Arctic Ambient (or) Ambient House at 30,000 Ft

I’ve really been enjoying my copies of Gas’ Nah Und Fern vinyl set and the deluxe edition 9LP set of William Basinki’s epic Disintegration Loops. It seemed long-overdue that I retrace my musical steps to the summer of 2009 when I’d first crossed paths with a fellow music-lover and ambient guru who introduced me to Gas in the first place.

Gas - Nah Und Fern

He’d mentioned several similar artists which I briefly sampled but never fully-explored.  There’s no better time than the present to remedy that mistake.

This friend had a particular affinity for Nordic-based “arctic-ambient” music – frigid soundscapes of isolation and desolation. Still these recordings had a cerebral and meditative quality that really draws the listener in and that’s something I really need in my life at present.

So I began my re-visiting of 2009 with an artist whose name happened to surface in one of my online vinyl communities. (Call it a sign if you’d like.) Biosphere is Geir Jenssen – a Norwegian musician specializing in ambient electronic music. It was while researching him that I first-encountered the term, “arctic-ambient” and I just had to hear more. In 2001 users of the online rave community, Hyperreal voted his Substrata LP as the best all-time classic ambient album. It was this very album which surfaced in the vinyl community and inspired my rediscovery of the genre, and I was truly impressed by the transportive quality of the record.

Another artist I recalled as having worked with Biosphere was HIA. Higher Intelligence Agency is the music project of Bobby Bird of Birmingham, UK. I was instantly excited to learn that he had released two ambient glitch albums on Pete Namlook’s brilliant FAX +49-69/450464 label of which I make frequent mention.

HIA collaborated with Biosphere on two live recordings, namely the frigid Polar Sequences in 1996…

…and the more temperate Birmingham Frequencies in 1999.

These are wonderfully expansive, atmospheric recordings and make for excellent headphone listening.

But stripping things down to the very shell of ambient music I found the next half-forgotten memory of the summer long-passed.  Deathprod is Norwegian artist Helge Sten. (I envision Norway as being absolutely overrun with ambient laptop musicians.) If you only buy one Deathprod album, get the self-titled Deathprod box set. (Not cheating – box sets are okay in my book.) The 4-disc set comprises Morals and Dogma, Treetop Drive (a long-deleted album from 1994), Imaginary Songs From Tristan Da Cunha from 1996, and “Reference Frequencies” (a disc of previously unreleased, rare and deleted tracks). Better-still, Deathprod Collaborated with Biosphere in 1998 on the album, Nordheim Transformed.

Christian Fennesz (performing simply as “Fennesz”) of Vienna, Austria has produced a number of albums in the same stark, ambient-electronic vein. Highlights include his 2004 album Venice,

Endless Summer from 2001

and Black Sea released in 2008.

I also enjoyed his collaborations with ambient veteran, Ryuichi Sakamoto – Cendre (2007)

…and Flumina (2011).

Fennesz creates white-noise washes of modified guitar loops very much in the spirit of the Frippertronic tape works of Fripp and Eno and Sakamoto adds a refined touch of modern-classical solo piano.

Deaf Center is the last major piece of this dark ambient puzzle.  Norway’s Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland produce epic and theatrical minimal soundscapes.  To steal a beautifully-concise description from RYM user, Son_of_Northern_Darkness – Deaf Center is, “a nice soundtrack to the construction of your own snow-coffin.”

Neon City was an impressive first-outing for the duo, but their first full-length LP released the following year, Pale Ravine stands as their most cohesive work thus far.

Neon City

and the haunting, Pale Ravine

To close with something a bit more lively, Sweden’s own Carbon Based Lifeforms leans more in the direction of psybient music, with their heavy usage of melodic loops, echoes, and steady rhythms. This is ambient music with a vibrant pulse. Check out World of Sleepers

So thank you, my old friend for sharing such wonderful music with me.  I’m sorry it’s taken me all these years to really explore it, but better late than never!

5’50” of Pop – The Sound of Muzak

5'50'' of Pop

As an archivist of historically significant recordings, I thrive on sound that is experimental, that tests the limits of and challenges the very definition of what we call music.  I’m grateful that, for most hours of the day, I have the freedom to immerse myself in cerebral and inspiring sounds.

But once upon a time, not so very long ago, I worked a job where that sort of musical luxury was the stuff of pure fantasy.  For I, like so many of my young peers, spent each day in a world of retail Muzak.

Perhaps you’ve worked a similar job at one point of your life.  Perhaps you see no problem with Muzak as you can simply, “tune it out.”  Unfortunately, we are not all so lucky.

The Sound of Muzak

The Sound of Muzak

The soundtrack of my former workplace was a Muzak station comprising 100 pop songs repeated ad infinitum for the entirety of my retail servitude.   It was eight hours a day of Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, Nickelback and Amy Grant… enough to drive any reasonable man insane.  But instead of succumbing to the madness, I made it a personal mission to transform my situation into something expressive and artful.

The result was 5’50” of Pop – a complex, atonal and aggressive short film effectively simulating the experience of living inside a forty-hour loop of teen pop-idols.  5’50” of Pop aims to transform formulaic, predictable, homogeneous pop music into something challenging, something arresting, and something dauntingly complex.

The film composites the music videos for every one of the songs I heard each day… played from start to finish… all at the same time.  The result is a cacophonous stream of abstract noise and an indiscernible collage of light and shadow, presenting the viewer with a visual and auditory experience completely unlike the content of which it was composed.

If you’ve never had the misfortune of working retail, please indulge me, for a mere 5’50” of Pop.

Embittered pretension aside, 5’50” is first a reactionary piece, but also serves as an honest criticism of the pop music status quo.  Contemporary pop is made to be instantly forgotten and shuffled through in a constant stream of predictability and irreverence.  More product than poetry, its cookie-cutter lyricism and melodic structure have abandoned all that made-great the genres it’s co-opted and mimicked in empty pantomime.

Thankfully, I’ve since freed myself from that terrible environment, and now spend my days soaking-in Frippertronic solos and tape music soundscapes.  So to any of my readers still-trapped in a similarly vapid and soulless work environ; take heart.  There are scores of beautiful music waiting for you.  Until then, keep tuning in.  The music will set you free.

[NOTE: Due to copyright claims from Warner Music and the Universal Music Group, this video is not available in Germany and may include advertisements.]

Sigur Rós’ First Three LPs available for Pre-Order NOW!

Sasquatch Music Festival - Day 2
Attention all shoegazers and post-rockers:

In December 2014, VinylCollective.com reported that pre-order pages were beginning to appear for reissues of Sigur Ros’ first three classic albums.

Sonic Records in Halifax has the Icelandic quartet’s first three LPs – Von, Ágætis byrjun, and Svigaplatan (The Bracket Album) each listed from XL Recordings with a reported release date of 16.02.2015.

At present, completed sales of the 2013 reissues are holding steady around $75 each on Discogs and as much as $150 on eBay, but these new deluxe reissues will be only $29.98 (though available again in limited numbers.)

Sigur Ros had posted a teaser video hinting at the releases in 2014.  Check it out below.

Each of the three albums have a pre-order page active on Amazon.co.uk, but ( ) has yet to surface stateside.

I for one am not going to risk missing out.  I’ve pre-ordered the import and will be happy to add it to my library.  Have you ordered yours?

Amazon US preorder | Von | Agaetis Byrjun

Amazon UK preorder | Von | Agaetis Byrjun | ( )

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Inspiration or Obsession? Underworld, Freur, Karl Hyde, and Tomato

A theme was introduced for the day’s posts in a vinyl community today which led me to take a few updated snapshots of my collection.

The theme was 90s Techno and Dance Music, and it seemed as good a time as any to share my ever-growing collection of the Underworld family of albums and singles.

As many of my readers know, Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman is perhaps my all-time most beloved LP.  For those not familiar with its significance in my life, it was the very first record I ever heard which wasn’t top 40 radio rock and it blew my mind.

The progressive-house rhythms of Rick Smith and stream-of-consciousness lyricism of front-man Karl Hyde were the catalyst for my exploration into the history of electronic sound and pursuit of the avant-garde. I would certainly not be who I am today without that record.

The stunning album art of Dubnobass was also the work of Hyde’s own graphic design company – Tomato, which counts among their many clientele Nike, Levi, Adidas and many other big names looking for fresh, exciting design in the 90s.  Tomato was the direct inspiration for me to pursue a degree in graphic design and visual communication – a decision which set me on a path to meet many of the most important people in my life. 

Below is my collection to-date.  This includes the albums and singles by their first band (not counting their brief one-off as Screen Gemz) – a synth pop group called Freur.  Freur was originally named with an unpronounceable squiggle depicted on the clear 7″ picture disc below.  Freur is best-known for the hit, “Doot Doot.”  Also featured below are Karl’s more-recent solo effort and collaborative project with Brian Eno.

Brilliant stuff!

Underworld 1of4

Underworld 2of4

Underworld 3of4

Underworld 4of4

Underworld has explored a wide-range of sonic styles from their early synth-pop days to the present.  Perhaps their best-known trademark sound is that of the hit single, “Born Slippy.Nuxx” – a b-side which gained significant exposure with its appearance on the Trainspotting soundtrack.

But the tracks which first-grabbed my attention were those from the Dubnobass years.  From the album’s opening stead-paced club track, “Dark and Long” to the high-energy pairing of “Rez/Cowgirl.”

Here is the anthem performed live on the Everything Everything tour.

And check out the strikingly-different ambient soundscape, “To Heal” from the Sunshine soundtrack.

And finally, if you fancy a more-worldly mesh of Fela Kuti and Steve Reich, here’s the latest single – an instrumental collaboration with Brian Eno.

I have some exciting original material in the month ahead that you won’t want to miss, so stay tuned!

The Merits of Nostalgia and a Cozy Placebo Effect

And so it came to pass that my beloved McIntosh C39 pre-amp was not made happy by replacing the volume pot.  I’d decided in advance that if that didn’t fix it, I would cut my losses and consider, for the first time in my 30+ years, to explore the possibility of a brand new pre-amp/power amp combo.

My first McIntosh - a MAC 4280.  RIP 2013.

My first McIntosh – a MAC 4280.

I am fully aware of the tried-and-true code of the audiophile – quality vintage gear will generally out-perform and out-last newer contemporaries dollar-for-dollar.  But after repeatedly battling oxidation, bad resistors, and a few bad volume pots for the better part of three decades, I was ready to consider something new.

The Next Generation: My McIntosh C39 Pre-Amp (RIP 2014)

The Next Generation: My McIntosh C39

My life-long trusted audio adviser and best-friend tossed a few suggestions my way, namely the emotiva xsp-1, some newer Rotel models, and the most alluring of his suggestions – the Parasound Halo p3.  But for the interim, I had a local hi-fi shop tune up my Yamaha CR-840 – the first real amp I ever had.  Years ago channel A stopped working, and oxidation built up rending the amp nearly-unusable, but I’d never given it up, as it was a very special gift.  Thankfully the shop returned it to me the next day in PERFECT working condition!

I’d forgotten how great it sounded.  Please understand – I know it’s not remotely in the same class as some of the finer amps I’ve used, but the warm and familiar tone of this amp transports me back to college and all the memories attached to those years.  I completely acknowledge that this nostalgia trip is in no way a measure of the amp’s technical performance.  It is of no quantifiable measure an amp comparable to my MACs or, likely, to the Parasound amp.  But I will fully-embrace the head-trip it brings and am more than satisfied to use it until the right upgrade comes along.

Next up? Parasound Halo P3

Next up – Perhaps the Parasound Halo P3

To make the amp-swap official, I chucked the eyesore of a component rack that I’d picked up from a thrift shop.  30-seconds of Craigslist searching produced a nifty 60s record shelf for only a few bucks to serve as both a surface for the amp and as additional record storage.  Better still – the funky elderly couple selling it were ridiculously adorable and had mirrored-and-velvet-patterned wallpaper with matching decor all about their home.

Not kidding.  This... with mirrored panels.

Not kidding. This… with mirrored panels.

The shelf has a very “college” feel to accompany the amp, and the space was PERFECT to relocate all my LPs pressed between 1995 and the present.  All my favorites are in here – DJ Food, Boards of Canada, Lemon Jelly, DJ Shadow, The Orb, Underworld, Stereolab, Spiritualized, The KLF, St Germain, Bonobo, Aphex Twin, Cinematic Orchestra, Sigur Ros, Pantha Du Prince, Low, Beck, The FLips, with just enough room to sneak in nearly all of Brian Eno and Tom Waits’ albums.

The Nostalgia Corner

The Nostalgia Corner

This is as good a time as any to resolve to listen to more of my records in 2015 – to enjoy what I have instead of always searching for the next grail.

And there you have it – an objective and meticulous audiophile reduced to a nostalgic dolt by his trust old amp.  Think what you will, but I’ll be happy here, spinning some great tunes.

Eno & Hyde Postcards from their first two LPs

Eno & Hyde Postcards from their first two LPs

Die Welt ist Klang: A Tribute to Pete Namlook (Carpe Sonum)

Just when I’ve sworn off my compulsion for collecting albums, something beautiful turns up that and makes me reconsider.  I’d promised myself that I’d exercise greater selectivity in my album purchasing – opting only for the crème de la crème for my library.  Today’s featured box set is exactly the kind of album I’m talking about.

After the untimely passing of Pete Namlook in 2012, Carpe Sonum Records was formed by EAR/Rational Music, (the North American distributor of FAX and related labels) and issued a handsome limited edition 8-disc box set celebrating his music.  The first four discs explore the 20-year history of Namlook’s legendary FAX +49-69/450464 record label.  The label featured ambient electronic artists, many of whom collaborated with Namlook on their FAX releases.

The remaining four discs feature exclusive recordings submitted by fans of the label.  Released in two limited runs in 2013, the box set has since sold out.  However I am pleased to announce that Carpe Sonum is now accepting donations and pre-orders for a reissue of the set AND are considering a 10LP edition!  All sales proceeds will go to Namlook’s family.

You can subscribe to their mailing list for updates, contribute your own tracks to the project, or simply offer a financial contribution to help make the release happen.  Visit Carpe Sonum for more information!

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New Year’s Concert – Music of Terry Riley

Ladies and gentlemen – it has been an outstanding start to the new year.

I received an invitation this morning from the Music Director of the UB Symphony Orchestra to attend a local musical Happening.

Daniel Bassin conceived and organized the event which took place this afternoon, January 1st at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo.

The Happening united a number of musicians, some natives of the city and others from around the country.  Together they performed Terry Riley’s iconic piece, “In C” in this, the 50th year since its composition.

The first recording of “In C” was produced with Riley and The Center of Creative and Performing Arts at SUNY-Buffalo in 1968 so it was a fitting selection to kick off the local Happenings series.

From Mr. Bassin’s event summary:

Part composition, part improvisation, never the same twice, and beautiful to experience in person in a fine acoustic like our church’s sanctuary, this piece was composed in 1964 and first recorded by the composer alongside Buffalo’s Creative Associates in 1968.

“In C” consists of 53 composed musical melodies and gestures which players are to perform sequentially with one another, but each individual only moves on from melody to melody on their own, thus creating musical textures which are alternatingly delicate and dense, lush and hypnotic.

In the spirit of the original Happenings of the 1960s, audience participation was encouraged, and several children in attendance enthusiastically manned tambourines and standing drums adding a free and youthful energy to the performance.

Terry Riley In C Daniel Bassin Buffalo NY

Children were happy to lend a hand!

The UUCB was a fantastic acoustic space for the event, and Bassin encouraged listeners to roam freely about the church to experience the various changes in sound perspectives.  One guest was delighted to discover an inviting bass-pocket sensation by hanging her head between the church’s pews.

Overall the Happening was a great success.  We joined the performers for lunch following the event and discussed Bassin’s plans for future Happenings, one of which will feature the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen.

I am honored to have been a part of the first of what I’m sure will be many successful performances.  Mr. Bassin is providing a valuable contribution to the local music scene and I can’t wait to see what else 2015 will bring.

Happy new year everyone!

2014 in review

Before I sign off for 2014, the WordPress Stats Helper Monkeys kindly prepared an annual report for The Innerspace Connection.

Innerspace was viewed about 17,000 times in 2014 by readers in 113 countries.

If it were a concert at The Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Sincerely - THANK YOU for following The Innerspace Connection, and I look forward to sharing more original content and rare music treasures with you in 2015!

Published in: on December 29, 2014 at 10:02 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

And in the end…

After a brief discussion with a friend today comparing and contrasting the merits of print vs eBooks, I began to re-examine my obsession with record collecting (and with materialism of any form).  I’ve been grappling with both sides of the collectibility coin for years, but the end of a calendar year seems a fitting time to look back and reflect on exactly what I’m doing and at what cost.

My purchasing of printed books has become more selective and refined in the past year (as it has for much of the public with eBook sales still on the rise.)  Statistia.com forcasts that ePub sales will exceed those of printed books by 2017.  This has been my most active year ever for book purchases – the same year I built myself a virtually-departmentalized library of eBooks.

eBooks vs Print Chart

Similarly, my vinyl purchasing has become specialized as well.  2014 has been Innerspace’s most-active for both digital and vinyl acquisitions, with each directly inspiring activity in the other.

107 LPs (accounting for each of the discs in multi-disc box sets) were purchased in the last 5 months alone, making the second half of 2014 our busiest purchasing period in the history of the Innerspace Library.  Actual spending for album acquisition in 2014 (purchases between Jan 13 and Nov 26) totaled $1,140.30, including all spending for overseas shipping and other courier services, with a mean monthly expenditure of $103 for the 11 months of activity.  The vast majority of these purchases were special-edition, limited releases, and original-pressings of milestones from my favorite genres.

Comparatively, 4,138 of my digital album folders were added or modified in 2014, (though this number includes folders in which tag maintenance or restructuring occurred during the last calendar year.)  The increase in digital album “consumption” had a direct impact on my vinyl-ordering activity.

But increasingly, the reasons I’ve used to justify my LP purchases are being eroded by the changing landscape of the FLAC community.

And so I thought I’d take each head-on.

beethoven-with-headphones
CLAIM 1: Vinyl often features better mastering and production quality than their digital counterparts

The genres I collect, particularly avant-garde, modern classical, ambient, and experimental electronic music have an audiophile fan base dedicated to the digital preservation of these recordings.  Where once fans had to rely on pirate remastering work by Purple Chick and Dr. Ebbetts (among other legendary engineers), the democratization of recording technology has made home-archiving inexpensive and easy without having to chase down shiny black discs.

And for albums previously only available on wax, we have claim #2.

okeh1007side-bsleeve

CLAIM 2: You can’t find these recordings anywhere else

Thanks to archival technology, there has developed a large and well-networked community of collectors eager to share their rare vinyl recordings with the rest of the world.  The community has evolved to the point where vinyl-only issued and limited-press recordings are now readily available in the form of community-generated digital lossless archives.  While commercial networks like Spotify offer only a tiny fraction of these recordings (I think there are six) due to their limited commercial interest and costly rights negotiation, actual fans of the music have stepped up to the plate and made the albums available where a commercial market has not.

"Armand De Brignac" Champagne Party at the VIP Room

CLAIM 3: Supporting the artist

This is a moot argument in my specialized case and in the case of those like me.  99% of the albums I buy are used records pressed forty years ago.  The used market has little to no impact on composers and artists, (with a few special exceptions like that of Rodriguez).  One exempt title which comes to mind is Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes LP.  Yorke made headlines when …Boxes became the first album ever to be sold through a commercial torrent channel, demonstrating the viability of the sharing medium.  I saw my purchase of the deluxe LP as a contribution to a cause I supported.  But those two exceptions aside, I don’t think Ludwig or Karlheinz need my money that badly.

audiophile-main
CLAIM 4: It’s all about the experience

The experience is one of the outstanding merits of vinyl albums with which digital music cannot compete.  Selecting the album, removing it from its artful gatefold cover, dropping the needle, and so many other elements of the vinyl experience remind us of the value of music in an age of digital gluttony.  The experience is what still motivates me to purchase records, but with greater selectivity than before.

REAL FRIENDS HELP YOU MOVE RECORDS

With the erosion of the above arguments in vinyl’s favor, the reasons against collecting grow larger than ever.

REASON 1: They weigh a ton.

Ask anyone who’s been generous enough to help me move.  Collecting records requires the dedication of space and the enlistment of an army should you ever need to relocate them.  I know it’s part of vinyl’s charm – they are Objets d’art, but they’re admittedly a burden at the same time.

REASON 2: The stuff I’m after costs a fortune.

That $100 a month is over a grand at the end of the year that I could put toward living more comfortably and taking care of my beautiful partner.  I’m grateful that I am able to accommodate the limited disposable income I have for a fulfilling hobby and as a means of social interaction, but greater selectivity may yield a greater reward in the end.  Contrariwise, the only available digital resource for these vinyl-ripped and rare recordings is the file sharing community, which is 100% free.  And there isn’t much that can compare with free.

REASON 3: Accessibility and Organization

What I love most about our Digital Library is that it is meticulously organized and instantly indexable by multiple points of metadata.  With just a few clicks I can export charts and visualizations of library data for my annual reports.  And with 100% of the content on my home server, I can access any track wherever I go.  My unlimited data plan grants me uninhibited access to my content in FLAC without needing to transcode to stay below a corporate-determined threshold of data.  I take several TB of content to work each day, enjoy it on the walk there and back, and DJ my office for the 8 hours in between.

(Oh yes… and 13,000+ albums don’t take up any real estate on the shelf.)

And so…

Moving forward into the new year, I’m going to significantly pull the reins on my vinyl-buying impulses.  I might attempt to quantify my purchasing decisions with a 3-question qualifier before buying (as I’ve a fondness for doing things mathematically.)  There will still be incredible albums here, and there is no reason I can’t talk about a FLAC vinyl-rip and throw up a shot of the LP… (it’ll be our little secret.)

I welcome your thoughts.  Please feel free to share your support for or against this notion.  And I’ll see you in the new year.

Wolfgang Voigt – Lost in Königsforst

Wolfgang Voigt - GAS - Nah Und Fern 2LP
Through a wonderful stroke of good fortune, I am now honored to have claimed a copy of Nah Und Fern for my vinyl library.  A milestone compilation – both for Wolfgang Voigt, performing under his legendary moniker GAS, and for the incredible impact the recording had on my own musical experience.

GAS is ambient minimal techno in its purest form.  Voigt’s samples are ghostly sonic elements – formless and featureless.  There is no melody, no key, no pitch, and no progression for the listener to cling to.  Instead, the pieces, (all untitled), pulse steadily in place, with no discernible beginning or end.

Voigt, himself describes it as “GASeous music, caught by a bass drum just marching by, that streams, streams out through the underwood across the forest soil.”  The music of these projects were inspired by Voigt’s LSD experiences in the Königsforst forest near Köln.

There are four albums in the GAS project – Gas, Zauberberg, Königsforst and Pop.  Released between 1996 and 2000, the albums were later compiled into a 4CD box set titled Nah Und Fern in 2008 on the Kompakt label.

This limited vinyl release consists of four side-long edits, the first of which is exclusive to the LP.

GAS was my initiation into drone music, and led me on a rewarding path of discovery with albums like Jimmy Cauty’s Space, Robert Rich’s Somnium,  Black Swan’s vinyl-only releases, and later to Voigt’s own influences – namely Wagner and Schoenberg.  A delightful friend and ambient guru first played GAS for me in his bookshop, and the rest was history.

But Nah Und Fern does not come cheap, and I confess that I approached the purchase with some hesitation.  Thankfully all my doubts were vanquished when I learned that the gentleman who sold me his copy was a fellow member of the Youtube Vinyl Community!

Critics have called it many things – zero-gravity club music, tunes for lucid dreaming, underwater techno, or as Wire put it, “an outdoor rave, heard floating through the air from a neighbouring village.”  One thing is certain – this is drone music at its finest.

Published in: on December 12, 2014 at 10:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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