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: