one faint deluded smile

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Ornery Electronics

Subtitled : More Musique Concrete But This Time The Real Stuff

Please read this enlightening interview with Ilhan Mimaraglu to get an idea of his misanthropic bitterness. I suppose he's justified in being so cantankerous. After creating some of the most compelling and lovingly crafted electronic music of the last 40 years to little or no real acclaim he saw lesser avant composers (like that snake-oil salesman Subotnick for heavens sake!) become relatively famous. Subsequently he spent most of his life doing recording work for other people at Atlantic records. At least he had a modestly enjoyable job, I suppose.

I was introduced to the wonders of Ilhan by a bunch of weird-record lovers in Wollongong during the late 70s. Their favourites included Trout Mask Replica, Yma Sumac, Faust and Mr Mimaroglu. As long as you're not feeling paranoid, his pieces are the perfect accompaniement to a drugged night in: the lounge room seemed enormous with incongruous sound elements flitting in and out of range, heavy panning making your eyes water and some very, very soft sounds in the background suddenly appearing right in front of your nose. Listening to them whilst not heavily sedated was an almost equally thrilling experience. So it meets all the criteria of great music, then.

His first record was "Wings of the Delirious Demon" released in 1972 and, for the most part, it contains tracks that are created solely from the sounds of a single reeded instrument, pushed into strange shapes by tape manipulation, filters, oscillators and noise generators:

mp3: Provocations

"Coucou Bazar" from 1973 was electronic music for a Jean Dubuffet ballet. His style is firmly in place but, just like P16.D4. did (see below) , he also augmented it with drones to lovely effect (in fact, I really do adore a deep sonorous tone with electronics flitting about - very magical):

mp3: Fragmentation

1974's "Face The Windmills, Turn Left", like all these, was also on his own Finnadar label (on which he also released a lot of classy experimental jazz, btw). It doesn't veer from his trademark style but it seems even more lovingly constructed:

mp3: Prelude No 6

His works are hard to find on CD but you can buy some of his stuff here.

And read a little guff at the bottom of the page regarding the use of his name at the fabulous Mimaroglu Music.

In closing... I tried my darndest to imitate Ilhan when creating some of my own electronic pieces but failed miserably. I just loved melody, harmony and repetition too much for my mind to handle the complexities of this style. This glimpse does have some nice moments, though:

mp3 : High Righ


NEU! = Motorik. OK! Chug chug chug chug. Metronomic but human. Possibly trance inducing but pump up the volume and you're on your feet.

You can find it anywhere when you look hard enough. Obviously Stereolab have many Motorik moments and you can hear it sometimes in Wire even if the songs are too short. Even that grand old chestnut "What Goes On" by the Velvet Underground can rightly be claimed to fit quite nicely, thank you, into this category.

The latest fans to use it are some of the newish Japanese bands. Like Buffalo Daughter who seem to want to combine NEU! with Gong - and they do a very good job indeed:

mp3: Sky High

More, ummm, uncommonly, I also reckon you can find it in this JJ Cale song:

mp3: Anyway The Wind Blows

The 4/4 C&W shuffle is so damned strict that it's the antithesis of the loose and free doped-up style he's known for. And, yes, I know I'm pushing the limits of this made up genre here.

PS - go to Lickety Split for a slightly surreal, all-encompassing post entitled "Yarm, Blues, Dosh & Chicken Bottom". It's fab.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

"Discontinuity as a Main Principle"

NB - have taken these down now...

Alex at Close Your Eyes has just chosen his favourite record of 1984 but, after a little extra searching myself, I was amazed at the paucity of albums released that year which I actually like. Most of my energy around that time was spent in finishing off my own No Night Sweats material and then travelling overseas and so I didn't really notice / couldn't afford to buy music at all. And my lack of noticing hasn't changed at all, really: I can't find too much to enjoy in the mid-80s.

But, probably, my favourites are P16.D4. - if only much after the fact: I hadn't even heard of the band until 2 years ago. I should say right at the start that I admire this band much more than I actually enjoy them. The music lies at the fringe of 80s Industrial and it's intersection with Post-Punk and, as such, is hard for me to listen to constantly - I really do prefer a great tune to rampant experimentation (see my other posts below).

But unlike Coil or Throbbing Gristle or SPK (or any of the other bands with whom they are lumped together with), there's a distinct musique concrete element to the tracks that sublimates the intense darkness of these other bands while adding a little of the white coated lab experiment. This is the element of their sound that entices comparisons to fellow countrymen Faust but P16.D4. seem much more seriously inclined... to their detriment sometimes.

mp3: P16.D4. - Okay She Said With Her Customary Total Lack Of Consideration

"Okay..." is from "Trionchor" and perfectly encapsulates their sound - jagged tape cut-ups and hard stereo panning using live recordings of previous incarnations of the band and incongruous elements. Fantastic stuff.

mp3: P16 D4. - Easter Anywhere

"Easter..." is from the same album and utilises obvious tape manipulations with a gloriously intense, rising organ chord scrapped in favour of hard listeneing free-improv and then a mix of the two.

mp3: P16.D4. - 10 Up / 3 Down
mp3: P16.D4. - Das Lamm Der Dolch

These 2 are from "Acrid Acme of P16.D4." which was reconstructions of earlier material intended to "work with early rock-recordings in a non-nostalgic way analyzing the relations between actual and ealy-80 approaches". I don't know if this idea worked to their expectations but the results are quite lovely with droning elements juxtaposed with harsher stabs.

Although they only lasted a few years, the separate band members continued on in various experimental bands and, I think, most still make music in one form or another. The most prominent of these is Ralf Wehowsky whose long career of solo releases under the name RLW and his many, many collaborations (with all sorts of noise and free improv performers) points to a continuing restlessness and single minded intent to make music that stills excites him.

mp3: RLW - Gegenfall

This is 2 short pieces "Gegenfall I and II" from "Recordings 1980-1993" which maintains the P16.D4. style of re-visiting early material, this time with backwards tapes to the fore.

mp3: RLW - Über Den Plan

This one is almost all organ samples, looped and intersected. It's reminiscent of someone like Tom Rechion, if a little less cute.

Hey, not that ANY of this is from 1984, btw! P16.D4.'s release in that year was "Kuhe In 1/2 Trauer" which is probably the most consistent of all their releases.

[Go to Selektion records to get a complete history of the band or read this interview with RLW at Absurd records.]

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Open Hearted

Poor, young Rufus Wainwright; look how he broods. You'd think the weight of the world was on his shoulders. If he was an actor you'd think he was trying very, very hard to impress some hot-shot film producer to employ him in a massive epic - even though his darkened brow makes him look more like Joey from Friends than James Dean. But, as always, it's far simpler - it's just his heart on his sleeve again. What giant heartbreak he seems to have endured in his short lifetime... if you believe him when he spouts his inner feelings and I'm not sure I can all the time.

He's coming out to Australia next year to perform in the Leonard Cohen thing "Come So Far For Beauty" (which he did in 2003) with his mum and aunt and sister and Beth Orton and the Handsome Family duo and, ofcourse, Nick Cave. So that should be a roaringly funny night - jokes aplenty I'll be betting. I don't really like Cohen that much but this lot should all be able to make the songs come alive for me, if nothing else. And the bassy duets with Rufus and Nick will, no doubt, make the Opera House shudder.

I suppose he'll also do some other touring to show off his new album "Want Two". It's had some rather negative reviews around the place but I can't quite see why. Sure it has a similar sound and intent to "Want One" but that's really to be expected, isn't it? In fact, "2" lightens the operatic touches that made "1" such a chore for me... and the tunes seem to be of higher quality: at least they stick in my mind more. As with all his albums, I get sick of the crooning very quickly but I'm sure I'll return to this one more often than it's previous namesake.

Look, I just listened to it again and it really is the best thing he's done. Very lovely indeed. Maybe I've gotta be in the mood:

A fairly upbeat song for a change - drums high in the mix. He needs more like this...
mp3: The One You Love

A slightly weirder arrangement but still that trademark vocal swoop carries it through...
mp3: Waiting For a Dream

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Rather Unexciting Rock

I had no idea why many people seemed to think that the latest slew of garagey or post-punky rock bands are completely abysmal. I know we've probably heard it all before and we've surely heard it done better but there's still occassional songs that make my ears perk up and my toes start a-tappin'. But this week I got a little inkling of the reasons...

The Kings of Leon have a new album out called "Aha Shake Heartbreak". Strangely, if you live in the capital of the record companies - the USA (where they're from, btw, and where they're currently touring) - you'll have to wait until February 2005 (!!!) to buy a local version of this exciting piece of plastic coated aluminium. It was released in my little country - Australia (and, I think, the UK) - 2 weeks ago. I had some money in my PayPal account and I couldn't think of anything else to buy so I ordered the import version that CDUniverse had to offer. I got this on Monday and, from the notes on the back, found out that it was made in Australia! So it travelled from my neck of the woods to the USA and back across the Pacific to my door. Stupid but quite enlightening.

I'd enjoyed their 1st release and I quite liked them live (they were much better than their touring partners The Strokes) but this really is a mild mannered, dull little record with intermittently good patches. The thing I can't stand is the post-modernism of the sound. It really drives me to hatred. Can't these people just play rock music without thinking about it too much? Can't they ignore being "proper" musicians who never flub a note or display a hint of sloppiness? Or, if they aren't very good at their instruments, can they at least sometimes play without the safety switch on? They've also decided to include the lyrics as well which, as is often the case, was a major mistake.

Despite all this, they've still got some great tunes (even if they're reminiscent of everyone from Franz Ferdinand to the White Stripes):

mp3: King of the Rodeo

Now, for real wagon train jumpers extraordinaire, please listen to Zolar X's fabulous take on glam rock / hair metal - it's quite hilarious but, fuck, those power chords are some of the best I've ever heard.

mp3: Rocket Roll

[ps, the pic is all 4 of the KoL in younger days - from the inside of the cd case of their latest record]

Thursday, November 18, 2004

An Old Curmudgeon

This is a fairly recent picture of Richard Thompson. He looks well, doesn't he? Trim, lithe, muscled up and ready to go. If I'm in anything near this condition when I reach his age, well... it'll be a complete miracle, actually. Unfortunately the cap appears to be a permanent feature on his noggin - not unlike Australia's own Mr 70's Rock - Ian "Molly" Meldrum (but that's another story).

The one thing that seems to set him apart from most of the 70s folk crew is his obvious anger, bitterness, sadness and resentment towards just about everything. You can tell from the photo: the bulging tendons in the neck indicate that he isn't singing "hey nonny no" in a high, pretty voice. Rather, invectives seems close to his lips at all times awaiting a less public moment for them to explode. I have no idea why he's such a cranky old bastard (or COB - thanks Sue) but it easily makes him the most vital English singer / songwriter I've ever heard. His harsh, fluid guitar playing also helps enormously.

This track is from his first solo album "Henry The Human Fly" which, incongruous though the title may be, is easily up there with his best work. Be warned, it has a whistle solo.

mp3: Shaky Nancy

Thursday, November 11, 2004

A Cute Voice, A Deep Voice, An Animal

I've always been ambivalent towards the Solex releases. I enjoy the dry, self depreciating humour but the music sometimes sounded forced and inorganic. Maybe that was the point but, for me, it grated. Luckily, the latest CD - "The Laughing Stock Of Indie Rock" (great title) - is almost flawless in it's combination of samples and lo-fi rock. For whatever reason there's less of the cut and paste aesthetic about it and there's none of the really clunky edits that flawed some of her other pieces. Instead there's a constancy about the sonic elements that leads me through the album as a whole.

On a few of the songs Ms Esselink's wry, cutey-pie vocals are augmented with the deep basso profundo of one Stuart Brown to great effect...

mp3: Honkey Donkey

And they sing about an animal! At least I think they do because I've not had the time to work out all the jokes in the lyrics.

This song immediately reminded me of one of my touchstone tracks from the mid 80s. When I travelled overseas in 1985/85 I took a cassette tape entitled "Miscellaneous Old Gruesomes" which contained things which I loved but which I'd thrown away in a fit of change...

mp3: Funnybird Song

Yes, that old favourite Carla Bley rears her well sculpted head once again with a track sung by her young daughter in her twee little girl voice and, I think, Howard Johnson doing a silly deep voice. And they're talking about animals.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Some Modern Songs

You can tell 'em a mile off... the serious singer / songwriter with everything to say and, in the past... unfortunately... the means to communicate their attitudes to millions. You can blame Dylan all you want but, really, it's been around ever since a person plucked few chords and sang along to them.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young! Well, there's a quartet that easily make people sick half of the time. And with good reason too - slightly mawkish pontification by egos the size of blue whales is not the thing you'd look for in a listening experience. But you can't just dismiss them. Their influence was mamouth and, let's face it, the sound they made when they sang together was like nothing else on earth. Crosby and Nash created their first 'duet' 30 years ago and have finally put out another. Obviously it's a bit tired sounding and has that slick L.A. session sound but, god, they can still sing like angels and they can still write songs that no-one else can.

mp3: LuckDragon

Ellen Fullman looks like part of this crew in the picture above with her "Thinker" pose but you can tell she's really from another planet altogether just by looking at the twinkle in her eyes. She's spent the past 10 years stringing up long strands of piano wire in half deserted spaces making ethereal, slightly discordant drones: tones that sound, at first hearing, so obvious that you wonder why no-one else has made them. And then, this year, she comes out with a delicious mingling of her avant whirrings with outright old time, American folk. Now that is the kind of singer / songwriter we really need.

mp3: Empty Building

White Magic, in comparison, are a bit of a dissapointment. Their recent EP starts off with a truely fabulous song and then lurks in indie music areas that are as well troden as you can possibly imagine. Why they can come up with a song that has shifting time patterns, off-kilter vocals and a real sense of adventure and then revert to mediocrity is beyond me.

mp3: One Note

The Kings of Convenience are a more post-modern thing altogether. They're so obviously taken with Simon and Garfunkle that they even mention it obliquely in the first song on their new release. When you listen to their albums you can hear the influences distinctly and it can get awfully tiring. But every so often a song will pop up that makes you glad you're alive to hear it.

mp3 : Misread

And, finally, in this little batch of songs, Kevin Tihista makes it plain he's not like the rest of us. And, by gum, I can actually relate to the lyrics of this thing - disconnection, obsession and love above all. Hey, I suppose he's communicated with me somehow! I didn't think it was possible.

mp3: Family Curse

Monday, November 01, 2004

After The Cow

It's 1978 and Henry Cow are splitting into 2 factions before breaking up completely. On one side, Tim Hodgkinson, Georgie Born and Linsday Cooper are still wanting to make difficult modern compositions with a Socialist sting. On the other are the rest of the band - Fred Frith, Chris Cutler and Dagmar Krause - who felt the need to make shorter, more emotional songs (even if they still loved the other stuff too). After the recording had finished Hodginson says "That's not Henry Cow", everyone agrees and The Art Bears were born.

Enough of the bad musical history lesson, just go to Chris Cutler's fabulous web site where he explains the full story in more than enough detail for any obsessed prog-rock officianado.

The only thing I'd like to point out about this schism is the complete irony of it all. Within 2 years, everyone in the band went on to bands / projects where songs (of one sort or another) where the main focus. For a time they all left their contemprary composer modes and just got down to playing things a bit more like the folk-rock that had enveloped them when they were younger.

The first to leave the fold was John Greaves who followed his mate and co-conspirator Peter Blegvad into the uptight jazz-rock song cycle "Kew.Rhone." Mr Mythical Beast has already regaled many of you here with some info on this lovely album but it's got so many good songs that I had to post my own favourite - the title track - where almost operatic singing loops round various intricate piano riffs and Blegvad puts his love of words to best use:

mp3: Kew.Rhone.

Most of these people would then go onto the less satisfactory 80s rock project The Lodge which seemed to be the blueprint for much of Greaves' later work. It still had moments of beauty, though:

mp3: Swelling Valley

The Art Bears had a 3 LP career but it eventually fell apart due to illness, disgust and changing priorities. Frith moved to New York where he found a whole new crew of players to associate with, Cutler continued to play with anyone and everyone who held vaguely similar ideas and Krause became one of the more prominent interpretors of Brecht. Their first album - "Hopes and Fears" - is still the one that thrills me most with it's moments of darkness and lyrical weirdness:

mp3: Riddle

The one who surprised me most was Tim Hodgkinson who turned away from his overblown avant-prog epics and subsumed himself in post-punk influenced The Work. He plays an important instrumental role in the band but most of the songwriting was done by guitarist Bill Gilonis. I only ever heard one single of theirs in the 80s but picked up a compilation in more recent times. The male vocals are as annoying as David Thomas in twitter mode but the songs and playing are as good as anything else released in those years:

mp3: Maggot Song (with Catherine Jauniaux on vocals)

"Kew.Rhone." and The Art Bears' "Art Box" are both available almost everywhere. The Lodge's album "Smell of a Friend" is a 2nd hand vinyl find, I'd imagine. And The Work's releases are difficult but not impossible to find.