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Ground and Sky » Electronic
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In the deal of the year, I recently got Nasum’s Doombringer for six bucks from The End Records (sorry, the sale is over, but if you’re into this stuff you can still find the two Crowpath albums there for six bucks apiece). It absolutely slays. I’ve never managed to get into grindcore all that much, but this is amazing.
In other news, I’ve reviewed the new record by Richard Pinhas & Merzbow on Cuneiform, Keio Line, but not here — it’s my first print review for the Washington City Paper, DC’s alternative weekly. It’s on their website here. The short version is that I really, really like this album, and in fact it may be my favorite non-Heldon Pinhas record. Go get it if you like this guy’s music.
I have a couple interesting things to write about (thoughts on a couple books, mainly), but wanted to report on the second show of 2008 for me, which was last night at the 9:30 Club — DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist. I’ll betray my total ignorance here: this was the first time I’ve ever seen a show like this before. In fact, the only time I’ve ever seen a live turntablist was when I saw The Beta Band, who at times indulged in some scratching. I do have a couple DJ Shadow albums, and I have an early album by opener Kid Koala, and have heard him on records like Deltron 3030 as well.
With this minimal experience in mind, I had a lot of fun last night. Each performer used four turntables; Kid Koala’s solo act might actually have been my favorite. He really took his set above and beyond the source material he used, including one rather jaw-dropping section where he lifted up the stylus and placed it on different parts of a spinning record, in succession, creating a melody not unlike some of those that appear on the aforementioned Deltron 3030 (I think towards the end of “Things You Can Do” is a good example, but that’s offhand and I’m not sure my memory is right).
On the other hand, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist’s performance seemed a lot less coherent, and more dependent on the source material. They used a really wide variety of 7″ records, but the whole thing was just a bit too pastichey for me. Still, their talent was undeniable (Cut Chemist in particular showed off some pretty ridiculous chops) and their closing gimmick — imitating the hyperspeed guitar riffing from Metallica’s “One” — was hilarious and awesome. These guys might not be “musicians” in the traditional sense, but they absolutely are artists, working in a particularly postmodern field.
This is going to be a common theme throughout the year — I took some photos. SLRs (for the uninitiated, this basically means professional cameras, though not exactly) were not allowed, so I was using a cheap point & shoot digital camera, but here they are anyway.
I haven’t taken a camera to a concert in years, mostly because I realized that whenever I did, I paid more attention to photography than I did to the music. That wasn’t a trade-off I was willing to make. Also, bringing an expensive digital SLR into a packed, dingy club (usually in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood) isn’t my idea of a relaxing time. So I haven’t mixed my passion for photography with my passion for music since, oh, maybe 2001 or so.
For whatever reason I decided to change things up a bit last night, and I brought my trusty Nikon D70 to Orion Sound Studios for the Radio Massacre International show. An electronic music group doesn’t exactly make for the most exciting of concert photography, but on the other hand at least they’re somewhat easier to shoot because they’re relatively static. The studio was dim enough that I had to shoot wide open (f/2.8) at a high ISO (800-1250) to get any reasonably fast shutter speeds, so if they’d been moving around very much I wouldn’t have gotten anything sharp.
The results of my efforts are up at Flickr; I’m reasonably happy with them considering I haven’t tried anything like this in years (most of my photography is either nature or, more rarely, sports photography). I do wish the D70 performed better at high ISOs, but there isn’t really anything I can do about that. In any case, the predictable thing happened, and indeed, I didn’t pay as much attention to the music as I would have liked.
That said, I did enjoy the show quite a bit, especially the first set. RMI played about an hour of their “traditional” Berlin-school electronic music for the first set, although there were times where they burst into more rock-oriented material, which I found a little off-putting at first. This stuff was great for the most part, really evocative and slow-moving. I’m only familiar with three of the band’s albums — (Emissaries, Septentrional and Rain Falls in Grey — of which Emissaries, whose music is closest to the style of this first set, is my favorite. So it makes sense that I dug this set a lot.
The second set was Rain Falls in Grey performed in its entirety, with the core trio augmented by Cyndee Lee Rule on violin and Premik Russell Tubbs on saxophones. I haven’t quite made up my mind about this album yet; parts of it are great (the track “Emissaries” in particular), whereas other parts seem to wander without really going anywhere in particular. The live performance didn’t change my mind; the parts I already liked were even better live, but the meandering parts still meandered. Also, I couldn’t really tell what Rule added to the band, she didn’t seem to play all that much and when she did I sometimes thought she muddied up the sound. That might have just been my earplugs cutting out some the high end of the mix, though.
In any case, a good show, and the big news is that Radio Massacre International got announced for next year’s NEARfest. Hopefully I can make it next year, as I will welcome the chance to see these guys again and really put my full attention to the music.
Last Thursday, I saw Richard Pinhas at the Velvet Lounge here in DC, a tiny venue into which 40-50 people packed in to see this semi-legend of electronic music. This concert was promoted pretty well, and got coverage in a ton of places around here, from the weekly Washington City Paper to the daily metro paper Washington Post Express to the hipster DCist blog, and the turnout was pretty impressive.
DC’s Insect Factory opened — I saw them opening for Zs a few months back and wasn’t especially impressed, but I really enjoyed the very short set that they played this time around. This is an ambient project involving a guitarist and drummer, whose style is very soothing and mostly consonant. I’ve started coming around to really enjoying ambient music in a live setting (something I never really thought would happen, as when I listen to ambient music on record I almost always listen while doing something else), and Insect Factory was generally pushing the right buttons for me.
After a short break, Pinhas and his laptop sidekick, Jerome Schmidt, took the stage and wordlessly began their set. Their concert would consist of one very long (40+ minute) piece as a duo, and then a much shorter (less than 15 minutes, I’d imagine) piece with Scott Verrastro, the drummer from Insect Factory and the guy for whom we all had to thank for the show happening in the first place. I found this a fascinating show to watch: the nature of this sort of electronic music is it’s often very difficult to match sounds with the musicians’ actions, thanks to all kinds of looping, processing and delaying techniques, to say nothing of Schmidt’s laptop work (I never did figure out exactly what sounds he was contributing, except when there was something obvious like a programmed drum beat or a spoken word voiceover). Occasionally Pinhas would let loose with a blistering “solo,” but more often than not it would be buried intentionally in the mix, with his squalls of electric guitar work merely adding a certain edge to the louder, more amorphous wall of ambient electronic sound. This reminded me a lot of some of his solos on Fossil Culture, the collaboration with Peter Frohmader that, curiously, Pinhas doesn’t seem to think too much of these days (on the contrary, it’s one of my favorite pieces of his work).
The YouTube clip in the previous post is much more indicative of what this show sounded like than anything I could possibly write (especially since I think I lack the vocabulary to describe this sort of music adequately), but the layers and layers of seemingly formless sound, punctuated by the occasional burst of melody, were pretty enticing. I was sitting on the floor in front of the stage for the whole show, and I was surprised at how these two guys held my attention for 40 minutes straight during their first improv. I actually think I like the music in the YouTube clip better than what I saw in person, but it was fun to watch Schmidt and Pinhas interact — most of the time it actually seemed like Pinhas was taking his cues from Schmidt and not the other way around. I had a hard time telling how much of the show was improvised, but I’d guess a fair bit.
Another bonus of the show was that I picked up the 3CD Heldon live set recently put out by the Japanese label Captain Trip. This set consists of two concerts, one from 1975 and one from 1979; I have a bootleg of the 1979 show and it’s just blistering. Haven’t had too much of a chance to listen to this, but I couldn’t resist picking it up, as they were selling it for $30, far less than the $40-$70 (!) I’ve seen it going for online.
It’s been a slow summer for live music, but tonight I’m going to see Richard Pinhas, playing a rather inexplicable show here in DC (he cancelled all the rest of his dates in the eastern U.S., but not this one — not that I’m complaining!). After seeing the YouTube clip below, which Steve has been pimping in various places, I’m really stoked. This was taken at one of his shows in California in June and I really dig it. Also, how did this guy manage to upload a 27-minute video onto YouTube when the cap for video length is 10 minutes??
I was combing through the Google Groups archive to get some info on various Autechre albums that I’m interested in exploring (I have a bunch, but I like them enough that my desire to continue exploring their catalog hasn’t diminished at all yet). And I ran across this - definitely one of the best music newsgroup posts I’ve ever read:
there’s no argument from me that autechre’s entire body of work is staggering. all of the albums i’ve heard thus far are spectacular in some size, shape, fashion or form. personally though, i feel _chiastic slide_ is autechre’s best work because it achieves a delicate balance between their earlier, warmer, and more “orthodox” compositions (like _incunabula_) and later, more abstract outputs (such as lp5). to put it simply, _chiastic slide_ is an album that i’ve found mathematically precise and exacting in both form and structure, constructed from media that sounds utterly outside of human (indeed, organic) experience. simultaneously, each and every piece achieves a living, dynamic, HUMAN warmth that does not fail to consistently move me. analogous perhaps to a staggeringly complex equation that, when solved for x, equals a child’s laugh. or finding the nature of god in pi, if you will.
And yes, I have Chiastic Slide; and yes, it’s good.
Trainspotting of the day: an Xploding Plastix song used as the soundtrack of some Bacardi TV ad. It took me the longest time to place that familiar driving electronica, and when I finally did I didn’t trust myself. But it’s true - how the hell did some obscure Swedish electronica group manage to sell themselves to a major corporate advertiser? That’s pretty impressive, I have to say.
As I was trawling for links related to my review of Matmos‘ The Civil War, I came across a great page with track-by-track notes on the album - where inspirations came from, how the duo created some of the sounds on the record. A couple of the most interesting bits; first this one regarding “The Struggle Against Unreality Begins” (and answering a question I posed in my review):
This song began when our friend Keenan Lawler sent us a recording he had made of himself playing a steel guitar in a sewer pipe underneath Louisville, Kentucky. We liked the idea of “sound in a tube” so we paired Keenan’s noises with the sound of blood in Martin’s carotid artery. To gather that sound we borrowed an ultrasonic doppler flow detector from the Exploratorium, rubbed conductive jelly on Martin’s neck and then angled the flow detector against his skin, picking up the blood flow as interference which sounded rather like a 70’s modular synth.
And this, about “Y.T.T.E.”, one of the centerpieces of the album -
The freaky guitar solo was made through an elaborately layered process: Mark Lightcap played a screaming psychedelic distorted guitar line through a rack of pedals and wahs and whammies, which was then burned as a soundfile on a CD, which was then physically scratched; the resulting skipping CD was recorded and then further chopped up in SoundEdit16 and then re-edited and manipulated in Digital Performer.
Sun Ra - Pathways to Unknown Worlds / Friendly Love
To my surprise, there’s a review of the Xploding Plastixalbum I mentioned in the last entry, at the GEPR. Unfortunately, the review, by Fred Trafton, is a bit painfully naive. I mentioned that I’m quite unfamiliar with this sort of electronic music, but it’s clear that Fred is even more so, to such an extent that it hinders his review. For instance, he assumes that the drumming on the album is all done by an actual drummer - clearly not the case. And his statement that “I don’t think it can be called anything but progressive rock” is completely off the mark.
I assume that Fred received a promo copy of the album, otherwise it’s unlikely he would have gone off and found it on his own. There are also reviews of the album in the latest issue of Exposé and The Axiom of Choice, curiously enough. It’s interesting that these guys sent off review copies to progressive rock reviewers - but clearly it was a savvy decision, as all the reviews are pretty positive, even if Fred’s especially sort of misses the point, in my opinion.
It raises the issue: some kinds of electronica or (gasp) “dance” music might appeal to a lot of prog fans. More artists in these genres should try to reach this audience…