Archive for December, 2006

RIP James Brown

December 25, 2006

This morning, one of my inboxes had the bad news that James Brown had passed away. Brown was a such a force of nature that its almost hard to believe he’s gone. Truth is, you can’t underestimate his contributions to music. He’s one of the people that I internally refer to as a “nexus”– in that he’s at the center of certain musical forms. This is where existing forms collide, new forms are created, and multiple influential musicians are markedly influenced themselves. You don’t have to like these musicians, but you can’t deny their impact. And as debateable as my choices of Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Hank Williams may be; I will allow no argument with incorporating James Brown into this lineup. It’s MY internal classification, afterall.

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James Brown invented rap. He invented funk. Invented disco. He put the crossroads of gospel and rhythm ‘n blues on the map. He may not have invented soul music, but he alone is a main ingredient– flour is to bread as James Brown is to soul. In politicizing his music, he became a powerful voice not only for moving your ass, but freeing your mind. Later on, George Clinton would state this in so many words– but as always, James did it first.

He had the best bands, the best moves, the best songs, the tightest rhythms. Some of my best memories involve his songs– Please, Please, Please… It’s A Man’s World… Papa Don’t Take No Mess… Hot Pants… Doin’ It To Death, all are amazingly fantastic. It’s almost hard to believe the man was from this planet.

Even throwaway stuff like “Living in America” was great. Hell, I was listening to it last night on “Rocky Radio,” believe it or not. I still remember having James Brown kick my ass as a little kid, hearing “The Payback” for the first time. “I don’t know karate, but I know kah-razy!”

Years later, I’d end up with one of my favorite albums, “James Brown at the Organ.” I was getting pretty heavy into funk at the time– Funkadelic, Confunkshun, Cameo, Buddy Miles– and it was especially cool to hear this relatively simple album top them so easily. And as an atheist, let me say that I’d gladly attend church if I got to see something like his performance in Blues Brothers. It was James Brown’s funk in Fela Kuti’s “Colonial Mentality” that turned me on to Afrobeat. It was his sounds (literally!) that sold me on Public Enemy– they hardly needed the help, but damn, what a way to sweeten the deal! I’m in deep enough to get a sick little giggle at what’s facing me on the Wikipedia entry now– “James Brown is dead,” an unavoidable reference to his “death” in 1992, and the subsequent LA Style track.

Rest in peace, James! Thanks for the music. –DaveX

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Startling Moniker’s Top 12 Best Happy Neat-O List of 2006!

December 21, 2006

As you may have noticed, it is customary for DJs to compile some sort of “top ten” list at the end of the year. Since I have the worst sense of time imaginable, I have generally neglected this duty– besides, I’d hate to out my “off-off-Broadway” status while raving about something from two years back. I can hear the New Yorkers twittering, “How gauche! The poor fellow has mistaken 2005 for 2006!” as they sniff the sweet smell of subway air.

It is with this peril in mind that I cautiously bring you my Top 12 Best Happy Neat-O List of 2006! For selections previously mentioned in STARTLING MONIKER, click the bold titles to see the original review. Enjoy! –DaveX

mazen.jpg1) Mazen Kerbaj — “Starry Night” — Back in July, when the top dog morons of Israel and Lebanon decided to plunge their citizens into war, Mazen Kerbaj captivated myself (and many, many others) with his “Kerblog,” which featured incredible drawings commenting on the horrific situation around Beirut. On the 15th of the month, Kerbaj recorded an improvisation of trumpet, dueting with the Israeli Air Force’s bombs. It’s an incredible statement, and a powerful recording.

2) Na — “Na is Nice” — A truly bizarre “debut” release (following a flood of CDRs) on Pax Recordings, this is surely one of the strangest albums I played all year. But for all its weirdness, it works.

bitbybit.jpg3) Yoav Gal & Yael Kanarek — “Bit by Bit, Cell by Cell” — A gorgeous work for Atari 800XL and soprano voice, this multimedia disc on Innova Recordings really threw me for a loop. There are many layers of meaning here, to the point that its ultimately unclear what’s happened. Nevertheless, this release really pushed the envelope of how much can be asked of the listener. I’m more than certain I’ll be using a large portion of 2007 to continue figuring this album out.

4) Various — “Montreal Sound Matter” — Easily the most inscrutable album of the year, in my opinion. Constructed from a pool of sounds collected in Montreal, Francisco Lopez cajoles a group of sound artists to present a variety of altered environmental recordings that only slightly resemble an Earthly city. However, the “bleeding edge” quality of the recording and construction of these tracks are of great appeal. Available through Pogus Productions.


claytonmcdonald.jpg5) Clayton Counts — “The Beachles” — As Negativland, Salvadore Dali, and any Fluxus member could tell you; one of the great things about art is being able to just plain piss people off. “The Beachles,” a mash-up of the Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” albums, brought the ire of the EMI legal team who sought to shut The Beachles down. Now playing on the P2P network of your choice, its doubtful this great release will be difficult to acquire.

ashley.jpg6) Robert Ashley — “Foreign Experiences” — Distilling all the paranoia, heat, and weirdness that we know as “California,” Ashley presents an avant-opera that would make Phillip K. Dick proud. Featuring Sam Ashley and Jacqueline Humbert, this Lovely Music release will make a fine addition to any fan of music that truly explores inner thought, no matter how disturbed it may become.

7) Jack Wright — “The Indeterminate Existence” — I don’t know if this will actually be released by the end of 2006 or not, to be honest. But what better way to thumb my nose at those haughty subway riders than to nominate something this new and this fantastic? This album totally amazes me on so many levels, I originally described it as “frightening.” A disturbingly well-done set of improvisational work, available any minute now on Last Visible Dog Records.

8 ) Helena Espvall — “Nimis & Arx” — Again, my penchant for recordings pushing the envelope is apparent. Espvall drags her cello through a dischordant electronic warzone, water-damaged Impressionist paintings, and a carpet-remnant warehouse to treat listeners to her unique ear for electroacoustic sound. Also featuring George Korein, “Nimis & Arx” is available as a split release through Pax Recordings and Fire Museum Records.

9) Brekekekekoaxkoax — “We Used To Be Such Good Friends” — Austinnitus editor Josh Ronsen displays a deft touch with his first full-length release driving the improvisitory ensemble Brekekekekoaxkoax. Restraint, breathing room, and excellent use of dynamics are the order of the day for this release, on Hushroom Records.

legend.jpg10) Richard Lee Johnson — “The Legend of Vernon McAlister” — Inspired by a 1930’s National Duolian steel-bodied guitar containing the mysterious etching “Vernon McAlister,” Johnson creates a work of simple beauty on this Cuneiform Records release. With his imagination in full-gear, Johnson conjures a fanciful narrative that is quite delightful.

qualcov.gif11) My Fun — The Quality of Something Audible — Easily kicking Fennesz’s over-praised career to the curb, Justin Hardison kicked 2006 off right with a wonderful composite of treated field recordings, electronics, and talented editing. Just the track “Fireworks” alone should be enough to convince you that this album belongs on many more “best of 2006” lists. Amazingly, you can now download it for free from Hardison himself.

12) Danielle Palardy Roger — “Bruiducoeur, prieres des infideles” — If one thing consistently interests humans, it’s our own mortality. “Bruiducoeur, prieres des infideles,” available from Ambiances Magnetiques, focuses on the final, painful hours of one man’s life. Confused, terrified, and incoherent; he is accompanied by a emotionless reporter of his condition, and a helplessly sympathetic chorus. It is powerful, raw, and cuts straight to the heart.

I hope you enjoyed the Top 12 Best Happy Neat-O List of 2006! Write me a comment if you have anything you’d like to add, or you think I missed!

“The Indeterminate Existence” AND “Luggage”

December 20, 2006

Jack Wright’s “The Indeterminate Existence”, and the Bob Marsh/Theresa Wong/Bryan Eubanks “Luggage” albums are the first of Last Visible Dog Record’s new avant-garde series of releases. Although Last Visible Dog has previously been home to many “outsider” and “difficult listening” artists, these two albums radically expand the boundaries previously encompassed. I am extremely happy to be able to tell you about these– hopefully, this will be a long-running series for LVD.

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I had to do some “reading up” on Jack Wright. According to the liner notes (and practically everyone’s account I find googling) Wright is one of the patriarchs of improvisational music. His exuberance and enthusiasm for improvised music drove him to a terrific amount of travel– so much so that he picked up a “Johnny Appleseed” of free improv reputation. For me, one of Wright’s most interesting qualities is that even in his mid-sixties, he’s still actively questioning his work– and in many ways, that’s what “The Indeterminate Existence” is about– a look at the relationship between our past and present selves, and specifically, Wright’s.

Frankly, there are so many huge ideas here that I am nearly broken trying to understand them all. Just the liner notes alone are frightening– Wright unassumingly displays an understanding and depth miles beyond what I’ve previously encountered— and still raises questions he can’t answer. Nine short paragraphs, and I’m smitten! Here is the sort of musician I love to hear: questioning, seeking, verbose, talented; both a living Titan and an ordinary human being.

And the music? It doesn’t let me down for a moment. Again, its truly frightening. That one disc could contain this… and then of course, I immediate start wondering about the rest of the Jack Wright catalog– it is already too much, and this is even neglecting live performances.

I am absolutely blown away.

lvd1002.jpgAnd how cool is this? I’d been writing away to someone almost every time I get one of those “Luggage Store Tonight!” e-mails– yet another nice show happening far away from me. I had hoped to one day receive a reply that, yes, they would make a recording for me so I could broadcast it on my radio show.

Though it’s surely over-reaching, I’d like to think that my pestering filtered through the collective conciousness and somehow ended up with the release of “Luggage,” featuring improvising musicians Bob Marsh, Theresa Wong, and Bryan Eubanks performing two duets at San Francisco’s Luggage Store Gallery.

It was definitely worth the wait! On the first of two tracks, Bob Marsh is joined by cellist Theresa Wong. Marsh plays cello as well– though there may be some additional electronics involved. With someone as fluent with improvisation as Marsh, though, it would be foolish to make too many assumptions. Regardless, this set integrates remarkable scratching string sounds, sputtered vocal declamations, percussive tapping, and both performers alternately cooing to (and conversing with) their instruments.

The second track again features Marsh, this time with saxophonist and electronics improviser Eubanks. While Marsh provides a boulder-dotted landscape, Eubanks suggests clear skies with whisps of glassy feedback. Occasionally, you can hear traffic from outside the Luggage Store Gallery, giving everything a lovely sense of place. Every so often, it sounds like Varese’s “Arcana” dueting with the cloud chamber portions of Partch’s “Intrusions.” At other times, Eubank’s playing is so incredibly alien that it seems impossible.

Best of all, the sound quality is excellent. I had a wonderful time imagining I was in the audience; and the police sirens “outside” made this fairly convincing with headphones. I ordinarily complain a bit about liner notes, but in this case, the warm nature of the recording and the seamless ability of the players involved leaves me wanting nothing more than a ticket to the city and a second disc to listen to on my trip.

Obviously, I think both discs are excellent. Jack Wright surpasses my wildest expectations, and the “Luggage” disc provides an answer to my reams of e-mail. Highly recommended.

Seconds, anyone?

December 12, 2006

Looking to gently ease yourself into the realm of artistic collaboration? Do you want to give of your time, but find that everyone is just asking for too much? Perhaps you work very slowly, and you’re just waiting for Sony to release the ultra-minidisc so you begin selling your two-minute opus that took you six years to create?

Well have I got some news for you!

Patrick Neve; Obscurica Records label head and host of KWVA’s experimental “Tone Killers” program, is continuing to take submissions for his “Sloppy Seconds” project, where every one-minute track is comprised of 60 one-second submissions. With his sights set on filling an 80-minute CDR, however, the project is currently somewhere around 30 minutes in.

At 60 artists a minute, that would be 4800 separate submissions, with a track marker every minute. I know, I’m aiming for the sky, and it’s probably a totally unrealistic goal. You can help by passing the website around to anyone you think might be interested. Any style of music will be accepted. When I deem it’s “done”, submissions will no longer be accepted and it’ll be released in whatever form it takes.

And what a form! Last I listened, I was incredibly surprised to see how musical it could be. Sure, it changes every second, but part of the real fun is seeing how much can actually be fit into those tiny contributions. There are plenty of moments of synchronicity, too– rhythms form over the period of four or five seconds, and collapse; changing dynamics from one track to another play with your perception… well, it’s all much more interesting that you might first suspect. I’m definately looking forward to picking up a copy!

Of course, I had to get involved– as “Malty and the Maltettes,” with a blisteringly loud burst entitled “It’s Too Damn Early.” My track, sourced from a molecule of Super Mario gameplay, is at 3’38” joining trackmates Miulew, Rank Sinatra, and even R. Stevie Moore. Besides the obvious 58, how many people can claim they were on a track with R. Stevie Moore?

Besides these; I see Cock ESP, Black Leather Jesus, Id M Theft Able, Crank Sturgeon, Lasse Marhaug, Phroq, Pulse Emitter, Aboolele, Mutant Ape, Government Alpha, Boris, MC Hawking, Kylie Mynoise– a real who’s who of the noise world.

So, be sure your submission is exactly one second long (screwups will have their tracks altered, Patrick says), and e-mail it to: obscurica@gmail.com

Afterward, you can treat yourself to a fine mix of harsh noise, experimental sounds, and many varieties of difficult listening, because “Tone Killers” broadcasts tonight at 7pm Pacific time. Be sure to tune in!

“For A While” AND “The Free Players”

December 12, 2006

It may be the understatement of the year, but Keijo sure is an odd duck. Keijo, easily the granddaddy figure of the Finnish free-folk scene, ups the weird ante for musicians to follow.with his latest release “For A While” on Last Visible Dog Records.

forawhile.jpgWith more than a few tracks consisting almost solely of clanging metallic noises, loops, and seriously lo-fi guitar strumming; this is either Keijo’s “Metal Machine Music” album, or a serious attempt to shake the yes-man psych audience where every farted CDR is suddenly cosmic.

Probably the strangest thing about this album is how much it grows on you. Admittedly, I started out with a pretty low opinion of it. The third track, “Once More Last Time” is just about as aimless and amateur a song as you could ever want. But then Keijo drops in a cut like “Wet But Light,” an extraordinarily well-crafted electroacoustic piece with the sounds of spinning marbles, melodic guitar lines, and ultra-organic washes of white noise. Even the mastering, which can make or break a noise track, is well up to speed. (more…)

“Soundcatcher”

December 11, 2006

I have to admit that I really don’t understand the Fire Museum Records release of What We Live’s “Soundcatcher.” What We Live, a trio of Lisle Ellis, Lawrence Ochs, and Don Robinson; are joined for this recording by vocalist Saadet Turkoz.

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The album, which seems to straddle the boundary between mainstream jazz, and the full-on free variety, does very little for me in ways of conjuring anything but the most garden variety Middle-Eastern imagery– and this, only during Turkoz’s contributions. When she isn’t singing, I have the mental impression that she has somehow wandered off. (more…)

Helpful hints for artists!

December 10, 2006

For a while now, I’ve wanted to write an entry about promotional recordings– basically, some helpful hints for artists who are considering mailing a copy of their latest album to their favorite radio stations. To begin with, let me say that these are my observations on this topic. I don’t represent other DJs or radio stations, and I won’t claim that I know what they think. I do know that I’ve been on the receiving end of many, many promotional packages– and that every artist and label is hoping their package will catch the eyes and ears of a friendly DJ. (more…)

“Backwards, Broken, and Incorrectly”

December 10, 2006

With a distinctly “homemade” feel, The Painful Leg Injuries’ “Backwards, Broken, and Incorrectly” debut on OKS Recordings of North America presents slight, ambient work that barely scrapes the often dull “dark ambient” variety. For “Backwards, Broken, and Incorrectly,” it is the strikingly visual nature of the compositions that saves it from the territory so often claimed by disturbed emo kids sharing a reverb pedal. Even for very un-visual people like myself, Byrne’s sounds are able to conjure mental images of everything from abstract designs to sentient kitchen appliances. Given Byrne’s background as a professor of digital filmmaking, this is not surprising.

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A unique aspect of the album is the general unwillingness to go beyond creating these “mental images.” Listeners expecting more conflict or resolution in their music may initially be let down– but it is important to remember that this ISN’T normal music— expecting it to follow convention is missing the point. With the recent release of The Painful Leg Injuries’ sophomore album “If the Devil’s in the Details, Then How Many Details Can You Fit Upon a Match,” it appears even Byrne is unsatisfied– OKS Recordings website is describing the album as having a “more agressive, assertive sound”– which I think may be too bad, because even Brian Eno was never so succinct when presenting a musical and visual setting. (more…)

“Na Is Nice”

December 9, 2006

With the sound of wavering tones being sucked up into something like a cartoon smoothie, Seattle trio Na kicks off “Na is Nice,” a “debut” album on Pax Recordings following a ridiculous run of self-released cdr output. But then again, pretty much everything about Na is ridiculous– from their self-described “meaningful and meaningless” name, to their total willingness to take any musical path appearing before them.

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Take the second track, “B,” for instance. It begins with a truncated sample of bells, and then launches into “little-kid piano recital” territory, soon joined by fairly random cymbals and a thumping bass drum. Some sort of cowpoke wood block rhythm, a healthy dollop of stuttering and skipping electronics round out the excursion as at least one member mimics a guitar, in turn mimicing the piano. In any other hands, this would be a miserable failure– like how I often perceive Zappa albums, all bluster and no real delivery.

However, for Na, it truly comes together. I’d be foolish to try to label it– even they’re missing the mark with “noise pop.” This is music that I thoroughly enjoy, and would love to play along with if I had the chance. In that sense, Na is truly inspiring– for their technical ability to pull these fantastic journeys off live– but more so for presenting a viable path for improvisational musicians of a different stripe to follow. I have a feeling it is going to be a wonderful trip.

“We Used To Be Such Good Friends”

December 7, 2006

For the sheer amount of mental side trips the Hushroom Records release of Brekekekexkoaxkoax’s “We Used To Be Such Good Friends” is taking me on, I have to say that they’ve done an admirable job of fitting it all onto one disc. Truthfully, I expect some sort of brain batter to come oozing from the edges, necessitating one of those cartoon pancake-trimming manuvers involving a butter knife. Let’s review the pieces, because I need to step back:

I have the album title, which isn’t immediately making any sense to me. The “Hail Mary” interpretation is that “we” refers to the performer and the music itself; specifically, that transitory level improvisors reach when sounds are channeled from who-knows-where. The liner notes include Jacques Derrida quotes to this effect as well: “It’s not as though I created it myself. I never have the feeling that it’s me.”

Then I find some items stuffed in the jewel case, a little color peeking through the hub. A small transparency with an Olmec head? A list of items “sheets? butcher paper? cheese cloth?” from dancer Mari Akita; and a small xeroxed photo. What’s it all add up to? I may be wrong– my tendency is to approach these things as integral parts of an artistic whole– but perhaps not unlike the Brekekekexkoaxkoax name (a “startling moniker” ha ha) its just a lot of pieces put together that don’t add up to anything but a longer piece.

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At least this isn’t an issue here musically. Showing an incredible amount of restraint, the ensemble creates two uniquely detailed constructs from organ, guitar, clarinet, electronics, a computer, and drums. Starting with the initially timid “Haifa Hi-Fi”, listeners are treated to a variety of unexpected small sounds. I am very impressed by the time this piece is allowed to develop– shifting over nearly 30 minutes to include bursts of rocky clatter, long tones, scraped strings, and shining horn sounds.

The other two works are solo pieces for Austinnitus editor Josh Ronsen, whose brilliance and intellectual curiosity are the overflowing batter I referred to earlier. I’ve never met the guy, but I know the type– interested in way too many things, multiple projects on the boiler, very excited about what he’s doing. Check an online edition of his zine “Monk Mink Pink Punk,” if you don’t believe me. Yes, he does translate acousmatic composer Iancu Dumitrescu from a French interview for issue seven! Actually, he does it twice…

I’m sorry. This is why I shouldn’t write on three hours of sleep. I end up focusing overmuch on the playful organ interruptions of the third track, “Tuesday on Sunday.” Here it goes again, honking itself into and out of musical existence. Honk, honk, honk. When was the last time you found an album of improvisational music that was not only beautiful, but fun enough to make you smile?

Honk.

Startling Moniker interview with GRKZGL

December 5, 2006

The new album “Esque,” by anti-vowel electronic artist “GRKZGL” is available now through the Angle Rec label. Despite enjoying the album in a “pure sound” sense, the near-total abstraction of the work left me with lots of questions– what could hope to be understood from this album? Was this another example of “message-less” art? It was with these (and a few other) questions in mind that I conducted this interview…

GRKZGL “Esque” available on Angle.Rec.


STARTLING MONIKER:
Let’s start with the proverbial “elephant in the room.” How do you say “grkzgl,” and what does it mean? (more…)

“Forced Spring For Rising Tide”

December 1, 2006

From the Wall-era Pink Floyd-via-Edward Ruchalski opening, to its creased-velvet crackle and strum finish; Warm Climate’s “Forced Spring For Rising Tide” is the very definition of far-reaching. The duo, Seth Kasselman and Rune Freeman, push one another forward on the title track– sometimes to fine effect, but at other moments, more restraint might have been applied. (more…)