Thursday, July 30, 2009

Richard Skelton – Marking Time (Type / Preservation)

In the past few years I have become a bigger fan of simple and elegant works, sometimes consisting of a single instrument, sometimes of a single theme. I wonder if it is perhaps related to the process of aging and a calming mind. Ambient music begins to make more sense. The silence in between is just as important as the sound around it. On Marking Time, Richard Skelton uses a limited palette of organic instruments to reveal an elementary artistic craftsmanship through slowly drawn out, bowed and scratched strings, plucked guitars, and light touches of piano keys. In the spotlight of dark themes stands a lonely cello, sometimes agonizing over long lost hours of silence, sometimes sad for settled dust. Surrounded by echoing instruments it cries in monotonic notes, sans any swings in harmony, repeating the oscillating frequencies assigned to each fret of a string. It is like a pendulum on a grandfather's clock that the musicians on Marking Time bow the strings back and forth, back and forth, in a tireless rhythm, while something scratches in the attic, perhaps to gain an entrance, but most likely to escape. It is this tone that tells a story. A story that is neither sad nor happy, neither good nor bad, but is simply just there. Like changing weather. Like cycling seasons. And like life and death. Marking Time is Skelton's first release under his real name. His previous works were put out under a number of monikers including Clouwbeck, Heidika, Carousell and A Broken Consort. This is also the first album that came out on a label other than his own, Sustain-Release. The latter, is a private press operation full of works by Skelton himself, dedicated to his wife, Louise, who died in 2004. This loss continues to seep through Skelton's works in a sound of sorrow. After Marking Time got picked up by Australian label, Preservation, in 2008, it was well received by the critics. And earlier this year, John Twells of Type Records had put out a beautiful, limited edition, remastered vinyl pressing of the album, featuring Skelton's own photographs on the cover. Recommended for all of your modern classical and soul resting needs. Fans of Lawrence English, Elegi, Machinefabriek, Jasper TX, Svarte Greiner, Rudi Arapahoe and of course, Hildur Guðnadóttir, will be delighted. | |

Two and a Half Questions with Richard Skelton

Can you elaborate on the title of your album, Marking Time?
I used to think that putting titles to instrumental music was a waste of time. But these days I feel like there's something totemic in naming songs – that a song isn't truly birthed, isn't truly alive, until it's been given a name. It's almost a ritualistic thing. A title will suggest itself, one way or another, usually after repeatedly listening to the finished album. But I don't like to go into specifics – why this name or that. You might as well ask me to discuss a particular melody or image. They're all part of the same thing for me. With this record, I think it was something about the recurrent, bell-like piano motifs that lead me to that particular title.

Who plays the instruments on your album?
I normally play everything on my recordings. Most of the writing is done in the act of playing, and in many cases – in response to a particular landscape. The new Carousell album, 'Black Swallow & Other Songs', is the first album which features a song produced in collaboration with another musician – Autumn Grieve, whose beautiful voice appears on the final track, 'The Clearing'.

What prompted a release under your real name?
I wouldn't get too hung up on the names, real or imaginary. People keep telling me that I'm shooting myself in the foot – commercially – by using so many different aliases. At one stage, it seemed like every new recording should have a different name: A Broken Consort, Carousell, Clouwbeck, Harlassen, Heidika, Riftmusic... For me, the names have private significance, and they're like an additional layer of reference or imagery for the listener... but I always wanted Sustain-Release (the name of my label) to be the consistent thing throughout each of these shape-shifting forms. I think 'Marking Time' came out under my own name because it was destined for a label other than my own.

Is this the first time you put out an album on a label other than your own?
Yes. Preservation approached me quite a while ago, asking for something which they could debut. As my first instinct is always to self-publish, it took me a while to get used to the idea of writing for someone else. Part of the reason is due to timeframes – when writing for myself, I can finish an album and release it the very next day. I can control every aspect of the release, and deal directly with my customers. But so far my experiences with other labels have been very good. Preservation released 'Marking Time' within a couple of months of its completion. Since then I've also had my 'Box Of Birch' album reissued by Tompkins Square Records, who were a joy to work with, and allowed me the scope to create the artwork for the album too. Currently there are a few new releases in the pipeline – I've just completed an album of A Broken Consort material for Tompkins Square, and a new double album, under my own name, for Type Records.

Tell us about the photography accompanying the vinyl release.
As I mentioned earlier – melodies, words and images are all part of the same whole. John at Type records, being familiar with the way I work, was gracious enough to allow me to accompany the remastered vinyl edition of 'Marking Time' with my own photography. At about the same time as the recording was made, I also began to reacquaint myself with film photography, and began developing my own negatives. There's something magical about the process. It's alchemical. Laborious. Frustrating. Exciting. The photographs on the cover of 'Marking Time', taken with an old square format camera, depict a bank of poplar and birch trees near to where I grew up. It's a place of immense personal significance, and one which I write about in my book, 'Landings Diary'. |

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Murcof - The Versailles Sessions (Leaf)

I am way overdue to give this album a proper review. I first heard The Versailles Sessions back at the end of 2008, when this Leaf release immediately made it on to my Best of 2008 list. Then, as time flew by, I was expecting to cover the upcoming release, Océano. The latter is expected to be a fourth installment in a five part album series, that spells out Fernando Corona's shortened Murcof alias with the initial letters of the titles (Martes, Ulysses, Remembranza, Cosmos, Océano, F___?). Alas, Océano is still in post-production. Meanwhile, The Versailles Sessions still haunts me at night. During the 50-minute experience, the instruments howl, screech, and cry in a tormented industrial prison of sound. Intense heartburn of horror rises through the pulled and scratched strings until it spills over into the bile of harmony. Rhythmic structure ignores the background beating of sacrificial drums, as the violins tune up into the unison of terror. Darkness surrounds all, as the melodies creep up the underground stairs towards the purity of light. In The Versailles Sessions, Murcof creates one of the most dramatic, suspenseful and cinematic soundtracks to date. The imaginary film consists of the images from the annual festival of sound, light and water at the Chateaue de Versailles. The score is composed entirely out of 17th century instruments, such as harpsichord, flute, violin and viola de gamba, and is performed by a troupe of professional baroque musicians. This commissioned release for the festival's Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes, is unlike any of Fernando's previous albums. In 2002, Martes hit the scene to overwhelming critical acclaim, juxtaposing samples of Arvo Pärt and Morton Feldman over deep rolling bass and micro programmed beats. The Mexican producer followed up his debut with an even more elegant and mature production. With Cosmos, you simply fly away (a must, in any serious connoisseur's library). But The Versailles Sessions stands out completely in its own spectrum of compositions. The dark ambient and modern classical passages haunt the listener into a corner of eerie memories and distant fears, evoking an unnatural response of increased blood pressure and cold sweat. Highly recommended for the likes of Deaf Center, Julien Neto, releases by Alva Noto + Ryuchi Sakamoto, Kangding Ray, Dictaphone and Arovane. If you're digging around to complete your Murcof discography, pick up Corona's release as Terrestre, Secondary Inspection (Static Discos, 2004), and Terrestre vs. Plankton Man (Nimboestatic, 2004) as well as his collaboration with H.Amézquita, C.I.D.I. (AR) (Statis Discos, 2004), and his latest work with Erik Truffaz, titled Mexico (Blue Note, 2008). Best of 2008 for sure! | |

Two and a Half Questions with Murcof

With The Versailles Sessions you moved from working with samples of modern classical works to collaborating and writing for the actual musicians. Tell us about that experience.
It was different in the sense that the sound sources i worked from where of a very specific period, the baroque in this case. I didn't write anything for the musicians, we recorded their interpretations of baroque period music from lully, couperin, pourcel, etc, in a conventional way first but then we started experimenting modifying the score, it's tempo, pitch, inserting random pauses, etc, and at the end we ended up throwing all sorts of material inside the harpsichord and pounding on the viola da gamba's body. So a wide spectrum was explored.

How did your sound evolve over the years?
I got gradually more and more interested in texture and less in beat, but the best way to answer your question is for you to listen to the albums in a chronological manner.

I apologize for being impatient, but when is Océano coming out already?
I'm afraid not very soon, no specific date yet, all I can promise is that i will do my very best and hopefully it will be worth the wait.

As the albums continue to be named in a series of the initials from your alias, how would you define or name the overall project?
Like a personal diary, open for review to anyone who's interested.

And what happens after 'F'?
Not sure yet, change to another alias perhaps? I'll find another excuse to continue making music, that's for sure, as long as inspiration is present the rest comes almost by itself. |

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - Mutations EP (Ad Noiseam)

Coming in with slow jazzy percussion, deep rumbling bass, and all acoustic instrumentation, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble enters from the shadows of ghostly vocals and crackling dust. Violins, trombones, and jazz trumpets howl and growl, along digitally effected beats and bit-crushed atmospheres of decay. Darker than future jazz, yet lighter than doom jazz, the purveyors of sound composed of both digital and electro acoustic, are no strangers to the scene. The seven member ensemble includes Jason Köhnen, who has already added his trademark sound to our collections with numerous releases as Bong-Ra on Planet Mu, Ad Noiseam, and Sublight Records. Plus, the entire troup has already put out their live improv recordings as The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation with two full length albums, Doomjazz Future Corpses! (Ad Noiseam, 2007) and the recently released Succubus (Ad Noiseam, 2009). A few words from the label's site: A bridge between their first album on Planet Mu and the forthcoming second one on Ad Noiseam, the "Mutations EP" is The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble's coming of age. Profound and organic but dark and impressive, it is a perfect rendition of the ensemble's live shows and the proof that there is still something fresh to be done at the meeting point of post-rock, jazz and drones. A deeply emotional and original trip. At only 40 minutes long, the eight-track EP is a profoundly mature collection of abstract and experimental jazz riffs that get the heart pumping with anticipation of buildups that break into cinematic soundscapes of beauty. Like an abandoned farmer's house in a post-war eastern european silent film, the evoked environment of sounds is a little eerie and at the same time melancholic. I'm especially impressed with the jazz drumming by Gideon Kiers that lightly gets processed through FX. The above mentioned Jason Köhnen strums the fretless and the double bass, while the beautiful Nina Hitz works the cello. This is a serious record worth being promoted to an LP. With Succubus just hitting the streets in June 2009, the upcoming Here Be Dragons album is currently being mastered, and is due to be released sometime in September 2009. I'm glad that the ensemble's live performances could be rendered on a recording for a headphone experience - I only wish that I could catch them live next time they're in town. Don't forget to grab that Succubus! Recommended if you like Jacaszek, Blackfilm, Deaf Center, Triosk, Bersarin Quartett, Skalpel, and Kashiwa Daisuke. Other noir-jazz and experimental jazz groups to check out: Bohren & der Club of Gore, Kammerflimmer Kollektief, Dale Cooper Quartet & The Dictaphones, and Contemporary Noise Quintet.  |  |

Two and a Half Questions with The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble

Do you have any plans on releasing a recording of an actual live performance?
Well, we release live stuff under the Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation. The new live improv album 'Succubus' has just been released on Ad Noiseam. We did released the live album 'Doomjazz Future Corpses!' in 2007.

Any memorable moments from your tour?
We start our first proper tour in November this year. Before that we've just been doing weekend shows.

Have you had a chance, or a desire, to make music for film?
That's the whole approach to our sound, making cinematic / visual compositions. Hopefully in the future we'll get to work more directly on soundtracks.

Tell us a bit about your upcoming album, Here Be Dragons.
It's in the mastering process at the moment. There's been a little delay on the artwork, but we're very pleased we've finished it after 2 years of work on it. Its taken us into new territories, experimenting more with rhythms and compositions. And its the first album with the whole band recording together, uncharted be dragons... |

Saturday, July 18, 2009

VA - 14 tracks re-wiring UK Garage (Boomkat)

Boomkat is not exactly a record label. And it's not really known for its compilations. But it is a famous online music store for all of your underground musical flavors, from dubstep to hip-hop to IDM and modern classical. Towards the end of 2008, Boomkat launched a sister site : Every week, 14tracks presents you with an installment of "hand-picked selections united by theme or genre, bound by a particular style, or with some kind of common narrative in mind." Each compilation is available as a digital download (DRM free, 320 Kbps MP3s) priced at 99p per track or for £6.86 (approx. $11.25 in USD). I initially jumped on the site when Boomkat presented their Best of 2008 releases in three installments of 14 tracks. Ever since, I've been getting weekly newsletter updates, and checking out some off hand selections that may be outside of my usual interests. On more than one occasion, I would discover an artist that way, and end up grabbing full albums. It's been an excellent resource for opening up my horizons across the entire musical spectrum. Some noteworthy past selections that I want to point out include "14 tracks: experimenting with bowed strings", "14 tracks in the shadow of film noir", "14 tracks of early electronic music", "14 tracks of dark ambient", and "14 tracks that make you wish you played the piano". The latter collection, for example, features some of my favorite artists like Hauschka, Pan American, Harold Budd, Ólafur Arnalds, Erik Satie, Peter Broderick, Jacaszek, Goldmund, and many others. This week, I again fall prey to the outstanding marketing ploy of Boomkat and add into my digital cart a compilation titled "14 tracks re-wiring UK Garage". The selection of tracks includes some new material as well as rarities from Sully, Narcossist, Falty DL, Brackles, Groovechronicles, Millie & Andrea, TRG, Spatial and Peverelist. Representing labels from Planet Mu to Tectonic to Tempa and Infrasonics, this is an excellent collection of... well... UK's finest funky garage. Here's more from the description: With dubstep increasingly split between bombastic rave/wobble workouts and far more feminine (and, for our money, interesting) variants, the line is getting harder to define between one sub-classification and another. Further up the chain, UK Garage itself incorporates a number of different bass cultures, flowing in and out of Jungle, hip hop and R&B and generating mongrel sounds from Grime to Dubstep, Funky and beyond. All of this is to say that the bass scene always has and continues to evolve at a rate that's producing new sounds and splinters faster than anyone can even name them, despite the perceived malaise... So forgive me for covering an unconventional medium today, but as the 2-step beat rides along the wobbly bass in my speakers, I feel compelled to share this great find. If you're a fan of Burial's ghost-like vocals and light syncopated beats, then this is definitely a must for you. Also greatly recommended if you are not familiar with this genre. Point your browsers to and enjoy.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

VA - 88 Tapes (Keshhhhhh)

Keshhhhhh Recordings is based in Cambridge (England) and is run by Simon Scott (you should know him as the ex-drummer from the shoegaze band, Slowdive). I'm not exactly sure what Simon has in mind for the future of his label, but I must say, he's off to a pretty good start. First of all, he's got Taylor Deupree to master the entire compilation in his 12k studio. That alone should give you a pretty good idea about the intent here. And the roster of artists also tends to speak for itself. The eighteen track collection of ambient vignettes and sound explorations all revolve around a central theme. This theme less of a melodic structure, but rather a concept around a particular selection of recordings recorded by Simon Scott on an audio cassette back in 1988. On the liner notes of the release, Scott elaborates: "In 1988 on another rainy Saturday afternoon, whilst looking for sonic inspiration, I decided to take apart and re-assemble my stereo that had a quarter inch input socket as well as a turntable and tape player/recorder. The result was a fantastic malfunctioning, stuttering and glitching piece of equipment that suddenly realized my ideas of creating new sound. I promptly pressed the record button and let rip on my electric guitar and promised myself to write a song from the results one day. In 2008 the tape was rediscovered purely by chance in a house move and the rediscovery of this TDK inspired me to contact a group of artists and composers who I feel are talented and relevant today. There was just a simple single track sent off via email to inspire them to compose a piece of work for this compilation if they had the urge. They did and I am forever grateful to everyone involved in deconstructing the tape track and creating this album." And what a spectacular group of artists it is! The compilation opens up with an sound sparkling interpretation by Yasuhiko Fukuzono as Aus flowing right into a beautiful vocals of Sanae Yamasaki, [aka Moskitoo - see her excellent album, Drape (12k, 2007)]. We then move into noisy guitar feedback and lo-fi acoustic glitch by Mark Templeton (see his numerous releases and appearances on Anticipate Recordings). The 12k roster continues to propagate this selection with contributions by Keiichi Sugimoto as Fourcolor, Sawako, and one of my favorites, Lawrence English. Besides above mentioned aus, a few more artists from the Japanese label, flau, show up later, like Orla Wren and John McCaffrey as Part Timer. Chicago based Kranky Records enters the circle of Scott's friends with a beautiful heavily reverberated breathy piece by Christopher Bissonnette. Further on a release we see his labelmate, Thomas Meluch contribute a track as Benoît Pioulard. We also see an appearance by Akira Kosemura, who previously secured a spot on Airport Symphony - Virtual Terminal, a free deigital companion edition to the Airport Symphony, compiled by the above mentioned prolific Lawrence English and released on Room40 in 2007. A third through the release, Simon Scott finally appears with his own interpretation. A sound artist and a label owner of and/OAR, Dale Lloyd contributes a sonic carpet of luscious frequencies, followed by a ghost-like echoes of gated guitar and vocals by Matt Robson recording as Random Number. Additional appearances include tracks by Greg Davis, Adam Pacione, Ateleia, and Hannu. An excellent roster, don't you think? Meanwhile, Simon Scott prepares for his upcoming solo debut, titled Navigare on none other than Miasmah recordings. |

Monday, July 6, 2009

Free Mix : Intelligent Breakcore

This mix has been in the making for quiet some time. Maybe not in its actuality, but at least in my head. It all started when I was compiling Headphone Commute’s Best of 2008 list at the end of December last year. I wanted to select some of my favorite tracks and create hour-long sessions. That lead into separation of genres into Modern Classical, Organic Ambient, and this one, Intelligent Breakcore. Of course, I’m about six months overdue now, but that only allowed me for squeeze in a few of 2009 releases. A-n-y-w-a-y… Here’s for your pleasure sixty minutes of uninterrupted intelligent and dark goodness from some of my favorite labels. Enjoy, and if you like it, let me know, I’ll post the other two mixes up here…

Download free mix, and see full track listing only on Headphone Commute

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Trentemøller / VA - Harbour Boat Trips : Copenhagen (HFN Music)

Danish electronic producer, Anders Trentemøller, sets aside his studio equipment used to make some of the finest raw and tight minimal house grooves, to put together a compilation of some of his favorite downtempo tracks from Copenhagen. Harbour Boat Trips is a commissioned selection of folksy, ambient and electronic tracks, sprinkled with beautiful vocals, beats, and live instrumentation. This is the music you'd expect Trentemøller to listen to on early lazy Sunday mornings as he's waking up to a cup of coffee. In the liner notes, Trentemøller confirms: "Dear Listener, within this compliation I have basically chosen some of the many songs I use in my own most intimate hours, coming down after gigs, cleaning my apartment, waiting for friends to arrive or simply daydreaming with my twenty-first century walkman through the city of Copenhagen. [...] All the artists on this compliation which include names from nearly four decades have, to me, created different aspects of beauty." Opening up with Grouper and diving into Gravenhurst, you're immediately set for a selection of songs traversing moods and genres. There are many pleasant surprises along the way from previously unknown (to me) artists. For example, I've heard before music by Emiliana Torrini with releases on FatCat, but after hearing her lovely voice on a track "Lifesaver", I add her acoustic album, Fisherman's Woman (Rough Trade, 2004) to my collection. A track by The Hypothetical Prophets (Proroky) with Russian overdubbed lyrics take me out of their experimental neo-industrial chemical dub-house into the late 70s synth-pop track by Suicide titled Cheree. Moving through new wave beats by David Garcet. Following a haunting glitchy house track by Rennie Foster, in floats a Four Tet remix of Caribou's Melody Day, full of acoustic guitars and confident muffled four-four kick. With that we move into Trentemøller's edit of The Raveonettes cover of Joy Division's She's Lost Control. Before the compilation ends, Trentemøller finally appears with his own track, Vamp, followed by Two Lone Swordsmen and a fitting closure by Soft Cell's Tainted Love. This compilation is the very first release from Hamburg based hfn ['ha:fən] music, which opens up on its site with the following statement: "Harbours are open doors to the world, and so is hfn, and to all spectrums of music." There is not much information that is available about the label on its site or elsewhere, but I expect we'd see a few more installments in this series in the future. In closing, I'd describe this release as a personal mixtape shared by Trentemøller especially for you. Enjoy! |

Friday, July 3, 2009

Label Profile : Merck

I've been a little swamped with 'life' and behind on all the reviews.
Let's just say that I'm on a short vacation.

Meanwhile, I was able to squeeze out an amazing new interview with Gabe Koch of Merck Records!

Read Label Profile: Merck only on