Electronic

‘Why are we in love’ Furniture (When the boom was on, Premonition Records, 1983) & ‘Shadows from nowhere’ Blue Gas, 12” (1983) Theme*

This song captures perfectly a style that at one point typified white/male/English alternative rock musicians (and counterparts in the former colonies) - the finest example is arguably here (his skin’s pallor the same colour as the swinging light) that is, the quality of being earnest.

‘The 80s’ today is shorthand for a certain look/clothes style and dominates in a lot of pop-ironic music. Nothing wrong with this, even if such irony appears to go against this quality of being hyper sincere and unaware of your effect as mentioned above; the song encapsulates this style to me (even if it was a big part of the 80s sound, across genres). Being self-aware, as any disco-diva-lover knows, is a wonderful thing in-and-of-itself, but it’s a real stretch to aesthetically and conceptually play the innocent with an 80s-inflected musical naivete, while your image is transmitted via social media, or when talking endlessly, endlessly … endlessly.

Nostalgia for a period before you were alive, or just born interests me and is something I relate to, focussing in as I tend to on the 50s/the 70s, but it is an affectation on some level, a performance (even if only internal). I should add that I’m not comparing one era with another to the detriment of the present one etc. I find that kind of backward-looking stance supremely boring and have nothing invested in this, I wasn’t buying albums in this period, or seeing shows. And yes, here is one contemporary act that manages to do both: pilfer the style, while sounding unmasked, heartfelt while doing so.

To return to the aptly strange-named English group ‘Furniture’ - and that instance where he sings out, with an apparent loss of self-control, how they ‘sleepwalk back to each other’s arms’ just before the outburst that is just as quickly resolved. Musically this piece is special for the way the bass is so dense it almost overwhelms all the other elements, the swirling sound of the an instrument that sounds like a clarinet and the pock-marked percussion. And yet this effect seems to depend on how you hear the music; it lessened when I listened to the song with headphones, not via speakers. Here is some information about the group, some of whom went on to form Transglobal Underground. This song is pretty beautiful as well, ‘I miss you’ for the same sorts of reasons … 

Listen out for the minor explosion effect throughout this song by Blue Gas (a ‘one-off Italian electronic studio-project from Celso Valli’), a 12-inch from the same year, even if the effect sounds pretty standard here, I mean most pop commercial songs included these little blasts for emphasis.

Theme: *sudden explosions in music, 1983

‘Be True’ Commix (Call to mind, Metalheadz, 2007)

Contained within it all the elements of pop-perfection, the most important being a sense of anticipation and mild unfulfillment, this song has an intense following, with as you’ll see below people likening it to their JFK-moment, sharing that it is one of those songs where you remember where you were when you first heard it.

What I appreciate is the way none of the elements are overplayed, even the first drop how tempting it would have been to make it just that bit more dramatic and the sweetness of it too, of course. Everything remains simple, as it should be, just like any great pop-song, as the drums make space for the repeated vocal sample as it morphs and transforms (in a contradictory way maybe maintaining the foundations, the spine of the music).

The sample comes from Sade’s ‘I never thought that I’d see the day’ from 1988, apparently though I couldn’t hear it. Here’s the Burial remix from 2010, which is similarly unrecognisable (not so much a remix as a tiny sliver of a sample perhaps, though there are no rules for remixes, she says confidently based on nothing much at all).

Liked this piece of writing on the Commix track by Dave Jenkins published in 2017, here's part of it:  

A genuine palette cleanser for any DJ and the perfect balance of all the vital elements – weight, soul, atmosphere, instrumentation, variation, vocals and space – Be True is one of the rare breeds of tunes that you remember exactly where you were when you first heard it. It’s also the type of tune that will fit into any style set at any time and enjoy a hurricane reaction of energy, joy and appreciation whether it’s used to elevate a warm-up, capture that special moment at the end of the night or throw people sideways in a surprise double drop.

It’s been this way from the moment it dropped on dubplate in early 2007. Be True has complemented and remained relevant to drum & bass’s every stylistic twist and turn: be it as a key waymark in the perennially mutating ‘liquid’ sound that had reached a peak in the mid 2000s when this first came out; a knowing nod back to the classic genre-forming productions from the likes of Marcus Intalex, Photek and Hidden Agenda or an antidote to more recent commercial and neuro movements.

The best thing was that Be True wasn’t just a stand-alone moment that year for Commix (who, at the time comprised now-sole member George Levings and Guy Brewer) It was part of a much bigger picture: Call To Mind. The first non-Goldie/Rufige Kru related artist album to drop on Metalheadz, Call To Mind enjoys the same stature and respect as Be True does.

Jenkins links to an interview he did with George Levings in 2016, which is really interesting and worth a read as well. 

‘Everybody’s got to learn sometime,’ cover Jean-Philippe Verdin/Readymade FC (Lol film soundtrack, EMI/Capitol, 2009)

Reasons to appreciate this cover: the voice, I’m touched by the way he sings these familiar words, this such a familiar song, the French-accented inflections on the word ‘heart’ with that emphasised final consonant (and off phrasing at times, the stretched vowel on ‘it’ as in ‘it will astound you …’ which makes it seem more genuine) and then how the music changes just over half-way to include surprising sound effects, a kind of controlled improvisation that sounds almost animal-like.

Something I’ve been thinking about recently is how so often the arrangements in soul music from the 60s/70s are eccentric, including sounds and/or riffs on sounds that serve no apparent purpose, other than to provide decoration and embellishment, as a kind of caprice. Such additions add to the overall effect, but are not essential. They either add to the sweeping orchestral impressiveness, or are touching and unexpected: amateur in the best possible way, in the true sense of the word. There is great joy to be found in this, in the revelling in freedom and abundance, via the addition of beautiful, unexpected and surprising details and turns in the music. Much the same could be said for the electronic musings that emerge in the latter half of this song that are quite different to the music that preceded it.

Verdin’s cover appeared on the soundtrack to the French film, Lol. Here is a link to the French musician/composer's site, categories: Albums & Singles, Scores & Soundtracks, Productions, arrangements, Akzidenz Grotesk, Remixes & Versions. Beck also did a cover of the song for the 2004 film soundtrack for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is lovely if a little bland and lacking any particular point of difference to the original. 

The original by The Korgis came out in 1980: according to my favourite free online factopedia ‘the unique sounding instrument played after each chorus is the 18 string Chinese zither known as a guzheng’.  

‘Eternel été’ Ezechiel Pailhès (Circus Company, 2017)

“Au milieu de l'hiver, j'ai découvert en moi un invincible été.”

Albert Camus

Purposefully slowed down to create a sleepwalking mood, part little girl’s music box with the spinning ballerina, part disco echo, this song traverses the borderline between the overly sweet to create its own musical headspace that is forever holding back.

Linking the consonants so as to create new words, new meanings – the title could suggest a new noun that doesn’t exist in French, the way North Americans add ‘ess’ or ‘ful’ to create new words – the eternalness, perhaps (even if a word already exists for eternity, of course).

Shy, older uncle singing and a rubber-band beat to become a distended hand-clap or basic tambour, this song is lovely in its musical lyricism and ambiguity, making statements with no apparent connection between them, words that I mishear – trop ardent becomes an expression of apology on first hearing, rather than denuded intensity. The centre does not hold.

The corny guitar element at just before two minutes is intentional, but alright because it’s appreciated for what it is; the ironic effect is held within a certain sphere of gentle sincerity.

'Miura' Metro Area  (Metro Area, Environ, 2002)

Named as the second best album of the decade by Resident Advisor, while also getting recognition from Fact this release by the Brooklyn-based DJ duo - Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani's Metro Area maps out the sinister-sweet territory, perfectly.

Filtering down, distilling the essence of disco, within a strong 80s paradigm; never letting it turn too saccharine (the strings are brief, when they appear) or drowning it in irony. ‘Miura’ maintains a strong sense of itself as a piece of music, while allowing for the echoes.

Not too heavy, not too light - no need to go all-out epic. 

How to sustain that quality of naïveté in music, especially when referencing a style that was so embedded in a particular moment, without making it so self-conscious that it loses that original spark? What you find here is an act of homage via the cleverly constructed shifts, most notably at 2 minutes in. It’s the cutting back to display that demonstrates a kind of musical innocence to me. Darshan Jesrani considered these issues in an interview not so long ago, when asked:  

'Disco music has seen a significant resurgence of late, albeit in the form of edits and hybrid combinations of disco influences and other forms of dance; something that you've been famous for, among other things. What are your thoughts on the genre and its nuance?

I think the renewed interest in disco and the idea of disco represents a desire for something more from a night out and something more from the music that's played at nightclubs. However, I think it's important that people tune in and try to understand the spirit of the music in all its forms, and the social context and values that birthed disco, and the idea of dancing to mixed music in clubs. Too often the form and fashion is co-opted and the heart of the matter is lost. That wouldn't make for any kind of real revival.'

‘The heart of the matter …’  (that this music is one of community, of youth and memory). You could perhaps make a parallel with the early pre-man-in-hat-crooner Daft Punk; their early music had a spirit that was similarly enthusiastic and sweet: all about the influences.    

But it was always much more manufactured, part of a showy performance.

Here's a description of the Metro Area release from AllMusic to close, the record is ‘so rich with immediate pleasures that it would be understandable to take the craft and precision with which they were made for granted. This record is a deceptively intricate maze of tight machine rhythms, tumbling bongos, smacking handclaps, warm keyboard stabs, zapping synths, tickling pianos, lively loops of flute, guitar flicks, and seesawing strings. It's just shy of being an embarrassment of riches.’

Coda:

Schaum, Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek (Faitiche, 2016)

Heat that has a liquid quality, building forever in its intensity – to engage with, to recreate the Tropics. German producer, Jan Jelinek has said of this album:

'I have long been obsessed with the Tropics. This obsession involves a mental image of a specific quality of landscape: deliriously extravagant unstructuredness, hostile to life but also excessively productive. I am fascinated by the idea of installing clear minimalist forms amid such luxuriant tropical growth. Perhaps my image of the city of Brasilia is a good example: the utopia of elegant and ascetic modernism, surrounded by rampant vegetation.'

Jelinek continues that the idea of the

'Tropics is fascinating as a nervous jungle phantasm that openly indulges in exoticism at the same time as deconstructing it. In this way, the main character’s adventure becomes a journey into the subjective. It resembles a feverish inner delirium, exposing exoticism as a simulated, utopian perspective. What it boils down to is insubstantial, nothing but foam and froth.'     

The record title, Schaum means ‘foam and froth’ in German.

This is the second release from Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek, following Bird, Lake, Objects, Faitiche, 2010. Again, from the promotional material: 'Japanese vibraphonist Masayoshi Fujita prepares his instrument with various percussion elements as well as metal objects and toys, while Jan Jelinek layers loops made using small-scale electronic devices.'

What is particularly fascinating about this music is the way it allows for enormous warmth to come through; you can almost feel the heat, the damp and the sense of being enclosed by the clotted, putrid vegetation. This heat helps elide what could have made this idea ‘corny’ and overly manufactured, this notion of recreating an exotic environment. This music retains a physical, felt quality rather than simply becoming a purely abstract exercise.

I love all of this record, from start to finish, but the track ‘Botuto’ is particularly impressive in the way the sinister aspect is never over-played, it remains delicate and moving. I also appreciate the way the jazz references are there, but again allowed to merge with the contemporary aspect. It's modern and old. Schaum is a very distinctive and powerful release that retains a core intimacy to it as it explores the sensual world.      

Check out this Resident Advisor interview, ‘Sampling matters’ that unpacks the ‘sprawling career of Jan Jelinek, the highly adventurous German artist who's about to reissue Loop-finding-jazz-records, one of the best electronic music records of all-time.’

Coda:

The German musician patches together a mix inspired by his summer in LA, put up last year.

Music for Nine Postcards, Hiroshi Yoshimura (Sound Process, 1982)

Notice the space around the sounds, how the composer is conscious of the way sound exists within an environment (a heard environment) drawing our attention back to the act of listening, being present with the music.

The stillness of this music is so affecting, but has a determination about it and confidence. All those ‘relaxation music’ CDs, with the tinkly sounds of waterfalls strike me as claustrophobic as with these constructed soundscapes everything is so manufactured and decided for you. Here, the music allows you to interpret it for yourself, rather than direct you somewhere: it has a kind of faith about it.

Information from the liner notes for the 1999 CD

'The first edition of this album was released in 1982 on LP. I composed "Music for Nine Post Cards" while catching the waves of scenery out of the window and feeling the sounds form. Images of the movement of clouds, the shade of a tree in summer time, the sound of rain, the snow in a town, with those rather quiet sound images, I sought to add the tone of ink painting to the pieces.

Differing from the minimal musical style in my former piece" Clouds for Alma- for two koto harps" (1978), in this music a short refrain is played over and over while it changes its form gradually just like clouds or waves, based on the sound fragments noted on the 9 postcards. I put the first fragment of the sound, a seed or a stone as it were, to seek the "prime number" of the sound.

One day when I was composing this piece, I visited the brand-new contemporary art museum in the North Shinagawa area I took to its snow-white Art-Deco style, but not only that, I was also deeply impressed and moved by the trees in the courtyard which can be seen through the museum's large window. At that moment, I imagined how it would sound if were to play my developing album there. Could it possibly be one of the best sounds that fit this environment? This idea developed into the strong desire to carry it out.

Finishing the mixing, recording it on cassette tape, I visited this museum again. They gladly accepted such an unknown composer's request and said "OK, let's try to put it on in the museum." That made me so happy and encouraged me. After a few weeks, 1 received a phone call from this museum, where staff were often asked by the visitors "Where can I get this music?" On hearing those words, my desire to publish a record with those sounds was getting stronger and stronger. I decided to consult with Mr. Ashikawa about this. He said that he would start up a record label to present this new sound. in this way, "Music for Nine Post Cards" was released as the first LP record of the "Music Notation for waves" series.

This was followed by Mr. Ashikawa's "Still Way". This label's first attempt to present environmental music in Japan was taken up in many magazines. Although this album was a small publication by a minor label, I am very happy that not a few people still remember it. Now this album is being reprinted. I'm looking forward to the reaction of the people who are going to listen to this music for the first time. The Nine Post Cards which were sent from outside of a window. I hope this sound scenery makes quiet ripples.'

Translated by Misako Matsuki  

Found on a very interesting website, ‘fromheretillnow’ based in Zurich, devoted to 'obscure and unconventional music since 2012'. The site description continues: 'in a world of abundance of things and choices, fromheretillnow offers guidance through its hand-picked musical selections and its carefully conceived podcasts. we let you discover obscure music and genres as no wave, experimental, avant garde, drone and lo-fi. get lifted by never-heard before pop-not-pop music: beautiful to listen to, yet miles away from the mainstream.'   

Here is an article on the work of Yoshimura (and two other Japanese composers) on a site called 20funkgreats (?) Yoshimura is considered to be a ‘pioneer of ambient music in Japan’ and one of the country’s great post-war composers. The article says how this music could have ‘perhaps been driven by a subconscious impulse to find refuge from nasty reality ....

Many of these records have natural or organic themes, which could well reflect the artists’ own search for spaces of serenity amidst the hyper-accelerated lanes of late-era capitalism. Today we bring you a selection of tracks with that vibe, hope that you find them as soothingly beautiful as we do, and also that when we get together this time next week we don’t have any more reasons to want to escape reality.

We cross our fingers, hard.

Related article: Cage

'Mil Millones' Gotan Project (Tango 3.0, XL Recordings, 2010)

'A Thousand Millions

Our wound appears everyday
From those who carry the cross in life
A billion and it goes on

Without eating, it's now the problem
Keeping quiet is going to be the dilemma
How much longer will we wait

It was born, it looked, it flew

What insolent evil leads us
To face this final test
I can't stop dreaming

It was born, it looked, it flew.' 

Translation from the original Spanish, which you can find here.

(... paradise music)