Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Word of Explanation

Hello everyone,

I want to apologize for the infrequency of my posts these past few months. I am going through a very dark time in my personal life, and it has required nearly all my time and effort. Specifically, I am trying to save my marriage, and though things look very grim right now, I am going to use all of my strength and patience to change that, but it means my posting might be very infrequent for some time. I still love this blog very much, and I hope that at some point I can give it more attention than I have recently. I will still post from time to time, but I can simply make no commitments to a regular schedule. I still have a huge Yazoo post in the works, which I will try to have up within a few days. Thank you for all your comments and support in relation to the blog; I really do care.     ~voixautre

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Isao Tomita- Snowflakes Are Dancing: Electronic Performances of Debussey's Tone Paintings (1974) / Pictures at an Exhibition (1975) / Firebird (1975) MP3 & FLAC

Isao Tomita: "[I]n painting the artist is free to use whatever color or material he may choose. In other words the medium for his expression on the canvas is free and unlimited. There are plenty and abundant mediums, whereas in music we have had to use very limited means: the musical instruments. In painting one could use unlimited variety in color, but in music only certain numbers of timbres were available to express composers' ideas and feelings [....] My doubt was, should music be always like this? Couldn't it get some new source of sound beyond existing musical instruments? That was my doubt and at the same time my dream." After having spent the formative years of his childhood with his father in China during the 1930s, Tomita returned to the place of his birth, Tokyo, eventually studying Art History at Keio University during the early 1950s while also taking private lessons in Music Composition and Orchestral Theory in order to pursue his overriding passion for music. Having already paid his dues by regularly composing for local orchestras in order to fund his education, by the time Tomita graduated, he had amassed an impressive amount of experience and skill, which allowed him to quickly transition into a career scoring films, television and theatre, something he pursued for the next 15 years until hearing Walter Carlos' groundbreaking Classical work on the Moog synthesizer. Tomita: "In 1969 I happened to listen to a record titled Switched on Bach which opened a new world to me and triggered a revolution in my musical life. At the time I saw on the jacket of the record, behind Bach, a synthesizer, which is to say a palette of sound. For the first time I discovered that the synthesizer is not an instrument to compose music by using the sounds of existing instruments, but is a new instrument or a new machine which creates unlimited sound sources."

Walter Carlos tending to his Moog III
Inspired by Carlos' groundbreaking work, Tomita purchased a Moog III synthesizer (identical to the one pictured on the Switched on Bach album cover) and built a recording studio in his home shortly after forming a music collective called Plasma Music with several other Electronic-minded musicians. After a false start in the form of a largely forgettable album of Moog renditions of contemporary rock songs, Tomita turned his attention to the work of French composer Claude Debussy, and, in contrast to Carlos' emphasis on note-for-note transcription as well as the recreation of traditional acoustic sounds using the new Electronic medium, Tomita's work, perhaps due to his extensive experience as a composer, focused on re-conceptualizing the source material using the infinite array of new musical possibilities inherent in the new Electronic medium. The result was Snowflakes Are Dancing: Electronic Performances of Debussy's Tone Paintings, an album that proved to be both a revolutionary step forward in synth-based programming and a considerable commercial success. Tomita on the approach and response to the album: "I never expected that so many albums would be sold, but to tell the truth I was expecting something different and I had, if I may say, some revolutionary intention or theory when making this music [....] Walter Carlos' emphasis when realizing Debussy was on the level of mere description and depicting [....] My emphasis was more on the timbre or color of the music [....] it was kind of an experiment for me. I experimented with my theory to create first the color of the sound which the conventional instruments never could bring out [....] The intention of my playing was that with a synthesizer I could break the limitations of such instruments and go into the unlimited world, and I started with the color of the sound, and the result was this piece. But we are going beyond even the color; we are going to the form of music composition and finding new aesthetic rules and creating a new world of music."

Isao Tomita relaxing in front of his Moog III
The most obvious difference between the work of Tomita and that of earlier attempts to re-interpret Classical pieces within an Electronic context is Tomita's ability to create a polyphonic sound despite the fact that polyphonic synthesizers were not commercially available when he recorded his most innovative work. He did this by painstakingly recording every part separately and meshing these parts together to lend his Electronic arrangements a symphonic depth missing on albums such as Switched on Bach. In addition, Tomita, especially on later albums such as Pictures at an Exhibition, Firebird, and his interpretations of Holst, avoids any conventional sense of reverence in his approach to the source material, as he treats them more as starting points for his exploration of new musical possibilities than monuments to be draped in synthetic raiment. Tomita: "In this kind of situation, music and, for instance, painting are different. There is one painting, one masterpiece, say. If another painter adds color or a line to this original painting, it is destroyed. But it is quite different with music. In music there may be one original score, but there may be thousands of scores of the same composition, and there will be hundreds and thousands of other composers and arrangers who may rearrange the original music; who may add something to the original, who may extract something from it [....] I don't think it's a problem which endangers or destroys the original score [....] If one plays a score, each player will interpret it differently and each conductor performs it differently, and you cannot limit or tell the conductor exactly how the original composer imagined it. The music score itself is loose." For Tomita, music cannot be mathematically reduced to a finite set of relationships between notes and between tones. As such, every composition potentially points the way to what he calls the "unlimited world," which, as with the act of interpretation, is infinite.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Paisley Underground Series, #28: 28th Day- The Complete Recordings (2003) MP3 & FLAC

"You sing a song of love and crucify all the words. You pray to god for hope
when all the while, you're going backwards."

Hailing from Chico, a small Northern California college-town that was one of the lesser-known corners of the eighties-era paisley scene, 28th Day was several cuts above the plethora of neo-psych and Jangle-Pop bands that then littered the landscape, as they featured Cole Marquis' darkly evocative guitar-work (reminiscent of Karl Precoda of The Dream Syndicate) and a young Barbara Manning who would later go on to become a well-loved and semi-legendary fixture on the S.F. music scene. While 28th Day was fated to only remain together long enough to release a self-titled mini-album on Enigma Records (produced by Russ Tolman of True West), in doing so, they managed to leave behind what is simultaneously one of the best neo-psych albums of the eighties, and one of the most under-appreciated albums associated (albeit marginally) with the paisley movement. 28th Day was Manning's first tour of duty in a band and Marquis was not much more than a neophyte himself as they set about searching for their distinctively folky, post-punky, psych-drenched sound. Marquis: "We were so green in the beginning, we could hardly play, but we all believed in what we were doing. We were having fun, and we didn't hold anything back. We made up for the lack of skill with energy, fear, alcohol and faith." What skill deficiencies the band may have had at the time seem completely irrelevant on songs such as "25 Pills," the lead track on 28th Day, a somber Jangle-Pop gem about drug addiction that pushes close to the brand of melancholia that Joy Division specialized in. And then there's the beautiful "Burnsite," featuring Marquis and Manning's hauntingly intertwined vocals and a paranoia-inducing arrangement (including screams from Manning) that it occasionally reminiscent of David Roback's Opal. Nevertheless, what sets 28th Day apart is their ability to mix in a song such as "Lost," a folky garage-rocker that should have become a paisley anthem, but instead was fated, like the band itself, to footnote status. Manning: "How Do I explain it? We were very young. It was our first band. We thought we were the best band in the world. We started to hate each other. Isn't it only natural?"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Human League- "Don't You Want Me" Video (1981)

Things went downhill fast for The Human League; however, while they were at the top of their game, they produced some of the best synth-pop of the eighties.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Church Series, #2: The Church- Sing Songs EP (1982) / Remote Luxury EP (1984) / Persia EP (1984) MP3 & FLAC

"You stop to wonder as she passes by. Something inside you is never the same,
Something outside you is always to blame."

As a follow up to their promising 1981 debut, Of Skins and Heart, The Church released The Blurred Crusade in early 1982, and while it was a clear step forward sonically as well as conceptually, Capitol Records refused to release the album in the U.S., claiming it was not commercial enough. In part to placate their U.S. distributor, The Church quickly returned to the studio to hastily record a number of additional songs, including a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "I Am a Rock," all of which were quickly rejected by Capitol, who then decided to drop the band, leaving them without a distributor in the U.S. for nearly two years. Despite this, the songs were given a European release by EMI in early 1982 as the Sing-Songs EP, and while, ironically, the songs themselves are less immediately accessible than those found on The Blurred Crusade, there are, nevertheless, a few standouts, including "A Different Man," one of the better examples of the band's early Jangle-Pop sound. The Church experienced more record label-related difficulties while recording their next album Seance, as one of the favorite songs from their live set, "10,000 Miles" was rejected by their handlers at EMI. As a result, the band decided to take a step away from major-label interference and a step toward creative autonomy by recording and self-producing two EPs in 1984, Remote Luxury & Persia, both of which recall the poppier moments found on The Church's debut while suggesting a more tightly focused approach to songwriting, as Steven Kilbey stated at the time, "Those earlier songs were great for people who had the time to sit down and listen, but this is such an immediate world we're living in. I want to make short, powerful statements rather than long, meandering, dreamy ones. It's time for The Church to stop messing about and hit home."

Steve Kilbey & Peter Koppes (back)
Although nearly thirty years after its release Steve Kilbey is prone to dismissing the Remote Luxury EP as a "lost opportunity," its five songs clearly constituted an attempt to diversify their sonic approach by integrating more keyboard-driven melodies and proggy flourishes into the mix with the Byrds-influenced Jangle-Pop they had, up to this point, been identified with. This is most evident on songs such as "Maybe These Boys," with its insistently trashy synth-line and the title track, which introduces some of the proggy guitar-work that would come to define the band's sound fifteen years later. However, the real gem happens to be the one most refective of their earlier work: "Into My Hands," a gorgeous acoustic 12-string-driven ballad that features one of Kilbey's most affecting vocals. While the follow-up EP, Persia, isn't as consistently excellent as its precursor, it does continue the sonic diversity found on Remote Luxury; in particular, "Constant in Opal" and "Violet Town" are among the more sonically adventurous "pop" songs The Church committed to tape in their early years, as it meshes the jangly Post-Punk of their intial recordings with the dark psychedelia they would mine throughout the mid-to-late eighties. While not as consistently memorable as full-length albums such as The Blurred Crusade, Seance, and Heyday, these EPs offer a glimpse of The Church in a transitional phase, pushing their sound into new regions with admittedly mixed results, but on the songs they get it right, to quote Kilbey once again, "The Church stop messing about and hit home."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tim Buckley Series, #11: Tim Buckley- Live at The Troubadour 1969 (1994) MP3 & FLAC

"I've been driftin' like a dream out on the sea; I've been driftin' in between what used to be."

1969 was a pivotal year for Tim Buckley. While up to this point his studio albums had, for the most part, stayed within the Folk genre (although Happy Sad  had incorporated a much more Jazz-informed approach), nothing could have prepared his listeners for the radical transformation that was to unfold on Lorca  and Starsailor, recorded within a few weeks of each other, along with the more recognizable Blue Afternoon, in mid-1969. Nevertheless, Buckley had been exploring a more improvisational live approach since the previous year, as he desired to transcend the limited musical possibilities associated with the Folk and Folk-Rock genres, as well as to escape the label of "folksinger" he had been pigeon-holed with by both his record company and the fans of his recordings. Doing so would lead him out on a creative limb that, while almost completely alienating his fan-base and destroying his commercial viability as a recording artist, would produce some of the most innovative music of the late sixties, some of which belongs in the select company of improvisational albums such as Van Morrison's Astral Weeks.

Tim Buckley
Lee Underwood: "Although Tim was not well educated (a high school graduate), he was a very bright guy. He had a marvelous feel for language, for words and ways to use them, not as an acrobatic academician might, but as extensions of intimate, heartfelt emotion. The more he moved in the direction of free-form instrumental improvisation, the more he explored vocal and verbal improvisations too, spontaneously creating verses and sometimes whole songs on the spot, especially during the Lorca  and Starsailor  period." Live at the Troubadour 1969 catches Buckley at the height of this improvisational period, and with the exception of Dream Letter: Live in London 1968, stands as the best live Buckley recording sonically as well as musically. An obvious highlight is "I Had a Talk with My Woman," which manages to trump the beautiful studio version on Lorca, again proving that Buckley was at his best in a live setting. Wringing emotion out of every note while gliding along to Lee Underwood's jazzy guitar ruminations, Buckley pushes his multi-octave voice to its limits throughout the set, particularly on the epic "Nobody Walkin'," which is extended to sixteen minutes of improvisatory brilliance. Live at the Troubadour 1969 is essential because it captures Buckley in fine form during his most fertile and innovative period, favoring languidly impressionistic explorations over pop-song predictability.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011