Broadsides at Chetham’s Library, Manchester

Last year, I heard an interesting programme on BBC Radio 4. It was hosted by British folk singer Eliza Carthy who was on the hunt for a new piece of music to record. Her search lead her to Chetham’s Library in the heart of Manchester. In recent years, my interest in British folk music has increased and a visit to the library was added to my to-do list for my recent trip to the UK.

Established in 1653, Chetham’s is the oldest public reference library in the UK. Amidst its vast rows of shelves are the contents of two impressive collections of folk music broadsides from Manchester and surrounding environs. These are the Holt Collection and the Axon Collection which both feature an impressive array of paperwork spanning the nineteenth century.

The Holt Ballad Sheets are affixed to the pages of a huge book. The book contains over 400 broadsides and over 900 individual works.

The Axon Ballad Collection contains 132 sheets and a total of 280 ballads. These are all on separate sheets stored in file folders in another room of the library.

Scholars are welcome to visit the library to view these works but, an appointment needs to be booked a day in advance. During my stay with friends in Sheffield, I called to book a viewing on Wednesday, August 31.

On the day, my friend Simon and I headed over to Manchester to visit the library. We were greeted by Fergus Wilde who has been on staff at the library for the past twenty years. The first location that we visited was the room where the Holt Collection was housed (see photo above). As previously mentioned, these sheets were glued into a large leather-bound volume by their original owner. One can actually see that the sheets cover the original text in the book as it is faintly visible underneath each broadside.

Following this viewing, we headed to another more modern room where the Axon Collection was situated. In this case, each broadside had been affixed to separate white pages in an effort to keep them from suffering damage as they were handled.

The songs contained in these incredible collections reveal a unique insight into the world of nineteenth century life in Manchester and surrounding areas. They reveal tales of daily life, social concerns and humorous insights. It is a fascinating tour into the past as related through the words of the songwriters of the day.

It is a testament to the people who collected these works as well as Chetham’s Library that these documents from the past are made available for us to enjoy and study in the twenty-first century.

If you are interested in seeing some of these pieces of history, please check out the link to the scans of the Axon Ballads Collection listed below.

Here are some links of interest:

BBC Radio 4 – “The Manchester Ballads” 

The Axon Ballads Collection

Chetham’s Library website

 

Recent Arrivals – MoonJune

2016 marks the 15th anniversary of the MoonJune Records label. Over the course of its history, the label has released an impressive array of sounds spanning jazz rock, prog and world fusion recordings. Here are a few of the most recent…

“Zhongyu” Is Chinese for “Finally” is the self explanatory title of the CD by Zhongyu. The group explores many different areas which encompass relationships between different genres of music.

From the initial sounds of some electronic experimentation, the group slips into a prog rock mode with Crimson-esque guitar riffs and violin reminiscent of the Lark’s Tongue in Aspic era.

The use of the Chinese zither known as the guzheng brings an oriental feel to many of the works. It is used on its own as well as being blended with more modern electric sounds to interesting effect.

Overall, the mix of themes and instrumentation forms a nice balance for an album of interesting sounds.

So Far So Close by keyboardist Dwiki Dharmawan seems like a real blast from the past. If somebody had told me that an unreleased 1970s album by Return to Forever had recently been unearthed, I’d have been hard-pressed to argue. So far from the ’70s, so close to the sound.

Since I have been listening to RTF a fair amount lately, this disc seems to fit right into that mode. Even Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Jerry Goodman has been brought into the mix to feature on the album’s first track.

Sometimes it is hard to ascertain whether an artist is making a nod to the past with their sound or simply stuck in the era. Either way, if this type of jazz fusion is your cup of tea, you’ll probably find it quite entertaining.

For many of us of a certain age, the release of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon seemed like a watershed moment in musical time back in March of 1973. Since then, a couple of generations had been around to absorb its ever-present sonic vibrations. Over the years, there have been countless tributes and covers spanning all manner of disparate musical genres.

The Great Gig in the Sky is another such tribute by the trio of Boris Savoldelli, Raffaele Casarano and Marco Bardoscia. After the obligatory heartbeats and spooky voices, an acoustic bass brings the listener into Breathe.

Throughout the tracks, the sounds of jazz are mixed with electronic sounds which sometimes develop into pseudo electro dance beats.

The interpretations are interesting with accomplished musicianship.  The only drawback for me are the vocal contributions. While Boris Savoldelli has a distinctive vocal style, the often pained, dark approach seems to be more of a distraction within the context of the rest of the music.

MoonJune Records website

 

 

Keith Tippett on Discus

A while back, I posted about a recent Kickstarter campaign to fund a new Keith Tippett release on the Discus label. It was a quick success and now the CD is available for all to hear.

Keith Tippett has been active on the British jazz scene for over 45 years. His discography (under his own name as as a player with others) spans dozens and dozens of releases over those years.

My own introduction to his work came in the form of his sprawling double LP set called Septober Energy by the ensemble of fifty musicians that he assembled known as Centipede. This set released in 1971 (1974 on this side of the pond) was an amazing and sometimes confounding work of a massive scale. It certainly made my teenage ears perk up and listen.

Over the years, Tippett has continued to produce many works deemed important in the annals of British jazz. His latest work certainly does not veer from that standard.

The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon spans over the course of a series of nine (natch!) compositions… with an additional two works appended as codas.

Scored for his octet, the introductory work often feels like there are often twice as many players at work. The band could be as big as any Ellington or Basie ensemble at work. The piece swings but with a series of jagged edges stabbing within and around rapid-fire themes.

The second piece makes you feel like you have come out of the blistering sunlight and into the shade of a familiar tree. You can now wipe the sweat from your brow and feel some relief from the heat.

Three of the works – The Dance of the Walk with the Sun on his Back, The Dance of the Bike Ride from Shinanagh Bridge with the Wind at his Back and The Dance of the Wily Old Fox of the Ballyhoura Mountains – give off a cinematic air. These ears want to hear the sounds coming from a black and white detective film from the 1950s. They evoke a contemporary sound which harks to a monochrome age.

Following the Nine Dances are two codas. The first is a ballad sung by Julie Tippetts which seems to come out of nowhere to bring a tear to the eye like so many Irish folk songs are wont to do. It is followed by an arrangement of the traditional Irish song The Last Rose of Summer which neatly ties the whole package with a big shiny bow.

Tick the box for one more impressive addition to the discography of Keith Tippett.

Keith Tippet at Discus Music

Never a Dull Moment by David Hepworth

Hot on the heels of Jon Savage’s book 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded comes another book which focuses on a specific year. David Hepworth’s new book is entitled Never a Dull Moment – 1971: The Year That Rock Exploded. Whereas both of these books share a similar format in that the months are used as the twelve chapter of the books, that is where much of the similarity ends.

Both writers present stories about music of the year within a framework consisting of the cultural, social and political climate of the time. However, Savage’s book is around 25% music and 75% social conditions contrasted with Hepworth’s 90% music and 10% cultural framework. (For a more in depth look at Jon Savage’s book, please check out my article elsewhere on this blog.)

For his book, Hepworth generally begins each chapter with an overview of the times. This is followed by several stories about artists, songs, albums, producers etc… on whom he focuses his direct attention.

He begins his journey into the year by relating the fact that it began with the official dissolution of The Beatles. So, 1971 was the first “post-Beatles” year after the conclusion of the ’60s.

Since Carole King’s Tapestry was one of the biggest breakouts of the year, he explores her place in the blossoming world of the singer/songwriters of the year. These include people like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and Carly Simon. He also talks about one of the most enduring figures of the time who made little inroads in the way of popularity at the time – Nick Drake.

By way of the Rolling Stones, he relates stories about the release of Sticky Fingers as well as the band’s excursion to France to record the following year’s sprawling double album release – Exile on Main Street.

The state of music coming from the African American community is explored with tales of Motown label boss Berry Gordy Jr. and his stable of artists including Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. He also writes about Isaac Hayes as well as American TV host/producer Don Cornelius who brought Soul Train into the living rooms of the youth.

Producers like Ken Scott and Glyn Johns hook up with David Bowie and The Who respectively and breed the top albums Hunky Dory and Who’s Next. These were both milestones in the careers of the artists in 1971.

We also learn how producer Tom Dowd convinced the Allman Brothers Band to ditch the distracting horn section which was being used during their series of dates at the Fillmore East. This helped the band turn the corner and produce their double live LP set At Fillmore East which is still regarded as a classic today.

There are tales of Led Zeppelin, Roxy Music, Harry Nilsson, Don McLean, Frank Zappa, Black Sabbath, The Beach Boys, T. Rex, Big Star, Rod Stewart, Carpenters and even a name-check for German Krautrock pioneers Can.

Festivals were also the order of the day in 1971 as the long-lived Glastonbury Festival got its start. There are also other tales of (much) less successful events such as the Weeley Festival and the disastrous Celebration of Life Festival in Louisiana.

1971 was also the year that the first rock concert charity event was organized by George Harrison. The ups and downs of this new type of venture venture are examined.

Reading through this book reminds the reader about so many watershed moments that occurred in the music world at the beginning of the 1970s. To a generation accustomed to auditioning the latest sounds via the internet with the click of a mouse, these times music seem like some ancient distant land. Music fans used to find themselves reading about interesting music and, if they were lucky, being able to catch some of the sounds on an adventurous underground FM radio station. It was a time when people congregated at record stores and took in the artwork and liner notes of the LPs filling the bins.

I was there… and it was damn fun!

Classic Rock? In my day it was called New Releases! 

 

 

 

Silent Records Lives Again

Silent Records was the brainchild of label founder Kim Cascone. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Silent issued many recordings of interesting music spanning several genres including ambient, industrial and beat-oriented sounds.

In 1996, Kim invited me to issue something on his label after becoming familiar with my work on the FAX label from Germany. So, twenty years ago(!) my album Distant Rituals was released on Silent Records.

It was around this time that Kim left the label and sold it to an employee. Unfortunately, this change of hands did not work out well and the label folded in 1997. So, for nearly 20 years many great recordings have remained out of print.

Fast forward to 2016 and Kim has decided to re-boot Silent Records. In recent months, he has managed to track down most of the core artists who are still living and active. That includes me.

In the coming months, many of the long out of print recordings will start to make a reappearance via various media platforms. In addition to this, he has also managed to create a brand new compilation release entitled From Here to Tranquility 6. This latest installment in the series includes recent recordings by many of those core artists from years gone by. My work entitled Onlooker will be featured on the set. It will be available for download or as a limited edition CD release.

There will also be a second volume of this set which features artists which have some relationship with the label (but, not as a core artist). This release will be made available as a download-only item.

In addition to re-issuing Distant Rituals, Kim has inquired about the re-release of some of my other long out of print material. Stay tuned as there will be more information coming in the future.

At the present time, Silent Records now has its own devoted streaming channel via SomaFM. Please visit the site to hear some wonderful ambient sounds from the past. This is just the beginning to the channel. Musical content will soon be expanding.

It’s all very exciting news and I wish Kim Cascone the best for his venture in the future!

The Silent Channel on SomaFM

Exposure for Canadian contemporary music (or lack thereof)

During my 25 years on the radio, I always took great pleasure in featuring the music of countless Canadian composers and musicians. These included works from the world of contemporary classical, electroacoustic and out jazz music. While it was great to share this material with the audience of a community radio station, it was not quite the audience that this music could have been receiving from a national broadcaster.

Over the years, the CBC (Canada’s national broadcasting service) has gone through many changes and these have often resulted in these types of music getting even more marginalized.

Canadian composer Paul Steenhuisen recently put together a letter to send to the Canadian League of Composer which addressed the situation of contemporary music and its status on the CBC. Paul has graciously given me permission to re-post his letter here.

Please read this letter in order to gain a greater understanding of the challenges that people like me (an electroacoustic composer) face when trying to get our music exposed to more people.


From Paul Steenhuisen to the Canadian League of Composers:

Following up on my recent FB post, I’ve written a letter to the Canadian League of Composers. I include the letter here in order that others can read it, and perhaps add their comments. The letter was addressed to CLC President Brian Harman and the Head of the Advocacy Committee, Ian Crutchley. Others cited in my original FB post were Christien Ledroit, David Pay, and David Jaeger. Hopefully good things will happen.

“As a former longtime Canadian League of Composers Council Member, past ISCM Canadian Section President, composer, and contemporary music and public broadcasting advocate, I am requesting that the CLC, in its role as representative of Canadian composers, direct resources toward renewing its working relationship with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for the benefit of the status of the artist in Canada.

The past decade has seen the removal of the CBC’s composer commissioning program, the demise of the CBC Vancouver Radio Orchestra, the cancellation of Two New Hours (the primary broadcast venue), the abandonment of recording of Canadian contemporary music, the end of the Young Composers Competition, and removal of other Classical Music radio programming. The accumulation of these actions amounts to the decimation of all resources previously, historically, and successfully devoted to Canadian contemporary music by the CBC, and the severance of the relationship between our flourishing field and the public broadcaster. While in some areas the CBC has diversified its programming, with the absence of Canadian composers and Classical music programming, it has moved toward significantly more commercial programming, at the expense of its responsibilities to the 1991 Broadcast Act. The Broadcast Act states that the CBC is mandated to provide programming that is “distinctively Canadian,” “actively contribute(s) to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,” to “make maximum use of Canadian creative and other resources in the creation and presentation of programming,” to “safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada,” and serve as “a public service essential to the maintenance and enhancement of national identity and cultural sovereignty.” Over the course of just over a decade, the CBC has perpetrated significant, quantifiable cultural and economic damage to the fields of Contemporary and Classical music in Canada.

In addition to developing and maintaining regular dialogue with the CBC to regenerate their investment in Canadian contemporary music through recordings, broadcasts, and commissions, etc., it would be prudent to determine the formal process for how new programs are proposed and developed, create a list of producers amenable to new programming initiatives, determine ways in which composers work could be included in current programming, and compile a set of resources that would assist CLC constituents in establishing meaningful communication with the CBC regarding our shared musical interests. More specifically, I am also requesting that the CLC, in combination with the organizers of the ISCM World New Music Days (Vancouver 2017), work towards securing national broadcast commitments by the CBC. The ISCM World New Music Days is an important international festival that will showcase top-level music, performers, and composers, and is an ideal opportunity for the CBC to be reminded of the quality, interest, and value of artists and individuals contributing to this wide-ranging field of creative music. While various other new media is available for making concerts available, nothing can currently match the awareness and exposure that can be obtained through the radio and television resources of Canada’s longstanding public broadcaster.

Please note that in discussion with the CBC, some individuals are inclined to distort and manipulate important terminology required for the presentation and understanding of accurate broadcast statistics. While demonizing art music as elitist, they have simultaneously sought to co-opt the term composer to apply to singer-songwriters and anyone who makes music. They have also attempted to transform the terms contemporary music and new music to mean anything recent, and inclusive of anything, such as commercial, pop, rock, hip-hop, electronica, and other forms of musical expression. By doing so, they will argue that they play more contemporary music by Canadian composers than they ever have, while knowing that this is untrue based on historically accepted definitions of the terms. Meanwhile, the CBC’s inclusion of composers associated with the Canadian Music Centre, including electroacoustic music, is near zero. The CBC is mandated to be an alternative to commercial interests, driven by cultural responsibilities rather than commercial ones.

With a new government that has stated its commitment to restoring the CBC, and new funds being promised to the public broadcaster, it is critical for the Canadian League of Composers to devote significant and ongoing resources to forging a meaningful role for Canadian art music at the CBC. There is a wealth of wonderful music being made and performed by artists of the highest level in Canada, and the field has expanded and changed – it is a cultural loss to Canadians that the CBC is currently not part of it. My hope is that with the advocacy of the CLC (perhaps in combination with the Canadian New Music Network), the current circumstance will change and our collective, active role in Canadian culture will once again be reflected by our public broadcaster.”

Tony Conrad 1940 – 2016

On March 22nd, The Guardian ran an article about musician and filmmaker Tony Conrad which encapsulated his long career and was a lead-up to the April 1st Big Ears Festival in Knoxville. Scarcely a week later, it was reported that Conrad would not be able to make the appearance due to health concerns. On April 9th he succumbed to prostate cancer.

Back in the early 1970s when I first started getting interested in avant-garde and minimalist music, the name Tony Conrad crept into the text of many books that I read. I knew that he was associated with La Monte Young and his Theatre of Eternal Music (AKA The Dream Syndicate) but, was not able to source any recordings. At that point in time, the only photo that I’d seen of him was simply a shadow of a figure playing a violin projected on a curtain.

I knew that he recorded and LP with the German group Faust but, even though I could find the Faust albums, that certain record always seemed to elude me. It wasn’t until the days of CD re-issues that I finally managed to obtain a copy.

I was also aware of Tony Conrad’s film/video work which I was finally able to view courtesy of youtube. His main area of focus for many years was film.

Fast forward to 2010 and I find myself (as half of the duo Transmorphous Sound Ensemble with Richard Moule) booked to play at the LOLA Festival on the same bill as Tony Conrad.

For his performance, Conrad used his Long String Instrument to create a wonderful cloud of sound. After his performance, Richard and I were lucky enough to get to hang out with Tony and chat. It was a quite surreal moment for me as we listened to this iconic musical figure who had once only existed to me as a photograph of a shadow.

To discover more about Tony Conrad’s work, I recommend doing a search on youtube. There are several clips there including some very interesting interviews.

There is also a book which Tony himself recommends entitled Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts After Cage by Branden W. Joseph.

Here are a few photos which I took of Tony performing at the 2010 LOLA Festival here in London, Ontario.

Discus / Keith Tippett Update

I’m very pleased to report that Martin Archer recently announced that the Kickstarter campaign in support of the CD release of  The Nine Dances Of Patrick O’Gonogon by the Keith Tippett Octet has been successful.

The CD will be shipped out to supporters in June and will also be available through the Discus website.

Martin Archer is certainly one busy person. The Julie Tippetts/Martin Archer Ensemble was invited to play at the Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville in Victoriaville, Quebec this month. They performed on Thursday, May 19th on the opening day of the festival. Congratulations to Martin and Julie on their Canadian preformance debut!

 

Discus / Keith Tippett Kickstarter campaign

Martin Archer is currently in the process of preparing the release of a new CD by the Keith Tippett Octet on his Discus label. This release involves the use of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign. If you would be interested in supporting this project, here are the details…

PRESS RELEASE 1 APRIL 2016

Discus is delighted to announce that our next CD release will be The Nine Dances Of Patrick O’Gonogon by the Keith Tippett Octet. The piece was commissioned by Richard Wiltshire and was recorded at Real World Studio (producer Mathew Arnold).

The CD is ready to go into production, and for this release Discus is running a KICKSTARTER campaign  – which will run for just 30 days until the end of April – in order to boost advance sales and cover recording costs of this ambitious release.

 The CD will be available over Summer 2016, but advance subscribers to the KICKSTARTER – whose names will be listed in a roll of honour on the Discus website – should follow the link on www.discus-music.co.uk in order to participate.

 YOUR HELP IN PUBLICISING THIS CAMPAIGN NOW WOULD BE VERY MUCH APPRECIATED.

 Fulvio Sigurta (trumpet/flugel) Sam Mayne alto (sax/clarinet/flute) James Gardiner-Bateman (alto sax/flute) Kieran Mcleod (trombone) Rob Harvey (trombone) Tom McCredie (bass) Peter Fairclough (drums/percussion) Keith Tippett (piano/composer) with Julie Tippetts (voice).

This new suite is based on themes from Irish folk music and was written for his new octet, which includes several recent graduates from the Royal Academy of Music’s jazz programme along with a long-time collaborator, the drummer Peter Fairclough, and the London-based Italian trumpeter Fulvio Sigurta.

Tippett’s inspired take on the jazz tradition shaped the second half, with the searing alto saxes of James Gardner-Bateman and Sam Mayne, and the lithe and clean-toned sound of superb trumpeter Fulvio Sigurta often rising over softly exhaled, Duke Ellington-like harmonies. Squally, fast-weaving jazz melodies like The Dance of the Return of the Swallows turned to folk dances, supple trombone duets and uptempo sprints in which Tippett’s prodding and cajoling of his soloists from the piano was simply breathtaking.  – JOHN FORDHAM, GUARDIAN

 

1966 by Jon Savage

For hit latest tome, British music writer Jon Savage has chosen to zoom in on the year 1966. The reason for this is revealed in the subtitle – The Year the Decade Exploded. That’s a pretty  bold statement. So, the question is – Does he have the evidence to back it up?

The book is presented in a series of twelve chapters which each represent a month as it progresses through the year. If you were expecting a book about music, you will get that plus a great deal more.

Savage deconstructs events leading up to the year 1966 in order to put things into proper perspective. He divides his views over events happening on both sides of the Atlantic. Since the relationships in both the UK and the US can have a different effect, this approach works well as a way to compare and contrast the social, political and cultural developments.

As with many British writers, he spends some time relating the changes in the UK since the end of the Second World War. This was a touchstone for many areas of social progress for the last half of the twentieth century. By the 1960s, its atmosphere was seeming more distant to the current day youth and they had their own issues and problems to deal with.

In the area of music, many of the usual suspects are sited including  The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, Bob Dylan etc… He also includes Dusty Springfield, The Velvet Underground, The Grateful Dead, Motown, Stax plus a host of references to quite obscure groups like The Ugly’s.

Each chapter reveals more events which would influence the direction of music and possibly vice versa. There are stories about the CND movement in the UK as well as race demonstrations and riots in the US. The war in Vietnam was also a large factor in the ideologies of many people. The feelings about these and many other subjects managed to inform the music of the youth culture of the day.

He also talks about the fight for women’s rights and the fight to have gay culture recognized at a time when it was classified as illegal.

Of course, there is also quite a bit of discussion about the widening pervasiveness of drugs within the youth culture. This spans the use of amphetamines to pot to LSD. In fact, at the beginning of 1966, LSD was not an illegal substance in either the UK or US. However, this did change before the end of the year.

The juxtaposition of social and political events analysed alongside the music that was happening in the radio charts and in the clubs shows in interesting cultural correlation. At times it may seem difficult to distinguish which is having an influence on which.

In the end, Savage’s case is well stated. Through a vivid word painting of the times, he succeeds in creating a portrait of a year which hold a special place within an era.

 

 

 

Keith Emerson 1944 – 2016

When the news hit that legendary keyboardist Keith Emerson had died, it was bad enough. However, when it was later reported that his death was an apparent suicide, it was all the more sad.

Back when the sounds of “underground FM radio” began on the airwaves out of Detroit in 1968, a whole new world of music was on offer to me. In the midst of all of the interesting new music there was a group from England called The Nice.

Keith Emerson was the keyboardist from this group along with Lee Jackson (bass, vocals), Brian Davison (drums) and initially Davy O’List (guitar). Emerson had already built up a reputation someone who was extremely accomplished at his craft but, also someone with a distinctive stage presence. As such, he was known to rock, kick, punch and inevitably stab his Hammond organ keyboard.

The sounds of The Nice were a staple of the FM airwaves and that continued when they broke up and he formed the trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

While their debut single – Lucky Man – was getting airplay on AM radio, other more adventurous tracks from their first LP were being aired on the FM dial. The band progressed with side-long concept works like Tarkus and also re-arranged classical composer Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

It was “progressive rock” at its zenith. It certainly wasn’t suited to everybody’s taste.

Keith Emerson was a masterful musician and one of the guiding lights transitioning from the ’60s to the ’70s. Many of his post-ELP projects involved music for films.

He will long be remembered by his fans as someone who helped fuse rock music with a classical attitude.

Keith Emerson with Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog synthesizer. 

George Martin 1926 – 2016

Producer George Martin began his career at EMI Records in 1950 as the assistant to the boss of the Parlophone Records imprint. Initially, he recorded classical and soundtrack music. Towards the end of the 1950s, he worked on a number of novelty records which included people like Peter Sellers and Flanders & Swann. He would also work with the likes of British crooner Matt Munro.

Of course, Martin will always be remembered foremost as the producer of The Beatles. It was his work in the studio which helped the group to attain a crisp, clear vision of their sound… and to make it a hit.

As the ideas of the group began to blossom in the coming years, Martin was also able to help the group realize a much larger vision. This was a vision which regarded the studio itself as an instrument.

This was the concept that created the other-worldly sounds first heard on The Beatles’ 1966 LP Revolver is the shape of the song Tomorrow Never Knows. This hypnotic Indian influenced track featured backwards sounds along with tape loops of manipulated recordings. It marked a time when an abstract sound in the heads of the group could become a reality.

This work continued along to their 1967 classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band where Martin was able to guide them though the monumental orchestration of A Day in the Life.

As a producer, George Martin was a part of a musical revolution that began in the mid-’60s. After the break-up of The Beatles, Martin continued to work with some of the group members as well as other new groups on the music scene such as America.

George Martin will ultimately go down in history as one of the most successful producers of all time but, he should also be remembered as a sonic innovator, as well.

 

Recent Arrivals – Innova

Innova Recording have been releasing a steady catalogue of innovative CDs for many years. Most of these feature the works of contemporary classical music composers but, also other genres. Here are a few which have arrived in the post recently.

Paula Matthusen – Pieces for People: Paula Matthusen is currently Assistant Professor of Music at Wesleyan University (experimental music, composition, music technology). This recent release focuses on a number of works in collaboration with other performers. Each piece presented here explores a different area of compositional styles.

Sparrows in Supermarkets is a piece for recorder (Terri Hron). It consists of various loops and drones and also explores the sounds of varying physical spaces. Limerence features the sound of the banjo (James Moore). Here, the instrument is used as a sound source to produce abstract manipulated sounds which float in an intriguing soundscape.

Two movements from AEG feature glitchy cut-up sounds including voice and real instruments. It was composed for dance. Of Architecture and Accumulation is a work for solo organ (Wil Smith) which examines the slowly increasing and decreasing dynamics of the instrument.

The CD also features works for large and small instrumental ensembles in the pieces corpo/Cage and In Absentia.

This discs presents a wide overview of the Matthusen’s compostional areas of exploration.

Gordon Beeferman – Four Parts Five: At first glance of the credits, you’d be forgiven in thinking that this was probably some straight-ahead jazz recording. Featuring piano, Hammond B3 organ, sax, flute, bass clarinet, electric guitar, double bass and drums, this is definitely not straight-ahead jazz.

Each of the four works included here possess their own quirky internal sonic engine. It is glitchy, funky, minimalist and dense with looping rhythms that ebb and flow but also jar and intrigue.

It is an odd blend of funky jazz meets minimalist composition. Think of Frank Zappa meeting up with Philip Glass at a strange late-night dance club where the music is not conducive to dancing. Pleasantly odd and inviting sounds abound. A challenging and rewarding listen.

Karen Gottlieb – Music for Harp: With her latest release, harpist Karen Gottlieb presents the works of four American composers. The disc is book-ended by pieces by Lou Harrison. Suite for Cello and Harp from 1949 presents a duet sound which reveals an optimistic melancholy which serves as an excellent starting point.

A series of seven other brief Harrison works dating from 1967 to 1977 conclude the disc. Music for Harp and Percussion presents a series of short works which explore the dialogue between the instruments. Each is like a vignette of sonic possibilities for duet.

John Cage’s 1949 composition In a Landscape is a solo work with a Satie-esque charm. The brief phrases loop and repeat in a hypnotic manner. This work was originally composed for dancer Louise Lippold.

The CD also contains two more recent compositions by Wayne Peterson and Dan Reiter and once again highlight Gottlieb’s feel for the works of these composers.

This is a well produced and varied selection of pieces which truly highlight her gift for interpretation of many different composers.

The Tefifon – Obscure Audio Playback from Germany

While recently doing a search for something audio-related on youtube, I came across an interesting video about an audio playback device of which I was totally unfamiliar. It’s a device called the Tefifon.

The Tefifon got its start back in the 1930s as a recording and playback device much like the Dictaphone. Towards the end of the 1940s, the company decided to enter the commercial market and began producing consumer-oriented machines as well as music cartridges to play on them.

Cartridges for the machine could hold up to four hours worth of recorded material. Unfortunately, they were unable to license audio recordings by popular artists and had to make do with cover versions of material that was popular at the time. This put the company at a bit of a disadvantage.

As you can see in the video, the cartridges for this player are somewhat like the endless loop 8-track tape cartridges that were fairly popular back in the 1970s. However, the Tefifon cartridges do not contain magnetic tape. They contain a thin plastic band which contains parallel grooves like a phonograph record. You can think of the playback medium as something like an old thin flexi-disc record. Instead of the grooves being pressed into a circular format, they are simply located on a very long piece of thin plastic.

By the early 1960s, the Tefifon had finally had its day. Despite the introduction of stereo playback, the limited market in Germany (it was apparently never marketed internationally), the unimpressive music offered for the format and competition from the LP record, the Tefifon finally vanished.

Sit back and enjoy this video showing the Tefifon in action courtesy of youtube video producer Techmoan.

And if you enjoyed that, here is a follow up video with more interesting details.

 

 

David Bowie – Stardust, Diamonds, Heroes and Ashes

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The clock radio went off at 5:30 AM and the lead-off new story is about David Bowie. His latest album – Blackstar – was released just three days ago and the news reveals that Bowie’s voice is now silenced. Apparently, a well kept secret regarding 18 months of suffering from cancer has now become public.

While I may have initially been exposed to Space Oddity or some tracks from The Man Who Sold the World, my first real exposure to Bowie came with the album Hunky Dory in 1971. Many tunes from that album were constantly on the FM airwaves in the Windsor / Detroit area at the time. It wasn’t just Changes and Life on Mars. It was also Queen Bitch, Andy Warhol and Oh You Pretty Things.

And then there was Ziggy. He was seemingly the man who fell to earth and changed the face of music and style. A flaming red-haired alien who rocked like nobody else at the time.

Bowie seemed like a person who could single-handedly  both start and end an era. He had a vision that seemed unstoppable in an era of ever changing fads and fashions. Since nobody seemed to know what he would do next, there was an endless curiosity as to what would be his next revelation.

In the beginning, he played in short-lived bands who played R&B. By the time of his debut LP, he was planted firmly in a mode reflecting his admiration for popular singer Anthony Newley. But, it was his subsequent release of Space Oddity which would gain him more attention.

That led to his joining forces with guitarist Mick Ronson on the Tony Visconti produced The Man Who Sold the World. From there it was on to Hunky Dory and then the creation of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

After the “retirement” of Ziggy, Aladdin Sane took the stage. The dystopian world  of Diamond Dogs morphed into the plastic soul of Young Americans and then the Thin White Duke of Station to Station (and his appearance in Nicolas Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth).

It was his 1977 project with Brian Eno which changed the game once again. The album Low presented one side of rocking tunes with another side of spacey, avant-garde electronic explorations which would develop into what would become known as The Berlin Trilogy (along with “Heroes” and Lodger).

From there, Bowie jumped around into dance music, more rock and roll and drum & bass excursions. His restless creativity pushed and pulled him into whatever direction he considered interesting for many more years.

After a silence of nearly ten years, Bowie proved that he could still surprise and suddenly announced a new single and LP back in 2013. The Next Day was a stunning new effort which was kept under wraps until the last moment.

With the release of Blackstar last week, Bowie seemed to be aware of the fact that this would be his farewell gesture to his long-time fans. At least he lived to see its release.

I only got to see Bowie in concert one time. It was to become his final concert tour. The show on May 14, 2004 at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario featured some 26 songs spanning his long career.

One other Bowie event that I was pleased to attend was the David Bowie Is exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2013. Over the course of a two hour trek through this show, one could get a close look at everything from stage costumes to hand-written lyrics to abandoned album cover designs.

David Bowie may no longer be with us but, his legacy will certainly continue for years to come. His life and work will become one of the benchmarks by which others in the performing arts will be measured.

David Bowie 1947 – 2016 

DavidBowie-Is-catalogue-SpaceOddity-lyrics

Patti Smith – M Train

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I think that I probably heard about Patti Smith around a year before she released here debut LP – Horses. It wasn’t long after that point that I saw her in concert at the Ford Auditorium in Detroit. It inspired me to track down a copy of her limited run single which was released some time before – Hey Joe / Piss Factory (Mer Records, 1,500 copies) – which also featured Television guitarist Tom Verlaine. I also bought her poetry books like Babel.

Her last book – Just Kids – was about her life with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (who photographed Patti for the cover of Horses). M Train is a different animal to that tome.

In her latest book, Patti relates stories from various  moments in her life. She jumps around from event to event not taking any chronological approach. During the course of the many chapters, Mapplethorpe does not get a single mention… although Gumby does (really!).

Here, Patti talks about hanging around her favourite haunt – Cafe Ino – where she ponders life and jots down notes. During the course of the book, she travels around the globe both on her own and with others including her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith (of MC5 fame). She talks of her life with Fred in Detroit and her travels with him.

Much of the time, Patti is fascinated with the lives and deaths of numerous writers. This brings her on journeys around the world including Japan.

She also speaks of being involved with a rather secret society called the Continental Drift Club. It seems to be fine to reveal its secret nature since it is now defunct.

She talks about finding and purchasing a rather dilapidated property on Rockaway Beach. This event turns out to be rather bittersweet since it was one of the few properties in the area to survive a strike by Hurricane Sandy.

Patti relates all of her stories in a breezy manner which draws the reader into her often fascinating life adventures. Another excellent read, indeed.

PattiSmith-HeyJoe-Mer-US

 

Wrapping up 2015

Well, I guess that 2015 has turned out to be an eventful year after all. Back in April, I celebrated my 25th anniversary on the radio at CHRW-FM here in London. I took that opportunity to announce my retirement from the airwaves. I’d like to take this opportunity to once again thank all of the folks who I’ve known at the station over all of those years. It was a lot of fun to be able to share music with my listeners over all of that time.

Before I left the radio station, I decided to continue to share my thoughts on music and create this music blog. Since I’ve had several hundreds of articles and reviews of music published over the years in various publications, it seemed like a natural progression. Since it’s introduction at the end of April, the Wired for Sound Blog has received a steady stream of hits and I’m very pleased with the positive feedback. It’s also nice to continue to receive musical contributions from a number of the musicians and record labels who had previously sent me music to feature on the radio programme. Thanks to all of the folks who have continued to visit the blog over the months.

Over the year, we’ve lost a number of important musicians and composers. I’ve written about many of them in the pages of the blog including Daevid Allen, Ornette Coleman, Dieter Moebius, Chris Squire, John Renbourn etc…

While I didn’t see a lot of concerts during the year, it was a great pleasure to attend the 50th anniversary performance of the Nihilist Spasm Band at Museum London. It’s always a special event to hear them play. Joe McPhee was a special guest at the show, too.

As a music fan, I’m always pleased to discover music by new artists. This year, two of my favourite new discoveries were Courtney Barnett and Ryley Walker. Their recent LPs have been spinning quite a bit around here during the year.

It’s also been another great year of sharing information and stories about music over at the Steve Hoffman Music Forums. Many thanks to all of my friends there who enjoy spinning vinyl and relating their stories. It’s my favourite place to visit here on the webernet.

It’s also been another productive year of music making for me, as well. I’ve had many enjoyable recording sessions with my friend and music partner Richard Moule with a number of excellent pieces of Transmorphous Sound Ensemble pieces now in the archives. We also had a great time performing at Grooves for Nuit Blanche back in June, Thanks to Troy and the folks there for allowing us the opportunity to perform in their space.

The year also presented some challenges. Back in March I had a scheduled surgery but, that was accompanied by another unexpected emergency surgery two weeks before that. Thanks to Richard for his help at that time. Also, thanks to all of my other friends for their well wishes and support. It was greatly appreciated.

So, now it’s time to look towards 2016. I’m looking forward to heading to England once again. It’s always a great time staying with my friends Simon and Ann. I’m also looking forward to performing again with my musical friends Martin Archer, Nick Robinson, Mick Beck and Charlie Collins.

Wishing everybody a happy and healthy 2016!

 

Patty Waters – In Concert 2015

If you read my earlier blog post about Patty Waters (or know me in real life), you’ll be aware of my affection for her ESP label debut LP. Well, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the recording of that album (December 19, 1965). So, it seems fitting to make another post about Patty at this time.

Last month, Patty gave a rare concert appearance at the Jazzhouse in Copenhagen, Denmark. Luckily, quite a bit of the performance was captured on video on that night of November 8th.

Here are clips from that show featuring Burton Greene (piano), Barry Altshul (drums) and Tjitze Vogel (bass). Enjoy!

 

Recent Arrivals – Leo Records

Pianist Uwe Oberg’s latest release – Twice, At Least – is a solo outing recorded at concerts in Germany in 2012 and 2015. In addition to the self-penned compositions, he also plays works from Annette Peacock, Steve Lacy, Carla Bley and Thelonious Monk.

Throughout the performances, Oberg expands the sound of the piano by often simultaneously playing the keyboard while also reaching inside to pluck the strings. This practice adds an extra layer of detail and expressiveness to the works which are already detailed and dynamic.

Hearing these live recordings makes the listener wish that there they were in the audience to see the performance first-hand. An excellent collection of works which excite the ears with their dynamic variations.

VocColours is a quartet of poetic vocalizers who have teamed up with musician Eberhard Kranemann to produce a unique blend of voices along with double bass and electronics. Throughout their CD entitled Luxatio, the ensemble bobs and weaves through a tapestry of vocalizations with sympathetic sonic accompaniment by Kranemann.

The result is a quilt of sound full of abstract sonic imagery and highly interesting blending dynamics.

The other two most recent releases in this latest batch from Leo Records share many similar sonic traits.

14 rue Paul Fort, Paris features the trio of Joelle Leandre (bass), Benoit Delbecq (piano) and Francois Houle (clarinets). Ramble is by the quintet known as SWQ and features Sandra Weiss (sax, bassoon), Jonathan Moritz (sax), Kenny Warren (trumpet), Sean Ali (double bass) and Carlo Costa (drums).

On both recordings, the ensemble players are seeking to create a flowing and abstract sound picture. The musicians listen to the sounds emanating from around them and spontaneously react to the situation at hand. It feels more like an improvisation of sound clouds than a a musical progression.

These clouds bend and blend to create a wonderful distortion of musical reality. Two sonic excursions which provide an aural palette of curious abstract imagery.

Leo Records website 

 

Recent Arrivals – Discus

If there is one thing that you can anticipate from the releases on the Discus label, it’s to expect the unexpected. This is a case in point.

frostlake is Sheffield-based singer, musician Jan Todd. On this debut release (White Moon, Black Moon), she creates layers of her voice and multiple instruments alongside contributions from other fine folks from the area including Martin Archer, Charlie Collins, Terry Todd and others.

The first thing that strikes you is the reverb-drenched near-whisper vocals. These are combined with layers of dreamy instrumentation that evokes a folky, psychedelic, progressive soundscape. It almost feels like one of those unearthed rarities of what is now termed “acid folk” recorded in the late ’60s or early ’70s.

However, the sound is brought up to date with one foot in the past and another with a hold on the present and future. The music is dreamy yet never slipping into a maudlin melancholy. There is always something going on to keep the listener engaged as the background sounds blend seamlessly with the often haunting layered vocals in the foreground. Definitely an album inviting repeated late-night listens.

Martin Archer’s latest release – Echoic Enchantment – is a collaboration with poet Bo Meson. Martin goes into some detail about the project’s genesis in the liner notes of the CD.

Inspired by a performance by Bo’s poetry group, Martin was inspired to create a work written around the text. The musical portion of the disc-length range from sparse basslines to haunting string sections evoking an atmosphere not unlike Ligeti or Pendereski. These sections are juxtaposed with others based on “directed improvisation” which have been edited and collaged featuring percussion, piano etc… which incorporate text which weaves its way into the soundscape.

The work flows and glides in several directions often creating a haunting and evocative atmosphere. A lengthy sonic journey that provides multi-layered scenery for the ears.

Discus website