Friday, February 22, 2008
Cramps, 1975; reissued by a Japanese label; available but pricey
2 tracks, 42:03
Cramps, 1975; reissued by a Japanese label; available but pricey
2 tracks, 41:11
The Italian Cramps label was known for producing excellent albums, usually in the prog or modern composition genres. This pair of records falls into the latter category. Both consist of two long tracks (one per side), and both must have required hours of construction, but that's where the similarities end. Jagodic's work is more harsh and noisy. The two sides are indeed furious, piling sound upon sound, only to have some of the sounds drop off and be replaced. Sine waves and drones make up the background, with multiple vocals overtop. It's infinitely more listenable than it sounds, and it's a truly amazing work. Some of the ideas on here wouldn't turn up again for more than a decade. Miereanu's pieces are different, but each has its merits. Side A sounds like a science fiction broadcast given the musique concrete treatment. Female vocals make announcements about moon bases and the like over an atmospheric background. Side B is closer to minimalism, with what sounds like organ or synth tones moving at a glacial pace. It's a nice comedown after the chaotic first side. Both of these LPs come highly recommended, but the Japanese reissues are VERY expensive.
4AD, 1980; original single out of print, but both tracks are available on the Gilbert/Lewis compilation 8 TIME
2 tracks, 24:53
Cupol was a one-off side project by Wire's Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis. The two artists would later collaborate under the names B.Gilbert/G. Lewis (or Gilbert and Lewis, or any variation thereof) and Dome, but Cupol is possibly the finest example of their synth work. The A-side, "Like This For Ages", is a concise four and a half minutes of crunchy synth sounds, pained vocals, and eerie atmospheres. It sounds a lot like Throbbing Gristle attempting a dance hit minus the irony of "United", or Clock DVA combining the early and later stages of their career. I wonder if this was a club hit back in the day; it certainly could fit in well with other post-punk of the time. The B-side, "Kluba Cupol", is a completely different prospect. Beginning with sine tones, "Kluba Cupol" extends over a massive twenty and a half minutes. It's essentially an extended instrumental take on "Like This For Ages", but it's extremely different and more experimental. What sounded oddly danceable on the A-side becomes bleak and cold, putting this more in line with Current 93, Sleep Chamber, and other purveyors of ritual industrial and dark ambient. "Kluba Cupol" can even be considered the first example of isolationist music. It's odd to have one side of a record be five times as long as the other, but Cupol makes it work. As stated above, this EP is now out of print, but the Gilbert & Lewis compilation 8 TIME contains both tracks in their entirety, and is well recommended for that fact alone. The other material on 8 TIME is good, but it doesn't come close to the atmospheric dread of Cupol.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Note: This album is variously listed as either AMMMUSIC 1966 or AMMUSIC 1966; even the liners vary in spelling!
1967, Elektra; reissued by ReR; available
8 tracks, 74:26
AMM doesn't need a lot of introduction. One of the longest lived free improvisation ensembles, they have been producing boundary-pushing music for over forty years. AMMMUSIC 1966 is the debut recording by the group, and the classic lineup is in place. That lineup would be Cornelius Cardew, Lou Gare, Eddie Prevost, Keith Rowe, and Lawrence Sheaff. Cardew was already an established modern composer, and Prevost has been the only constant through the years; Rowe was a constant for an extended period but has since parted ways with AMM. The instruments listed are varied, including everything from cello and accordion to transistor radios (Cardew, Rowe, and Sheaff are all credited with the latter). The CD is indexed somewhat confusingly; there are indeed eight tracks, but technically there are only five pieces of music. Tracks one and two are both part of "Later During A Flaming Riviera Sunset", and tracks five and six both comprise "After Rapidly Circling The Plaza", while track eight is ten seconds of silence. The indexing makes sense, though; the original LP featured edited versions of "Later" and "After", and the CD allows you to listen only to the original LP's material. "Later" begins the album with a bang. Twenty-eight minutes of hardcore improv are spread over the two tracks, never comfortably sounding like any one genre. "After" is slightly over twenty-four minutes in length and similarly presents a grand look at AMM's strengths in an extended format. The other three tracks are shorter but no less intense; the nearly six minute "Ailantius Glandulosa" actually contains some of the more jarring moments on the whole album. "In The Realm Of Nothing Whatever" is a mellower piece that's just under fourteen minutes, and "What Is There In Uselessness To Cause You Distress?" is a concise three minutes. Sheer explorations of sound on each track leave the origin of individual sounds to speculation. The violin, cello, and guitar are particularly warped, so that none are easily identified. The radios provide frequent mysterious soundbites, some in English and some not. Prevost's furious percussion is about the only element that leaves no speculation. Not really rock, and not truly jazz or classical either, AMMMUSIC 1966 is still a marvelous souvenir of free improv's early days. The thick booklet alone is nearly worth the purchase. It contains the original LP notes (more like mysterious questions and declarations) and a long essay by Prevost, who recounts how audiences back then didn't know what to make of the group. It's doubtful a lot of modern audiences can get into this, but in an age where Wolf Eyes and SunnO))) are hipster icons, AMM deserves reevaluation. It's not much of a stretch to say that the first wave industrial bands (Throbbing Gristle, Clock DVA, Nurse With Wound, etc.) and the noise musicians owe a huge debt to this album. Absolutely essential!
Friday, February 15, 2008
Cavern Custom, 1976; reissued by Paradigm; apparently available
14 tracks, 69:07
I'll get this out of the way: The title, cover, and some of the song titles on this album are VERY hard to get past. Thankfully, it isn't a juvenile series of dirty jokes, but rather a serious and amazing avant-garde treasure. Rev. Dwight Frizzell (yes, the title is official) is the mainstay on every track. I'm assuming Anal Magic was more a collective name for his projects than an actual group, since the bands listed are actually Black Crack and the Sole Survivors and Fredrik's Cosmic Spaced Out Blues Band and Orchestra. There's also a collection of five tracks collectively known as "Turtle Music", as well as a couple bonus tracks from a later Frizzell composition called "The Wandering Madness Of Basilea, The Great Mother". Most of this album seems to have been recorded live, but only the Cosmic Blues Band tracks have any audience sounds. "Black Crack and the Sole Survivors" is a massive thirteen minute slice of weirdness. Rattling percussion, random vocalisations, and strange sounds are the order of the day. The liner notes say it was recorded live on three seperate dates, and the results seem to be an audio collage of these performances. "Black Crack" is an absolute gem of experimental music. If you passed this off as a track by Faust or Nurse With Wound, nobody would question it. In fact, this track alone explains why Anal Magic was on the infamous NWW list. The following three tracks are by the Cosmic Blues Band, and were recorded live at a church chili supper. The songs have goofy titles like "Hot Fudge" and "Get It Out Of Your System", but the music itself is a heavenly slice of post-Sun Ra strangeness, punctuated by Frizzell's experimental use of an oscillator and other electronics. It's a delightful mix. The "Turtle Music" tracks were mostly recorded live on "the midget pyramid in McCoy Park, Independence, Missouri". They are mostly percussion and wind instrument jams, accompanied on "Pre-Transformation Of Turtle To Bird" by the sounds of children playing. One of the kids is heard asking Frizzell "What are you doing this for?"; his response is simply "I'm making a recording!". Throughout these tracks, various sounds from the park are heard, lending an unearthly atmosphere. The final track, "O What Joy It Is To Know You Have A Turtle Heart", is a splendid saxophone drone, recalling Terry Riley's sax playing. The bonus material begins with the aforementioned "Basilea" tracks. These are heavily electronic works, concluding with Harry Truman's speech on the atomic bomb accompanied by the sounds of a geiger counter and tape-modified voices. The final bonus track is a "1997 remix" of unused Black Crack material. While just over two minutes in length, this track (amusingly titled "How To Avoid Simultaneity") is a great capper to a unique album. The combinations of diverse avant-garde styles may be a little inaccessible, but repeated listens make this a surprisingly solid album, comparable to other outsiders of the period such as Zweistein. The bonus tracks meld seamlessly with the original LP material, and the sheer sense of adventure carried throughout is refreshingly unique. HIGHLY recommended, but good luck finding it; the 1998 repress was a limited edition of 1000, and the original LP was limited to a scant 200 copies.
Postscript: For a two-minute snippet of "Black Crack and the Sole Survivors", other reviews (not all positive), and a brief history, please check out the following link: http://www.stalk.net/paradigm/pd06.html
UPDATE! Paradigm has reissued this! Get it before it goes out of print again!
Friday, February 8, 2008
Elektra/Nonesuch, 1987; available
5 tracks, 56:26
First off, this is essential. Short of the amazing 10-CD WORKS boxset, this is the Reich everyone needs. Consisting of four pieces (one of which is divided in two parts), all composed between 1965 and 1972, this compilation showcases even amounts of minimalism and musique concrete. "Come Out" and "It's Gonna Rain" parts one and two fall into the latter category. In "Come Out", a victim of police brutality's account of his mistreatment becomes a nightmarish mass of loops, words melting into pure sound. "It's Gonna Rain" does similar things to the apocalyptic ranting of a preacher. The effect is extremely fascinating and oppressive in equal amounts. On the opposite extreme, "Piano Phase" features a gorgeous piano duet, which goes in and out of phase as the piece unfolds over twenty minutes. This is pure proto-ambient, absolutely beautiful yet requiring no listening to be felt. "Clapping Music" is exactly that. The phasing in this case comes from the claps falling out of synch. It's definitely the weakest composition on here, but it is easily forgivable surrounded by the other masterpieces. For the roots of minimalism and its ties to musique concrete and early electronic music, look no further than this disc.