The story behind this one is just charming as hell. Legendary sax demon Don Dietrich, aka 1/3 of Borbetomagus (one of the very best bands on the planet for several decades now) recorded this album of duos with his immensely talented daughter Camille on cello. Yep, a father/daughter duo record! Come on, that’s too great! And guess what: the kid is awesome, too. Her furious scrape matches the old man’s righteous honk every step of the way. Nice that both instruments are unprocessed on this recording, unlike the elder Dietrich’s amplified/distorted white-noise squall when he plays with Borbeto, which is such a unified-group-sound that it’s tough (and probably unnecessary) to make out individual contributions. Not so on “Dietrichs”, on which you can not only feel the unrelenting high-energy sound pinning you to the back of the room, but you can follow the nuance and gesture of each player. Noise fans will love it, jazz/improv fans will love it, anyone who thinks making a great record with your dad or kid is just an awesome thing to do with not be disappointed.
Ahoy, readers! Like darn near ev’ryone else, I like to end a music-filled year by reflecting on the sounds that came my way in previous the twelve months. But I can’t come up with a “best of” or a “top ten” list, because frankly those things are impossible. No way I can recall every album/label/artist whose work took temporary residence in my headphones, much less rank them in any sort of sensible order. So I’m not gonna do that. Instead, here are just a few albums that I enjoyed… not necessarily the best, certainly not in any order, far from complete, and they aren’t even all from 2018. Just things I’ve listened to that have stuck with me. Take this as a quick snapshot… or a friendly guide to some audio art that you might have missed.
Laurie Spiegel The Expanding Universe – Stone-cold brilliant computer music made in the 1970s, but which sounds futuristic even today. You can, if you like, pore over the detailed liner notes explaining exactly how onerous the process of composing this stuff (at Bell Labs, using punch cards and computers that took up entire temperature-controlled rooms) was… or, you can simply bathe in its buoyant, deleriously human minimalist mantras and feel grateful that this even exists.
Bob Bellerue Music of Liberation –Take that title seriously. Slabs of heaven-bound yowl that reach levels of such ecstatic stasis that it ought to include a warning to not listen while operating a vehicle. A varied, detailed, impeccably produced album of epic scale and black-hole-level gravitational oomph.
Nakayama Munetoshi Floating to Kill Time – I’m just going to quote how the artist describes this stuff: “I make background music for my hair salon using five synthesizers I’ve got set in the wall behind the cash register.” Huh?
Rudolf Eb.er Om Kult: Ritual Practice of Conscious Dying Vol. 1 – Anyone wanna look straight into the eye of their own mortality? Anyone think that sounds like a good time? In a way, that’s what Eb.er (aka Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock) has been doing all along; psychic training to overcome corporeal horror and intellectual roadblocks on a path toward… freedom? Enlightenment? Peace? I won’t pretend to fully understand this, but I don’t think I need to. I will say for damn sure that nothing else matches the experience of entering Eb.er’s personal sound world for an hour or so, and that his work gets better and better all the time.
Cardiacs Songs for Ships and Irons – Simply one of my favorite bands. This is a collection of early EPs and is as good an introduction to them as anything. The first two tunes, “Big Ship” and “Tarred and Feathered”, will either make you fall in love or else press the stop button as fast as you can. You’ll know pretty quickly which side you fall on.
Z’ev Solo Percussion, BOX @ Fastidious – Before his tragic and much-too-early death, legendary percussionist Z’ev was in the process of uploading previously unreleased live concert recordings from his archive, some dating all the way back to 1979.
Mike Shiflet Tetracosa – Unfathomably herculean album that lasts 24 hours, released in eight installments over the course of 2018. Not a single 24-hour piece (lazier artists have done that with an easy time-stretch, which is emphatically not what Shiflet has done here), but a series of compositions that together last for a full day. I know what you’re thinking, and no I haven’t listened to the entire damn thing. But I’ve dipped in for extended stays and at every location I’ve found compelling and lovely music.
Systematics What We Did In the Afternoons – Terrific collection of synth-post-punk strangeness from early 1980s Sydney, Australia. Demos and alternate takes of music you probably never got to hear the first time ’round.
Ikuro Takahashi Music of Them – Electronic tape noise and percussion by Takashashi, who was a member of Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Kousokuya, Fushitsusha, CHE-Shizu and lots more heavy bands from Tokyo’s PSF-orbit psych rock underground.
Fergus Kelly Trembling Embers – Tabletop strings and amplified doo-dads blend and blur with electric whatsis of unknown/unknowable origin. Pretty darn engaging audio drama.
va – Science Fiction Park Bundesrepublik – I’m a big fan of Germany’s early 80’s DIY synth-post-punk scene… but Felix Knoth (aka Felix Kubin) is an expert on an entirely different level. For this compilation, Knoth chose songs by the best of the ultra-obscure underground… bands like CH-BB, ZSKA, Plastiktanz, X2, Neros Tanzende Elektropapste, and others you’ve never heard of.
Gallery Six Pastoral Green – The title is kinda on the nose for this one, but it could be applied to any album by Hidekazu Imashige/Gallery Six. Sober, shimmering sleeping pills that ooze along in ambient fog. Lovely stuff to play in the background as you doze off on a weekend afternoon. Not dissimilar to Hakobune or Hirotaka Shirotsubaki.
Mikrotron is a fascinating label based in Vienna, run by omnivorous composer/improviser Kurt Liedwart. The label maintains two Bandcamp pages: one for digital-only albums and one that sells downloads of Mikrotron’s physical media. My understanding is that the latter will go away after December 31st, only a couple of weeks away as I type these words.
If you aren’t yet familiar with Mikrotron, start with the two “Sound Canvas” volumes. Both are well-curated compilations of sonic art from diverse practitioners of electronic music and its exponents. Artists include the label’s director Kurt Liedwart, as well as Sawako, Alva Noto, Frank Bretschneider, Lawrence English, Alexei Borisov, Freiband, Steve Flato, Gabi Losoncy, Simon Whetham and many more.
Next, pick up “Quiver”, the almost-pop collaborative album by Yui Onodera and Stephen Vitiello.
Finally, I can recommend “teplo_dom”, by MKM, which is the trio of Norbert Moslang, Gunter Mueller and Jason Kahn. Bleak sci-fi pulse and throb by three of Switzerland’s finest.
Even today in 2018, many decades into the ubiquity of self-publishing and independent distribution, micro-scenes exist without apparent connection to the world beyond the creators’ immediate community. For example, take the mystery people (or person?) behind elementperspective, a mostly-online-only label based somewhere in Japan. Ever heard of them? Neither did I until very recently. Would you be surprised to learn that this obscure label had upwards of 200 releases, distributed over six separate Bandcamp pages? The elementperspective rabbit hole runs deep. I can’t claim to have listened to it all, but so far what I’ve absorbed is impressive stuff. The music ranges from club-friendly techno-pop to rude digital noise… something of a cross between Kompakt, Mille Plateaux, and the similarly “outsider” Zero Gravity label with a striking design sense that recalls Raster-Noton‘s minimal clean lines, solid colors and scant information.
The only name I recognize from their vast catalog of (mostly) free and download-only releases is drone artist Gallery Six (aka Hidekazu Imashiga). Upon exploring a bit, I’ve learned that that Sanmi his own Bandcamp page, indicating a catalog beyond elementperspective. All the other band names might be the work of one person, for all I can tell: Blep, e.p., ±, Itsuqi Doi, Coda… ring any bells for you? No? Most of these artists have only ever released anything on elementperspective, reinforcing the idea of a hermetic community. In any case, this trove of music is worth dipping into.
There are six separate Bandcamp pages for elementperspective… a few for download-only albums, one for mixtapes that stream but cannot be downloaded, and one for streamable albums that cannot be downloaded but have physical editions available for purchase. The same person (or people?) run this Bandcamp page and this Bandcamp page, this one here, this page, this additional page and also this other one. Hope you didn’t have other plans for today.
Lately, I’ve gotten into a terrible habit of reading the news before going to sleep. Because I live in the USA and He Who Must Not Be Named is running the show, that means the news is never good… and is often terrifying. Which, in turn, makes it hard for me to get a good night’s sleep. If you’ve also been having trouble catching z’s lately, try listening to Hakobune! That’s the nom de musique of Kasai-based composer Takahiro Yorifuji, and he must have nothing but cannabidiol and NyQuil pulsing (softly) through his veins. This album is similar to every other Hakobune album: tranquil and diligently tasteful electronic bliss, a bit too active to call “drone” but generally in the same bedroom-ambience soundworld as likeminded narcosis-peddlers Federico Durand, Gallery Six, Sleepland, Hirotaka Shirtsubaki, Chihei Hatakeyama, Paul Bradley and Pleq. It came out on the I, Absentee label, but the artist also has his own Bandcamp page with more albums up for stream/purchase.
I admit, it was the band name that drew me in. Kinda funny, sorta. I was intrigued enough to check them out, and whaddaya know: they’re good! The Volume Settings Folder (heh) is an Italian group who describe themselves as “ambient-drone-post-rock”, which isn’t exactly right. They’re ambient for sure… and drone, certainly. Most of the music that I’ve heard so far (there’s a ton there, so I’ve only dipped in and out) is lush, mellow guitar wash of the sort you’d imagine a My Bloody Valentine/Flying Saucer Attack fan might make… but generally low key and not terribly noisy. Reminds me a bit of RST, Insect Factory, Stars of the Lid or Federico Durand… in the same general snooze zone, at least. If any of those name get yr alpha waves surging, by all means check this settings folder.