Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Conrad Schnitzler - Grün (rec. 1976/80, rel. 1981)

One more Schnitzler album for the moment.  This is my pick of the 'colours' albums - Rot and Blau were self-released in the mid-70s as his first two proper albums, featuring side-long raw electronic improvisations, then the archival compilations Gelb (rec.'74) and Grün (rec.'76/80) came out in the early 80s on a small art gallery imprint.

Just two tracks on Grün - first up is Der Riese Und Seine Frau (The Giant And His Wife).  Recorded in 1976, this 32-minute epic hinges on just two simple ingredients - a harsh, sometimes ridiculously over-distorted drum machine, and layers of soft, shimmering melodic synth.  Fading in and out with minimal change or development, it becomes like a half-hour eavesdrop on a dialogue between the title characters.  If this catches me in just the right mood, it can have an oddly emotional pull for such a monotonous, mechanistic piece. 

Recorded four years later, Bis die Blaue Blume blüht has a lighter touch and brisker pace (the LP even suggested the additional option of playing it at 45rpm - the CD has both speeds), and makes the most out of a seven note melody to hypnotic effect.  Not sure where a title like 'Until the blue flower blooms' fits in though (perhaps just a nice bit of aliteration in the original German) - if anything, it sounds more like Mr & Mrs Giant stepping outside after dark to watch a comet or a meteor shower.


Monday, 27 June 2016

Conrad Schnitzler - Consequenz (1980)

Two years on from Con, Conrad Schnitzler was working with shorter, even more structured tracks and bringing on board his collaborator Wolfgang Seidel (aka Wolf Sequenza) to make this great album, which remains one of his most accessible.

Even as an attempt to make an electro pop album of sorts, Consequenz still couldn't be mistaken for anyone else.  Twelve instrumental tracks, averageing about four minutes each, were self-released in a stickered white sleeve, each of them establishing a single idea and playing it out with little variation or superfluous ornamentation.  Synth burbles and squeaks percolate around freely, ensuring that each track never feels quite as static as the clipped, robotic rhythms might suggest.  Fellow fans of pre-Dare Human League should definitely check out Afghanistan, for my money the most effective and evocative high point of this brilliant set of studies in cyborg avant-pop.

Nächte In Kreuzberg 

Friday, 24 June 2016

Psappha ensemble - Crumb / Carter / Reich in concert (2016)

This concert was broadcast as part of BBC Radio 3's 'New Year New Music' programme back in January.  I managed to grab a recording, as these shows disappear quickly from the online player, and I've been returning to it ever since - it's too good not to share.  The "artwork" here is by yours truly, after a hard (five minutes) graft on Photoshop.

Taking their name from a Xenakis percussion work, the Psappha contemporary music ensemble are based in Manchester, and so were performing on home turf here for a fantasic programme taking in three great American composers of the 20th century.  George Crumb's Quest (completed 1994), for percussion, harp, double bass, soprano sax and solo guitar opens the proceedings on an eerie, understated note, sounding like a guitarist trying to practice in a haunted orchestra pit.

The Crumb work is the definite highlight of the concert for me; Eliot Carter's Triple Duo (1982-3) that follows is a bit less accessible, with complex tangles of duo parts interweaving and sometimes clashing with each other, but it's still a fascinating listen and worth perservering with.  Lastly, Psappha turn in an energetic, swinging performance of Steve Reich's Double Sextet (2007) - doubled in this instance by the fact that it's being played live to a recording of itself. I don't always get as much out of latter-day Reich as I do from his 70s-80s work, but this is an enjoyable listen and closes the evening perfectly.

Crumb / Carter / Reich in concert, 7 January 2016.

Bonus Public Service Announcement
I always intended to keep this blog strictly apolitical...
I am proud to be Scottish today (and half Northern Irish by parentage).
Music still transcends all boundaries - any English or Welsh visitors to this blog, I bear you no ill will, and don't intend to enact any petty boycotts, either in the music I buy or music I post here.
I think we all know deep down though that the flag that united our four countries for so long will, within most of our lifetimes, only be seen in museums.  I say that with neither glee nor sorrow, just a simple statement of inevitability.
That is all - thanks

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Labradford - Fixed::Context (2001)

Staying in a minimal mood here, but with skeletal reverbed guitar as the main feature instead of just pure electronics.  I picked up Fixed::Context on its release, possibly just from a review I'd read - I think I'd become fascinated by the Kranky label and wanted to take the plunge into this so-called 'post rock' universe.

What I got was an expansive, hushed landscape that could've been the soundtrack to Paris, Texas in outer space - twangy, soundtrack guitars pushed right up front, but made alien by a backdrop of ambient electronics.  Whether enveloping the guitars in a warm bath of Eno-esque sound on my favourite track David, or ending in a mood-shattering whine at the end of Twenty, this was a game-changing introduction to a sound world of electronic music and completely deconstructed rock music, and it became my most favourite new album for the next few years.  After investigating the other Labradford albums, I couldn't wait for the next one - and I'm still waiting 15 years later (apparently they've never officially split up!).

Up to Pizmo

Monday, 20 June 2016

Moebius & Beerbohm - Double Cut (1984)

Often billed as 'Moebius goes proto-techno', this 1983 recording (released the following year) is so minimal on melody it makes Cluster's Curiosum sound positively symphonic by comparison - the focus is squarely on rhythm this time around.  Working for the second time with a close friend from Berlin, Gerd Beerbohm, Moebius laid down these four tracks with a no-fuss, propulsive energy that makes this one of his most satisfying albums.

Beerbohm never made any documented recordings again, and by all accounts went back to being a photographer.  But not before whacking out 22 minutes of the live electronic drum pattern that runs right through the title track, an act of sheer dedication and precision that puts him on a par with Bartos and Flür.  Over the top of this, Moebius plays in a virtually unchanging bassline and then gradually adds in little bloops and ghostly wisps of synth, making an ever-changing landscape that draws you in for the duration. An utterly essential milestone in German electronica.


Friday, 17 June 2016

Miles Davis - Bags' Groove (1957 compi, rec. 1954)

One of my absolute favourite albums of early, pre-Columbia Miles Davis - and actually a compilation of two 10" mini-albums, Miles Davis With Sonny Rollins recorded in June 1954, and Miles Davis All Stars Vol. 1, recorded on Xmas eve that same year.

It's all about the magnificent, knockout triple-punch of Sonny Rollins compositions for me, all of which would become widely-covered standards.  This inspired collaboration between Davis and Rollins would unfortunately prove to be a one-off (the omnipresent drug problems of 50s jazz, apparently); listen to these tracks and imagine what could've been.  Also recorded was Gershwin's But Not For Me, showing that this quintet were equally versatile with ballads and standards.

The 'All Stars' session from the end of the year featured another rare congress of striking personalities, with Thelonious Monk on piano and Milt 'Bags' Jackson on vibes.  Bags' Groove, the composition, is the very definition of mid-50's cool.  This compilation is rounded out by two alternate takes - of the title track, and But Not For Me.  Prestige seem to have been quite the label for offering value for money - I never knew until today's discogs browse that they'd done 16rpm compilations, offering presumably over an hour of music on one disc decades before the advent of CDs.  Sorry, I love trivia like that...

Bags' Groove

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

John Cage / David Tudor - Indeterminacy (1959)

John Milton Cage Jr, 1912-1992 - composer, music theorist, Zen Buddhist, all of these and more; here he is captured on tape in the late 50s holding forth on every facet of his life and interests.  Encouraged by long-time collaborator David Tudor to start delivering some lectures that were simply storytelling, Cage started compiling minute-long anecdotes on cue cards, and eventually decided to record some of them.

Even if this double-album of 90 stories was just purely a spoken-word recording, I'd still love it - Cage holding forth on everything from music to philosophy to charming autobiographical snapshots is a joy to experience on repeat listens.  The icing on the cake, however, is that Tudor accompanied him in the studio (well, in separate studios where they couldn't hear each other) playing and cutting in elements of Cage's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra and Fontana Mix.  Voice and musical/noise backing collide against each other, sometimes abraisively, sometimes dovetailing brilliantly in moments of wonderful serendipity.

Isamu Noguchi said, “An old shoe would look beautiful in this room.”

Monday, 13 June 2016

The Byrds - Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968)

Every time I hear this album, my mind immediately goes back to a moment in a documentary programme I watched in the mid-90s about the history of rock in the 1960s.  I can't remember whether this was a series, or a one-off, or even what it was called.  The one thing I've never forgotten though is the moment it cuts away from the chaos of Altamont to a peaceful country highway, Hickory Wind starts playing, and country rock is born.  Even though the chronology's back to front* (this album predates Altamont by a year), it was still a great piece of narrative direction, and it introduced me to Gram Parsons and to Sweetheart Of The Rodeo.
* there's always the possibility that I'm remembering this completely wrong; it has been twenty years now!

All I knew of The Byrds up until then was their debut album - still good in its own way, but by 1968 Jim McGuinn was Roger, and was rebuilding The Byrds from the ground up.  Initially planning a comprehensive history of American music, along came Gram Parsons and an immersion in pure country.  Sweetheart Of The Rodeo is completely on-point in its song choices - alongside Woody Guthrie, Merle Haggard and the Louvin Brothers sits brand new material from a mythic session that Bob Dylan was then deep in the midst of, and a couple of stunning songs from Parsons himself.  One Hundred Years From Now is where it's at, folks - one of my all-time favourite Byrds songs.

Nobody knows what kind of trouble we're in; nobody seems to think it all might happen again

Friday, 10 June 2016

Pandit Pran Nath - Ragas (1971)

Listened to this back-to-back with the Glass/Schleiermacher album (see previous post) the other day for maximum mindwarp whilst walking home in the sunshine, so made sense to close out the week by posting these two spellbinding ragas.

Pran Nath's life story is fascinating, and I highly recommend reading up - for starters, here's a short wiki article and a fascinating albeit lengthy essay.  But all I'm going to do today is share the music - an eternal twin-tambura drone (one of the players being uber-minimalist La Monte Young) reverberating through every cell in your body from the first second, and that voice... that voice.  Whether pouring down like honey around the exacting, complex notes and modes proscribed to each raga, or rising in ecstatic spiritual release towards the end of each piece, this is a voice I could listen to forever.

Nada Brahmam

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Philip Glass - How Now, etc (Steffen Schleiermacher organ/piano, rel. 2010)

Haven't actually posted any Glass on this blog yet, so here we go.  The three works on this collection were composed in the late 60s, and are among the best representations of the composer's early, austere and challenging style.  Disliking the term 'minimalist', Philip Glass always referred to himself as a "composer of music with repetitive structures", and for me, German composer/pianist/organist Steffen Schleiermacher is one of the very best Glass interpreters who can really bring out the simplicity, and then complexity by addition, subtraction and mutation, of these structures.

Music In Similar Motion and Music In Fifths, both composed in 1969, were originally written and recorded as works for a small ensemble, but on this recording Schleiermacher strips them down to just a single organ to great effect; the gradually evolving patterns are laid bare and the single instrument arguably enhances the hypnotic potential.  In between these two on this programme is a piano version of How Now (1968), which I also have on a recording of Glass' debut concert performance (released on his archival imprint).  On that occasion, Glass performed How Now on organ for a patience-stretching half hour, but the piece is transformed in Schleiermacher's hands into a calm, extended meditation that Erik Satie might've been proud of.  If you're looking for the minimal, engrossing magic of early Philip Glass, you'll scarcely find it more perfectly expressed than on this release.

music with repetitive structures

Monday, 6 June 2016

Cluster - Curiosum (1981)

We've had the endpoint of Cluster's discography on these pages; now here's the midpoint.  Ten years in to their working partnership, Moebius & Roedelius would take a break for most of the 80s,  but not before recording this, the most minimal album of their career and one of the most singular and fascinating.

The polar opposite of the lush romanticism of Sowiesoso, where Roedelius appeared to be in the driving seat, Curiosum is very much Moebius' album in the Cluster canon.  Possibly the most accessible track, Oh Odessa is up first, with a catchy zigzag melody repeating over a backing that only changes slightly as it progresses.  From here in, there's the chugging, steam-powered electronic rhythms that first made an appearance on Cluster's breakthrough album, Zuckerzeit, given an ultra-minimal, airless update.  Tristan In Der Bar is particularly reminiscent of that earlier record to my ears, if you can imagine both musicians upgrading to portable, battery-powered synths only to discover when they hit record in the studio that they've only got a couple of minutes' battery life left.

Roedelius the master of wistful melody isn't entirely supressed on Curiosum: Helle Melange has it in spades, albeit still sounding - like much of the album - like it's been recorded either on an echo-absorbent squash court, or at the bottom of a swimming pool.  On Charlic we get a classic Roedelius waltz, if it was being distantly heard over a cement mixer.  What I'm basically trying to say is that even for such a unique duo, this album remains an aptly-named oddity in their canon.  Don't miss it!


Friday, 3 June 2016

Nurse With Wound - Spiral Insana (1986)

How about another NWW post?  This album's probably more suited to early summer, and it's one of the very few of Stapleton's albums that (to my mind at least) actually works better outdoors and in daylight.  With a more expansive and sometimes pastoral sound than what had gone before, it may come as a surprise that Spiral Insana found the artist under considerable pressure from a new label to complete the album quickly.

The strained circumstances may have led to there being less of a mind-boggling diversity of sound sources feeding into Spiral Insana, but this proves to be the album's strength.  Recurring themes to watch out for include a swelling organ chord, and a grinding guitar loop that could've sat comfortably on a Faust album, helping orient the way through a more coherent album experience.  The third track on the CD version of Spiral Insana was left off the original vinyl - it's often this third piece, Nihil, that I've enjoyed best, sounding the most charmingly bucolic.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine

Previously posted at SGTG:
The Sylvie & Babs Hi-Thigh Companion
Salt Marie Celeste

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Nurse With Wound - Salt Marie Celeste (2003)

One of the most outstanding dark ambient Nurse With Wound pieces, Salt Marie Celeste is like a supernatural, ghost-ship movie in sound, and deserves full attention in a dark room.  Its roots were in 'Salt', a piece Steven Stapleton had conceived as his contribution to the background of a showing of his (and David Tibet's) visual art, and in that form only consisted of the rising and falling drone.

Fleshed out with the gradual addition and subtraction of eerie rattling and ominous creaking sounds, and a forlorn, distant ship's horn, Salt Marie Celeste becomes a masterpiece of tension and atmosphere.  Perfectly descriptive of an abandoned (or is it?) sinking ship, at its end the piece is reduced back down to just the drone of the lapping waves that we're finally sinking beneath.  A masterfully executed, near-unrivaled highlight in the vast NWW catalogue.

Salt Marie Celeste