Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Brast Burn - Debon (1975)

This album seemed like one of these "too good to be true" musical legends when I read about it a few weeks back.  An obscure one-off by a Japanese musician, who may have also been responsible for another album credited to 'Karuna Khyal' on the same tiny label, that briefly appeared in one record shop in Nakano, Tokyo, and sounded like someone doing a mashup of every krautrock album you've ever heard with a dash of Ry Cooder on top?

So when I found a copy of this CD (from the same Paradigm label responsible for reissuing Journey Through Space and Acezantez) going for peanuts shortly afterwards, it was impossible to resist.  The low price was due to library stickers - seriously, the fact that an English public library had something like this in its CD racks at some point was just the icing on the cake - wonder how often it was borrowed?  And of course, there was still the music...

True to the reviews I'd read, the two 23-minute pieces that make up Debon have a very strong krautrock flavour - there's echoes here of both Amon Düüls, Ash Ra Tempel in their mellower moments, a bit of a Faustlike sensibility... you get the idea.  Long, raga-like sections of guitar and percussion jamming cut into each other with occasional vocal declamations and incantations.  Bells, electronic whooshes and other odd bits of studio noise complete the picture of an album that reminds you of a lot of things, sure, but the way it's all put together is utterly unique and mindbending.  One of these wonderful discoveries that always remind me there's infinitely more great music out there still to be found.

mega / zippy

Monday, 29 January 2018

Ghédalia Tazartès - Tazartès (1987)

Ghedalia Tazartès' fourth album saw his unique sound becoming more streamlined and accessible - but only relative to the all-over-the-map insanity of his first three (see links below - just realised I still have haven't posted his debut, so will put that right soon).

This 1987 release could still hardly be called commercial, despite a modest update to the sound and more discrete, self-contained tracks. Tazartès' singing is still wonderfully weird, and the little idiosyncracies in the background continue to delight, like the funk rhythm loop that gradually fades in towards the end of opener Merci Stéphane.  The album's lyrics include settings of texts by French surrealists Stéphane Mallarmé and René Daumal, as well as words by Gustave Flaubert and even Jacques Cousteau - an esteemed bunch of French legends indeed, which I reckon is entirely appropriate for someone like Tazartès.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG: 
Tazartès' Transports
Une Éclipse Totale de Soleil

Friday, 26 January 2018

Dubravko Detoni With Acezantez - s/t (2000 compilation, rec. 1975-77)

Ansambl Centra za nove tendencije Zagreb were an experimental chamber ensemble formed in 1970 by Croatian composer Dubravko Detoni.  This compilation centres around the sole LP they released together in 1977 - although a smattering of other Detoni releases/VA releases would feature performances with Acezantez, three of which fill out the CD.

The LP (see below) featured two 20-minute pieces, Kitsch Variations and Fable.  The former features the ensemble skronking, plonking and droning away nicely on piano, celesta, harpsichord (Detoni) plus glockenspiel, organ and a variety of wind, brass and string instruments.  I'm not clear on what the composed/improvised ratio was here, but Fable does offer a highly listenable organised chaos with plenty of atmospheric headroom and no-one going on for too long of getting in each other's way.  I'd take a guess then at some sort of basic guide score at least being followed.

Fable is even better, and the definite highlight here for me.  There's much more manipulation of the instruments going on, there's lots of vocal weirdness and odd tape samples in the mix, and the whole thing could definitely pass at a push for some great lost Nurse With Wound track (incidentally, that lettering on the CD cover is credited to one Steven Stapleton).

As mentioned, completing this collection are two tracks from a self-titled 1976 Detoni LP, Grafika VI and Group Gymnastics, and the disc opener Dokument 75 is from an LP called Muzički Biennale Zagreb 1975.  All are worth a listen, especially Grafika's distorted organ drones and Dokument's electronic stabs.  Wish there were a dozen more Acezantez releases - this is one of the most satisying CDs I've bought in ages.  Hugely recommended, if you like this sort of thing.
original LP cover, 1977 (tracks 2 & 3 on CD)
mega / zippy

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Sven Grünberg - OM (1988)

Top-notch 80s synth from Estonia today, with more than a hint of a Vangelis influence.  Sven Grünberg founded Mess, a progressive rock band, in 1974, before going solo in 1980.  This is his second album, and as with almost all Grünberg's music there's a strong conceptual focus on Tibetan Buddhism - he remains involved in an official capacity with Estonia's Buddhist Institute, so you know this is all coming from a place of sincerity rather than an affectation.

Musically, the synthesizers are digital but well utilised, suffusing the whole album with an eerie atmospheric feel and employing just occasional use of a sequencer or an unintrusive rhythm track.  The sound is fleshed out by other little bits of percussion and ethnic instrumentation - is that a koto on Peegeldused (Reflections) that brings China/Bladerunner to mind?  Anyhow, can't recommend this highly enough to anyone who likes Vangelis, and anyone who enjoys drifty, atmospheric synth should definitely give it a go.

mega / zippy

Monday, 22 January 2018

Meredith Monk - Book Of Days (1990)

It was in 1984 that Meredith Monk first conceived of the imagery that would lead to the film Book Of Days - a monochrome scene of a young girl in a medieval Jewish village.  The nonlinear narrative would end up focusing on the girl's strange visions of 20th century life, that she would attempt to explain to her grandfather (see image above), before finding a kindred spirit in a 'madwoman' portrayed by Monk.  Certainly sounds fascinating - anyone out there ever had a chance to watch it?

The soundtrack would feature mostly brief vocal pieces that Monk had been concurrently working on, most of them acapella, occasionally with subtle drone instrumentation from a keyboard, organ, dulcimer, hurdy gurdy or cello.  On completion of the film project, Monk decided to re-record the music from the film, plus some pieces that she hadn't been able to include, and restructure the running order.  The result was this, her fourth album for ECM; intended by Monk and Manfred Eicher to be 'a film for the ears'.

Book Of Days the album remains an oft-cited high point in Meredith Monk's discography, and for good reason.  The preponderance of short acapella pieces really lets her vocal, compositional and vocal arrangement talents shine, and their structure here flows beautifully as an album completely apart from its soundtrack origins.  This is vocal music that sounds truly timeless, notwithstanding the occasional use of a digital keyboard (which actually fits just fine on Churchyard Entertainment and Madwoman's Vision in a Badalamenti-sinister kind of way).  The occasional acoustic instrumentation mentioned earlier perfectly fleshes out the austere vocals too.  A highly recommended jewel of a record.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG: Dolmen Music | Turtle Dreams 

Friday, 19 January 2018

Nurse With Wound - To The Quiet Men From A Tiny Girl (1980)

As mentioned in the previous post, one huge fan of Berrocal's Parallèles was NWW's Steven Stapleton.  The two men first met in France in the late 70s, and again shortly afterwards in London, where Berrocal contributed to the second album that Stapleton's band (still a group at this early stage, although John Fothergill and Heman Pathak's involvement was already diminishing) were recording.

In common with their legendary debut Chance Meeting..., NWW were again obliged (for the last time) to give engineer Nicky Rogers an introductory guest spot on guitar, entitled Umbrella Link.  Other than that, Stapleton's increasing confidence in the studio was already starting to show, in the slowed-down voice and various bits of electronic noise in the early minutes of She Alone Hole And Open, not to mention the various trumpet smears (Berrocal), other odds and ends, and the hammering rhythmic ending.

Ostranenie, named after the Russian art movement and also taking up a full album side, is better still, with the sonic landscape really starting to open out in anticipation of studio fever-dreams like Homotopy To Marie.  Disembodied voices, echoing percussive sounds, a lengthy exploration of a musical box rendition of Schumann's Traumerei, and a straight 90-second lift from John Cage (who was given a "grateful acknowledgement" in the liner notes) all take their turn in haunting the soundscape.  In the latter case, the choppy piano and radio play drop-ins from Credo In Us (the early 70s recording by Ensemble Musica Negativa) sound completely at home in their surroundings.  It's one of those great testaments to Stapleton's developing art and how skillfully he could synthesise his influences.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Jacques Berrocal - Parallèles (1977)

Debut solo album by French avant-gardist and multiple-horn skronker Jac(ques) Berrocal.  This is the one with the original Rock 'N' Roll Station, memorably covered by Nurse With Wound in 1994.  Back in 1976, Berrocal got on his bike (in the studio, to record the sounds of it as an instrument) and left the words to British rock 'n' roll singer Vince Taylor, whose biggest audience had always been in mainland Europe since his 60s peak.  The result, accompanied by a pedaling bass note, was five minutes of surrealist brilliance - 18 years later, Stapleton would even name his album after it.

Elsewhere on Parallèles, there's a sample of the free jazz improvisations on trumpet, trombone, cornet and more that Berrocal and his main collaborators Roger Ferlet and Michel Potage were playing at the time.  One track, Post-Card, adds guitar and a spoken-word part, and was apparently recorded in a pigsty.

Lastly, the side-long Bric-a-Brac (To Russolo) adds some more free-improv acquaintances on cello, bass, piano and several more horns.  Towards the end, that static bassline from Rock 'N' Roll Station comes back in, as do elements of its lyrics, among other things that intrude hilariously into an English-language biographical note of Luigi Russolo.
original LP cover
mega / zippy

Monday, 15 January 2018

Alvin Lucier - Music On A Long Thin Wire (1980)

Double-album of minimal drone magnificence by composer and sound artist Alvin Lucier, b. 1931 in New Hampshire.  A founder member of the Sonic Arts Union collective along with David Behrman, Gordon Mumma and Robert Ashley, a lot of Lucier's work had a strong performance/installation element.  This included amplifying his brainwaves; creating feedback by moving through a performance space; most famously, sitting in a room and looping his voice; and in the late 70s, using a physics/acoustics experiment for the basis of the work in today's post.
performance instructions by Lucier (click to enlarge for readability)
The performance setup is explained by Lucier in the instructions above - so just a quick recap:  A piano wire gets clamped to two tables at either end of a long room (on this recording, the rotunda of US Customs House, Bowling Green NYC, on 10th May 1979), each connected to an amplified sine wave oscillator.  A horseshoe magnet is placed over the wire at one end like a giant eBow, and the resulting oscillations are put through speakers round the room.

On four sides of an album, each from a different part of the day, the visual and participatory aspects of this are of course missing, but the sound is still unique and immersive.  Tiny variations in the drones occur throughout, sometimes breaking into ghostly shapes a la Soliloquy For Lilith, with every slight change in the room's atmosphere and the movements of observers.  If you're in the time and place to completely lose yourself in this for 75 minutes, prepare to be transported.  Drone hypnosis doesn't get much more minimal than this.
original LP cover
mega / zippy

Friday, 12 January 2018

Nils Frahm - Spaces (2013)

In anticipation of the new album he's releasing later this month, here's some more Nils Frahm - previously posted was his solo piano masterpiece The Bells.  Two tracks from that album get nicely fleshed out on this patchwork-style live release (one of them tripling in length), and there's lots more to be amazed by across the 76 minutes of Spaces.  This album was my introduction to Frahm at full tilt, blending synth sequences with lightning-fingered piano improvisations and further electronic manipulation on the fly.

Occasionally this seat-of-the-pants approach doesn't take off.  It's actually to Frahm's credit (and indicative of his self-deprecating sense of humour - the sleevenotes are essential reading!) that he not only leaves in one of these failed experiments, but opens the album with it, giving a nice little snapshot of his developing craft.  When he gets into the groove though, Frahm is utterly electrifying.  Nowhere is this better displayed than on the epic medley of For-Peter-Toilet Brushes-More, which takes the third part of its title from the household objects that Frahm beats the piano strings with.  And yes, as live footage I've seen can attest, they were fresh-out-of-the-wrapper brushes.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Klaus Hinrich Stahmer - Klanglabyrinthe (1992)

Five works spanning 1982-1992 are presented on this collection by German composer Klaus Hinrich Stahmer, b. 1941 in Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland).  Fascinated by mathematics, symmetry and geometry as well as sculpture and mythology, Stahmer's music gets explained in very dry detail in the booklet of this CD, which almost put me off.  Fortunately, there's plenty of interesting sounds to listen to at face value, which is what I always prefer to do (and write about).

Case in point would be the 17 minutes of Der Stoff, aus dem die Stille ist (1990) - if I listened to this blind, I'd probably just assume it was an environmental recording by a stream or river.  It was pretty enjoyable on those terms, without needing to know how minutely planned all the water-droplet harmonic frequencies and their timing intervals were (this part was all modulated by computer).  But hey, it is kind of fascinating that someone would impose so much structure into a recording of some... water.

Musically, my favourite piece here was Kristalgitter (1992), for computer-manipulated string quartet and the striking of stone sculptures.  The end result sounds to my ears like an early Stephan Micus recording overlaid with a less refined (check that distortion near the start!) version of Kaija Saairaho in string quartet mode.  This is followed by Labyrinth I/II (1989), with more Micus-esque stone music - this time the performers rubbed their wet hands on to granite blocks that had been cut with fine toothcomb-like grooves.  The resulting swishing sounds and resonant frequencies are manipulated by computer into a hypnotic dronescape.  A collection for repeat listenings, definitely.  The other two pieces are Ariadne's Thread, for contrabass flute and percussion, and a brief harmonica canon piece dedicated to John Cage.

mega / zippy

Monday, 8 January 2018

Thomas Dinger - Für Mich (1982)

A real wintry favourite today - this is the album I grab at the first sign of snow.  Für Mich was the solo project of younger Dinger brother Thomas (1952-2002), and as its title suggested the album came from Thomas' desire to record music that sounded exactly the way he wanted it, away from the artistic dominance of his brother and collaborator Klaus.

Fellow La Düsseldorf drummer Hans Lampe stayed on board to help produce the resulting album, which was entirely instrumental and much more introspective than the music their main band had become known for.  In the three main tracks, the same basic chord sequence (a variant on Thomas' La Düsseldorf track Tintarella Di) gets cast in three different lights - a pretty mid-tempo waltz, a rocked up blast and a slowed-to-a-crawl synth epic.

Aside from the propulsive Für Dich, the motorik beat of La Düsseldorf gets switched out here and 3/4 time dominates, suffusing the album with a kind of sentimental melancholy, especially on the layers of keyboards that build throughout opening track Ballgeflüster and on the stark Alleewalzer.  The longest track here, E-605, appears to a glacially-developing duet for synths and a lonesome dog howl - depending on your mood this can either be affecting or irritating.  I love it.  This, and all the other odd little sounds scattered around the album, are just part of what makes it exactly the album Thomas wanted to make, "für mich".

mega / zippy

Friday, 5 January 2018

Eberhard Weber - Fluid Rustle (1979)

Haven't posted an Eberhard Weber solo album yet, so it's long overdue to rectify.  This is my absolute favourite, in which the instantly recognisable upright-electric bassist pared back his unique music to just bass, vibes/marimba (Gary Burton), guitar/balalaika (Bill Frisell), and two vocalists (Norma Winstone and Bonnie Herman) adding wordless magic.

Making his ECM debut after being discovered by Weber on tour, Frisell is tentative and understated here - to a fault, in his own retrospective analysis, but his minimalist volume swells and gentle arpeggios are perfectly placed on this winter's morning walk of an album.  The side-long Quiet Departures starts off with Frisell in this zone, accompanied by Burton, before the bass and voices enter.  By the halfway mark, this pre-dawn chill has started to see some sunlight, as Frisell strums an open chord on the balalaika (with a more energetic lead guitar overdubbed), and the voices set off on a gorgeous melodic progression.

The sunlight continues to burst through on the title track, with Winstone and Herman in full voice as Burton and Weber sparkle all around them, before another subtle, fluid solo from Frisell.  The rest of the album turns colder and more desolate, with a plaintive Burton solo providing the centrepiece of A Pale Smile, and the closing Visible Thoughts ending the day back in the wintry dark as the voices turn into eerie whispers.  A highly, highly recommended standout album in Weber's peerless catalogue.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Rheingold - s/t (1980)

Debut album by Neue Deutsche Welle legends Rheingold, who took their name from the luxury Trans-Europe Express train that always passed through Bodo Staiger's native Düsseldorf.  As mentioned in the previous post, Staiger had played guitar on the 1977 second album by Lilac Angels, rock n' rollers formed out of Klaus Dinger's brief attempt at becoming some sort of svengali.

Staiger did become a fan of La Düsseldorf, and it shows in the sound of this album.  In fact, if I had to describe Rheingold in one sentence, it would be to imagine La Düsseldorf had been fronted by Michael Rother rather than Dinger: the propulsive energy is there (check Internationale) but a lot of the guitar tones are softer, cleaner and overall much closer in melodic sensibility to late 70s Rother.  This shows up most in the album's five instrumental tracks.  There's a bit of a Neu! influence too (is it just me, or does the outro on Pirata sound uncannily like the intro to Hero?).

Lyrics are all in German, other than the sweet ballad Rendezvous which is tri-lingual and also gives a vocal spotlight to keyboard player Brigitte Kunze.  To make a bigger impact outwith Germany, Rheingold went on to release English-language versions of the two big singles here, Fluss/River and Dreiklangs-Dimensionen/Triad Dimensions.  The latter is probably still this group's best moment, sounding like Kraftwerk with a muscular rhythm guitar added.

mega / zippy

Monday, 1 January 2018

Klaus Dinger + Rheinita Bella Düsseldorf ‎- Néondian (1985)

Happy New Year everyone!  Since I seem to have established a tradition of starting the year (and marking the anniversary of this blog) with a Klaus Dinger album, let's keep that going.  Néondian, which was intended as the fourth La Düsseldorf album, saw Dinger up against the adversities of falling out with his brother Thomas and La D. third member Hans Lampe - creatively, contractually and personally - to the point where he was blocked from using the band name.

The solution was 'Klaus Dinger + Rheinita Bella Düsseldorf ' - cheekily keeping the band name tucked away alongside the name of their biggest hit to help with public recognition, and a new set of musicians accompanying Dinger on the most electronic, and most polemical (at least until first album La! NEU?), music of his career.
Néondian first came my way via the 1995 Captain Trip reissue, onto which Dinger had daubed further ownership of the album on to its cover in his inimitable style of the time.  Mon Amour - which would've been the title track had the original concept worked out as planned - was one of those opening tracks I kept on repeat for months on end.  Jaki Liebezeit guests on drums, as Dinger unfolds one of his most majestic instrumental tracks.

As mentioned above, this album saw Dinger at his most acerbic and politicised, taking shots at German society and his contemporaries (Pipi AA) and at US foreign policy (America).  Your mileage may vary as to whether setting diatribes like these (and an update of Cha Cha 2000) to bouncy synthpop was the best idea - I still feel that the other tracks, either instrumental or mostly-instrumental, work much better.  The best thing about America might be the guest slide guitar from Bodo Staiger, who had briefly been a member of  70s Dinger protégés Lilac Angels - more from him later this week.

For a fuller review of Néondian, see this one that I wrote for Julian Cope's Head Heritage about 14 years ago.  It makes me cringe a bit now - the general tone of reviews on that site (not least Cope's) was infectious on me in a way that now feels like pretense, and it's waaay long (FFS, do some Uni work, stop sitting in the library writing album reviews!), but hey ho.  The urls I mention are unfortunately dead.

mega / zippy
In 2006, Warner Germany rounded off a much-needed reissue programme of the first three La Düsseldorf albums with this - a re-arranged version of Néondian finally given its original 'Mon Amour' title.  Still legally prevented by Lampe from using the band name (the contentiousness of this whole reissue in fact saw it deleted within a year, although an LP pressing did appear very recently), Dinger's workaround this time was to officially credit the album to ''.  The remastering may be a slight improvement on the Captain Trip CD, according to taste.

The 're-arranged' running order saw America and Pipi AA trading places, Jag Älskar Dig promoted to the first half of the album, and the addition of three bonus tracks.  Two of these are from the last proper La Düsseldorf release, a 12" that appeared in 1983 - I say 'proper', they're not even band tracks - Ich Liebe Dich was a solo track by Klaus that became Jag Älskar Dig on Néondian with minimal tweaking (if any), and the dark and quirky Koksknödel was a solo track by Thomas Dinger - more from him next week.

Lastly, Geld 2006 (Internet Warm-Up Version) was a trailer for the release of 'Viva 2010', a reworking of La Düsseldorf's second album, with the Japanese-German musicians with whom Dinger spent his final years.  I can remember Dinger's old website first claiming that 'Viva 2000' was imminent for release, then it was to be 'Viva 2004' - it didn't appear in 2010 either, likely due to Dinger's recent death.  His heiress Miki Yui, responsible for the two Japandorf releases, is apparently still planning to release the 2000s Viva at some point.  Hopefully the finished Geld was a step up from the demo here, in which they (with guest Herbert Grönemeyer) largely seem to be singing over the original 1978 track with the addition of some Japandorf-era guitar.  Who knows when we'll find out.

mega / zippy