Yes, I’m guilty. I haven’t written many reviews of late–no other excuse except that there are many other things going on (not to mention a really rough winter), but here’s some of what I’ve been listening to, and I will also soon be writing a review of a forthcoming album on the Eilean label by Twigs & Yarn (some may recall that their The Language of Flowers on the Flau label was my favorite album of 2012). I recommend any of these albums.
A Winged Victory for the Sullen – ATOMOS: Kranky 190: I want to really like this album, but I struggle with some sections. I instantly loved their eponymous first release, but I continue to listen.
Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.: KScope 315: Follow-up to The Raven That Refused To Sing, and I frankly need more time with this album to formulate an opinion. The recording lacks the clarity and strength of the last (engineered by Alan Parsons), but I’m working through it.
M. Ostermeier – Still: Tench TCH07: Just started listening; minimal, soothing, and it is both in the background and can be for focused listening–a combination of melodic sounds and microtones. Helpful for calm…need more of that!
Robin Guthrie & Mark Gardener – Universal Road: Soleil Apres Minuit SM1501 CD: Comfortably familiar sound and soothing lyrics–shoegazing for the Sun.
I’ll likely have more to say on these soon, but for now, rest assured that my recommendation will not disappoint.
I’m hoping for Spring, and SOON!
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
Olan Mill – Half Seas Over (Live performances 2012-2014)…too short for an album, too long for an EP, but what the heck!
An Accidental Concert Photo
Volkoren 58 – Time: 39:46 Format: CD, also available as a limited edition of 35 copies (see Bandcamp link), recorded in the northern Netherlands
Available at: http://silmus.bandcamp.com/
1) Deeply Beloved 2) Remembrance 3) Set In Stone 4) You Are Tenderness 5) Leaving Darkness 6) Shelter 7) You Have The Words And I Listen 8) Bare 9) Sadness Covers Me 10) Follow Me
The word shelter has different connotations, and I recall an assignment in my early design studio days exploring that word in terms of space, light and structure. I think the new Silmus album is perhaps less about spaces or places, rather being more about people and seeking or finding the comfort and shelter of a person, friends or within a family. It’s the soft comforting embrace of a loved one—the holding on or the letting go, the giving or receiving shelter in or from a given situation.
Dutch musician Gert Boersma (acoustic and electric guitars, piano, synthesizers, ukelele, samples) returns along with producer Minco Eggersman (electric guitar, harmonica, synthesizer, effects), Jan Borger (piano and bass) and Mirjam Feenstra (vocals). In his debut album Ostara that I reviewed last year, Boersma explored the delight and wonderment of the cycle of life and parenthood.
Shelter is presented within a soothing yet relatively controlled dynamic range and shorter form instrumentals are more dominant on this album compared to Boersma’s last. There are moments when rhythms appear and a direction is established (as in the initially stark then hopeful Leaving Darkness or the firm acoustic presence of Remembrance). At other times the music peregrinates for a time and suddenly expands into a broad sound-scape (as in the stark moodiness of Bare, punctuated with electric guitar that emerges from the cover of an acoustic steel guitar). Some pieces are like brief visions of a mood or an experience, but others are self-contained and complete. Each track has a foundation, whether it starts with acoustic or electric guitar or piano, and gradually layers and responses are built to establish the atmosphere. It does seem that the album, taken in its entirety, represents a full cycle of feelings or reactions to a particular set of circumstances.
The CD opens with the meditation Deeply Beloved with repeated phrasings offering a gentle mantra of stability. Set In Stone has a clear voice of electric guitar, which is ever so gently treated with a phased chorus effect. You Are Tenderness opens with restrained orchestral strings and then a gently voiced piano, which is enhanced with light electric guitar.
The title track Shelter expresses the intent of its title—it starts delicately then the melody and harmonies are held firmly and uplifted within a secure bass line. In You Have The Words And I Listen the piano is treated as a voice. An enmeshed drone opens until the voice appears, then a conversation begins. The voice remains steadfast throughout the responses and delivers a message. A reflective piano opens Sadness Covers Me and is later coupled with a softly bowed electric guitar. The album closes with the steady hopefulness of Follow Me.
For those seeking a point of reference, I place this album within the gentler versions of Robin Guthrie’s solo work or perhaps the more contemplative instrumentals by Cocteau Twins. There is indeed a sense of warmth and comfort in this album, and it’s a pleasant place to be.
This is a solicited review.
Available at: http://polarseasrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/transit
Polar Seas Recordings PSR-007: CD-R Limited to 50 (Time: 64:02) with hand stamped numbered envelope, 8 page booklet and unique numbered art card by Shannon Penner. Review copy is 35/50. Album is also available as a digital download, but the first seven tracks only.
Tracks: 1) The Breathing of Roots, 2) Saturnine, 3) Chambers of the Sea, 4) Sungazing, 5) Ylla, 6) Un Jardin Des Cieux, 7) In The Decay of Shadows, Bonus CD tracks: 8) Equinox, 9) In The Decay of Shadows (Piano)
It’s all a matter of relative perception…a transit at sea, in the sky or on land and the paradox of experiencing the direct speed of travel from within or observing from afar a celestial body in space, a vehicle on land or a jet in the sky moving very slowly, when in reality in it could be traveling hundreds or even thousand of miles per hour. Time can seem to stand still…
Shannon Penner is Orbit Over Luna and he is an animator, sound designer, composer and multi-instrumentalist from Toronto, Canada. His work draws from many influences and instrumentation in his work varies, but it’s primarily guitar-based (often with ample reverb) with select moments of piano.
Penner’s album Transit is both about being in the moment and observing from afar while experiencing the sense of movement on land, at sea or in air (or perhaps even floating in space). The album is quite serene and comforting, but it holds one’s attention weaving through a variety of sonic territories. I compare the album (as much as I like the competitive side of sailing) to spending a delightful afternoon on a sailboat in the warm sunshine with gentle breezes and my hand occasionally creating a gentle wake in the water.
The Breathing of Roots announces what follows almost like a distant fog horn at dawn, to gently nudge one’s attention that it’s time for a journey. Saturnine seems a bit of a misnomer, because rather than being gloomy, it’s a slow drift on that boat (and not in the doldrums) allowing the distractions of the world to dissolve and to focus instead on the gentle and calming movement…a languid afternoon on the water.
I’ve read Shannon Penner’s oeuvre being compared to a number of different musicians, but the closest for me is the work of Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) and in particular his trilogy of recent EPs entitled Angel Falls, Songs To Help My Children Sleep and Sunflower Stories. Penner’s work, however, is not as rhythmic or melodic when compared to Guthrie’s; instead it focuses more on atmospheric imagery. Throughout the album there are occasional broad wave motions that yield gossamers of a tangible melody, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. In The Decay of Shadows, which follows the transit of the Sun in the sky, has a minimal and complementary piano melody to the guitar chords that emerges and disappears gently like shadows created from clouds passing across the sky until the Sun sets below the horizon (one of the bonus pieces is the isolated piano track).
Sungazing has moments of distorted guitar as if shielding one’s eyes from the Sun’s glare and as a more comfortable view emerges the sound clarifies and the panorama of the landscape comes into focus. Ylla is a celestial passage and it makes me wonder if it’s a nod to one of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles of the same name. And the farthest and most ethereal transit of all is in Un Jardin Des Cieux (The Garden of Heaven). In The Decay of Shadows is the postlude to the album, but there are two bonus tracks on the CD, the first is Equinox, the two points in our year on Earth where we travel about the Sun and where day equals night, before summer or winter, as we pass through time…and the older we are the shorter our relative perception of time becomes.
Enjoy the ride!
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.
I need some warmth on these cold winter days…
Ron Sexsmith – Forever Endeavour
I love Ron’s work (another thoughtful Canadian songwriter—imagine that?!). He writes such great songs. My problem with his work, at times, is that sometimes his songs are just too sad, but Ron has a gift for making a sad song curiously uplifting, like Michael and His Dad from his last album Long Player Late Bloomer. I started listening to Ron’s work in 1997 with his third album Other Songs (produced by Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake—coincidentally Froom produced Suzanne Vega’s Nine Objects of Desire the previous year, another favorite album of mine). Forever Endeavour is sparsely arranged, but strings, horn, percussion, pedal steel or electric bass are right there when they’re needed. Other than that, the songs are Ron’s voice, and his acoustic guitar. He has a gift for wordplay and expressing emotions with a deft efficiency that flow so naturally with his melodies. Some songs on Forever Endeavour are ironically upbeat, like Nowhere Is and Snake Road—in a sense, keeping the faith.
The CD has two bonus tracks (songs written with Don Black and recorded by Don Kerr), Life After A Broken Heart and Autumn Light, and they are just plain gorgeous additions to this album.
Nowhere To Go
Lorna – Heart of Wire
This is Lorna’s third album on the Words On Music label. The collective from Nottingham, UK creates dreamy contemplative songs with shy vocals and delicate harmonies. I’ve read of some comparisons to Yo La Tenga, but Lorna’s instrumentation tends to be more complex, and chamber-like at times. I think that this is their most direct album of the three for Words On Music—their sound is more confident, but they haven’t lost the softness and (at times) melancholy of their lyrics. I think the strongest songs on this collection are As She Goes By, Old Shanklin Sunset and Mina and Marco (with a delightful melodic phrase sample borrowed from composer Edward Elgar).
Daphne Lee Martin – Moxie
A woman after my own heart—part record store owner, part musician; for many years, Daphne has been part of the New London, Connecticut-based band Raise The Rent. Moxie is the first of two releases (the forthcoming being Frost), and is a sultry collection of songs of the (only mildly) lurid backstreets of her imagination (with the added bonus of occasional Mellotron accompaniment!). There are shades of the cheekiness of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the “heat” of mid-1970s Maria Muldaur in this well-produced album. I have an idea for what to expect from Frost—counterpoint!
Heligoland – Sainte Anne
Sainte Anne is the latest EP from the Paris-based Australian quartet known as Heligoland. Their work in the last few releases has come under the wispy spell of producer and musician Robin Guthrie (who also plays occasional keyboards and bass), so it was only natural that I try their work. My favorite tracks on this EP are Sleepless and 22 Miles—peaceful ethereal guitar and bass balanced with gently pulsing drums and Karen Vogt’s warm and full vocals (channeling, at times, the sound of Christine McVie with a bit of vibrato). Other band members are Dave Olliffe (guitars and keyboards), Steve Wheeler (bass) and new member Antti Mäkinen (drums and percussion). Their previous albums and EPs include: Bethmale (recorded in 2010 and released in 2012), All Your Ships Are White (2010) and A Street Between Us (2006).
Corazón from their album All Your Ships Are White
And even more wonderfully creative releases from the Flau label in Japan… I can’t possibly buy them all, so one must be…somewhat…selective.
The Boats – Our Small Ideas (2012 Edition)
I have thoroughly enjoyed the various releases by The Boats (Craig Tattersall and Andrew Hargreaves with Danny Norbury, Chris Stewart and others). Our Small Ideas is a re-release and enhancement of an original 2008 CD-R. Contained in this work are the often quirky and sometimes fragile and nascent threads of pieces to be released later (and some are quite recognizable). This album is not unlike the approach of CD #1 of Tape Loop Orchestra’s The Words On My Lips Is Your Name/The Burnley Brass Band Plays On In My Heart.
Sound samples are here (since The Boats seem to eschew Soundcloud): http://www.flau.jp/releases/r09.html
El Fog – Reverberate Slowly
This is a solo project of Berlin-based vibraphonist Masayoshi Fujita, a light blend of acoustic instrumentation with a tranquil late night aura of electronics and subtlest of glitchy rhythms.
Masayoshi Fujita – Stories
Stories is an album of solo acoustic vibraphone works (with occasional violin and cello). Whether struck gently (as in Snow Storm) or bowed (as in Cloud), Fujita paints vivid, yet tender sound pictures. Some pieces are rhythmically playful, and could form the foundations for musical conversations (much like those between Bill Bruford and Michiel Borstlap on their album Every Step A Dance, Every Word A Song). This is an appropriate soundtrack for gently falling snow. The album is beautifully mastered by Nils Frahm.
Swan and Morning Dews
Graham Gouldman – Love and Work
Graham Gouldman has been writing songs since the days of The Yardbirds (For Your Love), and many others like Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, before formally crossing paths with Eric Stewart, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley (Hotlegs) who later became 10cc with a long string of albums with sharp, witty and often sardonic songs. Love And Work is an album of twelve beautifully crafted and wide-ranging songs.
The album dedicated to the memory of Andrew Gold, and the song Daylight is about Andrew. They worked together as the duo Wax and earlier on some of 10cc’s later albums.
I’ve seen Graham and Ron Sexsmith appear together on BBC Songwriters Circle programs. Perhaps Graham and Ron will work together someday…
For Your Love
Happy Listening–Stay Warm!
RareNoiseRecords – RNR021 – CD 2011 – 47:21
Available from: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/bernocchi-budd-guthrie
Also available from: http://darla.com/index.php
Tracks: 1) Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You; 2) Losing My Breath; 3) Winter Garden; 4) Entangled; 5) Harmony And The Play Of Light; 6) Heavy Heart Some More; 7) White Ceramic; 8) Stay With Me; 9) South Of Heaven; 10) Dream On
There are certain situations, places, visions, works of art or music that evoke emotions or memories that defy explanation; reactions that are beyond words, or perhaps descriptions that cannot do a sensation or experience justice. They are in effect, indescribable. This is the alluring feeling I am left with after listening to “Winter Garden”, the first simultaneous release by Eraldo Bernocchi (Italian musician and producer), Harold Budd (pianist and composer) & Robin Guthrie (producer, guitarist and founder of Cocteau Twins and Violet Indiana) on the RareNoiseRecords label.
In the December 2011 issue of HiFi Zine I reviewed Harold Budd’s latest solo work, “In The Mist”. (Please see: http://www.hifizine.com/2011/12/harold-budd-in-the-mist/ ). I won’t dwell much on Budd’s many prior collaborations, other than to say that he has worked with many artists, including Robin Guthrie on at least seven releases. I am familiar with Budd’s work with Eraldo Bernocchi on Music For ‘Fragments From The Inside”–music for an art installation by Petulia Mattioli (a long time collaborator of Bernocchi). “Fragments…” was recorded live in 2006 and released on Sub Rosa as catalog #SR239 JC. Coincidentally, Petulia Mattioli provided the graphic design and photos for “Winter Garden”.
I admit to knowing little of Eraldo Bernocchi’s extensive prior work, and that exploration is for another time, so I will stay focused here on what I know. For background, I offer some brief thoughts on recent overlapping collaborations with both artists and Harold Budd: the 2011 Darla release entitled “Bordeaux” with Robin Guthrie, as well as “Fragments…” with Bernocchi. In “Fragments…” Budd’s piano work presents as a languid yet grounded introduction to Bernocchi’s electronic peregrinations consisting of treatments, rhythms, samples and deep pulses. Budd’s piano seems to reach for and tame the electronic wanderings while sensuously weaving, almost teasing Bernocchi’s explorations. To close the seven-part work of “fragments”, Budd’s piano returns as the foundation of the work—how this related to the video installation, I don’t know.
With “Bordeaux”, the nine named tracks aren’t driven by rhythm, but by Guthrie’s guitar work forming fabrics of textures, colors and emotions for Budd to gently punctuate. The feeling of this work is of warmth and sensuousness. Guthrie usually leads-in with his layered shimmering guitar before Budd responds, to play off the direction and mood that Guthrie has set. There are exceptions to this on pieces like “So Many Short Years Ago”, “The Belles of Saint Andrew” and “Southern Shore” where Guthrie’s textures respond to Budd’s piano phrasing and chord changes.
In “Winter Garden”, as the album’s title suggests, there is a chilled and mysterious sense of expansive desolation throughout. It is imbued with the vividness of the changing color of a winter sky; sharp golden light to warm the blue-grey chill of the winter air. There is also a dream-state cinematic quality to this album. The trio of Bernocchi, Budd & Guthrie play as a meshed ensemble with each artist taking the lead, depending on the piece or feeling being expressed.
I posit that this album is more than just collected individual tracks, but it is a sonic novella. The titles and accompanying music express a direction, emotion or location in a somewhat enigmatic unknown story. Perhaps it is imagined or real, or a combination of both. It is evident that the opening track “Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You” is a beacon cast as the main theme (played by Budd) that later returns in “Winter Garden” and again in track 9 “South of Heaven”, each in slightly altered forms. I speculate that track 9 is the actual ending of the overall “story”, with track 10 “Dream On” being a postscript. To me, this album presents in sound, as a cohesive and plausible story. A brief overview of the tracks:
1) Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You: Budd’s piano takes the main theme with Guthrie’s layered guitar and light treatments from Bernocchi. The theme is an entreaty of sorts and there is a feeling of longing and desolation in the music.
2) Losing My Breath: There are long pauses that create a sense of tension in the theme, played by Guthrie, with brief responses from Budd. A sense of suspension and anticipation is apparent with slow movement to arrive at a destination.
3) Winter Garden: The title track, with main theme by Budd and supporting chords and bass line by Guthrie and Bernocchi. Despite what seems to be a desired arrival and sense of place, there is a dissonance in the sound overlays that I perceive as portraying doubt, a possible foreshadowing. Yet, there is also comfort and resolution in the theme.
4) Entangled: Bernocchi begins with a pulsing bass line, a sense of apprehension, but also movement with descending keyboard tones as the piece progresses. The “conversation” is between Budd’s treated and bending piano and Guthrie’s guitar melodies and chords, with Bernocchi overlaying rhythmic intrigue.
5) Harmony And The Play Of Light: A soft bass pulsing with layered keyboards and guitar, but here the piano is compressed, piercing the background and giving a sense of brightness. There is also a feeling of suspension and anticipation.
6) Heavy Heart Some More: The feeling in this track is somber, with a foreboding as it advances: deep piano and bass notes creating a sense of darkness.
7) White Ceramic: This track, to me, seems to be a pause of sorts (and I admit to having some trouble placing this is in the overall story). Perhaps it’s an aftermath. The tones are bell-like and the phrasing and melodies are wandering, and seem to me to be searching.
8) Stay With Me: A quiet beginning, piano and layered electronics leading to a subtle rhythmic backdrop and then movement, a sense of traveling somewhere again, perhaps from the winter landscape to return to an unknown destination.
9) South Of Heaven: The recapitulation of the slightly altered opening theme on piano, layered in shimmering guitars and bending electronics and subtle (deep) comforting bass notes, suggesting an ending and perhaps resolution.
10) Dream On: As if the sun is descending on a chilled landscape, a chorus of guitars and layered electronics move with the waning sunlight, a flowing bass line in support and piano as if thoughts are wandering…in reflection.
The recording of “Winter Garden” is expansive and crystalline. I found it so easy to listen to with rapt attention. It draws one into whatever the story that is being told. As soon as it ended, I wanted to begin again–gorgeous.
Stay With Me (Track 8):
Note: This article will be published shortly at a music & audio equipment-related online e-zine and IS a solicited review (although I already had purchased the recording).
http://affordableaudio.org/Affordable$$Audio/Current_Issue.html and http://www.hifizine.com/ Stay tuned for additional online locations.
Teaser: I’m working on a review of “Winter Garden”, the new instrumental CD by Eraldo Bernocchi, Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie on the RareNoiseRecords label.
In a recent broadcast of the American Public Media program “On Being”, Krista Tippett was talking with the late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue who noted, “Music is what language would love to be if it could.” It’s a fascinating interview on what O’Donohue explored throughout his short life (he died at the age of 52 in 2008) and called “the invisible world” and ties to spirituality, mysticism, beauty, and ties to his Irish homeland and history.
While I don’t necessarily think written or spoken language is inferior to music, instrumental works can evoke instantaneous memories or emotions that are often indescribable. Certainly, spoken words or sung lyrics can elevate, or make more familiar, the emotion of a piece, but I have always been fascinated by instrumental music, from early to modern as well as current forms (either as pure electronic or combined acoustic, found-sampled sound coupled with electronic music).
I often return to familiar musicians for new work and to revisit their earlier works. Many long-established artists continue to explore and reinvent themselves. Brian Eno and his many collaborators is an example of such an artist. With the demise of so many traditional record shops (especially in rural and suburban areas), I have found it increasingly difficult to find new music. Time was when I could walk into my local record shop and “Bob” who I had known for years knew my tastes in music, but also knew I was open for new explorations. If I was on the hunt for something new, “Bob” always had great ideas, but now he’s gone.
It has taken me some time, but slowly, I am finding new sources for music (in addition to word-of-mouth from friends), whether it’s direct from independent music labels, music related websites, podcasts or referrals from musicians. I have also found the (almost instant) crowd-sourcing aspect of Twitter to be very helpful for finding legal sources for artist’s works when some outlets are out of stock.
Music comes from unlikely sources too. Recently I was listening to an NPR Heavy Metal (not my usual haunt) genre podcast from NPR’s All Songs Considered, and NPR Music’s Lars Gotrich paused between Metal songs to refer to a young electronic/drone musician from the Chicago area named, Nicholas Szczepanik. The piece that Lars sampled was a short excerpt from NS’s mid-2011 release “Please Stop Loving Me”, a single 48 minute track, a portion of which is here:
Certainly, some people will react differently, but my reaction to “PSLM” was instantaneous and visceral. The layering of the sound, the reaching for something and when almost at the point of contact the music shifts slightly to another layered emotion, feeling or color. Yet, I found the piece incredibly relaxing and comforting despite its density. It took me a few tries to find a CD of the work, but thanks to that instant crowd-sourcing at Twitter, I found a copy in France from: http://www.bassesfrequences.org/ Jerome, the owner of the website, could not have gotten me the CD much faster. “PSLM” is a really remarkable work. I look forward to Nicholas’s forthcoming releases.
Nicholas has two LP releases coming soon (that’s right folks, vinyl) : “The Truth of Transience” available at: http://www.isounderscore.com/ and “We Make Life Sad”, soon to be available at: http://www.mewelesite.be/ (and it looks like the LP will be pressed with clear vinyl).
Darla DRL248 – 2011 http://darla.com/index.php
Track Listing: The Whispers: 1) Haru Spring, 2) The Whispers, 3) The Startled, 4) The Foundry (For Mika Vainio), 5) The Art of Mirrors (after Derek Jarman) Gunfighters: 6) Three-Fingered Jack, 7) Greek George, 8) Black Bart Shadows: 9) Come Back To Me In Dreams, 10) Parallel Night, 11) Sun at 6 Windows, 12) The Panther of Small Favors, 13) Mars and the Artist (after Cy Twombly)
It was an early morning in the studio in late April, 1980 after a long night of drafting with temperamental Rapidiograph pens on mylar. Black turned to indigo, then to purple, red-orange and finally a golden sun was in through the high studio windows. It was the first light of the morning and “First Light” from Harold Budd & Brian Eno’s “Ambient 2 – The Plateaux of Mirror” was playing on a stereo belonging to my studio-mate Bill. This was my introduction to the first of many Harold Budd (born 1936) solo and collaborative works. I knew Eno’s own work, his collaborations with Robert Fripp and the glam-rock days of Roxy Music. Budd and Eno’s work together was music of sonorous ambience and while stark, it was broadly spatial and filled our studio as did the rising sun. Later that morning I went to the college record shop and bought a copy of the LP (and I still have it). Eno and Budd collaborated again in 1984 on the Editions EG album, “The Pearl”.
Prior to “Ambient 2”, Budd’s early compositions were collected on the 1978 Editions EG release “The Pavilion of Dreams”. Since then Budd has released nearly forty solo and collaborative works with Robin Guthrie, Elizabeth Fraser, Simon Raymonde, Clive Wright, Eraldo Bernocchi, Hector Lazou, Andy Partridge, Zeitgeist and Daniel Lanois among others.
In 2004, with the release of the double CD “Avalon Sutra/As Long As I Can Hold My Breath” (on Samadhi Sound) it was rumored that Budd had retired, having started his career as a composer in the 1960s and then a teacher of music composition at the California Institute of the Arts from 1970 to 1976. Curiously, in 2005, his retirement seemed short-lived and work surfaced again: collaborations with Eraldo Bernocchi (“Fragments from the Inside”, recorded live for an art installation) and Robin Guthrie (formerly of the Cocteau Twins), a soundtrack for the film “Mysterious Skin”. Since then, Budd has been quite prolific with more than twelve recordings released in the last six years.
Budd’s instrumentations vary from stark piano, electronically treated piano, processed synthesizers to string quartets and spoken voice. One piano piece “The Room” from the 1988 release “The White Arcades” was later expanded to an entire album of “rooms” in 2000, entitled “The Room”. There is also an album of two Budd improvised piano sessions, produced by Daniel Lanois in 2003 that was secretly recorded at Lanois’ house and released as “La Bella Vista”. In 2007, Budd released solo and separate collaborative works with guitarists Clive Wright & Robin Guthrie on Darla Records.
“In The Mist” is Budd’s first solo work since 2004. It is divided into three sections: The Whispers, Gunfighters and Shadows. Whispers: Starts with the first five notes of “Haru Spring”, the reality of an untreated piano and gradually each piece merges into a dream-state with the subsequent treated piano pieces. In these, time and sound are gently altered. The sensation (for me) is that of being in a half-waking state. There on the edge and lingering in between, suspended. Budd has a unique way of paring mood, sound, space and atmosphere down to the barest of essentials, yet his pieces never bear the cliché sound or rhythms of so many other artists labeled as producing ambient music.
Gunfighters: These pieces are darker in tone, have more identifiable melodic structures and seem more about telling stories, as the titles might suggest. They do seem to have American southwestern ambience to them. Like with Whispers, the opening piece uses the piano as the primary instrument with the latter two pieces having a more altered sound (with electronics and light synthetic percussion). The pieces have a cinematic quality, with imagined, yet tangible visuals. The last piece “Black Bart” is marginally sinister, with a pulsing drone throughout and punctuated with untreated piano.
Shadows: Is a departure from the other two sections and a string quartet is used exclusively. Though the textures and harmonies are broader, the mood is somber and to my ears (and eyes) the colors are varying shades of gray and the feeling is poignant yet abstract. “Sun At 6 Windows” appears to be about passing time, but here there is no altered sound or bending, it’s straight with a mood that is reflective and sentimental.
I know at some point, it will be inevitable that Harold Budd will retire, but it is my hope that it is still far into the future. I revisit Harold Budd’s works of the last thirty years often, especially during times where quiet reflection is needed. I recommend this beautiful and simply packaged CD and also urge a journey to discover Budd’s earlier works, both solo and collaborative; they are enriching on many levels.
Budd Discography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Budd
Appeared in the December, 2011 Hifi Zine: http://www.hifizine.com/2011/12/harold-budd-in-the-mist/