Monday, 27 February 2017

Zbigniew Karkowski - UEXKULL (rec. 1988/9, first rel. 1991)

First album by Krakow-born Karkowski (1958-2013), an experimental musician and composer who undertook some compostion courses with Xenakis, Messiaen and Boulez  before striking out as a much more raw-edged sound-shifter.  This hour-long drone piece was recorded in the late 80s using the UPIC composing software that Xenakis had invented a decade previous, and it caught my attention whilst pottering around on discogs last week. 

Intrigued enough to add the out-of-print UEXKULL CD to my wantlist, I had the pleasant surprise shortly afterwards that it has in fact been reissued digitally by the AudioTong label, who are now offering it for free/name your price on their Bandcamp page.  So that's where the download link below leads.  Lossless formats available too!

Musically, then, UEXKULL is based around a circulating bass drone that gathers momentum by various electronic mutations for its first half hour before scaling back again.  It doesn't stay there for long though, filling out into a dizzying, brain-frying electronic wall of sound that brings to mind Merzbow or 90s Whitehouse more than Xenakis.  Karkowski did in fact collaborate with Masami Akita several times, and with many other avant-garde noisemeisters in what looks like a fascinating discography that I'll need to delve into further.  Sadly though, Karkowski's life was cut short at 55 by pancreatic cancer.  Apparently his final weeks were spent canoeing into the Peruvian jungle in search of some shamanic healers for a truly unique throw of the dice.

UEXKULL

Friday, 24 February 2017

Roedelius - Offene Türen (rec. 1980, rel. 1982)

Roedelius' eighth album under his name, recorded in 1980 and released two years later.  Among that early 80s prolific purple patch, Offene Türen stands out by being far and away the most minimal and wholly electronic; it compares more easily to Cluster's Curiosum - most notably on Spiegelung, which also features an uncharacteristic vocal hum - than the lush romanticism of Jardin Au Fou.  This is still unmistakably Roedelius though, especially on the two midpoint tracks Auf der Höhe and Allemande; that melodic lightness of touch couldn't be anyone else.

Abenteuerliche Begegnung

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Octavian Nemescu / Costin Cazaban (1996 compilation)

Nicely strange compilation from the Dumitrescu/Avram label Edition Modern, split between Romanian spectralists Octavian Nemescu, who I haven't posted before but, as mentioned previously, I was introduced to via SpookCityUSA, and Costin Cazaban, whose only other CD release was featured here back in December.

Nemescu's 32 minutes of the album are bookended by the nearly-identical piano pieces Spectacle pour un Instant/Instance (1974) - each only features a few seconds of piano that echoes into nothingness and electronic static over the remainder of the two minutes duration.  Quatre Dimensions en Temps IV (Illuminations) (1967) fades in subtly for eight minutes of psychedelic orchestral soup that suddenly leaves only chiming bells; very haunting and arresting stuff.  The remaining Nemescu piece is 20 minutes of IN PAR (1988) for trombone and tape, which starts with a loud electronic gurgle before proceeding to mutate the trombone sound with increasing amounts of metallic buzzing and other electronic sound.

The remaining 47 minutes of this disc are Cazaban's, and focus on two lengthy, knotty orchestral works, filling out the picture of his ouevre a bit more when taken alongside the mostly chamber works on his other CD release mentioned above.  On Deus ex Machina (1988), a seasick-sounding flute tries to get its bearings in the choppy orchestral waters.  Trellis (1985) is a little more static-sounding, until its last few minutes spiral and churn around.  Sandwiched in between these two is a string quartet, Au-delà de Vienne (1989).  All of it is fascinating stuff on in-depth listens; wish there were more Cazaban recordings available.  There are a few more Nemescu CDs out there, which I'm intending to pick up in due course.

Edition Modern ED.MN.2003

Monday, 20 February 2017

Popol Vuh - Das Hohelied Salomos (1975)

Haven't posted a Vuh album in a while, so here's one that often gets unfairly maligned compared to some of the stellar heights they were reaching in the 70s on either side of this album.  So is Das Hohelied Salomos (Song of Solomon, and indeed we're back in Biblical territory for the lyrics, all from that particular book) merely... good?  Maybe by this band's impossibly high standards, but just taken as an album in its own right it's stunningly beautiful.

There's much more of Dyong Yun's angelic vocals than on predecessor Einsjäger & Siebenjäger, and Daniel Fichelscher gets in a good balance of acoustic guitar alongside his many liquid layers of lead playing.  In fact, given the mix of the various classic-era Popol Vuh stylings here - some stuff looks forward to the more rocky tone of Letze Tage, other tracks appear to have jumped in straight off Hosianna Mantra - this album is possibly the ideal starting point if you haven't yet dipped a toe in the heavenly Vuh waters.

Der Winter ist Vorbei

Friday, 17 February 2017

Throbbing Gristle - Journey Through A Body (rec. 1981, first rel. 1982)

The final studio recording from TG's initial existence, Journey Through A Body was recorded in Rome over a week in March 1981 at the invitation of RAI radio studio, and released the following year, by which time of course 'the mission was terminated'.  In retrospect, and especially before the 2004-9 reunion, it became an intriguing what-might've-been had TG stuck around a few more years.

Kicking off with a fascinating 15-minute chunk of medical sound art that swapped the burns unit of Hamburger Lady for the maternity ward, the second track was more intriguing still.  Again with the benefit of hinsight, Catholic Sex (dedicated to the then 18-year-old Paula Brooking, who would become Mrs P-Orridge three months later) sounds like early Chris & Cosey fighting early Psychic TV to a draw and creating a strong, distinctive track in the process, proving that there could've been life yet in the parent band.

Cover from Mute CD reissue, 1993
The second half of Journey Through A Body, though, goes to perhaps the most uncharacteristic sonic plane of all, due to Chris Carter opting for acoustic piano throughout for perhaps the only time in his career (Certainly that I'm aware of; I haven't heard his & Cosey's entire ouput by a long chalk).  Exotic Functions wasn't that big a surprise for those who'd heard 20 Jazz Funk Greats, but what does make a difference is how sincere and fully-realised a Martin Denny tribute these mostly non-musicians managed to pull off this time around.  Violencia (The Bullet) sounds a bit more like traditional TG, but the crashing piano is still an oddity, as is the album's epilogue Oltre La Morte, presumably performed by Carter alone.  Would another album this good have been preferable to Heartbeat and Force The Hand Of Chance?  Who knows.  I'm still glad we have Dreams Less Sweet, though, by which time it might've definitely been time for the TG mission to be terminated.

"This record is dedicated to TG, now a terminated mission. It is also dedicated to the Vatican Gun Club and all 9 mm automatic users everywhere."

Previously posted at SGTG: In The Shadow Of The Sun

May also be of interest:  GPO-curated mixtape on BBC Radio 3 Late Junction, 3 Feb 2017 (29 minutes)
(mp3 here for when it drops off the website; 128 bitrate is as originally published.)

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Robert Turman - Flux (first released 1981)

Multi-instrumentalist Robert Turman, originally from San Diego, began his recording career in a very different vein to this, his solo debut.  He'd been responsible, along with Boyd Rice, for the initial NON release Knife Ladder/Mode Of Infection, one of the first and most fearsome industrial artifacts to come out of the US.  This privately-released cassette appeared two years later, and couldn't have occupied a more strikingly different place on the sonic spectrum, consisting of barely-there, minimal ambient pieces based around kalimba (thumb piano) in its first half, regular piano thereafter.

Early listens to Flux left me a bit underwhelmed by how little was going on for long periods of time, and how uber-lo fi the recording was, but if you get into the right headspace for this it's utterly hypnotic.  Opening with a clunk and a clatter as the tape machines get going, the percussive tappings of the first 15 minutes create a nice, formless zen ambience, with the following track more minimal still, like a homebrew Brian Eno fan of not insignificant talent for melancholy atmosphere.

By the third piece (called Miao on the initial release; most subsequent editions gave no titles), a more rhythmic backdrop has been introduced, and a slow, stately Eastern-sounding melody rises from the massive fog of tape hiss.  The fourth, aka Slow Burning, gives the switch to regular piano, and plinks away for nearly 17 minutes with a knackered-sounding drum machine barely functioning in support.  If this feels a bit too enervating, the final two pieces are significantly shorter.  One to get lost in for sure.  Kudos to the Austrian label Spectrum Spools for this reissue (on CD and vinyl) in 2012.

Flux

Monday, 13 February 2017

Pat Metheny / Ornette Coleman - Song X (1986)

Or, as ECM's Manfred Eicher probably called it - the one that got away.  Imagine how much of a game-changer this phenomenal meeting of minds would've been for the German label that had nurtured Metheny for a decade, with ECM regulars Haden & DeJohnette on board, not to mention the glittering prize of having free jazz legend Ornette Coleman sharing the bill.  The artwork would've been similarly minimal under Sascha Kleis' direction, and it would've deservedly remained an ECM bestseller to this day.

Unfortunately for Eicher, come 1985 Metheny was ready for a new challenge, and parted ways with ECM to land on David Geffen's burgeoning stable.  And what a fresh start Song X was - kicking off with the lightning-speed title track, this was free jazz updated for the amphetamine-yuppie era, and would've blown Huey and Genesis out of the water if introduced to Patrick Bateman's CD collection.  The 13-minute Endangered Species goes even further out, with Metheny exercising judicious use of the guitar synth (and wisely restraining himself from it for the bulk of the album, not unlike Belonging from three years prior, also with Haden).

The second half of the album is more accesible, and mellows out considerably with the gorgeous Kathelin Gray.  The clean production throughout (another ECM similarity!) ensures that you can get the most enjoyment possible out of each contributor, without the knottier passages becoming cluttered.  A stunning high watermark in 80s jazz.

Video Games

Friday, 10 February 2017

Coil - Musick To Play In The Dark (1999)

Before the evenings start to get light again, let's have some prime music for the darkness, with the nocturnal majesty of Coil at their possible career-best.  This album was my entry-point to the alchemical, liquid world of Balance and Christopherson's sound shiftings, on the strength of rave reviews after its release which hailed it as a game-changer.  In hindsight, this was indeed where Coil's last great chapter began, with Julian Cope/Spiritualized collaborator Tim Lewis aka Thighpaulsandra on board.

Like a fair chunk of the Coil ouevre, we start with Jhonn and Sleazy pursuing a ritualistic altered state, in this case combining MDMA with sleep deprivation to create some shivery, watery 'moon musick' of the highest order.  Thighpaulsandra gets a chance to shine with the instrumental Red Birds Will Fly Out Of The East And Destroy Paris In A Night, channeling Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze with a much more unhinged finale. Subsequent illuminations concern media manipulation (Red Queen), childhood and family as ritual (Broccoli), until the gorgeous finale allows for some sleep at last.  There was a Volume 2 a few months later, which continued the musical and lyrical themes but with not quite as strong an end result as this stunning record.

One day your eggs are going to hatch and some very strange birds are going to emerge

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Hilliard Ensemble - Codex Speciálník (rec. 1993, rel. 1995)

Been making an effort to be less self-consciously modernist in the classical stuff I listen to this past week, so in a break from the normal '20th century classical' tag, here's something from the 14th and earlier.  The title of this collection refers to the 'special songbook', a manuscript found in a Prague monastery and dated to around 1500, and a rich source of medieval-renaissance polyphonic vocal music.

Singing selections from the mostly anonymous songbook (only 8 of the 25 pieces here have composer credits) are the Hilliard Ensemble, who called time on their four-decade career just over two years ago, and appeared on over 20 ECM releases.  Celebrated specialists in early music, the Hilliards perform here with their customary expertise, authenticity and solemn, austere beauty.

This is a well-sequenced album too - not sure if it follows the order of the book, or was just done this way for the recording, but the 77-minute CD has all the shortest pieces up front, making the actual halfway-point of the album midway through track 17.  But this doesn't really matter much if you just let yourself get lost in the pure sound.

Veni vere illustrator

(I'm trying out Mega as Zippyshare seems to be acting up a bit - hope Mega links work ok for everyone.)

Monday, 6 February 2017

Asmus Tietchens - In Die Nacht (1982)

In Die Nacht was the third of Asmus Tietchens’ four albums of mutant electro-pop for Sky Records.  I posted the fourth a while back, and this one is every bit as good. Originally planning to release a third collection of two-minute minatures, Tietchens found himself pressed for time to finish and deliver In Die Nacht, resulting in time-stretching on half of these tracks by necessity as much as any wish to experiment with longer pieces.

This, and the new acquisition of a Polymoog to fill out the sound, make for a fascinating record in which bouncy opener Mit Zebras Rennen is followed up by two lengthy, queasy explorations of minor key noir-ish synth and odd little rhythms, and the second half is stranger still.  Spanische Fliege percolates around its descending melody as the cheesy home-organ rhythm track grinds on, and the more gently pulsing Regenwald lives up to its title with some rainforest ambience, if the forest in question were under a biodome on a deep-space outpost.

Kopfüber In Den Gully

Friday, 3 February 2017

Olivier Messiaen - Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum, etc (1988 compi, rec '66-'71)

Been trying to up my Messiaen (1908-1992) game lately, and found this great CD for £2.  Apparently it’s from a box set that was released in the composer’s 80th birthday year – love that digital timing on the cover, from the early heyday of the format! 

Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (And I await the resurrection of the dead) from 1964 is the centrepiece here, and it’s one of Messiaen’s most striking and sombre orchestral works, being commissioned in memoriam of the dead of the World Wars.  Whether with ominous tolling bells and rattling percussion, or in the huge monolithic brass lines, approaching something like orchestral doom-metal, this is pure apocalypse and final judgement written large.  It’s paired on CD as it was on the 1966 LP with Couleurs De La Cité Céleste (1963), which is even more percussive, makes much of Messiaen’s concept of colours in sound, and an ideal companion to the main work.  Both were conducted by Pierre Boulez.

Slightly lighter in mood, and dating from 1934 (recorded here in 1971), L’Ascension is one of Messiaen’s earliest orchestral masterpieces to show the mystical, hallucinatory Catholicism at the heart of most of his output.  The final movement is something that’s particularly stuck on me since getting into the work; it truly is otherworldly.

Seigneur, écoute ma voix!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Nurse With Wound - Homotopy To Marie (1982)

In algebraic topology, homotopy is the continuous deformation of one function into another… or something. I don’t think I’ve even summarised that properly from trying to look up a simplified explanation.  Somehow, that seems an ideal lead-in to discussing the fifth Nurse With Wound album, and first one to be created solely by Steven Stapleton, every Friday evening for a year, cementing his place as a true wizard of tape manipulation.

Even the track titles here are in another league.  I Cannot Feel You as the Dogs Are Laughing and I Am Blind starts proceedings with much scraping and groaning, before suddenly going full Damo Suzuki (eg Soup) about a minute before the end.  The title track is next, with those echoing gongs very much an early Stapleton staple, as are the surreal voices used.  A woman intermittently exclaims “Don’t be naïve, darling”, as if chiding the other voice in which a child recounting a hospital stay is presented in fragments.  As the track goes on, ominous creaky springs make you wonder if the child narrator hasn’t perhaps been condemned to a Victorian asylum rather than undergone a brief hospitalisation.

After the adult voice finally says something different (“Philistine!”), a few music-box fragments take us into Astral Dustbin Dirge.  Similar to the opening track, but more varied, this was omitted from the original LP for reasons of space.  Towards the end, you can hear where Stapleton would go with his next album – Astral Dustbin Dirge wasn’t on it either, despite being listed on the cover, presumably in jest at the track’s orphaned status.

Over on the old side 2, The Schmürz (Unsullied by Suckling) starts out with some sort of militaristic marching chant, cut up into incomprehensibility, and proceeds to fill out its 24 minute length with more clanging, shrill electronics, samples of choral music, more voices (including an animated conversation in Spanish), and more.  A wonderfully weird jazzy ending brings the track to a memorable close, before an 80-second epilogue of more groaning and manic cackling brings things full circle.  Beyond-essential sound manipulation.

I didn't know anybody, and there was a funny smell