Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gavin Bryars' "Sinking of the Titanic" (1969)

"Sinking of the Titanic" was Gavin Bryars' first major piece and it remains one of his best, a rarely performed, beautiful and original minimalist multi-media piece for orchestra. The germ of the composition comes from the story that the band on the Titanic went down with the ship playing the Episcopal hymn "Autumn." With this piece, that hymn is performed by the strings and echoed gorgeously and hauntingly in drifting waves throughout the rest of the orchestra. The piece evolves slowly, taking us quietly down with the ship to the ocean floor and then, many years later bringing the ship back up again as it is discovered and explored. Woodblocks ping out sonar beams, a bass clarinet weaves a warm and whirling journey beneath the waves, a crackling recording of an old woman recalling the evacuation of the ship swims up out of crumbling static now and again. The piece ends serenely beneath the ocean, winding through the halls of the decaying ship, faint, melancholy reminiscences of when it was full of life and music whispering beneath a thrumming pulse and snarled static. The hymn remains thematically present throughout, reemerging in full near the end through a glowing pulse of sound. Wonderfully evocative, this recording is gorgeously forlorn and haunting. Not positive which orchestra is performing here but they do a fantastic job in any case. The link is for the full performance, 1:12:35 in length.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Top 10 of 2010 #5-1

5. Grasslung - Sincere Void (Root Strata)

On his first real CD release, Jonas Asher aka Grasslung has created a real stunner, a fantastic drone album that strikes a perfect balance between a pure soundscape and something more organic and tangible. "Roland Park Noose" washes over the listener in graceful waves of noise with a gritty static pulsating throughout, almost rhythmic. "Tired of Remembering" is beautiful and nostalgic, two plaintive piano chords beneath creaking static, like a record player left on as the side plays out in an abandoned house. "Scarred Hands We Drift" is the breathtaking opener, a lush dronescape of delayed notes that creates an almost choral effect over a pulsing sea of warm sound and a high end reverberation like a siren lost in the mist. Each track is its own mini-masterpiece; taken as a whole they form a spectacular, cohesive package.


4. Yellow Swans - Going Places (Type)

Yellow Swans are no more. One of the most exciting duos in noise music has left the scene but Going Places, their final offering, is perhaps their best yet, a searing kosmiche masterpiece, propulsive, haunting, unhinged yet far more constrained and considered than much of their ultra-abrasive earlier work. There's still a hell of a lot of squalling static and glowering, brutal noise to be sure though. Going Places is immensely cacophonous and the louder you listen to it (through the best stereo headphone you can find) the more powerful it becomes. This is the kind of noise album that truly envelopes you, that overwhelms and buries and pummels. But somehow Yellow Swans have made Going Places something wondrous and beautiful as well. Going Places is an apt title: it sounds like the soundtrack to some great cosmic journey and is the perfect end to a long and admirable career.


3. Eluvium - Static Nocturne (Watership Sounds)

In early 2010, ambient maestro Matthew Cooper aka Eluvium released his latest album, Similes. For the first time, Cooper sang on several tracks and added in percussive elements, making his first real "songs." Cooper's voice was dry and laconic, drawing not completely unwarranted aesthetic comparisons to Ian Curtis. But the best parts of that album were the soundscapes over which Cooper sang and while the addition of vocals was interesting and Similes still ended up being a pretty great album it ultimately didn't completely succeed. Enter Static Nocturne several months later, a single 50-minute long track self released by Cooper in an edition of 200 copies on CD in handmade and hand numbered cases. The album long track is stunning, some of the best work Cooper has ever done under any moniker. Cooper created Static Nocturne as an homage to white noise and static - the kind from the world of music as well as the natural world - and it shows. Static Nocturne is transporting, a wonderful, undulating, glowingly calm ocean of sound. Deep, glorious dronescapes shift and roll as the piece moves through its stages. Organs and pianos appear from grainy static fragments, field recordings blear almost to the point and often beyond of recognition, white noise washes - at time thunderously at others with the utmost serenity - over the listener. There's never a dull moment and in the rare moments when Static Nocturne hovers on that line it adds something new or veers off - albeit with sublime composure - in a different direction to recapture the attention of the listener. A truly wonderful album to fall asleep to - and I mean that in the best possible way - Static Nocturne also rewards careful, concentrated listening. So much is going on beneath the crackling, thrumming surface. Cooper has outdone himself here, making one of the finest pieces of ambient music this year.

Buy (hard copies sold out, digital still available)

2. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - Love is a Stream (Type)

For the first time with his monumental Love is a Stream, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma makes a full foray into the world of blissed-out shoegaze - something he only hinted at at times before - leaving the haunting, glacial drone of his earlier work aside almost entirely. This is gorgeous, elating music, a torrent of immense, blissful noise, textures blown out with dreamy haze, shimmering walls of sound with buried harmonies humming beneath. It's often summery and hopeful but also incredibly loud and dense, chaotic and harsh, in some ways akin to both My Bloody Valentine and Tim Hecker's "Harmony in Ultraviolet" (fans of both will be very happy with what they hear in any case) but more abstracted, a stunning sort of synthesis of the two which manages to make these references while maintaining a distinctly original sound. There's still a hell of a lot of grit and mountains of harsh white noise static, and droning guitars and synthesizers and washed out, buried vocals all of which come together to make this something all its own. Somehow Cantu-Ledesma managed to do all this and still fill the album with what can almost be described as pop hooks albeit ones nearly lost altogether in the noise. There's melodies here for sure even if it does take a whole lot of digging beneath the gauze of glowing sound to find them. Hugely listenable yet layered and complex, this is a unique, amazing piece of music and the best yet from one of the most exciting artists around.


1. Daniel Bjarnason - Processions (Bedroom Community)

Processions is the debut release of Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason and it is without a doubt one of the finest entries in the modern classical genre in some time. Although not dissimilar to his contemporaries - names like Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, and Johann Johannsson come to mind - Bjarnason eschews the glitchy electronics and computerized flourishes of the latter two and pursues grander, more ambitious compositions than all three. Processions is a wonder, a consistently startling pleasure. Comprised of two three-movement pieces and a stand alone piece, Processions careens and gallops, tugs at the heart and causes it to race, utilizing a full orchestra to beautiful, jarring, and often surprising effect. The first piece opens with a thrilling crescendo of buzzsawing violins, kerthunking pizzicato and crumpling percussion before settling into a quiet serenity. The third movement is a mournful affair, a lone violin weaving a melancholy path over other murmuring strings before flickering into silence. The second piece is far more epic than the first, with spiraling, ferocious piano, a full brass section which blasts and glowers mightily, booming percussion, and monumental crescendos and builds. Still, Bjarnason never lets his compositions become too grandiose or cinematic. There's a remarkable sense of restraint even while Bjarnason takes us to the very edge of the precipice. Processions closes quietly, with a stand along piece for harp ushering us out, allowing us to contemplate the sublime sonic journey we just took. An absolutely essential album and one I happily call Best of 2010.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Top 10 of 2010 #10-6

Finally after a series of epic delays, here is part 1 of Hollow Press' Best Albums of 2010. Part 2 to follow (hopefully) shortly

10. The North Sea - Bloodlines (Type)

The North Sea has long been Brad Rose's best project in my opinion. For the past few years Rose has moved past the neo-folkisms of his earlier work and began to explore much darker, much noisier corners. Bloodlines is his best work yet: a giant, menacing, pitch black masterwork, all crumbling cities and factories gone manic, decaying and blazing out of control. Brutally dark, the album is really two long tracks broken up into three movements each. Each track is a seething, ferocious mess of noise and decay, static, smoke, wheezing last breaths. Drumming by the ever-brilliant Mike Weis of Zelienople helps propel these full side pieces into terrifying new places, his drums wooshing like demonic gasps and clattering like mutilated church bells. Listen to this album, just not before you go to bed lest the blackest of nightmares haunt your sleep.


9. ALTAR EAGLE - Mechanical Gardens (Type)

Brad Rose shows up again this time with his wife Eden Rose. The two haved created the years finest pop album, a shimmering, exuberant electro-pop wonder run through a sonic meat grinder. Slabs of static and white noise just barely contain exuberant, out-there pop music with honest to goodness hooks and everything. Totally unexpected and completely wonderful.


8. En - The Absent Coast (Root Strata)

En is the new duo of Maxwell Croy and James Devane and The Absent Coast is their first album, an extremely lovely and melancholy drone record. Dense and immensely lush, the duo uses, among an army of other instruments, a bowed koto to produce shimmering soundscapes. The Absent Coast swells almost to the point of overflowing, a vast, drifting sea of sound.


7. Erik K Skodvin - Flare (Miasmah)

Erik K. Skodvin the man behind Svarte Greiner and is one half of the mysterious duo Deaf Center but here for the first time he releases a record under his own name. The change makes a lot of sense since this is quite a new direction for Skodvin. Whereas Penpals Forever (and Ever), the fantastic vinyl release on Digitalis earlier this year under the Svarte Greiner moniker was unrelentingly dark, an absolute must for the dark minimalism fan, Flare is wistful, melancholic, perhaps even more classical-tinged. Guitars quietly smolder, metalic scrapes echo from some distant place, static crackles from forgotten phonographs, creaking pianos whisper in dusty attics, strange vocals call out from the mist, violins and cellos wail and moan evoking some barren wasteland. Although much of the darkness and menace is retained from Skodvin's Svarte Greiner recordings, this is perhaps his most developed, nuanced, and rewarding release yet.


6. Xela - The Sublime (Digitalis Limited)

The final installment in the Digitalis Limited cassette trilogy, The Sublime is possible the darkest, most arcane, and most accomplished piece John Twells has graced us with yet. Ghostly choirs call from deep beneath a sea of crumbling, quietly pulsing noise that somehow both glows and engulf the listener in haunted darkness across two expansive tracks. The Sublime is the soundtrack to excavating ancient crypts and cathedrals long buried and unseen for a thousand years. An enveloping, graceful, and gorgeously hauting pair of synthesizer masterpieces from one of the genre's finest, this is long sold out on tape but will be getting the vinyl treatment courtesy of Dekoder as with the previous two installments, The Illuminated and The Divine.

Buy (vinyl not yet for sale, check back soon)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Best of 2010, non-albums, reissues &c.

OK, I've finally found a moment to sit down and start to put this together. Yes 2011 is already almost 1/12 over but 2010 still deserves some recognition as a year with some amazing music. I'm going to attempt to post my list here as three seperate posts to make it more digestible. First up will be honorable mention-y kinda stuff: reissues, non-albums, small format things and the like. Then I'll due a Top 10 (10-6 and 5-1 or something like that). So here goes. I'll be posting this incomplete and updating it over the next couple days as well.

Non-Albums and Reissues

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Paul Clipson - Within Mirrors DVD
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Paul Clipson have been putting out collaborative releases for some time now but until this gorgeously packaged DVD release they were all but impossible to come by. The mighty Root Strata label run by Ledesma put out each of these DVD-rs in an edition of 100 copies and needless to say they sold out within a day or two every time. Now for the first time all those previous audio/video collaborations from two of San Francisco's finest have been collected with a bunch of new collaborations, remastered, put on a real DVD, and stuck in a awesome sleeve-envelope thing. Clipson's vibrant, avant-garde super-8 collages are gorgeously abstract yet deeply embedded in the modern world, one of radio towers and train depots, chain link fences and electrical wires. Ledesma's music is often wonderfully spare, masterfully restrained and impressively immersive for its minimalism. At other times its all guazy, nearer to shoegaze than pure ambiance. It's always gorgeous, almost hypnotic in any case. Check out a couple short samples below to get a feel for this amazing package.

CONSTELLATIONS (2006) excerpt from Paul Clipson on Vimeo.

TWO SUNS (2005) excerpt from Paul Clipson on Vimeo.


Ajilvsga - Origins of the Chaul 4xCS

Brad Rose is a mighty prolific dude. One of his best projects, in my mind, is Ajilvsga, his duo with Nathan Young. The two create intensely noisy oscillator and guitar murk, pitch black cacophonies. Origins of the Chaul collect 4 cassettes worth of previously unreleased material and puts them in a large vinyl case. Only 32 copies were made (originally it was 22 but 10 extra copies were released shortly after the initial run sold out). The 9 songs collected here, none of which fall below a 12-minute run time, could be the soundtrack to some epic surrealist Western, a vicious, sprawling take on Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian perhaps. Savage and abbrasive, this is possibly my favorite release yet from Ajilvsga.

Preview (download part 1)
Origins of the Chaul is long sold out but you can buy some other great stuff from Ajilvsga here

Thomas Koner - Nunatak/Teimo/Permafrost Reissues
German minimalist sound-sculptor Thomas Köner originally released his Nunatak/Teimo/Permafrost triptych as three seperate albums between 1990 and 1993 but always intended them to form a trilogy of sorts. Thanks to three seperate LPs and a 3xCD boxset released by Type this year, they can now be heard as they were meant to. Remastered to perfection, these three albums exemplify the notion that minimalism is anything but boring. Each offers a unqiue and immensely deep listening experience. Perhaps best summed up as a brilliant exploration of dark ambiance, I find this music hard to write about so I'll let it speak for itself. Streaming of all three albums below.

Thomas Köner - Teimo by _type

Thomas Köner - Permafrost by _type


Jasper TX - A Voice from Dead Radio 2xCD
Jasper TX is Swedish ambient maestro Dag Rosenqvist and A Voice from Dead Radio is a collection of three previous small-format and long out-of-print releases by Rosenqvist. But this is no simple reissue. A second disc is also included, this one featuring remixes and covers of each of the tracks compiled on disc one plus something new stitched together by Seaworthy. The quality of these reexaminations of Rosenqvist's work is pretty staggering. Zelienople's 17-minute cover of Harrisburg pt. 2 is dark and brooding, the menacing buzz of processed guitars lurking over skittering live percussion. Peter Broderick turns A Beacon to Lead Us There into a kind of folk song recorded to deteriorating tape, his soft vocals and acoustic guitar playing over a distant sea of static and far-off sound. Xela turns A into something almost dance-y, a near throw back to his early days of IDM. A scuzzy, propulsive drum machine thumps beneath shimmering high-end waves of white noise. There are ten covers/remixes in all featuring other artists such as Jefre-Cantu Ledesma, Pillowdriver, and Simon Scott each remaking their chosen song in really exciting ways. A Voice from Dead Radio is long out of print, only 300 copies being made.
Disc 1: the original pieces
Disc 2: The remixes and covers

Catherine Christer Hennix - The Electric Harpsichord
From Boomkat: Although her music is largely unknown - even among the experimental music community - those who've been exposed to Hennix's work tend to rank her among the elite of American minimalist composers of the twentieth century.  The Electric Harpsichord (recorded in 1976) is talked about with the highest reverence by the avant-garde's cognoscenti, with Glenn Branca describing it as "a pure perfect piece of music" and "a work of transcendent power"...or all its droning stability on a 'macro' level, The Electric Harpsichord's continually recombining layers ensure it remains ceaselessly shifting in 'micro' terms.  Significantly, none of this gets out of hand and you can still make out the individual pitches ebbing and flowing within the sound mass.  Paying close attention reveals some incredible oceanic movements within the sound waves, and repeat listens reap considerable rewards.  This recording lasts twenty-five minutes, though in the strictest terms it should be considered as only a fragment of what the composition represents; in conceptual terms The Electric Harpsichord would be an endless, perpetual entity. "
Sadly this is long out of stock but this incredible piece of music can be downloaded below.
Small Format
coming soon

Favorite New Artist
Motion Sickness of Time Travel 

To call Rachel Evan's Motion Sickness of Time Travel solo project new isn't exactly fair. The Georgia-based musician has been putting out music for a few years now. But 2010 was the first year the project came to my attention and I know the same is true for many others. Previously Evan's mostly released her music on cassettes in editions of occasionally under 10 copies. In 2010, Evans sent off a demo to Brad Rose of Digitalis records, one he would later call something along the lines of "one of the best demos I've ever recieved." One listen and it's not surprising why. Called Seeping Through the Veil of Unconscious, Rose put the demo out on Digitalis Limited, still on a cassette and still in a criminally small run of 75 copies or so. But the album quickly garnered more critical acclaim and internet buzz than previous MSoTT releases. The recognition is long overdue. Imagine if Grouper traded in her murky guitars and hazy keyboard for a small army of synthesizers and a spare drum machine or two and you might start to get a feel for MSoTT and especially STtVoU. As this was my first introduction to Evans' music and as 2010 really seemed to be the first year Evan's put out a number of more widely available and acclaimed releases, I think New Artist is a fair title and Favorite New Artist completely deserved. Haunting, gorgeous, totally unique, MSoTT should be on everyone's radar. It's especially cool to see that STtVoU and another album of all new material will be getting the vinyl treatment on Digitalis later this year.
Buy vinyl! 
Download Seeping Through the Veil of Unconscious
Motion Sickness of Time Travel blog/website 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

best of 2010

So I just returned from two weeks abroad and will shortly be off for two more weeks galavanting somewhere or other. Hence the lack of recent updates. But that is about to change. Starting soon (today perhaps. But soon in any case.) I will be posting my Best of 2010 list. First it'll be Honorable Mentions and things that aren't albums (3" cd-rs, music dvds, and cassette boxsets for example) and then I'll be posting my favorite albums (either top 20, 15, or 10, haven't yet decided). Anyway I'll be including links to most of them - the top 10 for sure at least, and I'll point you in the right direction to buy them because each and every one of them will be worth far more than they cost, guarenteed.

Cool! Lots of good stuff to share soon on top of that including an amazing recording of Gavin Bryars' "Sinking of the Titanic." Check back soon.