by Dave Maier
It’s been a while since my last music post, but I have to admit that the impetus for this one was less that fact, or even the release of Star Trek: Beyond, than the fact that I have not (*cough*) progressed far enough in my reading (even after finishing several more books – hey, it’s complicated!) to continue in a satisfactory manner from where I left off last time. So let’s go traveling instead (previous voyages here, here, here, here, and here).
This time: widgets! Although if you click the direct link to Mixcloud, you can access many other mixes without all the commentary.
Ashra – 77 Slightly Delayed Blackouts
Tangerine Dream – Exit Exit
Richard Pinhas – Iceland Part 2 Iceland
Eberhard Schoener – Meditation part 2 (exc.) Meditation
Jeff Greinke – Falling Away Lost Terrain
Pieter Nooten/Michael Brook – Finally II Sleeps With the Fishes
Terje Rypdal – Waves Waves
David Hykes & the Harmonic Choir – Lines to a Great Lord Harmonic Meetings
Our first mix is another time capsule from the 70s and 80s. The previous ones focused on some fairly obscure and hard-to-get material, but there’s no reason to avoid great music simply because it’s more generally available, right?
Ash Ra Tempel was one of the prime movers of the German space music scene in the early 70s, although their first efforts are more pan-stylistic lysergic freak-out – see this link for a comparison of their first album to Iggy Pop (!) – than the sequencer-driven Berlin-school material we hear later on, as in this track, the agreeably bouncy opener from 1977’s Blackouts, by which time guitarist and indeed sole member Manuel Göttsching had abridged the band name to Ashra. I love this picture, in which none of their faces is visible: drummer Klaus Schulze’s blocked by a cymbal, and Göttsching’s and bassist Hartmut Enke’s by their hair. Klaus must have liked the pic too, as he included it in the booklet of his retrospective album X in 1978, where I first saw it.
Tangerine Dream is of course also a titan of space music, and would be even more so if their 40 or so most recent releases were at all listenable, but alas, they released their final worthy record in 1986 or thereabouts. Some fans are harsher still, putting the cutoff at around 1977-8 (Encore features excellent live performances from that period). One reason for this is the noticeable shift in timbre from the analog synths of their classic period to the mostly digital sounds featured in their music from around 1980. I actually like the first few of these records – Exit dates from 1981 – but I can imagine that this may have affected their live sound, due to the difference between analog sequencers and MIDI, and indeed when I saw them in 1986 and 1988 I was pretty disappointed.
We met Richard Pinhas (iconic photo, left) on an earlier voyage, and here he is again in a more restrained yet also thereby more intense mood, on part 2 of the title track to his classic 1979 release Iceland. No guitar here, just that frigid Moog. Brrrrr.
Eberhard Schoener seems to have faded from view since his best days, but he deserves much respect for his pioneering releases from the 1970s. Meditation dates from 1973 and is as good as they come. The liner notes tell us that “the attempt […] to find oneself through the imitation of far eastern meditative exercises more often than not leads to the wrong path and even into an alley from which there is no return […] That which is phenomenal in this music is not found in its form but rather in the individual reaction of each listener.” (Klaus Schulze says something very similar to this last, I recall, in the notes to his classic 1977 disc Mirage.) Back to Schoener: “That means: The concept of MEDITATION allows active participation through singing or playing.” So join in!
As have quite a few ambient artists, Jeff Greinke emerged from the industrial scene, with a number of albums of short, more-or-less abrasive vignettes on the Intrepid and Dossier labels in the mid-1980s. Eventually the ambient elements in his music won out, and since 1990’s Changing Skies he has shown that he can drift away with the best of them. This is from 1992’s Lost Terrain (so, hmmm, a bit out of our time period, but it's got that classic feel), and features a classic echoey piano sound reminiscent of Budd and Eno’s Plateaux of Mirror but still somehow utterly distinctive.
Pieter Nooten was the vocalist and main man of the Dutch new wave band Xymox (a.k.a Clan of Xymox) whose earliest releases on the 4AD label I remember as characteristic of that imprint (home of Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, if that helps). Also on 4AD, pushing at the limits of their sound, is Nooten’s 1987 collaboration with ambient guitarist and producer Michael Brook entitled Sleeps with the Fishes, from which we hear this blissful little snippet. The whole thing is great though, in a sort of prog-goth-ambient vein; check it out.
Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal began his career, believe it or not, as a teen idol in the 1960s with a band I am told was not unlike the Ventures, and finished the decade playing with avant-garde jazz composer George Russell. In the 80s he put out a number of funkier fusion discs, although being ECM releases they retain a certain ambience, and graced that label as well with a number of orchestral works. His prime period for our purposes is from 1974-1981, when he released a number of gloriously spacy prog-fusion discs featuring his instantly recognizable ecstatic Stratocaster leads. Here we hear the unabashedly lysergic title track to his 1978 ECM release Waves, which also features ECM stalwarts trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and drummer Jon Christensen, as well as the criminally unknown bassist Sveinung Hovensjø, wonderful here. A video of this track is on YouTube, and while it’s interesting to see the band (and those 70s fashions – yikes), I find the visual element distracting. Not to be synesthetic about it, but there’s plenty to see just in the audio.
David Hykes made a big splash – as big as one can with a record on the fairly obscure French Ocora label, which specializes in international folk music – with his debut release Hearing Solar Winds in 1983. This record, credited to Hykes and The Harmonic Choir, pretty much singlehandedly introduced to western audiences the eastern technique of “throat singing”, in which one holds a fundamental tone while also producing a distinct tone by carefully controlling the overtones of the first note. As I can attest, having attended a fantastic concert by the Choir in a church, this works really well in a reverberant space. This one dates from 1986 and is I think his third release. It, or at least this track, features two things not in evidence on the first release: 1) words; and 2) other instruments (here, a tamboura). Having studied the liturgies of various religious traditions, Hykes tells us, he decided to incorporate the words into the Choir’s music: “It is the harmonic content of the words which interests me; singing pure vibrations and singing words is the same work. The harmonic content in a word can be brought to life; it comes from the same place as a pure vibration. Sacred words are vibrations and can be experienced as such; content can be found that is free from the ordinary mental and emotional associations which prevent words from having a resonant meaning in the present moment.”
Okay, now let’s return to the present, or at least the relatively recent past.
Marsen Jules – tlaslo The Empire of Silence (bonus track version)
Crimson Sails – Taiga Trail
Reverberant Evenings – A shining view After the Silence
Reverberant Evenings – Freezing last lights After the Silence
Alio Die & Parallel Worlds – Unspoken Shapes Elusive Metaphor
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – Tides VIII Tides
Melodía – Un pequeño bote cargado de lirios (en un lugar indeterminado) Diario de viaje
Simon Lomax – To Find Stillness in the Waiting 5 Textures
Marsen Jules (a.k.a. krill.minima) has been around for a while and has a whole bunch of releases under his belt, of which The Empire of Silence is one of the most recent. Also available at marsenjules.de is the 7 hour 20 minute soundtrack for the trailer (!) to a film which is 720 hours long and is to be released in 2020. So clear a month off your schedule four years from now.
I haven’t been able to find out much about Crimson Sails, which is apparently a Russian outfit (and indeed this release does seem to manifest an intimate relationship with cold weather). This and other presumably equally chilly releases are available at http://crimsonsails.bandcamp.com. (A propos of nothing, this film is pretty intense.)
Reverberant Evenings is based in Palermo, Italy, but that’s about all his/her/their bandcamp page seems to want to tell us. I’ve included two tracks from After the Silence, because, first, they’re both excellent, and second, they seem to be joined at the hip. If you need more than 20 minutes of Palerman bliss, there is a package deal on all five R. Evenings releases here.
Stefano Musso has put out a bazillion releases under the name Alio Die (I’m not looking it up, but that sounds to me like Latin for “from another day” or something like that, depending on what you take the ablative case to be doing here) over the past twenty-five years, featuring his signature lush drone, which does indeed sound like it is being beamed here from another day, now that I think about it. Stefano collaborates often, as here, most usually with a who’s who of the Italian synth scene (although he’s also done a fantastic disc with Robert Rich). I’d never heard of Parallel Worlds, who seems to be one Bakis Simos and whose arsenal includes an impressive variety of modular gear. On this track we also hear (if we listen closely) India Czajkowska on voice. More info and other tracks from this disc are available here.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith has received quite a bit of attention recently in the synth community, as her main axe is the legendary Buchla Easel, which she uses (often with her voice as well) to paint evocative vignettes inspired, she tells us, by “communing with nature on Orcas Island [in Washington State]”. Some silly persons apparently feel that she has allowed Terry Riley to influence her excessively, but I don’t hear that at all – she’s definitely got her own voice. In this piece (excerpted here, as there’s an odd pause in the first bit I thought would be distracting in our context) we don’t hear any Rileyan cycles, but there’s still a gentle but compelling pulse there. It should come as no surprise that her webpage is located at www.kaitlynaureliasmith.com.
I had never heard of Melodía, but I am not at all surprised to hear that half of this duo is Argentine Federico Durand, who is one of my absolute fave current ambient artists (the other half is Tomoyoshi Date, whom I’d never heard of either, but you can be sure I’ll be checking him out now). This track, from a recent disc on the estimable Home Normal label, is fairly typical of Durand’s hushed, unhurried style, and I suppose Date’s too. Here’s a brief review, with some links.
At first one feels a sense of disorientation when approaching this record by UK synthesist Simon Lomax: it is entitled 5 Textures, but there are six tracks. What, one of the tracks has no texture? But no: track 6 is subtitled “(the 6th texture)”. So there’s that sorted. These particular textures are apparently mostly generated with electric guitars, which are then, as is possible nowadays, processed into unrecognizability for ambient purposes, which is all to the good. Check out simonlomax.com for much more, as this talented chap is one of the rising ambient stars, if there are such things anyway.