CD: Darla DRL289 2014 Time: About 39 minutes
CD available at this link to Darla (To be released on September 9, 2014)
Tracks: Jane 12 through Jane 21 with track Jane 16 subtitled (For Pale Saints)
I took some time off from writing reviews; primarily to just take some time off, but also I have been awaiting preorders for a number of releases as well as getting more serious about making some music instead of just listening. It’s a hard road training old fingers to do new things, but it’s about the journey for me, not just the destination.
What a treat it is to return to a new album by Harold Budd (and I understand that another collaboration with Robin Guthrie has been recorded and will be released in early 2015, the title will be Another Flower). Jane 12-21 is another fine example of Harold Budd sitting at a piano (or other instrument) and just playing without rehearsal or embellishment, one take without revisiting and then moving on. There are some apparent treatments and minimal overdubs. It’s difficult for me to tell if the percussion is actual or keyboard-based sampling, but it does sound like actual percussion most of the time.
This album is simpler and less adventurous compared to Jane 1-11, and that’s not a criticism at all, just an observation. The cover design is also rather stark by comparison, with one panel by artist Jane Maru and minimal information about the tracks, recording and times, adding a bit to the somewhat mysterious nature of the album. Jane 1-11 was created in response to videos created by artist Jane Maru (which were later released as a companion CD/DVD: Budd Maru Collaboration ) so without the benefit of input from Harold Budd (so far), I wonder if Jane 12-21 was created as a response to further videos by Maru (see video for Jane 8 below).
The album contrasts between recordings that are intimate and those which are spatially broad, more distant (whether the distance and reverberation were achieved with actual spaces or electronically, I don’t know). To briefly describe each of the tracks on the album: Jane 12 is a stark and up-close, yet resonant piano with brief references to Debussy’s Clair de Lune. Jane 13 also uses a piano with light melodic percussion. After the first two tracks Budd moves to more experimental territory and Jane 14 consists of melodic percussion (bells, glasses) with reverb and has a very calming effect. Distance, like a dream on the edge of consciousness is how Jane 15 sounds, with hushed piano and a spatial reverb. Whether intentional or not, I do find some of the pieces referring back to other previous Jane 1-11 pieces. Jane 16 does this for me—reminds me of Jane 8. It’s placid keyboard chords with gentle piano accompaniment and minimal apparent treatments. The piano is responding to the chord movement of the keyboard.
Air moving through pipes is how Jane 17 starts, it’s a strong sound with treated piano and minimal percussion, and a pronounced flow and movement. Jane 18 bends and twists with a somewhat downcast sonorous keyboard. The melodic references to the first Jane series return with Jane 19, again keyboard and resonant chimes. It sounds a bit more reflective to me with shades of Budd’s earlier work.
Jane 20 has a breathy keyboard melody, somewhere between wind chimes and woodwinds along with a gamelan (at times sounding like vibraphone) and deep percussive overtones. This track more than any other in the series evokes a scene from a film with a vast landscape of mystery. Budd closes this collection with Jane 21, a modest and delicately resonant cross between piano and celeste and themes appearing in various other Jane tracks, making it part of the larger cohesive whole.
Harold Budd’s work takes me to a place where I like to be, and return there as often as I can. I think you’ll want to add this album to your collection.
Darla Records – DRL 281 CD Time: 59:18
Tracks: Jane 1, Jane 2, Jane 3, Jane 4, Jane 5, Jane 6, Jane 7, Jane 8, Jane 9, Jane 10, Jane 11
Harold Budd is not complacent and I am thankful that rumors of his retirement actually turned out to be false (he briefly tired of writing and recording). He is (at 77) producing some of the most interesting work of his long and varied career. In a way, he is like Frank Lloyd Wright was at about the same age when Wright was hitting his stride with highly original and innovative works like the Kaufmann House (best known as Fallingwater)—always exploring and seeking new edges. Many might connect Budd’s work almost exclusively with solo piano pieces or his first collaboration with Brian Eno, Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror, but his discography is remarkably varied, and including his joint releases, he has contributed to or been the solo artist on over forty albums since 1971.
The music alone on this album is divine, and even better there will be a DVD later this year including video collaborations with artist Jane Maru (who also produced the beautiful artwork for this album). Earlier this year a version of the furtive and at times skittering Jane 9 was quietly released on youtube—it’s just a hint of what to expect from this album.
This is a work of contrasts; some tracks tease the senses (like the unexpected and at times shrill Jane 1 or sharp-edged Jane 5 or the visceral and ghostly Jane 7) and then the pleasurable counter-effects are later intensified as the music ebbs and flows (as in Jane 2, Jane 3, Jane 4 and the sublime Jane 8). Moods and spaces change, first grounded and up-close and then transform into expansive and liberating flights. Budd is also exploring new sounds, instrumentation and treatments on this album (percussion [like chimes], electric piano, droning electronics, celeste and harp). I won’t say why, but Jane 6 evokes some very pleasant childhood memories. Jane 8 reminds me a bit of Anthony Phillips’ recent work Watching While You Sleep—deeply moving and one of those tracks I don’t want to end. The expansive Jane 10 is almost a reverse overture, recapitulating variations of sounds and themes from the previous tracks, as if reliving the experiences. To me, Jane 11 is the reappearance of the spirit of Jane 8—that which I didn’t want to end earlier, returned. How did Budd know that this is what I wanted?
Harold Budd has an uncanny gift for expressing so much with so little, a poet who just happens to use music instead of words.
Sound In Silence #sis015 Limited Edition of 200 CDr in hand numbered sleeve w/ insert
Tracks: 1) Passing Time, 2) Monuments, 3) Concrete Oceans, 4) Sandlab, 5) I Have Never Seen The Light, 6) Scholars Of Time Travel (part 2), 7) Sun Dial, 8) So Long As They Fear Us (on the CDr only)
The overlapping musical origins of Mike Abercrombie and Brad Deschamps have led to a sound that shifts between music genres: Mike’s roots being in electronic music and Brad’s in post-rock. They share common interests in the works of Eno, Satie, Stars of the Lid and others, and their music is soothing yet with a clarity of awareness of the out there beyond what is often the prosaic miasma passing these days as ambient instrumental music. It’s kind of like lightly sleeping with one eye open; taking in a view and related sounds while acknowledging what might lurk in the underneath or the above. At first, the presence of a musical fabric sets a scene and then a transformation to what might be a song in search of a lyric or even a deep transitional groove—it fits well.
At times the change in sound can be more than just a nudge (an unforeseen entrance of percussion or a back beat as in the middle of I Have Never Seen The Light—a wake-up of sorts, as if to ask: “Are you paying attention?—Don’t drift off just yet!”). It appears like a coalesced awareness from within a dream or as if sleeping in the warm sun when a cool breeze unexpectedly but pleasantly arises (a well known Canadian experience, I suspect).
There are threads between pieces on the album (and also to North Atlantic Drift’s first EP) like with the common sonic roots in Passing Time and Monuments (the undercurrent that binds) with the themes further developed with sustained and reverberant electric guitars. I’m somewhat familiar with their previous album Canvas as well as their two EPs Amateur Astronomy and their first work Scholars of Time Travel, the root of the sixth track SOTT (part 2) on Monuments. Part 2 is the awakened day to the original EP’s quiescent night with first an undertow of processed piano, and then the Sun rises as the undisguised piano is revealed.
I find that North Atlantic Drift’s music has a stronger connection to recent work by Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) as opposed to Eno, Satie or SotL, yet the overall sound is more rooted in tangible instrumentation; the alignment with Guthrie’s work being that moods are set with an opening wash of sound (while a spring is being gently wound) and then a release to a fuller rhythmic soundscape. The most visually reflective track on the album is Sun Dial, the slow sweep of shadows passing as the light and activity waxes and wanes with the field-recorded ephemeral sounds of a day. The extra track So Long As They Fear Us on the CDr (not the digital download) is a return to the quietude, like sitting on a porch (in the dark) on a comfortable rainy night with a safely distant thunderstorm.
And don’t forget to go back to their album Canvas—copies are still available.
Amateur Astronomy: http://northatlanticdrift.bandcamp.com/album/amateur-astronomy
Canvas (first full album): http://northatlanticdrift.bandcamp.com/album/canvas
Scholars of Time Travel: http://northatlanticdrift.bandcamp.com/album/scholars-of-time-travel
This is a solicited review.
Backwater Records OLKCD023 – Time: About 42 minutes (CD & Digital Files)
Record Label Website: http://www.backwaterrecords.com/
Tracks: 1) You’re Just A Bloke; 2) All In A Garden; 3) The Old Queen’s Head; 4) There’s Something Wrong With Ted; 5) The Cold Night Is Over; 6) Marrers; 7) My Old Bike; 8) You’re Just A Bloke (Ted); 9) Moon Waltz; 10) Ever True; 11) Sally; 12) Bittersweet; 13) Ted’s Funeral Music
I find it hard to believe that my original LP copy of Apollo (Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno) will be thirty years old in 2013, but there it is—one of the great albums of the ambient music genre. When I think of Roger Eno’s music over the years, three words come to mind: thoughtful, quirky and sometimes playful. Whether lyric or instrumental, RE’s works tell stories that can either be tightly sewn threads or loosely knitted yarns. Often, the subjects are quiet ruminations, but they can also be spirited and cheerful. His works can also be rather enigmatic, as noted in an autobiographical analysis from his website: [He is] “On an ongoing and heterogeneous musical journey which twists and turns and goes whichever way you think it won’t.”
Roger Eno entered the professional music scene with Apollo after music lessons and college to study music (as a multi-instrumentalist and singer), as well as running a music therapy course at a local hospital. In addition to working with his brother Brian, Roger has collaborated with artists including Bill Nelson, Kate St. John, Lol Hammond, Peter Hammill and Michael Brook, and has provided soundtracks for films and advertisements.
RE’s most memorable albums for me (of his 25 or so) include: Voices (1985), The Familiar (w/ Kate St. John, 1993), Automatic and Excellent Spirits (both with Channel Light Vessel, 1994 and 1996), Lost In Translation (1995), Swimming (1996), The Music of Neglected English Composers (1997), and more recently Fragile (Music) (2005), Anatomy (2008) and Flood (2008, a reinterpretation of a soundtrack constructed for Salthouse Art Festival in North Norfolk). I hope that Roger works again with Kate St. John and Bill Nelson; their work together on The Familiar is some of the most touching and enchantingly inspired work that I have in my music collection.
Ted Sheldrake is a departure from Roger Eno’s instrumental ambient work; originally a quiet neighbor and later a friend, it’s a tribute to a life, and even though it takes place in recent times, it could have just as easily taken place a hundred years ago—in many respects it did. It’s a familiar story in literature as well. In Victorian times, Richard Jefferies told the stories of common labourers, from the farm fields in his books like Green Ferne Farm, Round About A Great Estate (both from 1880), The Life Of The Fields (1884), and in newspaper articles during that time in the late 19th century. In the first half of the 20th century Henry Williamson also wrote of life in a West Devon village known as Ham (The Village Book and The Labouring Life in 1930 and 1932, respectively) and described the country life in the narrow village streets, fields and hedgerows, “local colour”, and stories of the “everyman”.
The compiled, mostly song-oriented work traces Ted in East Anglia (Suffolk and Norfolk, UK), being from a family of hearty stock, farm labourers and fishermen, and he spent his years working on an estate and living in a village where the pace of life was slower and the work was hard, but satisfying. In his younger days Ted learned to play a melodeon (hand organ), and as the years passed he became known for composing and performing songs in local pubs and village halls. In his later years, following his retirement, TS suffered the loss of his beloved wife, and something changed in him and it comes through in his music.
The album is divided, the way I see it, into two sections (observations and then reflections) and includes a number of recordings (songs, spoken word with accompaniment, and instrumental) made on location with cast of characters and talent connected to his life.
You’re Just A Bloke is an introduction to Ted’s work through the voices of others; a group interpretation of this universal and common man. This is the first indication that Ted’s work and life isn’t embellished with ornate descriptions, he’s the “real stuff”, with genuine words. Village life includes folks gathering in thatched cob or flint-walled cottages, village halls or pubs, and the jolly and perceptive All In A Garden brings this experience to life. Ted’s songs are also a bit like tiny memoirs, recounting special occasions and getting spiffed-up for The Old Queen’s Head.
As time passes, Ted’s meager existence and loss of friends weighs on him. Some around him sense a change in his countenance. There’s Something Wrong With Ted tells the worry of a friend, layered austerely with piano and a keyboard. The Cold Night Is Over is the beginning of Ted’s reflections of melancholy and pastoral memories of the farm fields and long views to the sea. Marrers (marrows or zucchinis) is perhaps the most beautiful track on the album—deeply reflective, and one of the main reasons Ted would still rise in the morning—for his garden; at first a lone piano, then an open and sincere expression of longing. The melodic theme is expanded modestly (and somewhat cheerfully at first), this time overlaid with memories in My Old Bike. Ted’s is a simple life in the village, never needing to leave East Anglia, and now missing his dear wife.
The original version of You’re Just A Bloke is rendered by Ted—directly, perhaps even more so than Hemingway. The last section of songs (with piano) present Ted’s most personal feelings, the endearing yet untrained voice, and uncomplicated romanticism of Moon Waltz and Ever True. Sally is an instrumental tribute to his wife, which is proud and forthright. Bittersweet is apparently Ted’s last song, interpreted by an ensemble of his mates (documented by local schoolteacher Miss Kemp—Ted didn’t write music, he just played it). The final tribute to his life is the piece Ted’s Funeral Music, which sounds like it’s played on an old harmonium or church organ.
So, slow the world down, set a spell, and get to know Ted Sheldrake and his humble existence. He might turn out to be someone you know, and it’s a simply delightful chronicle.
Ted Sheldrake will be released on January 7th, 2013.
Serein SERE003 – Time: About 38 minutes (CD & Digital Files)
Mastered by: Donal Whelan at Hafod
Tracks: 1) To Speak Of Solitude; 2) Such Owls As You; 3) In The Androgynous Dark; 4) Salt Photographs; 5) Pink And Golden Billows; 6) Arête; 7) Deep Corridor; 8) Unsayable
I am a relatively new listener to works on the Serein label, which was founded in 2005, originally with works available as free digital downloads. In 2009, Serein switched to “carefully considered commercial” releases. Serein is a name taken from the natural world, being a fine rain that falls from a clear sky after sunset (a phenomenon more common in the tropics, but I can’t say that it doesn’t occur in ancient, pastoral and industrialized Wales, where Serein is located). I first became acquainted with Serein after looking for back catalogue work by Olan Mill, and there I found their beautiful album Pine. So, another record label on which to get hooked!
Brambles is the alias of Mark Dawson, a musician born in the UK, a resident of Australia, and from what I have read, he is traveling throughout Europe (and currently in Berlin, according to his Twitter-feed @brambles, for those who adventure into the Twittersphere). Charcoal, his debut release, was largely recorded (piano, strings, woodwinds and field recordings) while in residence at The Painted Palace, a low-environmental-footprint communal house of artists and thinkers in Melbourne, Australia.
For me, Charcoal is an album of observation and contemplation at opposite ends of a given day. Beginning at the end—at dimmity*, the settling-in to night then shifting to first-light and awakening. The moods range from brooding (though not gloomy) to amorous (a deep feeling of warmth and comfort). There are times when the album verges on haunting, as in the dark visceral (and unexpected) tones of Deep Corridor.
Charcoal opens with the resting heartbeat of plucked strings and piano of To Speak of Solitude; to me it’s as if observing the setting sun, viewing the horizon and skies in contemplation. The pace slows further with similar instrumentation and gentle woodwinds, to a meditative state in Such Owls As You; the silence of a late candle-lit night. There is a slow Jazz vibe to In The Androgynous Dark, which has a feeling of reflection, of what might have been. It’s a quiet and mournful trio of drums, piano and woodwinds (with some electronic atmospherics).
The album gently stirs with Salt Photographs, as time passes with sounds of exploration. Soft pulses of keyboard (electric piano?) and nylon guitar narrate, and bowed strings entwine the rhythmic foundation and probe to awaken memories before fading away. Pink And Golden Billows is a light-hearted, plucky, meandering awakening to dawn. By contrast, Arête opens with a stark yet expansive scene, punctuated by a lone cello, like a knife edge of rock (the arête) cutting the view. A somber piano responds, the balance. It could be a scene of surveying a mountain ridge, and then making the decision to traverse it, represented by the quickening rhythm, as if hiking across to a destination.
The most mysterious and atmospheric of the tracks on the album is Deep Corridor. It is as if spelunking an uncharted cave with a dim head-lamp, with sounds (and some of earthly-low frequency) all around from unknown sources. I’ll date myself and note that there are times when it sounds like Tangerine Dream’s Desert Dream from their 1977 live album Encore. Charcoal closes with the whispering lament Unsayable, on what sounds like an old saloon upright or pin piano; reminiscent of some recent works by Harold Budd or Nils Frahm.
Once again, the best discoveries in music for me are the result of lateral associations with other artists or their record labels. I am happy to have discovered the Serein label and Brambles. While Charcoal is seemingly a personal work, so fortunate we are to have a window into Mark Dawson’s journey. His debut work is peaceful, timeless and transcendent.
*- Dimmity or dimmit-light (twilight), an old West Country (Devon, UK) term used by Henry Williamson, to open the original text version of his book Tarka The Otter, published in 1927.
This is a solicited review.
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