25 years on: Propaganda – Dr. Mabuse and Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy

Posted on by 5:4 in Anniversaries | 6 Comments

This year marks the 25th anniversary of two of the most striking songs of the 1980s—as well as being, in my opinion, among the best songs of all time.

The first is “Dr. Mabuse” by German synthpop outfit Propaganda, inspired by the character made famous by Fritz Lang. Released to a modicum of chart success in March 1984 (it reached No. 27 in the UK chart the following month), my first contact with the song was a few months later, on the compilation album Now That’s What I Call Music 3. Propaganda spent much of their time in the shadow of mightier acts; they hailed from Dusseldorf, home to none other than Kraftwerk, and during their time on the renowned ZTT label—formed out of the perfect collision of Paul Morley and Trevor Horn—continuously played second fiddle to Frankie Goes To Hollywood, whose song “Relax”, released a couple of months earlier, had taken the label into the stratosphere of success (aided in no small part by the BBC’s laughable “ban”). This, together with their particularly European (i.e. non-British) sound—crowned by Claudia Brücken’s sharply accented vocals—meant that Propaganda’s popularity in the UK never lived up to their merits. Not that they were the most imaginative band in the world; they certainly weren’t, but “Dr. Mabuse” is an outstanding song, surpassing everything they did after, and outclassing most other songs that year. A feature of the ZTT label—rarely an advantageous or helpful one—was that remixes of songs released as singles were made in abundance. Furthermore, the same version often ended up with a plethora of subtly different titles and accompanying verbiage, which may have been something to do with releases in different territories or even the label losing the plot (clearly the case on some occasions), but was most likely the influence of Paul Morley, someone not exactly known for restraint where words are concerned. “Dr. Mabuse” is no stranger to this melée of remixes and names, but thankfully not to the same extent as Frankie Goes To Hollywood; the number of versions is relatively low. Read more

Tags: ,

Mix Tape #12 : Electronics

Posted on by 5:4 in Mix Tapes | 1 Comment

Back, not so much with a vengeance as a new mix tape; the theme this time is simply electronics. Many of the pieces are rather long, so this mix, more than the others, features excerpts rather than complete works.

The mix opens with one of the most exciting electronic works by the duo FURT. Taking Brahms as its starting point, “Rigor” immediately slows, seemingly descending closer and closer upon its surface, the ensuing music seemingly scrutinising the Brahms material at the microscopic level. i was fortunate enough to witness this piece performed live (at the ICA, back in the mid ’90s), and it was thrilling, a truly memorable experience. The complete work can be downloaded free from FURT’s website; link below. “fol4” is Autechre‘s expanded version of “Fol3”, found on the limited double edition of Quaristice. It’s just as mercurial as its sibling, darting between the speakers with nervous, frenetic energy, from which assorted rhythmic patterns obtrude. A brief interruption comes in the form of Alva Noto’s “fontlab4.0”, one of his assorted miniature slews of (presumably) raw data from his superb album Unitxt. i’ve been interested in Ambrose Field‘s work since i heard him give a talk at Birmingham University about 15 years ago; he has a unique and fascinating approach both to sound itself as well as to its relationship to the listener. Included here is an episode from his splendid electroacoustic work Expanse Hotel, “Orient Express”. Next a work taken from an ancient off-air radio recording lurking in my archives, a work titled “Augustine’s Message” by the Welsh composer Robert Mackay. i’ve not heard anything else by Mackay, and sadly this piece doesn’t appear to be available on any releases, but i’ve been able to clean up the recording very well, and it nicely demonstrates the composer’s joint interest in music and drama. Despite its brevity, “Augustine’s Message” is an intense, beguiling listen. Then a lengthy excerpt from one of my very favourite composers, Roland Kayn. Kayn’s electronic works are nothing short of amazing, spanning vast durations with equally vast slabs of sound, slabs that are constantly re-shaping themselves. To my knowledge, few of Kayn’s works have been reissued on CD (the main exception being Tektra), but most of his vinyl releases can be found in high quality rips on the web (particularly here). Included here is a portion from the first part of his 1979 cycle Infra, “Isotrope”. Also conceived on a large scale is Pan Sonic‘s album Kesto (234.48:4), encapsulated in its 61-minute final track, “Säteily (Radiation)”. The excerpt here demonstrates the track’s beautifully radiant, shining character. Read more

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

Fermata

Posted on by 5:4 in i | Comments Off on Fermata

The Moors and the Dales are beckoning, so the Beloved and i are going to be away in Yorkshire for the next couple of weeks (if any readers live in that great county, let me know), so time for a hiatus here on 5:4.

“Silence is more musical than any song.” (Christina Rossetti)

New CD: Triptych, May/July 2009

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases, i | 2 Comments

Posts have been somewhat less frequent through the last two or three months; but these hands have been far from idle. i’m very happy to announce that my first CD will be released at the end of August, containing a new electronic work, Triptych, May/July 2009. Lasting 25 minutes, the work is an expressionistic electronic study concerned with the nature (and fallibility) of remembrance. Taking its starting point from an image of my late father (seen on the cover artwork), the work’s three panels explore different, but related, sound-worlds.

The first, Figment, occupies a deep, narrow frequency field, from which a mysterious and somewhat inscrutable music emerges, its material at times quite difficult to make out. Longest and loudest of the three, the central panel, Icon, continually shifts and evolves, its richly glittering noise forming ever new shapes and resonances, punctuated by fragments of melody. The work concludes with Vestige, where soft, distant flute-like tones sing out into the darkness.

The Triptych is dedicated to the memory of Danielle Baquet-Long, about whom i wrote recently; one half of Celer, who passed away suddenly last month.

This release is limited to 100 numbered copies. The price, including shipping, is:

UK – £5 | Europe – £5.50 | Worldwide – £6

To order a copy, go here, where you can also hear a brief excerpt from each part.

Tags:

HCMF 2008: Markus Trunk, Richard Barrett, John Cage

Posted on by 5:4 in HCMF, Premières | Leave a comment

Returning to the (more recent) archives, here are some interesting works taking a look back at the 2008 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.

Markus Trunk‘s Parhelion is most striking for its extreme delicacy; after a while, the prominent celesta actually starts to sound loud. The material appears as though formed from gas, its opening textures swiftly dissipating into soft whisps of chord that engage and beguile the ear. This sort of ostensible simplicity requires its own kind of virtuosity—a single note played out of place, or too loudly, would irrevocably rupture its surface—and Apartment House deliver Trunk’s vision with flawless clarity. There really isn’t enough music like this around at the moment. Trunk’s music also featured in the hands of plus-minus ensemble, who performed Raw Rows. At first, it seems to bears no resemblance to the other work, being a highly rhythmic working out of scalic patterns. In its own way, though, it ploughs an equally ascetic, single-minded furrow, the scales gradually being stretched out to the point where every note becomes a minutely significant event. This is material that, again, requires the players to demonstrate virtuosity of time and coordination in order for these sparse, staccato notes to be perfectly synchronised—it’s exciting that music of this kind should be simultaneously so simple and so complex. Read more

Tags: , ,

Death and transfiguration: the music of Celer

Posted on by 5:4 in Commemorations, Featured Artists | 2 Comments

A little over a week ago, i began writing a post. Here’s how it began…

At the close of 2008, when i posted my favourite albums of the year, i mentioned that the list was necessarily provisional. Six months and a considerable amount of listening later, i’ve now realised there’s one group that is conspicuous by their absence. At least, they were partially present, in the brief mention i made of Mesoscaphe, their collaboration with Mathieu Ruhlmann that found itself at no. 9 in my top 40 of the year’s releases. They are Celer, a duo made up of husband and wife Dani Baquet-Long and Will Long.

A couple of days after writing those words, tragedy struck: Dani died, following a sudden heart failure. Thus, Will has lost his wife and musical collaborator, and we’ve all lost a fascinating, highly creative and imaginative artist. i recently established contact with Will and Dani, and had hoped to get to know them both a little better, and conduct an interview with them soon for 5:4. So, in the wake of Dani’s abrupt passing, i feel both immense sadness and profound disappointment. As ever, though, the music lives on, serving as an infinitely more eloquent eulogy and testament than words ever could. It’s in that spirit, then, that i’m continuing to write this post.

Celer have been actively releasing their work since 2004, five years that have produced a simply astounding amount of music: no fewer than 37 releases, most of which are full-length albums, alongside a smattering of shorter EPs. But quality and quantity are difficult bed-fellows, which makes it all the more remarkable that so much of Celer’s output is so interesting and engaging. After two false starts—listening to Mesoscaphe last year and a little release in February—i’ve spent the last month listening to almost nothing other than their music, and a dizzying experience it’s been. Where to begin… Read more

Tags:

Quality control issues: Steven Wilson – NSRGNTS↑RMXS

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

Remixes are an entity about which i have long felt deeply ambivalent; experience has taught one to approach them with extreme caution. In musically imaginative hands, they can of course be spectacular, teasing out new aspects of the original, even redefining it, becoming worthy to stand equally beside it, a wholly new ‘version’. Outstanding examples include Nine Inch Nails’ Further Down The Spiral, that takes the material from The Downward Spiral into yet darker territory, and the plethora of fascinating remixes found on Björk’s CD single releases over the years. More often, though, they demonstrate a lack of either imagination or even competence, doing little more than tarnishing the original, damaging irreparably those elements that made it what it was. This is taken to extremes when the original is particularly excellent; i wrote a few months back about the shameful cluster of remixes inflicted on songs from Freezepop’s brilliant Future Future Future Perfect album, and more recently two superb songs—Lily Allen’s “The Fear” and Röyksopp’s “The Girl and the Robot” have found themselves surrounded by equally trivial, pointless remixes (the “Joakim Remix” of Röyksopp’s track is especially egregious, the vocals slightly out of tune with the backing harmonies). So i was very much in two minds about the CD that fell on my doormat yesterday, Steven Wilson‘s mini album of remixes from his truly outstanding album Insurgentes, titled NSRGNTS↑RMXS. Read more

Tags: