, entitled "Sleeper Awakes On The Edge Of The Abyss". It is particularly notable as being one of the only Merzbow released I can tolerate listening to, mainly because the noise has been turned down to a very dull roar, which Heemann sculpts like vaporous clouds of fire. Andrew Chalk, in the meantime, produced a smattering of solo and collaborative material beginning in the late '80s, and worked in the projects Organum and Ora throughout the '90s on, both of whom made their own buzz and have about a zillion releases each, but I have still not actually heard. Beginning in '99, Chalk and Heemann collaborated in the project Mirror, and released two or three LPs and a CD or two each year until '05. The bulk of these releases were sold only at Mirror shows in various locations in Europe, released on their own Three Poplars label, rarely in an edition higher than 800, and often fewer than 200. The LPs featured incredible hand-painted artwork on the covers, drool-worthy scans of which could be seen online (the image included with this entry is the picture disc "Mirror Of The Sea"). Predictably, the records now sell on eBay and collector websites for $75 a piece and higher. Luckily, Mirror's CDs were more easily acquired domestically via US labels IDEA and Drag City, as well as German label Die Stadt, including the minimalist tribute to Tarkovsky's film "Solaris". Mirror has a very organic and dreamlike sound, combining etheric drifting tones with found sounds and field recordings. The overall effect is like a cinema of the mind, and manages to achieve a timeless sonic texture, very rarely making use of futuristic digital synthesizer effects., instead using bowed metal, inner piano strings and such. Many of Mirror's later releases were live recordings of their shows, but the quality of sound maintained a very high level. Beginning in '05, Chalk ended the Three Poplars label series and started a new label called Faraway Press, which has put out a few albums each year in artfully crafted Japanese-style cardboard gatefold cases. The label has been mainly showcasing solo material by Chalk, as well as his collaborations with Japanese ambient duo Daisuke and Naoko Suzuki. New material for '09 was available on their website earlier this year, but the site is currently down. Christoph Heemann seems to have slowed down his release schedule since Mirror, with an occasional super-limited 7" or CDr in the past couple years, as well as a "reinterpretation" album of Mimir's early recordings produced in '07. While much of these artists' material is out of print or only available by import mailorder, any of their releases that you can find can be assumed to be top-notch. As with Skinny Puppy, the vast number of collaborations and labels that Chalk and Heemann worked with and produced through form a gigantic family of fantastic experimental musicians that can provide for years and years of listening and research.

July 12, 2009

Mule Electronic various artists - My Favorite Things Vol. 1 & 2 (2008,9)

Mule Musiq is a relatively new Japanese house label, along with sub-labels Mule Electronic and Endless Flight, exploring deep, jazzy, dubby, retro-tinged techno territory. Since '05, they have been releasing new 12"s roughly every month, as well as several full-length albums and compilations. I first heard the name Mule Musiq when I encountered a 12" by Kuniyuki featuring two extended remixes by Theo Parrish with a great, blunted jazz-house sound. Soon after, I noticed new 12"s and remixes by Kompakt alumnae including Lawrence and DJ Koze, and CD compilations featuring vinyl tracks from each label, including the excellent Mule Musiq "I'm Starting To Feel OK" collection from last year. Mule Electronic compiled its releases in a pair (so far) of CDs entitled "My Favorite Things", and both manage to pull-off a totally listenable, progressive-minded, cohesive package of great tracks. I have to admit that I have very specific tastes in dance music which don't necessarily make sense, but in general I can state that I get turned off by vocals, dramatic/dark chord progressions and aggressive/noisy sonics. I tend to gravitate to the "deep", more soulful, melodic and chilled-out side of the house spectrum, but I also like to dance, so I am always searching for the right blend of deep and energetic. Mule Musiq takes the melodic tech-house sound established by Kompakt, and moves into disco and '80s italo sounds, jazz downtempo beats and clearly-Theo-Parrish-inspired tracks, plus references to modern dubtechno and minimal sounds. Many of the Mule artists are new to me, but I found the majority of the tracks very catchy and dynamic. I particularly enjoy the slow, head-nodding beats of Koss, a side project of jazz-guy Kuniyuki in an ambient techno style, and the '80s-vibe meets futuristic tech-house of Tony Lionni, Isolee and Audision. Volume 1 is a bit more uptempo and danceable, while Vol. 2 is more chilled-out and slow-grooving, but each features a high quality selection of modern dance artists, plus some nice moments of Kompakt-style pop ambience. Another label to watch!

July 8, 2009

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - F♯ A♯ ∞ (1997, Constellation/Kranky)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a nine-piece group from Montreal, Canada who create haunting and beautiful, organic post-rock music. They generated a buzz on the web in the late '90s with their fascinating debut LP "F♯ A♯ ∞", initially released in a limited editon of 500 on the Canadian label Constellation, and then pressed on CD and released in the US on Kranky. Along with Windy & Carl, GY!BE were one of the first Kranky groups I became aware of, and helped further Kranky's reputation as a leading influence in the post-rock scene. GY!BE produces its eerie sonic textures without any synthesizers or computer processing, and structures its long, poetically-titled tracks with a series of movements similar to avant-garde classical music. The instrumentation is based around cello, viola, three guitars, two basses, and two percussionists, along with field-recordings, spoken word and song. The music transitions smoothly from drone-ambient to post-rock jams to classical-sounding passages to experimental abstraction or musique concrète, generally evoking a feeling of sadness, decay, loss and also moments of beauty and peace. Along with the intensity of the music, another element of GY!BE's art are their amazing album covers and liner note design, which makes use of grainy black and white photographs, disturbing collage art and cut-up text, and charts or scores to follow along the movements within each track. "F♯ A♯ ∞" includes an image entitled "Faulty Schematics Of A Ruined Machine" which seems to perfectly sum up the tone of the album. GY!BE commenced to tour all over the world, and '00s "Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven!", also released on Kranky, brought the band even greater attention and popularity. In the early '00s, several of the band members also released similarly-styled side-project material under variations of the name The Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra And Tra-La-La Band, as well as a solo-electronics project by drummer, Aidan Girt, named 1-Speed Bike . Since '03, GY!BE has been on "indefinite hiatus."

July 5, 2009

Kawabata Makoto - Inui 3 (2005, VHF Records)

[I realize I haven't updated my blog since last week. I have started a new master's degree program which has been taking a lot of my focus, and also have found myself drawn increasingly to silence recently. While I am huge music fan, I am also a fan of meditation and deep listening, and often enjoy just sitting and focusing on the environmental sounds around me. It is similar to focusing the eyes on a candle flame for meditation, instead it is a focus of the ears. Anyway, I am still planning to work on this blog, so I will aim to keep updating at least weekly, and more often when possible!]

Kawabata Makoto is the guru-like mastermind of the Acid Mothers Temple collective from Japan, whom I profiled in a previous blog entry. I became a big fan of theirs during my time in Japan around '01, but didn't get to experience them live until around '05 in San Francisco. Kawabata is frequently touring around the world, recording many live CDs in collaboration with various non-idiomatic improvisors he meets, usually in tiny limited editions. Kawabata's aesthetic is long-form drone exploration, generated usually from his guitar and banks of pedals, although he is also adept at using many traditional asian stringed instruments and experimental electronics. I was particularly impressed by his "Inui" series, which featured Kawabata playing solo on a variety of exotic ethnic instruments, including bouzuki, sarangi, Chinese fiddle, and sitar. "Inui 2", released in '00, was one of the few AMT-related CD's available domestically in the US at the time, and I was intrigued by the gritty, somewhat-raw drone sounds and shimmering textures produced by these organic instruments. I recently read that a third "Inui" album had been released in '05, and was also happy to find that it is available both on CD and iTunes download. The tone of "Inui 3" is more gentle than the previous volume, with two long 12 and half minute pieces, and a third, 47 minute-long epic. Mellow layers of plucked strings and bowed tones drift around the listener, creating a sustained texture that develops subtly over the course of each piece. I was reminded of Windy & Carl's sound, but through a distinctly Asian, psychedelic lens. I prefer the less-noisy side of Kawabata and AMT's work, and "Inui 3" is now established as a favorite in my collection.