Spaceward ho

by Dave Maier

EsaAs you know, it is customary at this time of year for connoisseurs of various types of artistic productions to assemble a list of the most noteworthy releases of the preceding twelvemonth. Unfortunately such a task is only possible for those of us who have been industriously keeping up all year, a group among which I am sad to admit that I cannot count myself. So if it's okay, I thought I'd just present a couple of ordinary mixes, which are, I hasten to add, as chock full of primo material as any best-of-year thing. (Previous posts in this series are here and here.)

Our first mix is another in a continuing series of time capsules, featuring space and electronic music from thirty years ago and more (mostly). To the vaults!

Anthony Phillips – Iceflight (i): Glacier Bay Slow Waves, Soft Stars
Neuronium – Viento Solar Vuelo Quimico
Iasos – Creation Inter-Dimensional Music
Gil Melle – Hex The Andromeda Strain ost
PGR – The Flickering of Sowing Time “
Esa Kotilainen – Unisalissa Ajatuslapsi
Franco Battiato – Aries Sulle Corde di Aries
Peter Michael Hamel – Song of the Dolphins Hamel
Daevid Allen – I Am Now is the Happiest Time of Your Life
Ashra – Nightdust New Age of Earth

Anthony Phillips was a founding member of Genesis, back when they were good. In fact, they got even better when he left (in, let's see, 1971 or so) and was replaced (on guitar) by Steve Hackett, whereupon they remained good until 1975, when Peter Gabriel left (although their next album, Trick of the Tail, has its merits, if you like them, which I do). Anyway, Mr Phillips has been cranking out records of his own for years upon years, most of which I have not heard; but this one, from the early 90s I believe, has some nice minimal synth bits on it, one of which gets us started on this mix.

VueloNeuronium was another band who started out well but then lost steam as founding members faded out of the picture (actually only one in this case, Carlos Guirao). I say “lost steam,” but remaining member Michel Huygen has been most prolific, both as Neuronium and under his own name, even up to the present day. We played their first few records a lot back in the day, but I don't think they've held up particularly well, unless you really like that kind of thing. Here's a brief taste from their second disc, Vuelo Quimico (= “chemical flight” – real subtle there, fellas!), the ghastly cover of which, like that of many of their records, features trippy paintings complete with Max Ernst-esque frottage effects.

IasosLike Vangelis and (gulp) Yanni, Iasos is a Greek synth guy with just the one name (that he's willing to tell us about, anyway). He has many blissful releases – all of which, it seems, have been beamed to him through unknown means by mysterious higher-dimensional beings – although from this one we only hear a fairly short snippet, mainly to get us nicely to the next track. (For more typically blissful (and lengthy) wanderings, try his Angelic Music.)

The Andromeda Strain is a classic 1970s horror film about a nasty plague from outer space, based on Michael Crichton's novel. I never heard of Gil Melle, but this soundtrack is just right for the film. Go rent it!

PGR is better known nowadays as Kim Cascone, who is a relatively big name in academic experimental and computer music circles. This one is from the early lo-tech days. PGR stands for “Poison Gas Research,” which I understand he spray-painted on the warehouse he was working in in order to keep thieves from breaking in and taking his stuff, or at least to get them to think ver-y carefully about so doing. Clever!

Esa Kotilainen is a Finnish electronic musician about whom I know little. You can hear some authentic analog LP crackle on this one, which gives it a nice time-capsule feel.

AriesFranco Battiato was part of the amazing Italian prog scene in the 1970s, along with such bands as Area, Picchio dal Pozzo, Opus Avantra, ex-pat American composer Alvin Curran, and many many others. All of these guys were very eclectic, but Battiato always struck me as most successful in fusing the many varied elements of his compositions into a very-out-there but cohesive whole. Sulle Corde di Aries is probably the best of his records, but since it clocks in at only around 30 minutes you might try to find a release with another record on the same disc.

Hamel2Peter Michael Hamel is another eclectic chap from the 1970s, this time from Germany, where he led an ensemble called Between, with members from the rock, jazz, and classical worlds, as well as Indian musicians. I always liked his solo records better, which are very much influenced by the tape-delayed-organ compositions of Terry Riley, and equally fine. This track is also available (admittedly a relative term) on another disc, Aura, which has a killer title track in the Riley vein.

Daevid Allen is the ageless leader of the Euro-space-rock band Gong, who could out-hippie the Grateful Dead at their hippiest. That kind of thing wears thin on me actually, or it would if the band weren't stacked top to bottom with amazing musicians, from guitarist Steve Hillage to percussionist Pierre Moerlen and reed player Didier Malherbe a.k.a. Bloomdido Bad de Grass (mal herbe, get it?). This track is a long space guitar piece from one of ol' Dingo Virgin's solo efforts.

Speaking of space guitar, nobody out-spaced Manuel Göttsching of Ash Ra Tempel (probably best known to the younger set for his much-sampled proto-techno classic E2-E4). We finish off here with a classic Berlin-school spacer from his finest disc, New Age of Earth (1976).

Next up we have a set of more recent material.

Ashera – Cities to Come We Gaia []
Carbon Based Lifeforms – Central Plain Interloper [Ultimae]
Eluder – McCormick Park Warm Warning [Distance Recordings netlabel]
Robert Rich – Echo I Illumination [Soundscape Productions]
Parks – Days Hidden [Infraction]
Paul Vnuk Jr. – Raven Clouds Soul Surface Glass cdr
Oöphoi – Borealis Time Fragments 2 [Umbra]
Jon Hassell – Blue Period Last Night the Moon Came … [ECM]
Brian McBride – Retenir When the Detail Lost its Freedom [Kranky]

Ashera is an Aussie musician whose website seems to be inaccessible at the moment. He's got a way with spacy electric piano, and this track is typically … spacious.

InterloperCarbon Based Lifeforms is a strange name for a space-music ensemble. You'd think it would be Silicon Based Lifeforms (like the Horta on that Star Trek episode, the one where Bones says “Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer!”). Anyway, this duo is from Sweden, and they have a fairly straightforward ambient/space/techno sound by my lights, but that's okay if it's good, and this track has a totally crankin' sequencer part that gets me every time. They've got a new disc out too – hope it's as good as this!

Eluder is Pat Benolkin, who also records as Electricwest. His Eluder material is more on the ambient side, and in any case this certainly fits the bill. Check out this release at his bandcamp page, where it can be downloaded for free. There's also a wonderful release on the Infraction label (not free, but not expensive either – go get one!).

RichRobert Rich is by now the grand old man of American space/ambient/electronic music, having put out a steady stream of first-rate recordings since he was a precocious undergrad at Stanford in the early 1980s. Some material from that era is collected on the 2CD release Trances & Drones, available on a bunch of different labels over the years, and probably my favorite ambient release ever. This, however, is a relatively recent release, intended as the musical part of an art-gallery installation with Michael Somoroff responsible for the visual part. Just about all of Robert's music is available at his site:

Parks is a Russian guy. This is another release (like the Eluder one not used in this mix) from the excellent Infraction label, who also released an earlier Parks disc which is just as good.

Paul Vnuk Jr. is part of Ma Ja Le, who may not be well enough known for that to mean anything to you, but I thought I'd mention it. This is a very spacy selection from an early CDR. When I played this on another Star's End set a while back, I heard later that his reaction was “Huh, why'd he play that?”). I like it, that's why!

Oöphoi is Italian composer Gianluigi Gasparetti, who is very very prolific indeed. This is from a collection of early material (I think), and features his typically drony sound, but with a bit more going on than usual. Good stuff!

Hassell3Jon Hassell is one of my very favorite musicians, and this track is an absolutely stunning selection from his most recent ECM release Last Night the Moon Came Dropping its Clothes in the Street (and was Promptly Arrested for Indecent Exposure) (okay, I made that last part up). Wonderful contributions from Rick Cox and Eivind Aarset on guitar, both of whom have worthy releases under their own names, but Hassell's often-copied-never-equaled trumpet playing is what does it for me. I can't describe it, but it may help to know that Hassell studied with famed Indian vocalist Pandit Pran Nath. Anyway, just listen!

Brian McBride is half of the eminent American ambient duo Stars of the Lid, and this release is on that band's usual label Kranky. Warning: somewhat abrupt ending, but then again you may never hear it if that glorious Jon Hassell track sent you off to dreamland.

Enjoy, and happy new year to all!