Sunday, 13 November 2011

Der Prozess

'Somebody must have made a false accusation against Josef K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong.'

In response to such absurdity I present Somebody must have made a false accusation against Josef K..., an hour of ambient music.

Download: Somebody must have made a false accusation against Josef K...

1. mark mcguire emergency exit
2. novisad sommersonnenschen
3. pass into silence big and small waves
4. clem leek at the mercy of the waves
5. gas pop
6. elluvium ogives redistributed
7. raphael anton irisarri voigt kampff
8. angelo badalementi nostalgia
9. rene hell adagio for string portrait
10. jurgen paape ein schone land
11. oneohtrix point never adagio in g minor
12. ulf lohmann on frozen fields
13. brian eno chamber lightness
14. chihei hatakeyama mirror
15. a winged victory for the sullen all farewells are sudden
16. morton feldman palais de mari
17. the caretaker the sublime is disappointingly elusive

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

House, Hipster House & Underground House

blissblog speaks more on hipster house versus 'House' proper, and the problems with nostalgia for- and exclusion from- a music culture very much alive and well. This is a good point, and worth elaborating: hasn't there always been a kind of hipster house, an 'underground' house standing apart from the mainstream? Or has this current branded hipster house sprung up from an absence of underground house, as a reaction to the subsuming of underground house by the mainstream? I'm thinking of the likes of Kassem Mosse in RA charts, of the Amsterdam House of Clone and Rush Hour becoming a universally known and respected style, of FXHE and Underground Quality high-ranked staples of Juno and Beatport, Jamal Moss' big feature in The Wire...

But it's also that the leveling has occurred from both sides. What exactly is mainstream house music these days? Is it RA's most charted track for October, Miguel Campbell's 'Something Special'? And how different essentially is this from the Dial, Workshop, 100% Silk etc. catalogs? Maybe its all in the intent, but any notion of distinction seems pretty flimsy.

... Also, given the major focus hipster house has received from blogs, websites, etc who don't usually engage with dance music, has hipster house eclipsed both underground and mainstream house to become bigger, more mainstream than them all? Isn't the notion of indie kids dabbling in beats, divorced from mainstream dance culture, all too close to the new rave of Klaxons? With its lazy appropriation of vintage Chicago tropes cloaked in ironic low-fi credibility, it's acceptable for indie kids to listen to hipster house as it's not officially dance music (Note that that description also pretty much applies to the Mathematics catalog which is 100% dance music).

This doesn't work as such the other way around. Blissblog mentions the suspicion that 'hipster house = people whose productions wouldn't cut it on a contemporary dancefloor', but there's plenty of interest in hipster house from mainstream quarters - LWE's 100% Silk Talking Shopcast; Sex Worker in Scuba's DJ Kicks mix; Blondes praised by Detroit-Chicago authenticity purists Blowing Up Your Spot...

But doesn't everyone listen to everything and anything these days?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Year of House 2000

Re: Simon Reynolds' recent posit of 2011 being a big house year:
is 2011 house's biggest year internationally since 1989-90 or whenever it was crystal waters was in the US top 10?

This is in reference to the myriad house genres and subgenres presently blossoming, from the various 'hipster house' sprouts of the 100% Silk-ilk and post-dubstep angles, to the house-y standard of established-underground generic minimal tech-house, to the dominance of house within contemporary chart pop. A quick scan of the FM dial confirms the latter, at least here in Australia, and given our complete reliance on following the trends of others and with it a complete inability to start trends of our own, I'll take this as evidence of conditions in the UK and US.
(*I'm always surprised at how much chart pop-house I enjoy - it's as though they understand certain underground traits better than the underground do, and with their mainstream musical proficiency and knack for using highfalutin' equipment, blow them up to absurd but nonetheless functional proportions)

This reminded me of chart music in 2000-2001, the year I first came to London, where everywhere I went I heard commercial house that I openly enjoyed. I'm not sure how then compares with now, but there seemed to be a lot of house in the air, and most of it fucking great. The following were inescapable:

Spiller feat. Sophie-Ellis Bextor 'Groovejet' - a friend of mine used to date her, apparently

French Touch maintained a gentle caress on the charts - Modjo's 'Lady'

... and Daft Punk 'One More Time' - their biggest hit

Black Legend 'You See The trouble With Me' - re-do of Barry White and Ray 'Ghostbusters' Parker Junior

Kylie Minogue 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head' of 2001, which put her in Madame Tussauds as the attraction's most fondled exhibit requiring an 'anal makeover'

Chicane 'Don't Give Up', featuring a vocodered Bryan Adams

Sonique 'It Feels So Good'

Fragma 'Toca's Miracle' - mash-up featuring vocal from Coco Star's 'I Need a Miracle'

Madison Avenue 'Don't Call me Baby' - Australian surprisingly, actually from late 1999 but it lingered

But it all ended with this. The inevitable conclusion of house, popular music and seasonal festivities?

2000 was also a turning point in music, with Napster contributing to a decline in sales, leading to singles spending less time at the summit. 2000 still holds the record for the year with most #1 singles in a calendar year (43) and also contains the longest run of consecutive one-week #1 singles. We know how it ended - the strange swill of flotsam and jetsam that defines contemporary music and listening habits.

Minimal Piano: Robert Haigh and Machinefabriek's Sol Sketches

Minimal piano albums by 'home-listening' composers are a dime a dozen and usually dull as dishwater, but so inoffensive, calm and polite as to make antagonism seem unnecessarily harsh. Nonetheless it is easy, lazy and indulgent music, and itself largely unnecessary when there's so much old music to discover and rediscover. Given the vast volume of the stuff being churned out, I'm not alone in finding minimal piano music particularly enjoyable.
One such artist I've only just been made aware of is Robert Haigh. He's a firm Satie devotee, borrowing liberally in places, but respectfully, and only the most 'Satie-esque' stuff - those modal suspended patterns that define the Gnossiennes and Gympnopedies (No one seems brave enough to take on the late-Satie of Parade or Socrate).

So it's certainly lite, but never pathetic, and successfully avoids any George Winston new-agey Muzac comparisons, just. Apparently his 1980s releases are where it's at, but those from 2008-, such as Written on Water and last year's gorgeous Anonymous Lights show a return to form. Just avoid those in between, as he slathered awkward breakbeats over them and called himself The Omni Trio.

Machinefabriek's Rutger Zuydervelt demonstrates his knack for acoustic simplicity with Sol Sketches, a series of supremely reduced piano miniatures released in advance of the documentary film on artist Sol LeWitt they soundtrack. Zuydervelt looks to Morton Feldman and specifically Ligeti's infuriating Musica Ricercata, basing each sketch on mere handfuls of notes, with subtle processing allowing notes to continue to sound long beyond their usual decay. This gives them a form analogous to Akira Rabelais' Satie and Bartok deconstructions Eisoptrophobia, or Jonathan Coleclough's excellent Period, but Zydervelt is purer still. Even those pieces most reliant on processing, droning strings humming beneath slow, sparse triads, retain a minimalist purity absent from all but the most refined compositions, like Arvo Part recorded in an anechoic chamber. Those with some cash to spare ought to shell out for the limited 4 x 10" vinyl release + bonus eraser, as the artwork matches the beauty of the sounds.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Ruckverzauberung 4

I'm surprised at the lack of attention that has been paid to Wolfgang Voigt's latest ambient project Ruckverzauberung, especially given its similarities to, and expansion beyond, his universally praised Gas productions. Only two tracks have been released thus far: the typically-functionally-titled 'Ruckverzauberung 1' and 'Ruckverzauberung 2', the former on Pop Ambient 2011, the latter the A-side to Profan 34. Both are sonically dense, texturally rich, heavily processed treatments of classical music fragments, inviting close listening and further scrutiny. '1' is calmer and more peaceful, while '2' is dark and foreboding, employing warbled tones reminiscent of Oneohtrix Point Never. Here's '2':

So like Gas then, only here the gaseous element is largely absent, replaced with cleaner lines and more discernible source material, and in place of the surging drone we have shifting fragments and a greater sense of linear development. Certain patterns are repeated, shot through with delay and reverb, and then retreat, like motifs in classical composition. There is also a more overt focus on electronic timbres, bringing a sharpness entirely absent from Gas and also his work as All, which adds an element of menace more closely associated with the soundtracks of John Carpenter and Alan Howarth. There's none of the sheer aural bliss that oozes from parts of Konigsforst, Pop or Alltag 1-4.

Ruckverzauberung is clearly a significant work for Voigt as it's soon to be released in a limited art edition LP-sized double CD with Kafkatrax, an awkward format and pairing to be sure.

The latter though is good, prompting reviews in two subsequent issues of The Wire, with my take for Cyclic here. Appropriately confused videos by 29Nov to these too:

I wonder whether Kafkatrax get much play for the floor out at clubs? Figure it could work well within your contemporary dark Techno set a la Berghain etc. Does Voigt perform them? I'm still longing for the tranced-up version of Roxy's 'More Than This' he played with Jorg Burger back in 2008 at the Millenium Dome. What a song! Settle for this rendition in the meantime:

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Annual Eighties Compilations

Like most of my vintage I grew up on 1980s pop compilations, and you can pick them up pretty easily in charity shops nowadays on both LP and cassette. Doubtless the latter graces all manner of low-fi synthesist-hypnagogues shelves and car glove compartments, but I opt for the vinyl. I found some beauties yesterday in the Moonee Ponds Arthritus Foundation Op Shop: 1980 The Summer and 1985 Comes Alive - $1 a piece.
The former demonstrates that they hadn't quite nailed the rhyming title theme yet, and the track selection is more slapdash, with MOR folk-rock alongside what-would-become the established synth-pop norm, and plenty of utter bilge: John Farnham's 'Help' chief among these. Worth mentioning for non-antipodeans oblivious to his unique brand of grandma-appealing dross. Youtube features dozens of clips of Farnsey performing this, which I thought bizarre, until I recalled seeing dozens of performances myself on telly, usually on Hey Hey It's Saturday:

But the hits hit hard. Diana Ross's 'Upside Down' is surely among the grooviest tracks ever made, and I'd bought more than one Best Of searching for it in vain, settling for early greats like 'Reflections' and 'Love Child'. Here she is in 1980 with doppelganger Michael Jackson:

Good but inferior version by Carol Cool, from Soul Jazz's Hustle! Reggae Disco comp:

Also features Korgi's easy one-hit favourite 'Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime', this clip a slightly warped video take:

Popularised for modern types by The Field:

'Let's Get Serious' by 'lesser' Jackson Jermaine:

By 1985 the genre of annual pop compilations was firmly established and 1985 Comes Alive is among the finest examples. Synth pop was pop music's lingua franca, and artists were adept at injecting real emotional weight into three minute throwaway ditties. I picked it up for Murray Head's 'One Night in Bangkok' (discussed below), rightly critiqued by Floatinghead for it's Middle Eastern fetish(?!), and what's with all the chess references??? I've clearly not paid attention to all the lyrics, perhaps there's a story there? But each time I'm sucked in by those eerie synth shudders and I'm overtaken with weird eighties pop bliss.

The same confused euphoria is derived from these babies:

Didn't realise this featured Moroder, but after watching the film again last week it's obvious:

Th rest is more humdrum - Huey Lewis, Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, U2 for fuck's sake, the nadir being this big-downunder comedy blip from Cuban-born Jewish Romanian George Smilovici:

I also bought the 12" single for Rick Astley's 'Never Gonna Give You Up' which features the instrumental version on the flip. Many claim to hate this song but 39 million youtube views say otherwise. Right after paying for it I entered Moonee Ponds Shopping Mall and what was to come on the muzak channel but...

Am I alone in succumbing to delusions of solipsism when coincidences of this nature take place?

Dropped Pianos

Good to see Tim Hecker deliving further into the material of Rave Death 1972 with Dropped Pianos, which extends the opening 'Piano Drop' into 9 bleaker, more reduced sketches, literally titled such. There's the granular smear of yore, but with mournful piano patterns featured there's a stronger similarity to Leyland Kirby. Nothing on YouTube yet (give it time...) but here's the original 'Piano Drop':

... Which, given the '1972' in the original album title, could be a reference to 'MIT's first piano drop, 1972', now an annual tradition. This footage ends with very famous piano noise indeed:

Here it is again in 2009 (no 2011 yet, and more interesting than the 2010 footage):

Nothing new in destroying pianos, here 'Fluxus artists' destroy one - look like dickheads to me:

This was more interesting - performance art on Northern Exposure, when Chris flung Maggie's piano:

Pranks from annoying idiots on telly. Premise is almost interesting:

And a round piano - Christian Marclay's Pianorama at London's Roundhouse, featuring the hands of Steve Beresford:

I once had a piano I bought for a pittance in Japan and made a drunken racket with Onkyo koto player Brett Larner, dancing on the keys, jumping on the lid, kicking it. Here's Brett playing with Ko Ishikawa and Ellen Fullman in Shinjuku in 2005:

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Bangkok Thrills

As a positive flip to the whinge over Andres' Jackson mixes, Mark Knight's glitzy tech-house jam on Murray Head's eighties pop smash 'One Night In Bangkok', 'Devil Walking', is a stunner. Who cares if it relies entirely on obvious drops and tropes, it works wonders and I unashamedly love it:

The original was one of those songs that wriggled deep into the pleasure circuits of my 9 year old brain and begged repeat plays:

... like Dave Dobyn's 'Slice of Heaven' theme tune to the Footrot Flats film (yeesh!) and apparently considered New Zealand's 'alternative national anthem'. Did anyone beyond the antipodes catch this?

To try and come full circle, from the Murray Head of the above classic (actually British) to Murray appearing to be a classic New Zealand name: Murray Ball being the creator of Footrot Flats, and the classic Murray Hewitt of Flight of the Concords:

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Ambient 7

Just discovered Eno's Shutov Assembly from 1992, apparently his 'Ambient 7'. What happened to 5 and 6? Anyway, it's wonderful, exactly what my sleep-deprived nerves need right now. Dedicated to Russian artist Sergei Shutov, of which the image above resemble Picabia's multiple image paitings.

The music is reminiscent of a stripped back On Land, with fewer threatening gestures, although threat never seems far away.

Highlight is the 16 minute 'Ikebukuro' - props to Eno for finding such beauty in that rat infested consumer cesspit, although the slow-motion flapping of wings could represent the crows that come out in the early hours to eat the shit the rats left behind.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

100% Silk

The charming Amanda Brown at 100% Silk has kindly linked to my $2,000 Leaking Oil Mix, which I thought she might enjoy after listening to a slew of Silk records I bought. They're doozies (the Silk records), a breath of fresh air in the often mirthless world of contemporary house music. Someone likened Silk productions to Omar-S meeting Mathematics, but they're warmer and more approachable than even that enticing description suggests.

I've already spoken highly of Octa Octa's 'I'm Trying', but the title track 'Let Me See You'

OCTO OCTA - HIGH REFLECTION teaser from 100% Silk on Vimeo.

... and 'High Reflection' are also tops

Maria Minerva showcases the mustier Not Not Fun side:

And Ital seems to be making the greatest strides into the wider dance music world, with Wire and LWE reviews, which when you hear these is no surprise

And with videos like this he'll keep the hypnagogs happy

Italo's clearly an influence, and not just on Ital, and this clip he highlighted is utterly supoib. It also shows just how little we've progressed, but then why should we need to?

At 2008's Dissonanze festival I shared a cab with Alexander Robotnik and Daniele Baldelli (!) after they finished killing it on the rooftop stage overlooking Rome. I took the front seat and listened to them talk about how they play Italo to get the ladies, and how minimal doesn't so they don't like it. Fair enough - here's a nod to these masters

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Country Sewing

Spent the other night playing Country & Western records while the missus sewed some clothes for the lil' 'uns, it seemed an appropriate soundtrack. So, here is 'Country Sewing' - a bit over an hour of C&W gold from the fifties, sixties and seventies. Tracklist to come, but expect the usual suspects: George Jones, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Wanda Jackson, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn... Songs are short, so there's plenty in there.

C&W is love or hate music, but skeptics could learn a thing or two from prime country production. There's a great sense of stereo space to these recordings, and a crispness brought about by an economic use of instrumentation. The lyrics are all cliched, but what cliches! Plus, what genre today isn't completely reliant on cliche. I might be spreading myself thin with this mix, but I don't care - I'm proud to like both kinds of music.

Download: Country Sewing

Here's some of what you'll find:

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

As We Rock On, and on, and on...

Reading about Andres' Michael Jackson deep house edits got me very excited, but the results are so deep house-lite it's a blatant denial of all the seething emotion, sweat and invention present in the originals. As basic deep house tools they're pleasant and functional and chilled as the tamest examples of the genre demand, but their basis in the Jones/Jackson originals is baffling.

I was hoping to get my daughter excited by these babies, but she'll certainly be bored and like me disappointed. How much - of everything, audible and beyond - has been lost from 'Rock With You' to 'As We Rock On'? Furthermore, with its slow sensual pace, wispy synth solos and subdued strings, wasn't 'Rock with You' a kind of dreamy proto-deep house anyway?

As we rock on indeed, comatose, numb, too jaded by overexposure to everything to reach those previous peaks of excitement or, heck, ecstasy. Andres' spin on 'Blame it on the Boogie' is marginally better, more stuttered and distanced, but it too suffers from the same ills.

Perhaps Andres is telling us something with these, critiquing current music malaise, that the Jones/Jackson pop pinnacle of Off The Wall and Thriller can never be equalled, let alone topped, and it's all mourning from here. And if so, deep house is the language to use for this, mired within a dance music structure of resignation, defeat and depression, the music actually most well suited to Jackon's 'Thriller' zombie dance. I doubt it though, this sounds too cosily genrefied, too subservient, in thrall even, to the laziest of deep house tropes.

Monday, 19 September 2011

House House House

Forgetting novelty for a moment here's some great newish House:

Kassem Mosse's return to Nonplus features the scorching A-side 'Enoha' alongside three of his more experimental rhythmic cuts. Structure and tones are reminiscent of the Omar-S-impressing '578' but 'Enoha' is more reduced and downbeat

Mark Ernestus refines and polishes Basic Channels linear drive on his Shangaan remix for Honest Jon's

Slow squelchy throb from Gunnar Jonsson of Kontra Musik Records

UK Funky diehards Funkystepz keep the flag flying with 'Face Off', four kooky but eminently workable tracks

'Get Down' is your standard high-quality looped disco flange mantra from Kyle Hall, of which the non-youtubed B-Side 'Xero' is more interesting, a gorgeously sloppy instrumental chugger which keeps dying, then reviving, dying, reviving...

I've spoken of my fondness for Jared Wilson's 'Girl I'm Waiting' before but the A-Side is also a winner, more primitive and Chicago obsessed but also more gnarled and nasty

Mind Bomb beat me to the punch with praise for 100% Silk (and Johnny Turncoat dubstep traitors) but more praise is deserving. I'd previously felt ambivalent about the label's more Not Not Fun leaning releases, those cloaked in delay and fuzz, but the latest by Octa Octa is crisp and incredible, all four tracks utter killers. 'I'm Trying' is the winner

... which samples Amerie's mindblowing '1 Thing', a hit at a cheesy New Years Eve party I once held

Earlier came Ital's incredible 'Queens'

... and Magic Touch with the lovely rough-hewn Chicago of 'Clubhouse'

I could go on...

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Sonic Fatigue and the Craving for Clarity

As many commentators have cautioned, (myself included), contemporary digital listening practices can be hazardous to your musical health. Recent voracious downloading of much intriguing youthful new music has resulted in intense aural fatigue, and an inability to process complete recordings - even single tracks. I'd say that it's the process that's chiefly responsible, overenthusiastic press hype and promo is partly to blame, but the music itself is responsible for its own effects.

Consequently I'm suffering an exhaustion with all things fresh, young and hip - synths, arpeggios, delay, haze, pastiche, irony, the know-it-all jaded world-weariness pervading Altered Zones; all the clued-up wide-arc influence and diverse underground sampladelica with the ceaseless winking chummy irony, and the get-out-of-jail-free card of crackle, surface noise and washed out shoegaze moire obscuring all obscure reference and contemporising all dated source material... it's made me feel tired, and old. The latter particularly in this old-man need craving for cleaner, purer, and more earnest music. And this is what's hit the spot:

Bernard Gunther: Time Dreaming Itself (Trente Oisseaux)
Pristine lowercase drones. Nothing on youtube but this is comparable:

Morton Feldman: Palais de Mari
Just piano, and silence.

Buck Owens: Hello Trouble
Shimmering Bakersfield country. Ironic too but not arrogant - speaks to its audience, not down to them. And such an ordered, finished product.

But there's only so much pleasure to be had in historic cleanliness. I'll get to grips with what the kids are up to and speak of modern things later...

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Bellows make some of the filthiest music around. Grime in the lowercase sense: grey, murky, dusty muck - utterly gorgeous.

The project of Giuseppe Ielasi, whose Stunt recordings explored similar terrain, and Nicola Ratti, Bellows music is made by manually cutting and manipulating vinyl, capturing this live on a Revox tape recorder - like Thomas Brinkmann's Klick meeting Philip Jeck, with more grit.

Their LP originally came out on Alga Marghen, the perfect home - they don't even have a website!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Peter Kersten Appreciation

The previous post on Lawrence's Timeless was not intended as a criticism of the work itself or of his mixing and selection, both of which were rather good, but of the medium itself. Mix CDs are dead, time to shovel on the dirt, Timeless it 'aint.

The twelve inch vinyl record however lives on, and stronger than it's been in a long while. Since wifey and I have started our exclusive listening practice I've been buying more of it, and am especially keen on the archival mystery and bargains to be had in secondhand shops. Beyond the classical dregs you can occasionally find cheapish house and techno nowadays, a sure sign that it's grown old and crusty. Nothing looks worse than old dated house and techno records (aside from progressive house and trance ones, and Nana Mouskouri), but the good stuff still looks good, and its interesting what has aged gracefully (and what hasn't).

Peter Kersten's Sten alias offered a harder, more Detroit angled techno version of the Lawrence sound, more bleeps and less chimes and crackle, but retains the same downbeat gloom. I reviewed his Essence LP for RA some moons ago and was largely unimpressed, but I've found a couple of 12"s for $5 or less and they're great. A slightly dated mnml structure but the drums are far from. 'Sponk' is quite agressive, with gruff Auftrieb-esque pulses along with the typical sinuous linearity:

Also picked up Restless/Frost:

His best track however is 'Faces' from 2004's badly titled and patchy Sender comp, Receiving Data... Ah It's Coming!, a dark pseudo acid Detroit stomper:

I thought that was it for Sten, but he returns on the forthcoming Laid release Never As Always with two dubs of Lawrence's 'Rise', a staple of recent Carsten Jost sets.

But Lawrence has really been pumping out the quality of late, for Smallville, Laid, Dial and Mule Electronic, my pick of which is 'Treacle Mine' from Dial's 2010, with that staggered cascading thirds offbeat thing going:

Lawrence tracks, and indeed much of the Hamburg bunch, epitomise the kind of subdued, downbeat and cosy deep house I love right now, a kind of comforting sound, almost ambient, files nicely alongside Terre.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Timeliness of Mix CDs

Lawrence of Hamburg has released a mix CD - yup - on Sven "a-pill-an-hour-keeps-Sven-at-full-power" Vath's Cocoon label. Entitled Timeless and filled with plenty of classics (Aril Brikha, Delano Smith, Plaid) and fresh(ish) contributions from Lawrence's Dial/Laid/Smallville chums (Isolee, Pigon, Smallpeople and Rau), it's a hark back to the glory days of mix CDs, particularly those released by Kompakt.

The title alone is more than a subtle nod to Michael Mayer's timeless mix Immer ('Always'), and the tracklist, mood and pace all recall mix CDs by Mayer, Tobias Thomas and Triple R. Most of the tracks are great, mixing is tight, and the flow effortless, but why does it sound so boring? There's something constrained, preordained and squashed about it, such that it sounds almost lifeless. Maybe this is the only way forward for mix CDs, a closed, flat, tightly mastered product, based closely on the medium's turn-of-the-century prime. How else can they compete with podcasts?

That said it's probably the sort of mix I dream of making, given the number of tracks off it I own, but mine 'come alive' with all that sloppy mixing, dirty records and hiss.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


As a corrective to the disarmingly soothing tones of Kyle Bobby Dunn I felt the need to point to a gutsier example of contemporary electronic music that has recently impressed, baffled, and frightened, but mostly baffled.

Florian Hecker's Speculative Solution sonically explores ideas expressed in current philosophical 'movement' speculative realism. I'm not sure how well the keening shards and pointillist scatter of Hecker's crisp computer noise is intended to demonstrate speculative realism's theories, whether its a hoax, whether a hoax IS an expression of speculative realism, or some combination of the above. The concepts underlying speculative realism are summarised by Mark Fisher as a reaction against the 'naïve realism' dominating current continental philosophical thought, 'the view that the world is just as it appears to us'. Fisher goes further here for Frieze, discussing some of speculative realism's major strands in a report from the 2009 ‘Speculative Realism and Speculative Materialism’ conference in Bristol.

Instead, the speculative realists each opened up a weird world, foreign to human experience and commonsense. Returning to Descartes, Meillassoux maintained that the real is what can be rendered as mathematical symbols. Harman’s ‘object-oriented metaphysics’... argued that the world is made up of ‘entities with specific qualities, autonomous from us and from each other’; Grant’s ‘nature philosophy’... sees nature as a ceaselessly productive machine, throwing out particular bodies only as the visible side effect of a perpetual, invisible mutation; while Brassier’s pulverising equivalence of scientific naturalism with nihilism was made in Nihil Unbound(2007)

Whether you examine the music in relation to these ideas or otherwise (which chimes with aspects of speculative realism's cold indifference), there's plenty here to intrigue, and it's a welcome alternative to all that youthful impulsive synth jizz flooding the ether. For the most part this is cold, dissonant, rapidly fluctuating sheets / pricks / blocks of sound, united by an unfeeling and chaotically-controlled hand. What initially surprises is the clearly ordered repetition that springs up, most notably in 'Octave Chronics', perhaps explained by the following in the notes:

With ‘Speculative Solution’ Hecker proposes that the concepts of absolute contingency and hyperchaos offer a rigorous new alternative to the employment of chance and randomness in avant-garde composition.

Sample: Octave Chronics

This is a powerful piece, and its luminous immediacy offers a welcome hook after the preceding apparent disorder. Here Hecker sounds like Mark Fell's Multistability, which further makes it possible to hear Hecker alongside contemporary electronic noisemakers like Keith Fullterton Whitman or even Surgeon. Here how it fits within this context on snd's mix for FACT.

Good review of Speculative Solution for Braiwashed here and check out samples below, and scour the internet for more on the thoughts behind it.

Sample: Speculative Solution 1 (excerpt 1)

Sample: Speculative Solution 1 (excerpt 2)

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Out on a Limb, 2

I've only got two albums to speak highly of for 2011, for now anyways, as I realise I've spent most of my time really enjoying old classical vinyl (yawn), polished genre music or reissues. The year's been great for the latter - John Beltran's Ambient Selections, Soul Jazz's Mysteron Killer Sounds, <i>Gene Hunt Presents Chicago Dance Tracks, with plenty of good House genre work from Workshop, Omar-S, Roman Flugel, Morphosis and plenty others. But adventure is hard to do, which is why these impressed:

Surgeon: Breaking the Frame
Much contemporary techno leaves me cold, particularly when heard in non-club contexts (all my listening these days). Its general lack of melody and reliance on more physical properties - volume, textural density and sheer thrust - make for lackluster listening through headphones. But Surgeon's latest was astounding, particularly the beatless tracks - my focus here. By channeling the surge of Whitehouse Noise and Alice Coltrane Free-Jazz Spirituality into vast, multilayered throbs Surgeon has created a kind of rhythm-less dance music, and proposed a new(ish) direction for techno producers/DJs to explore. Like much of the zeitgeist it works by ferreting about with existing music (A Coltrane, Whitehouse) but the result in tracks like 'Presence' and 'We Are Already Here' remains firmly Techno despite the absence of drums. Mind Bomb noticed something peculiar about the physical record too:
One is that the vinyl version beginsinside the run-in groove, especially for the techno track “The Power of Doubt” suggesting perhaps that it has “broken the frame” as it exists outside the physical space of the record' is interesting here too.

Kyle Bobby Dunn: Ways of Meaning
This is like the polar opposite of Surgeon, a record so soft and wispy as to have almost no momentum nor substance. Kyle Bobby Dunn works in vapour, gorgeous scented mist on Ways of Meaning, an album so amorphous and shamelessly pretty it feels unnatural in 2011. Nothing structurally new here, tones mostly taken from Eno's Apollo soundtracks, but the sustained cotton wool nebulousness, and Dunn's ability to keep us interested within such uniformity, makes Ways of Meaning a geuinely outstanding ambient release.

Kyle Bobby Dunn - Canyon Meadows by desire path recordings

Kyle Bobby Dunn - Canyon Meadows from joe morgan on Vimeo.

More on the genre work later.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Out on a Limb, 1

Good piece at from PC at mnmlssgs on favoured recent releases, all three of them: John Maus' We Must Be The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves, Kangding Ray's OR, and Tim Hecker's Ravedeath 1972. The limit's a good thing, much better than your standard December top ten. More of a stand from PC, and easier to engage fully with.
I've not properly heard the John Maus - a quick scan on the computer last night, which revealed... something of genuine interest and invention. Definitely linked with the bleaker, goth-tinged end of seventies synth pop, but not tied to that. Christo at Mind Bomb was baffled by its success:
It seems just like synth waves hypnagogic retromania (sic) for 80s synth pop done by a guy brought up listening to indie music. “Streetlight” has some lovely synths, but the singing just isn’t up to it, while “Quantum Leap” (also known as “Dead Zone” is just a hidden cover of Mission of Burma’s “Academy Flight Song” done with a vocal delivery somewhere between Ian Curtis and Suicide.
which led to my lack of interest, but I will give it a proper go. Also interesting to see the launch of a new book on Maus - Adam Harper's Heaven is Real: John Maus and the Truth of Pop for Sale at The Wire Bookshop.

PC quoted Badiou which certainly resonates with my feelings, and links with much of what's been argued on the lack of adventure in much contemporary music by the likes of Simon Reynolds and Stefan Goldmann:
The audacity of thought is not to repeat 'to the limit' that which is already entirely retained within the situation which the limit limits; the audacity of thought consists in crossing a space where nothing is given.(emphasis mine)

And here's what I said about Tim Hecker:

Tim Hecker seems to be doing this with Ravedeath. Given his previous dissatisfaction with his work as Jetone and the need to work away from rhythmic structures, he's clearly an artist intent on challenging himself. As I wrote for RA, An Imaginary Country offered little beyond a retread of what he'd been doing since Haunt Me..., so he needed a rethink, and found it in Ben Frost. The point you make about time is pertinent here - the tracks seem to snake, swell, bloat, empty, divorced from any sense of strict timekeeping. This reminded me of VDelay's Anima. Pieces within suites bleed into eachother, as do the suites themselves, almost organically. If he's saying anything about the current state of things its that machines have lives of their own (clearly a Frost influence), with the fusion of instrumental and electronic timbres more fused than ever (without completely erasing themselves). Also he's feeding us our own thoughts with titles like 'Hatred of Music' and even the album title, and it sounds lovely! Worth hearing Janek Schaeffer's organ electronics album In the Last Hour for Room 40 alongside, it too is a doozy.

... and Kangding Ray:
I find Kangding more difficult, as he's working from within a predefined genre, and one I'm not personally fond of, and he offers little in terms of breaking out of it. There's no denying the depth and richness of the sounds he uses, which reminds me of a more musical Monolake, with more acoustic tones, but beyond this what does it offer or question? Good to hear voices creep in, but its done in just the way that artists like Burial and Actress have done previously (albeit more sparingly). Yes, he'd be great to hear live and loud, but beyond sound design I'm not sure what he's giving us.

PC has commented that OR is like a culmination of a genre, and also a true album statement, both of which I'd agree with. The former doesn't interest me so much, given my personal distaste for IDM-tinged techno (just can't enjoy that drum programming) but the latter is something at least - OR does proceed like an album in the traditional - almost retro - sense, something rhythmic electronic music has always struggled with. But beyond this...? I'm not so sure.

The genre question is one PC touches on too with regard to house and techno - that maybe all the experimentation and novelty was done by the early nineties, something I'd agree with. Also hinted at is the prospect of an examination of the return of microhouse:
Then there's the 'second coming' of microhouse, with new work from so many of my old heroes (call it Perlon and Playhouse, Kompakt and Krause... and Dial). Are the many returns happy? I think a whole post on Pampa and Re|dial (as the 'houses' of all the microhouse refugees) is warranted. I'm not sure I quite have the interest.

I hope he does, but not sure what can be said on the subject. My view is that all these labels and artists are treading well worn paths, tweaking things slightly, making slight improvements, but doing nothing new, and I mean NOTHING. Deep house in particular, the 'proper' US variety, seems overtly retro in its pursuit of indeterminate soulfulness and its championing of vinyl (something I'm guilty of), reminding me - unpleasantly - of retro jazzbos.

I still buy tons of it. More from me on this later.

For Part 2 I'll highlight my picks for the year so far, those that seem to be doing something new, addressing the strange world we find ourselves in, in line with the electronic focus of the mnmlssgs selections. Not so easy...

Monday, 29 August 2011

Internet Voids

When I used to work in classical music retail (2003-7) it wasn't always easy to find references to specific recordings on the interweb, particularly if it was old vinyl. Then, such absences were frustrating, and such was my faith in the web's omniscience that it had me doubting the existence of the real object (cue dismissive attitude to eager customer). Now if such a thing occurs it's so rare as to be exciting, discovering a fissure in the system, and seems somehow subversive, illegitimate, spectral... There's a covert pleasure to holding something in your hand which does not (yet) exist in webworld: music not downloadable, books not for sale, events unmentioned, photographs not jpegged... The 'Universal Library/Celestial Jukebox/Datacloud' is constantly expanding, almost faster than history is moving, and one shudders at the thought of it somehow someday eclipsing its real shadow, but for now these gaps remain.

Simon Reynolds speaks on this in Retromania:
...'Everything that has ever happened is available, all at once, all around us'... a vast cultural database containing every book and magazine article ever written, in all languages, and eventually every movie/TV programme/cultural artifact EVER.
But these cracks are being covered over, the Wikipedia/Googlemaps/Ebay/Discogs/Amazon steamroller streamrolling unstoppably onwards, ensnaring all of cultural history within its web. Strange too that the ensnaring is done largely and willingly by us, driven by a stupid self-willed urge to catalogue.

A recent record shopping expedition turned up a few unmentioned relics: some mail order classical releases with surprisingly high-calibre personnel involved; a French-issued Satie LP, reissued on CD but this pressing a mystery; John Field on an unknown and unrepresented Irish label. Struck by their online absence, I instinctively went for a camera to photograph and document, to 'put right'. Why? What forces us to add to the completion of the online archive? I have them right before my eyes! I can listen to the grooves! There is absolutely no need for mp3 versions or jpegs of album covers!

We should clutch at these occurrences as they won't last. We are experiencing this void. It will be filled.

Needless to say the voids I discovered will remain voids (and I urge others to keep discoveries of similar voids to themselves), but here's what I found that was legitimate:

One of Karajan's numerous adagio collections

Boulez doing Ravel vocal

Looks like a fifties country singer of the Chet Atkins/Eddy Arnold type

Tired Chopin hits

Steal - early modern masters for $2

Nice - pastoral English music with more bite than I'd expected

Pretty-but-spineless flute bonbons

Like Greensleeves, yet part of an old record club incompletely detailed online. Note the eighties wine bar font

The Argo logo here resembles Kompakt's Auftrieb. I like that this advertising photograph by professional online record dealer is so obliterated by easily avoided glare

Snappily-dressed Hungarians play Schubert (very well). They're in casual attire on the back, but as it's not online you'll have to track down the record to see it

I covered the title track with pal Benedict Moleta, downloadable here. Also produced a very shaky 'Spatial Dub', here.

Double LP for $1 of guitar music from around the world by Aussie virtuoso Williams, featuring an excellent transcription of a Japanese piece. The cover I have is much better, featuring a mock cross-stitch image of a guitar head, but no one has posted it online (ha!)

Can stop listening to a shitty mp3 version now of 'Can You Feel It'. On vinyl it revealed instruments and passages never-before-heard on grainy digital.

Marc Romboy predating the current Jack revival, and Steve Bug's titular remake, by 6 years.

And I almost bought the CD