The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'electronica'
In his latest Poptimist column, Tom Ewing writes about recordings attributed to imaginary authors, typically at some time in an imagined past. More specifically, he writes about Science Of The Sea, a record allegedly made in 1979 by Jürgen Müller, a German oceanographer and amateur musician who was inspired to make a record of ambient electronic compositions by the hours he spent on field trips out at sea, one of whose 100 privately-pressed copies was apparently rediscovered in 2011:
Except, of course, he probably did no such thing. It seems likely that there never was an expedition, or a young biologist, or a private pressing. Science of the Sea is a 2011 record from fin to tail, and the rather lovely tale of Jürgen Müller is entirely invented. Did suspecting this make me like the record less? Certainly not. If anything, I enjoyed it more. As a small child I would sometimes be allowed to sit up with my parents and watch science documentaries, like Carl Sagan's Cosmos. I didn't understand the science, and the documentaries were broadcast late so I was on the edge of sleep in any case, but I remembered their soothing flow: The infinite turned into a kind of bedtime story. Meanwhile, on library bookshelves I would sometimes find 1950s and 60s paperbacks about modern-day scientist-adventurers like Jacques Cousteau or Thor Heyerdahl-- giving the impression of an age of clean-limbed scientific heroism I'd tantalizingly missed, one that looked very much like a Tintin comic.
So no surprise that some of what I get from Science of the Sea-- there by intention or not-- is a pang of love and loss for this imagined time. More intriguingly, though, if the record is fictional it feels like this might have been liberating for its mysterious creator. The album is full of beautifully cornball seascape touches-- flickering arpeggios and note-clouds which practically demand you start thinking about shoals of fish darting back and forth outside a bathysphere window. Sit down and make an electronic album about the ocean now and you might find yourself trying to dodge these clichés. Sit down and role-play a naive non-musician inching towards transcendence at the turn of the 1980s and you can fully embrace them.Science Of The Sea is not the only recent example of its kind; another recent recording shedding light on an underexplored, romantic and distinctly alien corner of the modern past was the retrospective of the Endless House Foundation. The conceit of Endless House presents an experimental electronic music collective, founded in the early 1970s by an eccentric, wealthy Czech audiophile, situated in an ultra-modernistic studio/discotheque complex in the heart of the Bialowieska primeval forest in eastern Poland and informed by the breadth of European avant-garde design and architectural movements of the 20th century, it thrived for must six weeks in the summer of 1973 before collapsing under the weight of its expensive impracticality, leaving behind only some scraps of biographical information, a few ambiguous photographs of improbable architectural spaces, and the curiously pristine recordings of the resident musicians' compositions, which, it seems, prefigured everything from Kraftwerk to Detroit techno, much in the same way that Delia Derbyshire invented IDM in 1965 but neglected to tell the world about it. The fragments have remained buried until recently, when an unnamed British curator unearthed the pieces, and managed to track down the original participants, getting interviews and even a mix, from them.
Of course, it's quite possible that none of this really happened. The story of Endless House reads almost like a Wes Anderson set-piece, only set in a nebulous European avant-garde as seen from outside. Unsurprisingly, the illusion doesn't hold up well to closer examination. For one, the idea that a group of Western European playboys could cross the Iron Curtain with impunity, bringing party guests and giant modular synthesisers with them, while the governments of the Eastern Bloc, still shocked by uprisings in Prague in 1968 and Warsaw in 1970, were in ideological lockdown, seems highly unlikely. (A non-fictional recent musical retrospective of East German electronic music reveals the extent of ideological control over music in the Eastern Bloc; in the DDR, the government only started allowing the production of electronic music in 1980, and even then anything that could be interpreted as critical of industrial society was verboten, leaving room only for ostensibly harmless cosmic psychedelia.) Over and above this, this improbable bubble is populated by a cast of exotically European bons vivants with names like Walter Schnaffs and Felix Uran, who speak in a mixture of English and German, but refer to distances in miles. Nonetheless, if you can suspend disbelief, imagine that the Cold War wasn't that big a deal and that an Austrian synthesist and socialite might sing about being sixteen miles from Saint-Tropez, in an avant-garde cyber-disco about that distance from the Polish-Soviet border, it's an entertaining story, and an even more entertaining record. (The tracks, listened to on their own, work as electronic music, and do evoke the world they purport to come from.)
Meanwhile, in a recent edition of Milan art journal Mousse, there is a retrospective of the works of Scottish-Italian artist Scotty Potenza, written by someone named Nick Currie:
The colour, shape and texture of fresh ice cream is certainly visible in Potenza’s acrylic gouaches; peach, pistachio and purply-red forest berries distinguish themselves forcefully from the sodden greens and asphalt greys of the Scottish industrial landscape. His subject-matter shares this otherness: influenced by the exciting first wave of Acid House culture in the late 1980s, Potenza evinces a non-Calvinist positivity more evocative of Chicago warehouses and Ibiza raves than Glasgow tenements. A Potenza painting incarnates not what Scotland is, but what it lacks.
As 1990s rave culture has continued to experience the bearhug embrace of mainstream acceptance in the UK — its visual values, once restricted to club flyers, now inform restaurant design, public information films and TV commercials for banks and building societies — Potenza has been granted a high-profile list of public commissions. His decoration of the walls of the Home Office lobby with a mural of happy ravers, their hands linked like the figures in Matisse’s La Danse, caused short-lived (and clearly manufactured) outrage in the tabloids, but has proved peculiarly popular with the civil servants who work in the building. A major mural at Finsbury Park underground station entitled Get On One Matey! was unfortunately damaged beyond repair in the 2011 riots. The vandals, caught on CCTV, are currently serving long prison sentences.
In conjunction with fluoro disco merchants Modular, Tom Ellard (of Severed Heads fame) has put together a mix of underground electronic post-punk music from 1979, from Australia and abroad, with an accompanying online booklet (in Flash, alas). The mix goes for some 40 minutes and contains the likes of The Residents, Telex, SPK and Primitive Calculators, as well as, of course, The Normal and the Human League (pre-girls, of course). File this alongside the recent BBC "Synth Britannia" documentary.
(via New Weird Australia)
Simon Reynolds has a piece in the Graun about the history of synthpop in 1980s Britain:
In some ways the crucial word in synth-pop isn't "synth" but "pop". The British groups who took over the charts at the dawn of the 80s were catchy and concise. Here they followed the lead of Kraftwerk, who were not only the first group to make a whole conceptual package/weltanschauung out of the electronic age, but were sublime tunesmiths. It's righteous that Kraftwerk's long-awaited remastered catalogue is getting reissued at almost the same time as the long-awaited remastered catalogue of the Beatles, because Hütter & Co rival the Fab Four for both their transformative impact on pop and their melodic genius... Equally inspiring to the synth-pop artists was Kraftwerk's formality: their grey suits and short hair stood out at a time of jeans and beards and straggly locks, heralding a European future for pop, a decisive break with America and rock'n'roll.
Synth-pop went through two distinct phases. The first was all about dehumanisation chic. That didn't mean the music was emotionless (the standard accusation of the synthphobic rocker), but that the emotions were bleak: isolation, urban anomie, feeling cold and hollow inside, paranoia... The second phase of synth-pop reacted against the first. Electronic sounds now suggested jaunty optimism and the gregariousness of the dancefloor, they evoked a bright, clean future just round the corner rather than JG Ballard's desolate 70s cityscapes. And the subject matter for songs mostly reverted to traditional pop territory: love and romance, escapism and aspiration. The prime movers behind synth-pop's rehumanisation were appropriately enough the Human League (just check their song titles: Open Your Heart, Love Action, These Are The Things That Dreams Are Made Of).
"Electro" in the early-90s meant cutting-edge, the future-now; nowadays "electro" refers to the kind of sounds that lit up hipster bars in east London through this past decade and then went mainstream this year with La Roux and Lady Gaga, which is to say synthetic pop that doesn't use the full capacity of the latest digital technology, and is therefore almost as quaint as if it were made using a harpsichord.The article ties in with a BBC4 documentary titled Synth Britannia, which airs next week.
Jude Rogers writes in the Graun about Delia Derbyshire, pointing out that, for her achievements, she wasn't the only woman in early electronic music, not by far:
It's a myth that electronic music is a world populated by stiff-suited, horn-spectacled men, then – especially as Derbyshire wasn't the only female pioneer. Take Daphne Oram, who set up the Radiophonic Workshop in 1958. Last month, Goldsmiths College opened up a public archive of her music, and held a day celebrating her work at the South Bank. Then there's Maddelena Fagandini, who recorded under the fabulous pseudonym, Ray Cathode, and whose work was adored by Beatles producer George Martin. Later on, Glynis Jones created space soundtracks for the Workshop in the 1970s, and Elizabeth Parker was the last composer to leave it when it closed in 1998.
A previously unknown cache of audio recordings made by BBC Radiophonic Workshop composer Delia Derbyshire has come to light. The tapes, recorded in the 1960s, include a sketch for a documentary score, using cut-up fragments of Derbyshire's voice as an oboe-like instrument. Most interesting, though, is a fragment, introduced by Derbyshire as "for interest only", consisting of a few bars of glitchy electronic beats in 5/4 time, with a pad sound. (The fact that all this was made without synthesisers as we know them, but with purpose-built arrangements of circuits, makes it even more impressive.) The fragment sounds like modern IDM; if someone told you it was a Warp release from the 1990s, you'd believe it. The world of the late 1960s, though, wasn't ready for IDM, hence Derbyshire's dismissal of it.
"I find it spell-binding," says Hartnoll. "I've got a shedload of synthesizers and equipment, whereas Delia Derbyshire got out of the Radiophonic Workshop when synthesizers came along. I think she got a bit disheartened and a bit bored with it all when the synthesizer came along and it all became a little too easy."
Web toy of the day (if not the year): Hobnox Audiotool. A TR-909, two TB-303s and a bag of effects pedals in a Flash applet, with a nifty patch-cord interface.
It sounds pretty authentic (well, at least as much as the various ReBirths and 303 softsynths) and flexible (the knobs produce the right amount of variation in the sound), which suggests that there is more to this than a bunch of samples in a simple player. The two options are:
- Recent versions of Flash have some kind of MSP/SuperCollider-style unit-generator-based audio engine built in, and pre-stocked with a bunch of useful components (such as wavetable oscillators, envelopes, filters, delay lines, convolvers, &c.), so that the Flash code only has to assemble a network of these and press play. Which essentially means that this sort of high-powered computer music infrastructure has become thoroughly commodified, to the point of being embedded for free in the infrastructure, remaining unnoticed until one actually uses something made from it. And that it would be possible to assemble quite usable audio production web applications in Flash, or:
- The applet merely communicates with a process on the web server, which synthesises the audio and streams it back to it.
Simon Reynolds digs up the history of the psychedelic space electronica of the 1970s, a genre of music too geeky or freaky, too redolent of science fiction, prog rock and rambling, stoned experimentalism, too sandal-wearingly, whale-huggingly New Agey, too inexcusably pre-punk or just too plain weird to have been afforded the hipster credibility that its shorter, sharper contemporaries, from Krautrock to new wave, have bathed in:
Everything you know about electronic pop is wrong. Years before Gary Numan and his electric friends, before the chart-popping porno-disco of 'I Feel Love by sexbot diva Donna Summer and pulsating producer Giorgio Moroder, before even Kraftwerk's serene electra-glide down the Autobahn, the trailblazers of synthesisers in pop were a bunch of long-haired hippies and slumming classical composers. Pioneered by Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Walter Carlos, then popularised by Tomita, Jean Michel Jarre, and Vangelis, this genre - space music, some call it, or analog-synth epics - has been almost completely written out of the history of electronica.
The commercial high profile of synthesiser music and its associations with long-haired 'progressives' were why most punk rockers regarded keyboards as a no-no. 'Technoflash' was NME's sneering designation for the genre, the flash referring both to the ostentatious display of nimble-fingered virtuosity and to the over-the-top stage costumes and expensive lighting. When Wire's second album Chairs Missing appeared in 1978, the presence of synths led one reviewer to complain that they'd gone from Pink Flag to Pink Floyd in less than a year. Around that time, a spate of synthesiser based singles emerged from the post-punk do-it-yourself underground - the Human League's 'Being Boiled', the Normal's 'Warm Leatherette', Throbbing Gristle's 'United' - but these artists were at pains to differentiate themselves from the cosmic synth bands. The Normal - aka Daniel Miller, founder of Mute Records - complained that the trouble with most synth-players was that they were musicians who played the synth pianistically rather than treating it as a noise-generating machine. Yet only a few years earlier Miller had been a huge Klaus Schulze fan. Even the Human League had been recording 97-minute electronic soundscapes like 'Last Man of Earth' only a few months before shifting in a pop direction with 'Being Boiled'. In 1978, though, it was crucial to avoid any taint of hippie. So Trans Europe Express and 'I Feel Love' were cited as revelations, but no one gave the nod to Jean Michel Jarre's 'Oxygene (Part IV)', a UK chart smash only a few weeks after 'I Feel Love' hit number one in late 1977.Electronic psychedelia, not surprisingly, experienced a revival of sorts during the rave era (which Reynolds chronicled in Energy Flash), with bands like The Orb and the chill-out movement citing the likes of Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream as influences. (Whether the same could be said for Vangelis or Jean-Michel Jarre is another matter), and indeed the psy-trance genre (though perhaps this point is arguable; unlike cosmic electronic music, psy-trance, like most 4-on-the-floor, heavily quantised electronic dance music, is more strongly connected to a functional role, that of providing stimulus to dance to). One could probably make a convincing case for IDM ("intelligent dance music") owing a debt to the geeky, cerebral futurism of the synth pioneers of the 70s.
Now, Reynolds argues, the genre is getting somewhat of a reappraisal and being written back into its rightful place in musical history, with credible acts like M83 and DFA hipsters Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom citing these artists as reference points.
Which makes sense; perhaps the world is due for a reappraisal of this genre. A lot of the movements which followed (from shoegazer to IDM, which, incidentally, have both met a synthesis in the awkwardly named "nu-gazer" movement), and which have won critical acceptance (shoegazer's original incarnation was wiped aside by grunge, in much the way that punk poured petrol on prog and threw a lit match at it, though has since returned) are not too incompatible with it. Secondly, a reappraisal of prog electronica, in all its patchouli-scented naffness and beardy retro scifiisms, could tie in with the rise of antifolk (which, itself, may be a reaction to the commodification and commercialisation of post-punk ideas of cool; think anything that gets labelled "indie" in the UK press for an example); in other words, as the masses buy electroskull-covered clothing at Wal-Mart and listen to watered-down electroclash and heavily-promoted new-wave-art-rock-lite on commercial radio, the hipsters move on, differentiating themselves by growing beards and getting into things that, to the uninitiated, don't appear cool (case in point: the recent "antifolk" movement). And a revival of 70s prog/psychedelia may not be so far-fetched; there's more than a little Pink Floyd in the new Of Montreal album, for example.
'[Melbourne] has developed enormously over the past ten years or so,', Law assesses of the city's electronic-attuned independent music scene. 'More experimental and improvised music has been flourishing in Melbourne over the past few years, with festivals like Liquid Architecture, What Is Music? and Anthony Pateras and Robin Fox's excellent Articulating Space events - as well as regular nights like Make It Up Club. It's a great city — I'm not sure why, but there has always been a great artistic vibe here.'
There have been drawbacks, however. 'Ten years ago there was a ton of techno happening, but very little on the electronic improv/experimental scene. Unfortunately the live techno scene itself is not as healthy as it was. Lately at the bigger parties — and in clubs — things have gotten a lot more commercial, and that doesn't leave much room for live performers who are pushing their own unique sound.' The result has been that, while Steve Law has no problem finding more abstract electro gigs for himself, there's been a dearth of opportunities for Zen Paradox...
He does, however, perceive another emergent problem. 'I think the biggest development, not necessarily a good one, has been the gentrification of electronic music. Back at the beginning of the 90s it was simply "techno" or electronic music, but since then a huge number of sub-genres have developed, each with their own dedicated following. I think this tends to fragment the scene quite a bit, and unfortunately people have a blinkered approach towards any music outside of the particular sound they're into.'
I recently picked up the new Broadcast album, Tender Buttons. It's an impressive return to form.
Their earlier work, Extended Play 2 and The Noise Made By People, caught attention with its combination of experimental sounds and swinging-60s-style psychedelic pop. (I haven't heard Work and Non-Work, and so can't comment on it.) With the album that followed, Haha Sound, they seemed to lose the plot a bit; the first track/single sounded like an attempt to jump on the electroclash bandwagon à la Goldfrapp, with much of the rest of it sounding like a mediocre Sound Of Music cash-in. With Tender Buttons, they've found their direction again, and it sounds like early Stereolab only made using a GameBoy; stripped down to a tightly focussed krautrock-esque angularity, with their trademark melodious vocals. And the presence of a track that seems to be a rant about US military oil imperialism or something of the sort similar probably won't hurt their chances (except perhaps of playing at any of Clear Channel's festivals or venues).
This looks interesting: BlackDog appears to be a device the size of a USB flash drive containing an entire Linux-based computer. Plug it into a PC's USB port and it appears as a network-connected Debian box, and auto-runs an X server to connect to the machine in question (this is presumably on Windows). It also includes a "biometric reader" to control access to it.
And then there's the Neuronium. An eye-catchingly blue box hand-built by a German vintage synth designer, it looks like some kind of dance-techno sample-synth module or virtual analogue synth, but is basically an analogue neural network for generating vaguely Tangerine Dream-esque electronic burbling noises. If you have €2499 to spare, it could be yours.
An interesting and comprehensive documentary about the Amen break (QuickTime video), giving examples of its history from The Winstons' B-side Amen Brother to its influence on hip-hop and jungle, its appropriation and fetishisation by pretentious people with PowerBooks, and its subsequent ubiquitification into the wallpaper of consumer culture, and the (increasingly paradoxical) issues of copyright.
(One of the claims made is that The Winstons do not defend their copyright of the Amen break, though that hasn't stopped sample-CD companies from releasing their own versions of it and claiming copyrights on them.)
(There's also one on the cultural history of the Roland TB-303, though I haven't seen that yet.)
Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music, a Flash applet giving a chart of the different genres and subgenres of electronic music, past and present, each with loops from several examples.
<ANORAK> The guide has a few curious anomalies; for example, it includes gothic rock at its most rockist in the "trance" category (presumably because trancy music gets played at today's goth clubs), whilst omitting much of the rest of non-electronic music of the time (the Cocteau Twins, for example, are classified as "darkwave" (or "industrial goth"!)), and while "French pop", "musique concrete" and "minimalism" get mentions, Krautrock is lumped into "psychedelia" along with The Beatles; meanwhile, Milli Vanilli are classified as "new jack swing" (an American movement they had nothing to do with), Laid Back's White Horse is classified as electro-funk rather than punk-funk (given that Laid Back were European and got played mostly in predominantly white mutant-disco sets alongside the likes of The Clash, Ian Dury and The Normal, placing them alongside George Clinton and Roger Troutman may not be the most accurate categorisation; then again, perhaps looking at it from the direction of goth, IDM and post-rave techno (towards which there seems to be a bias), you might not pick up these distinctions), and DFA/LCD Soundsystem-style punk house doesn't seem to appear (except perhaps as a footnote to electroclash, which the author has redubbed as "synthtron", arguably the only possible name dafter than "electroclash"). And there's the matter of a genre of hard dance being named "stupid". </ANORAK>
Nonetheless, it is quite comprehensive, and quite useful if you wanted to know what various genres (such as, say, abstract hip hop, liquid funk, JPop, casiocore, Rio funk, power electronics and buttrock goa), sound like, or are looking for starting points for
MP3 downloading CD purchases.
(Incidentally, "buttrock goa" is goa trance with heavy-metal guitar riffs. Heavy metal does seem to have a bit of an anal fixation, doesn't it?)
African DIY electronica; pretty amazing stuff. A band named Konono No. 1 from Congo who play trance music using home-made electric thumb pianos (which have a bleepy, distorted sound) and improvised microphones made from old car parts.
Their repertoire draws largely on Bazombo trance music, but they've had to incorporate the originally-unwanted distorsions of their sound system. This has made them develop a unique style which, from a sonic viewpoint, has accidentally connected them with the aesthetics of the most experimental forms of rock and electronic music, as much through their sounds than through their sheer volume (they play in front of a wall of speakers) and their merciless grooves.
I went to the Four Tet/Manitoba show at the Corner tonight. I arrived as Qua was playing; his stuff struck me as being much as it has always been: technically polished and layered, and yet melodically almost completely random; i.e., I'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between most Qua tracks.
Four Tet was interesting. One guy with a laptop and a box of knobs of some sort (either an analogue mixer or a MIDI controller), rocking back and forth to the music as he controls the laptop. Not really much in the way of theatre, though after a while one got used to mentally coordinating his actions with the changes in the music. Anyway, his music tended towards chopped-up granular loops and glitches; not quite as hardcore as Kid 606 or someone. At the start of one piece, it sounded rather like Neu! or Faust or someone.
(Live laptop acts like Four Tet raise an interesting question: what is it exactly that we're watching? We're not watching him compose the music; it's pre-composed. We're not watching hin play it either; the computer is doing that, and he is controlling it. Chances are, as he put it together, he did so in Cubase or Logic or somesuch, assembling something that, when activated, would produce a sample-perfect copy of the recording, with no interaction required. Only that's not much fun to watch, so he'd have had to have dismantled that and put it into a performance system (like, say, Ableton Live), giving him the ability to control the playing mechanism in real time. So, in one sense, the performance is the ritual of producing an imperfect approximation of something more deterministically constructed. Strange, no?)
Then Manitoba came on. They were three guys in animal masks (though, thankfully, not full-body fur suits), and had two drum kits, guitars, some keyboards and a glockenspiel. They completely rocked out; drumming frenziedly, moving around the stage with guitars or playing keyboards. (Nobody was playing a laptop or anything quite as un-rock as that.) Mind you, a lot of the sound obviously came from a tape (the vocals, for one; nobody had a microphone), but the fact that the musicians were playing part of it and doing so well made the show. They played predominantly tracks off Up In Flames, though did an encore of sorts with a sampled rap vocal.
I've been listening to Styrofoam's The Point Misser a bit lately; IMHO, Styrofoam can be described as being to (Amber-era) Autechre what Coldplay are to Radiohead (in the sense of being something for fans of the latter's sound before they went weird).
Sine Fiction is a website with electronic soundtracks for scifi novels (including works by Clarke, Burroughs, Calvino and Orwell's 1984), in downloadable MP3 format. (via bOING bOING)
Book soundtracks are an interesting idea; if a book induces scenes to play in your mind's inner theatre, what could be more natural than a score to go with it? A while ago, I did a short fragment inspired (partly) by a scene from an Iain Banks novel (one of his non-scifi ones). And I still intend to, one day, do a score to an imaginary film adaptation of a book by an imaginary author from a Jorge Luis Borges story.
Apparently Parsley Sound finally have an album out in the UK, following on from their excellently chilled Platonic Rate EP (which got them described as "electronic folk"). And it's probably going to get a local release through Remote Control.
Things I have been listening to over the past few days:
- Broadcast, Haha Sound -- the followup to The Noise Made By People, follows on from it, combining '60s retro sounds, sweet vocals, clunky basslines and jangly tweeness with glitchy experimental electronica (which makes sense, with them being on Warp and all). The first song sounds like Julie Andrews or something, whereas the second one is the token attempt to ride the electroclash bandwagon (thankfully the rest of the album leaves that particular well-flogged horse carcass alone). Some of the interludes are quite nice too; in particular, the bad-acid-trip quality of Black Umbrellas.
- Pizzicato 5, Happy End of the World -- Electronica combined with shagadelic retro kitsch, stylised as only the Japanese can do it. The lyrics are mostly in Japanese, and the music varies from drum & bass and house to Bacharach-hop, vintage film scores and lounge exotica. Very cute and quite groovy.
- Cornelius, Point -- I didn't like this much; it's a bit on the bland side. Also, the birdsong samples sound like something you'd pick up in a New Age crystal shop.
- Death By Chocolate, s/t, and Zap the World -- The product of an English schoolgirl's obsession with chocky bars and the Swinging Sixties. Wears its retro stylings very much on its sleeve, and is also interspersed with short spoken-word pieces in which the narrator describes what various colours mean to her and enumerates her favourite things. Most of the music is somewhere in Mid-State Orange territory. Possibly too clever for its own good.
- Chicks on Speed, The Rereleases of the Unreleases -- A collection of tracks from Chicks on Speed combines laptop electronics, punk sensibilities and ironic detachment. Has some good moments (the ironic house track Glamour Girl, and their cover of The Normal's Warm Leatherette) and a lot of filler, including many <1-minute filler tracks. Annoyingly, though, the liner notes are printed inside the packaging, which means that the only way to read them is to tear it apart. Which was probably some sort of artistic statement.
- Manitoba, Up In Flames -- this has been growing on me. Think My Bloody Valentine meets Múm. Understated, reverb-drenched vocals, glitchy beats and layers of environmental sounds, processed guitars, tinkling music-box sounds and odd instrumentals. I'll probably get Start Breaking My Heart, their (more electronic-sounding) first album, soon.
Music heard today:
- Cartwheel, Yellow Keys - a recent 7" release by an Australian act. An electric guitar phrase looped over a fast drum machine and synth bass; slightly reminiscent of acts like Foil and some of Ollie Olsen's projects before he got into drugmusic, only crossed with an indie-pop aesthetic; one could file this alongside Stereolab or Minimum Chips.
- Clag, Goldfish. From a 7" by this Brisbane indie-pop band, from sometime in the 90s. Look look look in the goldfish bowl there are purple fish and green fish and pleasant fish and mean fish. The bowl will be rocking and the fish will be dancing, at the little girly fish the boys will be glancing. Quite possibly the most twee thing ever committed to vinyl, but it works. I'm still not sure about the gargling solo though.
- Piano Magic, Low Birth Weight. I'm really going to have to get this; it's quite good, in a somewhat muted shoegazer/postrock vein.
I also managed to hear a preview of the upcoming I Want A Hovercraft EP, and it sounds quite promising, with some very nice post-rock instrumental moments.
The Graun looks at why everyone from anarcho-feral bootleg/mashup collectives to apolitical dance-music producers is sampling George W. Bush:
He added: "He speaks at the perfect speed for drum'n'bass - about 181 beats per minute. In the past I've had nightmares getting various singers to fit with the beats, but everything he [Bush] said was on the beat."
But this sampling can have unintended consequences, as electroclash producer DJ Ali Falsafi, aka Foundation, discovered after sampling Bush saying"I believe in punishment". He used the soundbite because he thought "it sounded like every authoritarian figure you've ever encountered", but the record immediately become a favourite at fetish nights Kash Point and Nagnagnag in London and Hellfire in Sydney.
Add to the list of famous people's blogs: laptop electronica artist Cex. It's rather sporadic (and not really a blog, more like a personal journal), and suffers from the particularly annoying defect of requiring you to either resize your browser to the width of the screen (don't try it on anything less than 1024x768, kids), or else keep scrolling back and forth.
I've been unusually disciplined so far this year, with regards to CD buying. I'm trying to keep my habit under some measure of control (for reasons which will become apparent later), and not to grow my collection too rapidly. So far, the total number of CDs I have has only increased by two.
Over the past two weeks I picked up Flunk's For Sleepyheads Only, an OK piece of chill-out electronica from Norway. It hasn't really grabbed me; the version of Blue Monday there, incidentally, is a bit irritating IMHO. (Aside: why is it that every cover of that song ends up sounding disappointing; we had Orgy's whiny mall-goth take on it, Pee Wee Ferris' cheesy commercial-dance cover (don't ask), and Flunk's, while not dire in the way that they were, is still disappointing.)
Last night, I picked up local spoken-word artist Klare Lanson's Every Third Breath; which is mostly ambiguous cyberbabble over glitchy, vaguely Björkish electronic beats and bleeps (proviced by Cornel Wilczek, aka Qua), replete with lyrics written in cod-XML. It's technically quite good, though whether it'll have lasting appeal remains to be determined.
Today I went to Dixon's Recycled and picked up three more CDs, though sold three which I wasn't likely to listen to anymore. One of my new acquisitions were plunderphonic art piece Deconstructing Beck (on a classy unprinted CD that just screams "copyright violation"). Another was an equally (if not more) choice find; one of the Least Essential Albums Of The '90s. That's right, dear readers; I'm now the proud (but only in an ironic sense) owner of The Adventures Of MC Skat Kat & The Stray Mob. It'll sit proudly in the bulldada section of my record collection, next to Acid Brass, my Wesley Willis CDs and Spaced Out: The Very Best of Nimoy/Shatner.
Tonight I went up to Good Morning Captain to see Qua, a local electropop act. It turned out that Qua is one guy with an iBook and that he was doing more of a DJ set sort of thing, playing and mixing tracks from his album and unreleased works. Nonetheless, it was quite good; in places like some of the German/Austrian laptop music you find at Synæsthesia, though not as sterile as some. He played a new track of his, which featured acoustic guitars and a vocal from Jason Sweeney (of Other People's Children, Simpático et al.), which sounded like the laptop equivalent of Northern Picture Library or something. (Given Sweeney's Bobby Wrattenesque delivery and Field Mice fandom, that's hardly surprising.)
There were a number of people from the local indie electro-pop scene; I ran into Cailan from PBXO, and ended up talking with him about the cultural significance of Slowdive. And thus I found out that Other People's Children may be releasing their own Slowdive cover (I think they're doing Catch The Breeze or somesuch.
Anyway, Qua is playing on Thursday at the Rob Roy, I believe. If I'm not dead tired, I may well rock up.
Tonight I went down to the Empress Hotel, to see Letraset, Sister Cities and Jeremy Dower. It was quite a good night, in an electro-pop/ambient sort of way (and connected, promisingly enough, to the Chapter Music label). When I got there, the room was quite full, with people sitting on the floor. Letraset were doing their set with a bunch of modular synths, a Casio keyboard (run through one of them), an old Yamaha organ (also seen in Minimum Chips sets) and a trombone, and played much the same sort of music as on their Snowy Room CD.
Next up were Sister Cities, who were very good. They started with some ambient noodling on an iBook (apparently mostly applying effects/mixing in ProTools), and then went on to play some quite pretty pop with toy keyboards, jangly guitar chords and ba-ba-ba vocals. Apparently they're recording now, and I look forward to their CD when it does come out.
Finally, Jeremy Dower went on, playing some synths and a mixing deck, launching his CD "Music For Retirement Villages circa 2050". It was much as the title sounded like; glitchy easy-listening ambience with fragments of recorded birdsong and the occasional slightly familiar-sounding riff. Needless to say, I picked up the CD.
It's interesting to see the convergence of electronica and garage/indie pop, with computer music software and cheap synths lowering the entry barrier, and electronics having lost the stigma of MOR overproduction that led the yoof into the arms of three-chord grunge. It's about time someone took electronic music away from the twin realms of pill-popping, mindlessly muscular dance music and more-obtuse-than-thou experimentalism, defetishised it and reclaimed it as an equally organic approach to making music. Not that that's a new idea, mind you.
Ooh, Moby has a new album out. He's on the cover of today's issue of InPress, posing in a spacesuit, captioned with "I am a space alien". No you're not; you're a boring geezer who makes bland pinkboy techno.
(I did buy a copy of Play when it came out, though it was one of the CDs liquidated in my most recent CD recycling sweep, and is now probably in a secondhand CD shop. I listened to it about twice.)
This last microtrend -- effectively a re-revival -- highlights one of the ironies of the 80's resurgence, for the 80's were the first era in pop in which recycling and retrospection became rife. There were vogues for ska, rockabilly, psychedelia and other musical antecedents. "With 1980's retro, we have reached the point of second-order recycling," said Andrew Ross, a cultural critic who is the director of the American studies program at New York University. "It's the equivalent, God forbid, of double quotation marks."
Modern digital technology is so sophisticated that producers make electronic music that sounds almost as if it were played by a live band, full of subtle rhythmic irregularities that create a humanlike feel and jazzy swing. But just as punk rockers embraced a raw, elemental music, rejecting the overproduced sound of 70's rock, today's electro groups use old-fashioned synthesizers and drum machines. They prefer cold tones and stiff beats because they evoke a period when electronic music seemed alien and forbiddingly novel. They are making machine-music and proud of it.
For many clubgoers, the 80's were a time when rock and dance music were in lively conversation with each other. Club music then was full of punky attitude and personality, a stark contrast to the functional music and faceless D.J.'s who dominate today's post-rave dance culture.
(There we have it; New Wave's Big Comeback.) (ta, Toby!)