Loving/Collecting Music

Posted on by 5:4 in Comment | Leave a comment

From about the age of 10, i was given £5 pocket money each month. And every month, i would walk to the record shop and buy a new album, which would always cost me £4.99. Since i could only afford one album, i would take a lot of time choosing, looking through perhaps hundreds of LPs before finally deciding. This monthly experience was really exciting for me – all the more so because of the context in which it happened: i had to wait for it, then i had to journey to get it, and finally bring it home – and it took all my money to buy it. i believe there are two qualities that this approach has helped to instill and nurture in me.

The first is to understand the value of the music. i don’t here mean the price; i’m talking about the fact that, for me, it was my once-a-month opportunity to encounter new music, to explore something fresh. Of course, i wanted to do that more often – and i did, regularly raiding my mother’s large record collection – but i had to wait, i had to be patient. And, of course, once the day had arrived, i was so ecstatic finally to own a new album that it meant the world to me. We could perhaps call it a ‘collaboration’: i was granted a new album, but it demanded of me a sacrifice, of my time and of my money. i certainly understood the personal value of the music.

Second, it made me an extremely attentive listener. It would be impossible to go through the experience described above, and then not really care what the music was. So i would sit and focus all my attention on what i was listening to – and i would listen to it over and over again, absorbing it, hearing it afresh, understanding it from more and more angles. The result was that i assimilated the music, it became part of me; i could hear it perfectly clearly in my mind, i would sing it to myself without realising it. And so, overall, i cherished the music, i valued it, i knew it, i understood it, i absorbed it… i loved it. Read more

Not Einstürzende Neubauten but Eingestürzt Altbauten: Belong

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment

One of the most immediately powerful and communicative images of our time is that of the ruin. Whether it’s something prosaic and dark, like a human suicide, or profound and vivid, like the remains of a cathedral, the effect is similar: we’re made aware of, and irresistably drawn into, something that projects its history upon us. and if the ruin makes for a striking image, it is capable of being an even more breathtaking artistic metaphor – the suicide images of Rachel Howard and the juxtaposition of the new Coventry Cathedral alongside its wrecked sibling are wonderful examples. While concepts such as deconstruction, entropy and collapse are all too common in contemporary music – a worrying fact, worthy of study – the very different concept of ruin is rarely explored. Belong is a duo from the United States who seek to do just that; their music is a few years old now, so it surprises me that more people haven’t encountered it (including me; i did only a few weeks ago). Read more

Tags: , ,

Delicate and damaged; broken and beautiful: Burial

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Listening to as much music as i do, it’s quite rare to come across something that’s truly surprising. While surprises aren’t as rare as shocks (which are becoming extinct, it seems), they’re elusive nonetheless, and when they do happen it’s exciting and compelling. Those two words apply well to the music of Burial, who emerged seemingly from nowhere in late 2005. Things haven’t changed much since then; somehow, he’s managed to remain anonymous – a handful of people, apparently, know who he is – which is a remarkable achievement. Not as remarkable an achievement as his music, however, which breaks apart the relatively flimsy ideas of dubstep and garage, and creates delicate, damaged objects from the pieces. In fact, brokenness is a quality that pervades all his work, an innate sense of the tragic; Burial is casting his eyes over the world around him and clearly finds the spectacle saddening.

It takes someone with acute sensibilites to say something so stark and emotive through a music of this kind; all the more reason, i suppose, why such a critical source as The Wire named Burial’s eponymous first album as its 2006 Album of the Year. From the opening, untitled, track onwards, there’s an air of mystery cloaking his music, and yet simultaneously it sounds very familiar, very British (a title like “Gutted” affirms its Englishness). Listening to Burial is to be transported to the streets of a city suburb, beneath nocturnal rain; the most telling tracks bespeak devastation in very different ways. Read more

Tags: , ,

Floating back to happiness: Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

Good music likes company, it seems, as three CDs came through my letterbox this morning, Autechre‘s Quaristice – strange, as it’s not released until Saturday – and Gantz Graf (which i’ve loved for years, but only now got round to buying), plus Goldfrapp‘s new album Seventh Tree, released yesterday. i therefore took time off from my compositional/Autechre duties this morning, to hear finally what Goldfrapp has been up to. i have the deluxe edition, which is quite a package, coming in a small box…

… with the CD, … Read more

Tags: , ,

Mixtape #1 : Late Night

Posted on by 5:4 in Mixtapes | 1 Comment

There was a discussion on Radio 4 yesterday, about a possible link between creativity and the late night. i have no opinion on this, except insofar as i have had some highly productive late night composing sessions. A lot of my listening to music takes place at night, however, and i think it’s a very special time indeed to engage with it. To that end, and just for fun, i’ve compiled my own little mixtape containing a number of the things i’m listening to at the moment (some old, some new; many mentioned in my posts over the last few months), tracks which heighten in intensity when listened to (preferably, very) late at night. 68 minutes of wonder, seamlessly stitched together for your pleasure…

Here’s the full tracklisting: Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Scandanavian sounds, part 3: AM and the UV

Posted on by 5:4 in Thematic series | Leave a comment

Every now and then, a band appears that seems to bring together the most engaging qualities of several other artists. A delightful example of that – and proof that not everything coming out of these remote arctic regions is quite as intense or brooding as Deathprod and Biosphere – is AM and the UV, the relatively unknown collaboration of singer Anne Marie Almedal (AM) and obscure duo Ultraviolet (UV). The result is some of the most delicate and compelling songs i’ve heard, effortlessly blending the vocal lyricism of Alison Goldfrapp, the dark funkiness of Portishead (ok, so it broods a little) and the drifting washes of the Cocteau Twins, easily rivalling those artists, the songs are that good. Sadly, they only stayed together long enough to produce two EPs – Tomorrow Is All Like Flowers and Silently The Birds Fly Through Us – and an album, Candy Thunder. The titles of the EPs, in particular, point towards the ethereal aims to which AM and the UV are working. The songs communicate a kind of transparent (if perhaps world-weary) bliss, which grows with repeated listenings. Among the brightest of the highlights: “Whisper” is simply one of the most gorgeous songs ever recorded, “Speak” features some spectacular melodic writing, “Wonderful, Beautiful” is a bizarre retro/modern combination (Almedal sounding a bit like Karen Carpenter), and the chorus is irresistible to sing along with, and “Everywhere We Go”, the final track from the album, is very mellow, with the most delicious ending.

Tags: , ,

Irrational Appendage (Extending)

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Back in the late autumn of 2005, when – in every sense – things were very much darker than they are now, i did perhaps the strangest music search i’ve ever done. Into Soulseek i idly typed the words “disjecta membra”, only half curious to see what it might find, expecting to see nothing; but a couple of moments later, one of the most remarkable track titles i’ve ever seen appeared: “A full desirous body, rendered disjecta membra through the application of dust pincher appliances”. Unable to resist a title as allusive as that, i downloaded it, and thus began my love of the music of irr. app. (ext.). Product of the feverish mind of american artist Matt Waldron, irr. app. (ext.) explores music in a surrealist, at times absurdist manner, juxtaposing the immediately identifiable and anecdotal with the obscure and almost arcane, combining field recordings with electronics. In a way not dissimilar from that of The Hafler Trio, image and text are an integral part of the sonic experience; Waldron is a talented visual artist, producing the dream-like visuals that drape his output. The texts are equally obtuse, bearing a sidewise relationship to the music and the images; indeed, it’s often unclear whether the accompanying words are designed to clarify and elaborate, or confuse and obfuscate. i like this lack of certainty, and find it makes the overall experience that bit more stimulating. Waldron’s experiences with record labels have not been terribly successful, with many planned releases delayed or cancelled; of the works that actually made it so far as to be released, most were released in relatively small quantities, and so are now out of print. It seems i discovered his work just in time to acquire everything before the copies ran out. As of 2008, things seem to be looking up, and a number of irr. app. (ext.) releases are scheduled for release this year. Read more

Tags: , ,

Scandanavian sounds, part 2: Deathprod

Posted on by 5:4 in Thematic series | Leave a comment

Deathprod – it’s a name both striking and strange, which is appropriate, as his music is both of these things too. There are obvious similarities to Biosphere – both are Norwegian; both explore large soundscapes; both create music that is immediately arresting – and yet there’s something very much more going on in Deathprod’s work. It’s even more dark, more remote, to the point of being mysterious, even ominous or desolate. But i think it’s the remoteness that is the most palpable characteristic of Deathprod’s output, neatly encapsulated in a 4-CD box set, released a few years ago. The set brings together three previously released but now hard-to-find albums – Morals and Dogma, Imaginary Songs from Tristan Da Cunha (remoteness even in the title!) and Treetop Drive – with a disc of new material, titled Reference Frequencies. There’s a fascinating low-fi approach taken in many of the tracks (some were transferred to phonograph cylinders), which somehow sit remarkably well beside more obviously electronic pieces – although, almost nothing on these CDs betrays exactly how it was created, which is quite a feat.

i first discovered his work about 4 years ago, and it still ranks as one of the most exciting, transforming encounters i’ve ever had. The most breathtaking of all is “Treetop Drive 1”, where a wide, orchestral string chord sounds again and again, pregnant and ominous, while slowly-evolving electronics splash and wail, like plangent seabirds over the foghorn of a melancholy ocean. Atop this imagined water, “Towboat” explores the same misty territory with a wider and yet more claustrophobic vision. “Burntwood” sounds like a decrepit audio tape discovered on a beach, filled with sounds that simultaneously beguile and disturb. and then, perhaps the supreme achievement of Deathprod’s sound-world, “Dead People’s Things”, an unbearingly poignant lament for something unutterably lost. All of these pieces reinvent music, expand what it can be, how it can speak. They are among the most rapturously beautiful and sad pieces one will ever hear.

Tags: , , ,

Scandanavian sounds, part 1: Biosphere

Posted on by 5:4 in Thematic series | Leave a comment

Music emanating from the Scandanavian countries is always interesting, and often unusual. Once upon a yesteryear, it was all Abba (70s), A-ha (80s) and Aqua (90s), but they’re probably as glad as we are that that’s ancient history, and the sounds of 21st century Scandinavia are altogether more absorbing. The best of these sounds is as remote as their geography, a remoteness often palpably audible in the music. Perhaps the finest example is Biosphere, a Norwegian who is held by many (including me) to be an important figure in that most mine-ridden of fields, ambient music. While the comparisons to Eno are irritating, they do at least point to the significance that Biosphere’s music possesses. His early work is very interesting, revealing a cold (temperature, not emotion), distant quality, evocative of the north arctic clime where he resides. In fact, his work – which frequently incorporates field recordings (particularly the wind) of the sounds from that area – is often referred to as “polar ambient”. This was the main feature of one of his collaborations with the UK’s Higher Intelligence Agency, entitled Polar Sequences (the other collaboration, Birmingham Frequencies is the opposite, exploring more urban sounds). The turning point, though, is his album from the following year, Substrata – and it was, literally, a turning point, beats rejected completely, allowing the slowly-evolving soundscapes to become the altar rather than the reredos. and this is why the Eno-esque claims are annoying; ambient (from one perspective) may have evolved from Satie’s “Furniture music”, but it is capable of, and indeed has become, very much more than that. Arguably, the mere term “ambient” (as we’ve seen before) is somewhat unhelpful here, “polar” or otherwise. Biosphere’s work needs to be listened to, not merely allowed to float around the room while we “chill out”. There’s a lot going on here, and most of it defies words.

Tags: , , ,

The (very welcome) shock of the new: Autechre – Quaristice

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

The closest i’ve come to a solitary road trip was last year, when i drove from the cosy shelter of the Cotswolds to the exposed shelf of the east coast. Knowing that, even if i treated the speed limit with my usual agnosticism, the drive would still take at least four hours, preparation was needed in terms of music for the journey. i’ve often noticed how the music one takes on any kind of trip or trek becomes etched into the experience, as an integral part of the memories. On this occasion, i opted for a single artist: Autechre. For once, i brought nothing else for contrast, so depending on your perspective, setting off with only Amber, Draft 7.30, LP5 and Untilted for company was either foolhardy and masochistic or courageous and exciting. Actually, i think it was all of those; and it was wonderful, consolidating my love for their work.

Their new album, Quaristice (released on 3 March, but made available on bleep.com a couple of days ago), achieves the remarkable feat of sounding at once familiar and yet also alien and strange. i admit to having read the review in the latest The Wire, but – like most reviewers these days – little was given away, so i felt pleasantly able to throw myself in at the deep end. My most immediate reaction, as one track passed to the next, was of disorientation; gone are the lengthy pieces from Untilted that evolve and judder into new contortions and patterns, replaced here with a kaleidoscope of short studies that seem to capture their essence in a less expansive, but perhaps more concentrated way (stat alert: Untilted: 8 tracks, average length 8:43; Quaristice: 20 tracks, average length 3:40). If anything, this accentuates one of their strongest attributes: the ability to surprise. There’s the impression that these are mere sound “glimpses”, yet the familiar sense of evolution persists. What is most new here are the soft-edged washes of sound that appear almost nonchalantly amidst all of the bleeps and glitches. Nothing like this has featured in their work since their earliest releases (such as “Aut Riche” on Incunabula and “Nine” on Amber), but there’s not even a trace of the banal ambient electronica sound-world; this is “grown up” ambient, of a kind Richard James would be proud. Read more

Tags:

The shock of the old

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

In the summer of 2001, during an 11-day tramp around Iceland, the Beloved and i took a chance and attended a baritone recital, given at the church in Egilsstaðir. It was a strange and beautiful experience; he chatted a fair bit between each song, and we did our best to laugh in the right places and look like we could make any sense of what he was saying. Not surprisingly, while the music drew us in, we nonetheless felt somewhat distanced from what was going on. But that changed, suddenly, towards the end of the recital, as he began to sing, in English, “Danny Boy”. Having heard nothing but Icelandic, Italian and German for the last hour or so, and then to be confronted with our own language, singing this amazingly lovely song – and he sang it extraordinarily beautifully – was a real jolt to the system, and by the end i had tears streaming down my face. It’s very powerful to be struck like that, and it highlighted for me how remarkable and important it can be to find something familiar amidst things obscure; and yet also, how possible it is that the familiar can still carry the power to surprise and even shock us. Fast-forward to last year, and a recording i made of something modern on Radio 3, which caught the tail-end of something sumptuous, melancholic and gorgeous, played by strings. After a couple of perplexed microseconds (beauty always perplexes first, doesn’t it?), i realised this was “Danny Boy” once again – or, rather, its original form as the Londonderry Air – arranged (as i learned at the end) by that fiendish genius, Percy Grainger. To be shocked twice by the same melody is quite something, and i can’t listen to it now without a beaming smile on my face.

Tags:

What’s In A Name? (Part Two)

Posted on by 5:4 in Comment | Leave a comment

In my post Style and Idea: What’s In A Name?, i said that i’d been provoked to consider genres “and more besides”; here, then, is the more. Our determination to classify things – as a means of containing them, thereby reducing them and making them (or so we believe) more “understandable” – extends further, into quite subtle areas. What, for example, is going on in the title of a work? In the world of contemporary art music (for want of a better term), it has become de rigeur for a composition to require some kind of vaguely poetic/pithy title, preferably not a generic one (e.g. “symphony”), to avoid undesirable, often anachronistic, associations. It goes deeper though, and wider; programme notes are typically provided to supplement the title, no doubt seeking to aide the audience further in their engagement of the work. Serving a seemingly different end, the tracks on a CD nonetheless also seek to “contain” a piece (or part thereof) with the same aim of helping to reduce a work to small, “manageable” bits. Let me say immediately that i myself am a part of all this, and have never detracted from it – indeed, the title of my most recent composition, ‘unredeemed’ self-)portrait (in the form of a calf, although abstruse, could be cited as an extreme example of it – but it seems appropriate to question the practice from the perspective of both artist (in terms of intention) and audience (in terms of desire).

During my first degree (a very worrying 11 years ago), i wrote a paper entitled Extra-Musical Facets of the Complete Work of Art, which examined, among other things, the rôle of a title and programme notes, emphasising their importance and value for the artist. This was something of a reaction to seeing composers presenting works with absolutely nothing to say (a fact they seemed to celebrate), which i found deeply irritating. Perhaps i thought that encouraging composers to use these “facets” would cause them, de facto, to have something to say in their work. But i saw the relationship between artist and audience very differently back then, in terms – dare i admit it – of telling the audience what they should be listening to/for in my work. i now wonder whether facets like a title and notes do the work – and the audience – a disservice. Read more

Why don’t you just switch off your CD player and listen to something less boring instead? : Onetwo – Instead

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

There’s something inherently exciting about the collaboration, particularly when each protagonist has a well-known and established career. The idea of two individually interesting artists producing something new and unexpected together is more than enough to whet the appetite. i’ve been spending time with a comparitively recent example, teaming two names that are somewhat significant from my musical past. Player 1: Claudia Brücken, singer from 80s group Propaganda, whose slightly plummy voice could cut through all the surreal and industrial sounds the other band members could throw at her. Player 2: Paul Humphreys, non-singer from 80s group Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, whose slightly corny melodies became roaringly popular as synthesisers took over mainstream pop. ’Tis an intriguing idea, two such luminaries teaming up, no? So the mind goes into overdrive, predicting what the emergent sound could be like: probably pop songs (OMD), but maybe with a twist in terms of structure (Propaganda); could be either soft and mellow (OMD) or hard and penetrating (Propaganda). Together they call themselves Onetwo, and i was sufficiently intrigued to spend time with their first album, Instead. Now, while i stick to what i said last time, about expectations being best when minimised, it’s difficult when you’re confronting two musicians whose music has meant something to you in the past. Admittedly, i was more of a Human League fan than OMD (possibly they sounded more ‘real’ and gritty, when OMD were all fun and larks – hmm, rather like what i said about The Cure a few days ago; probably it’s the Sheffield connection, which produced some remarkable acts in the late 70s/early 80s), but Propaganda i really, really liked. So hurl your abuse, i had expectations, and reasonably high ones, if i’m honest. Read more

Tags: ,

Style and Idea: What’s In A Name?

Posted on by 5:4 in Comment | 1 Comment

A few days ago, i listened to an album described by its label as “ritual ambient”, which i found an intriguing idea for a genre; yesterday, i spent time with another release on the same label, listed as “ceramic IDM”. i’m not sure i can even begin to unpack quite what that description is driving at (can “ceramic” be an adjective in this context?), but it got me reflecting on the nature of musical genres and subgenres, and more besides. i believe the present practice has its origin in four deeply significant developments from the 20th century.

The first is the deeper and more authentic understanding of music from past generations. It’s interesting to reflect that, until the early 20th century, even a composer as significant as Mozart was rarely performed. The increase of scholarship – no doubt aided by the development of easy international travel – brought a huge wave of understanding of earlier musics, and a corollary of that was the classification of discoveries. Prior to this, the musical period from Bach to Beethoven was referred to by the simple term, “classical music”, invented around the 1820s. Now, music of this period was re-classified under the well-known “Baroque” and “Classical” headings, and the century just past was judged to have been a “Romantic” period, all of these in part borrowing from architectural and literary terms. This is the origin of music’s division into genres.

The second, to some extent contemporaneous with the first, is the point of crisis in the development of classical music. When tonality fell apart, composers became similarly fragmented, going in all sorts of directions in the quest for new ways to shape and structure their music. The earliest experiments were given the lame description, “Free Atonal”, before giving way to Schoenberg’s curious invention, “Serialism” (not that he tended to call it that), which, in its extreme form became “Integral Serialism”. But since not everyone wanted their music to be like this, composers seeking to continue strands from Romantic music were branded “Post-Tonal” or “Neo-Romantic”; others, looking to earlier models were “Neo-Classical”. Suddenly, it seemed, there were numerous styles, when hitherto there had been a single, broadly recognisable style that had had considerable momentum. This is the origin of the proliferation of musical styles. Read more

Into the “other”: Pan Sonic – Kesto (234.48:4)

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

i’m a sucker for series and cycles, from collections of compositions into a larger whole (such as Richard Barrett‘s Opening of the Mouth and Charles Tournemire‘s L’Orgue Mystique) to multiple-CD albums and box sets. i love them; perhaps it’s something to do with the sheer effort required to engage with something on so large a scale. Plus, of course, there’s the pleasure of allowing yourself to be taken on a journey in the hands of one who’s seeking to present something new and unfamiliar and exciting and strange. A fair bit of music’s like that, of course, and you could even argue a single song or small-scale composition is a “journey” of sorts; but expand that to a cycle of pieces that lasts an hour, or three, or more, and you’re into something epic, an odyssey.

My first this year is Pan Sonic‘s Kesto (234.48:4), the parentheses testifying to the duration of the album in minutes. i started a week ago, and finished yesterday evening; no journey of this scope can be tackled in a single stage, and i wanted to give each disc its own space to speak. The first two CDs represent the Pan Sonic that i recognise: raw, abrasive, oscillating glitch beats shot through with sheets of noise and the occasional glimpse of an ambient cloud – Autechre meets Merzbow while Eno looks on (or something like that). While similar in content, there’s a perceptible shift on CD2 away from the dirty IDM to something more pensive and abstract, the sounds still evolving but without such a strong sense of cycle and repetition. By the third disc, little remains of the synthetic drum sounds, presenting instead slabs of etherea that shift and confuse (one of the track titles translates as “Inexplicable”), appearing to pose questions rather than postulate solutions. Nonetheless, there’s a palpable air of assurance in the music; these are confident questions. All of which leads to the final, confounding, uplifting, disorienting, compelling disc, where a continual onslaught of sliding layers of sound – broad strokes with flashes of filigree – bathes, no floods the ears and engulfs the mind. i have no idea what thoughts, if any, passed during this overload. Not that the experience is a harsh one – far from it; the music came down on me like a ton of cushions; like zooming in on a Hafler Trio drone, mellifluous, sublime, entrancing, and never ever dull. But powerfully present; indeed, my ears were ringing for a long time after the single 61-minute track had expired.

Four CDs of sounds that sit somewhere in a no man’s land betwixt IDM, japanoise and something ineffable, jarring the eardrums, mangling the brain, shivering the soul. It’s tempting to suggest that this album had such a profound effect based on the strength of (especially) the last 2 CDs, and while it’s true to say i found those the most engaging (disc 4 is simply superb), i find it hard to separate any of them from the 4-disc journey which together they comprise. After all, the summit of a mountain only means something relative to the base and all that lies between. The nature of this journey is not something i have yet understood, but there’s a connotation of moving away from one “thing” – be it familiar or organised or layered, or whatever – toward something “other”, something subtle and beautiful and bright and dense and deep and everywhere. i have no idea where it’ll take me next time; and i can’t wait.

Tags:

Beautiful angst: The Cure

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Back when life was all of a teenage, when the concept of “family” still held some substance for me, i was taken to spend a few days in the company of my “cousins” in London. There wasn’t much to do there, and i recall one particular day when i and “cousin-minor” were mooching in his room, reading, chatting, random stuff (mum, “aunt” and “cousin-major” were out, probably). All day, over and over, he played a single album, the music of which, at first, really chafed my ears (songs about arabs?). But as the hours trudged, i found myself listening more and more to the songs, looking forward to some, continuing to be irritated by others (enough with the arabs!), and i found myself really drawn to what this music – now fluffy and boistrous, now dark and brooding, filled with melancholy – could be.

The clues are there for sharp-witted readers: and i was to learn that this was The Cure, whose music i had hitherto only ever heard occasionally on the radio or in tapes swapped with friends. The album was Staring at the Sea, the compilation of all their earliest singles (and it was “Killing An Arab” that kept bugging me). It would be pushing it to say that this experience began a love affair with The Cure’s music; with virtually every other band (like every girl i’ve fallen for), this is what would have ensued (hmm, now there’s something to explore: how my relationships with different musics are similar to my relationships with the women i’ve loved). But it didn’t happen, and i still don’t know why; all i can think of is that i found something off-putting in the way their songs are so dichotomous, either incredibly up-beat and delirious, all popcorn and laughter (irritating) or deliciously dark and mellow, all velvet and bedrooms (wonderful). Perhaps i felt this to be too much at odds with how i felt within myself (hmm, now there’s something to explore: how my relationships with different musics relate to how i see myself), although it is actually rather like how i was in those ghastly 80s. More likely, i felt the darkest songs were so powerful, so true to what i thought and felt and knew, that i couldn’t stand to hear them do anything that seemed to go against that. Strangely, i have only ever acquired a single album by The Cure, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, and my ambivalence remains. For me, it is stopped from being one of the finest albums of all time by the (dareisayit) “happy” songs that crop up at intervals; aside from those, it contains some of the most mesmerisingly beautiful songs i’ve ever heard, and which continue to move me as much as ever; “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” is perhaps the most gorgeous song ever, while in “One More Time”, Robert Smith’s heart-breaking singing still brings tears to my eyes.

Tags:

Dancing (kind of) and drifting (ish): Stravinsky, Autechre, The Orb

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

IDM is to dance music as Stravinsky is to instrumental music; discuss. Well, not exactly, but it strikes me there’s something of a similarity, particularly in the way that the underlying pulse is fragmented into irregular metres. This is probably why i love IDM (and Stravinsky) so much, although i’m more concerned in my own music to violate the underlying pulse itself (which few composers seem to want to do). For me, Autechre are the paradigm of this, deconstructing rhythm into its component parts and setting up weird, mutated versions that evolve into something else (often even stranger). Untilted – which i was listening to earlier in the car – has to be the IDM album par excellence, with the opening and closing tracks being arguably the best; “LCC” becomes weird and wonderful about 2-and-a-half minutes in; “Sublimit” becomes amazing around six-and-a-half minutes in; but they’re both brilliant throughout.

Over the last couple of days, during some much longer car journeys, i’ve been re-visiting an old classic: The Orb‘s Adventures In The Ultraworld. Back when i was a recalcitrant sixth-former, i used to spend my free periods at the record shop in town, and it was there i heard this album playing, back goodness knows when, and a friend and i bought a copy each. Goodness knows how many years later, i’m not sure how well it’s aged. My composition teacher during my degree told me “one doesn’t finish a composition, one just stops working on it”. While i fundamentally disagree with this, it kind of sums up how the conclusion to each half of this album sounds, dragged out for far too long, structure falling apart at the seams, meandering who knows where for who knows how long. i think when this came out (1991, i just checked), it was probably its novelty that saw it through; certainly, i’d never heard anything quite like it. There’s much about it i still really like, but now, i think something is lost.

Tags: , ,

Music for Epiphany and more

Posted on by 5:4 in Advent & Christmas, Miscellaneous, Seasonal | Leave a comment

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.

Tags:

Merzbow and h³o

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

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”…

Tags: ,

From the ridiculous (via noise) to the sublime

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases, Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

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

Tags: , , ,