Friday, 30 September 2016

Harold Budd/Brian Eno - Ambient 2: The Plateaux Of Mirror (1980)

Ambient magister Eno was introduced to US pianist/composer Harold Budd when the former produced & released the latter's Pavilion Of Dreams in 1978.  This follow-up collaboration, Volume 2 in Eno's Ambient series (Volume 1 was the seminal Music For Airports) puts Budd's gentle, "soft pedal" pianism front and centre, with Eno supplying soundscapes from which to build on, and adding varying degrees of synth accompaniment.

From the first moments of First Light, it's clear what an inspired meeting this was.  The track titles are perfectly evocative of the sound worlds they create, none more so than this opener as dawn breaks on a misty, dewy autumnal countryside.  Budd is on acoustic piano for all but two tracks - Wind In Lonely Fences, and the title track - the latter another high point on an album full of them, with an echoing chime-like tone and a proto-Twin Peaks backdrop from Eno.
 
Things get only slightly more uptempo on An Arc Of Doves, with rolling notes from Budd (although he's still utilising as few as possible, as per his brilliantly effective modus operandi) and a warm blanket of Eno synth.  The only other instrument that makes an appearance on the album is a gosammer wall of wordless voices on Not Yet Remembered, cooing a melody that Budd played by transatlantic phonecall to Eno - who, true to form, promptly reversed it.  It should be obvious by now that this album is one of my most enduring desert-island favourites; as long as I can swap the desert island for a windswept Hebridean island to get the optimum environment for it.

Among Fields Of Crystal

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Philip Glass - Music In Twelve Parts (comp. '71-'74, rec. '75 and '87, rel. '88)

Time to work on the Glass deficit on this blog - so how about something featuring the master himself leading his early ensemble, rather than an (admittedly great) interpreter.  The three-hour Music In 12 Parts has been recorded three times to date; this is the earliest, half-recorded in 1975 then finished off in 1987, sounding admirably seamless when you listen to it right through.  I definitely recommend doing so if you've got the time to devote to it - although there's three downloads below, corresponding to the CDs in the original box set, I've set all the track numbers to run consecutively if you want to pop everything into one folder.

'Music In 12 Parts' was originally just the first 18 minutes, the title merely referring to the way the 1971 piece had been scored.  After listening to this wonderfully languid experiment in minimalist stasis, constantly changing when you examine it closely like a living organism under a microscope, a friend asked where the other 11 parts were - inspiring Glass to write them.

From here in, the tempo picks up and largely stays there, running through all sorts of twists and turns in melody, harmony and rhythm.  In the knottiest, rollercoaster-like runs, there's clear precursors of Glass' iconic Einstein On The Beach, most notably towards the end of Part 8.  The finale, however, is arguably the most fun to listen to as it gradually builds its long melody one link at a time; according to Glass, a bit of a sideswipe at having to learn 12-tone music theory in his youth and finally using it for once.

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3

Monday, 26 September 2016

Linda Perhacs - Parallelograms (1970)

The story of how this album came about never fails to fascinate me.  Dental hygienist to Hollywood royalty happens to mention to a patient (film composer Leonard Rosenman) that she writes songs; gives him a tape and is excitedly asked to record an album straight away; album vanishes without trace but becomes a cult classic, then records another album after a 44 year gap.  All the while keeping her day job.  I haven't heard the 2014 album, The Soul Of All Natural Things, yet, and I really should sometime; but for now here's the wondrous Parallelograms.

You might be able to guess what kind of album would result from a bucolic Laurel Canyon lifestyle in 1970, but in this case you'd only be part right.  Sure, there's sunny, hazy odes to dolphins, rivers and sandy toes, all of it gorgeous in its own right, but there's other forces at work here too.  Perhacs channeled her synaesthesia into the complex, multi-layered title track, penned late one night on the road by capturing it not in simple words but in geometric shapes.  The undercurrent of strangeness on this album in fact reveals itself within its first two minutes.  After establishing a pastoral scene straight out of the Ladies Of The Canyon playbook, Chimacum Rain twists into a hallucinatory soundscape full of effects-laden xylophone tones, and, to quote the liner notes, "amplified shower hose for horn effects".  Highly, highly recommended.

Quadrahedral, Tetrahedral

Friday, 23 September 2016

Keith Jarrett - At the Blue Note: Saturday, June 4th 1994, 1st Set

It's that time of year again for autumn leaves - to be specific, my favourite rendition of the Joseph Kosma chestnut, stretched to a thrilling 26 minutes by my favourite jazz piano trio.  After four minutes of Jarrett's solo meanderings, the Peacock/DeJohnette engine room revs up and locks in to an upbeat cruise through the melody, followed by plenty of soloing.  From the 13 minute mark onwards, we're into one of these stellar improvs that only this trio can pull off.

The Standards Trio spent a whole weekend's residency at the legendary Blue Note in June 1994, and every note they played was released the following year in a 6-CD box set.  This disc, the first set from Saturday night, was the only one to be released in its own right - presumably  because it's absolutely phenomenal from start to finish.  Everyone's at the top of their game, Jarrett's vocalisations are...tolerable, and the recording quality, as you'd expect, is peerless - perfect jazz club intimacy.  Other than Autumn Leaves, the other extended high-point of the set is You Don't Know What Love Is segueing into a Jarrett original called Muezzin.  Jack DeJohnette switches to hand percussion, and the results are pure magic.

The Days Of Wine And Roses

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Else Marie Pade - Et Glasperlespil (2001 compi of works 1958-1964)

Else Marie Pade was a Danish electronic/concrete composer whose music didn't become readily available until this compilation appeared in 2001.  Like Konrad Boehmer from last week, after working with Boulez, Stockhausen et al, she struck out on her own to produce the first Danish piece of electronic music Syv Cirkler (Seven Circles) (1958) and several other unique works.

Central to this disc is her half-hour suite based on Goethe's Faust, in which complementary frequencies float and pulse around to symbolise the relationships between the characters.  This eerie soundscape from 1962 reaches its apex of creepout with a sinister echoing voice reciting a Dies Irae text, representing the damnation part of the narrative.  The final work featured here, Græsstrået (The grass blade) (1964) is also particularly notable for being based around percussion, prepared piano, violin and concrete sounds in place of pure electronics.  I find this one the most engrossing, probably given its distinct variety from the tracks preceding it.

Oh, and before composing any of this, Pade spent World War II participating in the Danish Resistance, working on a clandestine newspaper, and eventually being imprisoned in the Frøslevlejren interment camp where she scratched compositions into the walls of her cell.  Now that's a full and fascinating life; she passed away aged 91 at the beginning of this year.

Et Glasperlespil

Monday, 19 September 2016

Faust - BBC Sessions+ (rel. 2001)

For a blog named after a Faust lyric, it's high time there was some Faust on these pages.  So here's something that doesn't get quite as much exposure as the core albums, but definitely deserves it.

This compilation is from 2001, and swept up a few of the remaining unreleased oddities from Faust's original incarnation, along with a couple that had already seen the light of day elsewhere - and the BBC session, first broadcast in March 1973, that gives the disc its name.

Despite the description, Faust never recorded in the BBC studio, finding it incompatible with their gear - instead, a 22 minute tape of new material was sent over.  First up was eight minutes of laid back groove entitled The Lurcher - towards its end,  as Rudolf Sosna's guitar comes to the fore, you can hear where Jennifer from Faust IV was going to come from.  Suddenly, the recording smashes into a much more primal, molten-hot miasma of sound.  The aforementioned album's legendary opening track rumbles on in an even more thrilling rough mix - such a high point of the krautrock canon that they named it after that cringey-to-this-day genre descriptor (invented by the British music press) in mock-homage.  The session ends with Do So - a brief, more electronics-heavy version of Stretch Out Time that would appear on The Faust Tapes.

As I see, you are the one to be me

Friday, 16 September 2016

Seattle Symphony Orchestra - Transformations for Strings (1993)

Going into the weekend on a classical note again.  Wanted to post this album for its recording of Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss.  A 'study for 23 solo strings', written at the end of the Second World War,  and towards the end of Strauss' life, Metamorphosen (Transformations) is a beautiful, sombre 32 minute dirge for war-torn Europe.  It's this piece that was responsible for me finding out about Henryk Gorecki and Arvo Pärt, and you can definitely hear the influence at times.

If you find yourself here in Edinburgh at any point, do drop in on McAlister Matheson Music.  This independent classical store has been in business since the 90s [UPDATE: and unfortunately closed at the end of February 2017], and it's where I picked up Transformations For Strings, on spying the inclusion of my favourite Richard Strauss work.  Aside from the great version of Metamorphosen, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra kick off this programme with Anton Webern's Langsamer Satz, a string quartet that perfectly complements the Strauss work.  There's also a fine rendition of Swiss composer Arthur Honegger's 2nd Symphony, which I really should listen to more.

Transformations for Strings

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Kluster - 1970-1971 (this comp. rel. 2008)

Before there was Cluster, the legendary home-base of Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, there was Kluster - a trio completed by the great Conrad Schnitzler.  Formed in 1969 around the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in Berlin, everything Kluster released in their short lifespan is in this one handy package, and remains some of the most heady, extreme material in the entire krautrock canon.

Unlike the genre's other Year Zero masterworks like Phallus Dei and Monster Movie, or even the Schnitlzer-infused Electronic Meditation, the Kluster sound owed nothing at all to rock music.  Instead, their legacy is these six supermassive black-holes of the freest free improvisation, bearing closer similarities to what AMM were doing on the other side of the English Channel, and also an utterly uncanny prefiguring of the early industrial music of the mid 70s.

In the studio (or rather, in the church where they found themselves recording), Kluster were faced with a bizarre, but very much of the time, compromise: that they allowed the usually religiously-inclined record label to overdub recitations of a couple of lengthy religious texts.  Schnitzler once said that you'll get more enjoyment from both of the vocal pieces if you can't understand the preposterous texts, in which case the stentorian female voice (on the first album Klopfzeichen) and male voice (on the second, Zwei Osterei) are intersting enough soundwise, if a little intrusive at times.

The voice-free second sides are more interesting overall, with plenty of screeching flute, scraping cello shards of guitar/piano to the fore.  The effects-laden sound can also be more clearly heard pointing the way to the first Cluster album sans Schnitzler.  Before he set off on his own however, there was the final Kluster recording.  Taped live, Eruption is an echo/delay masterpiece, stretching out for longer and unencumbered by previous compromises.  The sound is more lo-fi, but if anything this pushes it even closer to the live sound of Throbbing Gristle circa 1976.

Disc 1 (Klopfzeichen)
Disc 2 (Zwei-Osterei)
Disc 3 (Eruption)

Monday, 12 September 2016

Joe Satriani - Flying In A Blue Dream (1989)

A slight guilty pleasure today, but one that never, ever fails to put a big dumb grin on my face.  Must confess I haven't bought a new Satch album in six years, as they've started to feel bit interchangeable (perhaps bigger fans can correct me on that, and let me know if the last two are worth picking up), but back in 1989 Satriani was still young, vital, and breaking his own boundaries on this, his third full-length album.

Flying In A Blue Dream is actually a significant 'first' in Satriani's career - he's periodically stepped up to the microphone ever since, but this the first time he'd attempted songs with vocals after two completely instumental albums.  And in the nicest, most sincere way possible, the vocal tracks are hilarious.  Can't Slow Down, Big Bad Moon and Ride are classic 80s hair-rawk, I Believe a rousing power ballad; Strange is more enjoyable than the Red Hot Chili Peppers' entire discography, and The Phone Call is a great novelty rock n roll groove.

There's stil plenty of room for Satch's instrumental virtuosity on this 64-minute album though, with my favourite being the double-tapping masterpiece Day At The Beach - the original and best version, notwithstanding a thousand YouTube covers (many of which are pretty good!).

My brain's about to crumble, spill out on the floor

Friday, 9 September 2016

Conrad Schnitzler - Contempora (1981)


Time for some more Con artistry.  For the follow-up to Consequenz, Schnitzler clipped back the track lengths even more and generally showed that he had his ear to the ground for what was happening around him in the burgeoning  Neue Deustche Welle.  Contempora was one of the purest expressions of his DIY aesthetic, offering thirteen untitled tracks in a plain white sleeve, self-released with only the album title stamped on the front.

As mentioned above, the first eight tracks on Contempora were Schnitzler's most succicnt yet, with none lasting over two and a half minutes.  These upbeat, quirky pieces suit their reduced length well, and make for a hugely satisfying blast of Schnitzler's inimitable style.  After this, we're treated to five longer tracks that are more like a natural development from Consequenz.  The longest of these (B2 - I've titled each track to correspond with where it sits on the original LP, just because I like knowing where I am on an album like this) is the most interesting, and the highlight of the album for me.  It's so uncannily close to '78 era Throbbing Gristle that if someone played me it blind and said it was a studio recording of what they were playing at, for instance, the Goldsmith's College gig, I'd have been near-as-dammit convinced.

Contempora

Previously posted at SGTG:  Con | Consequenz | Grün
 Oh, and going back to grab those links has reminded me that I said I'd post Kluster 70-71, so expect that next week.  Schnitzler will feature heavily, but accessible brevity most certainly will not.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Public Image Limited - Metal Box (1979)

Simply one of the most important and essential post-punk albums ever made - in fact, if we could've gone straight from the mid 70s to this without having to have The Pistols and The Clash in between, I might have actually believed that punk was a proper 'year zero'.  Metal Box, aka Second Edition (when reissued in regular packaging), changed my whole perception of how songs could be constructed and how the guitar could be played.  It was a massive influence on my musical development, to the point where I must've ripped off every single note Keith Levene played on this album in every band I was in during high school and university.

Always loved Jah Wobble's bass playing in PiL as well, and this is very much an album to crank up the low frequencies for.  Holding much of the responsibility for Metal Box's krautrock and dub influences, the former John Wardle famously started playing without access to an amp, so would press the body of the bass guitar against a bedstead to get some rudimentary amplification and play as hard as he could - and it shows.  And John Lydon... never better on this album, letting his Peter Hammill influences show and feeling freed by the non-linear, atonal song structures to just wail at full tilt, railing against society and exorcising the pain of his mother's death.  One of the most unique 'rock' albums ever made.  Play loud.

Tennis on Tuesday, sipping champagne, football on Sunday, home on the train


Monday, 5 September 2016

Konrad Boehmer - Aspekt/Cry of This Earth/Apocalipsis cum Figuris (1990 compi of works 1968-84)

Been a while since I've posted a nice juicy chunk of electroacoustic craziness, so say hello to German-born, Netherlands-based Konrad Boehmer (1941-2014).  Boehmer moved in all the right circles, studying with Boulez and Stockhausen, and assisting Bruno Maderna and Luigi Nono.  So here's a neat summary of his work in the genre.

Aspekt (1968) is a dizzying stream of pure electronics and sped up tapes, and Cry Of This Earth (1978) sounds like percussive Stockhausen (eg Zyklus) colliding with electroacoustic Nono, as vocal fragments declaim snatches of revolutionary poetry over the clanging, crashing backdrop.  Both a perfectly servicable 15 minutes apiece.  This disc saves the most complex work for the end though - 38 minutes of a wonderfully unhinged but tightly planned apocalypse.

Inspired by a fictional work mentioned in a novel by Thomas Mann, Apocalipsis Cum Figuris (1984) stacks together four layers of sound.  'Bodily sounds' (don't worry, not quite Scott Walker Corps De Blah territory) sit on top of a layer of vocal fragments, quoting a variety of sources (De Sade, Marx, the Biblical apocalypse, and many more).  RIO (Rock In Opposition) aficionados will be interested by Dagmar Krause's distinctive contributions here.  The instrumental sounds are the third layer, and the fourth, representing the devil himself, are, of course, a trio of highly stylized pop singers.  Well played, Konrad.

Aspekt/Cry of This Earth/Apocalipsis cum Figuris 

Friday, 2 September 2016

George Shearing - The Shearing Piano (1957)

Some wonderfully mellow jazz piano for your weekend.  Well, jazz with a generous dollop of classical, but this is no corny crossover - it's a seamless blend of songbook standards (for the most part avoiding the usual ones you'd expect) and tasteful quotations of little bits of Rachmaninov, Satie, Mozart and Poulenc.

George Shearing (1919-2011) was born in London, and didn't let lifelong blindness get in the way of him setting up home in the US as an acclaimed quintet leader.  This is one of his rare (at least for this period in his career) solo recordings, and from a superb meditation on Stella By Starlight onwards, it's unique, exquisite stuff indeed.

I did mention early on in this blog that I tend to shave off bonus tracks, preferring to focus on just the original album; no chance of that happening here.  The ten tracks on The Shearing Piano are followed on CD by another ten that are every bit as good, and end with one purely classical piece in Debussy's Reverie - far from being a bunch of outtakes just for the sake of it, it's effectively The Shearing Piano Volume 2.  That's what I call good value.

The Shearing Piano