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26 April 2015

Edgar Froese - 'Aqua' (Virgin)

Your correspondent is not much of a Tangerine Dream fan, not really a massive fan of synthesiser records in general, with a few exceptions of course. I like retrofuturism as much as anyone else and I'm always intrigued by something that sounds novel and fucked up, but when it comes to sweeping, all-engulfing dronescapes, I generally prefer the reverberations of strings, guitars, and other acoustic instruments. This may be because I've owned a vinyl copy of Aqua for years, and this contains pretty much everything I'd want from a synth album. The title track's 17 minutes is almost enough - a slowly pulsing example of what the synthesiser is capable of. Lightweight, mid-range drones ascend and fall, and there's strange looping bubbles and gurgles overtop. The corners sound like the are infinitely expanding, making this a work of continual investigation rather than closure. The second side finds things getting a bit bouncier on 'NGC 891' and 'Upland', with more pings and pongs to go with the wet blankets. (I'm really bad at describing what synth music sounds like!) Despite being just over 45 minutes, Aqua feels long, with the two shorter pieces on each side feeling not superfluous, but like some sort of bonus track (on the original issue of the record). The liner notes suggest that side two should be listened to on headphones 'to appreciate fully the revolutionary artificial head system developed by gunther brunschen' but I didn't do this, because I'm terrible. and also cause my headphone cord isn't long enough. This is 1974, and while I've learned to mostly reject the dull narrative of rock in the 70s being all bloated cocaine music until punk came along, I can't help but feel that this must have been part of something, or at least seemed that way - it's not long after this that Eno's Discreet Music came along, and while that's a completely different beast, it certainly is within the realm of un-rock gestures. Tangerine Dream's output isn't wildly different from Aqua, at least from what I remember, but this is held together with the hand of a solo artist and that's clear throughout. I could probably learn to obsess over this record if I wanted to, but maybe that's a slippery slope to the whole genre.

25 April 2015

Fred Frith / Bob Ostertag / Phil Minton ‎– 'Voice Of America' (Rift)

The melting radio pictured on the cover is a pretty accurate image for the sounds heard in the grooves - a mishmash of tape manipulations, found recordings, and radio static blended seamlessly with guitar, synth, homemade instruments and some vocals. It's two concert recordings, the first side being a duo of Frith and Ostertag and the flip adding Minton. The tone is, as you can imagine, pretty far from the more structured tonal material Frith was doing around the same time on Cheap at Half Price and very much descended from the modernist quilt of Cage's Variations IV. This isn't music for everyone, and even improv-heads might struggle to understand the interplay here, at least on the first side where warm, thick bands of the manipulated source material are often indistinguishable from the 'instruments' at play, though it doesn't matter much to me. This is highly politicised material (of course!), stemming from the Rock in Opposition thing I guess, because Ostertag made most of the recordings in Nicaragua and blends them in with recordings of Let's Make a Deal, and some chatter from Merlin Olson of the L.A. Rams. I know this because the liner notes delineate all of the source material and even 'lyrics', which is an impressive feat for an album of field/found recordings. The b-side, as a trio with Minton, is more sparse and 'classically' improvisational, at least in a Derek Bailey kind of way. It starts and stops in fits and feels more like the disjointed series of challenges that it is, at least compared to side one's thematic cohesion. Minton does some traditional voice work at the end but otherwise is happy to assimilate into Frith and Ostertag's cacophony. Frith only plays 'homemade instruments' here and they are skiffle-band sounding, with resonating thumps and plucks, suggesting maybe a wooden box with nails sticking out of it. Voice of America was, I believe, the name of a CIA-backed radio station, and this propagandistic element is turned inside-out through the extremely musical avant-garde, a technique which retains inspiration even thirty-three years later.