Beak

Beak Artist PhotoBeak has achieved that confoundingly difficult feat: originality and catchiness. He’s managed to integrate acoustic guitar with breakbeats and IDM in an ingeniously seamless way.

The first track of Amoral Mayor Earwig EP, how a hot air balloon works, starts out straightforwardly enough. Some quiet acoustic guitar plucks, repeating and slowly adding some more layers of guitar. Sure, there’s some digital delay but mostly it’s just guitar. Some bitcrushing distortion eases into the left speaker just enough to raise an eyebrow, but it keeps with the guitar thing. Oh nice, some drums. Maybe even live. Strange processed guitar in the background, almost voice-like. A single reversed cymbal, very quick. Drum break. Quite distorted. Wait, how did we end up here? By the time the second track, i saw two of me, starts our hot air balloon has caught the jet stream. No turning back now.

Amoral Mayor Earwig EP and Bishop-Whitney EP could be two sides of a single album. I tend to listen to these together. El Hacedor is perhaps a little more mysterious, a little mellower. All three are intriguing and highly enjoyable.

Links

Beak on MySpace (bonus downloadable track, Limozeen)

Amoral Mayor Earwig EP: Stream | archive.org | Monotonik netlabel
Bishop Whitney EP: Stream | archive.org | Monotonik netlabel
El Hacedor: Stream | archive.org | Monotonik netlabel

This is part of a series of netlabel reviews.

Glander: Heavy Weights & Vate

Glander: Heavy WeightsNormally I avoid repetition in music. Usually my iTunes is randomly shuffling from my “Not Recently Played” playlist. Yet I find myself playing these two netlabel albums by Glander multiple times a week. Music that is highly repetitive, with long, sprawling arcs, and four on the floor kick drum. Reading a description of it, I wouldn’t have given it much of a chance. But this is one of my favorite discoveries of the year.

Yuki Yaki’s blurb for Heavy Weights has this fanciful description: The tracks will take you on a dive cruise, each of them has its own little valley and its own moon. So: Take your time. This is exactly how I feel about it. The underwater aspect is suggested by the cover, which looks like a Shogun trilobite, and continues through the tracks with glossy, undulating textures. When this album starts I feel like I’m returning to a space that has continued to exist in my absence.

Glander: VateA couple of months after finding Heavy Weights, Vate (released on the 1 bit wonder netlabel) popped up in the archive.org feed. I literally cheered when I saw that there was more Glander to experience. Vate shows how dialed in to his technique Glander is, without at all being formulaic. The same masterful use of repetition is there but there’s a slightly grittier edge to the textures, and I almost get the sense that the camera has a wider angle lens, as bizarre as that is to say about music. These tracks are funkier, too. For instance, listen to the syncopation in the second track, Hmbrg, or the staccato gurgles in Drift. While Heavy Weights is a deep sea dive, Vate is a swooping flight through an urban landscape.

I’m still trying to understand why Glander’s use of repetition is so satisfying. On closer listening, the repeating textures are actually continually varying in small ways, and the different layers flow in and out of the foreground, creating complex interactions. There’s also a constant, but subtle, change in the surrounding space. Sometimes the textures will echo, and then it’s like they come close to you and have a very focused feel, and then drift outward into a cavernous space. There will be long stretches where you might not have noticed even that there were no drums, and then the kick will return at just the right moment.

Both of these albums, along with the bonus tracks available on Glander’s site, reward close listening as well as zoning out and using as background to working and working out.

Links

Glander (download individual tracks that have been on various compilations)

Heavy Weights: Stream | archive.org | Yuki Yaki
Vate: Stream | archive.org | 1 bit wonder

This is part of a series of netlabel reviews.

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928 – 2007)

Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1975A giant in the modern music world passed away last week: Karlheinz Stockhausen. He seemed to appear in every chapter of the modern music books I studied in grad school, such was his influence. I had always thought him a realist and pragmatist, so I was surprised (and touched) a few years ago when our friends Nandini and Thomas gave me a sort of “call to creativity,” attributed to Stockhausen, which was quite spiritual. I then learned he was both a rationalist and a mystic, attributes that seem difficult to reconcile but somehow make sense. Continue reading “Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928 – 2007)”

Podcast #10: Homeosis 1 sketch 01

Hand to Mouth by Nathan S. MoodyRecently Nathan posted a series of photo manipulations called Homeosis. Something about the contrast between ominousness and whimsey hit me in the creative nerve. It struck me that there was music implied in these compositions. They seemed to be a glimpse into, or evidence of, another history. This is a first rough sketch of this soundtrack. It’s a lot more plodding and heavy than I planned, but it starts to suggest the sound scape I’m going for. Click the link at the end of this post to open the slide show in another window. Click the slow button in the lower left and try viewing it while you listen to the music (the slide show will loop around a couple of times).

Homeosis Slideshow

Julius Lagerfeld – Konterkonzept EP [ID19]

Julius Lagerfeld - Konterkonzept EP CoverKonterkonzept EP by Julius Lagerfeld from the Interdisco netlabel. This is music with an evil grin. The Joker’s henchmen would dance to this. Yes, it’s electronica, but moreso, it is electric.

According to Lagerfeld, “it was created by exclusively using hardware synthesizers to set a counterpoint to the prevailing approaches of laptop and software.” He seems to be onto something. This stuff just crackles with energy from the first few seconds and carries through to the end.

While the requisite minimal techno repetition is there, it exists simply to lull you while subtle surprises slink in and out of auditory view. Lagerfeld knows how to take his time and explore an idea, and then move into territories that at first are unexpected, then seem inevitable. This is true of the structure as well as the sound design.

Note: for some reason archive.org’s stream of this EP is playing back at a slower speed. Preview this one from the mp3 downloads instead.

Netlabels

netlabels-header.jpgSome time last year I followed this link from Cool Hunting to Alex Young’s Milieu blog about netlabels. Little did I know the world of new music it would open. A netlabel is is similar to a record label, except that it distributes its music primarily via the internet, often for free. I was suspicious at first about this concept. Wouldn’t it simply be a recipe for really bad music? Surprisingly, as I found out from the releases highlighted on Milieu, the answer is not always. In fact I’ve discovered some jaw-droppingly good music coming from netlabels — mostly electronica, but occasionally other genres are represented.
Continue reading “Netlabels”

Podcast #9: The Poconos

I improvised this piece on my keyboard, in two passes. What gives it its interesting texture is a little Pd patch I created, which sits between the keyboard and Logic. It takes chords and sends each pitch automatically to the individual instruments. Successive notes are sent in round robin fashion, alternating between the 4 instruments. So even when I played a single line melody on the keyboard, the result was a tapestry of different instruments alternating the notes of the tune. Continue reading “Podcast #9: The Poconos”

Podcast #8: Anenome

It’s 2 AM. Long past last call. The evening is winding down. Everyone’s a little tired, a little buzzed, a little pensive, but happy to be warm and not entirely alone. The band goes to one last song.

Continue reading “Podcast #8: Anenome”

Input

Ok ok. I know. I said last week to tune in this week (actually that was two weeks ago). And yet, there’s still no new music to post. Why is this? Well, a few things. One was attending the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), which started early, thus disrupting my morning creative time. The other was attending no fewer than four music/dance events. The third was my choice of composition theme — to study harmony. So, while not much output was made, a lot of input was … input. I saw a ton of electronic music performed as part of the Zero One festival in San Jose, and the Bleeding Edge Festival at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga with Nathan, and a truly inspiring piece called ORBIT at the Intersection for the Arts.

It was quite interesting to see the different ways in which performers deal with doing electronic music live, in a way that an audience can relate with. Watching people on stage twiddle knobs (or finger a laptop trackpad), especially when it’s impossible to correlate the twiddling with something audible, can be a mind numbingly dull experience. Many performers add live video, projected on a large screen behind the performance, which interacts with the music in some way. Frank Bretschneider was one of the more compelling examples. His music was great to start with — strongly in the IDM domain (ore more specifically, microscopic music), but full of surprises yet with a recognizable beat. The first 5 minutes were actually very repetitive, with a blue screen and a horizontal white line that scanned down the screen in sync to a pop when it hit the top again. But just as I was ready to leave, things started shifting, and new elements, both visual and aural started to appear. The entire piece was completely abstract, but after that initial shift I was captivated. It reminded me a bit of the early German abstract animator, Oskar Fischinger. It also reminded of me how much can be done with a limited palette.

A couple of the performances also incorporated dance and acting with live music and video. The first was Troika Ranch at Zero One. Troika Ranch is a dance collective started by fellow CalArts alumns, Mark Coniglio (who was also a teacher of mine) and Dawn Stoppiello. This piece featured some stunningly beautiful synthesis of dance, with live interactive video and music. For me the most effective moments were the ones that seemed to use the technology in the most childlike manner — a dancer making “bloop” sounds which generated video bubbles which floated from the top of her head, another scene where a dancer’s movements were traced with an animated caligraphic pen, while the music shifted and swayed.

ORBIT was such a great piece because it had so much heart, and had such moments of pure stage magic. I really have to thank Ally for introducing me to it. Technology was used in service of the story and the art, rather than the other way around as these kinds of pieces can so easily slip into. I can’t really describe it and do it justice (which is sort of unfair since Saturday was its last performance; read the Chronicle review for an overview), but I will say keep an eye out for Erika Shuch and her collaborators.

So, no podcast this week, but I have a feeling all this input will be churning in my brain and will end up splattered in bits and pieces in some future posts.

Electronica Podcast Roundup #1

Travel and jet lag got the better of me the last couple of weeks, so no new podcast yet. Instead, why not give one of these a try? Tune in again next week.

Radio 360 (iTunes)
radio360.png“Music for Strange Moments.” They appear to be a label, but they also play artists on Ninjatune, Sub Pop and others. They seem to focus on electronica with vocals, which is a nice change after listening to hours of instrumental electronic music. They have a slightly annoying habit of playing their audiomark in the background in the middle of ever other song or so, and also using the dreaded computer voice to announce track info. Their segue music is by someone named DJ Darkhorse. It’s nice that they have created a recognizable format, but I think these could be shortened. All in all a very enjoyable and consistent podcast. The latest episode is particularly good — it’s called “Best of Part One.” Not sure what part one is, or when part two starts, but it’s groovy.

betterPropaganda (iTunes)
BetterPropaganda.gif“Music mix of the best and newest sounds from the most forward-thinking record labels out there.” This is put together (monthly I think) by Jonah Sharp, who seems to be an interesting figure in the experimental and electronica scenes. Each episode seems to center around a theme (eg. acoustic guitar). I’ve listened to a couple. One was excellent. The other I just wasn’t into. Yet I’m intrigued.

Electronic Periodic (iTunes)
electronicperiodic.jpg“Our aim is to produce free, quality podcasts compiled from electronic compositions in various styles including ambient, IDM, electro, trance and experimental.” For a “periodic”, it’s pretty irregular of late (January, April, two in July). However, it’s good, drone-ish ambient music which sometimes goes more into the IDM territory.

Percussion Lab Presents (iTunes)
PercussionLabMAY06small.png“Percussion Lab is a 24/7 stream of the illest underground electronic and hip hop music. Every month we feature live and DJ sets by established and up and coming artists and DJs.” The quality of this one really depends on the particular DJ that’s “spinning” (somehow I doubt the person is really spinning vinyl for the podcast, but you never know). That being said, the last few have been solid (perhaps good enough to forgive them for the use of the old chestnut “illest”). The last episode highlighted artists playing at the BAPLab festival in Brooklyn, which took place on July 22 (missed it by a week).

CLD THE E (rss) (last.fm)
cldthee.jpg“The streaming to escape from tomorrow. Electronica IDM Techo: from Tokyo Japan.” It made my day Friday when I discovered that my favorite internet radio station had a podcast. I’ve discovered so much great music listening to this stream over the years. Sometimes it goes so far afield that I have to switch to something else, but that’s what I like about it. It’s incredibly eclectic. If you want to challenge your ears, this is your gauntlet… eh.. thrown down.