Friday, February 27, 2009

Tetsu Inoue - Ambiant Otaku

First released in 1994, Tetsu Inoue's debut album Ambiant Otaku was limited to 1000 copies, yet made a significant splash in the fledgling minimalist techno community. Reissued in 2003, the album is now considered a classic, and original copies are highly collectible. Spanned by five lengthy compositions ranging from 10 to 18 minutes, Ambiant Otaku is a gentle space cruise through pillowy nebulae of sound. "Karmic Light" opens the album with a sparkling, hazy mire of enveloping drones, overtone sweeps, and polyrhythmic beeps. Light percussion gives the first section of the piece somewhat of a driving feel, but about halfway through, the texture becomes suddenly rarefied, and the listener simply floats, as though suspended in honey.

The rest of the album maintains this "drifting through clouds" consistency, more often than not without any percussion, but there is a surprising amount of musical and emotional variety from track to track, and even within single tracks. "Low Of Vibration" sports some unbelievably deep bass rumbles beneath soft washes of keyboard; "Ambiant Otaku" with its short, repetitive melodies has a slightly sinister edge; the beautifully serene "Holy Dance" builds gradually from smooth drones to include brushy percussion and echoing wah guitar. The album closes with "Magnetic Field", a gorgeous expanse of reversed synth melodies and silky electronic murmurs.

Now more than 15 years old, Ambiant Otaku has held up extremely well, largely due to its very tasteful, modern sound palette and subtle compositions. Since its release, Tetsu Inoue has gone on to become a major figure in experimental electronica, now with nearly 20 albums under his belt, including the glitchy, Oval-esque Fragment Dots (Tzadik Records, 2000), and collaborations with Bill Laswell and Taylor Deupree. For fans of the expansive soundscapes of Steve Roach and Brian Eno, Ambiant Otaku remains essential listening.

Purchase the Reissue from Amazon

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Arik Einstein - Once I Was a Child

So this post might seem a little out of left field, but I've always wanted to share this album with more people.  It's been a favorite of mine since childhood.

Arik Einstein is one of Israel's big name folk/rock singers, perhaps an analogue to someone like Paul Simon or Bruce Springsteen.  Wikipedia (not the most credible source, I know) claims "Arik Einstein's influence has been so profound that virtually all Israeli pop music can be traced back to musical projects in which he participated."  A big claim that I can't substantiate, get the idea: he's a big name in the Israeli pop music world.

This is, as far as I'm aware, an unusual album in his ouvre (a body of work I can't say I'm very familiar with) - it's a children's album!  And for me personally, it's a children's album that I grew up with and still cherish today.  Children's music or no - it's excellently crafted pop music.  The songs are catchy and interesting, without seeming to dumb-it-down for a younger audience.  Lyrically, these songs are fun narratives relating to childhood, with a wide range of subjects: saturday morning, having to do the things your parents say, really wanting a dog (but getting a cat), going to the zoo, having an unreliable friend..

Some songs take on more...surreal? narratives.  In my personal favorite, track 2, "Adon Choco", an anthropomorphized chocolate popsicle named Mr. Chocolate, goes to visit his friend, the other Mr. Chocolate - the pair decide to visit their friend...the other Mr. Chocolate...and so on so forth.  Track 11, "Kilafti Tapuz" is a dub-inspired song which tells a story of peeling an orange and finding a sleeping child inside, who demands that the orange peel be fixed immediately.

I hope people enjoy this album, and I hope language barriers won't prevent you from listening.  This will always be one of my favorite albums.

One note...I deciphered the tracklist myself - my hebrew isn't perfect and there is no real tracklisting available online (in fact, very little is available about this album it seems...the 70x70 pixel photo is the largest I could find)  Some tracks I'm not sure the exact titles of and #4 I just couldn't decide on.  Sorry for the inconvenience - if anyone manages to get a better tracklisting, please comment.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Mamoru Fujieda - Patterns of Plants I & II

Algorithmic music has a long history, and can roughly be defined as music produced through the use of rigid, deterministic procedures - the opposite of improvisation. This allows for a great deal of music to be considered at least partially algorithmic, such as 17th and 18th century counterpoint, 20th century dodecaphonism and serialism, and more generally any genre requiring a certain compositional scheme. The artistic maverick John Cage frequently used algorithmic methods, including in determining the rhythms for the recently blogged about "Sonatas and Interludes", but Cage was also largely concerned with free creative impulse. Iannis Xenakis worked with concepts from areas as diverse as pure mathematics, physics, game theory, chance, and architecture in composing his influential sound works.

Mamoru Fujieda (1955 -) generates beautiful, otherworldly music from an even less likely source: living plants. Fujieda attached sensitive electrodes to the leaves of various plants, measuring their subtlely changing electric potentials. This data was then translated by the composer's algorithms into six collections of music, each in a different tuning system, written for traditional Asian and Western Medieval instruments. Patterns of Plants was released on Tzadik Records in 1997, featuring a live chamber ensemble performing the pieces. In 2008 this was followed by Patterns of Plants II, containing five new collections with different instrumentation, notably including violin. On both albums, the music is startlingly emotive and accessible, whether or not consideration is given to how it was made. In fact, most listeners would probably never suspect this was not "composed" by a human being in the ordinary sense of the word, a fact which is very easy to forget while listening. Fujieda's blind processes resulted in something starkly beautiful, balanced, organic, and very close to the human heart.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Seaworthy - Map in Hand

Seaworthy, a three piece collective that revolves around core member Cameron Webb as well as Sam Shinazzi and Greg Bird, was formed in early 2000 to explore melodic and experimental approaches to the construction (and unravelling) of minimalist sound scapes from looped guitar, warm drones, piano, electronics and field recordings. *

Map in Hand (2006) opens at "Dusk, 30th September 2005" with the shrill cries of marine birds and soft wisps of electronic hum. Less than a minute later, we begin a quiet search with our "Map in Hand" - a 35 minute suite in ten parts consisting of little more than quiet melodies over quiet guitar drones, sometimes accompanied by light electronic touches. The mood is predominantly contemplative and wistful, occasionally hopeful and occasionally dark and sober. At "Dawn, 2nd October 2005" the search comes to a sudden, gentle end. What have we been looking for? If nothing more than a momentary sanctuary from the world, we certainly found it in this album.

* Order from 12k Records