Archive for the ‘ Electronic ’ Category

Suzanne Ciani “Lixiviation”

Suzanne Ciani is probably best known today for her grammy nominated new-age records. That legion of fans may not be prepared for her latest comp from B-Music/Finders Keepers which explores her earlier, pioneering work composing synthesized soundscapes and logos. It’s this part of Ciani’s career I find most interesting and Lixiviation 1968-1985 curates a fine selection of tracks that will appeal to fans of early electronic experiments and electronic music in general.

Not a typical record, but rather a selection of cleverly sequenced tracks combining short audio logos with lengthy soundscapes for an album-like listening experience. Sprinkled with brilliant sonic logos like the famous “Coca Cola Pop & Pour” and “Atari Corporate Tag,” 30-60 second spots for adventurous sponsors like “Clean Room ITT TV” and “Almay Eclipse,” and four or five non-commercial pieces teetering between psychedelia and ambient music. The title track swerves from introductory blips and effects to a beautifully filtered odd meter sequence. “Paris 1971″ explores droning pads and softly shifting wind sounds a full six minutes without becoming a bore. The buzzy “Princess With Orange Feet” finds her improvising with tape delay and using full range of the Buchla’s unique touch plate keyboard. It’s Ciani’s ability to guide listeners so delicately through each track, maintaining interest with the simplest changes in timbre and never rushing, that seems to define the masterful touch in these tracks.

Her commercial works really take off in the mid 70s as evidenced by “Discovery Magazine TV Spot,” which sounds especially indicative of electronic music’s future, a fresh sound made with tight delays and sharp sawtooth chords. ”Inside Story PBS TV Spot” layers tape edited sound clips over some fancy sequence work; I wish I could hear 4-minute versions of these tracks especially. The spots are indeed short, but merely deserve some repeated listens.

Ciani’s career in synthesized music began after meeting Don Buchla and one of his fantastic modular machines. In the synth world, there is no machine I can think of more imaginative in design, complex in architecture, or more grandly exploratory in sound than any of Buchla’s rare machines. In her interview with the LA times, Ciani recalls her first encounter with its sound:

“Your ears woke up. The frequency spectrum was so much bigger. It had the high end and the very low end, and you could go to the very top and the very bottom. After hearing that, acoustic music seemed to occur along a very narrow path. It wasn’t alive.”

After listening to the full nine minutes of the droning, rich-frequency laden “Second Breath” I was surprised how much waking up my own ears have left to do. Suzanne has since become one of Buchla’s most famous users, as well as helping to make legendary tools such as the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5Roland’s MC-8 sequencer, as well as various voice synth/vocoder technology. While the album runs slightly short, it stands as the best introduction to Ciani’s illustrious, one-of-a-kind career. It’s even available on vinyl with detailed liners. If you like what you hear, make your next find the new-age classic Seven Waves.

mp3: Princess with Orange Feet
mp3: Discover Magazine (TV Spot)

:D CD Comp | 2012 | B-Music | buy from Finders Keepers | amazon ]
:) Vinyl Comp | 2012 B-Music | buy from Finders Keepers ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Buffy Sainte-Marie “Illuminations”

Beginning with 1967′s Fire & Fleet & Candlelight, the music of Cree folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie began to take on a decidedly schizophrenic nature. Traditionally celebrated for her biting political songs, as well as her stark approach to folksong, the late sixties saw her take her distinctive sound in a series of surprising directions. Candlelight experimented with sweeping orchestral arrangements and electric pop music, while its follow-up, I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again, saw Buffy immersing herself deep in Nashville traditions. Come winter, 1969, and the young firebrand decided to turn the tables once again, releasing what is perhaps her most esoteric album of all: Illuminations.

From the very first notes you know you’re in for something unique. “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot” is an eerie, electronically treated adaptation of lines from Leonard Cohen’s novel Beautiful Losers, featuring bizarre production touches courtesy of Vanguard Records president Maynard Solomon himself. Buffy’s voice and guitar are taken and warped into distorted moans and oscillating loops of sound that build upon themselves into a kind of electric witch’s chant. I should warn you not to get too comfortable with all this, though, because if this record is anything, it’s unpredictable. After almost five minutes, this unsettling opening fades into the short, church organ hymnal “Mary,” before a gnarly electric guitar and banjo jerk into the rapid-fire folk-rock of “Better To Find Out For Yourself,” featuring Buffy at her yelping, wailing best. In the clucking fadeout, what might return but Solomon’s electronic screeching, teasing the record back down into a dark, candlelit vampire ballad.

Honestly, I could go on for the entirety of the track list like this, as every song here is  indispensable to the whole. In fact, I’m almost tempted to label this one a concept album, with the opening track acting as a sort of manifesto. As for the music, though, it’s everywhere, from the raw west coast psychedelia of “He’s A Keeper of the Fire” to the caustic “Suffer the Little Children,” which itself sounds straight out of one of Buffy’s earlier records. One of the most wild segments is when the stomping “With You, Honey” closes with a shrill scream and dissolves into the pretty, lilting acoustic love song “Guess Who I Saw In Paris.” This latter track is so overly cute that in any other context I might write it off as a low point, but in context with the rest of the music here it somehow comes off as extraordinary. Like the rest of the album, it’s hard to really put the magic into words. This is one you just have to experience.

Interestingly enough, this album was not only groundbreaking musically, but it was also the very first quadrophonic vocal record ever made. Unfortunately, it appears that few people cared about either of those two points at the time of its release, as it was a huge commercial disaster and would quickly be deleted from Vanguard’s catalog. If you can, I would recommend you all find a vinyl copy, since this seems like the kind of record that was born for the needle, but should that fail there’s always Vanguard’s compact disc reissue. Also worth checking out is Buffy’s follow up to this one, She Used To Want To Be A Ballerina, which, of course, sounds little like Illuminations, but does feature Jack Nitzsche and the original lineup of Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

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“Adam”

:) Original | 1969 | Vanguard | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2000 | Vanguard | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Emerald Web “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales”

Emerald Web was the wind playing electronic duo of Kat Epple and Bob Stohl.  Although they’d become better known for their work scoring nature documentaries (including many collaborations with Carl Sagan), Emerald Web’s 1979 debut album was a milestone in electronic psychedelia- rooted in the prog of the mid 70s and foreshadowing much of what would come in the early 80s.

Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales mixes analog synthesizing with the heavy use of wind instruments, augmented occasionally by the angelic vocals of Kat Epple. The sound is incredibly unique. There is a very haunting experimental quality to this music that prevents it from sounding like muzak, although it occasionally veers in that direction.

The Lyricon wind controller makes a very early recorded appearance on this album and is one of the reasons the many sounds heard here are hard to place. The line is constantly blurred between live flutes and the electronic approximations, even occasionally mimicking bird calls. It’s these sound combinations that give the songs an otherworldly quality- like hearing indigenous music from another planet.

Although some pastoral vocal songs show up here and there, eerily dreamy instrumentals make up a little more than half the record. These are certainly among the highlights and show Emerald Web’s talent for crafting soundtrack music that would come to the fore later on. ”The Flight of the Raven” is a brief but gorgeous piece, summing up all that is good about this record in under three minutes. Fleeting melodies give way to dramatic clashing synths, fading away at just the right moment. ”The Powerstone” recalls early King Crimson, especially the vibe of “Moonchild”. It’s on this track that Emerald Web’s knack for creating natural sounding tones and soundscapes from very electronic instruments is most evident.

This record is highly recommended for fans of golden era progressive and electronic music. Originally released as a private pressing on Stargate, Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales LPs are somewhat rare these days, although they do turn up regularly on eBay.

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“Fight of the Raven”

:) Original Vinyl | 1979 | Stargate | search ebay ]

White Noise “An Electric Storm”

One of the strangest releases of 1969 was this collaboration between David Vorhaus, an American orchestral double-bass player and composer with a background in avant-garde classical music, and Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson, a pair of sound-effects engineers from the BBC’s Radiophonic workshop, providers of themes and incidental sounds for such shows as Out Into Space and Doctor Who. What drew these unlikely bedfellows together was a shared desire to create experimental electronic art music, at a time when Bob Moog’s early experiments in the US were still barely getting off the ground and available electronic sound generators were limited to military surplus oscillators and simple home-built circuits. The process involved endlessly overlaid electronic tones, percussion, vocal tracks and found sounds, assembled into recognisable pieces via hundreds of tape edits on a bank of six two-track Revoxes.

So what has all this to do with rock’n’roll? Well, the demos produced by Vorhaus and Co. stirred unexpected interest from Chris Blackwell, the innovative proprietor of Island, the burgeoning UK psychedelic/progressive music independent. As a result of its release on that respected imprint, the ensuing album, which took a year to assemble, was taken up by the most hardcore of those admirers of trippy sounds who’d already got past early Pink Floyd, Zappa, the Nice and other leftfield pioneers from the world of rock and who were prepared to tolerate the lack of rock instrumentation and flowing hair in the pursuit of true psychedelic weirdness.

A friend played me this album soon after its release, and I promptly declared it unlistenable. (Mind you, I’d also just declared Lennon’s “Revolution 9” and Zappa’s Freak Out unlistenable, so that’s where I was at the time.) Forty years later my liberalised ears find these recordings irresistible. I know it’s a cliché, but this record truly is unlike anything else; probably the nearest thing to it is The United States Of America’s eponymous opus from the previous year, which similarly marries electronics, avant-garde composition and general strangeness but lacks the peculiarly British whimsy, emotional gamut and outrageous sonic variety of An Electric Storm.

Of the seven tracks, only the first five manage to approach conventional song structures. Four of these are quirky love songs involving various permutations of synthesised accompaniments with Ute Lemper-like vocals, the highlight being the simulated group orgasm voiced by a group of male and female vocalists on “My Game Of Loving”. By contrast “Here Come The Fleas” is a charming comic interlude reminiscent of the Floyd’s “Several Species of Small Furry Animals”, festooned with electronic bleeps, clicks and boings. Thereafter, any resemblance between the remaining tracks and music as conventionally understood in terms of harmonic structures is purely accidental. The lengthy, maudlin but beautifully-constructed “The Visitation” chronicles in cinematic fashion the revisiting of “the girl with roses in her eyes” by her deceased biker lover, while the closing “Black Mass: An Electric Storm In Hell” starts with a cod-Black Magic chant which segues into a full-blown, percussion-driven electronic rendering of a hurricane; its seven minutes were allegedly constructed in one evening when Island became impatient for the album’s completion.

If all this sounds difficult, that’s because it undoubtedly is. It’s also compulsive, fascinating and occasionally mind-blowing, and successive CD reissues in 1994 and 2007 indicate that there’s still a market of brave souls out there willing to give it a go. Are you brave enough?

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“Your Hidden Dreams”

:D CD Reissue | 2007 | Universal | buy here ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Island | search ebay ]

uReview: Neil Young “Trans”

Trans

I was a late bloomer to Neil Young’s music and still no expert. But I’m curious about this synthesized 1982 departure called Trans. What’s the score on this one?

12345678910 (54 votes, average: 6.89 out of 10)
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“We R In Control”

:D CD Reissue | 1999 | Polydor | buy ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1982 | Geffen | ebay ]

Silver Apples (self-titled)

Silver Apples

Of all records that are considered “ahead of its time,” this may be the most in vogue contender. There are thousands of albums from the sixties that didn’t jive with the times, and many that are still too ahead of its time; what happens in the evolution of music since then determines what we consider to be the most influential. In terms of popular electronic music, nothing really touches what the Silver Apples started up in 68.

To best understand what the Apples are all about, you have to check the diagram in the liner notes. They are only a duo, comprising equally complicated setups: Danny Taylors’ expansive drum kit and Simeon’s boggling assortment of electronic treats. Several custom oscillators drone over sequenced looping bass lines, while tape machines implement found sound recordings (predicting the method of sampling and adding even more their legendary status). Taylors’ drumming seals the deal with programmatic beats that would influence kit players from Can’s Jaki Liebezeit to hip hop drummers like ?uestlove. The Silver Apples were staggeringly prescient in their technical setup, but perhaps even more influential was their use of the drone. Hypnotic and trance inducing, I can’t imagine any modern day electronic pop that shouldn’t show some allegiance to this groundbreaking record.

Period vocal stylings sometimes distract modern day electro fiends, but they are surely missing out. The tunework and lyrics are the match of most good psych records from the time, and this record consistently continues to blow minds just as hard today as it must have back then, to the few who listened. The new Phoenix vinyl reissue carries a pretty high price tag, but looks like its worth the price, limited to 1,000 copies. For those looking to dive in at cost, check out the MCA twofer CD reissue, which also contains their next album, Contact. Positively essential for electronic and psych listeners.

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“Lovefingers”

:D CD Reissue | 1997 | MCA | w/ Contact | buy from amazon ]

The United States Of America (self-titled)

The United States of America

The United States of America album is the product of Joseph Byrd, former FLUXUS member, artist and UCLA instructor who managed to combine experimental art and early synthesizer technology with psychedelic rock in creating this brilliant record. Employing percussion instruments, electric violin and acoustic strings, electric bass, various keyboards, homemade oscillators and ring modulators, and Dorothy Moskowitz’s confident soprano, this record shows surprising pop capability for an avant garde project.

United States of America is a pioneering record and worth your attention. Everybody wouldn’t be expected to sit through campy synth exercises like “I Wouldn’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar,” but many tracks hold up as strong experimental rock numbers. It’s a must listen for fans of ear candy, or those who love delving into the details. Tracks like the opener, “The American Metaphysical Circus,” feature layers of burbly oscillators, organ, calliope, and sound effects or field recordings. Other tunes tear it apart pretty hard for a guitar-less album like “Hard Coming Love” and some more restrained numbers make great careful listening material like the excellent “Cloud Song.” Dorothy’s vocals are very strong and lead with unexpectedly memorable lines.

The melodies and flow of the record, the sampled recurring themes, and the politically charged lyrics give this album a concept record feel. It was critically acclaimed on its release in 1968 but failed to sell, of course. The band broke up after their masterful debut though Byrd would continue to create experimental music and Moskowitz would eventually sing with Country Joe McDonald.

Sundazed reissued this album in 2008 as a hi-def vinyl LP that came packaged with a repro of the manilla envelope like the original. If this one has been hovering on your list for years, now is the time to pick it up!

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“Coming Down”

:) Vinyl Reissue | 2008 | Sundazed | buy from sundazed ]
:D CD Reissue | 2004 | Sundazed | buy from sundazed | amazon]

Electronic Pioneers: Louis & Bebe Barron “Forbidden Planet”

Forbidden Planet

In 1956, MGM released the science fiction film, Forbidden Planet. The picture stars Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Neilson and the brilliant Robby The Robot. How exciting it must have been to experience this film in the theater in 1956! Technically speaking, the film is remarkable, featuring sophisticated visual effects and a visionary musical score.

For Forbidden Planet, married NY duo Louis & Bebe Barron produced one of the very first wholly electronic movie scores. The music was created using custom electronic circuits built by the Barrons, circuitry that they claim was influenced by cybernetics.

Louis and Bebe Barron:

“In Scoring Forbidden Planet – as in all our work – we created individual cybernetic circuits for particular themes and leit motifs, rather than using standard sound generators. Actually, each circuit has a characteristic activity pattern as well as a ‘voice.’ “

These “cybernetic circuits” were used to build multi-musical sound layers, as well as most of the film’s “inorganic” sound effects. This is a wonderful achievement: the basic connection created between the sound effects and the sound music. The SFX and the musical score are interwoven to create a neat, all-electronic union between diegetic and non-diegetic sound.

Tape echo and reverberation seem to be used widely as a sound processor within this production, helping to further a “space-like” or “far-out” atmosphere. All-together, this pioneer production is a fine example of pre-synthesizer electronic music making!

This score might not be the easiest to listen to on its own. I would recommend viewing the movie first, paying special attention to how the electronic music influences the film, and vice-versa. Later, listen to the soundtrack alone, preferably with headphones (there are some excellent uses of stereophonic sound within). I can assure you you won’t be disappointed, or un-moved. This soundtrack is a must have for those interested in early electronic music and electronic music history. A memorable release!

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“Battle With The Invisible Monster”

:D CD Reissue: 1995 | Small Planet Records | Buy From GNP Crescendo ]

Joe Meek & The Blue Men “I Hear A New World”

Hear A New World

What a fine outer space adventure album! Several years before British producer Joe Meek and the Tornados scored an international super-hit with “Telstar,” Meek had composed and recorded his adventurous masterpiece, I Hear a New World, an imaginative musical take at life on the moon.

In 1960, the moon remained very much a mystery and with human spaceflight becoming more and more likely, public anticipation concerning the mysteries of outer space may have reached its peak. Meek stepped forward to create this lunar-inspired “music fantasy” record, technologically and conceptually well ahead of the time. Joe Meek:

“I wanted to create a picture in music of what could be up there in outer space. At first I was going to record with music that was completely out of this world but realized that it would have very little entertainment value, so I kept the construction of the music down to earth.”

Helping to keep Meek’s compositions “down to earth” was Rod Freeman, the musical director and arranger for the project (the music itself was performed by the Blue Men, formerly the skiffle group the West Five). Freeman, it seems, saved Hear a New World from becoming a stereo sound effects record. Accounts of Meek’s early demos report the tracks were a challenging listen.

The music production and engineering for this recording were unique and visionary. In a pre-synthesizer world, Meek used a wide array of homemade electronics and unique instruments to achieve a signature sound. Most notably, perhaps, was the Clavioline, a three-octave keyboard instrument somewhere between an organ and a simple analog synthesizer. The Clavioline handles many of the lead melodies on this record (as well as on “Telstar”). The Hawaiian guitar was another noticeable go-to instrument on this record. Different types of echo effects (tape echo and chamber echo) are also used liberally and to great effect.  Meek recorded these sessions at his legendary home recording studio in North London, where he produced some of the most unique independent music in English history and sadly ended his own life in a murder-suicide at the age of 37.

I Hear A New World was never fully released until recently. In 1960 a sampler EP was released by Triumph Records, including only four of the twelve original tracks. Recorded in stereophonic sound, the sampler was sent to retail stores as a demonstration of what “stereo” was capable of (then, a young technology).  The 2001 CD release on RPM is well done, with the 12 original tracks, plus 30 minutes of interviews with Meek (probably only appealing to enthusiasts), as well as a brief film clip of Meek from 1964.

There are discernable musical highlights inside this record, however it is recommended to listen to “I Hear a New World” in its entirety at first and with headphones. Meek takes you on a memorable journey around the moon, stopping in to visit different lunar civilizations! Don’t miss it!

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“The Bublight”

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