Last year, harpist Mary Lattimore took a spill and broke her jaw. That might not have halted her progress as a musician, but she did have to have her jaw wired shut for it to heal properly, rendering her effectively mute for a few months. It's an isolating experience, not being able to communicate like you normally would. Lattimore found some solace in the guise of Scott Kelly, the American astronaut who spent a full year aboard the International Space Station. While Kelly wasn't alone and was able to send messages and tweets from outer space—including tracking the progress of his orange zinnia, the first plant ever grown not on Earth—he was still cut off from a lot of necessary personal interactions and communication. Relating to and being inspired by Kelly's experiences, Lattimore composed this emotional tribute to the man as he returned back to our planet this past spring. True to the spirit of her muse, on "For Scott Kelly, Returned to Earth," the harpist evokes this feeling of being free of gravity, awestruck at the beautiful blue planet floating outside the window, and cut through with that haunted sensation of wanting to be among your fellow humans. Listen to the song below, and also watch a short animated clip for it by John Andrews.
The track features on Returned to Earth, a cassette out January 1 on Soap Library (it comes with an envelope of heirloom orange zinnia seeds). Pre-order it now.
The recent death of Don Buchla has sent many music lovers and synthesizer enthusiasts into their archives, pulling out whatever albums and CDs and digital files that could help find some way to clarify his singular genius in the world of electronic sound. Experimental label Unseen Worlds has trafficed in this realm of music for years, now releasing a set of pieces conceived and performed by American composer Carl Stone in the '70s and '80s. Stone had been a student at CalArts, studying under James Tenney and Morton Subotnick. The latter gentleman was a friend of Buchla's and commissioned one of his earliest synths, while also offering up a great deal of encouragement. So, he had access to one of the few Buchla 200 systems that were made and allowed his students to learn on it and write with it. Stone, who still writes and performs music today, used the Buchla 200 to create this meditative track that effectively utilizes long drones and overtones eked out of the many modules at his fingertips. The reedy tones that dominate the first few minutes capture your attention as the lower, more spacious sounds slowly take over. For as discordant as it sometimes feels, there's a calming quality to it like a singing bowl resonating in the room.
"Chao Praya" is on Electronic Music from the Seventies and Eighties, an upcoming 3xLP reissue being released via Unseen Worlds on September 30.
The evolution of Patrick Modugno's solo project Khaki Blazer has happened in small increments, with the Ohio-based artist refining and perfecting his cut-and-paste sound with tiny imperceptible steps forward. For his first release on Experimedia, however, Modugno has taken a pretty substantive leap forward. On Coca Nara Deezer, he's embracing the juke/footwork movement in hip-hop production and applying it to his fractured compositions. Through his prism, the rhythms and samples pulse as if they're under duress, jockeying for position and fighting to be heard. As a result, you can never really get a hold of any one fragment of the work. You're forced to accept it as one multi-layered, multi-colored whole. Don't fight against the current of sound flowing your way; just relax and ride the waves.
Slant of Light, the 2014 album that introduced the musical collaboration of multi-instrumentalist Jeff Zeigler and harpist Mary Lattimore to the world, carried with it a rather cinematic tone, its four extended instrumental evoking stark scenes of passion, startling beauty, and haunting drama. It seemed, then, somehow natural that the pair’s next project together would be a film score.
Asked by the annual Marfa Ballroom event to score a silent film, Lattimore chose Philippe Garrel’s devastating 1968 experimental short Le Révélateur—which tracks a family as they escape an unseen conflict—and chose her friend Zeigler to work with her on it. And what they came up with matches the unsettling feelings and moments of devastating loveliness on screen with quietly plucked melodies and an especially stirring use of melodica. Their initial performance proved so successful that the pair have been performing it around the U.S. and made a recording of their semi-improvised score for Thrill Jockey Records, which is being released on July 22nd.
I was able to spend some time on the phone with Lattimore and Zeigler as they sat in a traffic jam in the middle of a recent run of performances to talk about their score and the importance of getting the approval of Garrel for this project.
What was your process going into a project like this? How did you tackle the idea of scoring a film like Le Révélateur?
JZ: We weren’t totally sure right off the bat, and we just started rolling through the film and improvising to it. From there we came up with parts and sort of formed a theme off that. A lot of times, Mary would come up with a harp part and I’d build off that from section to section. Did we initially try to do that for the whole thing at once?
ML: I can’t remember. We definitely wrote themes and little notes depending on the action that was happening in the film.
JZ: Initially we were approaching it more as a whole rather than individual scenes, and it started to make more sense to separate it out a bit.
For Batlimore native John Jones, this freewheeling atmosphere of internet-era music production and appreciation has allowed him to try on the trappings of lo-fi folk, drone, and Krautrock, all under the name Nerftoss. (Not to mention his work riding the thunder stick for noise rock band Dope Body.) Jones's latest Nerftoss missive Crushed finds him working with the colors of dance music. The cassette, out on NNA Tapes, is constructed like a thoughtful and artful DJ set, with no space between the tracks and one melodic and rhythmic idea flowing seamlessly into the next. That way the Latin house grooves of "Some Kind of Way" slowly melt into an ambient wash before being slowly solidified into the African polyrhythms of "Bender." Or letting the piercing industrial racket that closes out "22 & C" provide the foundation for "Ever Always" and its disco stomp. By the time the closing track "Star Picking" loses its trance-inducing vibe in the glare of bright psychedelic swirls, your whole person will feel loose, euphoric, and desperate for more.
The latest installment in Geographic North’s Sketch For Winter series brings San Francisco-based guitarist/composer Danny Paul Grody into the label’s fold. This particular pairing of artist and imprint feels absolutely perfect. Grody’s ongoing explorations of the middle ground between American Primitive-style folk guitar and long, enveloping synth drones suits the Atlanta label’s interests like puzzle pieces. Though Sketch For Winter VI: Other States stands apart from the otherwise electronic-heavy entries in this series, this collection evokes the icy and beautiful colder months with clarity and expressionist beauty. Gliding acoustic instrumentals such as “Only” and “For Western Skies” are the gently windswept field covered in snow, while the bright closing tune “Cloudhand” uses the shine of his intertwining synthesizer and electric guitar melodies to bring about a touch of frostbite and gentle urging to seek warmer temperatures indoors.
Bakasyiong, the title of the latest collection of synth instrumentals from Inner Travels, is a Tagalog word that means "vacation." The choice of name is a little on the nose, as the Wisconsin-based artist conceived of almost all the tracks on this new release during a nearly monthlong stay in Davao City, a town on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. But the moniker certainly fits the mood that S. Targo, the gent behind Inner Travels, presents herein. As with his previous efforts, these simple, understated compositions that dance little arpeggiated melodies and sparkling drones around the stereo field are meant to massage your pre-frontal cortex, sending you into a state of blissful relaxation. The same kind of feeling you get when you're separated from your day job and the worries of home life while visiting another part of the world. Bakasyiong also carries with it a slightly haunted quality, particularly on "VII," a collage of improvised performances captured on a tape deck. The rumble and hiss of the analog recording root the song's otherwise lovely, pinging tones in the present day, and letting the listener keep one foot in reality while the rest of the body goes on a spectral journey.
As thrilling as it can be to watch two musicians that have only just met try and find a common creative language, let's not forget how a great artistic partnerships can be when they've had years to deepen and solidify. The two men behind The Big Ship—Hausu Mountain majordomo and Good Willsmith member Doug Kaplan and medical student/guitarist Aeron Small—first met in 1999 at summer camp. Their bond was quick to develop and has only gotten stronger in the ensuing years. They've collaborated on other musical ventures, and at one point were roommates. While they live in separate parts of the U.S. (Chicago and Philadelphia, respectively), the two quickly get to work when they are together. Listening to Searchlight Casting, the latest album by The Big Ship, their kinship is immediately evident, particularly in tracks like "Robben Island" or "The Boathouse Story," that only feature Kaplan and Small. There, they act like a bonded pair of animals, curling up together for warmth but just as often letting a courtly acoustic line get scratched and bent backwards by the buzz and drone of a processed electric guitar or a modular synth line. The instinct might be to separate them, but letting them fight it out and learn from the struggle is better for them in the long run. Other tracks feature a full cast of backing musicians that tends to turn their take on modern folk into something a litle more that leans towards what you might call indie rock. But at the center of those songs is Small and Kaplan's loving clash of ideas.
Searchlight Casting is out digitally on January 8 and on limited edition cassette on January 28 via Fire Talk Records. Pre-order it here.
Cabaret Voltaire is a name that rarely comes up in discussions of Robert Joseph Antonio Francisco's (aka M ax Noi Mach) work. As lazy as it may seem to directly connect the work of a current artist to one of the past, the clipped speaker beats, grinding textures, and agonized vocals of “The Big Baby” evokes, in the best possible way, the haunting quality of Richard H. Kirk and co.’s proto-industrial singles of the late ‘70s. This track, like most of the pieces found on Raw Elements: 1999-2009, a soon-to-be released collection of Francisco’s more lo-fi work, carries that forward even more, filling the room with the feeling that there’s someone or something creeping up behind you even as it compels you to get up and dance.
Bhutanese guitarist Tashi Dorji is best known as a solo artist, one that spills out feverish improvisations that invoke the spirits of Derek Bailey and John Fahey at their most exploratory and fractured. For his latest project MANAS, he plays off of drummer Thom Nguyen. The songs are still freeform and delightfully shiftless, but the collaboration forces Dorji to restrict himself a bit to better fit the splashy fills and rattle of the percussion instrument. But as you’ll hear on "No Oracles," from the duo’s upcoming self-titled album, the guitarist taps into a more hypnotizing vibe, repeating a simple pinging phrase over and over that Nguyen has to reckon with. As the drummer, he could have just hit on a rhythm and driven it into the ground, but here he dances around the guitar line with jazzy curlicues.