CD/Digital releases

20 years on: The Orb – Blue Room

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Twenty years ago today, The Orb released one of their finest & most legendary creations, the single Blue Room. It became famous immediately due to its length; at 39’58”, it was tantalisingly close to the durational limit set by Gallup, who ran the UK charts, which classified anything of 40 minutes or more as an album. Not surprisingly, therefore, Blue Room instantly became the longest single in UK chart history, which it remains to this day. But Blue Room deserves to be remembered & celebrated most for its embodiment of The Orb’s unique approach to music-making, seamlessly integrating the ostensibly incongruous & hitherto distant idioms of dub & ambient, garnished with elements of minimalism, house & psychedelia.

The track took five months to create, The Orb’s Alex Paterson & Thrash joined by the renowned Steve Hillage & Jah Wobble, whose guitar & bass contributions sat alongside synth from Miquette Giraudy (Hillage’s partner & bandmate from their days as Gong), & a vocal riff by Aisha, sampled from her 1986 track ‘The Creator’. Combined with the ambient dub electronics of Paterson & Thrash, these were the raw elements from which Blue Room was created. The track’s title, incidentally, is a reference to a hangar located at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, which certain conspiracy theorists have convinced themselves houses “extraterrestrial spacecraft and bodies“; this theme would be taken further on The Orb’s second album, U.F.Orb, which includes a drastically shortened version of Blue Room.

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Giving voice to the indescribable: Aaron Cassidy – The Crutch of Memory

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There are times when a composer wins you over instantly, the cogency of their arguments captured in a transparent marriage of sound and idea that’s instantly familiar and welcoming. This has emphatically not been my experience with the music of Aaron Cassidy. Over the last few years, i’ve oscillated around Cassidy’s music with the regularity of a comet, never quite pulled into orbit (or should that be a collision?), but constantly drawn back nonetheless. With the release, a few months ago, of the first CD devoted to his music, i figured it was time to try to pin down my thoughts about what Aaron Cassidy is up to. The CD, The Crutch of Memory, focuses on works for one or two players, encompassing both Cassidy’s earliest music as well as relatively recent pieces, the latest of which is around three years old. Both the spread of output as well as the restricted forces involved make this a superb primer for Cassidy’s work.

To begin to understand his compositional approach, take a look at the score excerpt below, taken from Richard Barrett’s 1988 work for trombone and percussion, EARTH (click for high-res).

At this point, towards the end of the piece, the trombone’s music abruptly bifurcates into two staves, the upper showing the slide positions, the lower showing the harmonics being sounded. This fundamentally undermines the way a trombonist is used to playing, where these two parameters imply each other within conventional notation; yet by ‘decoupling’ those parameters, and destroying their traditional connection, Barrett creates a remarkable effect—which, in context, is both profoundly moving and deeply distressing—that could not have been achieved any other way.
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Emancipated beats: voidesque – as if it never existed

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Despite my fondness for more avant-garde beat-oriented music, for a long time it’s been disappointing to see the current state of such idioms overshadowed by its champions. The likes of Aphex Twin, Autechre & Aaron Funk have, on the one hand, deeply moved & inspired composers & musicians to seek to explore what can be done with beats that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with dancing, while on the other hand intimidating these same musicians to the point of pastiche & parody. It’s possible to count the really imaginative beat-artists of the last decade on one hand. All the more reason, then, to celebrate someone who brings some fresh invention to the genre.

Derek Jeppsen is a composer based in San Diego, California, a recent graduate in electroacoustic composition, & he piqued my interest when i read the description of his first release:

The album is really quite simple, and draws from certain things that may seem antiquated (drum samples), but this collection is about staying away from my “sound art” experiments and academic work. Many “popular” idioms make it to my music (use of a beat, repetition, etc.), but also many things that wouldn’t fit that context, especially in the rhythmic and form realms (polymeter, metric modulation, tempo changes), which often reflect the fact that I play Javanese gamelan professionally. The album is generally about creating an atmospheric artistic space, and including some stylized elements from dance music. There are also moments about randomness and aggression, and one of the tracks is an algorithmic composition, generalizing “beats” and playing with modal melodic generation.

This isn’t the usual mix of descriptors one finds in music of this kind, & it’s gratifying to find that none of them are mere hype. Under his nom de guerre voidesque, Jeppsen’s first EP, as if it never existed, makes a very striking first impression. The three artists mentioned above exert themselves on Jeppsen’s music too (which he freely admits), but less as an éminence grise than as a collection of influential but nevertheless distant forces. Another way of putting it would be to say that these inspirations act as a series of points of departure in Jeppsen’s music rather than dictating both the style & idea of the journey.

Right from the opening track, ‘synaptic luck’, there are potent signs of individuality, in both the unexpectedly warm acoustic (which persists throughout) & the flexibility of the tempi, seamlessly shifting the underscore & making the beats interesting in their own right, emancipating them from being mere markers in a grid-like space. They turn out to be the focus of the piece, in fact, whereas at the start it was the various melodic ideas that seemed to offer most interest; it’s rather satisfying to have one’s initial sense of perspective proved to be otherwise. A similar atmosphere pervades in ‘the imaginary restitution’, a track that also places most emphasis on the beat structures while nicely confounding exactly what they are, while in ‘eusodius’ the beats become a remarkable, restless lattice that becomes increasingly hypnotic; it’s a brave composer who aspires to the intricate rhythmic evolutions of Autechre’s Untilted, but this track carries it off with real aplomb. It’s only fair to say that the EP’s longest track, ‘new threats’, is an aspiration too far; it opens interestingly enough, but is ultimately too monotonous to sustain its almost 10-minute duration.

But that’s the odd one out, & the remaining three tracks are each outstanding. ‘wrong door’, despite lasting a mere 106 seconds, inhabits the kind of cracked texture that Three Trapped Tigers might create in their gentler moments, & ‘masquerade’ is a beautiful exercise in understated aggression, carrying along a crude melody covered in razor barbs, contorted & cut-up by the beats, which in this context, despite their force, take a secondary role. Like ‘wrong door’, ‘masquerade’ impresses in part due to its brevity; one can’t help wanting to hear Jeppsen turn these textures into larger canvases, but as miniatures they’re no less superb. Yet it’s the final track, ‘previous’, that stands out most, a disarming introduction—a quiet ambient melody, sans beats—swiftly becoming a dialogue between naïve, playful melodic shapes & gritty, out-of-step rhythms. It’s a delight, the ear dancing back & forth between the two strands which, by design, can never quite coalesce.

There’s much to praise in this first voidesque release, which is a strikingly individual take on what would once have been called IDM. Jeppsen’s clearly a talent to look out for in the future.

5:4 rating: 4.43/5

as if it never existed can be streamed below, & purchased from the voidesque Bandcamp site; new voidesque material can be heard via Soundcloud.

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Joyous & infectiously playful: Lindstrøm – Six Cups of Rebel

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Having spent several weeks focussing on music of an introspective & ascetic nature, it’s time to let off some steam, & to that end let me flag up the latest release from Lindstrøm, titled Six Cups of Rebel. In nearly 10 years of music-making, this is only Hans-Peter Lindstrøm’s third album (which is not to suggest his output is small; he’s put out over twenty 12″ singles over the years), but the large-scale format clearly suits him. Six Cups of Rebel is a somewhat strange entity to try to define, opening in dazzling fashion with a cascading piece of organ minimalism (‘No Release’), its static, Steve Reich-like epicentre chasing itself in circles over a glowering pedal part of rising Shepard tones. None of which really suggests the full-on party atmosphere that’s about to ensue, with multitudinous but astutely-judged throwbacks to an earlier time; but Lindstrøm’s not just another statistic in the endless parade of latter-day retrophiliacs; he’s far more subtle, opting – for the most part – for whiffs of suggestion rather than a faceful of the past. Lindstrøm has assimilated his influences, & when they appear—funk & house gestures in ‘De Javu’; ’80s synth arpeggios & power chords in ‘Quiet Place to Live’—they’re merely elements in an experiment that’s very much bigger & more original.

Six Cups of Rebel is a diptych, & the transition between its panels is heralded by an amusing, faux-naïf fanfare (‘Call Me Anytime’), bringing to mind Franz Zappa’s more primitive synclavier pieces. The last three tracks pull the party in a new direction, disrupted by guitar riffs & breakbeats, culminating (with perhaps a wink to Luke Vibert) in an episode splashing around in the muddy squelch of the TB-303. That effectively brings proceedings to an end, as the closing track, ‘Hina’, mirrors the opener in similarly minimalistic fashion, dropping the straightforward beats & luxuriating in a rich palette of shifting timbres over unrelenting ostinatos.

It’s a strange album, no doubt, & i’ll admit to misgivings about certain aspects, but as a whole it’s so joyous & infectiously playful that the moments of mishap are easily forgotten.

5:4 rating: 4.71/5

The album can be streamed in its entirety below (courtesy of Grooveshark), & the CD can be ordered very cheaply from Juno Records, here.

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A crazily convoluted crucible of ideas: Three Trapped Tigers – Numbers: 1–13

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Turning away from the Lent series for a bit, for some time now i’ve been itching to write about Three Trapped Tigers. They’re a trio of musicians from London, and despite the fact they consist of keyboards, bass guitar and drums, despite the fact their music is given labels such as ‘math rock’ or ‘instrumental noise rock’, and despite the fact their live gigs subject one’s eardrums to the kind of pummelling one might expect from, say, Meshuggah, it just doesn’t feel right to describe them as a ‘band’. Superficially, they fit the mould, but their music is significantly different—in both conception and execution—from pretty much everyone else of that ilk.

Their debut album, Route One or Die, was released last year, and the fact i placed it second on my Best Albums of 2011 perhaps says something. It’s an astonishing tour de force of heavyweight invention and lightweight agility, but this shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. For a full three years beforehand, Tom Rogerson (keyboards/vocals), Matt Calvert (guitar/electronics) and Adam Betts (drums) evolved their unique mode of expression through a series of 13 compositions; simply numbered in order rather than given names, these pieces were released on three EPs with similarly functional titles, EP (2008), EP2 (2009) and EP3 (2010). Released in relatively small quantities, these EPs have became hard to find, so they’ve recently been re-released both as digital downloads as well as on a “remastered” compilation album, Numbers: 1–13; more about these later.
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New digital EP: Simulated Music – postscript

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i’ve released today a new EP of electronic music, titled Simulated Music – postscript. As that name suggests, the EP contains material related to my album Simulated Music, released a few months ago. Here’s an excerpt from the blurb:

Simulated Music, released in June 2011, was a cycle of music created at speed. As i wrote at the time, “critical decisions … were made with a minimum of deliberation. Once they were decided, i worked quickly, not concerning myself much with minutiæ, thinking instead about the broader, gestural shape of the music as a whole”. Nonetheless, the process that led to each ‘Simulation’, while relatively brief, contained a considerable amount of experimentation, as it was worked into its final form. On several occasions, i produced more than one version of a piece, uncertain of which i preferred; only when finally assembling Simulated Music did it become clear which versions of the pieces should be used. This EP contains nearly all of the alternate versions.

As with my earlier EPs, Simulated Music – postscript is only available as a free digital download, via my Bandcamp site.


The Softness War: Chubby Wolf – Los que No Son Gentos & Celer – Noctilucent Clouds

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A little under a year ago, reviewing Celer’s then latest release Dying Star, i made the rather rash remark that with its “quietly massive majesty … [it] may just be Celer’s masterpiece”. i’m not going to retract that statement—it remains for me the most striking album in the Celer corpus—but it’s been fascinating to hear a pair of albums this year that draw very near to it, in terms of both aspiration and execution.

The first comes from the Celer-offshoot Chubby Wolf, the result of Danielle Baquet-Long’s solo explorations. As i’ve remarked in the past, left to her own devices Baquet-Long pursues a more austere, sonically complex soundworld than that of her duo work with husband Will, and new release Los que No Son Gentos is no exception. That’s not to suggest it lacks warmth—far from it—but the ‘heat’ it emits is soft and residual, not blazing; there are no overt grand gestures here. The 14 tracks are founded on slowly-moving foundations that for the most part keep themselves at a distance, not so much aloof as reserved; and their mode of expression is pithy and succinct, many of the tracks lasting under three minutes. Yet their miniature stature belies a remarkable intensity with which the music speaks. It’s a paradox neatly encapsulated in Baquet-Long’s familiarly loquacious track-titles, which (like so much poetry) are simultaneously immediate—more than once invoking desire—and alienating. One quickly realises that each track is not merely concise, but concentrated, boiled down into a richly undiluted essence, in which each shifting agglomeration of notes, each surging bass protrusion becomes utterly compelling. Thankfully, this is clearly what matters most; once again, Baquet-Long flies in the face of so much contemporary ambient music, that simply regards sounding pretty (which is, in any case, subjective) as its primary goal. Los que No Son Gentos shifts in and out of loveliness, but the weight and power of its conviction never lets up for a second. It’s perhaps perverse to single out any individual track in such a context as this, but “You are the Description that brings me out of Myself… But cannot Give Me anywhere to go” is especially impressive, bringing to mind the best work of Jonathan Coleclough. Read more