Mix Tape #17 : Lay the Voice to Rest, Dear Mist (In Memoriam Danielle Baquet-Long)

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How quickly a year passes. On this day, 12 months ago, Danielle Baquet-Long died, bringing to an abrupt end the remarkable musical project that she and husband Will had crafted together for several years. Of course, music, like life, goes on regardless, and the prospect of plenty more releases yet to come from both Celer and Chubby Wolf (Dani’s solo project) continues to be an exciting one.

To mark today’s sad anniversary, the new 5:4 mix tape is in Dani’s memory, bringing together a diverse selection of music that broadly falls into the ‘ambient drone’ category. Drone has entranced me since i was pretty young; in the right hands, it has a quality that always seems familiar, yet somehow achingly inscrutable and difficult to define; close and intimate, yet also impossibly distant. But this kind of music (and certainly on an occasion such as this) is perhaps best not written about in too much detail; suffice it to say the examples here range from vast, dazzling textures that seemingly envelop everything in sight to gentle half-heard whispers. Of course, Dani’s own music is included, the final (very brief) example of which gives the mixtape its name.

In total, two and a half hours of music to commemorate the life of one of ambient’s more insightful and imaginative figures. The complete playlist is as follows: Read more

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Interrobang: Steve Peters – The Webster Cycles

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Two months ago, i reported that my ensemble, Interrobang, was to perform Steve Peters‘ remarkable ambient work, The Webster Cycles. It’s a work that’s entranced me since 2008, when it was released on CD, more than 25 years after its original composition date. It gets its name from the fact that the musical material originates in the Webster dictionary; Peters has taken all words that include just the letters A to G (being musical notes), arranged them in alphabetical order, and given them to players as a musical score. The words are grouped into seven columns, according to their first letter, and the result looks like this (click to see full-size):
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Street Sounds special (BBC 6 Music)

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Last Sunday, the ill-fated BBC 6 Music broadcast a two-hour special focussing on the legendary Street Sounds label. The special is presented by Dave Pearce, in conversation with the persistently energetic Morgan Khan, who founded Street Sounds in the early 1980s, and is responsible for bringing so much early hip-hop, electro, rap and house music to England. Street Sounds’ seminal Electro series of albums featured heavily in my own life from the mid 1980s, and they’re discussed on the show (around 42 minutes in) alongside the plethora of other releases put out by Street Sounds in their relatively short initial existence (a cursory glance on Discogs reveals just how prolific the label was).

Street Sounds has recently been undergoing a renaissance, starting a new series of ‘Nu Electro’ releases (Vol. 3 comes out soon), as well as a new clothing line (i’m proud to say i’m writing this little article wearing the limited edition Electro tshirt). Even more exciting, though, is Khan’s tantilising statement on the show that the original albums will in due course be re-released on CD and digital download, an answer to the persistent prayers we fans have been making for over two decades. For a long time i’ve been wanting to do an in-depth retrospective of the first fifteen Electro albums, so this may well happen in due course.

Meanwhile, here’s the two-hour special; the full playlist is as follows: Read more

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A ferocious take on dubstep: Hecq – Sura

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Despite claiming, a little over a year ago, that “the whole beat-science cant go any further for me”, Hecq has unleashed a new EP, Sura, that is a ferocious take on dubstep. Far from turning his back on beats after Steeltongued, Hecq positively bombards the ears with them, barely held in check by—as ever—his trademark ambience.

This is not the familiar shambling, lackadaisical dubstep, however; the title track is thrown into existence amidst a plethora of relentless high-hats that propel the material on. It’s over this, like a warm liquid, that Hecq’s slow chaconne builds in substance, easily swallowing these opening beat-gestures. Everything subsides, and then, literally, explodes, shards of white-hot rhythms cascading outwards as if from a welding iron. The track then, essentially, goes through the motions a second time; the chaconne briefly re-emerges, distant and hauntological, and with even more violence the metallic beats resume their onslaught. Read more

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New digital release: the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars

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Out today is my new release, a 32-minute electronic work, the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars. The piece takes as its starting point the intricate stonework found on the ceiling of the Quire in Tewkesbury Abbey. The central idea explored in the work is encapsulated in this quotation from George Herbert’s The Elixer:

A man that looks on glasse,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it passe,
And then the heav’n espie.

More specifically, the piece is concerned with notions of imposed restriction (the ‘ceiling’ of the title), with the concomitant spiritual reaction to—and transcendence beyond—such blind barriers. This is heard most prominently in the work’s fundamental conflict between two types of material, one noise-based, the other pitched and bell-like.

the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars is dedicated to Michael Perry Goodman, perhaps better known to readers of 5:4 as Implex Grace.

This release is only available in the form of a free digital download, in a variety of audio formats; to download, please visit simoncummings.bandcamp.com. Due to the extreme frequency range used in the piece, lossless (FLAC/Apple Lossless) is VERY strongly recommended. Download includes high-resolution artwork, PDF digital booklet and selection of desktop wallpapers.

An ultra-high resolution version will be available soon.

Copies of my first two CDs, Triptych, May/July 2009 and The Stuff of Memories are still available; for information, to hear excerpts and to order a copy, please visit www.simoncummings.com/shop. Both of these can also now be purchased as digital downloads from the Bandcamp site.

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Bang Goes The Quality Control: The Divine Comedy

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While 5:4 isn’t a forum where i’d like to spend much time discussing bad music, there are times when one feels compelled to say something, simply out of a sense of duty to one’s fellow humanity. This is especially the case when an artist who, generally, has received a fair amount of praise and respect, starts to lose their marbles and inflict audiences with something far less worthy. Apropos: The Divine Comedy – Bang Goes The Knighthood.

To be fair, signs of Neil Hannon’s creative decline have been evident for a while, nowhere more so than the inept and, frankly, bizarre farrago he proffered last year as one half of The Duckworth Lewis Method. It was a self-indulgent, shameful album, the one good song (“The Age of Revolution”) turning out to be a slap in the face when followed by such half-hearted, stupid effluvia. i can’t have been the only person shocked to find Neil Hannon actively involved in such an album; in hindsight, it did at least unwittingly prepare one for the experience of Bang Goes The Knighthood. Read more

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How To Destroy Angels: music on a magic carpet, but not elevating

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Trent Reznor’s side project How To Destroy Angels—formed with Year Zero/Ghosts henchman Atticus Ross, with Reznor’s wife, the impossibly-named Mariqueen Maandig, as vocalist—has released its first EP today. It’s a 6-track self-titled affair, lasting a little under 35 minutes, and it’s tempting to start drawing comparisons with Nine Inch Nails, rather than face the music on its own terms. But, having said that, i wonder how possible it is to distance oneself from NIN, and not merely through Reznor’s and Ross’ involvement. While Reznor’s voice is arguably the sine qua non in the multi-faceted NIN project, there’s now a sizeable body of NIN material that is instrumental (most notably Ghosts, of course, as well as numerous other tracks, especially on Still), so there’s something of an established ‘non-Reznor’ NIN soundworld. To some extent, first impressions would seem to declare that How To Destroy Angels’ first EP is a cluster of tracks directly from that soundworld, with Mariqueen Maandig simply placed on top (and the style and form of the lyrics is decidedly NIN-like). This isn’t meant as any disrespect to Maandig, who sounds entirely right in this context, although that might have something to do with the fact that she’s not, yet, taken her voice into territory more demanding than chesty whisperings and husky half-utterances. To be blunt, she seems in every way borne aloft on the textures created for her by Ross and Reznor; and while it may be an exhilarating magic carpet ride for her, it’s not quite so elevating an experience for us. Read more

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