I’ve been all over the ambient and experimental map these first two months of the year. I recently revisited Boards of Canada’s extended catalog – 6 LPs, 4 compilation albums, 6 EPs, and two live sets (the Warp 10th Anniversary Party from ’99 and All Tomorrows Parties in 2001) and fell in love with the sound of early downtempo all over again.
For years I’ve loved Peter Gabriel’s fourth LP (in particular the tribal percussion on the track, “Rhythm of the Heat”) as well as the Birdy and Passion soundtracks from ’85 and ’89. I decided it was finally time to acquaint myself with the rest of his discography, so I picked up a digital archive of his 14 studio albums, 17 singles, 11 remastered recordings, 6 official compilations and 6 live albums. I have I-IV on vinyl, as well as the Birdy OST, and this archive will be the perfect way for me to identify which LPs to order next.
Also this past month I decided to explore the birth of IDM. A quick bit of research uncovered the Artificial Intelligence series on the Warp label, which was the definitive collection of early intelligent dance releases. The series included 8 discs issued between 1992-1994. The selection below is by Link, which is one-half Tom Middleton who I remember from the Cosmic Fury DJ face-off between Middleton and Fred Deakin of Lemon Jelly.
And after months of researching krautrock’s greatest recordings, I finally picked up 11 albums by Faust. And thank god, because the search led me to the 1973 masterpiece collaboration of Faust and Tony Conrad titled Outside the Dream Syndicate. This stripped-bare, minimalist record puts you into a trace and you slowly begin to feel the subtle nuances of the droning violin and the relentless percussion. A most rewarding listen! I promptly added Conrad’s debut LP to my shopping list. It’s around $100 when it surfaces, so it appears I’m not the only fan out there.
Popol Vuh was another German 70s artist I discovered and enjoyed this past month. I tried out their 27 LP catalog spanning 1970 – 1999 and (as usual) was most fond of their debut album – Affenstunde. The album is a solid 40 minutes of droning proto-synth sounds and natural percussion. Unlike the later work of Tangerine Dream, the album never sounds artificial or sequenced. It remains organic from start to finish. I’ll be looking for this album at the record show next month.
Just before the month began I went through the complete discography of Tangerine Dream chronologically by date of release to identify which albums from their vast catalog would best fit my library. I picked up 206 discs, including all studio albums, all remasters, live LPs, soundtracks, singles, and solo projects by each member of the band. A week into listening and reading I knew exactly what I wanted. Their first four records were much more experimental and organic than the sequencer-based ambient work that they are best known for. Long before they inspired the new age genre they were making crazy avant garde German music not unlike Popol Vuh.
Unfortunately, original pressings of these early albums would set me back $50 apiece and $100 for a clean copy of their debut LP. After two days of research, I found the answer.
In 1985, Relativity Records pressed 3000 numbered copies of a box set called In the Beginning… which included their first four albums, uncut, and the previously unreleased Green Desert LP. All of the original album art is included in the set along with a ten page book about the band. Best of all – I secured a copy for a mere $25. This was the PERFECT solution for my situation!
While I was on a German kick I decided to put the finishing touches on my Kraftwerk library. I already had Radioactivity and Autobahn on vinyl so I picked up their first 17 albums digitally to see where I wanted to go next. I instantly fell in love with Kraftwerk I and Kraftwerk II. These were the experimental LPs they produced before Ralf & Florian secured their signature electronic sound. Many reviewers write the first two albums off as “for-completists-only.” I strongly disagree. While of course these are no Autobahn, they are beautiful free-form experiments and I had to have them on wax. After two days of exploring I settled on the Italian Crown label bootleg pressings which came with red vinyl and green marbled vinyl discs. I found one seller with both albums so I saved on shipping and took the plunge. They’ll be in the mail this week.
The other German group I had neglected for far too long was the band, Neu! I’m listening to the six LPs they released between 1972 and 2010 (the most recent being a recording from 1986.) I think I’ll have to agree with the majority of fans that their first two records from ’72 and ’73 are their best work. I’ll be looking for original pressings at the record show as well.
I also picked up the fan-produced bootleg series of EPs titled, The KLF Recovered & Remastered. The 6 EPs and 7th Special Remixes disc include magnificent independent remasters from the KLF’s deleted catalog. These EPs are on par with the work Dr. Ebbetts and The Purple Chick did with the Beatles’ recordings.
The best disc by far is EP 6 – Live From the Lost Continent 2012, which is a simulated live stadium concert in which the KLF take the listener on a tour through their entire career. It opens with the Rites of Mu and closes, appropriately with the KLF collaboration with Extreme Noise Terror at the February 1992 BRIT Awards. This was the legendary performance where they fired blanks into the audience, declared that they’d left the music business, and dumped a sheep carcass at the doors of the building. The sampled screams of the audience all throughout this hour-and-17-minute “performance” is true to form to what the KLF, themselves did with their Stadium House Trilogy and the entire concert is an absolute triumph. Best of all, it lets long-time fans take part in one last show decades after Drummond and Cauty left the biz behind.
I have over 88 KLF albums and singles in my library, and EP #6 RE now ranks #1 on my list. And thanks to EP #1, I’ve added the America, What Time is Love LP single to my shopping list.
Always on the hunt for more experimental music, I finally took the advice of my favorite record store owner and listened to Soft Machine’s first four albums. I had discovered the Canterbury Scene. More of a journalistic term than anything else, (like krautrock) it referred to a group of musicians around Canterbury who worked together in several bands around the time that the Berlin School was born in Germany.
I researched a list of essential artists and picked up their discographies. This included Soft Machine, Matching Mole, Egg, Steve Hillage, National Health, Khan, Ash Ra Tempel/Ashra/Manuel Gottsching, Gong, Caravan and Henry Cow.
The organ work on Egg’s first LP is brilliant, and warranted repeated listenings. I also enjoyed their post-break-up release, The Civil Surface from ’74. Both have been added to my record show list.
Out of the 17 albums in Gong’s library, I found the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy to be the most memorable. Released between 1973 and 74 these were finally re-pressed in Italy in 2002 and have sold online for about $45 apiece for the re-issues. Angel’s Egg (Radio Gnome Invisible Pt 2) seems to be their strongest record.
I was similarly floored by Ash Ra Tempel’s first two LPs. If you like post-psychedelic drone, their early stuff is really worth picking up. I’m going through the 49 LPs they released between 1970 and 2007 but so far Ash Ra Tempel (1971) and Schwingungen (1972) are my clear favorites.
The unfortunate thing about many of the Canterbury and krautrock artists is that there were no pressings made after their original releases in the early 1970s. This means a listener may have to shell out one or two hundred dollars per album, which is why I’ve no reservation about familiarizing myself with their catalog digitally before making that kind of investment.
On to more contemporary sounds, I’ve been following the Electronic Supper Club series which is a great collection of live dj sets. Of the thirty three hours of material available thus far, hour 30, “Set 2″ is a memorable favorite – lots of deep house grooves which are great for both the dancefloor or the living room. Click here if you’d like to watch the set.
That got me in the mood for more quality IDM, so I picked up 47 albums and singles by Aphex Twin. I’m still trying to warm up to the fan-favorite, Selected Ambient Works Vol 2 which inevitably surfaces in conversations about all-time-greatest ambient releases.
I may also invest in a vinyl copy of Powerpill (the Pac-Man techno single) to add to my ridiculously large collection of Pac-Man Fever merchandise. The Aphex Twin library is just over 41 hours worth of material so I’m sure I’ll find a few classic releases to order on wax. (“Bucephalus Bouncing Ball” from Clint Mansell’s Pi soundtrack comes immediately to mind.)
Ever since I sampled Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach vinyl box set during my last pilgrimage to my hometown record shop I’ve wanted to learn more about his work. I have 53 of his discs in my archive and I’m slowly making my way through the collection. He seems consistent in his approach to music and his focus on short, repeated patterns gives it an almost drone-like quality. Thus far the Einstein on the Beach 4LP set is my favorite so I will likely pick it up from the shop. I only wish there were vinyl issues of the short pieces he composed for Sesame Street in 1979 for the animated shorts, The Geometry of Circles. He wrote them while developing Einstein on the Beach, which is probably why that album remains my favorite so far.
I watched the stunning space madness film, Moon from 2009 this month. Imagine a two-hour film with only one actor… and you’re on the edge of your seat the entire time. What was most memorable about the film was the score – a simple oscillation of two notes on a piano that sticks in your head hours after the film has ended. After researching the film I read that the melody was a metaphor for the conflict between the main character and his clone (both played by the same actor.)
I was surprised to learn that the score was written by the aforementioned Clint Mansell, the former guitarist for Pop Will Eat Itself. He has written the scores for many films, including Black Swan (2010), Doom (2005) and the soundtrack I mentioned earlier – Pi (1998). His more recent works have entered into modern classical territory, and I’m enjoying it very much. I picked up all 19 of his scores and my vinyl copy of Moon arrived in the mail last week.
At the beginning of the month I was researching an old CD I remembered from 2000 – LTJ Bukem’s Journey Inwards. I had recently heard tracks by Big Bud which had the same Intelligent D’n'B feel as Journey Inwards. Sure enough, I learned that they were produced on the same label. I quickly picked up the complete 94 disc catalog which included all of the Good Looking Records/Earth/Soul/Logical Progression/Looking Back/etc releases and I absolutely loved what I heard. Shortly after listening to this collection I added Big Bud’s Late Night Blues LP to my shopping list. The album plays like a live show in a small space-jazz club, and is great music to wind down to.
My exploration of space-jazz led me to a Various Artists collection called The Future Sounds of Jazz. This series compiles the best electronic “future jazz” singles from 1995 – 2012 in a wonderful 21 disc set. Nightmares on Wax became a fast-favorite of mine, and I will likely be purchasing their first two LPs – Caraboot Soul and A Word of Science.
The last new entry in my library this month was the result of my research into contemporary ambient sound. I have approximately 830 ambient albums beginning with Erik Satie’s The Gymnopédies from 1888 and ending with Ulrich Schnauss’ A Long Way to Fall from 2013, but the majority of my ambient collection is what you would call “classic ambience.”
To get a better feel for more contemporary ambient recordings I researched a long-time favorite artist – Wolfgang Voigt. He founded an ambient label in Cologne, Germany in 1993 and released collections of his favorite minimal and microhouse works on his label each year. I picked up the 13 disc Pop Ambient set which began in 2001 and published their latest release last month. It makes for a fantastic playlist, and is inspiring a number of future vinyl purchases.
So there you have it – the first 819 albums of 2013. The year is off to a great start. My research has yielded a list of must-have LPs which I’ve passed on to a record dealer who is traveling to Germany this week in preparation for the upcoming record show. He promised to bring me back some great original pressings. I’m looking forward to it!