Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Iannis Xenakis - Persépolis (1971)

Xenakis might be my absolute favourite of all of the 20th century avant-garde composers that I've listened to in recent years; only Penderecki has produced works more mindblowing and invigorating (out of all the composers I've heard so far - plenty still to discover!).  Xenakis' ouevre covers orchestral, chamber, solo and choral music, as well as towering masterpieces of brain-melting electroacoustic racket like this one.

Persépolis was the soundtrack to a massive light spectacle devised by Xenakis for the 1971 Shiraz Arts Festival in Iran, set in the ruins of a Persian temple.  It was the grandest in scale of all of his polytopes - works for sound and architecture, the full immersive effect of which we can now only guess at.

What we're left with as the audio document of this event is a stereo mix of around 50 minutes of crashing and creaking percussion and processed electronics.  This still has an overwhelming effect at full volume - the only way to listen to it, trust me.  There's a handful of different mixes available - this one was realised by German sound artist Daniel Teige, who would go on to direct a 'tribute' performance of the work in Los Angeles in 2010.

We bear the light of the earth

Monday, 28 March 2016

Stanley Black - Cuban Moonlight/Tropical Moonlight

Stanley Black (1913-2002), born Solomon Schwartz in Whitechapel, London, has been one of my favourite easy listening bandleaders for the past few years since discovering the likes of 'Exotic Percusssion' on some of the classic easy listening/exotica blogs that have come and gone.

 I found Tropical Moonlight (1957) in a charity shop for about 50p (the early 70s Decca Eclipse reissue above) in 2005, and it's been a firm favourite ever since - just a slick, stripped back percussion ensemble and Stanley on classy, languid piano.  Fourteen tracks, well-chosen repertoire, half an hour of pure escapism.  On this CD that I got hold of last year (picture at top), Tropical Moonlight is preceded by the not-quite-as-good album Cuban Moonlight (1959), but I thought I'd just upload the full twofer CD for completeness.

Cuban/Tropical Moonlight

Friday, 25 March 2016

Krzysztof Penderecki ‎– Utrenja (1970-71, rec. 1972)

So, it's Easter weekend.  What to do... wish my readers/listeners a restful, reflective, spiritually restorative weekend?

Or... (you can probably guess where this is going)...

How about wishing everyone a nightmarish, hair-raising, bloodcurdling Easter weekend, courtesy of an hour-and-a-quarter of some of the most extreme liturgical music ever conceived?

This wonderful two-part holy racket came forth from the genius of Krzysztof Pendercki in 1970 (Entombment of Christ, the first part) and 1971 (The Resurrection, the second part), inspired by Eastern Orthodox rites.  Utrenia, Utrenya, or Jutrznia are all alternate spellings (I couldn't find the distinction between each, from admittedly brief research - any ideas?) of the most common title Utrenja.  The full two-part work's premiere recording under Andrzej Markowski in 1972, reissued here, still arguably has an edge over the Naxos recording (Antoni Wit, 2009).  So, whether the second half of Utrenja does bring to your mind images of Christ's resurrection, or just images of Shelley Duvall running about in a dressing gown brandishing a kitchen knife, download and be richly blessed.


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Asmus Tietchens - Litia (1983)

Five years on from Liliental, Hamburger Asmus Tietchens took a decisive turn in his fledgling solo career by signing to Sky Records and recording a quartet of albums that remain his best known and arguably most accessible work.

All four (Biotop, Spät-Europa, In Die Nacht and Litia) are worth a listen.  Going through these in order traces Tietchens' development from pointedly short pieces that sound like a sort of feral Cluster responding to the NDW movement, to trying out longer tracks and an expanded synth palate on In Die Nacht, to finally finding (IMO) the perfect balance with Litia, which is the one I keep coming back to. 'Unterhaltsmusik' is my personal favourite here - just before the minute mark, a gorgeous major-key melody breaks through the harsh, metallic clouds.

After Litia, Tietchens would take a sharp left turn into electroacoustic experimentation, but the Sky era did leave over an album's worth of offcuts that are now available as Der Fünfte Himmel (5th sky - geddit?).

Litia Rodarte-Quayle, Madrigal Electromotive GmbH 

Monday, 21 March 2016

Liliental - s/t (rec. 1976, rel. 1978)

A krautrock supergroup of sorts that existed for the grand total of six days in the summer of 1976, Liliental came about purely by chance, and wrote and recorded one track per day throughout their existence.  The results were eventually released two years later.

It's a fascinating story to ponder over, especially in terms of what might have been.  The original plan was for Dieter Moebius, on a break from Cluster and Harmonia, to record an album with his friend Asmus Tietchens (who at that time had yet to be heard on record) and Tietchens' friend Okko Bekker (who had released a couple of solo albums).  Conny Plank was to produce, because, let's face it, who else?  Once in the studio, they ran into two members of krautrock/jazz fusion band Kraan, who had just finished up their own recording session and were spontaneously invited to join the project.

The result was this great little album.  What might've been a solid, quirky electronic record from Moebius/Tietchens/Bekker is given room to breathe and expand into languid, sometimes Pink Floyd-esque extended drifts (most of Side 2), super-catchy earworms like Wattwurm, and a comedy closing track that, had the instrumentation been a bit less smooth, might've sat comfortably on a Faust album.


Friday, 18 March 2016

Holger Czukay & Rolf Dammers - Canaxis (1969)

I remember buying this album, nearly twenty years ago, along with Can's Monster Movie and Delay 1968, and considering the recording chronology in mild bemusement.  Canaxis sounded so much more sophisticated and complex than the garagey pulse of the other two.  What I didn't know then was where Holger Czukay was coming from, studying under Stockhausen before the formation of Can, and already had a keen aptitude for tape music and what would become known as sampling, which he'd continue to develop in later solo work.

Side One of Canaxis, 'Boat Woman Song' (originally titled 'Ho Mai Nhi' on the initial LP 'Canaxis 5'), weaves together loops of a motet by Adam de la Halle with recordings of Vietnamese singers to great effect, with bits of additional instrumentation creeping in as the piece develops.  Listening to this piece with my 2016 ears, it's every bit as accomplished as contemporary work by more formal composers, whilst retaining a raw, lo-fi charm that makes it even more engaging.  Side Two is taken up by the title track, which sounds more recognisable as a solid piece of electroacoustic composition that takes the influence of Stockhausen and others to a place on Czukay could take it.


Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Bill Frisell - In Line (1982)

There's a lot of Frisell out there to listen to from the last 33+ years of his solo career as a master jazz axeman - most of which is still on my to-do list, having so far only approached his catalogue in my capacity as an ECM nut.  After loving his work as a sideman to Eberhard Weber and Jan Garbarek in the late 70s/early 80s, I grabbed his three ECM solo albums, of which this one remains my favourite.

There's no Weber here, but another ECM bass regular, Arild Andersen, provides a subtle underpinning to about half the album.  Frisell is mostly muted and understated too on his first time out as leader, nimbly picking out a bunch of gorgeous melodies.  On 'The Beach', he expands his palate with layers of delayed guitar sound to create a stunning soundscape that marks the album's high point for me.

As with a handful of other ECM albums, the CD reissue replaced the original artwork with something much more nondescript and mid-80s, so I've plumped for the original LP cover for this post of In Line.  So I actually stand corrected in saying there's no Weber here - as with about a dozen other ECM releases, the original cover was by Maja Weber, late wife of the great bassman.

In Line

Monday, 14 March 2016

Steve Reich - Drumming/Six Pianos/Music For... (rec. 1974)

Steve Reich's earliest large-scale work, Drumming was composed following a 1970 trip to Ghana to learn from a master percussionist.  Having notated some of the massively complex drum patterns that he'd heard, Reich decided that this was the way to go forward with the interlocking phase patterns that he'd already tried out on a smaller scale.

As with most of Reich's music, from the 70s in particular, Drumming is just a simple joy to listen to and get lost in the gradually shifting patterns.  Starting off with tuned bongo drums that continually hint at melody, the second section uses the same rhythms but scored for marimbas.  This part of Drumming is my absolute favourite, especially the two major changes to the patterns at the 8 and a half minute mark and again at the 20 minute mark.  The third section takes the music up a register with tinkling glockenspiels, followed by a finale with the whole ensemble.

These recordings were originally released in 1974 as a 3LP set on Deutsche Grammophon - one of the advantages of the CD era is that you can listen to Drumming Pts. 1-3 uninterrupted, rather than changing vinyl sides for each one.  The supporting pieces are the self-descriptive Six Pianos - try it with some sort of reverb effect to approximate the intermingling sound that Reich was aiming for in a large concert hall - and then a final ensemble work that doesn't really go anywhere, but does it very nicely and soothingly. Music For Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ is actually the most prescient pointer to where Reich was about to go in the years that followed, in much more accomplished forms.

CD 1 
CD 2

alt links 1 | 2

Friday, 11 March 2016

Unit Moebius - s/t (1992)

Time to up the tempo again.  Nothing fancy, just a 41-minute slab of brain frying Dutch acid/minimal techno, recorded on a rickety cassette deck and self-funded by squat parties.  A label writeup describes "twelve hours of non-stop comatose acid-house music, no lights but heavy strobes and a very freaked out audience (partially due to the strong and pure LSD sold by one of the Unit Moebius members) of punks, squatters, junkies and patients from two nearby psychiatric institutes".  Quite an image to have in your mind when listening to 17 minutes of 'Panta Rhei' drilling its way into your skull.

Unit Moebius

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Throbbing Gristle - In The Shadow Of The Sun (rec. 1980, first rel. 1984)

Been thinking about doing a TG post for the last few days since mentioning Chris Carter in relation to Pyrolator.  Everything TG recorded between 1975 and 1981 (I've become increasingly ambivalent as to whether they should've even bothered reuniting) invigorates and refreshes me like a cold shower every time I dig them out, if cold showers were capable of breaking down every established notion of what music, sound and art should and can do.
CD reissue cover art

Which album/live disc to post though?  This is the one I come back to over and over again if I'm looking for the most satisfying experience of TG playing together as a group to create a sustained atmosphere.  In The Shadow Of The Sun was a film by Derek Jarman, which repurposed various sections of film he'd amassed earlier in the 70s into a slowed-down, overlapping soup of dreamlike formlessness.  TG were called upon to provide a soundtrack, and recorded the perfect one for the film - an hour's worth of dark ambience that drifts, clangs and howls like some unknowable occult ritual.  You can clearly hear the first seeds of Coil and Psychic TV's more ambient, soundtracky moments being sown here.

The light that shines twice as bright burns half as long

Monday, 7 March 2016

Pyrolator - Pyrolator's Wunderland (1984)

Four years on from making Inland, Kurt 'Pyrolator' Dahlke found himself in New York, taking inspiration not from the hip hop and electro sounds that were exploding overground, but from old mambo rhythms and vintage sheet music.  Grafting this on to the latest Emulator technology with a splash of bird/animal noises captured at the local zoo, the result was an album's-worth of pure joy, which couldn't possibly be more of a contrast to Pyrolator's debut.

I've been repeatedly using Wunderland as a winter blues-tonic for dark mornings in recent months - it's impossible not to be cheered by squawking birds and zany melodies that sound like they've come straight off a cartoon or video game.  As a Scottish blogger, I'm obviously going to be intrigued by a track whose title translates as 'A master bedroom in Scotland' - can't really hear what the connection is though, if anything the track in question sounds vaguely Indian in its percussion and sitar-like sounds, not a million miles away from my favourite Tangerine Dream, Hyperborea.

Im zoo

Friday, 4 March 2016

Pyrolator - Inland (1979)

Kurt Dahlke, member of Der Plan and early member of D.A.F., and sometime collaborator with a great many others, has released a handful of great electronic records under his solo monkier Pyrolator.  This is his debut from 1979.

As far as post-punk minimal electronics go, Inland is an absolute classic that deserves to be much better known.  It might also be described as part of the early industrial canon, if it were a bit more lo-fi. Dahlke's command of synth texture and programming holds its own with Chris Carter's best work in Throbbing Gristle, and in fact, Inland might be exactly what 'The Space Between' collection of Carter's demos could've been had it been buffed and shined up into a fully-fledged solo album.  Elsewhere, the numbered title tracks nudge into Maurizio Bianchi territory in their sonic assault, albeit nowhere near as rough and decayed.  In fact, this album really just sounds great - grab it.

It always rains in Wuppertal

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Charlemagne Palestine - Strumming Music (1974)

Chaim Moshe Tzadik Palestine, better known as Charlemagne, and also known for performing lengthy, minimal keyboard works surrounded by stuffed animals, is a relatively new discovery for me.  Active since the 60s, most of his recordings have only been released in the past couple of decades.

This album was one that did see limited release soon after its conception, on the French label Shandar who were also responsible for some of Philip Glass' early exposure.  When it comes to Strumming Music, any Glass comparisons (or indeed Steve Reich comparisons) are only helpful on the surface - this might be a fifty-minute minimalist piano work, but by focusing on texture rather than strict notation it's arguably more affecting and engrossing over the course of its extended length.  Starting from just a couple of notes, and building up into only slightly more complex clusters, Strumming Music is all about the gorgeous grand piano sound ringing out in bell-like tones, or sometimes like the strumming sounds that gave it its title, with the piano's sustain pedal hammered down throughout.

Strumming Music