Yesterday was the feast of the Epiphany, and it strikes me as strange that there is so little music written for Epiphanytide. Advent and Christmastide are overflowing with possibilities, but composers have clearly not been inspired by this season. It might be that it’s been somewhat vague until more recent times; certainly, the Anglican church has only got its structure and approach sorted in the last 5 years. But i think it’s an extremely powerful period of time, especially as it moves towards its conclusion with the Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas) on 2 February. My own Nunc dimittis was intended as an anthem for that occasion, rather than for regular weekday Evensongs, and thankfully it’s only ever been performed as such.
Yesterday’s listening was a return to an old favourite: John Oswald. i’ve been interested in him since my early 20s, when i heard a work of his performed by the Kronos Quartet at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall (Mach i believe it was called). His “plunderphonic” style is remarkable, and when i first heard Plexure it produced a similar reaction to Venetian Snares: shock, amusement, bewilderment and exhilaration. But today i was listening to something from his very different, electroacoustic style: his 2003 work Aparenthesi. It’s difficult to believe it’s by the same composer; a gorgeous, intense, patient and rapturous meditation, similar to some of The Hafler Trio‘s work. The slowly-shifting soundscape is surprisingly engaging, and i found myself very moved by it.
Yesterday’s listening was confined to a single album, Merzbow‘s Door Open at 8am. Annoyingly, i felt distracted while listening, so i don’t feel i’ve engaged with it adequately; i’ll try again soon, perhaps as part of my journey into Masami Akita’s work. This morning i spent time with OM Electrique, the first of his 50-disc “Merzbox”, and it was a fascinating experience. i’m quite fond of journeying through an artist’s work chronologically, and beginning with this album, from 1979, i was aware it would be screaming “analogue” at me, and i’m sure this contributed to how abrasive was the start of the opening track. Fortunately, i’m made of sterner stuff, and after the (admittedly rather discomiting) first 10 minutes, the noise opened out into other areas. i’m already fascinated with the way that rhythmic pulses move in and out and evolve within Merzbow’s work; here, it seemed to be one of just a few layers of noise that dropped in and out at intervals; but when a layer drops out, it gives a startling new way of hearing the remaining layers. The four tracks are related in pairs, and the album’s a bit disjointed as a result; early days though.
Noise of a very different order this afternoon: The Hafler Trio‘s Hljóðmynd. How Andrew McKenzie creates his soundscapes i have no idea. It’s going to be an interesting week, since BBC4 is showing a number of programmes this week exploring aspects of popular music. Highlights: Monday has histories of The Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops, Tuesday a review by Paul Morley (a genius, and one of my heroes) about the role of music on culture/identity, and on Wednesday Charles Hazlewood is exploring “How Pop Songs Work”…
When any series comes to an end, it’s an emotional experience, and so it was yesterday when the last two CDs in Andrew Liles‘ 12-CD Vortex Vault series dropped through my letterbox. Black Pool and Black End mark the conclusion of an amazingly prodigious cycle of discs, released once a month, beginning at the end of 2006. Andrew Liles’ music was one of my biggest discoveries from last year, recommended to me by the equally remarkable Matt Waldron (irr. app. (ext.)). There’s a fascinating mix of both the beautiful and the disturbing in his music, with highly evocative (and sometimes, very funny) titles, including “Bamboo Sheep”, “An Unspoken Narrative Regarding Institutional Abuse”, “Ghost Breath – A Lament For A Bear Cub Called Медвежонок”, “Taking Bumblebee to France for the Afternoon”, “36-23-33½” and “Matthew Doesn’t Like Bananas in his Ice Cream”. These titles are often frivolous, but sometimes rather more deliberate: “The Jean Michel and Vangelis Taboo Liaison”, for example, explores the kinds of sounds beloved of those two “composers”. He’s capable of real gravitas too, though, and the final piece on Black End is like an electroacoustic/symphonic finale to the series (quixotically broken up into 94 tracks!). Read more
There was an entirely accidental Irish connection to yesterday’s listening. Greatly enamoured as i am of Clodagh Simonds‘ gorgeous voice (she now records as Fovea Hex), i thought it would be interesting to listen to her earliest work, as part of the influential group Mellow Candle. Their 1972 album Swaddling Songs is something of a legendary work, marking the transition from 60s psychedelia to 70s progressive folk, and it’s surprising, over 25 years on, how fresh it sounds, with an eclectic mixture of instruments (the harpsichord twiddlings—to use proper musical terminology—are marvellous!), and delicate, almost naïve, vocals, that can occasionally become rapturously wild.
i admit i had high hopes for Clodagh Simonds’ compatriot Róisín Murphy, although little to go on. i was never very interested in her band Moloko, so was therefore unsure what to expect. But she disappointed me – i listened to her first album, Ruby Blue, which seems to be attempting to combine lazy lounge jazz with the glitches that annoyingly accompany so much electronica these days. When applied to her vocals, it was engaging and actually rather fascinating (particularly through headphones), but my interest soon wained, and i was glad when the album ended. i began to listen to her new album, Overpowered, but couldn’t bear more than two tracks; it sounds worryingly like she’s now trying to add the flavour of Goldfrapp into the mixture. Not for me, it seems.
There were many, many musical highlights in 2007, but a lot of disappointments too, which i guess is unavoidable, considering the amount of music i listen to throughout the year. Probably the worst of the lowlights of the year was Avril Lavigne‘s The Best Damn Thing, an unfortunate title considering it was one of the most appalling things i’ve heard in a long time; it seems she’s not averse actually to steal musical ideas from other people these days (Peaches in particular). As for the highlights, the brightest and best were:
• Andrew Liles’ Vortex Vault series and New York Doll
• irr. app. (ext.): Ozeanische Gefühle, Perekluchenie and Cosmic Superimposition
• Joanna Newsom‘s Ys
• Fovea Hex‘s Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent trilogy
• The Hafler Trio‘s Hljóðmynd, How To Slice A Loaf Of Bread, The Explanation, The Discussion, An Answer and Whistling About Chickens
• Belle and Sebastian‘s The Life Pursuit
• Björk‘s Volta
• Nine Inch Nails‘ Year Zero
• Orphan Fairytale‘s Whose Words Are My Words (with Mudboy) and Speaking Spooky
• CocoRosie‘s Noah’s Ark and La maison de mon rêve
• IAMX‘s The Alternative, and finally
• Pan Sonic‘s Katodivaihe Read more
Tags: Andrew Liles
, Antony and the Johnsons
, Belle and Sebastian
, Fovea Hex
, Frou Frou
, irr. app. (ext.)
, Joanna Newsom
, Nine Inch Nails
, Pan Sonic
, The Hafler Trio