Saturday, November 24, 2007

erik satie: the 4-handed piano & other works

Erik Satie (05-17-1886 to 07-01-1925) was a French composer and writer. While his music is widely celebrated during our time, he was actually ridiculed for his unorthodox compositions. In fact, studying at the Paris Conseravtoire, he was sent home by his teachers who thought him talentless. He was able to rejoin the school after more than two years. However, to no improvement. Frustrated, he joined the military instead but lasted only for a few weeks.
Although Satie (along with friend and contemporary Claude Debussy) is (wrongly) considered by most to be a classical composer, his pieces actually resemble the music of minimalists and avant-garde musicians of our time. He was fond of calling his compositions "furniture music", which means that it should not be intrusive but meant to be more as a background (like furniture). He was also not comfortable being called a musician and always introduced himself as a gymnopedist, which was probably the inspiration for his most famous pieces - the "Gymnopedies" - a trio of similar piano pieces (which is strangely missing in this collection). He was also caught on several occasions as calling himself a phonometrician - a person who measures and writes down sounds. But Satie was not the overly serious artist he was considered by many. In fact he liked giving his compositions odd titles such as "Drivelling Preludes (For A Dog)". Some of his pieces also contain weird instructions to the performer such as " this motif 840 times".
A widely influential composer, he is considered to be an inspiration by most of our top avant-garde musicians. Everyone from Ryuichi Sakamoto to ambient musician Brian Eno are disciples of Satie's "furniture" music philosophy. This alone proves that, like most true artists, Satie's thinking was well ahead of his time.

erik satie homepage
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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

throbbing gristle: part two: the endless not

released: 04-01-2007
label: mute records

The inventors or Industrial music are back with all jackhammers a-blazing with what is probably their most anticipated release: "Part Two: The Endless Not". Right away the listener is bombarded with terrible screeches and metallic scrapes with a rhythm track resembling the sound of an impending doom in "Vow Of Silence". With Genesis P-Orridge's heavily manipulated and sarcastic vocals sounding like little imps from a demented children's storybook thrown in for good measure (just in case you aren't scared yet), it is anything but silent.

And after all that noise we are treated with a jazz/avante-garde number with "Rabbit Snare". Mind you, this is not jazz music for the faint-hearted. I would even say it's not for the common jazz aficionado. It's about single note bass crawls, minimalist cornet courtesy of Cosey Fanni Tutti, and devilish, breathing piano licks and stabs. It also contains, in my opinion, one of their eeriest lyrics. Imagine atop all that horror-jazz music hearing P-Orridge's sinister voice singing " you love me...why are you you love me...are you this this inside of us..." in all it's reverberated glory. Nothing really special lyrically you might say, but wait until you hear it coming out of P-Orridge's mouth.
One of the album's highlights here for me is the song "Almost A Kiss". It is so beautifully written that in the wrong hands this could easily be turned into a radio-friendly number. Luckily for us it fell in TG's hands. It is a ballad complete with mallets, lush strings and choir samples that seem like voices of weeping angels, empathizing with the author. It's the kind of song that can make all the small hairs on the back of your neck and arms stand on end. I wish I had written it acually.

Another great track is "Lyre Liar", a slow, heavy dirge of a song that sounds like it could be the musical score of purgatory. With this track, TG proves to their fans once again why they are the undisputed arbiters of industrial music. Simply no other band can do it the way they do. Of course worth mentioning is the title track with its nauseating backbeat and the metal-machine noises we have come to love from TG. And I'm pretty sure "The Worm Waits Its Turn" would be a fan favorite from this album. It starts of as an ambient sounding track with beat poetry by P-Orridge. Then halfway into the song a seemingly innocent drum beat appears that's no different from the drum loops we have heard so many times could have easily been used in a Pizzicato5 song or an electro-clash track. But in a TG context, with Genesis declaring "...10,000 maggots feeding...", it does sound like marching music for the worms, preparing to take over us all.
Much thanks to Throbbing Gristle for patching and welding things up - nuts, bolts and all. I guess like lovers, all they needed was time apart from each other. Because it is apparent in this album that the several-years break did them all a lot of good. Another iPod staple.

visit throbbing gristle's official site
read pitchforkmedia's review

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

harold budd/ruben garcia/daniel lentz: music for 3 pianos

released: 01-01-1991
label: all saints (1991), gyroscope (1994), hannibal (2006)

As the title might suggest this album consists of music written specifically for three pianos - panned left, right and center. The production technique render it appropriate for headphone listening, especially for that "swirling of reverberating notes" effect. That being said it would be a source of great frustration to listen for an exhibition of keyboard virtuosity here. In here simplicity and sparseness is key. After all, this is not a progressive rock record. In fact it is made up of only six pieces with each track under the five minute mark, totaling to only 21+ minutes. That's probably just as long as your standard prog rock keyboard solo. (Don't get me wrong though, I don't hate prog, I just don't have much patience). Fact of the matter is, it took me longer to write this review than to listen to the record.
What you can expect is music to ponder your life by. If Sakamoto can bring me to solitude in some vintage black and white hotel room photograph, Budd, Garcia & Lentz bring me to the streets right outside that hotel, overlooked by the same hotel room window with translucent white curtains. I say this because listening to their album I get that sense of travel (by foot). In fact I can hear the murmurs of passers-by and sidewalk vendors as I listen to the music. So vivid are the street noises that sometimes I could almost swear they are coming out the headphone speakers, embedded into the recording.
It's like being in a lucid dream where you can hear incomprehensible voices or reading a book in which the words elude you, no matter how you strain. Weird I know, but so is the music. Maybe therein lies the similarity - that the listener is advised to not strain to hear the music, but to instead let the music flow by itself into one's consciousness.

harold budd's new albion page
ruben garcia at close tolerance music
daniel lentz's site
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Monday, November 19, 2007

ryuichi sakamoto & christian fennesz: cendre

released: 2007
label: touch

"Cendre" marks the second collaborative effort between Japanese music whiz Ryuichi Sakomoto and Austrian electronic/IDM artist Christian Fennesz (the first being a 19-minute epic recorded live at the Auditorium della Parco Musica, for the Romaeuropa Festival). I first came across the name of Sakamoto when I bought issue #128 of "The Wire" and I have been intrigued ever since. But his albums are nowhere to be found here in Manila at that time (this was the early '90s). Then about three years ago I was finally able to get hold of "Moto.Tronic" (a best-of collection of sorts) and also some collaborations with David Sylvian. And the thing I liked most about those releases, namely the sombre piano pieces, are what you can find in "Cendre". That alone is reason enough to make this album an iPod staple (in mine at least).
Christian Fennesz is a different story, as I shamefully admit I have never heard of him before. I say "shamefully" because his contributions in this album (he is credited with guitar and "laptop") is truly a magnificent work of art. His drones and noises give Sakamoto's piano pieces a different dimension (although Sakamoto is also given "laptop" credits in the liner notes). And against what one might expect, he is not given the "backdrop" treatment here, but is rather prominent. Don't bother looking for Fennesz's guitar work though as they are buried under layers of effects - the guitar being utilized here more of a noise generating device rather than a "proper" instrument.
Now, it is with no shame that I admit that I have no formal musical training/lessons whatsoever so I cannot judge this album based on their musicianship - I mean I wouldn't be able to tell you what key they're playing, etc. And frankly, who cares? And there's no use trying to dissect this cd track by track as it would be better taken as a whole. I can only say how their music affects me. And that is being transported somewhere timeless and surreal, and yet it feels like home. Every time I listen to this cd I feel as though I'm in some old Italian hotel in broad daylight with the fluid sun rays penetrating the translucent white curtains, making every furniture glow. Strange description, yes, but certain Brian Eno tracks have the same effect on me. And I've never been to Italy. Maybe that's the appeal, for the music to take you somewhere you've never been nor ever will be. Somewhere very peaceful and melancholic, just like the music itself.

ryuichi sakamoto's official site
christian fennesz's official site

Saturday, November 17, 2007

photek: form and function vol.2

released: 09-24-2007
label: sanctuary records

Form & Function Vol.2 is the fourth album by Photek, aka Rupert Parkes. Though not really "new" as it is a collection of dubplates and remixes. Now, to be honest, I am not a very big fan of Photek's works. If I had to choose, my favorite would probably be his 1997 album "Modus Operandi", for reasons of both style and sentimentality. I guess I'm not really into drum&bass with vocals as with some of Photek's releases.
But hearing the first track - "Industry Of Noise" - though it contains vocals, I can't help but be impressed. Provided the song falls more into rocktronica, complete with menacing guitar loops, than drum&bass. I can't help but wonder if there will be more where that came from. But alas, all good things must end. But still I wasn't totally disappointed as the next 12 tracks delved into full-on electronic assault. Although tracks two and three ("Love & War" and "Things", respectively) again explores the drum&bass-with-vocals path, I dug it better than his previous tracks of that ilk.
Of course, what Photek collection will be complete without "Ni Ten Ichi Ryu" (eng: two swords technique)? Appearing here as remixed by Norwegian DJ and producer TeeBee. And I'm sure a lot of die hard Photek fans will be delighted to see the inclusion of "Saturated HipHop" and "One Nation", as it has been tucked away in the dubplate archives for too long a time. Another favorite of mine would be "Sidewinder (Hochi Remix)". It's the kind of track you'd listen to while riding the Metro Rail Transit or probably while hanging out in an old, abandoned industrial complex.
All in all, Form & Function Vol.2 is a well rounded release, containing some old favorites in new forms, plus a few other surprises.

visit photek's official website

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Friday, November 16, 2007

skinny puppy: mythmaker

released: 01-29-2007
label: synthetic symphony

Three years after "The Greater Wrong Of The Right", Skinny Puppy emerges with "Mythmaker", probably one of the best and most focused album in their decades-spanning career. Instantly the listener is greeted with OhGr's unmistakable and startling voice on "Magnifishit". His singing on this album is more akin to his solo albums, which sounds like a cross between a cyborg and Gary Numan. And it suits the music well.
Almost instantly as well, one would sense the more IDM feel or vibe of their songs. In fact some of the drum samples and glitches you'll hear on this album would not sound out of place in an Autechre record. Guitars are still utilized albeit sparingly, but the placements are very effective. Samples/snippets are still classic Puppy and still gives that chilling atmosphere we have come to know and love from their previous releases. And with their old tricks come a lot of new surprises as well. Most notable is the Celtic-sounding, delayed acoustic guitar in "JaHer", which only makes the song all the more eerie. A lot of grandiose moments as well, as with the chorus of "PasturN".
And until the last song, "UgLi", a song about evil, conniving people using God and religion in their conspiracies, the band doesn't fail to deliver what their fans have been craving for...dark, socio-political electronic music that conjures images of dystopia upon the lister's mind-eye.

official skinny puppy site
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nine inch nails: year zero (halo 24)

released: 04-16-2007
label: interscope

Trent Reznor is back! And only after two years since Nine Inch Nails' last album (With Teeth). That's probably the least time in between albums by Trent's standards. But in no way does the album seem rushed. In fact I could say for myself that this album contains some of NIN's finest moments since "The Downward Spiral" and it's related releases (Closure, March Of The Pigs, etc...).
Produced by Reznor together with Atticus Ross (12 Rounds), Year Zero is a concept album which speaks of the author's discontent with the present American Policies. Reznor also stated that this album is only "part of a bigger picture of a number of things (he is) working on". Which, amongst others, will include an alternate reality game in which fans (unwittingly?) participate and a possible television series.
With regards to how the album sounds I could say that it contains some of NIN's loudest noises but the brilliance, as always is in the subtleties. The cd is not over-produced as with earlier releases and really captures the energy of the performances, especially with regards to the vocals. The cd starts off with "Hyperpower!" and the listener is greeted with the sound of intense drumming (Dave Grohl?) followed by heavily distorted guitars and noises and concludes with the music getting louder and louder then abruptly ends. Segue to "The Beginning Of The End" and suddenly shifts gear to let us hear some infectious drums which will not be out of place in an '80s bubblegum album. Third song is of course "Survivalism", the first single off the album, which kicks the album into higher gear. And for the next 13 songs the listener is taken on a rollercoaster ride of quiet-to-loud to not-so-quiet to ear-bludgeoning-frenzy.
In conclusion, as with a lot of Trent's post-Downward Spiral releases, this is an album that you will either loathe or love. Personally, I feel the latter.

nine inch nails official site

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