September 26, 2002 (link)
Lots of great listening experiences tonight. After sneaking next door for ten or fifteen minutes to catch some of a solo concert (of sorts) given by a local musician, I came back and, for some reason, found myself bent on looking into the Ogg Vorbis audio format. (For those who aren't familiar with it, a rough analogy might be that Ogg Vorbis is to MP3 what Linux is to Windows: Ogg is free, performs better under difficult conditions, and is far less popular. Actually, the analogy is surprisingly apt! Ogg is probably a better format, but has little change of ever challenging the ubiquity of MP3, except in certain niche markets like video game sound, in which it could conceivably make a strong showing.)
The Ogg download page links three Ogg-capable players for Mac OS. (Surprisingly, SoundApp isn't among them. Has Franke just given up on the project? His instruction to us to check back for some "important announcements" is more than half a year old. If he has stopped developing it, that'd be a shame, as it's a great little player.) The first one I tried, Unsanity Echo, led me to a download link which, when I clicked on it, offered me an opportunity to leave feedback about any problems I might have downloading -- but gave me no link to actually download the product. Then I tried Macamp, which I've used before, but which was miserably unsuccessful at playing .ogg files -- it just stuttered and farted, emitting clicks and pops but no music, and acted like it was going to crash the computer.
I also had tried Audion before (a year or two ago), and hadn't been particularly impressed, but version 3.0 is a different story. It handled the .ogg file I'd downloaded with no trouble, and managed to deal pretty well with most of the formats offered in the xiph.org listening tests -- tests which, by the way, corroborated what I'd already heard: namely, that Ogg Vorbis performs remarkably well at low bitrates (64kbps), and is more or less comparable to a good MP3 at higher ones. (At 64kbps, it sounds very nearly as good as a 128kbps MP3, and far better than a 64kbps MP3.) Of course, I'd need to spend a lot more time, and be a lot more rigorous in my listening, to get a really clear sense of the results -- and it wouldn't surprise me if the Ogg Vorbis format turned out to be excessively trebly on a lot of material, as it seems to have a very lively top end, but may in the long run come off as artificially bright (it was hard to tell from the material given). But I was definitely impressed, and it's unequivocally superior to any 64kbps MP3 I've ever heard.
I was also favorably impressed with the sound quality in Audion, and decided to play with it a bit more. I fired up a few tracks of mine, and they seemed to sound cleaner and more detailed than they normally do. (My usual players are SoundApp and iTunes). On the other hand, it could've just been that I was playing it louder than usual, too. Then I decided to check out the visual plug-ins; since no default visuals come with the player, I downloaded G-Force and WhiteCap from their links on the Audion site. I had to finagle with my computer a bit to get things to work properly; I'm having some sort of problem with a handful of applications, in which said apps will pause every 5-6 seconds for about a quarter of a second, which is quite annoying if you're playing a video game (RockNES) or watching a visual (Audion). I think it's caused by my DSL -- I suspect it's polling my Ethernet connection and thereby tying up the CPU, and the problem goes away when I disable the relevant extensions -- but why it bothers these programs and (seemingly) not others is a mystery to me.
After a couple false starts, things were up and running, and I was treated to a pleasure I don't think I've ever had before -- namely, my own music getting the "multimedia treatment". I'm a sucker for these kinds of computer graphics, and back seven years ago or so, from time to time I used to sit in front of the IIfx in my college's electronic music studio, running an old shareware screensaver that used vaguely similar effects, while listening to John Chowning or Pink Floyd or Debussy and watching the visuals. But these are of course on a whole different level, and are probably the most impressive of their kind I've ever seen -- enough so that I decided to turn off all the lights, and conceal my computer's "running lights", to give them my full visual attention. I believe G-Force is a relative of the visual that came with iTunes 1.0 on H.'s computer (and it's compatible with iTunes as well, as I recall), but it's definitely a cut above it, with creative and extremely attractive effects that are, apparently, married to some well-written algorithms: the visuals respond to the music in interesting and complex ways, and seem to react differently to different sounds, suggesting that there is a frequency-based component to their behavior (rather than just pure amplitude/dynamics).
Since iTunes 2.0 and later won't run on my computer -- I use Mac OS 8.6, and the patch enabling iTunes 1.x to run under 8.6 doesn't work with any later versions -- I've never had an MP3 player that could do crossfades. Audion does them nicely (though it restricts you to 5 or 10 second crossfades, and only appears to work globally -- i.e. all songs in your playlist have the same transition), and the effect on my own music was quite attractive (I almost wrote "the end of one piece became the beginning of the next" -- well, duh). So on a whim, I decided to set up a playlist made up of albums I'd never really heard before, but that I figured would segue together in an interesting way, based on what little I knew about them:
I'd heard about half of these artists -- Coil on Brainwashed radio a while back; Lucier through his "I Am Sitting In a Room", which I quite like; Kübisch's "Dreaming of a Major Third"; and some piece by Toral whose details I don't recall. As far as I know, I'd never heard the others.
I set up the playlist and repeatedly hit "Randomize" until it fulfilled my two main criteria -- first, that it not start with any extremely long pieces, and second, that a Coil track was near the beginning. (I figured, since I already had the lights out, I ought to be sure of hearing at least one song designed for the purpose, right?) Other than that, I paid as little attention as possible to the playlist order, trying to maximize the surprise/I-don't-know-what's-coming-next factor. I fired up the visual, started the playlist, and listened for about an hour (before turning off the visual), during which time I heard:
All in all, I took a lot of pleasure in it, especially at the beginning -- it's been a long time since I've felt that fully immersed in my listening, with unfamiliar music no less. It seems strange that adding a visual would make me feel as though I were listening more "completely", and yet that's exactly how it did feel: it produced in me a kind of patience, and a suspension of disbelief, that I'm not able to access nearly as often as I'd like. I found myself fully engaged by the narrative and sonic texture of each piece, and more able than usual to refrain from prematurely dwelling on questions of value, worth, and authorial intent. I'm certainly willing to concede that these experiences were heightened by the choice of music -- indeed, insofar as I was able, I made my selections on the basis of trying to facilitate such an experience. But there's something about this particular combination that works very well for me; as I've had similar feelings with totally different music (Ravel, Pink Floyd, Low) but a similar visual stimulus (the iTunes visual), I think it's just something about the non-representational visual that works for me. It's almost as though, by entertaining my eyes, my ears and brain are left to more fully engage with the music: are my eyes somehow the vehicle of my more proscriptive critical faculties? Hard to say.
As for the playlist itself, there were lots of nice moments. The crossfades made a big difference, giving the whole thing a feeling of unity -- or at least integration -- that made it much easier to listen continuously (rather than episodically) and with patience. As it turned out, I could tell when the crossfade to the next track was about to begin -- the visual would hesitate for a split-second, and my CD drive would rattle faintly -- but it didn't detract from the overall effect (particularly since I didn't know what I was listening to, nor what track was coming next, how long it would be, etc.). It's funny that the section I listened to with the visual was so completely dominated by those three artists; given the good results, perhaps it was serendipity, though I've continued to listen since beginning this post and, though the roster has varied a bit more, the good results have continued. Certainly I was impressed, as I listened, by how convincing a sense of unity I was getting from a randomized playlist; all the transitions were plausible and felt natural, and some were spot-on (as I recall, the segue between Aldea's "Track 4" and EAR's "8" was just about perfectly in tempo, with the chirping rhythm in the former transforming into the bass drum in the latter). If I were to turn this into a mix CD, the Kübisch would make a perfect way to end it -- it's intricate, quiet, structurally interesting (or at least engaging), and nicely articulates the connection between experimental music/electroacoustic composition and the kind of things that bands like Coil are trying to do.
current music: At one point, Eric Aldea - "Track 3"; now, as I finish this, Rafael Toral -- "Skyrocket"
September 21, 2002 (link)
In high school, when I still had designs on becoming a professional jazz musician, The Real Book (the old one, not the legal one) was basically my frame of reference for the jazz literature. If it was in there, I assumed that it was a standard (of sorts) that had won a place in the repertoire -- or in any event that someone had deemed it an Important enough song that it merited inclusion, and the attention of future generations. So one of my goals was to learn every song in the Real Book, confident that if I were to do so, I'd be familiar with a body of work that more or less constituted the heart of the jazz canon. (Actually, I'm painting myself as much more naive than I was; certainly I realized from early on that the Real Book had mistakes -- sometimes really boneheaded ones -- and that it omitted plenty of great songs, not to mention more than a few real standards like "Stardust", "Perdido", and "Laura", though to be fair those particular ones showed up in Volume Two). So to some extent, the inclusion of all those ECM-school tunes by Gary Burton, Steve Swallow, Pat Metheny, etc., fostered a belief in me that their work was considered some of the most vital/innovative/significant music in the seventies. Of course, now I know that Metheny and other Berklee students wrote the damn thing, so of course their songs were in there! (Tangentially, has anyone ever thanked Pat Metheny for his work? Illegal or not, that book was a watershed moment in jazz education, and its inclusion of non-traditional, "modern" jazz compositions almost definitely had a profound effect on a lot of young musicians.) It's interesting to speculate whether Metheny and company prepared their own legacy, since their work, as it happens, was indeed some of the most interesting jazz in the '70s; whenever I did track down the albums that any of those tunes came from, like Bright Size Life or Crystal Silence, I was almost always thoroughly impressed. Like David Bowie -- who acted as though he were already a superstar in order to become one -- did putting their songs in the Real Book serve as a way to heighten a reputation that was, at the time, still under construction? Did others, like me, assume they were important because they were in the Real Book? I'm inclined to think it wasn't a major factor -- and it never could've been sustained if the music hadn't been up to par -- but I also doubt I was the only one swayed.
It quickly became obvious, though, that my efforts (to learn every song) weren't going to go anywhere. Some songs didn't make much sense without other parts, and couldn't really be learned on one's own. Other songs were notated in ways that made them seem random or nonsensical until you heard the album version, which would often embellish or elaborate the written lines in a way that connected the musical dots: Steve Swallow's "Arise, Her Eyes" sounds totally natural and lucid on Crystal Silence, but the chart makes the song seem fragmentary and disjointed. And some songs just didn't seem to make any sense, like "Hotel Hello", which is almost entirely made up of tied whole notes! Probably the most frequent problem, though, would be songs that went out of my range. Chick Corea songs were particularly prone to this -- for a piano player, a jumping melody that hangs out above the staff is trivial to play, and for a sax player, it's usually feasible, but for a trumpet player, it's a nightmare, unplayable for any but the most technically proficient.
When I changed over to bass in college, my opportunities to play jazz were somewhat less regular at first, but eventually a decent ensemble formed and I got to know some songs I had never tried as a trumpeter -- for instance, Corea's "500 Miles High", the melody to which spans over two octaves and would sound terribly awkward on the trumpet even if I could've played it! That was fun, but when I left college, the opportunities to play jazz ended, pretty much completely. There aren't many professional opportunities for even the best local jazz musicians, let alone a fair-to-middling one like me, and most of them play an exceedingly conservative repertoire: it's not a universe that gets me very excited. I'd love to have a band that was fluent in jazz without being a jazz band per se (though the dangers of falling into a "Magilla" trap are considerable), but so far all of my Philadelphia band dreams have foundered on the Scylla and Charybdis of laziness and poverty.
When I got my piano, though, I figured I ought to use it, and my painfully inadequate chops make playing classical music pretty much an exercise in futility. So I've taken to setting my Real Book out on the piano and running through some of the tunes I've never tried, and have never heard. To my surprise, I can sight-read many of them, or at least do a reasonable job of faking it, enough so that playing them isn't the dissatisfying experience it would be on trumpet or bass. I don't really harbor the illusion anymore that knowing the songs in The Real Book will somehow magically make me into a paragon of jazz erudition, but I still enjoy going back and looking at the tunes that, time and time again, I've paged past on my way to "Footprints" or "I'll Remember April".
The two that I've hit the most, over the past couple months, have probably been Keith Jarrett's "Fortune Smiles" and Bill Evans' arrangement of "I'm All Smiles". I'd never heard a recording of the Jarrett before I started playing it; like most songs in the Real Book, it's sparsely notated as to dynamics, phrasing, etc., so I forged my own interpretation. After I'd spent a few weeks with it, I went to CDNow and listened to a sound sample, curious to see how much my approach diverged from the original. For the most part, I was along the same lines as the recording, but there were a few interesting differences; most notably, I'd assumed the B section was quiet and lyrical, and had come up with an approach that felt really good to me, but on the recording they hit it just about as hard as they hit the rest of the melody. As for "I'm All Smiles", I haven't heard a recording of it yet, but I feel like I've got a pretty good grip on the song. At first the chords didn't make that much sense to me -- there are a couple weird cross-relations/dissonances with the melody -- but I've either gotten used to them, or have found ways of phrasing them that seem plausible to me. I feel like now, when I finally do hear the Evans recording, I'll potentially have a kind of aesthetic access to it that I otherwise wouldn't have had. I'm not sure whether it's one that I would've needed -- it's not the same as, say, playing through a Schoenberg piano piece before attending a recital where it's to be featured -- but it'll be interesting to see how my initial reaction changes, having already in some sense "learned" the song.
current music: Bruce & Brian BecVar - The Magic of Healing: Kapha (Man, if this is "kind of new-agey", I'm afraid to find out what you think is really new-agey! It's inoffensive, though -- it doesn't have too much of the oppressive quality that so many recordings like it seem to have -- and has its moments here and there. Still, is there some unwritten rule that people making this kind of music have to use, like, the shittiest-sounding patches they can find? Those choir patches are just awful.)
September 16, 2002 (link)
Here is my track-by-track review of Disc One of Yellowdock, J.'s contribution to -- and opening salvo for -- our CD trading club:
current music: Yellowdock, Disc One
September 15, 2002 (link)
Someone got here with the Google search string "lester+bowie+wynton+marsalis+controversy". Out of curiosity, I did the same search, and ended up at a page from the Acid Jazz mailing list archive which quoted the following, very interesting story:
About five or six years ago...the Boston Public Library had Wynton in as a speaker along with the photographer to promote [their] book. The setting was pretty much a lecture in the main exhibition hall at the library. Wynton was going to make some comments, play a little bit, open it up for Q & A, and then sign books...
Of course, you have to take the story with a grain of salt...and as another poster pointed out, Miles Davis very well might've banned him too! But even after you account for potentially biased reporting and so forth (would Wynton really be so foolish as to call it a "squawkety squawk racket"?), it's still pretty telling.
current music: Stonemen Hiss - Fulgurite (thanks, Ryan!)
September 12, 2002 (link)
If you dig the music and want to wish him well, consider sending a card to Shooby Taylor for his 73rd birthday, coming up on September 19th -- less than a week away!
Some days you kick yourself for not rolling tape on everything you do: I was listening to "Luuk Kob's Diddley Bow Feature" from the Thai Elephant Orchestra CD, and realized that I still had the Radio Tunis RealAudio stream playing in the background, muted, from earlier when I had been listening to it. I brought the volume it up, and at first it was silent, making me wonder whether the connection hadn't given up on me. But then a muezzin came in, singing an a cappella solo, and the combination was fantastic! The two sounded like they were absolutely meant to be together -- phrases ended and began at exactly the right places, with the steady-unsteady rhythm of the elephants often coinciding perfectly with the entrances and exits of the singer. And it was inherently unreproducible: though I know from previous experience that Radio Tunis has this sort of thing on fairly often, I have no idea whether the muezzin is singing live, or if it's a recording, and even if it were a commercially available CD I'd have no idea how to track it down. (It's a very dry, clean recording, so I suspect it's live in the studio. He's still singing now, ten minutes later.) The choice of "Luuk Kob" was perfect, too -- it's a much sparser selection, with far fewer pitched elements, than most of the other tracks on the disk. This makes me all the hungrier for a mixing board!
current music: Radio Tunis
September 10, 2002 (link)
The other night at H.'s place, after she'd gone to sleep, I made myself a mix CD from some of the MP3s I've copied onto her iMac. I couldn't really preview the disc without waking her, so it was interesting to fly blind a bit and see what I came up with:
As you might've guessed, my intent was initially to make a disc I might be able to fall asleep to, or failing that, to make one that occupied a fairly consistent (and more-or-less ambient) soundworld. Overall I think I succeeded pretty well, and some of the transitions came out pretty nicely. I deliberately picked a few tracks I didn't know very well at all, especially the Budd, the HIA/Biosphere, and the Charles Atlas. Between that, and not previewing the disc before I burned it, listening to the disc for the first time was a bit like a surprise present I'd given to myself, in that I often didn't really know what was coming next, but knew that it would probably be in something of the same vein. (If there's one selection I'd change, it'd probably be "Aldrigpunkt" -- a song I quite admire, but it's the kind of track that almost needs to be surrounded with dissimilar songs. In the midst of a "warm ambient" compilation, it seems a bit out of place -- digital, angular, and bleak -- and I feel like my choice of it was a bit too reflexive, in that another song I liked less might've nonetheless been better for the flow of the disc as a whole.)
On the other hand, there were a few transitions that could've used a crossfade -- something that version of iTunes (1.0) can't do -- and, to my chagrin, I discovered that the Monteverdi cuts off about a minute before the end! I downloaded that one a couple years back, during Napster's heyday, and still don't know who the performers are. I don't like their version as much as Harnoncourt's, but I thought I'd try it out, since I've only listened to it a couple times. By the way, if you're wondering about the four minutes of silence, it's not a pretentious lead-in sort of thing; I did it because I could spot a physical defect in the CDR, only a little ways from the hub, and figured that if I started the CD with a few minutes of silence then the music would begin after the defect, and nothing would skip. My guess of four minutes turned out to be more or less correct -- the Pink Floyd looks like it might start just at the edge of the defect, but I haven't heard it glitch on playback yet.
Speaking of Pink Floyd, the night before I made the mix, I played Side 2 of Wish You Were Here, as well as the entirety of Return to Forever's Musicmagic and most of Vanilla Ice's To the Extreme, on my new-found boombox while I washed dishes and cleaned the kitchen. I assume the Return to Forever isn't one of their better albums, since it's total dreck, and I don't really have anything new to say about Vanilla Ice (though I was surprised by how boyish he sounds -- I'd forgotten how young he was). I didn't expect the Pink Floyd to sound so mild, though; I enjoyed it, I suppose, but I've gotten so used to the raw, live versions of those songs that the studio ones seemed very tame by comparison. That didn't hurt the title track much, and "Have a Cigar" has other things to recommend the studio version (like Roy Harper's take on the vocals), but "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX)" sounded particularly weak, both in terms of a lack of aggression and from the absence of Rick Wright's closing piano solo, which is one of the best parts of the song when they do it live. I despise these silly-ass terms like "rockist" and the like, but one of them -- "MOR", which depending on whom you ask means either "middle-of-the-road rock" or "market-oriented rock" -- seems dangerously close to being apt. On the other hand, it was a tape, and those Columbia tapes are notorious for sounding highly processed and bland. In fact, except for radio broadcasts, I don't know that I've ever heard Wish You Were Here on CD, or LP for that matter...? In any event, I still think the songwriting on the album is great, and "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is one of the band's best, but I can understand why a lot of people seem to prefer Animals -- an album which, even though it's much heavier slogging, is also definitely more raw and visceral.
And speaking of mix CDs, I have received Yellowdock, and look forward to reviewing it in the very near future!
current music: American Analog Set - "It's All About Us (7" version)"
September 7, 2002 (link)
"Keep Those Hopes Up", lyrics by Mary McBride, music by Lew Tobin, and sung by Gary Roberts.
The bass glisses down, the piano and guitar play a jaunty little C major theme in octaves, the bass answers with a "ba-dum-bum-bum", and we're off:
Keep those hopes high
Gary Roberts' delivery of these lines is leaden, flat, and a bit overwrought -- in other words, pretty typical song-poem singing. And by "flat" I mean not only "lacking in intensity", but "a dozen cents shy of the correct pitch" -- he's subtly off, but it's there. Meanwhile the guitarist is playing off-beat chunk-chunk-chunks. The whole thing reminds me a bit of...
When all of a sudden you are feeling low
...the main music to Super Mario Bros. 2! Those ascending triplets in the piano are charming -- straight out of the "twee" (don't like that word) end of the Nintendo music universe. Fire up your copy of SMB2 and compare -- you could easily make a bootleg mix of the two! The walking bass part is especially reminiscent of SMB2.
That's when it seems that everyone is against you
I think one of my favorite parts of doing these song-poem reviews are these moments -- that first peek that something is a bit askew in the psyche of the lyricist. It seems like a fairly innocuous sentiment, a bit reminiscent of a line in Traffic's "Empty Pages", but consider that there, the line is "She's the one makes me feel so good when everything is against me". (Good song, by the way.) And that's how I suspect most of us would write it. The feeling that "every thing is against me" is a pretty normal one -- indeed, it's something that I think few of us have never felt -- but, importantly, it places the responsibility for that feeling in something fairly abstract, whether it be the Immutable Will, the deity of our choice, karma, witchcraft, or whatever else. But thinking that everyone is against you strikes me as a far more inherently and concretely paranoid thought, since it locates the cause of that feeling in other people, each of whom is -- if the statement is to be taken literally -- specifically and personally against you. Admittedly, a lot of people have had one or two moments in their lives where that might have seemed perilously close to being true. But feeling that way on an ongoing basis is probably a sign of clinical paranoia.
Concentrate on something that interests you
This is the first line that really feels like it came not from a pop song, but from a daily affirmation. It reminds me a little of that duff lyric in "Take It As It Comes" -- "Specialize in having fun". The question is, are these lyrics advice to someone else, or to the author?
Keep those hopes up
This uplifting sentiment is mirrored by the rising vocal line -- B, C, D, G.
So keep those thoughts on good things
Again, this line sits a little funny on the palate. There's a hint of obsessiveness to it -- "must keep thoughts on good things, must keep thoughts on good things, mustn't think about setting fires, the fires and the burning and the..."
Not everyone is against you
This line made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it, but --
-- this line put me on the floor! It's such a wildly paranoid and yet ineffectual, lady-doth-protest-too-much statement -- and when you marry it to this awkwardly jaunty music and that stiff, heavy voice, it's completely comic. It's the kind of thing you'd say if you did believe that everyone was against you, but -- though you didn't want to admit it -- could only protest weakly. It's a little bit Milhouse-like -- a more defeated version of "My mom thinks I'm cool".
And if you try, you will find
These fairly unremarkable lines are followed by a repeat of the opening motto. Then we get an instrumental break -- a bit like Vince Guaraldi, but without the inspiration, taste, or craftsmanship -- in which the bass player perpetrates some awful clams by way of failing to notice that his fingers are one fret off from where they should be. The guitar solo is no great shakes, either.
Keep those hopes up
As in the first appearance of these lines, the piano and guitar suddenly drop out for "You'll feel better if you do", reemerging partway through the next line. It seems too intentional to be an accident, but I don't really understand why they did it -- it's the kind of thing that isn't really likely to add anything to the song (the way they do it, at least).
Not everyone is against you
And the song clunks to a finish, leaving you half-expecting to hear Jamey Aebersold's voice come in to count off the next track: "One...two...one, two, three, four." This whole thing could be Aebersold karaoke, at that, although the accompaniment is definitely not up to JA's standards by a long shot -- they may be a bit stiff, but those guys can play.
By the way, my guess that Tobin wrote the music and Ms. McBride wrote the lyrics is based on the Sterling Records discography, which co-credits Tobin on about half of the records listed. I can't imagine he'd give a damn about the niceties of the lyrics, so I'd assume he was the Sterling Records in-house composer/arranger. It's a little atypical in the song-poem world to actively seek a credit for your work -- even the singers often used pseudonyms, as I recall. [Addendum, Sept. 10, 2002: Well, duh -- Mr. Tobin and his wife owned the label.]
current music: the sweet sound of Andre Agassi's racket, thumping Lleyton Hewitt 6-4 7-6 (5) 4-1 as I write this.
September 5, 2002 (link)
So, first off, you can find the WFMU archive of the Shooby Taylor interview here, in RealAudio format. (Click the August 28 link; the Shooby section starts a little past the two-hour mark, at 02:05:15, with Shooby's take on "In a Mellotone".) Most of what I'd otherwise have talked about can easily be gleaned by listening to the show, though some of the highlights are definitely worth mentioning -- most notably, Shooby's story of how he met Eric Dolphy, who apparently liked Shooby's scatting quite a lot!
I was the second caller on the show, and as you'll hear if you listen to the archive, Irwin was kind enough to hand me an opportunity to plug the "Stout-Hearted Men" transcription I did. (It's kind of a nifty coincidence that I did that transcription not long before they announced Shooby had been found: good timing/intuition on my part!) I've seen a few referral hits for things like "rockoverlondon+shooby+transcription", so I guess people were listening and found their way here. I probably was a little overly generous with my compliments to Shooby, but I've no regrets about that -- particularly as it sounds like the poor guy has taken a fair amount of hard knocks over the years, including a fairly recent stroke that's left him unable to perform and made his speech a bit irregular (though still perfectly coherent). He was very nice on the phone, and seemed to appreciate my compliments and my question. The new tracks they played were all fun, though there wasn't anything on the same level as "Stout-Hearted Men" -- which is one unanswered question, tangentially: was Shooby playing the organ on that song, or was it a recording or an accompanist? There's definitely something different about those first few Human Horn recordings -- they're more upfront, dynamic -- and I like to think it's just him and his organ, but he's never mentioned being an organist, only a saxophonist. The answer may well be in the Songs in the Key of Z book, which I unfortunately have yet to acquire. (My birthday is coming up in only a few weeks...)
I tried to listen to Magma's Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandöh as I first started writing this entry, but it was driving me nuts within about three minutes. I don't think I've ever sat down and listened to the whole thing. My first exposure to Magma was in my friend Alex's car, listening to some live tape he had kicking around; they sounded like a cross between Mahavishnu and Gong to me, but I've haven't heard any Magma since that was along those lines -- everything else has been more overtly bombastic. Speaking of Gong, I've been very much enjoying Daevid Allen's excellent Good Morning album lately. I've never much chased after Gong members' solo albums -- I assumed it was one of those whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts things, as is almost always the case -- but this one's a real keeper, and makes it clear just how much of what I like about Gong comes from him (though my favorite Gong album is still You, a record on which his influence is on the wane, and I have a soft spot for Shamal, which was the first Gong record I ever heard). They call him "one of the great hippie poets" or something like that, and though it sounds like a backhanded compliment, it's really quite apt -- he's better at making mystical/hippy-dippy lyrics work than just about anyone else I've ever heard, including the Beatles. And there's lots of lovely music on the album; some of it is more memorable than others, of course, but the overall feel is that of a gentle, pastoral intelligence which I find very appealing. I hope Gong tours here again soon; a certain Oliver Daniel fan tells me that Daevid is a huge, loving, friendly bear of a man. I'd love to meet him!
I'm not generally one to listen to music as I go to sleep -- at least not at night, anyway: when I take a nap during the day, it actually seems to help, and turning a record up loud at 4 p.m. is sometimes surprisingly effective at knocking me out. (I know I've passed out to ambient stuff like Deep Chill Network -- and to Neon From Candlelight's CDR, which is towards the feedback-drone end of the spectrum -- but I think I've also passed out listening to something far noisier and more unpredictable: All Natural Lemon and Lime Flavors? Ornette Coleman?) The past two nights, though, I've put on Magical Power Mako's Trance Resonance and Facil's Untitled, respectively. The Facil, which I played last night, didn't really do much of anything -- I fell asleep with it playing at medium volume in the next room, woke up twenty minutes later and shut it off. Trance Resonance, though, made for a strange half-dreaming experience, and waking up to it was a bit disorienting -- it took me a moment to figure out what those sounds were. It's easy enough, of course, to see why each had its respective effect: the Facil is pretty straight-up 4/4 ambient, whereas the Magical Power Mako disc is basically a collage of different sounds, samples, performance techniques, and musical excerpts, and even when you're fully conscious it's a far less easy disc to anticipate. It's also a concert recording, which makes it feel a bit different than your typical record of that sort, inasmuch as there is any "typical" etc. It's nothing radical, but it makes for a nice change of pace -- a little looser, and a bit more spacious, than your average studio project. A description of the album here, at the Forced Exposure website, has some interesting details about the performance and instrumentation.
current music: Atom Heart - Dots
Tom Jones, Henry Fielding
The Computer Connection, Alfred Bester