2014 has been a year when I’ve been relatively quiet on reviews, but I have been listening to many things, and I was very fortunate to attend some fabulous concerts that I’ve documented here with brief write-ups and photos (no photos of King Crimson!). I’ve also been focused on other things, including making noise with some guitars. As in the past, my listening is concentrated on what’s available to me, which is relatively narrow in scope, but I do listen to a pretty wide array of music.
This is my list of 14 favorites for 2014 (in no particular order) and then a few special categories. Each title on the list links to the artist or record label website. Happy Listening and I hope you all have a nice Holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Thank you for reading in 2014!
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Nick Magnus – n’monix
Tony Patterson & Brendan Eyre – Northwinds
Should – The Great Pretend
Gareth Dickson – Invisible String (a compilation of recent live recordings)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2CD/DVD (a fabulous live album & DVD with excellent sound quality!)
Stephen Vitiello + Taylor Deupree – Captiva (double 10” LP)
Medeski Scofield Martin Wood – Juice
Ben Watt – Hendra
Beck – Morning Phase
Levin Brothers – Levin Brothers (It’s only taken decades, but the Levin brothers got together and made a really marvelous jazz album)
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd – White Bird in a Blizzard
Anthony Phillips – Harvest of the Heart (Anthology Boxed Set): Unlike the recent R-kive Genesis box set, Cherry Red knows how to put together a proper anthology, complete with many tracks of never-before heard music from AP’s archives.
Jason Molina – Songs: Ohia – Journey On (7” 45 RPM Compilation Box Set, a really beautiful set, probably rarer than hen’s teeth by now.)
King Crimson – The Elements (Tour Box, archive, live and some new material as a companion to the 2014 US Tour)
East River Pipe – The Gasoline Age (vinyl reissue, my introduction to the brilliant songs of F. M. Cornog when it was first released on CD in the early 1990s)
Lambchop – Live at XX Merge (I’m so happy that Merge Records decided to release this in honor of their 25th Anniversary. Looks like the LP is out of print for the moment.)
William Tyler – Lost Colony
An Accidental Concert Photo
Label: http://www.12k.com/index.php/site/releases/akari/ CD 12K1080 Time: 58:54
Artist Website: http://illuha.com/
1) Diagrams Of The Physical Interpretation of Resonance 2) Vertical Staves Of Line Drawings And Pointillism 3) The Relationship Of Gravity To The Persistence Of Sound 4) Structures Based On The Plasticity Of Sphere Surface Tension 5) Requiem For Relative Hyperbolas Of Amplified And Decaying Waveforms
ILLUHA’s new album is a more introspective progression from their previous works, some of which have been recorded in large spaces with vast natural reverberation (like their last studio album Shizuku – 12K1067). Akari is like the successively magnified views in Charles and Ray Eames’s film The Power of Ten, while still being in the dome of the sky, the experience of the sound moves inward, and despite being ever closer to the point of focus a vastness of even more detail is revealed. The album has a comforting intimacy, and from the first quite unexpected (to me!) muted acoustic guitar harmonics there is also a deeply tactile quality. The instrumentation on the album is diverse, but it never distracts; each sound or ensemble has the space it requires and it tangibly enhances the experience.
The recording is profoundly crystalline and as one meanders through the scenes there are moments of illumination to be discovered…finding light in the darkness where color and detail are exposed. The broader ambient sounds that open many of the tracks are subtle (like The Relationship of Gravity…) forming a backdrop for the journeys that Corey Fuller and Tomoyoshi Date lead us through.
I think the quality of sound-light in some of the passages of Akari is like the photo below that I took on a walk, early in the Fall of 2012.
Find a comfortable place to rest and get lost in this.
One of my favorite ILLUHA pieces is a live recording from their CD Interstices (see the excerpt of Interstices III below, CD also available from 12k).
Volume One – SoundSignals – #HCC001
Notes and Detailed Credits: http://hearcapecod.org/soundsignals/
CD 1 (Time: 39:08): Sound Signals: Act 1: On Land, Act II: On Water, Act III: A Year, Coda: Route Six
CD 2 (Time: 46:24): Signals Remixed: 1: Goldmund, 2: Marcus Fischer, 3: Loscil, 4: Taylor Deupree, 5: Neara Russell, 6: FourColor, 7: Steve Wilkes, 8: Simon Scott, 9: FourColor & SoundSignal
Volume Two – Upstream by Fordham Wilkes – #HCC002
Notes and Detailed Credits: http://hearcapecod.org/upstream/
CD (Time: 37:08): 1) Gates of Summer, 2: The Language of Birds, 3: GP Road Resonator, 4: Dive Down, 5: Upstream, 6: June, 7: Shifting Sand, 8: Fog, 9: The Message
Sound Archive: http://www.hearcapecod.org/ListView.php
Recordings mastered by Taylor Deupree at 12k Mastering
Since the middle of 2011, Berklee College of Music professor, percussionist and Blue Man Group alum, Steve Wilkes has been working on a project to capture the sounds of Cape Cod over a year and to map those sounds as an aural history of the region (the far eastern end of Massachusetts in the northeastern United States). The project was funded in part by the Newbury Comics Faculty Fellowship. The region has undergone many environmental and man-made changes, from rising sea levels and coastal erosion to residential development. It was Wilkes’ feeling that the region is measured and analyzed in many ways (like bird population counts, temperature and sea levels), but there was yet to be a base-line environmental sound analysis examining animal, environmental and cultural activity in the region.
At this point, the project consists of 3 CDs: 1, a collection of regional sounds; 2, the sounds remixed by a number of musicians who will be familiar to many, and 3, a song-cycle inspired by the region at various times throughout the year (which also incorporates many of the environmental sound recordings and the detailed credit links give an excellent overview of the variety on-location recordings). The album artwork evokes pleasant memories of worn edged blue-green beach-glass.
CD 1 is a sonic time capsule, and at first it reminded me of a number of sound effects and spoken word recordings of the 1940s and 50s, and for a brief moment, I thought I was hearing a snippet of the old records by Bert and I. It also had the immediate effect of taking me back in time to the days when I summered on “The Cape” as a child with my parents in the early 1960s. The documentation of the region also harkens back to some of the expansive sound archive work by Alan Lomax. This CD chronicles the sounds of land, water and activities that mark the course of a year from a First Night Noise Parade to the calming summertime beach surf. It closes with the reading of the poem Route Six by Stanley Kunitz (being the road that travels down the center of the “flexed arm” of Cape Cod, reaching out into the Atlantic Ocean).
Having lived in a beach-town region in nearby southern Connecticut, I am also reminded that a resort region like The Cape has two lives—the times when the summer-folk occupy and the off-season when only the locals remain. The off-season is the time when locals can take long walks on the shore beaches and see very few people. Life goes on in a different way after the tourists have left in the autumn.
Taylor Deupree’s Remix
Wind Chimes Field Recording That Inspired TD’s Remix
CD 2 is a sensitively created set of interpretive remixes by many well known artists in the current electro-acoustic, ambient and electronic music communities (see list above). The field recordings from CD 1 are delightfully co-mingled with the offerings from each of the artists (well documented at the web link also noted above). I was immediately struck by the opening notes of the first track by Goldmund (Keith Kenniff), the piano melody being very reminiscent of Anthony Phillips’ Death of a Knight from Henry: Portrait from Tudor Times (from the album The Geese and The Ghost), before drifting into a dream-state with seaside, night-time crickets and Morse Code pulses.
Field Recording for FourColor Remix
Most of the remixes are by artists who have done work strongly connected with outdoor environs and water (as in the Flaming Pines label Rivers Home series), like Marcus Fischer, Taylor Deupree and Simon Scott (to name a few). The character of this disc ranges from contemplative to glitchy (FourColor) to playfully rhythmic (as in Loscil’s remix). The remix by Steve Wilkes includes the first HearCapeCod recording made in Truro at Corn Hill Beach in the summer of 2002. The CD closes with a collaboration of FourColor and SoundSignal (Wilkes) and is the most melodic and rhythmic of the tracks of the album. This CD forms a strong connection to the foundation provided by Wilkes’ research and recordings. As much as I’m tempted to suggest that this CD be made available separately, after spending time with the entire set, it is actually a quite inseparable part of the whole.
CD 3 Upstream, is a song cycle by the duo Fordham Wilkes (Ginny Fordham: vocals, Steve Wilkes: drums with Crit Harmon: guitars and Keiichi Sugimoto: guitars) and is inspired by years of memories of time on Cape Cod and it is the most personal of the three discs. Fond recollections of places run deep for many and they have different effects on people. This is where the project transforms from being objective (CD 1) to the most reflective and personal (while avoiding sentimentality).
The album has a sense of welcoming and ease, enjoying summer breezes, wading in tidal pools, walking in sanctuaries or along beaches. There is no heavy foreboding or hand-wringing of what was or could be; the feeling is that of the now and hopefulness, and Ginny Fordham’s voice brings a relaxing calm to the album. Gates of Summer opens CD3 and is forms an instrumental and melodic transition from the last track of CD2. The Language of Birds plays rhythmically with a juxtaposition and syncopation of the instrumentation and avian field recordings.
GP Road Resonator
The Field Recording Forming Basis for GP Road Resonator
The ever-present drone of automobile traffic is also a reality of summers on The Cape (whether passing over the Sagamore or Bourne bridges before necking down to Route 6 or at the half-way point to Provincetown, in Eastham) and these sounds are merged with fleeting views to salt marshes in the pensive GP Road Resonator. As in CD 1, there are songs of Land as well as Water, as in Dive Down and Upstream (as much a metaphor for returning to and rebirth of the area as it is the traffic on Route 6 that one is “swimming” against!).
CD 3 is also a reflection of CD 1’s A Year, The Cape in song over the course of a single circumnavigation of our Earth around the Sun. As the album progresses through the summer and into the end of a year (June, Shifting Sand and Fog) it grows more contemplative with the advancing of the calendar, melding dreams with reality. Each Spring many look forward the approaching time outside and then seemingly in the blink of an eye, Summer is over. The album closes with The Message, an inspiration left in a voicemail, which ultimately is the beacon announcing the sense of place of The Cape that inspired the HearCapeCod project.
The release date (May 28, 2013) for this set is at the unofficial “gate of summer” season, just after Memorial Day weekend. These albums will be available at: Booksmith Musicsmith, Orleans, MA: https://www.facebook.com/BooksmithMusicsmith , Muir Music, Provincetown, MA: https://www.facebook.com/muirmusic5 , The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History: http://ccmnh.org/, CD Baby: SoundSignals On CD Baby, iTunes: http://www.apple.com/itunes/ and Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/
Thank you to all the artists and record labels for such wonderful and diverse music.
This is one list of many, it’s my list, and it leaves off many other favorites that I have enjoyed over the year in addition to the thousands of other albums and single tracks that make up music throughout the World. What has helped me arrive at this list is what I have always loved about music: Does it move me? In addition, is it creative, well recorded and produced with a degree of care that makes me pay attention to it? There was a time when I was obsessed with highly produced and tightly engineered works, then I learned about artists such as East River Pipe and Sparklehorse, and many other genres of music were opened to me.
If you don’t see your favorite album on this list (or even your own album), it doesn’t mean a thing. If an album has been reviewed on my website this year, it’s meaningful to many others and me, but this is only a very, very small slice of the music world. Often people ask me about new music, and what I recommend. When I started this website in late January, 2012 it was first a means to write about music that I enjoyed, but also to get to know other artists and learn about new music that they create, so I could pass it on. Often, the best new music is that referred by a friend. Please feel free to send me your comments and recommendations.
Special note: There are still three or four late 2012 releases that are either enroute to me, have yet to be released or have just arrived. I need to spend proper time listening to and absorbing these albums. Rather than delaying this list further, and if after listening to those last 2012 releases I feel that they hit a sweet spot, I’ll review those albums in early 2013. I know of at least two 2012 releases that I’ll likely not receive until 2013.
I have three categories: Albums (12), Individual Tracks (6), and Special Releases (3) that don’t necessarily fit into a category.
Albums (Artist – Album Title – Record Label)
1) Twigs & Yarn – The Language of Flowers – Flau
2) Lambchop – Mr. M – Merge Records
3) Zammuto – Zammuto – Temporary Residence
4) Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II – Inside Out Music
5) Taylor Deupree – Faint – 12k
6) Billow Observatory – Billow Observatory – Felte
7) Gareth Dickson – Quite A Way Away – 12k
8) Pill-Oh – Vanishing Mirror – Kitchen. Label
9) Brambles – Charcoal – Serein
10) Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday – Words On Music
11) Cody ChesnuTT – Landing On A Hundred – One Little Indian
12) Stick Men – Deep – Stick Men Records
Individual Tracks (from other albums)
1) Library Tapes – Sun peeking through (from the album Sun peeking through) – Self Released
2) Cock & Swan – Orange & Pink (from the album Stash) – Lost Tribe Sound
3) Alex Tiuniaev – Daylight (from the album Blurred) – Heat Death Records
4) Kyle Bobby Dunn – In Praise of Tears (from the album In Miserum Stercus) – Komino
5) Kane Ikin & David Wenngren – Chalk (from the album Strangers) – Keshhhhhh
6) Olan Mill – Bleu Polar (from the album Paths) – Fac-ture
1) Celer & Machinefabriek: Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake, Numa/Penarie, Hei/Sou – Self Released
2) Birds Of A Feather: Michael Frommer – The Great Northern Loon, Porya Hatami – The Black Woodpecker, Darren McClure – The Black Kite, The Green Kingdom – The Great Blue Heron – Flaming Pines
3) Simon Scott, Corey Fuller, Marcus Fischer, Tomoyoshi Date and Taylor Deupree (Recorded live in Japan October, 8, 2012) – Between (…The Branches) – 12k
Record Labels Noted Above
Merge Records: http://www.mergerecords.com/
Temporary Residence LTD: http://temporaryresidence.com/
Inside Out: http://www.insideoutmusic.com/
Kitchen. Label: http://www.kitchen-label.com/
Words On Music: http://www.words-on-music.com/
One Little Indian: http://indian.co.uk/shop/landing-on-a-hundred-1.html
Stick Men Records: http://stick-men.net
Library Tapes: http://librarytapes.com/
Lost Tribe Sound: http://www.cockandswan.com/ Note: I have not listed the weblink to the record label as Google has noted that the website MAY be compromised.
Heat Death Records: http://www.heatdeathrecords.co.uk/
Kesh (Simon Scott’s label): http://www.keshhhhhh.com/
Flaming Pines: http://flamingpines.com/
Taylor Deupree’s Discography: http://www.taylordeupree.com/music/
12k2025 (CD, Deluxe CD & Digital)
Tracks: CD1 57:17 1) Negative Snow; 2) Dreams of Stairs; 3) Thaw; 4) Shutter; 5) Sundown & CD2 38:38 1) Thaw (Reprise)
Whether it’s his music, photography, collaborations, and even the work from his record label 12k, Taylor Deupree is an Artist (emphasis on capital A). I’m a relative late-comer to his work, and I’m not even quite sure how that I came across his work or the 12k label, but I think that it had something to do with a 12k sampler CD, and then as I often do, I took a dive into his back catalog, focusing on physical releases (since those tend to be my preference—I’m old fashioned that way).
While Deupree has an extensive solo output, he also is an active collaborator with a wide range of artists (follow the discography link I noted above) in addition to many other musicians not listed for concerts and tours. He also actively experiments with new approaches and directions in his work—reinvention invigorates. Just as in his musical works, there is a peaceful desolation in his photography. I’m drawn to many of his photos, especially his landscapes (I’m fortunate to have a copy of his book of photos and CD Sea Last), but this is one of my favorites:
I also enjoy his Instagram photos posts, many of them are taken on outings in the woods, the fields and a reservoir nearby his home. It’s evident in his mastering of his own work and those of other musicians that the quality of the sound is important too (I often seek out music, not only for the artist, but the studio, sound engineer, producer and mastering engineer). Each release by 12k, whether CD, LP, standard or deluxe edition, receives special attention in the design, execution and promotion of the work. I admire this greatly—the time and attention is worth the money and the effort.
Faint is Taylor Deupree’s new album. It’s available in the latest 12k packaging as a standard release, as digital files or in a deluxe edition (pictured here) with a second CD of extended version of the track Thaw as well as twelve prints of photos taken by Deupree with a handmade camera. Faint overall is more restrained and pared-down to elemental sounds (though not at all stark) compared to his other recent work, yet it has a warmth that makes this album deeply comforting (hints of this are in the track titles). I’m not sure of the timeline in the recording of this album (beyond that it was recorded over a two year time span), but there are similarities in Negative Snow to the environment in Simon Scott’s expansive album Below Sea Level. It’s like taking a walk in a field that still has a foot in Winter, but the cold is subsiding in the sun and streams are returning to refill vernal pools.
Dream of Stairs is a gorgeous track with a lightly guiding keyboard thread (sounding like a Fender Rhodes piano) weaving through whispers of treatments, gentle guitars, remote looped voices, and ephemeral sounds of an almost intangible reality that might be captured on the edges of a dream.
Thaw (with a longer reprise on CD2 in the deluxe issue, akin to Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon) has a broader aura, like a fog lifting on an very early Spring morning where the air is warmer than the still-frozen ground. There is an ethereal suspension into which a distant organ-like sound appears and retracts back into the haze—like gentle waves on a flat sand beach. It has an ancient and mysterious sound like that in Creation du Monde, a very early post-Aphrodite’s Child soundtrack by Vangelis. Shutter has a hazy analog-reverberant foundation behind a placid and heavily treated electric guitar solo that is later joined by gentle reminders of Dream of… Sundown at first is a like a quiet seascape, watching distant ships passing and hearing far-off signals as a day draws to a close. Closer sounds enter to illuminate the scene, like fleeting afterglows that fill a sky once the sun disappears below the horizon—nature’s reverberation of what was, before entering darkness.
It’s a restful and warm journey.
Record Label Website: http://www.flamingpines.com/
Soundcloud Page: http://soundcloud.com/flaming-pines
Bandcamp Page: http://flamingpines.bandcamp.com/
I am always looking for new and interesting music, and often works with a message or a foundation. Late in 2011, I came across a label from Sydney, Australia named Flaming Pines. I first noticed an EP release by Marcus Fischer and then realized that it was part of a series entitled Rivers Home. The first series consisted of 5 separate 3 inch CDs, each with works by a different artist (Marcus Fischer, Kate Carr, Field Rotation, Broken Chip and Billy Gomberg). There was also a common theme to the CDs, and I immediately took note of the striking cover artwork. Rivers Home (and its later Part Two with releases by The Boats, Seth Chrisman, Dan Whiting, Savaran, and All N4tural) “…celebrates the wonder of rivers at a time when many of them are particularly vulnerable. Many of us dream about rivers, ride along rivers, take ferries along rivers and sit on river banks. This series is a musical exploration of the ways we influence rivers and they influence us.” The founder of Flaming Pines it turns out is Kate Carr, whose work is also featured in the series. Kate also produces the artwork for the covers. I ultimately bought the entire set. Many of Flaming Pines’ releases are mastered by Taylor Deupree of 12k.
Marcus Fischer – Willamette River
The Boats – River Calder
Recent releases include a split album by Kate Carr (Blue) and Gail Priest (Green), which is an exploration of sound and color. The last track of each side serves as a transition to the other side of the LP, and the color references are subtle (as colors are muted at dawn and dusk), and reveal the natural world with field recordings and gossamers of acoustic and electronic instrumentation and effects. The LP silences the distracting world around and reveals the many things missed in the background as the days and seasons come and go all too fast. The LP is a co-production of Flaming Pines and Metal Bitch Recordings.
Kate Carr – Excerpt from Blue
Gail Priest – Excerpt from Green
Just released in September is the next series of EPs on a theme, this time Birds Of A Feather, and the covers keep getting better! The first two are the Black Woodpecker by Iran’s Porya Hatami and Great Northern Loon by Canadian Michael Trommer. Carr notes of this series, “…the role of birds as muse, as musical guide and inspiration has been well documented in classical music, from Mozart’s pet starling to Beethoven’s birdsong filled Pastoral Symphony and Sibelius’s swan hymn to Messaien’s birdsong compositions. Birds Of A Feather celebrates the role of birds in ambient music, and the beautiful fragility of birds more generally.” Both of these EPs are deeply layered soundscapes with field recordings of the chosen birds and environs mixed with acoustic and electronic instrumentation that heighten the experience. It’s like getting lost in the woods or paddling a canoe on a hidden lake.
As with Rivers Home, Birds Of A Feather will be a series of about 12 three inch CDs released as pairs in editions of 100 over the next year. The next pair of CDs will be by The Green Kingdom and Darren McClure.
My favorite of the cover artwork thus far is the expressive Black Woodpecker.
Michael Trommer – Great Northern Loon Excerpt
Porya Hatami – Black Woodpecker Excerpt
The latest October release is a debut by Michael Terren entitled Bythorne, who lives in far western Australia in Perth. In June of this year, he strapped his piano to a trailer and drove it 200 kilometers to a farm of his childhood. There he recorded this EP of six compositions (Cureaking, These Ones, All Nine of Them, Midiology, Bythorne and Dardyboys). The tracks echo the surroundings and ever-changing weather (from placid blue skies to sudden stormy weather in from the Indian Ocean) as well as the pastoral timelessness. I get a strong feeling of the sense of place from the beautiful title track. The sleeve is handmade and the EP is limited to 100 copies.
Michael Terren – Bythorne
12k1071 CD – Time: 53:33
Tracks: 1) Europa; 2) Slow Waves; 3) In The Arc; 4) Ebbing; 5) Rhea; 6) Titan; 7) Sleep Spindle; 8) An Infinite Moment; 9) The Violent Silence; 10) Black Sands; 11) Lo; 12) Prometheus’ Tail; 13) Oberon; 14) Compression Waves; 15) In The Shadow Of The Vanishing Night; 16) Hyperion;
I don’t know exactly on what plane Kane Ikin exists, but I can tell you that I’d like to get there. There is a sense of deep mystery, the fleeting ethereal and a curious otherness in his musical travels. I’ll gladly get on his spaceship, anytime.
Kane Ikin is one half of Solo Andata (along with Paul Fiocco, both being from Australia), and he has also collaborated with other artists including David Wenngren (aka Library Tapes) on their February 2012 album Strangers (KESH017). I first encountered Solo Andata’s work in the 2009 self-titled 12k release.
Earlier this year, Ikin gave us a taster EP entitled Contrail (clear vinyl 7”, and a separate download of four tracks), and the title track alone was worth the price of the entire EP, not to mention the marvelous job that 12k did with the packaging. Also, of note, Sublunar is packaged in 12k’s new (no plastic, and I assume, recycled cardboard) sleeve design.
Ikin’s music is decidedly lo-fi in production (tape loops, altered field recordings, sampling, warped instrumental recordings), but the quality and care that he takes in combining tangible instrumentation with highly manipulated sounds gives the end result an indescribable yet comforting quality. His solo work also tends (so far) to focus on shorter format recordings (the longest track Oberon on Sublunar is 4:51). Also, while I consider his work to be highly original in form and sound; there are occasional (intentional?) references to works of others. At the risk of driving my readers bonkers, I’ll again reference Kraftwerk and their track Kling Klang from the 1972 album Kraftwerk 2, which came to mind when I first heard the gongs and bells in track (6) Titan.
Sublunar is a series of short journeys, just enough time to experience the sense of place Ikin is depicting, but not so long that one feels the urge to get to the next destination too quickly. I’m going to resist the temptation to describe each track (there’s a full single track sound file for Europa and an Experimedia sampler of excerpts from the entire album), because I think that might diminish a sense of self-exploration for the listener. Some tracks meander with little guidance from a recognizable beat, whereas others have highly treated percussion with extended decay. I especially like how Kane treats the sound of strings in the mix; he uses the entirety of an acoustic guitar’s resonance. Sublunar is a potent musical experience, and I hope Kane Ikin continues his voyages of experimentation, because I’m completely hooked.
Sublunar‘s Teaser Video
Experimedia’s Sampler of the Album
Optic Echo – oe010 LP limited to 250 LP copies
Marcus Fischer: http://www.mapmap.ch/index.php/recordings/tessellations/
Record Label Website: http://www.opticecho.com/OE/News.html
LP Time: about 43 minutes. Digital Time*: about 49 minutes with Track 8*.
Credits: Mastered by Taylor Deupree at 12k. Cut by Rashad at Dubplates & Mastering. Cover Design: Marcus Fischer
Tracks: 1) belong; 2) cold spring; 3) bokeh; 4) fourier; 5) unfold; 6) ghost lights; 7) tessellate (tessellation); 8) music for caverns*
Improvisation is about taking risks, experimenting and responding to the immediate results. It is the outcome of the instantaneous transition from thought to motion, and then to sound. It sometimes takes practice, and it requires chemistry between the artists; the kind of vibe evident between Marcus Fischer and Ted Laderas (aka The-OO-Ray). Music can yield a far timelier reward compared to other slower [art] forms, like in architecture or science, where the results of research and collaboration can often take years to behold.
This has been a busy year for Marcus Fischer with at least five published recordings, touring, and new projects in the works. I’ve certainly enjoyed all of them, solo and collaborative. It is thanks to Fischer’s work that I have become familiar with Ted Laderas (The OO-Ray: self-professed on his Twitter bio “Half Scientist, Half Cellist, All Shoegazer”) and his electro-acoustic chamber-drones.
Tessellations is the result of a series of long-form improvisations between the Fischer and Laderas. It was commissioned by the Optic Echo label in 2011. The instrumentation is largely stringed (acoustic and electric guitars, cello, lap harp) with percussion, loops, processing and minimal synthesizers. The album has a dynamic richness with a combination of soothing observation and introspection. I also appreciate that this is an album of largely non-electronic instrumentation, not necessarily a rejection of sequenced analog or digital electronics, but a return to earlier tangible instrumental roots, and a sense of the ageless. It kind of takes me back to some of Kraftwerk’s oft-forgotten earlier works from Kraftwerk 1 and 2, and Ralf and Florian; like the guitar portions of Tongebirge (Mountain of Sound) from 1973.
The album opens with belong, rising like the sun on a dewy morn; crisp and hopeful with a gentleness that avoids any sense of melancholy. Stark and mysterious is the ambience of cold spring with OO-Ray’s cello seeking the edges, and hints of Harold Budd’s Boy About 10 from the album By The Dawn’s Early Light. The largo metronomic of the bass line maintains the focus of bokeh as cello, keyboards and other instrumentation blurs the musical depth of field.
The shifting of sounds, interlocking, matching and then contrasting (much like a moiré pattern) is the sense presented in fourier, which is perhaps the most densely packed and expansive of the tracks. By contrast, unfold is perhaps the most peaceful track on the album, a private [waterside] contemplation with gently flowing cello, meandering lap harp layered and a soft droning veil. Then, the mystical and shimmering reverb of ghost lights emerges, and is reminiscent of the recent Unrecognizable Now album (Fischer’s collaboration with Matt Jones, KESH018) Two Rooms, with shifting chords and bowed strings (and has some of the sound I noted earlier in Tongebirge).
tessellate is the longest (about 10 minutes) and most subtle of the tracks on the album (titled tessellation on the download). It has the most nuanced transitions, with Fischer and Laderas trading themes and responses, and weaving phrases back into the fabric of the piece. It brings the LP to a placid close. *music for caverns is the bonus track with the digital download, and is a warm postlude to the day that started with belong, and in some respects is similar to the closing tracks of Eno, Lanois & Eno’s album, Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks—one of my favorite of Eno’s collaborative works.
Marcus Fischer + The OO-Ray have deftly assembled in their collaborative improvisational work both a cohesive sonic realism, and impressionistic vision with a timeless authenticity.
Marcus Fischer + The OO-Ray – Photo by Seth Chrisman
Hibernate Recordings – HB44: Time: 46:30 – Edition of 250
Record Label Website: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk
More on this release: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk/releases/autistici-beneath-peaks/
Artist Website: http://www.autistici.com/
1) Asleep Beneath Nests (Fieldhead); 2) Edall; 3) Mam Tor Soarers’ Workshop; 4) Styx; 5) Edge Over Millstone View; 6) Padley Gorge; 7) Noe (Upper Booth); 8) Mulgrave’s Dining-Room; 9) Aidale; 10) Peveril’s Open Door; 11) Sleep State For Carl Wark
Beneath Peaks (Autistici’s debut release on Hibernate Recordings) is an interpretive sound narrative of a walking and camping tour through the Peak District in the central UK; a luminous and expansive journey with a strong sense of place. The region is geologically diverse with moorland plateaus, expanses of millstone grit escarpments, limestone and demarking zones at the edges of the long-ago eroded strata. I have been fortunate to take long walks in similar places: Devon (The Burrows in Saunton) and on Exmoor in the southwestern UK, and Beneath Peaks is certainly an enticement to travel to this varied pastoral upland region.
Even before the music, I was struck by the hues, varying landscape and seemingly endless sky in the cover photo (quite similar to Exmoor in some respects). The photo is also illustrative of Autistici’s work, which ranges from outwardly expansive to inwardly minute explorations; the literal and abstract in a landscape that is both known yet still mysterious.
Instrumentation throughout the album is both recognizable and veiled, and includes piano, guitar, synthesizer and electronics, in addition to sculpted fragments of extensive field recordings captured during the trip (processed with the help of Christopher Hipgrave’s software module AMBIENT). Additional guitar on Edge Over Millstone View was provided by Erik Schoster.
Beneath Peaks is book-ended by two sleep-states: an awakening (the beginning of the journey at a campsite named Fieldhead) and a closing to slumber and inward contemplation (at the ancient Carl Wark). Throughout there is a deep sense of observation and contemplation, both in the literal field recordings and abstract sonic interpretations of the journey.
Asleep Beneath Nests (Fieldhead) is a deftly woven tapestry of field, avian and human sounds, rising with the sun (while human slumbers). Edall is the sound of breathing and pulsing; movement through this timeless area. Edall is a 16th century variant spelling of the village of Edale and was once known as the “Valley of the River Noe”; the start of the Pennine Way, a trail in this district. Mam Tor Soarers’ Workshop; starts in what appears to be in a woodworker’s shop. This is a region known for hang and para-gliding. As this track progresses, it transitions from being grounded to having a sense of weightlessness. The latter section (and I am speculating) appears to be a bit of an homage to Raymond Scott’s rhythmic and melodic electronic Bass-Line Generator (of 1967). Styx is a brief and quiet transition into Edge Over Millstone View. The sound is sharp and panoramic in contrast to other areas of rolling pasturelands elsewhere in this region (a reference to the geology, I speculate).
The rocky echoed sounds of Padley Gorge give the sense of passing through the deep narrow wooded valley near the village of Grindleford. Burbage Brook is at the base of the gorge. Noe (Upper Booth) is a small tributary to the River Derwent and forms a sonic respite before a pulsating encounter with Mulgrave’s Dining-Room. Aidale (I believe, another early variant spelling of the village Edale) is at first, a delightful contrast to Mulgrave’s; a meandering solo piano, which then drifts into an altered dream-state and transitions to the apparent sounds of traffic passing or is it time bending? Peveril’s Open Door brings us to the environs of Castleton and the nearby Peveril Castle, which overlooks the village with sounds of birds, nearby waterway and the piano returns. The end of the journey is Sleep State For Carl Wark, the rocky promontory in Hatersage Moor (believed to be the site of an Iron Age hill fort). It is here that memories of the distant past flow into and blend with the present, and sleep returns with music box and strings; the end of a captivating journey.
Autistici is Sheffield-based (UK) sound artist David Newman. He is the curator of the Audiobulb (where I discovered the marvelous work of Monty Adkins) and Audiomoves record labels. To date, Autistici has released a number of acclaimed albums on the 12k, Home Normal and Keshhhhhh labels, amongst others.
Updated sound files will be posted when available.
This is a solicited review.
Record Label: http://12k.com/ #12K1071
CD Time: 43:10
Artist Website: http://simonscott.org/
Tracks: 1) __Sealevel.1; 2) __Sealevel.2; 3) __Sealevel.3; 4) __Sealevel.4; 5) __Sealevel.5; 6) __Sealevel.6; 7) __Sealevel.7
Simon Scott has given us a great gift—finding music in nature, while the rest of the World is flashing by. Below Sea Level is not only an expansive work of academic and historic significance, but it captures the feeling and sounds of being in and near the Fens of East Anglia, UK. The work often abstracts the literal and produces a sense of contemplative reverence for an area that has endured great and tragic changes since the 17th Century, due to ill-advised human intervention over nature.
Simon Scott – Courtesy of 12k
I have been fortunate to explore some parts of this region (as far north as Stiffkey—both farm and fen). Taylor Deupree’s 12k record label has assembled this beautiful work including a deluxe edition (CD, illustrated hardbound journal, inked sketch by Scott and a 34 minute live recording download). I recommend purchasing this edition, though the CD alone is a fine alternative and is also beautifully packaged.
Below Sea Level is clearly an exploration with some very personal roots and memories, “Over the two years I visited the Fens to record, my childhood memories were reawakened and I realised as I explored a landscape that was personal to me, but contained unfamiliar and hidden acoustic details.”, writes Scott. With each track, the listener is taken ever-deeper into this mysterious landscape.
__Sealevel.1 is almost as if eyes open from a dream, and we are in the Fens, first observing from the outside before entering. The birds, insects, water underneath, and the drifting breezes fill the vision, as a lone electric guitar is the beacon for the marvelous journey. Other treatments and electronics weave their way into the flora and fauna.
__Sealevel.2 rises as of the morning sun, geese fly overhead and the fabric of the environmental and instrumental sounds is woven deftly and seamlessly. The attention to the production of this work is so masterful that it is often difficult to discern where the natural and synthetic begin and end. Water filters through, rhythmic buzzing and guitar arpeggios mesh together with ambient sounds and avian denizens. As this piece closes, first there is a building drone of sound and then it subsides into a hint of acoustic guitar.
__Sealevel.3 begins in the visceral depths (low frequencies) with birds aloft overhead. It’s the feeling of pushing deeply into the unknown of the mysterious Fens of peat while getting lost in the droning electronics and deep rumbling and distorted guitar before reemerging.
__Sealevel.4 is near the water, at the edges and down low. The instrumentation is reminiscent of flowing water weeds and marsh grasses as they pass by on the journey, ever-deeper into the marshland.
__Sealevel.5 begins with the shrill and mystical and then a return to an identifiable acoustic guitar theme, which to me, appears as the human element observing the landscape, before being absorbed again back into the sounds of the surroundings. The memories of Scott’s childhood seem to filter in with a short passage from a music box before fading.
__Sealevel.6 is dense with an almost sensory overload of sound; the layered and diverse gives a sense of the incredible simultaneous activity occurring even in this natural landscape.
__Sealevel.7 closes the work with a calming and melodic aquatic voyage, flowing slowly and soon returning to the ambient sounds of insects above the water that inhabit this expansive other-worldly realm.
In an era where the artist and their works are often undervalued (file-sharing, Spotify and the utter drivel being released by many of the corporate record labels), it is so heartening to see, yet again, an independent record label such as 12k paying tribute to a work such as this. Simon Scott has produced in Below Sea Level an authentic, thoughtful and informative work that is a real treat to behold and explore.