Friday, October 30, 2009
Piano, 1979; reissued most recently by This Is; available
11 tracks, 48:30
This Heat are one of those groups who only got the recognition they deserved after they split up. Consisting of Gareth Williams, Charles Bullen, and Charles Heyward, This Heat were something of an enigma. Bullen and Heyward used to perform improvisations as Dolphin Logic, and that particular art form certainly carried over to This Heat. Their debut album is a mix of live and studio recordings; it's almost impossible to tell which are which (not a bad thing at all!). Bookended by the short droning "Testcard" pieces, the music covers a LOT of ground. Elements of dub, prog rock, krautrock, post-punk, and free improv all combine to form one of the more varied early industrial albums. Standout tracks like "Twilight Furniture", with its insistent drumming and minimal guitar coloration, and th brutal prog-punk stormer "Horizontal Hold" almost sound like different bands. Most tracks ebb and flow right into each other, providing a fascinating listen when played the whole way through. My personal favorites are the eerily atmospheric "The Fall Of Saigon" and the absolutely incredible "24 Track Loop", which takes a short drum loop and turns it into something that for all the world sounds like twisted IDM/drum'n'bass, YEARS before IDM or drum'n'bass even existed! The whole album is impressive, and it is the best This Heat album. This Heat would release one more album during their lifetime, the equally impressive DECEIT, which does lean more towards songs than atmospheres,as well as the more abstract HEALTH AND EFFICIENCY EP. The archival releases MADE AVILABLE (John Peel sessions, including alternate versions of tracks from THIS HEAT and DECEIT), REPEAT (basically an extended take on "24 Track Loop" and two more abstract pieces), and LIVE 80/81 are also worth checking out, as are the post-This Heat projects Camberwell Now (Heyward and later member Trefor Goronwy) and Flaming Tunes (Williams).
Sunday, October 18, 2009
INA-GRM, 1995; available
4 compositions spread over 10 tracks (see review), 77:13
The late Luc Ferrari had a gift for truly innovative recordings. While he definitely stuck to musique concrete, there's no mistaking a Ferrari piece for anyone else. This CD is a compilation drawn from four separate releases and covering three decades. "Music Promenade" and "Presque rien no. 1, le lever du jour au bord de la mar" date from the late '60s, "Presque Rien No. 2, ainsi continue la nuit dans ma tête multiple" is from '77, and "Presque rien avec filles" is the most recent, being completed in '89. Actually, the above dates for all pieces should say "completed in (year)"; each one apparently took quite a while to finish. However, the effort was worth it! "Music Promenade" is perhaps the most primitively conceived; essentially consisting of four tapes playing simultaneously, it is a densely loaded sonic collage of epic proportions. Prerecorded music, laughter, discussions, animal sounds.... yeah, everything shows up here, possibly even the kitchen sink! "Presque rien no. 1", by comparison, seems deceptively simple. It is, as the title makes clear, a recording of "dawn at the seaside" in a Yugoslavian village with VERY subtle manipulation. While basically a field recording, this is an intensely fascinating listen. Motorboats depart from the shore, the echoing of the motors creating electronic detritus in their wake (excuse the pun). People sing what seems to be a traditional song. Cicadas buzz and hum, providing their own form of music. At this point, the listener is probably wondering which sounds are left raw and which are processed and/or added to the mix. After twenty minutes, the tape abruptly cuts off, and the piece is over. But up to that point, you have been transported to the village, and the result of coming back is jarring. Incredible as "no. 1" is, it pales in comparison to "Presque rien no. 2". Subtitled "thus the night continues in my multiple head", Ferrari initially considered this too personal to release; thankfully he changed his mind! The recording itself is much more active on Ferrari's part. He actually carries the microphone and tape recorder, so his footsteps and softly spoken words are part of the natural soundscape. The sounds of birds, insects, and other animals dominate the piece, but these are often electronically manipulated and layered onto the initial recording. In addition, Ferrari seamlessly grafts such musical elements as organ drones and what could very well be electronic percussion onto the recording. For its entire 21:29 duration, "no. 2" is completely fascinating and not really like anything else being done at the time. "Presque rien avec filles" closes the disc, and it is a decent piece. However, the circa '89 production and electronic sounds haven't dated nearly as well as the preceding pieces. That minor quibble aside, "avec filles" is still a delightful listen, if far removed from the other two "Presque rien" pieces. The noisiest of the series, it begins with sheets of white noise and goes on to incorporate random electronic drums and other interesing touches, all surrounded by the sound of girls talking to each other. It's worth noting that the CD indexing divides all the compositions into multiple tracks. Thus, "Music Promenade" occupies tracks 1 and 2, "Presque rien no. 1" is on 3 through 5, "no. 2" is 6 to 8, and "avec filles" fills up 9 and 10. Any serious fan of electronic music, musique concrete, or modern composition needs these pieces, and this is the best place to get them all at once. Alternately, once you're hooked on Ferrari, you may want to purchase the 10-disc box set; it's reasonably priced (usually about $100, which is VERY low for a multi-disc set) and contains all the essential compositions. The compilation SON MEMORISE has "Presque rien no. 4", which is very much worth hearing as well; it also has a piece from the same period as "no. 2" and the incredible "Salicebury Cocktail", which was one of Ferrari's last works.
Legcay, 2001; available
7 tracks, 65:29
It's strange that John Cage recordings exist, considering his disdain for recordings in general. Yet here it is, two volumes of a recording of one epic performance, edited down into just over sixty-five minutes and combined on this CD. Assisted by David Tudor, Cage set up a very complex audio system in the Feigen/Palmer Gallery in Los Angeles. I'm not exactly certain on what was done here, but records and sounds picked up by ambient microphones do come into play, as do radio broadcasts. In the end, the result truly is better heard than described, sounding like where musique concrete, plunderphonics, and chance composition combine. If this review seems rather short and not overly descriptive, it's because this truly is a difficult experience to capture in words. Go find it and hear it and you'll understand.
Come Organisation, 1980; reissued by Susan Lawly; available, but tends to go in and out of print
6 tracks, 32:49
With this short album, Whitehouse were introduced to the world. At this stage, Whitehouse was William Bennett, Peter McKay, and Paul Reuter (this would be the lineup for TOTAL SEX and BUCHENWALD as well). Nowhere near as abrasive as the Bennett-Best-Sotos years, this may be the only Whitehouse album that could be called "charming" without any sense of irony. The comparitively minimal nature of this album is reflected by the equipment used: two EDP Wasp synths (legendary for their unique sound and mercurial nature, and one of which was modified by Throbbing Gristle's Chris Carter), a tone generator, and an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man. "On Top" begins with some low feedback and squiggling synth noises, soon joined by Bennett's heavily reverbed vocals. His delivery is far less intense than it would later be, and he actually sounds slightly meek at times! The music, however, is anything but tame, constantly and subtly mutating over the six minute duration. Oddly enough, four out of the six tracks are just over six minutes; whether this was intentional isn't certain. "Mindphaser" has Bennet's vocals much lower in the mix, buried under a fuzz-and-feedback drone. On this track, that works to his benefit. He keeps intoning for the listener to "relax/elax/listen to the master/you like that/FEEL THE PAIN/and pleasure" etc. etc., and the effect is DEFINITELY not as unsettling now as it may have been twenty-nine years ago, but it's still an interesting (if flawed) track. "Rock and Roll" closes side one with some random yet strangely musical explorations, held together by the tone generator's steady pulse. Over this, Bennett delivers the album's most intense vocal performance, screaming his anger at the fallacy of rock for all to hear. Side two features another three songs in a similar vein. "The Second Coming" sounds like the best parts of side one combined, while "Coitus" is the noisiest track on the album. Then there's the title track, which closes the album and is the shortest track at three and a half minutes. It's also completely silent, not even containing the sound of tape hiss or vinyl playing. Whether this is a waste of space or a stroke of genius is up to the listener, but after playing this album it's certainly not unwelcome! As stated above (and as most of you probably know already), Whitehouse would go on to become one of the harshest groups in electronic music, coining the term "power electronics" and delivering such endurance tests as ERECTOR and MUMMY AND DADDY. BIRTHDEATH EXPERIENCE is a crucial look at their early years, even if it is rather tame by their later standards. It's also worth hearing to see how Whitehouse were influential in their own way on later strains of industrial and noise music.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Mandala, 1996 (see review); availability uncertain
9 tracks, 75:19
While mostly known as a visual artist and coiner of the term "art brut", Jean Dubuffet made some very strange recordings as well. This compilation is something of a "best of"; the original EXPÉRIENCES MUSICALES was a box set of six ten-inch records, and these nine tracks represent the cream of the crop. In the liner notes (reproduced in French, English, and German), Dubuffet admits his lack of experience with the instruments used and requests that musicians keep this in mind while listening. Regardless of his skill, Dubuffet creates dense masses of sound with a true arsenal of instruments(which range from flute, cello, and xylophone to more exotic instruments like cymbalon, "paper trumpet", and Chinese mouth organ). All recordings date from 1961, and while the sound quality definitely reflects this, it wouldn't sound right remastered. "La Fleur De Barbe" opens the disc with nearly twenty-four minutes of musical chaos and strangely intoned poetry. It's the only track to feature vocals, and it is quite a stunner, never locking into repetition once. The seven minute "Coq Á L'Oeil", by contrast, is a solo piano improvisation. Some tracks use only a few instruments while others simply say "diverse instruments" and leave it to the listener to decide what is being played. All of the tracks were achieved by multitracking and editing different improvisations; Dubuffet claimed to be ignorant at the time of musique concrete et al, but he came up with his own (intentionally) primitive version. Overall, it's a prime slice of free improvisation, residing somewhere between AMM and outsider music. Fans of Dubuffet's art, musique concrete, and free improvisation would be very much impressed with this effort; his MUSIQUE BRUT is also worth hunting down, though it is far more difficult to find. Good luck!
Edit: On the easier-to-find front, Dubuffet did the cover art for Jasun Martz' THE PILLORY, which is an amazing avant-prog/neo-orchestral masterpiece. Get this as well!
Straight/Reprise, 1969; available
28 tracks, 79:08
I'm pretty sure most of you know this one by now, so I won't be describing it too much. If you haven't, you probably should. It truly is as wild and wonderful as everybody says it is. When it was released forty years ago, it seemed there really wasn't anything quite like this in rock. Maybe some contemporary bands were much freakier with less recognition (the Red Krayola and Cromagnon come to mind), but TROUT MASK REPLICA still sounded not quite like anything else. Twenty-eight tracks were spread over two LPs (now on one CD), a good chunk of which are under three minutes; of these, three tracks are a capella, one ("The Blimp (mousetrapreplica)") has phoned-in vocals with music by the Mothers of Invention, and three are instrumentals. If you're familiar with the story behind the recording, I won't bore you; if not, you may want to read up on just how much of a control freak the Captain really was, and you should keep in mind supposedly none of this album is improvised. The real question is whether any of it still holds up. I truly think so; when I first heard it ten years ago, I wasn't quite ready to fathom what was going on here. Needless to say, that position has since changed. Noise-rock, no wave, the New York downtown scene, punk, post-punk... this album could fit into ANY of those categories, but it obivously predates them all by a long shot. An essential slice of avant-rock history!