Archive — Music
It’s probably a bit inaccurate to describe Simeon Coxe as a synth pioneer. A pioneer he was, but his musical inventions predated the widespread use of synthesisers. They in fact involved a set-up known as the simeon machine, consisting of “more than a dozen” oscillators.
When he introduced the first oscillator to the rock band he was part of in 1967, all three guitarists quit, leaving just him and the drummer, Dan Taylor. The result was a new band — Silver Apples, a prototypical electronic band, but with a rock sensibility secured by the equally experimental drumming.
They predated Kraftwerk, and their music lacks the polish that developed in electronic music over the subsequent decades. The primitive but complex set-up produced an abrasive and raw, yet repetitive and hypnotic sound.
Perhaps Silver Apples were the first post-rock band. Maybe they were even the first electronic pop music band. Their first two albums even predate 1969’s An Electric Storm by White Noise, which enlisted the help of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson to help realise David Vorhaus’s futuristic electronic vision of pop.
Like White Noise, Silver Apples were met with limited commercial success in their time, only to be discovered as cult favourites decades down the line. The public just had to get used to the idea of electronic music.
In the middle of this conversation between Jarvis Cocker and Jeanie Finlay, I really enjoyed this description of how it feels to crowdsurf:
The feeling is amazing actually because you just give yourself over to it, you lie there and the audience are supporting you and you’re really just trusting them to not just let you fall on the ground. I kind of just laid there for a bit looking at the roof of the tent we were in, travelling out into the audience. And then it suddenly occurred to me that I couldn’t stay there too long because the rest of the band would get bored. And then, it was really magical because I just raised my head a little bit and looked towards the stage and as I did that it was like they just knew and I got transported right back to the crowd barrier again.
The Flaming Lips demonstrating how to perform live in a socially distanced fashion, while somehow being the most on-brand they have ever been.
This film took almost 50 years to hit the cinema screens because the filmmakers inexplicably failed to use a clapperboard, making it impossible to edit until digital technology arrived.
The director was Sydney Pollack, who won 11 Oscars throughout his career.
“There were thousands of pieces of film with no edit points, and they were trying to sync it up to a tape recorder.” Hence the incomplete VHS and Hamilton’s invoice: He had been hired to match up footage to music by reading people’s lips.
Eventually, Pollack gave up and the hours of footage were relegated to vaults. “Sydney couldn’t really explain it to me,” Elliott says of when he brought it up to the late director. “He was a proud man.”
It seems like knowledge of this film was limited until recently, but a lot of people must have been seething at the calamity. I guess it’s a reminder that even the most successful people can make catastrophic mistakes in their field of expertise.
I happened to be listening to Trans-Europe Express — the first Kraftwerk album I bought — earlier today.
A few weeks ago, in the early stages of lockdown, Caribou’s album Swim played on shuffle. “This is a recent album,” I thought, “but it reminds me of happier times.
It turns out this album is in fact ten years old today. Time flies, I guess.
It was a time before covid-19. A time before DRS was introduced to Formula 1. A time when (briefly) people agreed with Nick Clegg.
Then I watched the video to Sun, one of the singles from the album. Extraordinarily, it seems made for today’s social distancing.
It features a group of mostly unhappy-looking people stuck in a dark room, dancing at a ceiling lamp as if it’s replacing the sun, and all studiously avoiding touching each other.
Autechre have recently released long-anticipated official recordings from their 2016 and 2018 tours, which I am currently (slowly) working my way through.
But on this day 15 years ago in Glasgow, Autechre performed perhaps their mightiest live set ever. I love this almost as much as any of their albums.
A lot of IDM-heads celebrate Avril 14th for the Aphex Twin tune, but that was yesterday. I enjoyed Kelly Moran’s cover.
— kelly (@kellymoran) April 14, 2020
Radiohead there, just casually adding an extra minute to a legendary 20-year-old track.
They may have declared that they are taking a “year away” from music, but they still manage to find ways of keeping fans going.
The recent launch of the Radiohead Public Library generously provides free access to a vast amount of archive material from throughout their career. The addition of this extended version of Treefingers is among the content that has been added even since the launch.
Who needs new Radiohead when you can have new old Radiohead?
In 1998, Gescom released MiniDisc, said to be the first ever MiniDisc-only release. (I believe the CD artwork, shown here, is a photo of a Sony bigwig showing it off at an event.)
A mere eight years later, MiniDisc was already obsolete, at least in the home. The music was given a CD release, and that is the version I have.
The music was specifically designed to take advantage of MiniDisc features that weren’t available on CDs. The original release even included a running time that was precise to a hundredth of a second, something not possible with CDs. Also unlike CDs, MiniDiscs could handle gapless shuffle.
The music on Gescom’s MiniDisc consisted of 45 pieces divided over 88 tracks. So, for example, Pricks actually consisted of four different tracks varying in length from 5 seconds to 3:55.
The idea was that the listener could shuffle for a new experience every time. Or, they could create their own loops and experiments by playing tracks in different orders.
Gescom is a collective of experimental electronic musicians, presumed to be centred around Autechre’s Sean Booth and Rob Brown, but also said to include up to 30 others. In addition to Booth\Brown, MiniDisc was made by Russell Haswell.
The music itself is ceaselessly experimental. Even in the context of Autechre’s work, this was pretty out there.
But listening today, it’s striking how MiniDisc seems to have laid the groundwork for some of Autechre’s most recent music, particularly on NTS Sessions.
Photo — 2020-02-02
Making a New World — Field Music at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum last night.
This must be the most spurious “road safety” feature ever conceived.
A Dutch town decided to install rumble strips that are set at certain frequencies so that cars “play” the regional anthem as they drive over them.
This article focuses on the fact that this feature is driving residents crazy as they repeatedly have to hear this raspy version of the same melody all day (and night) long.
But surely the spurious justification is more deserving of ire.
Local officials hoped the strips would encourage drivers to stick to the speed limit.
Because, apparently, the melody would only play when drivers are driving at the right speed. Except, as officials concede later in the article, that’s not even true. If you drive at a different speed, the melody still plays — just at a different speed. Perhaps drivers may even speed up just to end the din more quickly.
What a terrible idea!
This article also contains a brilliant video from Tom Scott demonstrating an even more disastrous version of the same idea, in California.
This tune has disturbed me.
Since I heard it, a distressing sentence has floated around in my head:
“This is the best Squarepusher track in 14 years.”
14 years. Count it up.
I think I was 15 years old when I first discovered Squarepusher. To the young Squarepusher fan I was, it’s been almost a lifetime since he has released music like this.
I was a big fan of 2003’s Ultravisitor, where Squarepusher created an otherworldly environment somewhere between stadium prog-rock concert and IDM basement. It was genre-defying — a unique sound. But it felt perfect. It was a brilliant, successful album.
But it seemed to send Squarepusher down a strange rabbit hole, tenuously exploring the boundaries between live and studio-based music with ever-diminishing returns.
Time to change direction then. An email I received from Warp Records in November said:
‘Be Up A Hello’ sees Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher) return to using a bewildering array of vintage analogue and digital hardware, the same equipment that first helped him develop his sound in the early ’90s.
By the way, the 14-year-old tune I’m referring to is Planetarium:
How Amazon appear to have had undue influence on the music charts. River by Ellie Goulding is this week’s number one, seemingly because Amazon have added it to their Christmas music playlists. So whenever anyone asked their new Alexa to play Christmas music, this new single got played — propelling it to number one.
This article also contains some interesting details about the pros and cons of different ways of compiling music charts in the streaming era.
If the voices of those clamouring for the charts to discriminate between “lean in” and “lean back” streams — i.e. those which the user has actively chosen to hear rather than simply being served up in a playlist — grow ever louder in the new year, then River will be held up as a shining example of why that needs to happen.
The astonishing ways the Japanese music industry artificially inflates the sales of CDs.
It’s Delia Derbyshire Day, which this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of An Electric Storm by White Noise.
Delia Derbyshire may be best known for her part in the realisation of the Doctor Who theme tune — and her wider work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. But her involvement with the White Noise project saw her dabbling with a futuristic vision of pop music.
It was both way ahead of its time, and also resolutely of its time. Synthesisers weren’t yet affordable, so these boundary-pushing sounds were made with complex tape manipulation and other engineering techniques. I think this is among her best work.
Photo — 2019-11-22
For the past couple of years Stereolab have been reissuing most of their back catalogue. It’s been a great opportunity for me to fill the gaps in my collection (which, shamefully, was more gap than collection).
My first exposure to this song was in 2005, when I was watching late night Channel 4 and saw this slightly shambolic cover version by Maxïmo Park and Editors.
RAVE ’TILL YOU CRY
A reworking of Seefeel’s classic 1994 track Spangle, promoting the group’s upcoming tour of North America.
It’s great to have Seefeel back in action again. Their music was a little before my time, but I relished discovering it a few years later. It seems cutting-edge for the period — clearly influenced by shoegaze, but with a fizzing techno sensibility. It’s a combination that wouldn’t have been possible before, and wouldn’t have been thought of after.
Also check out Autechre’s (released in 2003, but presumably made in 1994) remix of the original, which gives it a brooding dark ambient vibe that could pass as a lost track from Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume Ⅱ.
Ten years ago today, the first VHS Head EP was released. I remember it seemed to come as a bit of a bolt from the blue. For a while it was my favourite new electronic music.
Video Club is a delightful slice of retro electronic music. Subsequent releases, though relatively scant, have explored a parallel universe consisting entirely of video nasties. VHS Head’s music is constructed from samples taken from VHS cassettes.
As is customary for releases on Skam Records, it includes a braille strip. But a novel addition was the golden Video Club membership card.
Be kind and rewind.
Note — 2019-09-20
The hotel bar just played a version of Take Five in 4/4 time, and I’m slightly horrified.
Music was one of the jobs I was put in charge of for our wedding. Alex isn’t particularly interested in music. We don’t have any shared musical memories. We don’t have “our song”. So that made some aspects of the wedding planning tricky.
For instance, there were no obvious candidates — or, indeed, any candidates at all — for what Alex would walk down the aisle to. And because I never imagined I would get married until I met Alex, it’s not something that I had my own ideas about either.
Just a few weeks before the big day, I knew we had to make this decision. I mined my record collection for any shared musical memories we might have.
I considered something from Concrete Antenna, a beautiful experimental record that I’d never heard of until Alex bought it as a gift. It’s one of the most perfect gifts she ever got me, because I didn’t know it existed, but I loved it. But Alex decided it sounded too dark for our wedding.
Another candidate was something from the FFS album. We saw FFS when they played as part of the Edinburgh International Festival a few years ago, and we both really enjoyed the concert. But again, it didn’t strike the right tone. (We did end up using Johnny Delusional as the ceremony closer.)
Eventually, I started to just pull out records and CDs that I thought sounded nice. I had to loosen up some of the rules I had imposed on the process. Crucially, the “no Sigur Rós” rule.
Ágætis byrjun is Sigur Rós’s best album. The title track doesn’t always get the most attention, but it is my favourite from the album. Listening to it while thinking about our upcoming wedding gave it a new emotional appeal for me.
I looked up translations of the lyrics, which I hadn’t paid much attention to before because it’s sung in Icelandic. It’s actually about the band listening to the finished mix of their first album, Von, and feeling like it was OK but could be improved. The title translates as “A good beginning”.
But the lyrics are also ambiguous. An alternative interpretation is that the song is about a fledgling relationship.
It seemed particularly apt for us, because we had two “first dates”. The first one was a good start. We did better next time (and never looked back).
I really like the brief, mild moments of dissonance in this song. It’s beautiful, but not quite perfect. Like life. Or like a relationship. The key is to recognise that it’s a good beginning, and we will do better next time.
The album has just been reissued in a 20th anniversary edition with three CDs of additional material. It’s astonishing to think this is 20 years old. At least it’s not as disturbing to me as OK Computer. I only discovered Ágætis byrjun in about 2001 when it became a sleeper cult hit outside of Iceland so I can still think of it as an 18 year old album.
I’m also fond of this live acoustic version from Heim.
Chanctonbury Rings combines the folk music of Sharron Kraus and retro electronics of the Belbury Poly with spoken word from Justin Hopper. It’s a perhaps unlikely combination.
This is made all the more unlikely by the fact that, despite Justin Hopper’s American accent, the music is unmistakably English. It immediately reminded me of the Seasons (a cultish, unsettling 1969 BBC LP for use by schools’ drama departments, featuring music by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop).
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this. I picked it up because I’m a Ghost Box completist. But I found myself in a truly immersive listen. Hauntology at its finest.
A song I heard on the radio this week that made my ears prick up. I wasn’t previously aware of Richard Dawson. But this is a brilliant song — dark, funny, meaningful, relatable, of our time. Once again I’m beginning to think that the most interesting music is actually coming from rock music for a change. Consider the album pre-ordered.
Photo — 2019-08-22
Jarv Is… Yes yes yes yes
Note — 2019-08-02
My Omnichord normally gathers dust in the corner of a room. So when someone retweeted into my timeline Karine Polwart asking if anyone in Edinburgh had an Omnichord she could borrow for some filming, I was happy to help, and to see the Omnichord out of its case for a change!
Dear @DuncanBSS thanks for the borrow of your Brand New Omnichord! It’s having its own wee moment in the spotlight this morning via @AdmiralFallow Louis for my Scottish Songbook. pic.twitter.com/Y4WUYfUexP
— Karine Polwart (@IAMKP) February 26, 2019
It makes its little appearance in this video for her cover of Chance by the Big Country.
This is part of her new album of Scottish covers, Scottish Songbook. It’s out today on lovely red vinyl.
I had always wondered what it would take to get a ‘thank you’ on the back of an album. Now I know. 🙂
Hopefully one day I’ll get round to playing the Omnichord more often myself…
Their single Atlas may have got the most attention, but for me it was Rainbow that was the centrepiece of Battles’ extraordinary 2007 album Mirrored. It mixed cartoonish melodies with prog rock hardness.
I first came across Battles on the release of EP C/B EP, a compilation of their early EPs. Hearing SZ2 for the first time was hugely exciting. It felt like exactly the music I was looking for all along, without ever knowing it.
So even though Mirrored was their first album, it already represented a surprising change in direction. The chin-stroking post-rock had been superseded by Pinky and Perky vocals.
It was confusing. But listening to it for a second time, it felt as vital as their early material. In time, more so.
Their live performances were genuinely mind-boggling. They did things with live loops and sampling in ways that no-one else dared.
At the height of their powers, Battles made music in a way no-one else was making it. Watching them live was like watching four people walking a tightrope simultaneously. It could go wrong at any moment, and watching them push themselves and cope with it or recover from going wrong was a marvel.
When you see a band you really like, the reason you really like them is because you wish you’d had that idea. And I saw them and thought, “dammit, why didn’t I think of that?”
Have a spare ten minutes? Treat yourself to the slowed down version someone’s uploaded to YouTube.
Photo — 2019-07-19
I do enjoy the Ikea-style assembly instructions included when you buy a fancy Radiohead / Thom Yorke record.
Erik Satie’s Vexations is shrouded in mystery. It was not published during Satie’s lifetime. It’s thought it was composed in 1893. But it went undiscovered until 1963, when John Cage first performed it publicly.
It is just three lines long, but is accompanied by this ambiguous instruction (translated from French):
In order to play the theme 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities
While this is usually interpreted as an instruction to repeat the music 840 times to complete a performance, it’s not clear if this was actually Satie’s intention.
The tempo instruction is “Très lent” — very slow. In the words of Wikipedia, this “could mean anything”.
Cage’s first performance lasted over 18 hours — longer than he had estimated. The CD recording I own lasts only 23 minutes — a tiny fraction of the full experience. The liner notes to that CD flags up the following:
A 70 minute performance (40 repetitions) of Vexations by Alan Marks is available on the CD Vexations (LTMCD 2389)…
Despite the repetitive nature of the music, it never seems to get boring. There is something disturbing yet irresistible about it. I always imagine falling very slowly towards an uncertain destination. It feels like being trapped in an Escher painting.
This piece predates muzak and ambient music by at least 50 years. The CD liner notes say it “provided minimalism with an important historical precedent.” It even predates Dada.
This YouTube video contains a full performance, albeit one performed seemingly too fast.
You don’t hear this on adverts quite as often as Gymnopédie 1…
In retrospect, this tune (from 2005) sounds a little dated. A little bit too heavy on the post-Boards of Canada glitchy hip-hop influence. Bbbbutttt… it’s still pretty good.
I remember listening to this album a lot when I was studying at the University of Edinburgh, taking lunchtime walks round the Meadows. 14 years on I find myself taking the same lunchtime walks, working for the university. Crazy days.
I’ve been aware of Paddy McAloon’s 2003 album I Trawl the Megahertz for a while. While I’d always meant to pick it up, I never got round to it. In a sense it’s just as well, as this year it was re-released, remastered, and repackaged as a Prefab Sprout album.
Suffering with health problems, Paddy McAloon spent his time at home, listening to radio phone-ins. This formed the basis of the material on the album. The stunning 22 minute long title track features a splicing together of fragments of these broadcasts to tell a story in spoken word.
Most of the rest of the album is instrumental, but I’m 49 returns to the radio broadcasts, this time sampling them directly.
As pointed out by Paddy McAloon in this reissue’s liner notes, it’s not the first time the musicality of found voices has been exploited by a musician. He namechecks Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. Steve Reich’s Different Trains also springs to mind. Musically, the albums seems to take a clear cue from American minimalist composers.
The story of the making of the album — centred around Paddy McAloon’s ill health — also reminds me of how Brian Eno is said to have pursued ambient music. It is said that Brian Eno was in bed, unable to get up to adjust the volume of his radio, and ended up being inspired by the sparseness of the resulting sound.
I Trawl the Megahertz has a melancholic vibe. “I’m 49, divorced.” What makes ordinary people bare their souls to radio hosts? This seems to be the question asked by the album. But the album also provides an answer — to adversity. Faced with illness, like Brian Eno, Paddy McAloon created some wonderful music.
Now I only wonder why it took me until now to discover it properly.
But with the Eurovision Song Contest this weekend, it put me in mind of the fact that Sébastien Tellier is in fact responsible for my favourite Eurovision performance, Divine.
France’s 2008 entry was controversial, because Divine was sung in English, which France’s powers-that-be don’t like. So Sébastien Tellier had to re-write part of it in French.
As you can see, that was only the start of the weirdness. The bearded women, the golf cart, the weird locked-off camera angles. And who else would have the audacity to consume helium in the middle of what would probably be the biggest performance of their life?
There was no doubt where my vote was going in 2008. It came 19th. That result was at least better than their previous three entries.
A recent slice of hauntology from the collectable Ghost Box Records. I have to admit this album, The Invisible World of Beautify Junkyards, has taken a while to grow on me. But my, has it grown.
As much as I love it, some Ghost Box material can get a bit samey. Perhaps it’s inevitable (or intentional?) given that it showcases a type of dark nostalgia; mal-remembered pasts. (Or, in the label’s own words, “the misremembered musical history of a parallel world.”)
Beautify Junkyards breathes new life into the ghostly universe of hauntology. They are Portuguese, but seemingly take cues from British acid folk music. Unashamedly inspired by an imagined past, but adding adding new dimensions to create something uncannily new. And with a songwriterly quality that isn’t always at the forefront of a Ghost Box project.
It almost takes us full circle to the early material of Broadcast, in many ways the genesis of Ghost Box.
If Sybil´s Dream didn’t do it for you, try Ghost Dance.
A surprising* new dimension to Plaid’s sound — glitchy and hard-hitting.
The publicity surrounding their forthcoming album, Polymer, says:
The problems and benefits of Polymers felt like good themes for this album, their repetitious strength, endurance and troubling persistence, the natural versus the synthetic, silk and silicone, the significant effect they have on our lives.
Plaid make good music, but rarely have they seemed quite so vital as this.
* I say surprising, although it had previously been revealed in this little-seen video collaboration with Laura Buckley called Repel Darker:
A great song, really effectively set to footage from Koyaanisqatsi by someone on YouTube.
10 000 Hz Legend is not as well-regarded as Air’s first album, Moon Safari. But I personally prefer it. Moon Safari opened the floodgates to a host of cliched chillout albums by sub-par artists. 10 000 Hz Legend shook it all off, and carved a new path. I think it stands the test of time better as a result.
This one appears to be the official video, but for some reason using a rather weak live version of the song.
Prog rock has a bad name. Prog rock by Yes perhaps has a particularly bad name. But sometimes, a 19 minute long wig out is what you need. It accompanied a lunchtime for me last week, and my afternoon felt better than my morning. What a song.
I was introduced to Kelly Moran by her first album on Warp Records, Ultraviolet, released a few months ago. For some reason (OK, maybe the Warp thing) I had assumed it was electronic music. So I was astonished to learn from this video that it’s actually a live prepared piano. Stunning stuff.
From that, I moved on to watch a performance of an older track, Limonium. Although short, it is perhaps even better than anything on Ultraviolet. One to watch no doubt, and I’ll certainly be investigating her back catalogue.
A fun and weird new song being released on Soulwax’s record label, Deewee.
Autechre make 19 previously unreleased live recordings available to buy – Scott Wilson, Fact Magazine
I totally have 19 spare hours to listen to all this right now.
These 19 newly released files are from the same tour as the 9 that were unveiled a few years ago, so it’s not new new. But I’m listening to the Orlando one right now and there’s enough new stuff going on to justify the £1 per MP3.
This makes me a bit more hopeful that something from their 2016 tour will one day emerge as well. The poster hangs on our living room wall.
It’s more than ten years since Mira Calix last released music, with her career having taken her in a more multidisciplinary artistic direction. I’ve found her music in the past to be a bit hit-and-miss. But when I heard rightclick I ended up being quite excited for the release of her new EP, utopia.