Tuesday, December 29, 2020

the year that never was


My favorite piece of music from 2020 -  released this year (on room40), but actually recorded in 1978. I wrote about it here, where it places #90 in Pitchfork's annual tally of tracks of the year. (The whole Echos + album by Beatriz Ferreyra is excellent).

My favorite piece actually recorded in 2020 (or thereabouts) was this: 

The "flipside" by Green Gartside is also excellent. (And if you've not heard the original "Tangled Man"...)  My thoughts from earlier in the year. 

What else? It was a strange year, to put it mildly, and perhaps unsurprisingly a meagre yield - even more so (less so?) than 2019. 

these also served:

Lo Five - TONIC + The Art of Living  

Bergsonist, "La Rave

The Avalanches - We Will Always Love You

Playboi Carti - Whole Lotta Red

Moon Wiring ClubThe Most Unusual Cat in the Village  (check out also the accompanying MWC mix Most Unusual Hour, hosted by WFMU)


from another time:

Foul Play - Origins

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Christmas bloggage treats

 Unexpected after-Xmas treats from blogger-authors!

Blogger-author Matthew Ingram a.k.a. Woebot reappears with an extensive, rich, attractively illustrated post about recordings that relate to the spiritual concerns of his 2020 book Retreat:  How the Counterculture Invented Wellness. Many surprising inclusions (e.g. Wire's Pink Flag as Zen Album).

Blogger-author Phil Knight returns, after a long silence, with The Interregnum Navigation Bureau, a new blog. It's a space for exploring Phil's declinist view of history and assessing the epistemic / epistemological traumas of this Age of Disintegration - "the stresses and strains that are presently distorting and corroding what was until fairly recently a broad consensus of reality" - the endeavor no doubt feeding into his current work-in-progress. (Or should that be work-in-regress?)

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Hauntology Parish Mōdraniht Newsletter : The Most Unusual Cat in the Village

 New Moon Wiring Club matter ahoy!

A bumper package, this season - not just an LP, but a vinyl 7-inch single too... and a hardback book, and a calendar! 

The LP is one of Ian Hodgson's best for a while -  while I enjoyed the beat-oriented short 'n' sweet bite-size focus of the recent runny of release, I do ultimately favor the foggy marshland vibe. The Most Unusual Cat In the Village is nicely portioned out as four long tracks all in the 10-minute range, enabling you to sink into a mood. But it's not completely wraithscape ambience - there are beats, but their gait is peculiar and halting. Insistent but frustrated, like feet trying to make headway through soggy ground. 

The book-of-the-album is gorgeous to fondle and peruse. Hardback but without a dust jacket, the cover images printed directly onto the cardboard, like a twilight-zone version of a school textbook... inside it's full-colour illustrated on every page... the effect hovering somewhere between a book of images with large captions and a comic book story without panels or speech bubbles. 


I quizzed Ian H about the sound procedures and narrative thematics involved this time around:

"The main ‘beat’ idea was to start off with something minimal, and see how much you could stretch out of it. So rather than multiprogramming 38 different snare patterns, it was taking something like a 1960s easy listening LP sample (of about 4 seconds) and seeing if you could loop that for ages, applying different filters and effects (hellooooo reverbbbbbbbbb) without it being just an experiment. (Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting in a Room is the main inspiration here ~ I don’t listen to it often, but I think about it all the time). 

"I did a few (loads) of these extended loops (beats / melody / vocal / environmental / etc) and then overlaid the different parts in various combinations.... 'Spiritwave Communication' was the beat loop I liked the best ~ I see it as a solid flan-base you can keep adding ingredients to. The more jelly / fruit / cream dolloped on, the more the base beings to sag, but the more tasty it sonically becomes. It collapses almost completely at some points, then re-solidifies at the end. 

"The 4 x 10 minute LP format was a good way of structuring the music ~ long enough to allow everything room to breathe (whilst being different to the more standard 10-14 tunes you can fit onto a 40 minute LP) but short enough to prevent things from degenerating into slog-fest tedium.... 

"Thematically, I’ve had an idea for many years of an ARGO-style LP cover where a pop-folk singer was also a vampire. It was (for me) a really strong visual that never went away, but I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it, or how the music would sound.... Roll on January 2020... a medieval plague appeared....  Being a pedestrian in lockdown meant there was no public transport, and where I live it takes about 20 minutes by foot to get to somewhere interesting. So on my daily 2020 walks of up to three hours I couldn’t ever quite escape the distinctly claustrophobic feeling of being permanently walled-in. After a while it began to feel like a mundane horror-film, a bit like the 70s Amicus ‘present-day’ Portmanteaus where daft things happen to slumming character actors. 

"Vampires traditionally appear during plague years so after a while it became clear 2020 was unquestionably the purrrfect time for that long-contemplated MWC 'Vampire Folk Singer on the Cover’ LP. If you had to sum the LP up quickly I’d say ‘Attempted Escape from Claustrophobic Village’ would do the trick. 

"I also quite like the slightly ‘trashy’ horror aspect ~ it stops things getting overly antiseptic and neatly formatted. I was pleased with how the cover turned out ~ it’s pretty much exactly the image that was in my head all these years. Like something safe had gone wrong. Which, you could argue, for a lot of people might sum up 2020. 

"There was so much stuff going around and clogging up my mind, that I thought you could even write a novel about it. 

"Generally speaking, you could either do something creative this year that offered a means of escape, or reflected in someway what was going on around you. The conclusion I personally came to, was as there was no means of escape, creating something that actually reflected this ~ 'escape from claustrophobic village' ~ was the only fulfilling course of action." 

"The Jass of Thun ‘festive single’ seemed like a good companion piece. The idea presented itself when I was experimenting with reverse bell loop sound that accidentally sounded like sleigh-bells, and it all snowballed (ho ho ho) from there." 


Visit the gift shop at the new Moon Wiring Club website and pick up these choice items. 

Release rationale #1a

The Most Unusual Cat in the Village (GEpH014LP) features 4 long-form compositions that elongate beat-loopery into a fragmented-demented dreame-language, coax easy-listening ultra-paste possessed possession collages into hallucinatory dreamscape wanderings, fuse phantom-light exotic artistic endeavours into a beyond the grave reverie and Collapse sunken-dreame-ship winebar musicke into a multi-temporal reality incantation escape wave-loop ritual. 

Release rationale #1b

This delightful matt laminated A5 Hardbound book features 92 pages of full colour 200gsm MWC photo-collage-illustration with an unusual, dreamlike narrative-wandering text that could quite possibly eerily echo the claustrophobic implausibility of 1596 / 1898 / 2020.

Release rationale #2

JASS OF THUN is a jaunty-step classic MWC ritualistic concoction that deftly conjures alpine-deity seasonal activities with a spicy abundance of irresistibly-curdled melodic offerings and off-piste aural manifestations! AWARD THYSELF and (possible) future generations this FESTIVE TREAT / FESTERING THREAT

Release rationale #3

Professionally manufactured and ring-bound, this full colour A3 170gsm silk calendar will provide a hypnotic, unearthly focal-point for blank space reinvigoration and illuminate even the most subdued Billiard Room support-wall / executive crypt.

Friday, December 11, 2020

rebel waltz for the end of time

Well, it's a been a strange week of writing and a strange week of listening: Harold Budd and The Clash. Specifically, Sandinista! which is 40 years old roundabout now.  Here's my piece for Tidal on the Clash's fan-perplexing triple - which must be their least-listened record (well, apart from Cut the Crappy) but which makes for a surprisingly listenable listen for streaming-era ears. 

Talking about not listening to things, I once included Sandinista! in a fun little piece I did for Spin in  1991-  a list of Most Underrated Albums of All Time. However I'm not honestly sure I'd heard the album, or at least all of it. I was probably going by my affection for "The Call Up" and "The Magnificent Seven" and having heard other bits round someone's house. It's not a record that can be listened to in a single sitting, especially in those days of vinyl - all that getting up and removing another disc from the sleeve, or flipping over the platter. 

However, having listened to it multiple times for this piece, I concluded that I was right all along and it is underrated - found many things I liked and that seemed interestingly un-Clash-like (the worst stuff is the default Clash-mode tunes, especially the "Stay Free"-like Mick Jones numbers). When it is dire, it is oh so dire. But on balance, I'd rather listen to it - all six sides of it - than London Calling, a record I've never clicked with, despite loving "Lost in the Supermarket" and finding the title track to be compelling in its somewhat histrionic overwrought way (it's a very original sounding single, isn't it - can't think of anything else that has like that stiff, martial, slashing gait). But all the other stuff on Calling bound up with  rock 'n 'roll history, the Clash embracing America... songs about Montgomery Clift.... - do me a favor. For all its flawed sprawl, Sandinista! is a much more forward-facing and outward-looking album. 

My favorite track on it provides an unlikely point of contiguity with the late Harold 

"Rebel Waltz' also reminds me - not just because of the title, but the spidery feel of the music - of this instrumental by The Band that closes out The Last Waltz. But where the Band tune is an abomination of twee and dinky fit to get you puking, "Rebel Waltz" is eerie and poignant. 

Sprawl boiled to best bits 


I described this as "a panoramic lament for boy soldiers all across the world heading off to an early grave" -  actually that's more appropriate to "Straight To Hell", in this case "a lament for boy soldiers all across history who headed off to an early grave" would be more accurate (Strummer sings "All the young people down the ages /They gladly marched off to die")

Apparently Mr. Dread felt he should have been given a producer's credit for his contributions - for a period, the fifth member of the Clash effectively. 


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Harold Budd RIP

 Here's my NPR tribute to the wondrous and wise music of Harold Budd.

Who lived in South Pasadena and who I ran into on the street briefly a few years ago when I was out walking with Geeta Dayal (who knows everybody). By all accounts, he was as lovely a person as his music.

(See bottom of post for choice quotes by Budd and about Budd)


I reviewed the Cocteaus collab The Moon and the Melodies in  '86 - I'm not sure I had a very clear idea who Harold Budd was then.  The LP was the spur for some very flowery imagery. Maybe I'll dig it out later if it's not too embarrassing.... 

Cheeky Harold put out the same piece twice under different names, in the same year. You can see why though, what a beauty. 

Another Moon + Melodies lovely.

Cocteau Twins "Eyes Are Mosaic ft. Harold Budd", as if this was a modern rap'n'B record! YouTube is pretty darn lax as an archive - of course it should be credited to Harold Budd. Elizabeth Fraser. Robin Guthrie. Simon Raymonde. 


His music lends itself to the infinitely extended remix 

Facts I wish I had known so that I could have included in the piece

That he taught himself to play the piano in his late thirties, in order to be able the music he wished to compose. 

Things Harold said

"Being immediately pretty is the most important component."

"I really like to find as much life as possible in the smallest amount of material. A very simple scale, a relationship of note against note, especially a sustained note; I milk everything for all it's worth."

"One of the things was I got profoundly upset and bored to death with the avant-garde music that was being practiced around the world—the Western world—at that time. It seemed self-congratulatory, and for a small cadre of snobs, and I refused to go on with it."

"I really minimalised myself out of a career"

 I cannot play the piano. I can play what I play, I can play me, but I have a dyslexia when reading music. I’m not a professional musician. I hack away at it and the piano is convenient. By no means would a proper pianist consider me one.”

"I slipped back into discovering something that no-one else was doing, or was likely to do in the very near future. I divorced myself from modern music in a sense, and began to develop a language which I thought was honest to God me, and totally outside of competition with my fellow composers.”

"I admire painters very much and I secretly wish that I were doing that"

"“Brilliant blasts of colour that simply engulfed you” - on Mark Rothko, Ellesworth Kelly, and other painters he admired. 

"It's curious about The Plateaux of Mirror. It came so quickly and so easily that it was kind of a phantom"

"This whole 'new age' business is very distasteful to me. I don't like being even considered in that “category and I have almost no respect for it at all... It's very lightweight and very bothersome to me. .. I don't think it has anything to do with the actual truth about the meaning of the music”

"That one frosted my balls so much. I was just enraged every time I’d walk into a Tower Records or Virgin Megastore or something like that. There I was in the new age category and I just thought ‘Jesus Christ, how can I escape from these mindless bastards?"

"When I did the White Arcades album, I went to the studio with a list of titles and that's all."

 "I've never worked with musicians who know how to read music. So that's always swell for me,

"A mature artist ought to be able to make a good record from the contents of a cutlery drawer."

"The one collaboration that never occurred and never would occur would be David Sylvian, whose work I admire above all others. I just love everything he does. There is a really good reason, it’s because although one thing is good and another thing is good, putting them together doesn’t make it twice as good. In fact it could be a disaster, and I’ve never wanted that to happen."

Things people said about Harold 

"A great abstract painter trapped in the body of a musician" - Brian Eno.

"I would set up a sound, he would improvise to it, and occasionally I would add something: but it was mainly him performing in a sound-world I had created”  - Eno, on The Plateaux of Mirror.

“Harold Budd's intention was to make what he called "eternally pretty music", and his way of composing was to write a piece of music, then take out all the notes you didn't like! - Eno

"He was really down to earth, a ham 'n' eggs kind of guy" - Cocteau Twins, via David Toop.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

microtelevision / Libération

Recently I participated in a project called microtelevision pulled together by outernational audio imprint Artetetra, "an experiment in imaginal PSAs, digital folklore and non-narrative infotainment". Basically it's lots and lots of YouTube playlists of cool shit curated by oddball types, mostly musicians in the same online milieu that Artetetra moves within. 

My contribution is an immense (and still growing) playlist of experimental animation, visual music, and weird short films titled Dreams Built By Hand  - an offshoot of my blog dedicated to same, Dreams, Built By Hand

The Artetetra project is a finite entity, so for the permanent link to the playlist, go here, where you'll also find my introductory text. But do check out the other great stuff at microtelevision


Loosely linked to the French publication of Le Choc du Glam, here's a questionnaire for Libération magazine I did on my sonic habits and audio quirks. But you'll have to break out your Harraps French English dictionary to understand it.