Monday, 27 July 2015


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After sampling the numbing nectar of certain orchids, bees drop to the ground in a temporary stupor, then weave back for more.
                                                                             R.K. Siegel (Intoxication)


They have a daft name that probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but Worthless understand that psychedelia is supposed to be fun. Their debut album, ALL MY FRIENDS ARE STONE, opens with Pizza Break – a track that speeds up and slows down like a thrill ride on a psychedelic rollercoaster ride through time and space – and then goes so far out that you probably need a shaman to bring you back. This is undeniably one of the most tripped out releases of the year, but never forgets to include the kind of tunes that even Syd Barrett might have thought were perhaps just a bit too weird. An absolute delight of an album.  Absolutely marvellous.


What are you supposed to do with a band name like this? I’m not even sure how to spell it, let alone pronounce it. Is it binary or is it letters, and does it even matter one whit? (Hint: no). OOIOO are a Japanese psych-rock band that seem to consist of at least one of the drummers from the very fine Boredoms (in this case Yoshimi P-We), and possibly three other members of the band who help out on guitar, bass and drums, but this seems to be very much Yoshimi’s baby. Be Sure To Loop is the opening track from the band’s second album FEATHER FLOAT, released in 1999, a frankly awesome swirling mix of tribal rhythms and revelry, vocal layers and handclaps, that manages to be both joyful and menacing, trance inducing and hypnotic – all at the same time.


This curious piece (which recently had my daughter shouting at both the stereo and me: “Alright, she was a visitor – I get it! Now make it stop!”) was produced by Robert Ashley, an American composer better known for his highly experimental operas and theatrical works which, despite the somewhat foreboding nature of the oeuvre (can there be any body of work more likely to strike icy cold fear into even the most carefree of spirits than the term ‘experimental opera’?), are largely acknowledged as classics of language in a musical setting. You can find this track on a collection of Ashley’s more out there works called AUTOMATIC WRITING, released in 1n 1979. She Was A Visitor is an excerpt from an opera entitled That Morning Thing, composed in 1967, in which a small chorus was divided into groups, each headed by a leader. A lone speaker repeats the title sentence throughout wherein the separate phonemes of this sentence are picked up by the group leaders and are relayed to the group members, who sustain them softly and for the duration of one natural breath. The time lag between the leaders' utterances and their pickup by the group members produces a staggered, chanting effect, the subtleties of which are, for the most part, lost as I have the track float off into…


Given that they seem more content to produce their fairly marvellous A MONSTROUS PSYCHEDELIC BUBBLE EXPLODING IN YOUR BRAIN compilations these days, and, of course, sprinkle their particular brand of tripped-out psychedelic pixie dust around as technicolour remixers, I thought I’d take the opportunity to play one of their own tracks to remind you just how very good they are in their own right. The Emptiness Of Nothing is taken from their 2005 release ALICE IN ULTRALAND, an album of sumptuous cosmic beats, bubbling organs, gorgeous psychedelic flourishes and a funky consciousness. Outstanding.


The opening track to Weller’s latest release SATURNS PATTERN seems him in thrall to Amorphous Androgynous production wizardry, full of heavy drum grooves, psyched-out guitar riffs, menacing synths and seemingly random overdubs. It’s the most sonically exciting track on an album that, despite all the talk regarding a new acid-spiked direction, lacks the other-worldly experimentation brought to the previous three albums by erstwhile collaborator Simon Dine, who fell out with Weller following a disagreement regarding the sordid subject of royalties. Which is not to say that the album is not without its moments, just that this is the one that caused me to prick up my ears, is all.


This church organ wig-out is brought to you by Aine O’Dwyer, who, over the course of several months, was given access to the pipe organ in St Mark’s Church, Islington while the cleaners were at work. The resulting album was called, as you might expect, MUSIC FOR CHURCH CLEANERS VOL. 1 AND 2, released earlier this year.  It sounds unpromising, I know, but the extra–musical sounds, the whoosh of the vacuum cleaner, a child's laughter, various echoed clatters and chatter become part of the music and give the recordings a unique character that very nearly takes on the quality of a field recording. What you get is a number of solo improvisations, rich in chance elements, that’s both immersive and ruminative; the deep drones of the organ’s bass notes on The Feast Of Fools providing a hazy bed of sound across which O’Dwyer casts exquisitely hazy melodic phrases. If you only buy one double-LP of improvised pipe organ compositions this year, make it this one.


Kemper Norton makes music of a psycho-geographical nature which I‘ve heard refered to as ‘coastal slurtronica’, not a term I’ll willingly use again, even if it does appear to have been introduced by Kemper himself. What you get is the sound of acoustic folk miniatures swimming through pools of synthetic texture, while found sounds float to the surface, dredging up tiny hints of dance rhythms in their wake. In doing so, the music has a hauntological quality that's neither folk nor electronica, neither analogue nor digital, but something else; not quite inbetween. Montol, which appears on Norton’s LOWENDER EP, released in 2011, is the name of a Cornish festival based around the winter solstice. In fact, Lowender itself is Cornish for happiness, and the EP is a celebration and elegy for a range of community festivals – a very hauntological concern.


Well, this is fairly wonderful – an 8-minute flute-led, acid-folk prog instrumental that’s part dreamy pop and part spaced-out rock, suggestive of dawn meadows and mists on mountains. The Silence is the new project from Masaki Batoh following the demise of his previous band of some 30 years, the Tokyo-based experimental rock group Ghost. He describes his new band as heavier than any sound pressure, adding the silence which thunders the ears can only be expressed by the silence in the subconscious mind of consciousness and unconsciousness. Which says it all, really.


The very far out Control Systems, all seventeen modular sculpted minutes of it, opens INFINITY MACHINES, the new album by Gnod, the Salford-based music collective for whom psychedelia seems to be the starting point for an even deeper journey into something that's trippy, hazy, noisy, messy and occasionally beautiful, heading further and further down a rabbit hole towards indescribable parts of the collective unconscious. This track features rambling spoken word samples taken from residents and artists based in the group's Islington Mill stronghold in Salford, beginning with laughter from one Islington Miller, with another commenting, "notions of public and private are very mixed up...daydreaming is a kind of private space," all of which lends the track a dreamlike quality in which the notions of privacy and liberty are transcended by something even further out.


Another example of a band name where everyone should have tried just that little bit harder to have come up with something “good”, in the same way that Stereolab, or Broadcast are “good” names for bands inspired by '60s/'70s soundtracks, library music and French Ye-Ye, like Sweden’s Death and Vanilla clearly are. Perhaps it sounds better in Swedish. Actually, it’s an unworthy gripe – the band’s particular take on vintage retro-futuristic psych-pop is gorgeously disembodied, and very much aligned to a hauntological aesthetic in all but name (when I first came across the album in a record shop I assumed I’d stumbled across a new Ghost Box release). Follow The Light is taken from the band’s second album, TO WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE - which, once again, doesn’t have the same resonance as HA HA SOUND, or TRANSIENT RANDOM-NOISE BURST WITH ANNOUNCEMENTS, say – an album enthralled with Delia Derbyshire, John Barry, Stereolab, Broadcast and The Focus group, yes, but which also brings a sensual, swaying dream pop to the mix which the others in the list could only ever somewhat allude to, and then ironically.


This is an absolutely gorgeous track, remixed by Amorphous Androgynous (who appear to be all over this show) from Syd Arthur’s debut release, ON AND ON, and released on the album A MONSTROUS PSYCHEDELIC BUBBLE REMIXES BY THE AMORPHOUS ANDROGYNOUS, which came out last year. It brings out the best in both bands, with Amorphous Androgynous saturating the psychedelic dimensions within the Syd Arthur universe with flutes, drums, sitars, dulcimers, Hammond organ, piano, female vocals, further drums, strings and kitchen sinks. Marvellous, and life enhancing.


Now that The Aliens seem to have been whisked away by some passing spaceship and don’t appear to be with us anymore (or, as is more likely, it just all became a bit too much for guitarist and song-writer Gordon Anderson) we’re left with a small body of work to remind ourselves why we miss them so much. Of course, when I say ‘we’, I suspect I mean ‘I’, but I was playing their SUNLAMP SHOW EP (2009) in the car the other day for the first time in ages and I thought it was fantastic, and that seemed like as good as reason as any to play this Roman Noise mix of Boats from that very EP. Get well soon, Gordon.


I came across this on a recent Mojo CD compiled by Paul Weller, who I’ve since learnt pretty much worships at the altar of Charles Mingus. In your jazz circles, Mingus is generally regarded as one of the giants of the genre, while others have argued that Mingus should be ranked among the most important of all American composers, jazz or otherwise. He was a highly influential American jazz double bassist, composer and bandleader, his compositions drawing heavily from black gospel music blues while also drawing on elements of Third Stream, free jazz, and avant-garde, producing music that fused tradition with unique and unexplored realms of jazz. Sounds awful, I know, but then you hear something unhinged like the Passions Of A Man from 1962’s OH YEAH, and it all kind of makes sense. OH YEAH was actually a hard bop album as much as anything, and Passions Of A Man is by no means typical of the rest of the album, but on this track Mingus has created something that owes as much to music concrète as it does classical music or jazz stylings, that conveys some very abstract, complex emotions (that would be the chanting, mumbling, screams and whistles), and it would also have given any budding psychedelic rock musicians in the audience a hint of music’s possibilities for further down the road.


I don’t think anyone quite knew what to make of this in 1969 (and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it now). King Crimson’s IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING – AN OBSERVATION BY KING CRIMSON (to give it its full title) was an audacious debut, mixing elegant classical influences with Hendrix-like rock going’s-on and mellotron drenched jazz noodlings in a mix that more or less invented prog rock, the efforts of the likes of The Moody Blues and The Nice notwithstanding. The Who’s Pete Townshend called the album “an uncanny masterpiece”, and even now it’s considered one of the most influential progressive rock albums of all time.


The title track from the new album by Sky Picnic has a languid, pastoral charm to it that recalls the dreamy, hypnotic undertow of early King Crimson's more relaxed moments. This lovely album enjoys a calm, restful pace, full of wide open spaces and serene textures, gently filled with walls of lush mellotron. Really quite lovely.


Something of a lost gem, this. Stephen John Kallinich was a poet, performer, student and gas station attendant (as our American cousins would have it) who befriended the Beach Boys, or at least the Wilson brothers part of them, and, over the years, became a regular visitor to Brian Wilson’s Bel Air home. Over the course of a single night in 1969, Kalinich and Wilson co-produced A WORLD OF PEACE MUST COME, an album of Kallinich’s psych-poetry backed by sparse harmonies and ethereal wisps of instrumentation played by Brian and his then-wife Marilyn Wilson.  It was due to be released on the Beach Boys’ own label, Brother Records, but for some reason or another it never saw the light of day, and then the tapes got lost until, over the years, it became something of a legend, a myth attached to the Beach Boys, but which no one really believed in until, out of the blue, the album finally saw release earlier this year. Despite the positive message the album presents, there’s a weird aura about this album, and if you’re listening to it while trying to concentrate on something else like, I don’t know, where you left your car keys when you’re in a hurry to get out, it can become a bit wearing, say. Kallinich and Wilson have managed to capture a moment just before the hippy dream turned sour – Love, The Doors, The Beach Boys themselves were all in the charts, but Manson and Altmont were just around the corner waiting to finish off the promise of the sixties with some crazy fucked-up shit (as it were). If You Knew was recorded right at the psychic centre of nearly all that, but the sentiment of this track is spot on - the desperate cries of a prophet, howling in the wilderness as the darkness closed in around him (in a manner of speaking).


Wednesday, 1 July 2015


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In his 1781 page-turner, the Critique of Pure Reason, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant warned that the human brain has to impose an order onto the world that it doesn’t possess purely to make sense of it. Otherwise, as Kant candidly puts it, “all constitution, all relations of objects in space and time, indeed space and time themselves, would disappear.” This is possibly why I’m such a big fan of acid…
                                                                               Ingram Paige


or Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun, to give it it’s English title. This evocative and supremely sensual tone poem for orchestra by Claude Debussy is a musical evocation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem “Afternoon of a Faun”, in which a faun — a half-man, half-goat creature of ancient Greek legend (think Mr. Tumnus, if you have to) — awakes to revel in sensuous memories of the forest nymphs (or perhaps not). The original orchestral version was completed in 1894, and is generally considered a quintessential example of musical Impressionism, a compositional style popular at the turn of the 20th century, influenced by the artistic school of the same name; a movement whose music focused on suggestion and atmosphere, conveying the moods and emotions aroused by the subject rather than a detailed tone‐picture, as it were. Turns out I’m quite the fan of this sort of thing. David Toop, in his impressive book Oceans of Sound, and its sequel, Exotica, argues that Debussy’s impressionistic soundscapes were the direct precursor of what we’ve come to call ambient music, as music sought to make sense of the sound of the 20th century, a position I’ve become fascinated with myself here on Mind De-Coder. It’s not about escapism; it’s about the sound of yourself listening.


This lovely piano piece lasts a mere minute and a half, but despite its brevity and modest character, it has become one of the most popular piano works by the American composer. This is taken from one of his most famous suites called WOODLAND SKETCHES FOR PIANO, OP. 51, written in 1896, as a collection of mood pieces for piano.  To A Wild Rose has a beautiful, gentle simplicity to it that captures the serene woodland setting of his family home in New Hampshire.


or the Canon in D major as it’s more popularly known – a canon, in this case, being a contrapuntal compositional technique that employs a melody with one or more imitations of the melody played after a given duration, or what we call a polyphonic device in which several voices play the same music, entering in sequence (but then, I expect you already knew that). Originally composed 1694, it was apparently lost for some time before being rediscovered in the early 20th century. Since then, of course, it’s become a popular addition to many a fairly posh wedding or classical music compilation, but that was never going to be a barrier to its inclusion in the show. After listening to a great deal of classical music recently I‘ve come to the conclusion that, rather like the ‘best of’ Simon and Garfunkel compilation that every home has (bear with me on this one), the reason that the same popular classical hits keep appearing on those popular classical compilation albums is because they really are the best pieces of classical music ever – the rest is either too histrionic or just goes on a bit. It’s the same with Simon and Garfunkel – as a fan of their ‘best of’ album for years, I eventually decided to buy all of their albums proper, curious as to what hidden treasures might be hidden away on them. Turns out that the reason that all those songs on their ‘best of’ album were actually chosen is because they were literally the ‘best of Simon and Garfunkel’ – the rest aren’t any good at all; no hidden treasures, no undiscovered gems; no reason to own them at all really. Stick with the 'best of', that's what I say, and it's never done me any harm with Leonard Cohen, either. There’s a reason some things are popular – it’s because they’re the good ones. As it happens, I’m something of a fan of this actual piece and was hard pressed to know what version to use from the many I possess, when none of them are quite as good as the memory I have of the first version I ever heard on one of those Soothing Instrumental Sounds From The Scottish Chamber Orchestra type albums that you used to be able to buy in Woolworths for ₤1.25 up until about 1984 (although, in this instance, it really was by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and if anyone can forward me a link to that particular version you will not find me ungrateful). I don’t know what a gigue is, or a basso continuo, and I can’t quite be bothered to Google either of them, wishing for some small element of mystery to remain in my life, but I defy anyone to not like this piece of music in whatever interpretation it arrives. It is both musically satisfying and very hummable whilst out a-ambling late one morning in Spring, perhaps; but did you know that the piece's chordal progression has been appropriated in numerous commercial pop hits too, with such hits as the Pet Shop Boys cover of Go West, Coolio's C U When U Get There and Green Day's Basket Case all owing a little something to it? Pop music producer Pete Waterman, who now, in the age of Simon Cowell seems to have been quite harmless after all, described Canon in D as almost “the godfather of pop music because we've all used that in our own ways for the past 30 years". He also said that Kylie Minogue's 1988 UK Number One hit single I Should Be So Lucky, which he co-wrote and co-produced, was based on Canon in D, which just goes to show.


Brian Eno was a fan, too. In fact, so intrigued was he by Pachelbel’s skillful weaving of a strict polyphonic form (the canon) with a variation form (the chaconne, which itself is a mixture of ground bass composition and variations) that he recorded it three times with the Cockpit Ensemble, collectively titled Three Variations On The Canon In D Major By Johann Pachelbel, for side 2 of his 1975 release, DISCREET MUSIC. Eno selected short excerpts from the Canon with instructions to the musicians on how often to repeat said sections and when to alter those sections by changing the tempo or other elements. The elements change over time by having the parts slow at differing intervals or using different lengths of the musical score resulting in a work of, what can only be called, placid beauty.


Otto Luening was an American-German composer who, in the 1950’s, with fellow composer Vladimir Ussachevsky helped to establish the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, where they created a landmark series of collaborative compositions for magnetic tape and synthesizer, as well as pioneering works for acoustic instruments in combination with electronic sounds. This track is taken from one of their major works, TAPE MUSIC AN HISTORIC CONCERT, recorded live at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1952, but not actually released until 1968, by which time the term was well-deserved, by having radically changed the face of contemporary musical composition. Moonflight is a dreamy and mysterious piece created by the layering of flute sounds on top of a base folksong-like melody, developed through diminution, retrogradation, augmentation, and distortion to create a complex pattern that is only possible by making use of the tape recorder, which also just goes to show, too.


Atmosphères is a piece for full orchestra, composed by György Ligeti in 1961 with the South West German Radio Orchestra, and then snapped up by Stanley Kubrick for the intro to his 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is where you’ve probably heard it before. It is noted for eschewing conventional melody and metre in favour of dense sound textures, or what Ligeti himself referred to as micropolyphonic texture, or the sort of music you slip onto the stereo when your guests have over-stayed their welcome. It exemplifies Ligeti's notion of static, self-contained music without either development or traditional rhythmic configurations, which evokes a sense of timelessness in which the listener is lost in a web of texture and tonality. Very effectively, I might add.


Faure’s sublime lullaby to death, REQUIEM IN D MINOR, Op. 48, composed 1890-ish, is one of those rare works that can cause even the most cynical of us to seek comfort in music that seeks to expand our perception of the numinous. Sadly I couldn’t play it all, but this particular version, performed by Coro e Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in 1999, features an achingly beautiful rendition of Pie Jesu by Cecilia Bartoli that is pretty much transcendental in its loveliness. I follow it with Agnus Dei simply to give you time to draw breath again.


This lovely piece, written by Barker in 1936 as part of his larger STRING QUARTET, OP. 11, is also regarded, in some circles, as one of the saddest pieces of music ever, more so even than Gloomy Sunday, say, the semi-infamous Hungarian Suicide Song written by Rezső Seress and immortalised by Billie Holiday. Others have found it imbued with pathos and cathartic passion (that would be the loud bit), but I find it nothing less than delightful, myself.


Bach’s WELL–TEMPERED CLAVIER, dated 1742, a collection of solo keyboard music, from which this piece is taken, is generally considered as being among the most influential works in the history of Western classical music. A bit of research reveals that a clavier refers to any keyboard instrument; especially baroque-era instruments such as the harpsichord, the clavichord or, indeed, the fortepiano. Scholars, though, have been heatedly debating for years over what Bach actually meant by ‘well-tempered’ - did he mean circular temperament, equal temperament or meantone temperament, all of which goes straight over my head as I revel in the simple loveliness of the music itself.


I don’t know much about classical music but I know what I like, and what I’m a particular fan of is your nocturnes, those delightful, slightly melancholic piano pieces inspired by, and reflective of, the twilight and early evening (entirely incidentally, I’m a fan of the Soft Hearted Scientists for much the same reason). The most famous exponent of the form, of course, was Frédéric Chopin, who wrote 21 of them between 1827 and 1846. Nocturnes are generally thought of as being tranquil, often expressive and lyrical, and sometimes rather gloomy, but I understand some of them can get quite frisky at times; for myself, I prefer the ones that capture that moment of the evening just before you need to turn the lights on, but just after your first glass of wine.


You see, I absolutely had to play The Lark Ascending, but having heard Fantasia On A Theme By Thomas Tallis for the first time last week I realised I had to play that too, so I reached a compromise where I played both but only give you the bit you really know from Lark Ascending. Fantasia On A Theme By Thomas Tallis is everything I was looking for when I began wondering if there was such a as psychedelic classical music; its complex weave of folksong, hymnal and mystic atmosphere is nothing short of visionary, and it blew me away when I first heard it. It was written by Vaughan in 1910, and as it turns out it’s quite popular amongst those who are familiar with classical music – last year listeners to Classic FM voted it into third place on the station’s Hall of Fame. Which just goes to show. I wonder how many of them would feel upon hearing Venus In Furs for the first time? The Lark Ascending, of course, it right up there (that wasn’t necessarily a pun) at the top of favourite English classical recordings and deservedly so – it’s slice of pastoral whimsy served up with cream teas, cricket on the village green and church fayres that just dreams itself along. Written in 1914 while Britain prepared itself for war, it has about it an air of eulogy as well as a celebration of a glorious English summer morn, but I still only played the first part. Was that a mistake?


Don’t ask me how the Beach Boys turned up in a classical set, but I was listening to their previously unloved album SMILEY SMILE the other day, the one cobbled together from pieces of the aborted Smile sessions in 1967, when I began to appreciate that I was really enjoying it; that it was, in fact, pretty far out in its own right, and that Wind Chimes in particular had a devotional quality to it that was almost transcendental. After realising all this, of course, I included it in the show.


When it comes to music of a devotional nature, however, Alegri’s Misere Mei, Deus does kind of win the prize for the most transcendentalist-ist-est. You might say that it almost wrote the book, except, of course, that it didn’t; because at some point in history it became forbidden to transcribe it. This is the piece of music that the 14 year old Mozart famously wrote down entirely from memory after hearing it once performed in the Sistine Chapel. Based upon Psalm 51, Misere Mei, Deus (Have Mercy On Me, O God) is now one of the most popular a cappella works now performed. Its ethereal qualities cause goosebumps every time I hear it.


…and so to ERIK SATIE who, as an early 20th-century French composer, used Dadaist-inspired explorations to create an early form of ambient music that he labelled furniture music (your musique d'ameublement, to be precise). This he described as being the sort of music that could be played during a dinner to create a background atmosphere for that activity, rather than serving as the focus of attention – the likes of Brian Eno and The Orb knew exactly what he was getting at. It was too obvious to play out with a gymnopédies, so I chose, instead, a gnossienes, a musical form invented by Satie lacking time signatures or bar divisions and highly experimental with form, rhythm and chordal structure. Written down it looks like it should be a mess but it is, in fact, quite lovely. Gnossienes No.1 was composed around 1890 as part of the TROIS GNOSSIENES, which were published in 1893; like everything else I’ve played this evening, it has a appeared on a number of film soundtracks (no music snob, me – give ‘em what they know, that’s my motto here on Mind De-Coder; well, one of them, anyway) which is where you’ve probably heard it before. To my untutored ear it reminds me of what I look for in one of Chopin’s Nocturnes, which seems as good a place to leave the show as any.