Nov152016| November 15, 2016
“The latest work in a long series.”
Ambient forefather Brian Eno will release new album Reflection via Warp Records on January 1st 2017.
Continuing his investigation into ambient music which, as he writes “started (as far as record releases are concerned) with Discreet Music in 1975.”
Writing about the release, Eno exhibits a cautiousness about the genre he is credited with creating: “I don’t think I understand what that term [ambient] stands for anymore – it seems to have swollen to accommodate some quite unexpected bedfellows – but I still use it to distinguish it from pieces of music that have fixed duration and rhythmically connected, locked together elements.”
Instead, he says, the pieces on Reflection are “Generative”. He writes: “By that I mean they make themselves. My job as a composer is to set in place a group of sounds and phrases, and then some rules which decide what happens to them. I then set the whole system playing and see what it does, adjusting the sounds and the phrases and the rules until I get something I’m happy with. Because those rules are probabilistic ( – often taking the form ‘perform operation x, y percent of the time’) the piece unfolds differently every time it is activated. What you have here is a recording of one of those unfoldings.”
Accompanied by an extensive text, the album, like it’s title, appears to have provided space for Eno to reflect and rediscover himself in relation to the process of making music:
Perhaps you can divide artists into two categories: farmers and cowboys. The farmers settle a piece of land and cultivate it carefully, finding more and more value in it. The cowboys look for new places and are excited by the sheer fact of discovery, and the freedom of being somewhere that not many people have been before. I used to think I was temperamentally more cowboy than farmer… but the fact that the series to which this piece belongs has been running now for over 4 decades makes me think that there’s quite a big bit of farmer in me.
Brian Eno’s Reflection will be released on double vinyl and can be pre-ordered from Eno’s online shop ahead of its New Year’s Day release here.
Oct102016| October 10, 2016
Bundled with three zen tapes.
Leaving Records has unveiled an archival release with ambient icon Laraaji. The bundle leads with 1984’s Om Namah Shivaya, which finds Laraaji using drum machines and stream-of-consciousness vocal mantra to make new-age trance pop.
“This original 1984 cassette home recording was inspired by request for personal long play soundtrack to accompany a delivery room child birth in Florida,” says Laraaji. “It was intended to welcome a newborn child with love, ecstatic joy, and high positivism. I used the Casiotone M70 electric keyboard and chat sang while in a prepared vision trance. C Major.”
Laraaji began to study Eastern mysticism in the ’70s. Around this time, he bought an autoharp in a pawn shop and began experimenting and performing at New Age meets and on the streets of New York. In 1979, he was spotted in Washington Square Park by Brian Eno, who left a message in his busking case asking if the pair could record together. What followed was 1980’s Ambient 3: Day Of Radiance – the third installment of Brian Eno’s Ambient series and one of the most ecstatic releases of the decade.
The exposure led to requests for longer versions of his compositions which he supplied to meditation groups on cassette tapes. Three such long-players, previously self-released and distributed in limited quantities during those peak 1980s years, are included here in the reissue package. These include: Sun Zither 1&2, Tonings 1&2 and Celestrana / Deep Chimes Meditation.
Order the bundle for $40 via Stones Throw.
Jun202016| June 20, 2016
Pioneer champions art over the “neo-liberal drive”.
Brian Eno delivered an inspiring speech titled ‘Why We Play’ – touching on art, radical music, economics and life – at his opening conference at Barcelona’s Sonar +D on Thursday (16 June). The industry wing of Barcelona’s annual Sonar festival, +D has become a showcase for tech and a forum for digital thinking.
Speaking to a diverse and intergenerational audience, the multimedia thinker said: “I always thought that my mission as an artist was to try to make the objects that belonged in the world I would like to live in. To sort of imagine that if I made the music that I thought would belong in the future, somehow it would help to make that future happen.”
Eno went on to attack the goal-driven agenda of the capitalist world, Billboard reports; decrying an age “that more than anything else describes itself in economic terms” and citing prison privatization and standardized testing as examples. “It’s possible to graduate from a school or university with fantastic results and not know a fucking thing about anything,” he added to applause.
He spoke of how popular music since the latter half of the 20th Century had been driven by those with the least power in society. “This music doesn’t come from above, it comes from below, it comes out of the ground,” he said. “It’s not an accident that a whole revolution in how we think about gender and sexuality has happened in the last 50 years, because there has been a whole lot of art about it as well, David Bowie not least.”
He finished with a discussion of art as play, drawing parallels with how children self-realise, imagine and learn together through play. He criticised the way the arts is treated as a luxury good. “Once you deal with the difficult problems, like earning a living and getting planes to fly and trains to run on time, then you can have a bit of art, sort of like the ice cream at the end of the meal.”
“What I want to convince you of is that that isn’t the way it works at all. That the only way that we can continue to cooperate and work together as a human society, and as the community that we are, is with lots and lots and lots of culture and art.”
May022016| May 2, 2016
We select the 10 most essential vinyl releases of the last 7 days.
Forget Lemonde, ambient pioneer Brian Eno is back with his first full-length in four years. Meanwhile Adam Green, formerly of the indie-rock band the Moldy Peaches, drops the soundtrack to the latest (and quite bizarre) film reinterpretation of Aladdin, which Green himself has directed. Techno god Juan Atkins is here with a new album too and as ever, there’s a clutch of wicked 12″s for club-use only.
Scroll down for our definitive across-the-board rundown of the week’s new vinyl releases as selected by The Vinyl Factory’s Chris Summers, Patrick Ryder and James Hammond with help from Norman Records. 5 singles and 5 LPs every 7 days that are unmissable additions to any collection.
Byron The Aquarius
Gone Today Here Tomorrow
Byron The Aquarius broke out in ’07, hooking up with Onra on ‘The Big Payback’ 12″. After nearly a decade of silence, he returned on Theo’s label in January and has now followed-up with a maxi-EP for Kyle Hall’s Wild Oats. Six synthy tracks exploring “the nature of reality and being, the pursuit of ecstasy and bliss, and embracing the ephemeral” on limited vinyl.
DJ Overdose meets OB Ignitt
Dutch techno veteran DJ Overdose certainly knows how to coax a varied palette from his set-up and Dead City is a point-in-case as the skittish and twisted synth lines that permutate around the beat on the first track give way to some-downright funkiness on the next. It’s rare that a remix embellishes a release in the way OB Ignitt’s does here though, and it rounds off this tight 12” with a real highlight.
You and I
In lieu of any actual 7″s this week we’ve turned to a Record Store Day item which we only just got around to playing. The former Arab Strap man uses cheap synths to create a lo-fi take on disco which would be rather cheesy if it were not for his misery Scotsman delivery which adds a particularly weighty emotion to the entire thing. Kind of reminds you of that time you had a great time dancing somewhere in Scotland.
Rye Lane Shuffle
Yes it’s that tune! The tune that everyone from Four Tet to Floating Points (who both had a hand in it somewhere along the way) via Benji B and Gilles Peterson have been absolutely smashing for some time now finally gets a release on the Exodus label. ‘Rye Lane Shuffle’ is quite simply an afro jazz explosion from beginning to end with a bassline to die for and horns that will eat away at your feet. Similar to Carl Craig’s Innerzone Orchestra but brought bang up to date! 12″ of the year so far with ease.
Tusk Wax 20
Tusk Wax are on one at the moment, snapping up Mancunian tape mangler Ste Spandex for his best work to date then hitting us with this feisty little four tracker of lysergic delights. In celebration of their twentieth release, the label return to the various artists format of their early days, enlisting frequent flyers Heretic, TX Connect and Antoni Maiovvi to turn us out with a trio of dark acid attacks. The plaudits should be saved however for the mysterious Future Unit, who marks his debut with the slow motion acid funk of “Pegasus”, a total mind melter if ever I’ve heard one.
Billed as a musical novel, The Ship has been built from experiments with three dimensional recording techniques and takes the form of two inter-connected parts that lead the tracks through ambient soundscapes and powerful narratives. As the ambient godfather explains: “On a musical level, I wanted to make a record of songs that didn’t rely on the normal underpinnings of rhythmic structure and chord progressions but which allowed voices to exist in their own space and time, like events in a landscape. I wanted to place sonic events in a free, open space.” Guaranteed to appear on end of year charts, you need this one on vinyl.
Well, as expected it is utterly ridiculous but this soundtrack to former Moldy Peaches singer Adam Green contains some superb examples of the songwriting skills that made his ‘Minor Love’ album so enjoyable. With a voice somewhere between Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed it’s hard to go wrong. Green tries to anyway with some daft arrangements but his whimsy can’t de-rail his abilities to engage.
Juan Atkins & Moritz Von Oswald Present Borderland
Juan & Moritz continue to fly the flag for German-American friendship this week with the latest offering from their collaborative Borderland project. Using techno as their lingua franca, the imperious duo come together to deliver seven electrifying excursions into the beating heart of the machine world, stripping away layers of pulsating synthesis, restrained rhythm and immersive texture as they go. Perfectly paced, the album flows as one, evolving into a perfect example of tension and release from two masters of the craft.
King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard
Australia’s double drummer fuzz wizards are quick as a flash getting albums out and this one could be their finest moment yet’. ‘Nonagon Infinity’ gets them back to their lo-fi, punk rock garage busting best as they bring their multi colour party to these killer nine songs. A perfect fit between Thee Oh Sees and Mr Segall.
Joan La Barbara
Voice is The Original Instrument
(Arc Light Editions)
In only five releases Arc Light Editions have fast become a cherished imprint amongst lovers of experimental music. Simple and distinctive screen-printed artwork on brown card, they opened shop with a reissue of Arthur Russell’s Another Thought and have kept things similarly essential and delightfully varied since then– with this iconic work from the inimitable Joan La Barbara being another fitting addition. As the title would have it there’s only one instrument on display here, the human voice, and La Barbara over the course of her career has certainly extended the boundaries of this elemental instrument. This is her little heard first release from 1976 and a highly recommended listen for adventurous ears.
Apr122016| April 12, 2016
Ten milestone recordings by the godfather of ambient music Brian Eno.
Words: Chris May
Until recently, aside from his early 1970s spell as Roxy Music’s flamboyant synthesiser player, the composer, musician and producer Brian Eno has favoured a generally quiet and retiring public presence. His work has attracted controversy: the genre-defining 1978 album Ambient 1: Music for Airports unleashed as much critical bile as it did praise, and 1981’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a collaboration with David Byrne, attracted allegations of cultural imperialism in some quarters, and praise for weaving previously excluded traditions into rock in others. Even at the height of those debates, however, Eno mostly let his music speak for itself. He dislikes giving press interviews, and probably agrees with Frank Zappa’s observation that “rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.”
In the 2010s, however, Eno is breaking cover. He is in the forefront of the public debate over the dangers and benefits of digital technology, championing algorithm-driven generative music, for instance, while continuing to laud analogue-era recording values. The issue figured in the John Peel Lecture he gave on BBC radio last year.
Eno’s biggest mainstream successes have been as a member of Roxy Music and, more recently, as the producer of U2 and Coldplay, but his most enduring music may well prove to be among his many solo and collaborative recordings. These span glam rock, art rock, avant funk, electronica, ambient, fourth-world and generative music. Eno self-deprecatingly describes them as “little ships floating on a sea of indifference.”
Eno has also produced over 50 albums for other artists, from U2 and Coldplay to Laurie Anderson, Seun Kuti, David Bowie, Baaba Maal and Grace Jones. For reasons of space, these have been put aside for later consideration. Here are ten of Eno’s most essential “little ships.”
Here Come the Warm Jets
Eno played on Roxy Music’s first two albums, Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure, before quitting the band because of his increasingly dysfunctional relationship with lead singer Bryan Ferry, who wanted to be the visual focus of the line-up, a position threatened by Eno’s neon-lit sartorialism – heavy makeup, feather boas, corsets, stack heels and all – and who, in the studio, was also less experimentally inclined than Eno.
A high-proof cocktail of glam-rock and art-rock, Here Come the Warm Jets, Eno’s first album under his own name, features Roxy Music’s Andy MacKay, guitarist Phil Manzanera and drummer Paul Thompson, and suggests how Roxy Music might have developed under Eno’s leadership. Guests include King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, a key Eno collaborator in the mid 1970s. Eno’s second own-name album, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), recorded a year later, is in a similar, though more nuanced, groove.
Fripp & Eno
Recorded between autumn 1972 and summer 1973, while Eno was still a member of Roxy Music, this collaboration with Robert Fripp proved to be more indicative of Eno’s long-term approach to music-making than either Here Come the Warm Jets or Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy).
There are two side-long tracks, co-written by Fripp and Eno, which introduce the tape-looping technique, later known as Frippertronics, co-created by Eno and Fripp with a nod to American minimalist composer and audio innovator Terry Riley. Revolutionary for its time, (No Pussyfooting) still gets under the skin. Eno’s later ventures into ambient, fourth-world and generative musics are part-rooted here.
Another Green World
This dreamlike, mainly instrumental album is a halfway post between the looping innovations of (No Pussyfooting) and the full-on new pastures of 1978’s Ambient Music 1: Music for Airports. Eno’s melody-rich compositions tend to foreground rather than dial-down the music, thereby disqualifying it from the description “ambient”.
Fripp guests on two tracks, as does Velvet Underground violist John Cale. Eno had recorded with Cale on the live-in-London album June 1, 1974, in an art rock supergroup which also included Kevin Ayers and Nico. (Gratuitous gossip: the cover shot of that album, taken minutes before the gig began, shows Ayers and Cale in an apparently relaxed, brotherly pose. The night before, however, Cale had caught Ayers having sex with his, Cale’s, wife. The show must go on).
Ambient 1: Music for Airports
Eno used the term ambient music to distinguish it from canned background-music such as Muzak. In his liner notes for this album, he wrote that while canned music regularised environments by smothering their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncrasies in an audio comfort-blanket, ambient music was intended to subtly accentuate those idiosyncrasies. Eno has described ambient music as “rewarding attention but not being so strict as to demand it” – a definition which also highlights ambient’s key difference to new-age music, whose lack of substance is revealed if attention is given to it.
Ambient 1 was performed mainly by Eno (Robert Wyatt guests on piano on one track and there is a female vocal-trio on three) and mainly on electronic instruments. By contrast, another recommended album in the series, Ambient 3: Days of Radiance, featured the American zither player Laraaji, with minimal sound or tape manipulation by Eno.
Brian Eno – David Byrne
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
A forerunner of the so-called “world-music” which emerged later in the 1980s, the breathtakingly novel My Life in the Bush of Ghosts combines Eno’s ambient aesthetic with the culturally inclusive music of another collaborative album, Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics, made by Eno with the trumpeter Jon Hassell and released in 1980.
Built on rock and funk foundations, and laced with Byrne’s singular take on gospel music, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts overlaid a variety of non-Western styles, notably from North Africa and the Middle East. Like Paul Simon’s South African-infused Graceland in 1986, the album attracted accusations of cultural imperialism from some quarters, including the Islamic Council of Great Britain, who successfully lobbied for the track ‘Qu’Ran’, featuring Koranic chanting recorded in Algeria, to be removed from reissues.
Harold Budd – Brian Eno
(Editions EG, 1984)
Co-written by Eno and minimalist composer Harold Budd, The Pearl can be filed next to an earlier Eno/Budd collaboration, 1980’s Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror. The mix foregrounds Budd on looped and multi-tracked acoustic and electric piano, with gossamer-light background-washes by Eno on synthesisers. Co-produced with Daniel Lanois, another master of understatement, with whom Eno collaborated on the mid to late 1980s albums Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, Thursday Afternoon, Hybrid and Textures. Glistening and spacious, The Pearl still stands as a high-benchmark of minimalist/ambient music.
This ultra-melodic, synthesiser-cored set is perhaps closer to art-pop than art-rock, and is unusual, too, for its vocals, which Eno had largely eschewed since the late 1970s. Wrong Way Up grew out of Eno’s production of Cale’s Words for the Dying in 1989, after which Eno invited Cale to spend a month living and recording at his home/studio in Suffolk. The music is gorgeous, but the creative process was not so harmonious, as the daggers separating the topsy-turvy Eno and Cale portraits on the front cover suggest. In a press release accompanying the release, Eno answered the question “Would you ever record with John Cale again?” with the words “Not bloody likely.”
David Byrne & Brian Eno
Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
(Todo Mundo, 2008)
Another rock going on pop production, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today was the first co-headlined album Eno and Byrne had made since My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in 1981. The album explores a theme that has since increasingly occupied Eno’s attention: the benefits of digital technology versus its threat to the retention of human values in cultural creation. But this is no modishly dystopian album, instead it is uplifting and ultimately optimistic.
Fripp & Eno
The Equatorial Stars
(Discipline Global Mobile, 2014)
Another successful reunion. The Equatorial Stars – the title echoes that of Fripp and Eno’s last co-headlining album, 1975’s Evening Star – was recorded in 2004 and given CD-only release in 2005. The empathy between the guitarist and producer/keyboard player is undimmed after 30 years of, mostly, separation (the pair had worked together on some third-party productions along the way). Most of the tracks press the same, serene buttons as did (No Pussyfooting) and Evening Star. Others nudge the music towards more troubled waters or a touch of funk.
Eno – Hyde
One of two 2014 albums (the other is Someday World) co-headlined by Eno and Underworld vocalist/guitarist Karl Hyde. The production pays more than a nod to generative music, but the description Eno gave it in a 2014 interview was “Reickuti.” From Steve Reich, Eno said he was referencing repetition for its own sake: the idea that the more you repeat something the more your mind makes it appear to shape-shift and evolve. From Fela Kuti, he was referencing rhythmic-melodic interplay: such as the way the drum patterns played by Afrika 70’s Tony Allen implied many other parts, both rhythmic and melodic. In the band is Eno’s one-time Roxy Music colleague, saxophonist Andy MacKay, who played on Eno’s solo debut, Here Come the Warm Jets, four decades earlier. Which is where we came in.
Apr032016| April 3, 2016
Originally published on FACT
London-based market joins cultural boycott of Israel.
Brian Eno has come out in support of the recent decision by the Independent Label Market (ILM) to refuse an invitation from an Israeli distribution company to host an edition in Tel Aviv due to a cultural boycott.
The ILM, who have hosted editions abroad in the past, explained their refusal as part of a growing Palestinian-led cultural boycott that began in 2005. ILM co-founder Joe Daniel said, “Palestinians live under Israeli occupation, apartheid and siege, and have called for boycott in the attempt to end these crimes. We hope for peace and justice for all the people of Israel and Palestine.”
On the same day, Eno stated his support of the ILM’s decision. “As the Israeli government slides further and further to the fundamentalist right, it is important that the rest of the world registers its strong disapproval,” Eno said. “And for the increasing number of dissenting Israeli Jews who feel betrayed by their government, it is important that they know they have support from the outside.”
Samir Eskanda, a British-Palestinian musician, stated that such a boycott “is the most appropriate response to the crimes of an apartheid state.”
In November 2015, Eno co-authored an open letter alongside Brooklyn-based musician Ohal Grietzer explaining the rationale for a cultural boycott of Israel. The letter was released alongside a video of 8 prominent NYC-based artists, including TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe, Das Racist’s Kool A.D., and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, stating their decision to endorse the boycott.
Feb242016| February 24, 2016
Ambient pioneer announces new album on Warp Records.
Brian Eno will release his new record The Ship on 29th April. Described as a musical novel as much as an album, the record has been built from experiments with three dimensional recording techniques and takes the form of two inter-connected parts that lead the tracks through ambient soundscapes and powerful narratives.
As Eno describes: “On a musical level, I wanted to make a record of songs that didn’t rely on the normal underpinnings of rhythmic structure and chord progressions but which allowed voices to exist in their own space and time, like events in a landscape. I wanted to place sonic events in a free, open space.”
Eno’s first album since 2012’s LUX, the record begins with the 21-minute epic ‘The Ship’, which draws inspiration from the sinking of the Titanic and the futility of man’s great endeavours, before exploring Eno’s fascination with the utter devastation of the First World War.
He explains: “I was thinking of those vast dun Belgian fields where the First World War was agonisingly ground out; and the vast deep ocean where the Titanic sank; and how little difference all that human hope and disappointment made to it. They persist and we pass in a cloud of chatter.”
The release will be accompanied by a series of installations around the World where you’ll be able to hear an alternative telling of The Ship in multi-channel 3-dimensional sound.
Featuring a Lou Reed-penned cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Set Free’, and vocal snippets from a Peter Serafinowicz-read poem fed into a Markov Chain Generator, The Ship will be released in two vinyl editions. The first will be pressed onto double black vinyl, while the second, limited edition will be pressed onto transparent vinyl, while both will come complete with four art prints.
It will be released on 29th April via Warp Records. See the artwork, designed by Eno, and tracklist below:
01. The Ship
02. Fickle Sun
(i) Fickle Sun
(ii) The Hour Is Thin
(iii) I’m Set Free
Sep272015| September 27, 2015
“A lot of things that I listened to and had a big influence on me, I first heard on John Peel.”
This year’s John Peel Lecture, which takes places today, will be presented by Brian Eno and focus on the “ecology of culture.”
Ahead of the lecture, legendary ambient producer Brian Eno went to Peel Acres to dig around John Peel’s magnificent archive. The BBC have released a short video of Eno’s visit including the story of how Peel once played his 1973 album (No Pussyfooting) backwards on the radio.
Watch the video below, via the BBC iPlayer, and tune into the full show featuring music Eno selected from the archive today, at 1pm GMT.
Feb242015| February 24, 2015
Digital technology has enhanced music production, recording and distribution in ways unimaginable just a few decades ago, but are we losing something more essential in the process? Chris May talks to ambient pioneer and friend of technology Brian Eno about the dangers of digital dependence in modern music.
Words: Chris May
Back in the early 1970s, Phil Spector launched a Bring Back Mono campaign. More of a publicity stunt than a real protest movement, it fizzled out after a couple of stories in Rolling Stone and failed utterly to change the course of history. Four decades on, another, more serious guerrilla-action is being fought, this time against the digitisation of recording and production.
Recording history since the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll can be divided into two halves, analogue era and digital era. In this model, analogue is equated with authenticity, digital with artificiality. Proponents of the model argue that, from the mid-1950s through the mid-1980s, analogue recording was primarily concerned with making musicians sound as good on record as they did on stage. By contrast, since the adoption of digital technology in the late-1980s, studios are said to have been expected to make musicians sound not merely as good as they are, but better. Digital tools have made it possible for the most indifferent singer, drummer or guitarist to sound like the business. Real music made in real time by real people has become an endangered species.
The model is a crude over-simplification, of course. It ignores the conveniences and benefits of digital technology, not least the fact that affordable, home-studio set-ups have democratised recording. But is the price we are paying for digital’s upside too high? By embracing the new tech, are we losing the human factor which has been at the heart of music making? Are we ceding too much power to the machines? Is gloss replacing substance?
Techphobics are not the only people asking these questions. Brian Eno became an early adopter of new technology as a teenager. At art school in the mid 1960s, Eno studied under the modernist art-theorist Roy Ascott, who introduced him to the idea of “process not product” and encouraged his first experiments with tape recorders. In 1972, Eno began working with Robert Fripp on the tape-looping system later known as Frippertronics, and, in mid-decade, introduced his own tech-rich, ambient music. Eno’s current enthusiasms include generative music, which, in essence, involves writing some algorithms, pointing them in the right direction and standing well back.
After 50 years at the sharp end of technological innovation, Eno is the last person you might expect to have doubts about digital recording.
Yet in an interview for Jocks&Nerds magazine recently, Eno said: “As a record producer, digital technology makes me wonder about the whole direction recording is taking.”
Eno was speaking on the eve of the release of Knitting Factory Records’ Fela: Vinyl Box Set 3, which he compiled. He has been an Afrobeat devotee since 1973, when he chanced on Fela Kuti’s album Afrodisiac. I had asked Eno if he thought it was possible to retain the human touch, so explicit in Kuti’s Afrobeat recordings, while using sophisticated, digital studio-technology.
“It’s very difficult, and it’s continually under debate actually,” said Eno. “It doesn’t just apply with African recordings. It’s a problem everybody is having at the moment. Do I resist the temptation to perfect this thing? What do I lose by perfecting it? It’s difficult. Because now it is possible to mend anything, correct anything. The rhythm’s a bit out on that bar? OK, we’ll just stretch it a little bit. We can quantize everything now, we can quantize audio so the beat is absolutely perfect. We can sort of do and undo everything. And of course, most of the records we like, all of us, as listeners, are records where people didn’t do everything to fix them up and make them perfect.
“So the question that everybody’s asking is, is it getting any better as a result of all this? But it’s such a hard temptation to resist. You’re recording a song and find a note that is really quite out of tune. In the past, you’d have said, it’s a great performance, so we’ll just live with it. What you do now is retune that note. So you’re always asking yourself, have we lost something of the tension of the performance, of the feeling of humanity and vulnerability and organic truth or whatever, by making these corrections? It does make you question the role of new technology in the studio. And, of course, there are all sorts of reactions against it. You have Jack White with his studio in Nashville, which is all analogue, he doesn’t have any digital equipment in there. And I’ve worked with bands who’ve said, we’re going back to tape. They’ve got in all the stuff, 24-track recorders, all the gear – but within half a day they’re saying, fuck, we can’t edit this stuff. They’re just not used to working that way.
“There’s a very interesting exercise, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, not to use cmd-Z when you’re writing something. I write quite a lot on a Mac and like everybody I go back and change things. If you say to yourself, today I’m going to write exactly as if I was sitting in front of a piece of paper and writing – Jesus, it’s a whole different mind-set. Because you have to start thinking before you start writing. It’s really hard to go back to that. I’m not saying there is any advantage in going back to it, it’s just interesting to try it, to remind yourself of how completely you are now part of this new technology of writing.”
Did Eno think that belle époque West African records still sound vital and alive 40 or 50 years on because of, rather than despite, the very basic conditions under which most of them were recorded?
“I do,” said Eno. “It’s partly to do with engineers working with very limited resources and really understanding them well. If you’ve only got two mics, one compressor and a couple of pre-amps, you really know what they do, because you’re using them every single day. It’s like an artist who is extremely good with water colours. Water colour is a very limited medium but you can become incredibly good with it if that is all you have. Those old African recordings, and a lot of old rhythm ‘n’ blues and early doo-wop and so on, in many respects they were incredibly limited in recording tools. But nonetheless, the people who were using those limited tools had a real rapport with them, and knew how to get exciting results from them.
“For instance, I once recorded in West Africa with a Ghanaian band called Edikanfo [on the group’s 1981 album The Pace Setters]. I worked with an engineer there in a little studio that was a joke by Western terms. He had a really random bundle of microphones. One of them was from a Sony cassette recorder, a really cheap mic, but he used it brilliantly. He put it over the drum kit and he got a really vibrant, lively sound from it. If you’d shown that set-up to a Western engineer then they would have laughed at you. And the same with the instruments. Sometimes the instruments the guys were using were really crappy old electric guitars. But they knew how to work with them, how to get something special out of them.”
Last year, Bob Dylan went old-school, though not across-the-board analogue, while recording his album Shadows in the Night. In an interview published in US magazine AARP this February, Dylan explained: “I could only record these songs one way, and that was live on the floor with a very small number of mics. No headphones, no overdubs, no vocal booth, no separate tracking…The engineer had his own equipment, left over from bygone days, and he brought all that in… There was no mixing. That’s just the way it sounded… We used as little technology as possible.”
Far from diminishing, the debate about authenticity and artifice is building. Artisan music is not about to roll over and surrender. Neither is digital technology going to disappear. But if commercially-successful producers such as Eno can find a humanistic accommodation between analogue and digital aesthetics, the sun will continue to shine.
Dec062014| December 6, 2014
Behold, the inexorable rise of the novelty record.
Somewhat debunking the myth that we all buy vinyl because the music just sounds better when pressed into virgin black wax, this year has seen what feels like a dramatic increase in the number of records being pressed with basically anything that’s to hand – blood, piss, hair, string, leaves, your gran – you name it, if you can mix it into a vat of wax pellets someone’s tried to press it into a record.
The peacocks of the record industry these ten releases are the ultimate exhibitionists, boisterously insisting on your attention with such clamour they make you average splatter vinyl look positively vanilla. Given that they basically speak for themselves, we’ll keep this intro short. Here are ten of the weirder and in some cases actually quite interesting things that have been pressed into records.
Mess On A Mission
For Record Store Day, Liars dropped a special version of Mess On A Mission, embedding the clear vinyl with string to match the artwork. Liars’ Angus Andrew on string theory: “To us it seemed like such a unique and interesting way to extend the visual language of Mess right inside the music…We talked about the idea for days but weren’t at all sure it could physically be done. After all, pressing bits of colored string into the actual vinyl was nothing we’d ever heard of before. ”
Say Yes To Love
In 2012 Nick Cave, Erykah Badu, Chris Martin, and Ke$ha rolled their sleeves up and counted to ten while Wayne Coyne took a sample of the red stuff for Flaming Lips’ ‘Heady Fwends’. But while that was bottled to swill around the record as it spins, Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves’ actually had her blood pressed into the wax itself. There were just 300 copies made; any more and the poor girl would have keeled over right there in the factory.
Hair & Piss
Getting Your Hair Wet With Pee
(Velocity of Sound)
There’s no brushing this one off – these guys have literally soaked their vinyl in piss and then for some reason felt the need to make it even more bodily by filling the clear yellow wax with hair. Nice. No surprise “this unique item lends itself to surface noise and no two singles look alike”. It’s not a concept we immediately connect with, but we’ll give it credit for novelty.
Ghostbusters (30th anniversary ed.)
For the 30th anniversary edition of the Ghostbusters soundtrack, Legacy got so excited by the Marshmallow Man they packaged the release in a puffy sleeve that exhales wafts of sugary synthesis every time you go near it. Great, as long as you don’t mind your record collection smelling like ratty Halloween leftovers.
(Third Man Records)
The Ultra LP, as it was called, may not have anything actually physically pressed into the wax itself, but its bells and whistles are so extensive we thought we’d throw it in here anyway. Although not pressed into the wax, the idea of a hologram shimmering on the surface of the run out groove is pretty beguiling. We were partly hoping to see Tupac resurrected in the run-out groove, but you can’t have everything.
Eno & Hyde
Even more ephemeral than Jack White’s holograms was this novel, smart-phone friendly gimmick from messres Eno & Hyde, where by owners of the album app would be able to witness “outsider architecture metropolises” take shape on their vinyl as it plays, like pixelated petri dishes blossoming with aggressive bacteria. It’s a pretty ambitious coming together of the analogue and the digital. Björk would be proud.
On to its fourth pressing, this Dads release on 6131 has pretty much tested out every colour of vinyl – clear green, opaque pink marble, red with random splatters, pink, you name it. The latest release takes it to the next level, pinching rainbow glitter from the craft store and stuffing it in a clear 7”. Only 100 copies were pressed, but they also dropped 900 in yellow marble to keep the coloured vinyl variants going.
Apart from cleaning products, liquids and records are normally a losing combination, but what about liquid IN your records? In what we concede must have been an impressive engineering feat, Beyond Beyond is Beyond have done the unthinkable, mixing liquids and vinyl. We’d be interested to hear how they sound, but only 15 were released and apparently only around half were actually offered for sale although rumours are floating around that a new batch is on the horizon.
An Island Called Earth
About as otherworldly as a record gets, the ‘COSMOS’ edition of An Island Called Earth features a run of 100 green/yellow/orange records, containing sprinkled fragments of an asteroid that crashed into earth during the 16th century. Quite literally a piece of history, and indeed interspace geology, in your wax. We give Alcopop! full marks for effort on this one.
We do love it when form pays a little bit of attention to content, and no more so than on Barren Harvest’s Subtle Cruelties, so neatly embossed with russet leaves that shimmer like one of those novelty toilet seats behind crystal clear vinyl. The record’s novelty ‘nature’ is not lost on Thrill Jockeys who issued a manfully honest disclaimer with the release: “be advised that there are noises and irregularities in the audio that differ from record to record”. That’s the beauty of nature, right?
Dec012014| December 1, 2014
The Vinyl Factory select the 10 most essential vinyl releases of the last 7 days.
No let up as we chart our penultimate weekly run down of the year. This week’s heavyweight wax includes new 12″s on Underground Resistance and one of our label’s of the year Golf Channel, as well as the first bunch of Brian Eno reissues and that anticipated and much-discussed Theo Parrish triple American Intelligence.
Scroll down for our definitive across-the-board rundown of the week’s new vinyl releases as selected by The Vinyl Factory’s Chris Summers, Patrick Ryder, James Hammond and Theo Leanse. 5 singles and 5 LP’s every 7 days that are unmissable additions to any collection.
What Did The Hippie Have In His Bag?
One of the highlights of Cornershop’s ‘Urban Turban’ album was this upbeat little number featuring the kids of Bolton’s Castle Hill Primary School. Now it gets a very limited 7″ only release on their own Ample Play label that includes a 24 page read along book. The tune itself is a classic and wonderful Cornershop bouncer and with the book too it all makes sense whether you’re a kid or an adult.
Has God Left This City?
After finding their range with the gritty aggression of Nomadico’s ‘Yaxteq’ a few months back, Underground Resistance completely floor us with a left-right combo this week thanks to outstanding EPs from Timeline and Alone. Truth be told, there’s little to choose between them, but for me the deep melancholy of Alone’s politically charged techno edges out the jazzy grooves of the UR house band. Taking the urban devastation of the Motor City as an inspiration, Alone lays out three cuts of stark techno minimalism voiced through driving basslines, smokey atmospheres and menacing resonance. Underground Resistance are back and ready for war.
Five cuts taken from cassettes previously released by Polish experimentalist Lutto Lento, comp’d and re-presented to kick off FTD (a new label set up by DJ Charles Drakeford) and very much living up to the label’s acronym, which stands for “From The Depths”. The tracks showcase a unique hinterland sound loitering somewhere in the chasm between James Ferraro and Stephan Laubner, put together with a sophisticated danciness, but also with a warping set of references that poke into the corners of everyday culture to build up a hyper-real alternate lifeworld that is kind of glossy and creepy. Samples Enya. Wicked.
The Adderf Arreug
Great new 12” on Berlin’s Marmo, only their third release and another fine example of forward thinking electronics with a decidedly experimental edge. ‘Airplane (GRM Edit)’ tips its hat to INA GRM- the legendary institute of electro-acoustic innovation, and blends techno and field recording to a heightened effect as jet engines swell within the mix. As with the first two 12”s from the imprint the B side is given over to remixes, and Hieroglyphic Being’s deconstruction/reanimation makes both sides a very worthy listen.
Apiento & Co.
ESP / The Light Machine
Fun and games on Golf Channel, hands down one of our favourite labels of the year as Test Pressing boss Apiento draws on the production expertise of figures behind both Yello and Sade for a shimmering 12″ that will make you wish you’d booked that Christmas in Tenerife after all. Buoyant Balearic with an ambient flair to sooth you through those drab winter evenings.
Nerve Net/ My Squelchy Life
This week sees All Saints Records reissue Brian Eno’s 1990s solo LPs in some style with all 4 albums being extensively embellished by some choice off cuts and previously unheard material. 1991’s Nerve Net is of particular interest as an oft overlooked and wondrous mess of styles, and here it comes with a download of My Squelchy Life, Eno’s much sought after ‘lost album’ which was effectively canned for not fitting label scheduling and being more reflective of former glories. Listening to both, Nerve Net is indeed the more assured and progressive successor with My Squelchy Life harking back to Eno’s 70s works- but that’s no bad thing, and it helps make this particular reissue a worthy addition to the collection for any Eno fan. There’s some killer guitar work here as well courtesy of Robert Fripp and the criminally underrated Robert Quine.
The Opening Of The Cerebral Gate
Drexciyan wave jumping from a solo project of James Stinson, released in 2001, just a year before his untimely passing. As an under-appreciated segment of a undeniably significant discography, it would be an exceptional record by default – but it’s a stonker, and one of the finest of all the Drexciyan records. With a percussive energy that drives across six heavy sides of sleek and deeply imaginative sonic mysticism, and a spirit lying beneath the industrial tones that’s capable of touching the soul pretty powerfully, it’s a thing of real, important, joyful beauty.
Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride
After a string of malevolent chuggers and synthetic jackers on Bird Scarer, Instruments Of Rapture and Is It Balearic? Craig Bratley takes one small step for man, one giant leap for Leeds, into the world of the long player. Blasting into a distant galaxy aboard a TSUBA rocket, Bratley draws together slo-mo acid, nu EBM, Balearic house and the odd snatch of drifting kosmische ambience over ten tracks of precisely programmed synthesis. Beautifully pressed and lavishly packaged in a Tangerine Dream-esque sleeve and fashionable tote bag, this limited vinyl release is a true audio visual treat.
The Flaming Lips
One glimmer of light in the Black Friday void was this – The Flaming Lips finally releasing their amazing Imagene Peise set on limited red vinyl through Warners. The players and credits are all jumbled up but the music definitely isn’t with tracks such as ‘Silver Bells’ and ‘Silent Night’ sounding almost traditional. Obviously they’re not as the Lips slowly twist and turn the originals into huge sonic experiments. Perfect for the festive season.
American Intelligence caused a bit of a stir before anyone had even heard it when news tricked in that the triple LP would be priced at a ball-clenching £40, raising all sorts of questions about artistic versus material value and the state of an industry that basically gives away its work for free. So trialling an innovative sales strategy (the “anti-Thom Yorke”) where people actually have to think about how much they want to first listen to and then pay for the music, Parrish has succeeded in doing what others in less dominant positions would never dare to do and make a claim for the artist rather than the consumer. Ethics aside the music is equally substantial, with nine huge tracks unfolding in set pieces that almost need to be taken one at a time, like a room full of vast and devastating paintings that you’d never be able to digest in one go. American Intelligence has set its own parameters and doesn’t disappoint. After all, money isn’t worth anything until you spend it.
Oct232014| October 23, 2014
Originally published on FACT.
Original ambient material coming your way.
That soothing wave just keeps rolling in this year. In addition to the bounteous crop of new ambient records we’ve highlighted already this year, the guy who coined the genre’s very name has announced a quartet of reissues.
Brian Eno will re-release four of his albums for All Saints Records on the same label this December, packaging each CD with a bonus disc of rare and unreleased material, including the first commercial release for his album My Squelchy Life.
His 1992 album Nerve Net will come accompanied with My Squelchy Life, which was scheduled for release in 1991 but never made fully available (though some tracks were re-worked for Nerve Net). The Shutov Assembly will be expanded with unreleased recordings from the same 1985-90 period that the album tracks date from, while 1993′s Neroli (Thinking Music Part IV) will be paired with New Space Music, an unreleased hour-long ambient work from 1992. The latter will be the only of the quartet not to also be released on gatefold vinyl.
Finally, 1997′s The Drop will come with the music that accompanied 77 Million, Eno’s 2006 audio-visual installation at Laforet Museum in Harajuku, Japan.
Head to All Saints Records to find out more about each release and to pre-order. All four records are out on December 1.
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Registered in England and Wales under no. 04184222.