Category Archives: Music

Alchemists of Sound

This documentary on the BBC Radiophonic Workshop is the best hour of Internet I’ve consumed in ages.  It is absolutely wonderful.

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Christian Marclay

Christian Marclay is one of those artists who seems to have experimented with almost every medium out there. In the 1980’s he was pioneering the use of the turntable as an experimental musical instrument by playing intentionally scratched or skipping records on multiple turntables simultaneously. He has performed with some of the giants of avant garde music such as John Zorn and the Kronos Quartet.

He is also a sculptor and installation artist who works with found materials that always involve the idea of sound.

Tape Fall- reel to reel recorder, ladder, magnetic tape, 1989

Moebius Loop- cassette tapes, zip ties, 1994

 

Virtuoso- altered accordion, 2000

He is a collage artist who uses album covers as his medium.

And most recently, he is a video artist who obsessively cuts and splices together scenes from existing films of similar everyday actions such as telephone conversations or people checking the time on a clock or a watch.

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Nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn anyway.

I think I’ll round off the evening with one of my all time favorite music videos by a band called Wolf Parade… The song is titled “I’ll Believe in Anything”. The line from that song, “nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn anyway”, is one of the most humbling, but also one of the most freeing lines from recent rock music…

You see, when people know you, they have expectations based on what you’ve done before… But when they don’t know you, then you have nothing to lose and you are free to try anything and everything… I just wish that more established artists could realize this and get over their own success…

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Jac Mac & Rad Boy

All this talk about Nite Flights got me thinking about memories of a certain television show by a similar name.

If it was the mid-1980’s and you were up late and bored on a Friday night, you could probably find something interesting on Night Flight. I’m not going to go into specifics about the show here, but I think it’s a goldmine for forgotten film shorts, music videos, interviews… and way-out animation such as this:

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Bowie Falls To Earth On “Nite Flights”

Whenever I talk about David Bowie, the observation that Bowie is “a god among men” usually follows within the first two sentences.  But a couple of things in the past few weeks have forced me to re-examine this nugget conventional pop-culture-meets-counter-culture wisdom.  The first instance came when I re-watched Labyrinth with my son two weeks ago.   I loved it when it came out, but unlike the Bowie himself, the film has not aged well.  At all.

The second instance came while I was perusing the youtubes for any Walker Brothers footage circa their 1978 album, Nite Flights.  I found none, but I did find the above video for David Bowie’s cover version of the title track.  It’s no secret that Bowie has long admired– some may say imitated– Scott Walker’s vocal style.  But he somehow manages to drain all the life out of the song.  It’s so bad he nearly falls asleep at the keyboard.  Let’s not even talk about the people moving the lights around for super special shadow effects.  It’s just bad, bad, bad.

Here is the original for comparison:

Nite Flights is not the best Walker Brothers album, but it’s certainly the weirdest.  The band had split up in 1968 only to reform in 1975. In the intervening years, Scott Walker recorded several solo albums, including his masterpiece,  Scott 3.  If you stop to think about just how drastically pop music changed between 1968 and 1978, it’s easy to see why Nite Flights is so different from the early Walker Brothers albums.  It’s even very different from their other two post-reunion records.  But if you listen to Nite Flights in the context of what was popular in 1978, it sounds remarkably ahead of its time.

The Walker Brothers and some dude in a psychedelic tangerine jumpsuit circa 1967.

While the Walker Brothers were crafting their hit-and-miss  album, David Bowie was a year into his staggeringly awesome Berlin Trilogy.

Few things will affirm that Bowie is indeed a god among men like listening to LowLodger, or “Heroes”.  But let’s jump forward another decade to the aforementioned Labyrinth and accompanying Never Let Me Down LP.  I bought it went it came out and count myself fortunate to have seen the Glass Spider Tour, but I never fell in love with the album.  Bowie himself was displeased with the effort, even though it was his best-selling record up to that time.  In fact, it was this album and tour that drove him insane enough to start the ill-fated Tin Machine.  I saw Tin Machine on tour and remember thinking that this was a band nobody would buy tickets to see if it wasn’t for the fact the singer was a god among men.

Now, fast forward a decade on from Nite Flights and what do we have?  Scott Walker’s output has slowed to the agonizing crawl that would come to define his work in the last 30 years.  Since 1984, Walker has released one album every 11 years.  And with each album, he goes further and further out, pushing boundaries and making what can only be called art.  In the same span of time, Bowie has recorded 10 albums (including the two Tin Machine LPs) none of which are worthy of even lesser deity status.

To put a point on it, in the last 10 years, David Bowie has done this:

While Scott Walker has done this:

I know which one I’d rather listen to now and it will probably be as interesting and challenging in another 10 years.  The other will not.  If you haven’t seen the documentary about Scott Walker, 30 Century Man, do so.  It is streaming on Netflix.  In the meantime, this BBC interview from a few years back will catch you up with what he’s all about.

If past is precedent, the Next Scott Walker album will be out sometime in 2017.

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Supersilent 10.8

It was a year ago today that the 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit Japan causing the resulting tsunami and disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Soon after watching the devastation in Japan unfold, I remember coming across this video where someone paired the hauntingly beautiful song,”10.8″, by Supersilent with footage from the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake that devastated San Francisco. I remember being floored by the video because of the parallels with what was going on currently in Japan and being helpless to do anything about it. I posted the video in my own blog and here is what I wrote about it a year ago:

The footage is from the aftermath of the San Fransisco earthquake from 1906. It kind of puts a historical lens on things that are currently happening in Japan and how catastrophes like this are viewed from those of us who are looking at it through the eye of the camera…

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Not A Photograph – The Mission Of Burma Documentary

Someone has kindly uploaded the Mission of Burma documentary, Not A Photograph, to the youtubes. Though it centers around the legendary post-punk band’s 2002 reconstitution, there are also a lot of great vintage clips and interviews.  Well worth a watch if you’re a fan.

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Friday Night Freakout – Krautrock Clusterfück Edition

Can vs. Guru Guru vs. Amon Düül II all live on the Germany’s WDR.  Feel free to take your brain out of your skull for the duration.

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Klaus Schulze’s Intergalactic Magic Shag Carpet Ride

Travel the spaceways with Klaus Schulze and his 40,000 keyboards aboard a shag carpet spaceship so thick and white you could lose 20 kilos of cocaine in it and never know.  At least until your ass began to tingle.  Still, it would be a hell of a lot more comfortable than the chairs the audience had to endure while watching Klaus stroke his synths with his back to the crowd in an above-the-bed mirror.  There’s a lot to like here.

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Songs About Nick Drake

Nearly 40 years after his death, Nick Drake remains an elusive enigma.  He’s been dead nearly twice as long as he lived, yet the more time passes, the more recordings are unearthed, the less we seem to know about the man.  Drake is a genuinely legendary figure in music, yet his music went nearly unnoticed during his lifetime.  In fact, he probably sold more albums after his song “Pink Moon” appeared in a Volkswagen commercial in the late ’90s than he did while he was alive.  And in the age of the youtubes, when archival video performances of the most obscure bands to roam the planet are just a click away, there is no video footage of Nick Drake to be found.

I first discovered Nick Drake from a various artists compilation CD that came out in 1992 called Brittle Days.  I picked it up because it had Loop on it.  It wasn’t very good.  My introduction to Drake’s actual music came when the owner of record store I was working at played Bryter Layter.  I thought it was woefully depressing and barked at him for playing it.  But when he played Pink Moon a few months later, I was floored.  Folk music wasn’t at all my thing at the time.  But this was different.  There was something to this music.  Something elusive and enigmatic.

This video of John Martyn is spectacular.  Not only is he funny as he deals with his busted guitar string, but he is absolutely stunning as he plays and sings his song about his friend, Nick Drake.  Well, friend may be too strong a word.  A cursory glance at any Drake biography reveals the man to be very detached and aloof, coming and going unannounced, and prone to breakdowns and temper tantrums.  John Martyn was anything but those things.  He was a big guy with a big personality.

“Solid Air” was released a year before Drake died.  Martyn said of the song, “It was done for a friend of mine, and it was done right with very clear motives, and I’m very pleased with it, for varying reasons. It has got a very simple message, but you’ll have to work that one out for yourself.”

I was a fan of this song long before I knew it was about Nick Drake.  Now that I know, it makes so much more sense and I like it even more.  And I think Martyn’s performance there from 1978 is fantastic.

Less fantastic were the Dream Academy.  When “Life in a Northern Town” came out in 1985, it was inescapable.  I guess the first 9,000 times I heard it, it was a pleasant diversion from the glut of Huey Lewis and the News, Madonna, Wham! and REO Speedwagon noise Top 40 radio was farting out at the time.  It had a sound that harkened back to a time when Ronald Reagan was making movies with chimps instead of planning Iran-Contra with them.  It was somber, yet uplifting.  Like Simon and Garfunkel on Quaaludes minus any sense of fun.

I swear there was a point in 1986 where the opening chords of that song would make my eye twitch.  It got to the point where I couldn’t turn on MTV or go out to the grocery store without hearing the “Hey-Yo-Mama” chorus.  Mercifully, the Dream Academy were a one-hit wonder and their song about Nick Drake became the opposite of its subject.

So I’m left here quite stumped about how to wrap this up.  Listening to Nick Drake is still a transcendental experience for me.  I’m not sure if it’s the same for everyone else, but when I listen to him, I always get a bit wrapped up in the mystery of the man.  I wonder what would have happened had he lived on to make more music.  What would I give to see videos of him performing?  Would it make him less an enigma if footage of him did exist?  It doesn’t matter, really.  I have the music he made and I can think of only a handful of artists who have brought me joy in the good times and solace in the bad like Nick Drake still does nearly 20 years after discovering him.

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