Thursday, 31 March 2011

Night Drive (Thru Ballarat)

On Tuesday I had the pleasure of visiting Ballarat, a medium-sized town 90 minutes North West of Melbourne. I took a company car, a Camry Altise, leaving the office at 5pm to get there for 7.00. I drove up Flinders Street through dreadful traffic, onto the Westgate, up the Western Ring Road and onto the Highway, straight and without incident from there on. After Flinders the traffic was fine, particularly so on the highway.

The Camry had cruise control so I stuck to 115 and cruised past slowpokes. It had a decent CD player and I'd come prepared: outbound I listened to something I'd missed, and a genre I've only cursorily examined: Deutsche Elektronische Musik: Experimental German Rock and Electronic Musik 1972-1983, a fine survey released by Soul Jazz last year. It was quite something. I was familiar with the Harmonia, Can, Cluster and Neu tracks (I even shared a cab with Cluster at Dissonanze 2008 in Rome) but there were some super surprises, especially Michael Bundt's 'La Chasse Aux Microbes':

You can hear where the modern synth types Oneohtrix et al come from. Given the context, rural expanses rushing past the speeding vehicle, even the pastoral hippie twang of Popul Vuh and Amon Dul sounded good. See my pal Christo's review for RA here.

Ballarat itself was a decrepit shitheap. It might once have had charm, but was all washed out and overweight now: cracked and stained brickwork, rusted steeples, carparks, fast food chains and bogan pubs. I was there for a regional football club meeting - don't ask - and the members were a sorry, obese lot. To get into the spirit of the place I had one of these in the Camry before the meeting:
Ten minutes later I was back on the road, and listened to the first Hype Williams album on Carnival. It was dark now, the road was empty, and I needed my high beams. Hype Williams was terrifying:

Listened to Salem's 'King Night' after, but that seemed to be trying a little too hard. There's a dedicated 'Witch House' promoter at Killed In Cars which lends it credibility but I can't see much life left in that horse.

What worked a lot better was Portable's 'This Life of Illusion' / 'Find Me'. I featured his more recent single 'Inside Your Mind' here, but the more Portable we hear the better:

That brought me closer to home, traveling on my favourite stretch of Melbourne road the Citylink, particularly this curved bridge:
... where I listened to this:

Rather bogan of me, but there's nothing like the night, techno and cars.

Hitler House

This is surely doing the rounds but is hilarious, especially the roof-hair. It would be good to see it animated to one of his speeches, with perhaps a crane next door doing "Heil!"

Monday, 28 March 2011

Dead and Alive

Shameless self promotion, but heck, isn't that what blogging is all about? Anyhoop, I thought it time to mention my other blog Dead and Alive seeing as there's been recent activity on it, and there's unlikely to be any more a while. Dead and Alive was the name of a radio program I presented for London's Resonance FM, broadcast live 9-10.30pm every Friday from 2005-2008. We played classical music, mostly, and mostly contemporary music, interspersed with music of other genres, from country and western to easy listening to drones to techno, all largely pilfered from the shelves of my former employer Harold Moores Records. We also did live shows, DJing for Gabriel Prokofiev's Nonclassical events and No Signal concerts, supporting such artists as Tony Conrad, Richard Youngs and Fonal Records, and playing before such celebrities as Bjork(!).

Yeah, we rocked, but Dead and Alive officially died in 2008. I hear Resonance still air repeats from time to time, often on their night loop, so you might here us in London or on the interweb. I'm back of sorts in Melbourne doing graveyard shifts and sporadic shows for Triple R and keeping the Dead and Alive blog for all radio-related posts. To correspond to the demands of the longer, later hours the focus has shifted to include broader musical tastes, as highlighted on this blog, with a greater emphasis on electronics. Where possible I'll provide links to recordings of shows, with the 4 hour Graveyard of 25 March now posted here, with tracklist. It features music by Sun Ra, Oskar Sala, Kassem Mosse, Portable and a shitload more.

I'll be having a brief hiatus from radio while personal life revs up a few notches, but I'll try and keep these indulgent musings going. Resonance FM, Harold Moores Records, Nonclassical, No Signal, and Triple R are all wonderful institutions so please check them out, and community radio is truly life-enhancing so listen up.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Beethoven: String Quartets

We've been spending most evenings with the telly turned off, reading, knitting and listening to music. What crafty sophisticates we are! Preference is usually for less demanding, lighter sounds, but last night Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik stabbed us both in the ear with its saccharine vapidity. We were eating chocolates at the time too, petit Viennese-esque bon-bons, the TV ad of which was surely soundtracked by Mozart. Beethoven's early string quartets seemed a suitable alternative, not too big a leap, enabling us to perceive the development between the two composers. After enjoying the first one so much (Op.18 No. 1) we decided to do the whole lot, DVD boxset style. So - to one or two quartets, or CDs, a night, anxiously awaiting the thematic development to come in the next work. 'Anxious' might be stretching it, but it should be interesting, providing a structure to our otherwise pleasantly ambling evenings.
They're played by Quartetto Italiano, from a box set on Phillips I scored gratis while at Wesley Classics. Recordings are from the sixties and seventies and sound great. I look forward to the wacky later ones, but the earlies are worth a listen, infinitely richer and more varied than Mozart's, but also more demanding, less pretty.

We heard two quartets, 1 and 2 from his first Opus 18 set. I enjoyed the first more than the second, whose jaunty melodies seemed rather trite and contrived after the more adventuorus contrasting lines of the first. Turns out the first was actually written second, but placed first after Beethoven's confidence in its execution. The second was written third, and the third first, so hisearliest one next.
I'll not bore you with a blow-by-blow account of how this adventure proceeds, but I do encourage others to try similar boxset expeditions. All too often they sit, prettily, on the shelves, dauntingly authoritorial, gathering dust. Get them out, read the dry, informative liner notes, and listen up!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Rytis Mazulis

This won't be the last time ATTSWOH features Rytis Mazulis. Described as a 'superminimalist', this Lithuanian composer is responsible for some of the most exciting music currently produced. Mazulis works with canons, piling them atop one another until they shudder into your brain like a jackhammer. Check 'Clavier of Pure Reason' from his album of 'computer piano music', Twittering Machine:

Upon it's release I described Twittering Machine thus (from Grooves magazine):
Rytis Mazulis: Twittering Machine
Megadisc Classics MDC7809

Finding your way through the cascade of notes of Rytis Mazulis' "Twittering Machine" is like being caught blindfolded in a whirlpool, and as difficult as finding a white space on the pages of his scores. Labelled a "superminimalist", the Lithuanian composer uses repetition in a manner not dissimilar to pioneering minimalists Glass and Reich, but doesn't share their interest in melodic simplicity or phasing. Rather, Mazulis constructs wildly chaotic cells which only become more complex with each passing cycle. There is a symmetry to these revolutions, but it's fractured, with intervals broken into irrational micro-durations, making sense in the way chaos theory does.

"Twittering Machine" comes from the composer's early 'machinistic' period, applying regimented pulse, fast pace and repetition to medieval canonic forms (an ongoing fascination of Mazulis') with such intricacy and vigour that they are humanly impossible to perform. The four pieces here are electronic in that they are "performed" on/by a computer-piano ("Clavier of Pure Reason", for example, imagines a super-pianist with 48 hands), but electronics are merely a means to an end. The most obvious reference is Conlon Nancarrow and his player piano studies, only Mazulis' work is much more visceral and jagged and, being played on a modern disklavier piano, offers a richer, more resonant sound. The opening movement of the two part "Twittering Machine" contains the disc's most gripping riff, an almost hummable tune of dissonant zig-zagging notes which, after numerous cycles, sticks in the brain like a fishhook. Part II splits a Nancarrow saloon rag into multiple conflicting streams, a clumsy bass line thumped out with fists contrasting with families of fireflies dancing on the high notes. Snatches of tangible melody are heard briefly in "Ex Una Voce" only to be quickly subsumed in chords so thick they become blurred. The final, 20 minute "Hanon Virtualis" sets up continually expanding rows of ascending scales, piling canon upon canon until every note on the keyboard is violently and simultaneously struck. This is what being clubbed to death by 88 small padded hammers must feel like - some of the most powerful music I've heard in years.

The Belgian Megadisc Classics label are responsible for most of his releases, and I'm anxious to hear his new one, Musica Falsa, for the solo flute of Manuel Zurria.
All Mazulis' albums are outstanding, buy them all here.

Portable: Inside Your Mind

This isn't brand new but it is phenomenal, Alan "Portable" Abrahams' latest on Karat. He borrows liberally from vintage Chicago and Detroit but the result is utterly his own. I played this at my brother's bucks party last weekend as it soundtracked a naughty show on a pleasure boat, suitably dirty music for cheap and depraved displays of flesh. He's been on fire for a while now, but this takes the cake:

His remix of Efdemin's 'Nighttrain' aint' no slouch either:

... and I remain hooked on this by his now-interchangeable Bodycode alias. There's something so bleak and yearning in his delivery:

Buy the vinyl here or check the Free Music links to the right for samples.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Geoff Dyer: Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi

Finished this the other week, the first half of which I liked much more than the second, which read like a blow-by-blow exotic travelogue of first person narrator in the wilds of Varanasi. Crazy place, sure, but the cocaine-fuelled jaunts through the Venice Bienalle of the first part was much more enjoyable. Even here though it grates, Dyer clearly critiquing the lead character's lucky spree of sex, drugs and culture through the highbrow artworld, but he pulled his punches, and the refusal to resolve was irritating. Any references to Mann's book I missed, surely it was full of them, along with bridges between the two stories. Oh well, I applaud the adventurousness, but, like his earlier Paris Trance, I find his blokey style creates a feeling that you are reading a light airport yarn of the Best a Man Can Get variety.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Prosumer: Panorama Bar 03

Heard a promo of Prosumer's Panoramabar 3 mix this morning, and it's a doozy. He's always been fond of bleeps but this is properly bursting with neon analogue globules, particularly through the latter half. Mix-wise it's full of quick transitions, more a live party style mix than your standard carefully crafted dinner party set, but with such a well chosen selection of tracks it works very well. I'd opt for this approach any day, and hopefully it might inspire a few others to loosen up a bit and listen closer to the music.

What to look out for will be the accompanying 12" of exclusives. These include Steffi's stunning opener 'Sadness' and a slew of killers by mystery artists Soundso, Sound Store, and T.S.O.S., surely involving Prosumer himself in there somewhere? It's as fine a celebration of his style of house - sharp, sexy and FUN - as one could imagine, surpassing the high quality casts and live sets out there, and one of the most entertaining mixes I've heard in a long while.

Read a mini interview with Prosumer for RA here.

Check Prosumer's excellent mix for mnmlssgs here.

Buy it here in May.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Mrs Dalloway

Finished Mrs Dalloway this morning, impressed with Woolf's knack for internal monologue (what she's justly praised for) and her flight from character to character. The unstable Septimus Smith was a particular highlight.

My copy was a very well-worn paperback by Panther Books, with The Harlequin Hat , a portrait by William Strang, on the cover. The wearer of said hat bears an uncanny Woolf/Dalloway resmblance, an obvious choice for the cover then, but I've been unable to find reference to the work, or the edition, anywhere. What became of Panther Books, and this edition?

One of the great things about secondhand books, and records, is imagining their past lives. The back cover of my copy of Mrs Dalloway reveals Panther to have an impressive oevre - John Barth, Leonard Cohen, Kerouac, Vonnegut, Kingsley Amis, Lessing - selling for between 25p-60p, and their cover art is impressive. Here's their take on Barthes and Ballard, fit for the hauntologists:

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Granta Book of the American Short Story Volume 1

After finishing up with the dense misanthropy of Bernhard's Correction I was after something a little... lighter, so figured the straightforward narrative simplicity of the Carver-esque short story would be just the ticket. The praise heaped upon Richard Ford and his curating efforts, and the attractive hardcover edition of his first Granta anthology sitting on the shelf, lured me in but, especially after Bernhard, these pithy tales of suburban ennui seemed flimsy and self-absorbed.

I read three stories before giving it up (for Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway) and even the best of them managed only to be mildly diverting. That was John Cheever's "O City of Broken Dreams", about a family of bumpkins lured to New York by self-serving city slickers. The story: War veteran / bus driving amateur playwright Evart promised opportunities from big apple agent passing through the boondocks, impressed with first scene of his debut play. Wife and daughter initially dazzled by urban glamour, husband sleepless with writers block, bumpkins ridiculed, return to boondocks. This arc replayed itself in varied forms in the three tales I read.

Seems I'm not the only one disappointed:
I knew what to expect when I read the title and first two paragraphs of "O City of Broken Dreams." It's a nicely constructed story but I feel like I've read it before, though I haven't. I wasn't expecting Mama Finelli to show up at the end, but she seemed almost superfluous, as Evart's story is destined to be at least somewhat tragic from the title onward. Maybe its just Cheever's tone, but it seems like he doesn't want the reader to sympathize fully with gullible ol' Evarts' plight--he seems more like a sketch than a fully realized character.

I'm not sure why I expected anything different. I'd been unable to finish Ford's The Sportswriter when I tried reading it years ago, his brand of minimalist realism offering nothing of interest, apart from an awareness that I have no interest in minimalist realism. The meticulous construction present in Ford's writing, and in the writing he champions in his anthologies, is so tight as to be constricting, didactic, leaving no room for thought outside of the scenes established. Zadie Smith eloquently critiqued the vapidity of this style of writing and championed modernist experimentalism in the NYRB.

I'm still attracted by something in Ford's Bascombe trilogy, the idea of following Everyman USA through the travails of middle-aged middle-class melancholia, the covers of the later volumes Independence Day and Lay of the Land, but doubt I'll get to them. Let me know if I'm missing something.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


These are the latest up at Cyclic:
Earl Brown: Synergy (Hat Hut)
Restless aleatoric chamber music.

Piipstjilling: Wurdskrieme (Experimedia)
The digital precisionism of Machinefabriek with added guitar crackle and spoken word.

Pierre Boulez / John Cage: Structures / Music for Piano (Hat Hut)
Chaotic machine music played by talented humans.

Stephan Mathieu: Remain (Line)
Slowly evolving 60 minute drone.

Nicolas Bernier: Courant Air (Ahornfelder)
Pedestrian guitar-electronics combo.

Markus Reuter: Todmorden 513 (Hyperfunction)

This was the surprise hit of recent times, gorgeous passages of sustained tones from a variety of instruments and electronics, shifting and overlapping according to pulsed algorithmic design, like a more regimented Morton Feldman. A single hour-long piece, perfect for lying prone and letting the changes wash over you. Check the first movement below.

More from the always impressive Hat Hut, and an intriguing return from Japanese anti-musician Koji Asano, soon...