Bob Burnett: This cold, stark--and lovely--phase of winter has me thinking of the time Glenn Gould produced a series of sound documentaries for CBC radio between 1967-77 after ending his career as a touring concert pianist. He used field recorded interviews woven together to create beautiful sound tapestries. All three use a technique Gould called "contrapuntal radio" in which several people are heard speaking at once--much like the voices in a fugue. One of the documentaries is called The Idea of North where the focus is on five people talking about living in the isolated areas of northern Canada. In the film 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould (well worth seeing!) during the broadcast of The Idea of North, the Glenn Gould character goes into an absorbed by the moment conductor arm-waving motion. The movements are in sync with the fades and sound crossings happening in the audio layers. It always struck me as touching; Gould dancing like a conductor to the motions within the voices; Gould treating the cadences and inflections of the interviewees as musical moments. I also identified with the overall content and ideas from a lifestyle point of view; the desire to live in an isolated or harsh weather environment where nature makes you constantly aware of its existence--a life away from automatic sprinkler systems and drive thru windows.
I've tried to find a full recording of The Idea of North but haven't had any luck. I've linked an excerpt here from the CBC archives. An amazon search reveals there was once a CBC release titled The Solitude Trilogy that is now out of print. (but available used for $65) I just found a youtube link of the scene from 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould as well as an interview with Gould discussing North with the bonus of him playing an Anton Webern composition.
Kim Kirkpatrick: I have been surprised through the years by how many music fans I know who have missed out on Spoon. We all have bands slip by us, and I really enjoy backtracking - catching up on a band's output when I finally am turned onto them. But if Transference is your introduction to Spoon it may leave you feeling a bit foolish and wondering why you didn't notice them all these years. Spoon has been around for 17 years, released 7 full length albums, and 20 singles. Their first full length was on Matador, then they moved to a major label (Elecktra), got dropped after one release, and since then have released 5 albums on Merge (thank you Merge).
Bob Burnett: I'm drawn to the overall production of Transference---it has depth. You can feel there's space between the vocalist and the mic, drums are real, guitars are creating changes in the atmosphere and in general air is being stimulated with sound and not just hard wired into a mixing board. All these elements make it a huge plus for me as a listening experience. Additionally the songs have inventive structures all the while maintaining an element of (dare I say) "fun". I listened to the album with headphones in the middle of the night over the weekend. There I was, covered in a blanket on my "listening couch" bobbing and toe-tapping the whole time. Ah--the experience of listening to an album; a work in its entirety.....the pleasure of songs building and leading to another...the satisfaction at the conclusion of knowing you've heard something and are better for it!
Bob Burnett: A nice stumble-upon occurred this morning that took me back several decades to an inspiring time of discovery. I'm referring to a twitter link I received (thanks Ambienteer)to a video produced by Flat-E inspired by Edgar Varese's 1929-31 composition Ionisation. The video was originally made to accompany a London Sinfonetta performance of Ionisation but as you'll find out developed a life of its own. This version accentuates the angular, jagged compositional approach of Varese and with the addition of contemporary electronics, enhances the composition in new ways. It makes perfect sense that Varese's work has the organic ability to be built upon with contemporary instrumentation and technology.
I fell into Varese as many did via Frank Zappa back in the '70s. One Zappa album in particular, Lumpy Gravy, stood out for me--the crashing chords, retrograde staccato sounds, percussion, odd time signatures all did my teen ears well. Research led me to discover Lumpy Gravy was for the most part a nod to Varese so off I went in search of Varese albums. I found a wealth of wonder--the apex being his masterwork (in my opinion) Poeme Electronique, a composition commissioned to play in the Le Corbusier-designed Phillips Pavilion during the 1958 World's Fair through 400 speakers. In addition to the music, I was made aware of the Henry Miller book The Air Conditioned Nightmare and one chapter in particular "With Edgar Varese in the Gobi Desert" (I linked long excerpts from the book--go to page 163 for the specific chapter mentioned) which touched on music, philosophy, religion, the state of sound, the need for madmen composers and Varese's composition Deserts.
I am feeling a need to go back to the bookshelf and pull down my dog-eared copy of The Air Conditioned Nightmare, revisit some of those underlined words, the asterisks in the margins, the notes on names to explore further: Dane Rudyhar, Alfred Steiglitz, John Marin, Krishnamurti to name a few. In the meantime--I think I'll rewatch Ionisation.
Bob Burnett: I don't know if it's an attempt to reverse the reaction I'm having to the cold winter weather but I've been listening to guitar innovator Christopher Willits a lot these past few weeks. The short description is this San Francisco-based guitarist/multi-media artist merges traditional guitar improvisation with computer software thereby opening up a wide palette of options be they technical, stylistic, textural, rhythmic--whatever. I have him in several forms of release so I figured I walk through a few and hopefully offer something that sticks. There are two solo albums I listen to regularly: Folding and the Tea and Pollen. Folding and the Tea is from 2002 and introduced me to his "folding" guitar sound --guitar lines and harmonies are blended into each other using custom-designed software. The outcome is an album that occasionally borders on the melodic yet intricate styles familiar to my ears from Canterbury-era progressive music. Sometimes in the midst of listening I think I hear a cluster of notes or melodies vaguely reminiscent in a distant way to National Health for example. Other moments offer small, swirling delicate music. I say delicate because they are subtle, stirring--almost in the realm of observing the aleatory of nature with blips, pulses, swirls and static like pops. Willits received his masters at Mills College and studied with Fred Frith and Pauline Oliveros so that fact alone deserves a Wayne's World "we're not worthy" bow from me. As I listen to Folding and the Tea (and Pollen for that matter) I am drawn to the work of other composer/teachers from Mills--notably David Behrman as well as Maggi Payne's work on the Lovely Music label.
2003's Pollen is a further exploration into folding guitar sounds with a slightly more symphonic approach--not that it gets stringy or large--it just has a bit more sonic range at times than the intimate Folding and the Tea.
In previous c60 posts I've mentioned my utter fascination about his duet with Taylor Deupree, Listening Garden--an environmental soundscape designed to play in the tea spaces at the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media. (in Yamaguchi, Japan) Willits and Deupree brought together their improvisational playing with environmental recordings from the actual tea spaces with a goal of mirroring and heightening the mood of the space where the piece plays. I don't know how it sounds in the Center but I find great pleasure in listening to the five part composition as it brings together field recordings and minimal composition. Boomkat said: "'Listening Garden is like reclining into a gorgeous pillow of sound, relaxing without being audio wallpaper and absorbing without resorting to clichéd digital trickery."
Finally-and I know I'm not touching on several of his other works--Willits just released the 3 cut Live on Earth Vol.2 made up of three different recordings from June 2009 of the composition "Beams". I recently graciously received a free download via his facebook friends site. He made it available to 2000+ people. For me, "Beams" is a long, slowly evolving tone improvisation hearkening back to the innovations Robert Fripp made with Frippertronics such as "Wind on the Water" with Brian Eno on Evening Star or "Water Music" on Exposure. I'm finding my cursor drifting back to it on iTunes throughout the day for another listen. Seems pretty habit-forming at this point.
As mentioned there are many other releases and possibilities to explore (in fact here's an old c60 write-up of Willits+Sakamoto). I only offer up a few. Christopher Willits' work is very rewarding and I highly suggest digging into some of it yourself.
- I love "Kite", written by Nick Hayward, perhaps best known for his Haircut 100 days. If you go to the link he has the original "Kite" recording, a truly beautiful song. Ivy doesn't radically change the song, it still rides on a nice mandolin line through out. This is a wonderful selection by Ivy, suits them perfectly, and the song really comes alive with Durand's vocals, taking on new meaning being sung by her.
- I've always been fond of Orange Juice, going way back to their work on the Postcard label. Orange Juice's "I Guess I'm Just a Little Too Sensitive" is covered by Ivy with a light touch overall. Acoustic guitar, multi track vocals, excellent wah effects, with a slight build through the addition of organ, melodica, a touch of backwards guitar, and a nice finish with an understated guitar solo.
- Ivy really dug in on The Ronette's "Be My Baby". The original is a famous Phil Spector Wall of Sound production, and a song he co-wrote as well. With that knowledge it is a treat to hear Ivy expand on the production of this classic, really stretch it out, and pump up it's atmospheric level. It starts with a Trip Hop drum pattern, joined by a looping and warped guitar line, drums that sound underwater, all leading up to huge echoing vocals. This song builds slowly, the atmosphere gets thicker and thicker with the addition of church organ, swirling background vocals, a sinister bass line, and some slow wah effects.
Bob Burnett: I just discovered this album thanks to a Loscil tweet. The second cut "Tristana" fits nicely into the stark cold we're experiencing along the eastern seaboard. I'm always reminded of Robert Wyatt and Nico songs whenever I hear a harmonium or pump organ kick in.
Bob Burnett: A quick link to c60 tenured Prof. Mike Johnston's updated and comprehensive review of a really reasonably priced box set of Billie Holiday's Columbia releases circa 1933-44. Mike originally posted about the initial boxed set (as well as other Billie Holiday releases) on c60 a few years ago however a re-visit was in order since this less than $60 box became available.
Kim Kirkpatrick: Flesh of My Skin Blood Of My Blood has an interesting history. This release is considered a reggae masterpiece, also the first true reggae album, not just a collection of singles released on an LP. It was released in England in 1974, but oddly was never released in Jamaica. It quickly went out of print and became a talked about obscurity that few reggae fans had heard. Thanks to the label Basic Channel, and it's superb reggae reissue sub label Basic Replay, this piece of reggae history surfaced again (and for the first time on CD) in 2004. This was Keith Hudson's solo debut, and thirty years later the intense lyrics (of the black experience and history), the haunting performance and production still create a vivid impression of skill, content, and blending of genres.
Fluid Radio is an online "electroacoustic frequencies" music source. They describe themselves as the "best in experimental frequencies allowing listeners, artists, producers and promoters to be completely involved in the growth and direction of the station. Focusing on experimental genres, we aim to provide a space to share in the creative process and spread the experience of inner exploration through musical expression. The playlist is diverse, encompassing Ambient, Modern Classical, Experimental Acoustic, Folk and Abstract sounds."They've been a fruitful website for me this year. I discovered several artists--most notably Solo Andata, Danny Norbury and (I think...)Loscil. They just compiled their Top 10 for 2009 and created a 45 minute streaming compilation featuring their choices. I've posted the link above and hope you get a chance to listen to it.
Bob Burnett: 2010 has started off well thanks to Ben Perowsky. Esopus Opus and El Destructo Vol. II: Moodswing Orchestra to be exact. Two vastly different outings offering the same result: delightful listening pleasure.
Ben Perowsky is a drummer who in addition to fronting his own groups has found time for a diversity of recording sessions over the years in jazz, R&B, pop/rock, experimental with people such as James Moody, Rickie Lee Jones, Roy Ayers, Miles Davis alums, Dave Douglas and The Lounge Lizards. Let's take on Esopus Opus first: it's a Ben Perowsky Quartet release featuring in addition to Ben on drums, Chris Speed (clarinet/tenor--various Tzadik albums), Ted Reichman (accordion/piano--I have him in a duet release with Anthony Braxton) and Drew Gress. (bass--also on John Surman's Brewster's Rooster reviewed earlier this month) In conjunction with terrific original material the quartet covers The Beatles Flying as well as Within/Without You. Jimi Hendrix's Manic Depression also gets a rework as does Hermeto Pascoal's Nem Um Talvez. There's an exuberance in play here that is captivating for rock listeners as well as "out" jazz people. The playing is tight, open and incredibly well recorded at Brooklyn Recording by Andy Taub. Perowsky's drums have "color", vibrancy and drive--always pushing the music ahead. I'm fondly reminded of a number of releases--Charlie Haden's Ballad of the Fallen, any number of Paul Motian's albums, Bill Frisell's Have A Little Faith come to mind off the top of my head.
The other album is El Destructo Volume II: Moodswing Orchestra, an effort that features a wide range of vocalists/groups (Joan As A Policewoman, Elysian Fields and Bebel Gilberto, for example) as well as an array of NYC's incredible musicians. Moodswing Orchestra is more ethereal and dub soundscape-like than the Quartet. I'm reminded of Hal Wilner-produced projects such as the Mingus tribute Weird Nightmare. There's a wide range of sonics--Perowsky's drums along with woodwinds, trumpets, bass, sound effects, snap-crackling vinyl, theremin, tuba and "air". Moodswing Orchestra is an album that makes me wish I was still on the radio someplace; I'd just put it on and watch the curious calls come in. As a matter of fact, my 13 year old was just lying on the bed next to where I was typing while listening to Moodswing. Now I hear her upstairs playing her drum kit.
I can only hope a young Ben Perowsky is in the making.