Thursday, August 25, 2011

Karlheinz Stockhausen, KONTAKTE

Wergo, 1963; available

Technically 2 tracks, 35:07

Well, it was about time Stockhausen ended up here! This disc is a performance of the title piece* spread over two tracks. Stockhausen and Gottfried Michael Koenig handle the electronics, while Christoph Caskel and David Tudor provide drums (and piano, in Tudor's case). For a hair over thirty-five minutes, this quartet manages to astound. The electronic sounds come in bursts, while Caskel and Tudor respond organically on their respective instruments. The effect is one of violence fading into tranquility, which is exactly what Stockhausen intended. It's short, sweet, and one of his most accessible works (!). I highly suggest this edition as a Stockhausen primer; if you're already familiar with his work, this is an important addition. There is another realization recorded in 1978 with James Tenney on percussion and William Winant on percussion. It' was released by Ecstatic Peace! on CD and vinyl in the late '90s. Some folks prefer this to the Wergo disc, but I find it to be a little less exciting.

*Composed in 1959, "Kontakte" exists in two versions: this one, for electronics, drums, and piano, and the earlier electronics-only version. The electronic sounds are identical, but it is worth seeking out the other version to hear how much the drums and piano add to the piece.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Sub Rosa, 1986; available

15 tracks, 44:53

I'm going to assume everyone reading this knows who Burroughs is; if you don't, you should fix that! This album collects various sound experiments and snippets recorded between 1960 and 1976 by Burroughs and his assistant Ian Sommerville. The massive "K-9 Was In Combat With The Alien Mind-Screens" is an epic take on radio plays, cut-up style. Here, Burroughs and Sommerville mesh bizarre spoken dialogues with pecussive loops, static, and all sorts of noises; several other tracks on the comp get briefly sampled too. Different techniques are used on each song for a unique twist on audio manipulation. "Silver Smoke Of Dreams", "Recalling All Active Agents", "Present Time Exercises", and "Working With The Popular Forces" are the standouts. Each one takes a bit of spoken word and then proceeds to warp it in glorious ways. Some tracks are cut-ups interspersed with static and other noise, while others layer sound on sound or create strange tones by inching the tape forward or backward manually. Then there are the few tracks that stand out for not being manipulated. "Origin And Theory Of The Cut-Ups" is just Burroughs explaining the process, while "Junky Relations", "Burroughs Called The Law", and "Interview With Mr. Martin" are readings of his written work. The short "Joujouka" tracks are recording of that village's Master Musicians, made while Burroughs and Ornette Coleman were visiting Morocco. This whole collection is very hard to get into if you're not a fan of the avant-garde, and even a few dedicated avant fans will find this to be a bit much. However, it has immense historical value as an influence on industrial music (Genesis P-Orridge actually supplied a lot of the source tapes!) and as a fairly successful translation of Burroughs' written work into sound.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Love Records, 2001; available

13 tracks, 78:09

This absolutely priceless compilation of Finnish experimental music (the title translates roughly to "Arctic Hysteria: The Early Finnish Avant-Gardeners"!) is a tough one to review. Each track covers different styles, which makes for a delightfully diverse listen. Thus, for a change, I'm going to do a track-by-track analysis. I will provide tranlsations of the titles (when needed) in each mini-review.

1. M.A. Numminen, Tommi Parko, Pekka Kujanpää - "Eleitä kolmelle röyhtäilijälle" (1961)
This "symphony for three belchers" is probably the weakest track here, but it's mercifully brief at 1:56 and historically important. The three madmen responsible (two of whom show up with later works on the next two tracks) burp over a folky strum. That's it. Still, it's pretty funny once in a while.

2. Sähkökvartetti - "Kaukana väijyy ystäviä" (1968)
Here's where things start to get interesting! The Sähkökvartetti was a four-piece electronic instrument created by Erkki Kurenniemi (more on him later). Translating to "Electric Quartet", it consisted of an "electric violin", a primitive drum machine, a photoelectric melody machine, and the "voice machine". The latter is some kind of microphone/photoelectric aluminum stick hybrid. Numminen and Parko are on voice machine and electric violin respectively, while Arto Koskinen and Peter Widén handle melody and drum machines. This is raw live electronics,  made even eerier when Numminen's distorted voice joins the mix. The recording quality is rough, but that's perfectly suited to the material. Another version of this is on the PSYCHEDELIC PHINLAND 2-disc comp; both are recommended, since no two performances of  "Far Away Lurk Friends" were alike.

3. Tommi Parko - "Hysteriablues" (1968)
Here's Parko for a third time! This is another mildly annoying track. It consists of jazzy/bluesy piano playing while Parko yelps in a falsetto. It's too brief to REALLY grate, though, and it is very amusing. It's actually VERY similar to the experimental vocal works of Henry Flynt.

4. Erkki Salmenhaara - "Information Explosion, prologue" (1967)
I enjoy this one a lot. It's an early bit of Finnish musique concrete bordering on plunderphonics. Several different sound sources pop in and out of the mix, but rarely at the same time. The overall feeling is receiving data in bursts. Salmenhaara (with some assistance from Erkki Kurenniemi) also gets points for a fairly unique take on musique concrete.

5. Blues Section - "Shivers Of Pleasure" (1967)
While it's somewhat out of place, this psychedelic gem is really cool. Backwards tapes, free sax playing, and an "atonal choir" combine with more traditional rock to great effect. Be warned that some other Blues Section material is nowhere near as innovative.

6. Erkki Kurenniemi - "Antropoiden Tansi" (1968)
Finally getting his own track, Kurenniemi was a true electronic wizard. This track uses one of his self-built early sequencers to create an odd masterpiece. The jumpy electronic tones sound remarkably similar to later glitch and IDM experiments, earning the title "Dance Of The Anthropoids" quite well. There's not a whole lot of Kurenniemi out there, so having a taste here is quite a boon. If you're hooked like I was, try to find the collection ÄÄNITYKSIÄ/RECORDINGS 1963-1973 (and look for a review of that here soon!).

7. Jukka Ruohomäki - "Mikä aika on" (1970)
This guy was Kurenniemi's assistant. Here, he uses the DIMI (Digital Musical Instrument), a synthesizer built by you-know-who. It sounds remarkably similar to Patrick Vian's solo work and is every bit as enjoyable.

8. Jouni Kesti and Seppo I. Laine - "Vallankumouksen analyysi" (1970)
This eleven-minute onslaught of free jazz is amazing! Recorded on a cheap deck in a living room, Laine absolutely roars on alto sax while Kesti attacks his drums in a nearly grindcore fashion. At one point Laine puts his microphone inside the sax, resulting in some truly filthy distortion. I wish I could find the B-side of the mini-LP this was taken from. If it's anything like "Analysis Of Revolution" (what an absolutely fitting name!), it would be a masterpiece. As it is, this is a lost treasure of truly brutal jazz.

9. The Sperm - "3rd Erection" (1968)
Ah, the infamous Sperm! This track is taken from their debut EP. P.Y Hiltunen makes some weird vocalizations (words? sounds? speaking in tongues?) while Pekka Airaksinen does his thing with a guitar. It sounds nothing like SHH!, but it's a great track. It's somewhat comparable to a noisier take on the Holy Modal Rounders or the Fugs.

10. J.O. Mallander - "1962" (1968)
This one's important due to Mallander's involvement with the Sperm, but it's truly mind-numbing and boring. A voice repeats "Kekkonen, Kekkonen, Kekkonen, Kekkonen, Kekkonen" over and over and over. That's it. There's also a part two elsewhere that's essentially the same thing. It's a joke that works for its audience, but it loses a lot in translation.

11. The Sperm - "Kuoleman puutarha live (otteita)" (1970)
Oh man, what a find! This is basically a collage of excerpts from the Sperm's opera "Garden Of Death". It opens with a lecture, goes into an Airaksinen guitarscape via a rough cut, and then ends on a crazed jam accompanied briefly by another lecture. While it will obviously never replace seeing them live, it gives you a great idea of what the audience experienced. The cover photo of this comp is apparently from this performance, if that's any indication!

12. Pekka Airaksinen - "Pieni sienikonsertto - A Little Soup For Piano And Orchestra op 46,8" (1970)
This has already been reviewed, since it was on Airaksinen's ONE POINT MUSIC, but its presence here is definitely welcome!

13. S. Albert Kivinen - "Spirea" (1970)
Another jokey track. Kivinen sings about Spiro Agnew in an off-key voice over a folk song. It's not a standout by any stretch, but it's definitely not bad. It's probably also worth noting that Numminen shows up here yet again, this time on accordion!

Thankfully, the less-interesting tracks are all brief, while the lengthy highlights are over far too soon. This is an  excellent primer on the Finnish experimental scene(s) and should be acquired by anyone with an interest in the avant-garde. You might also want to check out SON OF ARCTIC HYSTERIA/MORE ARCTIC HYSTERIA and PSYCHEDELIC PHINLAND. The former is a 2-disc set that continues where this one leaves off, covering works from 1970 to 1990. The latter is also a 2-disc set; disc 1 is more accessible hippie/folk/psychedelic material, while disc 2 features tracks by the Sperm, Airaksinen, Sähkökvartetti, and Mallander amongst others.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A.R. Kane, 69 and "i"

Rough Trade, 1988; reissued by One Little Indian; available

10 tracks, 40:30

Rough Trade, 1989; reissued by One Little Indian; available

26 tracks, 67:51

It never ceases to amaze me that A.R. Kane aren't well known in the US. This duo (of Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala) were capable of some of THE most innovative music of the late '80s. The British press saddled them with the obnoxious moniker "the black Jesus and Mary Chain", which isn't even very accurate. Their early singles were slightly JAMC-ish*, but by the time of their debut LP 69, they were mining far stranger territory. Claiming to be interpreting the style of electric Miles Davis on rock instruments, they actually hit closer to a shoegazer/dub combination that was uniquely theirs. Perhaps Cocteau Twins would be a close comparison, but A.R. Kane are far more trippy and improvisational in nature. In fact, A.R. Kane coined the term "dream pop" just to describe their music! Five of the tracks feature extra instrumentation by other musicians, but this is limited to one or two extras per track. Everything else was programmed and performed by Rudy and Alex. The opening "Crazy Blue" and "Suicide Kiss" show A.R. Kane's versatility nicely. "Crazy Blue" is shoegazer gone pop, with a catchy beat anchoring the soaring vocals of Rudy (who starts off with some interesting glossolalia) and Maggie (his sister). At the other end of the spectrum, "Suicide Kiss" has a heavy industrial-esque beat and lots of feedback; Rudy's vocals here are another perfect match with the music. Other highlights include "Sulliday", with its controlled feedback and pounding drum programming, and the particularly psychedelic "Spermwhale Trip Over" (whose main lyric is the repeated "Here, in my LSDream"!) and "Baby Milk Snatcher" (the dub influence is especially apparent here). None of these ten songs has a wasted note, and if they had released nothing but the singles and this, they still would have had an impressive catalogue.

As it happens, 1989's "i" was a bit confusing. First off, the tracklist was divided into four suites of four songs, each represented by a card suit. There were also ten "jokers" ranging from five seconds to one and a half minutes. These interludes are mostly weird bits of noise and/or atmosphere (and they mostly fall in the thirty seconds or less range), but they are fairly entertaining. The songs themselves showed Alex and Rudy tackling a wide variety of styles. To be fair, they mostly succeeded. The unusually poppy first suite has some catchy winners in "A Love From Outer Space" and "Crack Up". However, "Snow Joke" and "What's All This Then?" are obviously weaker; the former sounds too much like generic late '80s dance music, while the latter sounds like a watered-down 69 outtake. The rest of the album gets better as it goes along, with plenty of unique pop ("Miles Apart", "Sugarwings"), moody psychedelia ("Conundrum", "Honeysuckleswallow), and high-octane thrash-gaze ("Supervixens", "Insect Love"). The main duo still performs most of the music themselves, but there are more guests here than on 69. The last three tracks are very nicely sequenced. "Sorry" is five seconds of record trickery and sampled dialogue, leading into the wonderfully dubby "Catch My Drift", ending with the sarcastic six-second "Challenge". True, they somewhat overstepped their limits here, but it's still a good album.

Definitely get 69 first, but once that hooks you, "i" should find a spot in your collection as well. The follow up REM"i"XES was a little too poppy for my tastes, and 1994's NEW CLEAR CHILD is a massively disappointing comeback. There has been talk of a singles collection, which is recommended should it ever be released.

*Alex and Rudy had their big break as part of M/A/R/R/S. This collaboration with Colourbox yielded the insanely popular "Pump Up The Volume".