Friday, June 24, 2011

Steve Reich - Octet/Music for a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase LP (1980, ECM) [By Reich]

What is that phrase? "The show must go on." I suppose it does. Today, and in lieu of doing anything of any remote importance, I am sharing a recording of multiple Steve Reich works conducted by Reich. I was pleased to pick this from the stacks at a local chain's newest location nearby, mint and for the right price I might add. The recordings, especially Octet and Music for a Large Ensemble, seem to pick up where the infamous Music for 18 Musicians piece left off in terms of the minimalist style. That may be a deal breaker for those who become adamantly reluctant at the thought of minimalism. As a disclaimer, you are unlikely to enjoy these works if you did not enjoy 18 Musicians. Admittedly, as much as I enjoy and admire Reich's superb phasing technique, it can become onerous during casual listening. In terms of minimalism and in the frame of casual listening, unless the piece grabs me within the opening phrase I can become turned off. I think similar can be said for most listeners, and especially those uninitiated or otherwise unfamiliar with the style. Also, listening to Vile's "Solution" and then Reich's "Violin Phase" immediately thereafter is a difficult transition.

Pontificating complete. Now I am going to discuss the music... wait, don't go. As previously stated, Music for a Large Ensemble can be considered the third continuation of Reich's preceding "Music for..." works. The piece contains four sections, each with concise phrases that are augmented throughout and then shortened through diminution. The piece uses what is apparently the largest ensemble that Reich had ever used at the time, twenty-nine musicians if you include the Reich's piano as well. Prior to this recording, the original piece went through a small evolution (or devolution depending on your opinion): it was shrunk from twenty-one minutes to sixteen after a section was removed; instruments were added and removed; and finally, the piece was played faster than originally intended. According to the extensive liner notes, each section is in an arch form which is notated as (A*B*C*B*A). This is probably my favorite piece on the record, and is one which I assume casual listeners will enjoy most for its lovely, violin-led opening phrase. It is a mostly bright work with a relaxing atmosphere and themes similar to 18 Musicians. This is a valid introduction to the composer, and a vital listen for all.

Violin Phase is the oldest piece on this record, both in terms of age and technique. The piece was written in 1967 and is a prime example of phasing. It is written for one violin, but requires that the musician play against three recordings of himself. The musician slowly plays ahead of the tapes, and patterns are both formed and found. The piece sounds ancient when juxtaposed against the other two recordings, and rightly so as it is over a decade older than them. The fifteen-minute piece can quickly become monotonous for casual listeners. It is more interesting than it is enjoyable; it is something to admire as expression and an art I suppose. It is nonetheless a great introduction to Reich's phasing.

Octet sounds similar to Reich's "Music for" works and is simply radiating with his touch. It is a beautiful piece blooming from two pianos, which are complemented with the lingering, nearly invariable strings and a propulsive wind section mostly dominated by flute and clarinet. I know I said Large Ensemble was my favorite here, but in terms of energy... well, I guess it's a tie really. Octet carries on with the same themes and motivations, but focuses on wind rather than percussion. Enjoyable recording and also nice place to start with the composer.

It seems that the recordings on this record are somewhat unpopular, perhaps permanently overshadowed by Reich's magnum opus which has already been mentioned far too many times in this entry. Whether you have heard Reich before or not, there are bright moments to be discovered here. I would say that these recordings, apart from Violin Phase, are a kinder introduction to Reich if you are entirely unfamiliar with him. That is my opinion anyway.

This was released on ECM Records and has the potential for a takedown notice.

Steve Reich - Octet/Music for a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase MediaFire

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chas Smith - Santa Fe 10" (1982)

Although not a critical item on my wantlist, I was happy to cross this one off when I had the opportunity to buy it earlier this year. A somewhat hard-to-find name among experimentalists, Chas Smith is a Los Angeles-based artist whose ambient output I cherish. His album, An Hour out of Desert Center, is one I often return to. This 10", Santa Fe, was his first record.

Santa Fe differs from Smith's later work in two ways. His later work departs from the minimal, curiously retro, barebones ambient zones he composes on Santa Fe; those approaches, methods and themes are present his later work, just in a more sophisticated way. The second difference is the common instrumentation used on this record. Comparatively, anyway: while a pedal steel guitar and 12-string dobro are the only instruments used on this record, Smith's later work mostly involves elaborate, self-invented instruments, some with the most notably colorful names ("Guitarzilla").  His work is reminiscent of PartchYoung, and Stars of the Lid.

As with nearly everything else I write about, I am able to boil this entry down to wondering why this artist isn't more well-known. Interestingly, Smith has contributed to numerous film scores, including The Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty. Smith has also performed on recordings written by Harold Budd. That's an impressive pedigree.

This is a wonderful debut record from a genuinely talented composer. Recommended for fans of the Big Four, other ambient artists, and experimental music in general.

This was Cold Blue #E7. Cold Blue is a veteran California ambient and minimalism label that is still active. If you're still curious about Chas Smith or L.A. experimental music, do check out "L.A. Mantra", a 1983 compilation released by Trance Port that features examples of the Los Angeles underground at the time. Chas Smith's "October '68" is featured on that compilation.

Chas Smith - Santa Fe 10" MediaFire
Chas Smith - Website

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bill Nelson - The Two-Fold Aspect of Everything 2xLP (1984)

Some time ago, I discussed another Bill Nelson related project called Red Noise. That project received some attention, but not nearly as much as the eponymous artist's solo work. For those unfamiliar, here is a bit of a bio: Bill Nelson is a prominent English new wave artist that was active all through the 1980s. He led a band called Be-Bop Deluxe, later led Red Noise, and eventually decided on a solo career in electronic music. Despite releasing countless - seriously, countless - records, Nelson remained a mostly reclusive musician, no doubt due to his poor relationship with major labels. He released most of his records on his own label, Cocteau Records, likely named after Jean Cocteau, of whom Nelson was a big fan.

Bill Nelson has quickly become a favorite of mine over the past couple years. Nelson is overtly a guitarist, although his music could easily be described as synth-pop. The music featured in this compilation rarely meanders - straight-forward, propulsive pop right down to the core. His version of the guitar-synth hybrid sound always keeps me coming back, not to mention every track he does is endlessly catchy. And although Nelson remains pretty obscure, he has a diehard fanbase keeping his music alive. He still performs today, too.

This may or may not be a good introduction to Bill Nelson for those who haven't heard his music before. Many of these songs are remixes and alternate versions, facts that may color one's perception of this music. Nonetheless, this is highly recommended for fans of new wave and synthpop music.

Bill Nelson - The Two-Fold Aspect of Everything 2xLP MediaFire

Monday, June 6, 2011


Normally I am not one to advertise, but here goes a lapse in that behavior.

I created a Facebook page for The Thinner the Air. If you are so inclined, feel free to visit the page here. I don't have a personal Facebook page, and as such it's mostly alien territory to me. However, social networking seems like the primary vehicle for spreading the word about something. I have realized that, despite writing here for close four years, I still don't get as many hits as I'd like. Granted, 95% of the time that isn't the point for me, but even so I would like to get as much readers and feedback as possible.

With that said, thanks for reading. I thoroughly enjoy writing these entries and have no plans to stop as long as vinyl is still being pressed.


Facebook Page

Bitch Magnet - Umber LP (1989)

Featured on Elementary Revolt's Blogosphere of the Week!

Seeing as how there are multiple entries about Seam here at The Thinner the Air, it's pertinent to discuss Sooyoung's heavier-hitting past for the fans and uninitiated alike. Bitch Magnet formed in the late 80s and played a post-hardcore-esque sound similar to bands like Squirrel Bait and Bastro: similar guitar tone, aggressive bass lines... essentially that Midwestern sound. I've seen other interesting comparisons, too, from Jawbox to Big Black. (P.S.: Bitch Magnet's Star Booty EP was produced by Albini.) Myself, I've always considered Bitch Magnet to be a like heavier Seam — dark and contemplative, yet still melodic and catchy.

It's shocking that this project received as little attention as it did, although I attribute that to the comparatively small labels (Communion, Glitterhouse, Roman Candle, Waterfront) that they released their records on. I was surprised to find that Umber was released in 1989, but the heavy "intellectual" indie sound was evolving at that time. For example, a compilation called Human Music, released by Homestead Records the year before Umber, is a favorite of mine and a prime example of the eclecticism of late 80s independent music. Lots of creativity and experimentation. As far as Bitch Magnet goes, it's a cornerstone post-hardcore record. But you can decide for yourself.

Members went on to Bastro, Don Cabellero, Walt Mink, and Gastr del Sol. My copy was Communion #12; it's beat up, written on, and now yours to mutually enjoy.

Incidentally, Bitch Magnet are reuniting for All Tomorrow's Parties this year.

Bitch Magnet - Umber LP

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Creeping Nobodies - Augurs & Auspices LP (2007)

I am inadvertently a shill for Canadian bands I guess. Or maybe it's just the Toronto scene, given that I have at least two other entries concerning bands from there. It's not so much that I favor the city over other places - in fact, having been to Toronto, I'd say I prefer the easternmost section of chilly Ontario to its metropolitan bits. And I don't think it's a difference of talent in comparison to American bands. It's just that music I've heard come out of Toronto, and Canada in general, seems to have a mind all its own - a narrow-yet-sophisticated approach that sets Canadian artists apart. Maybe? Or maybe this is all just posturing and I should get down to the subject matter.

The Creeping Nobodies were mentioned to me some time ago in passing. I neglected to look them up immediately, just as I still haven't looked into their related acts like Sick Lipstick, These United States, Martyrs and Parts Unknown. I think there was just a certain sound being thrown around in Toronto during the early 2000s. Anyway, it just so happened that I found their last full-length, Augurs & Auspices, at Amoeba for the right price. As good a time as any to check out the, let's say, complicated, Ex-like if not for the production post-punky sounds of this 2000s quartet (or quintet by this time.) Before I wrote this, I went out on a limb and predicted, having not listened to the album since I bought it, that it had a Zs feel to it. Although I wasn't completely off, especially when the Nobodies' compositions stretch out for such generous spans of time, I wasn't correct. A somewhat uneven mix of familiar no wave of new and olde (Liars, other NYC-related bands) and post-punk influences seem to make up their sound - and wouldn't you know it, they formed as a result of a tribute performance to The Fall. But what do I really think? Dissonance, uncertainty, contempt, anxiousness - these are all words that come to mind when listening to this. Most songs start off with simple ideas and jam around them for the remainder of the song, a formula that, believe me, sounds better in practice than it does on paper. If any of the namedropping in this entry hasn't spoiled your appetite for the evening, you're bound to enjoy this.

This was Deleted Art #24. Maybe it's out of print.

The Creeping Nobodies - Augurs & Auspices MediaFire

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

V/A - Escondido, CA Compilation 7" (2001)

Have about four and a half minutes? That's how long it will take you to listen to this six-song compilation featuring four powerviolence bands out of Escondido, CA. I think I got this for free... honestly, I don't remember how or when I got a copy of this record. I don't remember being stoked though. It sounds how it looks: quick and sloppy. Two songs from each band, all of them true to form and under a minute. Bands featured are Crippled Monguloid, Charmburgler, Losin' Fusion, and perhaps most interesting to some, DisreantiyouthhellchristbastardassmanX. The latter band is the only one I could ever find any information on for various reasons; I was only reminded of this band and compilation after reading a story about the vocalist cutting himself open and covering a venue floor with blood. In any case, here you go: a very obscure and limited edition compilation from the sweaty ankle of California.

This was released on Thrashbot Records and Tapes in 2001. Thrashbot had a website on GeoCities that is obviously gone now. There were apparently 200 of these records made. Sit down with a hot cup of tea, dim the lights, light a fire in your fireplace and enjoy.

V/A - Econdido, CA Compilation 7"