Friday, 29 January 2016

BBC Schools Radio Series Drama Workshop - The Seasons (1969)

This bizarre slice of British educational history came to my attention when it was reissued by Trunk Records, who have a firm niche established in reissuing great little oddball records that would otherwise be lost to history.  I found this CD in my local HMV's classical/specialist section, plonked in the 'spoken word and poetry' rack, and snapped it up in one of those 'okay I'm buying this right now' moments about five seconds after I'd read the description on the back.

They really, really don't make 'em like this any more - correct me if you know any different, but the British Broadcasting Corporation of 2016 sadly no longer appear to commission any music for children to improvise interpretive dance to, let alone base it around creepy, primitive Radiophonic Workshop electronics and equally disturbing declaimed poetry like they did on this 1969 production.  Fun for any neofolk afficionados picking up this album: read the poems in the booklet, and imagine each one being performed by Current 93.  Hilarity will ensue, along the lines of one of those Buzzfeed quizzes like 'Who said it - Morrissey or Alan Partridge?'.

It is night no more; the day is stillborn

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Conrad Schnitzler - Con (1978)

Conrad Schnitzler (1937 - 2011) was pretty prolific in his lifetime; discogs currently lists 151 albums excluding compilations.  Most were self-released in limited editions; this album was one of Schnitzler's few releases on a 'proper' record label, the French prog label E.G.G.

Con - also known as Ballet Statique on reissues - also boasts arguably the most sophisticated production values in Schnitzler's catalogue, with a post-Tangerine Dream Peter Baumann behind the mixing desk.  And most importantly,this is possibly the greatest, most accomplished and satisfying album Schnitzler ever made, and deserves to be a cornerstone of any collection of groundbreaking electronic music.

In sharp contrast to my previous post, this album is notable for its almost total absence of melody. Instead, the album's tracks clank, hiss, drone and squeal in ways that take the blueprint from Side Two of Bowie's Heroes into even starker, near-industrial territory.  'Ballet Statique' has some sort of melody going on, in barely audible wisps floating above a stately, unchanging sequence, and 'Zug' is another highlight, vying with Trans Europe Express as one of the most perfectly descriptive train tracks ever recorded - check out the extended video version below.

Ballet Statique

Monday, 25 January 2016

Deustche Wertarbeit (1981)

When preparing this blog, I searched through each of the six micro-SD cards that I've carried in various phones for the last five years.  This album was on every single one of them - firstly as a serviceable rip of the original Sky LP that I got from a blog whose name now escapes me; then as the digital files made available by Medical Records in 2012-ish following their LP reissue; and now on a gorgeous, full-bodied reissue by Bureau B.

Deutsche Wertarbeit, a one-off solo LP by Streetmark keyboardist & vocalist Dorothea Raukes, has become a stone-cold desert island disc for me for so many reasons.  First and foremost because, with the possible exception of the more eerie and ambient closer, it's just pure minimalist melodies and classic sequencer-electronics.  There's scaled-back influences here from the classic 'Berlin School' of the previous decade, but updated to a zippy, early 80s sensibility.  This album has also been described as superior library music, which is fair enough in the context of some releases from around the time, not to mention the functional artwork.

Oh, and if anyone can decipher/translate the vocodered vocal line from the end of Auf Engelsflugeln, you will receive eternal kudos for adding a whole extra dimension to what is possibly my favourite piece of electronic music of all time.

Guten abend leute

Friday, 22 January 2016

Morton Feldman - Piano and String Quartet (1985, rec. 2011)

After all that excitement, let's take the tempo down... right dooowwwwwnnnn.  Morton Feldman's late work in particular is an acquired taste, and it really takes work to adjust your brain to take it in.  If a normal album or even a regular symphony is like watching a river flow past, or like crashing waves, music like this is akin to watching an Arctic glacier for signs of movement.

I had already heard the Kronos Quartet/Aki Takahashi recording (1993) of Piano and String Quartet some time ago, but on buying this 2011 disc by the Eclipse Quartet last year I've found it much more satisfying.  Just 80 minutes of pensive piano lines and pointilistic strings to get lost in, or to do the washing up to - the latter being part of my first experience of the Kronos version.

Piano and String Quartet 

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Tiny Tim - Rock (1993)

Although I'm mostly electronically-oriented these days, I can still appreciate great rock music when I hear it.  So here it is folks - the greatest rock n' roll album of all time.

If all you know of Tiny Tim is 'Tiptoe Through The Tulips', you owe it to yourself to download this 5 track, 76-minute monstrosity and turn it up as loud as your ears/walls can withstand.  By way of background, the early 90s saw Herbert Khaury enter his seventh (and final) decade by hooking up with Australian glam rock band His Majesty.  His repertoire was brought as up to date as Bon Jovi and Billy Idol, along with AC/DC (whose original member Colin Burgess is in the drum chair here), and some older classics.

The 15-minute rock n' roll medley might sound like the world's most demented wedding band after downing all the free champagne, but that's tame stuff indeed compared to the two 23-minute epics on this album.  The first of these is Billy Idol's Rebel Yell.  Tiny uses his full vocal range, not just the infamous falsetto, and ad-libs extra lines like 'Fight! Fight! For what is right!' amidst squeezing all possible mileage out of the lyrics.  'Rock' saves the absolute best for last, though, with Barry McGuire's protest-folk chestnut 'Eve of Destruction' transformed into a fully-realised apocalypse, demonic cackles, vocodered backing vocals and all.  Beyond essential.

 My blood's so mad, feels like coagulatin'

Monday, 18 January 2016

Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (1964)

One more disc from the Masterworks box set mentioned in the previous weeks.

The Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center was established in the early 1950s by some of the composers featured here; this album was recorded in 1961 and released in 1964 (except for the last Babbitt piece on this CD, which didn't appear on the original LP and dates from 1967).

A few of these composers were new names to me on discovering this album, and I think I'll listen to all of them in more detail at some point. Bülent Arel and Halim El-Dabh for definite - their pieces that open the album are the most engaging, and all the more mindblowing for their vintage.  The latter is based on an ancient Persian story, and is narrated in a truly bizarre, 'tape-transformed' voice.

Elsewhere on the album there's a piece by Vladimir Ussachevsky that sounds like it belongs more on Extended Voices, and the final track, Otto Leuning's Gargoyles, adds violin into the mix to provide a more accessible reference point.  Overall, I'd say this album intrigued me rather than being fully engrossing in the way that Extended Voices was, but Columbia-Princeton is still well worth getting to grips with.  For another view, here's a somewhat charming reminisce from someone who first encountered it as a nine-year-old!

Leyla And The Poet

Friday, 15 January 2016

Brandeis University Chamber Chorus - Extended Voices (1967)

This is from the same box set as the Pierre Boulez disc from last week, a great 10-CD collection of some of the greatest music of the 20th-century avant garde, from long-out-of-print CBS & RCA LPs spanning approximately 1964-1974.  One of the best £12 I spent last year.

Extended Voices was originally released in 1967, with The Brandeis University Chamber Chorus performing pieces by six avant-garde composers under the direction/sonic manipulation of composer Alvin Lucier.  All of these recordings are worth taking in for their sheer uniqueness and groundbreaking use of sound and technology, making Extended Voices an effective album experience that fascinates throughout.

After an okay start (there's much better Pauline Oliveros works out there to discover), the two long pieces on Side One are particularly mindblowing, with scraps of speech and vocalisation flying around everywhere and being mangled by the electronic treatments. On Side Two, Robert Ashley's 'She Was A Visitor' is the epilogue to a rarely-performed opera-of-sorts, which is really worth reading up on in context.  The two brief Morton Feldman pieces that close out Extended Voices are worth the entry price as well, being hauntingly produced by Lucier for this release.

She was a visitor

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Polygon Window - Surfing On Sine Waves (1993)

Aphex Twin is probably the most well known vehicle for Richard D James (out of many over the years), but my favourite record of his is this 1992 recording.  The only full-length release under James' 'Polygon Window' moniker, this came out in early 1993 as the first (non-compilation) album in Warp Records' Artificial Intelligence series.

The album cover is I believe a sepia-toned beach in Cornwall (where Richard grew up), but might as well be from some alien planet when taken in conjunction with the music within.  Surfing On Sine Waves could easily be what you hear after touching down on an advanced civilisation in a far-flung galaxy and asking the inhabitants what passes for commericial dance music on their planet.  After all the twisting and turning beats and warped electronics, the final track is a goregous ambient drift that reveals James' debt to Eno.

something something something 'TECHNO MUSIC' IN ROBOT VOICE

Monday, 11 January 2016


R.I.P.  David Bowie - 8 January 1947-10 January 2016

Still hasn't sunk in.

If by any chance you still haven't heard this album, one of the greatest of all time, download it now (then buy it) and turn it up full blast.  If it's been a part of your life for many years, just crank it up.

IIRC this is from the first-pressing RCA CD, probably still the best-sounding, originally shared by the much-missed Zamboni Soundtracks.

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Friday, 8 January 2016

Musique Concret - Bringing Up Baby (1981)

In the same vein as the Florian Fricke post, here's a nice little curio with a link to one of my favourite bands/artists, in this case Nurse With Wound.  Selected works from Steven Stapelton's vast archive will be featured here in due course - but first, here's an ultra-obscure early release that came out on his (and at the time, collaborator John Fothergill's) United Dairies label in 1981.

Making up 'Bringing Up Baby' are six tracks which, other than a minute-long tape loop piece that appeared on a compilation, comprise Musique Concret's entire known recorded work.  The artists responsible appear to have vanished off the face of the earth, if the CD liner notes are anything to go by - the master tape has been long-lost/destroyed (hence the CD comes from a good-quality vinyl rip) and the reissue label would be "highly interested in any communication with [the artists] Jim Friedman and Michael Mullen".

Side One of 'Bringing Up Baby' comprises a suite of four eerie pieces of tape delay and echo with other loops, radio fragments and noises thrown in - the appeal to Stapleton of releasing this would've been obvious.  Things get noisier on Side Two, culminating in a near-industrial finale in the closing minutes.  Huge kudos to Fractal Records for making the effort to get this reissued - hope you hear(d) back from Friedman and/or Mullen at some point.

Incidents in rural places

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Pierre Boulez - Le marteau sans maître (1954; rec. 1972)

R.I.P. Pierre Boulez: 26 March 1925 - 5 January 2016

Sad to learn of Boulez's passing today, but a few months short of 91 years old is a good innings by any standards, and he leaves behind a great legacy of masterful conducting and some uniquely single-minded music.

I've been listening to this 1954 work a lot recently, trying to get a handle on the initially uninviting serialism.  I liked the instrumentation right from the start, which encouraged me to persevere with the work - Stravinsky famously likened it to "the sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass", which was all I could think of for a while when listening to it after reading that; it's a great metaphor.  You could perhaps extend that metaphor as far as becoming accustomed to this music being like ice cubes in a glass of single malt whisky - it's definitely an acquired taste, but one worth persevering with (or so I hear, as a non-drinker!).

Le marteau sans maître (The hammer without a master) takes as its text the surrealist poetry of René Char, sung against flute, guitar, vibes, viola and everyone's favourite percussion instrument, the xylorimba.  There's nothing quite like it, and it's well worth acquiring the taste.  This 1973 Columbia album (sourced from this box set, which I'll be returning to shortly for more posts) adds 'Livre pour Cordes', two forms of a short work for strings that makes for a nice palate cleanser.

La roulotte rouge au bord du clou
Et cadavre dans le panier 
Et chevaux de labours dans le fer à cheval 
Je rêve la tête sur la pointe de mon couteau le Pérou.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Florian Fricke - Die Erde Und Ich Sind Eins (1983)

As my favourite krautrock band and one of my favourite bands of all time, Popol Vuh will inevitably feature on this blog at some point.  Firstly, here's something that I found impossible to get hold of until I ended up buying a slightly questionable CDR copy via discogs - but it still sounds decent enough.

In a 1989 interview with Audion magazine, Florian Fricke described some of his other pastimes beside making Popol Vuh records, one of which was holding occasional music therapy singing groups that he called Körperraummusik (Body-Space Music). Somewhere between mantric chanting, overtone singing and just general resonant humming, one of these sessions was recorded at a Gestalt Therapy Congress in Munich in 1983 and formed the basis of this album.  Fricke considered these group experiences to have excellent therapeutic results that 'vibrated through the body walls, bones and flesh' - judge for yourself.

The final track, Song Of The Earth, would be redone for the subsequent Popol Vuh album Spirit Of Peace, to which this album makes a nice companion piece. Spirit Of Peace can be found at a blog I like called Opium Hum.

 The earth and I are one

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Die Engel Des Herrn ‎– Die Engel Des Herrn (1992)

All of the late Klaus Dinger's catalogue holds a special place in my heart. By turns unique, visionary, groundbreaking, messy, scrappy, funny, angry, but all the product of a singular, idiosyncratic vision.

I'm kicking off this blog with this album for all of the above reasons, plus the fact that this tends to be the last Dinger album anyone gets to hear if at all, given its sheer scarcity - blog postings of it have come and gone over the years and links have been long-inactive by the time I've found them.  So I've been on the lookout for a CD of DEDH for ages (I already had Live As Hippie Punks, which is slightly more readily available and which I may post at some point), and got lucky last year.

This 1992 release was recorded in phases between '88 and '91.  The album's obligatory take on Dinger's magnum opus, Cha Cha 2000, crawls along in a raw, reverby incarnation with the guitars up front, and only has spare usage of the gorgeous choral Mellotron (I think) that envelops the title track and Tschüs, the latter being a fond farewell to Dinger's late father.  The shorter tracks are a mixed bunch - Sunlight is my personal favourite, SOS is a punkish rush, and Bitte Bitte is often slated as a schlagery comedy piece (it does work much better on the live album, where it's transposed into a minor key).  The CD version also adds a meandering 20-minute jam that is worth a listen.

Most of all I love the sunlight