Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Zeitkratzer plays Kraftwerk, live at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (2017)

Berlin-based new music ensemble Zeitkratzer have been around since the late 90s, releasing numerous albums of work by Stockhausen, Cage et al, as well as two volumes of tracks by Whitehouse, and even a fully scored version of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music.  Artistic director Reinhold Friedl jokes that "everybody thought Zeitkratzer is a cover band" following the success of the latter, which made a friend suggest to him that they should cover some early Kraftwerk, leading to an album earlier this year.

I don't have any of those albums at present, but I'm definitely keen to stock up on the evidence of this concert held on 18 November, as part of the 40th Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.  How about this for a setlist, Kraftwerk fans: Harmonika, Stratovarius, Wellenlange, Vom Himmel Hoch, Atem, Ruckzuck.  Half of those didn't feature on the album, hopefully suggesting a second volume to come.

Friedl agreed with his friend that early Kraftwerk would be a good idea, and an important one, given the continued absence of their first three records on any official reissue - he wryly takes Ralf & Florian to task here for "a falsification of their history".  No disagreement from me there, but most importantly, how does it sound?  Pretty damn good on this evidence.  The material taken from the first Kraftwerk album is inventively arranged whilst sticking faithfully to the structure of the originals.  The stuff from Kraftwerk 2 however is in a different league.  Always Kraftwerk's most experiemental record, this leaves plenty of room for Zeitkratzer to take the sparse source material somewhere unique - in particular, the lazy jamming of Wellenlange being transformed into a thing of understated beauty (just listen to that piano part!) was a revelation to me.  Highly recommended.

mega / zippy

Monday, 27 November 2017

Ralph Towner - Solo Concert (1980)

Just before heading to Oslo to meet up with Azimuth for Départ, Ralph Towner was performing solo in Europe, with dates in Munich and Zurich providing the recordings for this spellbinding live album.  Sometimes known as 'Köln for the guitar', the comparison only really works inasmuch as they're both high watermarks in ECM's catalogue of concert recordings; there's no epic improvisations here, just seven perfectly rendered compositions, four of them Towner originals.

Opening with a flourish of echoing harmonics, Solo Concert grabs the listener right from the off with its longest and most spectacular track - the shimmering 12-string waves of Spirit Lake.  The rich, reverberating acoustics of these recordings also illuminate the nylon-string performances like Ralph's Piano Waltz (one of two John Abercrombie compositions here) that follows next.

Things get more intricate and spidery with Train Of Thought, one of the best explorations of Towner's virtuoso technique here, but to be honest that could be said of the whole record.  The Miles Davis standard Nardis hits a fresh new groove, and the closing take on Abercrombie's Timeless is just... timeless.  If you only own one Ralph Towner record, make it this one.

mega / zippy

Friday, 24 November 2017

Organum - Volume One/Volume Two (compis rel. 1998 & 2000)

(both Volumes have plain black covers)
Had you picked up an original vinyl copy of NWW's A Missing Sense in '86 (cover art below), on flipping it over your ears would've been greeted by what sounded like 18 minutes of close-miked dental work.  This piece was called Rasa, and its grinding, hissing and vocal swishes were the work of British drone artist David Jackman, aka Organum.
A Missing Sense/Rasa, split LP between NWW/Organum, 1986
After cutting his musical teeth in Cornelius Cardew's Scratch Orchestra in the late 60s, Jackman began releasing short cassettes under his own name a decade later, and went on to use the Organum name from 1983-2010 - he appears to have since retired from music.  The two Volumes in this post gather together LP and EP material from 1985/6.
In Extremis LP, 1985
It's pretty heady stuff too - I had the 'Ambient' tag on for this post, then removed it on deciding it wasn't appropriate.  Especially not for the 1985 LP In Extremis (as in, 'close to death'), which straddles the two CDs - the 20 minute Valley Of Worms was a collaboration with fearsome noisemongers The New Blockaders.  The EP track Horii is about as relaxed as the sonic terrain gets here, and even that one's a dark, droning vocal and flute piece that does a pretty good job of evoking some lost unspeakable ritual from ancient Egypt. (Amusingly, though, it does have a cheekily rockist 1-2-3 count-in.)
Horii 12", 1986
Elsewhere, the metallic droning, creaking and clattering that underpins so much of the early Organum sound brought to mind Iannis Xenakis at his most electroacoustic, eg Bohor or Persepolis.  Much like those grand slabs of sound, Jackman's work here, from the Tower Of Silence EP right through to the 1989 bonus track that ends CD2,  might seem on the surface to be a solid, impenetrable wall, but as soon as you get into it you're transported to its hypnotic depths.  Out-of-body dronescapes of the highest order.
Tower Of Silence 12", 1985
Volume 1 mega / Volume 1 zippy
Volume 2 mega / Volume 2 zippy

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Nurse With Wound - A Missing Sense (1997 compilation)

As promised on Monday's writeup, here's Steven Stapleton's 'tribute' to Robert Ashley's Automatic Writing.  Over to you, Steve:
"A Missing Sense was originally conceived as a private tape to accompany my taking of LSD. When in that particular state, Robert Ashley's Automatic Writing was the only music I could actually experience without feeling claustrophobic and paranoid. We played it endlessly; it seemed to become part of the room, perfectly blending with the late night city ambience and the 'breathing' of the building. I decided to make my own version using the basic structure of Ashley's masterpiece, but making it more personal, adding natural sound that I could hear in my environment. It should be played at very low volume."
What we get with the NWW take on Automatic Writing then, might be 20 minutes shorter, but is still a wonderful ambient drift that sits alongside the very best of Stapleton's work in that mode.  There's less focus on the vocalisations (I'd guess because they were very much Ashley's signature, and the best Stapleton could do was imitate them), but plenty of NWW signatures - electronic whirring and clicking, mutated smears of trumpet, and a highly atmospheric take on the Farsifa organ sound from Automatic Writing.  Far from being just a knockoff of a superior work, A Missing Sense is magical stuff in its own right - the influence from Ashley is obvious, but the NWW fingerprint is unmistakable.

On this compilation CD, A Missing Sense is followed by a work from a year later (1987) called Swansong.  Purportedly inspired by the anger and hopelessness felt by Stapleton after watching a documentary on the original A-bomb tests, it actually comes across as an oddly calming ambient work mostly comprised of electronically-generated rushing waves and eerie, distant synth melodies.  Near the end, the waves suddenly stop, and the remaining music introduces a bizarre interlude in which a girl (possibly the same one from the Homotopy To Marie title track?) talks about puberty or something like that.  The electronic waves then condense into a constant sea wall of static that gradually fades away.

Lastly, the disc is rounded out by a remixed version of Dadaˣ from Merzbild Schwet.  This mix originally appeared on Ostranenie 1913, released in 1983 to help a friend of Steve's launch their label, and is one of the few NWW records I've been lucky enough to get hold of on vinyl.  The LP cover was a monochrome version of what you can see above, that Stapleton used for the Missing Sense CD.  It's a good mix of Dadaˣ, but I think I still prefer the more spare and spacious original.

mega / zippy

Monday, 20 November 2017

Robert Ashley - Automatic Writing (1979)

An absolute classic of avant-garde ambient, Automatic Writing was the result of Robert Ashley's fascination with 'involuntary speech', the mild form of Tourette's syndrome that he had.  Eventually getting some close-miked recordings of vocal sounds and phrases that he liked - more for their texture and cadences than any actual words - Ashley processed them electronically and built this 46-minute piece around them.

The result was this beautifully ghostly, formless drift in which Ashley's words are whispered back to him in French by a female voice, whilst sounds from a Polymoog chirp and click away in the background, and intermittent snatches of music from a Farfisa organ appear to be coming from an adjacent room.  Whether you listen to this on the threshold of audibility as ambient music, or turn it right up to study the details, Automatic Writing has a unique, hypnotic effect that makes it endlessly listenable.  It even inspired a 'tribute' piece by a certain SGTG regular - that'll be Wednesday's post.

For now, just enjoy one of Robert Ashley's finest ever extended recordings, plus a couple of CD bonus tracks that I've left in as they're quite interesting - both are from a 60's 'opera' project, That Morning Thing, which Ashley wrote in reaction to the suicides of three female friends.  She Was A Visitor, in which phenomes of the words are bounced around the voices of the performers, was actually featured right at the beginning of this blog.  Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon, all tape hiss and an extremely unsettling monologue, will stay with you for a while afterwards - if you've been listening to Automatic Writing to chill out, perhaps best to hit the stop button at the end of it.

mega / zippy

Friday, 17 November 2017

Ghédalia Tazartès - Tazartès' Transports (1980)

Second album from Parisian outsider legend Ghédalia Tazartès, whose beautifully strange music I was first introduced to via - you guessed it - the Nurse With Wound list.  Recorded in 1977, and first released in 1980 on clear vinyl with no track titles, Tazartès' Transports on CD is split into 15 tracks with... no track titles.  So, one to just dive headfirst into for sure.
That LP cover isn't the only thing that brings Faust to mind for me - listening to these tracks, with each sudden jump-cut going off at a totally new tangent, is quite a Faust Tapes-esque experience.  The opening moments of the album throw up a couple more German reference points - a pretty Roedelius-like piano incongruously paired with a harsh, Tietchens-ish rhythm - before Tazartès speed-shifted voice replaces the piano, and we're plunged into his wonderfully weird sound world.  Chiming cathedral bells, electronic squiggles, more loops of different voices, a mournful wind instrument emerging from the embers of a noise onslaught - that's just track two.

Listing the many delights of the remaining 13 tracks would be a pointless exercise - just listen, enjoy and discover the many looped elements, found sounds and little snatches of actual music, and on repeat listens, hear something different every time - that's the enduring magic of Tazartès' music for me.  His singing is a constant joy in whatever form it takes - plaintive wailing, throaty droning, or rasping Dada-esque nonsense in one of his comic personae.  Don't miss the spoken word closing track, intoned in English - "All animals have a personality, a personality, a personality... I'm a dancer,  I'm a dancer, moving on a stage, moving on a stage...".  A memorably bizarre ending to a magnificent, absolutely essential record.
alternate CD cover
mega / zippy

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Azimuth with Ralph Towner - Départ (1980)

Autumnal ECM loveliness of the highest order.  Of course, that description could apply to about half of the label's catalogue, especially from its mid 70s to early 80s golden era.  This album though, recorded in the last month of the 70s, even has a track named Autumn, complete with suitably evocative lyrics from Norma Winstone.

Winstone, along with John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler, had by this point recorded two wonderfully airy, hypnotic albums as Azimuth, taking as much inspiration from Reichian minimalism as from the British jazz scene of their backgrounds.  For this third outing, ECM 's Manfred Eicher suggested adding a guest guitarist, and all three requested Ralph Towner, who they'd met the previous year.

Towner's chiming 12-string is therefore the first accompaniment to be introduced to album opener The Longest Day, over the top of Taylor's circular piano figures, before Winstone and Wheeler begin to take flight.  He switches to classical guitar for the aforementioned Autumn, and for the first two parts of the Touching Points suite.  This mid-album four-parter is particularly interesting as there's increasingly less typically Azimuth drift and more choppy free improv (especially in the third section), plus a chance to hear Taylor on Terry Riley-esque organ on the fourth section.  He sticks to organ for the gorgeous title track's intro, returning to piano for Winstone's brief haiku-like lyric, before everyone soars into the stratosphere again.

mega / zippy

see also: 
Sounds & Shadows (Towner)
Somewhere Called Home (Winstone with Taylor)
Double, Double You (Wheeler)

Monday, 13 November 2017

Martin Davorin Jagodic - Tempo Furioso (Tolles Wetter) (1975)

Sole album release by Martin Davorin Jagodic (b. 1935, Zagreb), who settled in France in the 1960s.  Having apparently worked at GRM, been involved in installations and performance pieces and composed numerous Cage-esque graphic scores, it's a shame there isn't more recorded evidence of Jagodic's work.  What is available here, though, is 42 minutes of top-notch sound manipulation that more than justified Jagodic's place on the Nurse With Wound list (see last Monday's post).

Starting from a stew of queasy, gently pulsing electronics, it soon becomes clear that the 'Tempo Furioso' title doesn't have anything to do with the pace of the work, and may have just been applied for ironic/comic value.  Adding to the mix are various voice snippets and loops, naturalistic sounds of lapping waves and birds (Jagodic must've been out taping in the 'great weather' of the album's subtitle), and samples of classical and rock music.  An early highlight of the second track is a lengthy sample from a period-drama radio play, surrounded by more agitated electronics, before things settle down again.  A highly recommended sound experience from start to finish.

Update!  Have received the following comment:
A website will be open for Martin Davorin Jagodic in the following month with a lot of new music, graphic scores, videos and more.
If you want to get the link when it will be ready, just send an email to

mega / zippy

Friday, 10 November 2017

Laura Nyro and Labelle - Gonna Take A Miracle (1971)

Absolutely love, love, love this little gem.  For her fifth album, Laura Nyro took a break from songwriting to put together a heartfelt tribute to the music she grew up listening to in The Bronx in the 50s and 60s.  With new friend Patti Labelle and her group singing backup, and Gamble & Huff producing at Sigma Sound, the result was a perfect mix of classic girl-group and soul material with a now-legendary Philly sheen.

A huge part of this album's charm for me is its spare instrumentation and production, and just how alive and joyful each track sounds.  According to legend, everything was recorded first-take in a single day, after almost all the studio time had been frittered away just goofing around and enjoying the songs that everyone knew so well.  This freshness makes the uptempo selections absolutely burn through their grooves (Jimmy Mack, Nowhere To Run, the medley of Monkey Time and Dancing In The Street) and the ballads shine in their ethereal, stark beauty (Desiree, and my personal album highlight The Wind).  And if anyone's recorded a more perfect version of Spanish Harlem that just drips with languid, urban midsummer eroticism, I've yet to hear it.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Tomasz Stańko/Freelectronic - Freelectronic In Montreux (1987)

Stańko's mid-80s fusion ensemble in action at the 1987 Montreux Jazz Festival.  Possibly not the full performance, unless they did only appear for 35 minutes, but enough to get a flavour of their nicely odd trumpet-bass-synth-synth sound.  Yep, there's no drummer here, with the rhythmic drive being provided by Witold Szcurek's bass slapping and Tadeus Sudnik's arsenal of tweaked synths and 'self-made electronics'.

I'll readily admit that my initial listen to this recording just elicited a response of 'arrrgh 80s cheese', and I even referred to it in a previous Stańko writeup as 'hilarious', but scratch below the surface sound (the twanging bass, and a very much of-its-time DX7) and repeated listens throw up the little idiosyncrasies that keep me coming back to Freelectronic In Montreux.
Alternate cover
Most of this is down to Sudnik, whose little whooshes and burbles take the group's sound into a weirder dimension than upbeat opener Lady Go would otherwise suggest.  The atmospherics of Asmodeus and Too Pee are more interesting still, suggesting a definite Vangelis presence in Sudnik's record collection.  Stańko himself is on fine firey form on the uptempo numbers (and on the loose soundscape of Too Pee), and coolly melancholic elsewhere, looking forwards to his mature ECM years.  The MC at the end appears to say "rebel of Polish jazz - Tomasz Stańko", and on this evidence he very much still merited that crown in the 80s.
Another alt cover - had they employed the guy who drew for Ozric Tentacles or something??

mega / zippy

Monday, 6 November 2017

Trevor Wishart - Journey Into Space (1973)

Described as an "audio movie" on the original self-released vinyl labels, Journey Into Space was the first release by English electroacoustic composer Trevor Wishart (b. 1946, Leeds).  The charming DIY-ness of the double-LP's back cover is reproduced in this CD reissue, with sleevenotes very much of their time (see below), and advice that copies of the album could be obtained directly from the composer at his York University department for £3, plus 40p P&P - not exactly a bargain! - but fair play to Wishart, he'd completely self-financed the album.

One of those copies (or a subsequent release) may well have found its way into the hands of a trio of teenage sound-hounds in London, as Wishart features on the original Nurse With Wound list.  The massive amount of tape manipulation involved in Journey Into Space is a clear precursor to NWW, but in the early 70s Wishart appears to have been much more interested in making the mundane and everyday gradually warp into a fantastic dreamscape, as opposed to Stapleton's full-on surrealism.
"Journey-into-Space is the allegorical journey of a man towards self-realisation.  It begins in a strange landscape of Birth from which emerges the cry of a baby.  The man, as if waking from a dream, sets off in his car with the sounds of a space-rocket launch on his car radio.  The two journeys coalesce in his mind as he continues through many strange musical landscapes, eventually arriving at a doorway. 
On passing through the entrance-hall he emerges once more into the birth landscape, but now the music develops in an entirely new direction as the threads of the dream are drawn together."                                (from original LP liner notes)
The LP release just had four untitled sides, but this has been tidied up for CD to make Birth Dream the 13-minute introductory piece.  Comparisons to Throbbing Gristle's Medicine are perhaps inevitable, but Wishart's evocation of birth is far less, well, medical.  The main meat of the work follows - The Journey on CD runs for an uninterrupted 47 minutes, as the character's journey progresses as above from the mundane to the magical.  The 'music' as such was derived from blown bottles, children's toys and many other found objects, as well as the occasional brass honk and lots of evocative vocal sounds.  Lastly, the 18 minute Arrival does indeed draw the dream together in style, pulling together the various sound sources into a mindbending finale with an abrupt ending.  In short, fellow NWW fans will love this one - but it's also well worth anyone's time for the ingenuity in sound manipulation that Wishart was conjuring up in his University of York Electronic Music Studio.

mega / zippy

Friday, 3 November 2017

Steve Hackett - Defector (1980)

Having previously posted my favourite and close-second favourite of his albums, let's round up with my third Hackett-of-choice.  The very loosely Cold War-themed (it only really works for the first two tracks, although some fan reviews try to stretch the concept to the full album) Defector received a mixed critical reception, but IMO is still essential Hackett.

For starters, two of his most unmissable instrumental mini-epics are here: the lovely swirling jazziness of Jacuzzi, and the suitably stark and windswept atmospherics of album opener The Steppes.  Aside from the bonkers robot-rampage of Slogans, the remaining instrumental material is of a mellower, soft-focus nature, making Defector stand out in Hackett's Charisma era as the late-night atmospheric one.

This extends to the vocal tracks too, which more than once recall the guitarist's final Genesis era.  Leaving and The Toast respectively invoke Wind & Wuthering and Trick Of The Tail; the latter song could almost be a mini-Entangled, with the wooziness of anaesthesia being replaced by a more everyday, self-imbibed wooziness.  Comparisons are also often noted to Camel of a similar vintage, who I haven't really listened to enough to comment.  Don't miss the cute little closing gag of Hackett using an Optigan keyboard and period-piece vocal to evoke 1940s novelty jazz - I really don't get all the hate that Sentimental Institution receives from some fans, it always makes me crack a grin.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Hugues Dufourt - Erewhon (1999 recording, Les Percussions De Strasbourg)

Staying with Les Percussions De Strasbourg for today, and with Hugues Dufourt; here's Erewhon - Dufourt's percussion epic written between 1972-76, its title taken from Samuel Butler's novel of the same name.  Originally in five parts, one section was taken out to become a piece in its own right - Sombre journée, which we heard on Monday's LPDS post.

The hour-plus Erewhon allows Dufourt's evocative writing for percussion to stretch out and show its full dramatic range - right from the thunderous eight-minute introductory section that focuses on skin percussion.  This is followed by the longest section at 27 minutes, described by Dufourt as "an essay in fantastic stereo dynamics", which leaves much more room for the percussion, metallic this time, to resonate in space.  Erewhon III is more atmospheric still, and definitely my personal highlight of the work; Dufourt called it "an imaginary landscape in the style of Edgar Allan Poe, the far-off resurgence of a residual echo".  Lastly, Erewhon IV draws together the full ensemble for a stunning finale.

Given its structure, Erewhon as whole brought to mind for me a version of Steve Reich's Drumming where all the strict rhythmic drive was removed, and the focus was instead on the dynamic and atmospheric qualities of the different percussion types.  Dufourt's Erewhon is certainly an astounding work, full of variety, and rewards repeat listens.

mega / zippy
see also: Dufuort's Saturne, for orchestra & electronics