Here is my latest mix. It has a number of genres, but is a fairly conventional tour through a few drone pieces I’m into, plus some ambient and noise stuff that fits nicely with it.
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Posts tagged drone
Here is my latest mix. It has a number of genres, but is a fairly conventional tour through a few drone pieces I’m into, plus some ambient and noise stuff that fits nicely with it.
After a long while, I’m putting up a few more records from the Blogger site. As always, these multiple posts are limited-time-only re-ups of stuff that was posted a few years ago. Hopefully I’ll finish this process some day.
This particular set ranges from drone to ambient to concrete. They fit fine with each other, and they represent my mid-’00s listening in this area. While not quite in the dark amient direction I’ve veered in recent years, each of these (especially the three outside of Biosphere) were important records to me when I first heard them. The main piece on The Tubes is gorgeous, and its conclusion comes after a great deal of patience, patience that the album taught me.
Hopefully you enjoy this quartet of albums, and you can see how they fit together. I think they’re quite complimentary, existing on a sliding scale between texture (Millions) and space (Fahres).
Typically, when Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet put out new music, I enjoy it and it features prominently in yearly lists. For instance, just last year Songs About Nothing was one of my absolute favorites. Similarly, Salmon Run is an all-time favorite, andAmateur Doubles is a more recent favorite on the very strong Kye imprint, just to name two.
This year is no different. Lambkin’s duo with Keith Rowe, Making A (on Erstwhile Records, too), made a strong impression, as did Lescalleet’s solo tape, Archaic Architecture, and his duo with Kevin Drumm, The Invisible Curse. All of this output is widely varied in genres, ranging from a hybrid of Musique concrète and EAI on Making A to fairly straight Ambient/Drone on Archaic Architecture. Still, a deep familiarity with these two artists’ catalogs, including their collaborations with other artists, can’t fully prepare you for the the fruit of their duos together.
That said, the music here isn’t completely alien. Salmon Run has moments resembling memories becoming infected with mania or forgetfulness. During one high point, Lambkin’s(?) shrill laughter added a disturbing layer to the soft music underneath, which corroded my notions of authorship and while redefining, for me, what can be accomplished conceptually on a record without tipping one’s hand. Songs About Nothing, too, has moments here or there that allow me to say with confidence, “if you liked this part, you’ll like that part on Photographs.”
Still, and this is entirely my somewhat unique experience, the duo work takes on a character different from these two touchstones from their solo catalogs. I attribute this to a couple things: first, I did not hear The Breadwinner first. Rather, I heard Air Supplyinitially, and gave it a too-cursory listen. By the time I bought The Breadwinner on CD, I had already convinced myself to give the pair another shot, thankfully. So I heard Air Supply first, Photographs second, and The Breadwinner third, which I believe greatly altered my first listen of The Breadwinner, both predisposing me to like it and fundamentally altering how I think about this trilogy, for better or worse.
Second, one of the many aspects of each artist’s work I enjoy is its sense of humor. I also see their solo work as often highly personal in nature, not in a tell all sense, but comprised of an abnormally large amount of elements which seem to make their unique subjective origin more apparent than is typical. While many people shoot for anonymity within their work, these two have scattered within their music quirks without context, rendering them fairly useless in ascertaining any meaning or narrative within the tracks, but nonetheless infusing what can be austere music with an exceptionally large dose of humanity.
So, what happens when you blend these quirks together? When, if ever, are these two joking? It would seem that a duo, by its nature, would be a conversation of some sort between the musicians, but, for instance, the vocal snippets simply tempt my curiosity and don’t reveal an internal logic to the exchanges that compromise them. There are a few “characters” that appear, but I can’t tell how they came to be integrated into the surrounding sounds. Music comprised of pitches can be described by the relation of pitches to one another, with entire schools dedicated to analyzing those pitches and their variations. The relation between the content of the language here, and the surrounding drones, or pulses, or sines, does not lend itself nearly as neatly, or at least conventionally, to such investigation.
Simply put, all of this is to say that I’m not sure what’s making this work, and I’m also not entirely sure why it’s so incredibly appealing to me. For sure, there are the basic traits I appreciate: variety, craftsmanship, originality, mystery, among others. Those exist in spades, and from the outset, with an early instance the transition between tracks one and two. In an odd way, one guess I came up with was that the idiosyncratic nature of some of these tracks, and my embedded sense of these artists as powerful personalities intent on hiding clues in plain sight, perhaps to games that can’t be played (or at least, I very likely might not want to play (see: Songs About Fucking references I couldn’t care less about, since I don’t enjoy Big Black at all)), freed me to attach my own imagery and feelings to these works without feeling guilty of “missing the point.”
With Photographs I don’t feel guilty about missing the point. Sometimes I can’t be bothered to look for Easter eggs, and this might be such an album. The title itself does sway me in a way, as many of these moments do tend to come off as individual memories, with their constitution constantly fluctuating. One thing about Salmon Run that struck me was how, thinking about invading memories, how certain we can be about things we’ve misremembered. Our internal processes lead to an undermined memory, but the results are as real as our experiences, divergent though they may be. I think this album pleases in a similar conceptual fashion, for me, when I think about these moments existing in finite locations surrounded by turmoil ready to prey upon, and warp, their structure irrevocably.
Certainly, this album also pleases from an aesthetic standpoint. As should be expected from these two, attention to detail here is obvious, either from an effortless exercise of talent, or from painstaking construction of the tracks. Either way, the genre designations attached to this, be they drone, eai, concrete, etc. all have some truth to them, but perhaps not so much in any of their approaches, and more because, moment to moment, the combinations that make those genres “work,” if not outright beautiful, are deployed expertly.
Still, this record sets itself apart from other stitched together pieces filled with a variety of moments of one subgenre or the other, due to its musicality. Final vocalization can punctuate one moment before its given over to a more pure, driving sound. The builds of lower register sounds are effective because of the patience with which they rise. You’re not bullied or bludgeoned repeatedly, quite the contrary. On Photographs I found myself within a new musical environment and had to retrace my steps. Did this sneak up on me? Has this pair mastered demanding, and suppressing, my attention?
Just as my year-end list will surely change with perspective, I’m sure I’ll develop a more nuanced opinion of this album. It stands atop this year’s output, however, by virtue of the eagerness with which it provokes me to reach for that point.
Hitoshi Kojo - Ezo (Alluvial, 2009)
Robert Rutman & U.S. Steel Cello Ensemble - Bitter Suites (RutDog, 1979)
Alan Lamb - Original Masters-Night Passage (Dorobo, 1998)
Gol, Iancu Dumitrescu, Ana-Maria Avram - Musique Directe (Pianam, 2008)
Los Glissandinos - Stand Clear (Creative Sources, 2005)
Here is another batch after a long while. Some day I’ll be completely done with Blogger (probably to return right after, given this Yahoo! nonsense).
This batch highlights the different ways drone can be presented. Some of these are more composed, some of these are free with some acoustic elements, some are pure electronic or electroacoustic drone. What they share, in both process and outcome, is less obvious that initial listens might indicate. Indeed, these releases fit together quite well on the old KiC, and after listening provide a superficially similar exhiliration. What they share beyond that, however, depends on what you’re focusing on.
I covered Ezo for TMT way back when, and that record referenced Kojo’s entire output to that point. Its impact on my is similar to Bitter Suites, although I’d say the latter has the greater, and longer lasting, impact. The remaining output, I suppose, shares a mood, a fusing of somber contemplation, wild rushes and swells, and tiny details brought to the fore. Even more, it fuses the hidden emotional resonances of these genres with the intellectual intensity (sometimes felt as emotion, but perhaps mistakenly so), the heightened awareness and basic, instinctive listening mode experimental musics can evoke. The links are very, very temporary. They won’t be replaced.
The Green, Green Grass of Home - A Field Hymns overview
It’s amazing how many cassette labels keep springing up all over the world. This ostensibly outdated technology, whose demise has been lamented in many mainstream news articles, is enjoying a very real renaissance. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few manufacturers start building Walkman-style machines again to keep up with the demand.
In the meantime, there are zillions of decent used decks and portable machines floating around, and you can set yourself up for many hours of enjoyment with an hour or two’s wages at your local pawn shop or thrift store. And sweet Jesus, you should get on it quickly if you haven’t already, as a lot of the most innovative and inspiring music being created today is coming out in batches of cassette-only analog joy.
While I’m digging the collected output of a whole bunch of cassette labels these days—be on the lookout for upcoming reviews of stuff from Eiderdown, SicSic, Orange Milk, Planted Tapes, Crash Symbols, New Atlantis, Centipede Farm, Personal Archives, Constellation Tatsu, Words + Dreams and more—today I want to celebrate the back catalog of Field Hymns, whose frantic series of releases in a few short years have turned vast stretches of my life into fully satisfying synth-fueled hallucinations.
Field Hymns does things up in a most deluxe way—releases feature 4-panel J-cards, printed on both sides with excellent art by label mastermind Dylan McConnell (you can see more of his design work at Tiny Little Hammers). McConnell has a fun, recognizable style that brings continuity to the whole catalog, but he also squeezes in great individual touches that give each release an appropriate personal feel. This art is seriously beautiful. I’ve stared at these gorgeous tapes for hours. And I really admire the work put into these designs, while most tape labels are only rocking 3-panel, single sided J-cards.
On the practical tip, the pro-dubbed tapes of Field Hymns releases feature additional thoughtful design work on their labels, and most of the cassette shells he’s chosen are the kind with screws, a nice practical feature in the event of an occasional spaghetti-tape catastrophe. You can fix yr analog “glitches,” boys and girls, and have a little fun while you’re doing it. And the whole label is seamlessly integrated with BandCamp, so you can have those squishy digital files for your iDevices, too, and place your orders using PayPal. It’s a perfect marriage of old and new technologies: you get all of the best in www.convenience along with the inherent beauty of these albums as physical objects and analog wave-slinging vitamins via pony express just a few days later. Beautiful.
Onto the music: like most of my favorite labels, Field Hymns obviously invests a lot of energy in the curation process. These albums all feel like they belong together while leaving room for lots of diversity. Generally speaking, this catalog tends to focus on synth-based instrumental music, heavy on kosmische and avant-dance vibes, though there are some well-placed exceptions. Artists in the Field Hymns roster tend to focus on longer-form compositions that evolve patiently, but what I find unique in these selections is a shared sense of fun and adventure. While a lot of slowly-evolving, drone-oriented recordings assume fairly dark moods, I find almost every FH album I’ve experienced to be way more uplifting than the norm for these genres. And fresh—these albums don’t want to be heard as 70s Faust outtakes; they have their own collective vibe happening that’s still vital and playful.
Fortunately, all of these mood-enhancing oscillations don’t come at the cost of frivolity, either. I pay special attention to any musical efforts that manage to be on the happy/dreamy side of the musical spectrum without feeling shallow or empty, and if I had to guess what curatorial standards for FH might include, they seem to recognize the significance of that difference. Another weird line to avoid in drone/ambient/electronic music is that sort of neutral, new-agey kind of inconsequential meandering—you know, that stuff on the Avalon Music comps you find on that endcap at every Target or Bed Bath & Beyond store. Needless to say, FH confidently steers well clear of that lack-of-vibe, too.
In the Field
I’ve listened to almost the whole Field Hymns catalog now, and while I like almost everything on the label, here are a few of my favorite artists/tapes I would strongly recommend checking out. Album titles should link you to appropriate places at Field Hymns if you want to explore them yourself.
How does Giant Claw and Orange Milk Records co-founder Keith Rankin find the time to be so prolific? Hot on the heels of his film music comp on Constellation Tatsu, which I reviewed here, Giant Claw dropped a BandCamp-only EP, “Attorney Struggle,” which made me feel like I was a kid playing Gogol-13 all over again, and the next cassette has already arrived via Field Hymns. If you’re into previous Giant Claw efforts, you’ll feel at home again in “Impossible Chew,”with its many arpeggiator-fueled ostinato lines and characteristic swagger. Many of these short pieces feel like library music cues, but uniquely morphed over impossible combinations of eras: 70s Kraut synths simmer with mod wheels pushed up just a touch, but the rhythmic figures feel like exuberant mid-80s synth pop. Cluster fronted by Olivia Newton John? Amazing as always. The standout track for me is “Meal Brothers Theme,” which feels like it absorbed a bit of 90s hip hop as well, with lots of portamento lines and repeated high note rhythms. A great addition to the Giant Claw discography.
Field Hymns brings us the sophomore album by Toko Yasuda’s PLVS VLTRA solo project, and it’s one of those rare albums that has a strong appeal for both pop and weirdo music scenes. There are plenty of trippy backwards edits, startling punctuations of Bollywood flourishes, and modular synths galore, but most of these pieces are very beat-oriented and almost always melodic. Without being derivative of Bjork, PLVS VLTRA masters a similar unity between experimental soundscape work and very catchy songwriting. My favorite track, “ちょ-ちょ ” (pronounced “Cho Cho”), has a great beat, reverse reedy-sounding synths, and a chill vocal from Nico. A great summer night jam while keeping all of your strange-music cred fully intact. This should be huge.
This record is heavy on sonic contrasts, frequently traveling into darker corners than a lot of Field Hymns releases. At first it presents itself as a percussion dominated early industrial album, but the drums get out of the way by the second track, revealing wide vistas of sound incorporating lots of orchestral instruments. I don’t know if they’re samples or performed just for these pieces, but strings and horns and harps combine with delicate field recordings and synths to produce great pieces like “Jaune,” a nurturing wash of slowly-moving melodic ideas that stays just a touch pensive. By the time percussion reappears in “The Lattice and the Comorant,” the ambient textures themselves begin to absorb rhythm, flexing and pulsing in time. Using a wide dynamic range and sound sources from the conventional to pure electrical hums, “Covalence” is a sophisticated and rewarding listen.
If you’re in the mood for a full-on psych synth blackout, “Well Tempered Ignorance” is your jam. What sounds like a warehouse full of synths begin to breathe together as Carr nests beautiful legato melodies atop the whole organism. I sometimes wish that more psych/drone albums found ways to incorporate virtuoso playing, and this album really delivers on that front. Field recordings that sound like they alternate between exotic locales and suburban back yards blend perfectly with the music, often sneaking in to delineate between musical transitions. And those sounds—pretty much every crazy patch you might hope to hear from an armada of ancient synths makes an appearance somewhere. Confidently performed and thoughtfully paced, Carr’s solo debut is a real treasure.
I reviewed Boron’s most recent online-only effort here a few months ago, in which I lamented not having heard this sophomore release. Since then, I tracked down a copy, and I’m so glad that I did. As its name implies, this album is made of many slices of granular synth textures. Overall, it’s a quiet, subtle collection of ideas, with occasional bits of radio sound or possibly other found sounds I can’t quite identify. It feels like an extension of early electronic and musique concrete disciplines, suspended in time and just waiting for the right audience to catch up. Compared especially to Boron’s Beige album, the hermetic focus here on a narrow palette of static-y buzzes feels a little clinical, but I get the impression that’s part of the intended vibe: synths as mad science.
This sounds like a slaying underground mid-80s album that never happened but should have: Suicide jamming with Nick Cave on vocals. Edgy vocals are draped in harsh reverb, the synth choices have the perfect amount of organ stops opened into the mix, and the whole recording is toasted to mid-fi mono perfection. Some awesome, simple-and-savage live drums surface in a few tracks, along with some gnarly live bass in the very no-wave instrumental “Dead Ends.” Big organ riffs keep propelling these tracks into the rock and roll retrofuture—these are seriously great songs that anybody into Birthday Party or Love & Rockets or name your own postpunk guitargoth poison-of-choice will totally enjoy. While this isn’t my usual kind of thing, it’s so well executed that I find myself listening to it more than the actual famous bands I’ve namedropped above. A sweet surprise.
This baby is sold out everywhere, but it’s so damned fine that I just have to mention it. One of a few projects that Moss Archive’s Joe Bastardo is currently rocking, Bastian Void makes intrepid synth soundscapes that unite solemn oscillating goodness with toy keyboard drum patterns and uptempo arpeggiator cycles. While this is by no means a jazz record, its earnest pace and synths that often sound like they’re pumped through an overwhelmed tube PA remind me more of the urgent passions of 70s fusion than relaxed kraut ambience. And the 20-minute, 5-section ride of “In Common Outlets” approaches a prog level of compositional sophistication, though it’s the most abstract and soundart-oriented section of this gratifying album. And for what it’s worth, this tape has joined a small number of records receiving the “what is this, I love it” phone call award from a random listener on my radio show. This is probably my favorite Field Hymns release to date, and while the physical release seems to be sold out, you can still pick up the digital edition from the Bastian Void BandCamp. Be sure to check out the recent releases from Bastardo’s other projects while you’re at it: the new Homeowner album on Orange Milk, and the new Looks Realistic release on Constellation Tatsu, are both exquisite as well.
I featured this in my random cover collection earlier, but I hadn’t heard it until now. This album from Sundrugs is between ambient and dark ambient, with the latter being a greater portion of the sound. I’ve sworn off tonal ambient for the most part, and as a result, when my dark ambient hits the “bliss button” out of nowhere, there is a renewed feeling when it hits, like setting down Slowdive for 5 years or so and then hearing ‘When the Sun Hits’ out of nowhere.
Akio Suzuki - Odds And Ends (Horen, 2002)
Toru Takemitsu - Complete Piano Works 1952-1990 (Woodward) (Etcetera, 1991)
Nobuo Yamada – Daydream Of Wok (ABH, 2009)
Toshio Hosokawa - Deep Silence / Gagaku (WERGO, 2004)
Joji Yuasa – Music For Experimental Films (Edition Omega Point, 2008)
Here is an odd grouping of Japanese music of various genres. I’ll include some of the original reviews (by Matt and Danny, respectively), and then wrap it up.
(Matt, re: Toshio, 3/31/10) Well, originally slotted for this post was a collection of Mr. Hosokawa’s string quartets to compliment that wonderful Nancarrow False Bread so kindly posted the other day. However, as the days have become longer and my shirt sleeves shorter, I have found it harder to tolerate this vitamin D deficient music — thus, Deep Silence.
One word frequently comes up in descriptions of these compositions — shimmering. And I agree, though the adjective need apply in two cases. First, as the sun peeks through the window pane while you are enjoying your first cup of coffee (or whatever caffeinated beverage you enjoy in the morning), its glare temporarily blinds you, obfuscating the screen of that laptop you were hiding behind. Ah yes, shimmering! On the other hand, when you become affixed to the dancing of the flames at the first bonfire of the season, whereupon the radiant colors against the dark of night haunts you for what seems like ages. Yup, that kind of shimmering as well!
Let me explain what this has to do with Mr. Hosokawa. Contained in this release from Wergo are seven compositions, three written by Toshio and four Gagaku (Japanese classical music). All seven are performed by Stefan Hussong on accordion and Mayumi Miyata on Shō (a bamboo mouth organ), with Hosokawa and Gagaku pieces alternating. Therein lies the shimmering bifurcation: as one might expect, the Gagaku pieces are dissonant yet still tonal (remember, tonality only just died a century ago), whereas Hosokawa’s compositions are fiercely atonal. Even still, the theme remains constant throughout each piece; extended drones link the room-filling “shimmers” with deep silence. Because without orchestration, without performance, a composition is merely just annotated silence. And here, on Deep Silence, one can almost see the notes being carried from parchment to the aural plane.
(Danny, re: Joji, 7/8/08) It came fast and hit hard. If you’re not familiar with Japan’s experimentators, hearing this and knowing it comes from a classical composer would be quite startling. If you’re a devotee, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Joji Yuasa’s compositions are intensively asseverated pieces; vocal manipulation & sampling, echoes and feedback and, finally, the last & longest piece, “Document of the Thin White Line”, which has entire minutes which resemble those 60s sound library albums we’ve all heard (not that there’s anything wrong with that) intermixed with some kind of mutant electroacoustic big-band-small-chin-chamber-orchestra. Does that sound dated and cartoonish? YES! And it is! And if you don’t like those attributes I assume you cannot enjoy music. Do you know John Zorn’s soundtrack series? Well, this puts it to shame.
Read more about the music and the very films it scores right here.
This album is not compatible with a fondness for the Czech New Wave.
I think the two records above are the best of this bunch, but the remaining records here have a lot to offer. I find Akio Suzuki and Nobuo Yamada to be on the same spectrum, albeit distance ends from one another. Where the former is calm and slowly developing, somewhat like a manually created Radigue record, Yamada is exceptional, to my tastes, but more standard drone. Perhaps there are connections here to Yuasa, but only of the most general type. Clearly the Takemitsu will probably be of interest if you enjoy the Hosokawa, although my affinity for his pieces come from a chance recital by a friend of mine a few years back. It might be “safe” avant classical compared to much of what we cover nowadays, but nonetheless it is a nice collection and worth your time. Indeed, I’ve found that if you stagger the composition records with the other material here, the music stands out more, as if the ear latches onto structure after long drones and silences.