Laughter

the human race has one really effective weapon

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Review: FKA Twigs, “LP1″ (Young Turks)

Tahliah Barnett’s first full-length record nearly falls apart just as it should be settling in for the long run. After an intro and two great songs that fill out Barnett’s previously restrained sound, no less than three additional writers and four producers show up for “Hours,” each one contributing to a bloated, awkward middle that feels out of touch with everything Twigs has ever touched.

The guilty party includes Eminem and Lana Del Rey producer Emile Haynie, Florence and the Machine cohort Dev Hynes, instrumentalist extraordinaire Michael Volpe, aka Clams Casino, and Arca, who was Barnett’s primary co-conspirator for EP2. With a bevy of bakers like that in the kitchen, “Hours” can’t help but sound aimless and over done, languid even. And unfortunately Twigs does little to help out as she lays some of her weakest, most blandly provocative lines over the top: “How would you like if my lips touched yours / and they stayed close baby till the stars fade out / How would you like it if I sucked before I bite? / But it wasn’t too hard so it felt alright.”

Paul Epworth, probably best-known for producing and co-writing “Rolling in the Deep” with Adele, surfaces next, notching a writing and production credit of his own into the liner notes. Unsurprisingly, his contribution gives LP1 a borrowed, polished, and radio-friendly sheen, one that veers disappointingly close to cheap AM soul-funk territory with its over-slick, faux-seedy guitar and keyboard licks.

(Read More)

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Review: SunnO))) & Ulver, “Terrestrials” (Southern Lord)

Six years in the making, SunnO))) and Ulver’s first collaborative record arrives at the end of a long stretch that saw members from both bands performing together in various configurations.

According to Stephen O’Malley, the basic tracks for Terrestrials were first laid down in 2008, shortly after SunnO))) performed at the Øya Festival in Oslo, Norway. A couple of years later, O’Malley, Daniel O’Sullivan, and Kristoffer Rygg met in Oslo again, this time with percussionist Steven Noble. Together they performed a series of concerts as Æthenor and released the results as 2011’s excellent En Form for Blå. Prior to that, Rygg had produced a track for SunnO)))’s White1 and O’Sullivan had recorded with O’Malley on Æthenor’s debut album, Deep in Ocean Sunk the Lamp of Light. Terrestrials represents the first time Greg Anderson, Jørn H. Sværen and Tore Ylwizaker have joined the party, but there’s a long musical relationship playing silently behind the scenes here.

(Read more)

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“Didn’t It Rain” Deluxe Edition + Live in Malmö, Sweden

News that Secretly Canadian will be releasing a deluxe edition of Didn’t It Rain got me hunting for good MECo./Songs: Ohia bootlegs on Youtube this past week. The below show, recorded in Malmö, Sweden on August 30th, 2009, is one of the better I’ve seen.

Check out the version of “Ring the Bell” Secretly Canadian posted to Youtube while you’re at it. Like Magnolia Electric Co., the Didn’t It Rain deluxe edition will include solo demo versions of songs from the album, plus early versions of a couple of songs that ended up on separate releases. Release date is set for November 11th.

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Review: Michael Pisaro/Greg Stuart, “July Mountain (Three Versions)” (Gravity Wave)

Wallace Stevens wrote “July Mountain” in the last year of his life, suffering from stomach cancer. A recognition of mortality and imperfection hides in his poem’s first eight lines. They gently and beautifully remind the reader that life on earth is a fragmented thing, and that there are no conclusions, no full and final stops that shine a light on all the dark corners in the world. Instead we are all “thinkers without final thoughts in an always incipient cosmos,” forever watching the world and the stars spin themselves into new configurations. The poem explicitly uses music as an image for that interminable metamorphosis, and Michael Pisaro’s composition of the same name demonstrates just how apt an image it is. July Mountain (Three Versions) illustrates Stevens’s contention, combining field recordings with incredibly stealthy musical contributions provided by Greg Stuart. Bowed snare drums, piano, bird calls, jet engines, and numerous other sounds, from sine tones to insects, unexpectedly coalesce over its 21 minutes, forming a quivering and effervescent peak for anyone willing to make the ascent.

July Mountain first appeared as a single piece on a limited edition CDr released by Engraved Glass. To the “California Version” presented on that disc, the Gravity Wave release features two additional performances. One of them, the “Austin Version,” is a complete rendition, combining 20 field recordings unique to that city with 10 layers of percussion recorded by Greg Stuart. Instructions for how the field recordings are to be obtained are minimal (make 20 of your own, or get them from the composer, just make sure to point the microphones at mountains or valleys if possible), but their durations and their arrangements with respect to one another are very well defined. They are all ten minutes long, and there are only ever ten recordings playing simultaneously.

On the percussive side, the featured instruments include resonating surfaces teased by sine waves, vibraphones wrapped in tin foil, and “seed rain,” a steady stream of seeds, rice, or beans poured over crotales or a glockenspiel (the score gives the performer plenty of choices). Their timings and durations are specified by time markers—four bowed wooden blocks at nine and a half minutes, one projected sine tone at five and a half minutes, lasting for seven minutes and thirty seconds—and the methods suggested for playing them, including the exact qualities to be elicited from them, are described rather than strictly notated. For example, the instructions for the bowed snare drum read, in part, “Sounds may be created by bowing on any part of the instrument and by bowing on a drumstick or doweling with its tip pressed against the drum.”

(Read more… includes samples)

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“Anyone who doesn’t believe in you and your future, to hell with them”

Lots of great anecdotes, quotes, and writing advice from Ray Bradbury, lifted from this post at Tor.com. The below video includes a whole host of books and writers to check out, and some surprising insights into Bradbury’s mind (“Writing is not a serious business!” and “I don’t write things to benefit the world”). Just make sure to ignore the bit about modern poetry.

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Quote of the Day: “Why are beggars despised?”

Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised? – for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modern talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except ‘Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it’? Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately.

A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other business men, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modern people, sold his honour; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.

George Orwell, from Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)

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The Monthly List: April and May’s Top 21 Albums

A short and sweet “Monthly” this time around. Lots of changes on the horizon for me, including new work. Reviews will still come, probably at about the same rate, maybe slower, though this may be the last thing I put on the blog until the end of the month. My goal is always to write more, but coming home from one eight hour job and jumping right into another that requires an equal amount of hard work (or more) can be tiring.

Expect more, but smaller posts, and maybe a series of much briefer reviews to help get through all the amazing music that’s coming out this year (or that has already been out for awhile).

Links to my favorite sites for reviews and information can now be found in the sidebar. You can always find good info at Brainwashed.com, Dusted, Just Outside, and All Music Guide, and samples are available virtually everywhere. Forced Exposure and Boomkat are good places to go if you’re looking for the more obscure stuff.

As always, formats posted are the ones I own. Further record-buying resources can be found in the sidebar as well.

  • Carl Hultgren, Tomorrow on BLUE FLEA (CD)
  • Windy & Carl, I Walked Alone/At Night on BLUE FLEA (7″)
  • Good Area, Cubic Zirconia/Bad Karlshafen on KYE (7″)
  • Fennesz, Bécs on EDITIONS MEGO (CD)
  • COH, To Beat on EDITIONS MEGO (CD)
  • Coppice, Vantage/Cordoned on CADUC. (CD)
  • Venetian Snares, Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding on PLANET MU (CD)
  • Photek, Risc vs Reward on ASTRALWERKS (CD)
  • Marcus Schmickler & Julian Rohrhuber, Politiken der Frequenz on EDITIONS MEGO/TOCHNIT ALEPH (MP3)
  • Jason Lescalleet, Electronic Music on RRR (LP)
  • Jason Lescalleet, Much to My Demise on KYE (LP)
  • Robert Beatty, Soundtracks for Takeshi Murata on GLISTENING EXAMPLES (LP)
  • Kyle Bobby Dunn, … and the Infinite Sadness on STUDENTS OF DECAY (MP3)
  • Ambarchi/O’Malley/Dunn, Shade Themes from Kairos on DRAG CITY (MP3)
  • Wen, Signals on KEYSOUND RECORDINGS (MP3)
  • Angus MacLise, The Cloud Doctrine on SUB ROSA (2CD)
  • Kuupuu, Sous Juju on EM RECORDS (2CD)
  • Loren Connors, Night Through: Singles and Collected Works 1976-2004 on FAMILY VINEYARD (3CD)
  • Jack Rose, Kensington Blues on VHF RECORDS (LP)
  • Shirley Collins, Sweet England on FLEDG’LING RECORDS (CD)
  • The Clean, Anthology on MERGE (2CD)
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“Gaspard de la nuit” performed by Vlado Perlemuter

Gaspard de la nuit: Trois poèmes pour piano d’après Aloysius Bertrand – composed by Maurice Ravel in 1908, premiered in 1909. Vlado Perlemuter is 87 years old in this video.

Gaspard is famous, in part, for how difficult it is. You get a glimpse of that in this video, especially in the third movement, but it’s also a gorgeous piece of music with much more than its virtuosic passages to recommend it. There’s more info about Gaspard, including English translations of the poems on which the piece is based, here.

About Vlado Perlemuter (who met Ravel and performed every one of his piano works), via Wikipedia:

Vladislas (Vlado) Perlemuter was born to a Polish Jewish family, the third of four sons, in Kovno, Russia (now Kaunas in Lithuania). At the age of three, he lost the use of his left eye in an accident.

His family settled in France in 1907. In 1915, only 10 years old, he was accepted by the Paris Conservatoire, studying first with Moritz Moszkowski (1915–17) then with Alfred Cortot. At 15, he graduated from the Conservatoire, where he won the First Prize playing Gabriel Fauré’s Thème et variations before the composer, although Fauré was already deaf by that time. In 1925 he met Maurice Ravel, and in 1927 studied all of Ravel’s solo works for piano with the composer himself for a period of six months. Thereafter, he became one of the leading exponents of Ravel’s music. In 1929 in two public recitals both attended by the composer, Perlemuter played Ravel’s complete piano works, a feat he repeated in 1987 at London’s Wigmore Hall to mark the 50th anniversary of Ravel’s death.

… His art is characterized by shimmering tonal colors and a singing legato combined with an effortless ease of interpretation. Those who heard him live say that his playing was characterized by an enchantingly subtle tone that recordings fail to capture fully. He approached new pieces through the left hand, reading the piece from the bass upwards. He always practiced slowly, focusing on each hand separately.

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The Sun Ra Centennial

Sun Ra celebrates his 100th birthday today. NPR has a brief Morning Edition feature on the man, and The Sun Ra Music Archive has just re-issued 21 of his albums, mastered in a 24 bit format (PDF) available exclusively from iTunes (if you can stomach using it).

Robert Mugge’s 60 minute documentary, Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise, which was filmed between 1978 and 1980 and features numerous performance excerpts and monologues from Sun Ra himself, is available on Vimeo.

You can check out one of my favorite Sun Ra songs, from 1978’s Lanquidity, right here:

54 Years of Space Exploration

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50-years-of-explorationvia Cosmic Diary and the SETI Institute Facebook page:

National Geographic asked 5W Infographics to update its 50 Years of Exploration graphic, a classic that I use often in my talks to illustrate our space exploration program and its focus on the inner part of the solar system.

The updated version, renamed “Cosmic Journey“, is spectacular, better organized and easier to follow than its predecessor. It has been updated to include new missions sent over the past 4 years. The new color code includes the paths of failed, as well as successful, missions and also the nation that led them.

A high resolution version is available on the 5W Infographics website.

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Review: Marcus Schmickler & Julian Rohrhuber, “Politiken der Frequenz” (Editions Mego/Tochnit Alpeh)

Plenty of records get tagged with an experimental or exploratory label because they’re unconventional. Toss any combination of melody, rhythm or identifiable structure out the window, and you are bound to win a cocked eyebrow or two. Pound whatever’s left out on an old-fashioned synthesizer or slip some shred of musical theory into the mix and presto — you’ve earned yourself an investigator’s badge and maybe a bit more leeway than you might have otherwise had. Not that that is such a bad thing. Unusual instrumentation and perplexing performance strategies have led to many great and interesting places, but just as often they serve to mask fairly conventional and well-worn ideas, as loose and unfocused as they are open-ended.

Then there are records like Politiken der Frequenz, which asks numerous difficult questions and proceeds according to very particular — and potentially revolutionary — notions. Recorded by Marcus Schmickler and Julian Rohrhuber and released by Editions Mego and Tochnit Aleph, Politiken derives a good portion of its digital heat from the peculiar set of influences that burn beneath it. Philosophy, finance, politics, theoretical mathematics and history all meet in its liner notes and, at least to some extent, in the music itself, where prime integers, common denominators and set theory are all utilized as musical resources. The results run from pleasant computerized tones with ambient leanings to hard-edged noise driven by low resolution arcade sounds, number station test tones and glassy harmonies wiped clean by over-processing.

The brief essay that accompanies the record, and that serves as both the album’s artwork and its lyric book, references French philosopher Alain Badiou’s work with surreal numbers in Number and Numbers, German mathematician Julius Wilhelm Richard Dedekind’s theory concerning the nature of real numbers, and historical problems, both philosophical and musical, associated with Pythagorean ontology.

Read more (Dusted in Exile)

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Review: Coppice, “Vantage/Cordoned” (Caduc.)

Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer’s windblown recordings portray the inner life of their instruments. In the case of Vantage/Cordonedm, that’s a pair of prepared pump organs and various tape players manipulated to produce a bristly, granular stream of noise thick with debris; the clamor is evocative of industrial materials and broken mechanical bits like buzzing plastic frames, frayed wires, rusted brass reeds and over-stuffed bellows emitting air from all the wrong places. Their sound is broken and weathered and pocked with imperfections, but carefully controlled and recorded too, deliberately filled with the gritty life of distorted noise and malfunctioning equipment.

Coppice’s musical approach epitomizes what its name suggests: development, reduction and reuse. Among Cuéllar and Kramer’s numerous undertakings, past endeavors have included a performance on the Baschet Brothers’ Aluminum Piano at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art; a special exhibition of resonating sculptures made from galvanized steel, glass, foam and copper; and a handmade 12 CD-R redwood boxed set that doubles as a reed instrument thanks to the brass tube running through its center. As different as the works are, all three are part of the duo’sVinculum project, something they refer to as an “archive of sonic artifacts.” Those artifacts include pre-recorded sounds and compositional strategies that are as useful in one discipline as they are in another. Appropriately, the title connotes unification, though usually of the mathematical or anatomical sort. Musically, it describes how the duo goes about its work, both stylistically (how many bellows and electronics duos can you name?) and structurally.

Read more (Dusted in Exile)

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The Monthly List: March’s Top 15 Albums

coppice_grass2014 continues with more great new music than any one person could possibly keep up with. I managed to cover one or two things in the last month, including Robot Records’ 3CD retrospective of Jacques Lejeune’s work. It’s probably the best GRM-related release I’ve seen since the INA-GRM put out those Luc Ferrari and Bernard Parmegiani sets in 2008 and 2009. I highly recommend it. If you’re looking for a place where you can get a copy, it’s currently available at Other Music.

I also covered Nicholas Szczepanik’s Not Knowing for Dusted in Exile, which is one of the more gorgeous recordings of 2014 so far.  As long as you’re there, you should also check out Jennifer Kelly’s review of Damien Jurado’s new record. Not so much on the experimental side of things, but a great record and worth checking out.

I’ve been catching up with and writing about Coppice and Haptic and I hope to get something together for The Patient as well. Those three recordings have most of my attention at the moment.

But there’s lots of new music coming from Editions Mego that I want to hear too. Along with the Schmickler/Rohrhuber LP below, which I’m slowly digesting, there’s new music from COH, LCC, Mika Vainio, Russell Haswell and Fennesz on the way. You can preview all of that on their website.

There’s also two new releases from Erstwhile, four new records and a 7″ from Kye, a boatload of Alga Marghen reissues, a new Thomas Ankersmit CD on Touch, and several new Sub Rosa projects that are either out now or soon to be available. Nevermind that Record Store Day is just a few days away, there’s more than enough music out there now to keep you record hunting for a good long time.

Links to my favorite sites for reviews and information are found at the bottom of the page. You can always find good info at Brainwashed.comDusted, Just Outside, and All Music Guide, and samples are available virtually everywhere. Forced Exposure and Boomkat are good places to go if you’re looking for the more obscure stuff.

As always, formats posted are the ones I own. Further record-buying resources can be found at the bottom of this page.

  • Coppice, Vantage/Cordoned on CADUC. (CD)
  • Haptic, Abeyance on ENTR’ACTE (CD)
  • Joseph Clayton Mills, The Patient on ENTR’ACTE (CD/BOOK)
  • Donato Dozzy, Plays Bee Mask on SPECTRUM SPOOLS (CD)
  • Voices from the Lake feat. Donato Dozzy & Neel, Voices from the Lake on PROLOGUE (CD)
  • Various Artists, Enjoy the Silence Vol. 2 on MULE ELECTRONIC (CD)
  • Dead Rider, Chills on Glass on DRAG CITY (CD)
  • Marcus Schmickler & Julian Rohrhuber, Politiken der Frequenz on EDITIONS MEGO (DIGITAL)
  • Jacques Lejeune, Parages and Other Electroacoustic Works 1971 – 1985 on ROBOT (3CD)
  • Michael Pisaro/Greg Stuart, Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds on GRAVITY WAVE (CD)
  • Nicholas Szczepanik, Not Knowing on DESIRE PATH/TANGENTS (DIGITAL)
  • Gas, Nah und Fern on KOMPAKT (4CD)
  • Damien Jurado, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun on SECRETLY CANADIAN (CD)
  • Hiss Golden Messenger, Haw on PARADISE OF BACHELORS (LP)
  • David Bowie, Heroes on RYKO (CD)