Archive for the 'Feature' category

The End of 2015, the End of The Inkbottle

As this year comes to a close, I am also going to bring this blog to a close.  It’s basically been closed for a while, since I’ve not posted much here over the past few years.  But now I’m making it official: this is it.  If you want to find out what I’m up to in the future, then follow @hauntedink on Twitter or visit https://hauntedink.bandcamp.com (which is the name I’m using from here on out for music) or soundcloud.com/mheumann.  Of course, everything I have posted here–along with everything in The Library and the other sites connected to hauntedink.com–will be around as long as I’m around.

I started writing online back in 1995–20 years ago.  Back then, there were (relatively) few web sites and fewer voices focusing on music.  I created the first web site devoted to Tricky; I spent years writing music reviews both here and for a few different online journals.  As the years have gone on, and as my life has gotten busier and busier, I have found that both do not have the time to post here nor the inclination.  There are so many different outlets for musical discussion and analysis now, and I don’t really think my voice alone warrants its own site.  So I will continue to write, but I will seek to post this information elsewhere (again, check @hauntedink for future details).

Now, I didn’t want to end this blog with just a good-bye, so here are a few thoughts about 2015:

  • Pye Corner Audio.  Damn, that guy just keeps on making wonderful music.  He released Prowler towards the end of the year, after many publications had already created their “best of” lists.  I’m sick of lists, so I don’t want to make one, so I’ll just say that Prowler is the best music I heard this year.  It might be PCA’s best work–which is saying something.  It’s much more groove oriented than his Black Mill Tapes works or his work for Ghost Box, and that’s a change that seems entirely appropriate.
  • Other great music I heard this year (in no order whatsoever): Joanna Newsom’s Divers (yet another amazing work from this essential artist), The Orb’s Moonbuilding 2703 AD, Chemical Brothers’ Born in the Echoes, Thundercat’s The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam, Pole’s Wald, the Ghost Box compilation, A Seance at Syd’s, Kode9’s Nothing, and everything created by fellow Bandcamp artists Chonyid, The Hatcliff House Tapes, and The Owl Service.
  • My favorite musical event this year was watching Glastonbury on the BBC’s iPlayer (thanks to a handy proxy-server app).  There was some great music performed there this year, but (oddly) my favorite performance was Belle & Sebastian, who were adorable in their happiness (something that was in short supply this year).
  • The thought that we in the US have to endure 11 more months of a presidential election after spending all of 2015 listening to some of the most deranged and idiotic people every to walk the earth profess their qualifications for the job, makes me want to just build a time machine and go forward to November 2016 to see Hillary win (I’m assuming; if you’re reading this during the Trump presidency, then please find me and shoot me).
  • My world outside my career in education was focused on reading tons of science fiction and wiggling around with my modular synth.  At year’s end, my synth is dominated by Harvestman modules. I’m aiming to get back to my ultimate task of channeling (as best I can) the musical legacy of Pan Sonic.
  • Science fiction I would definitely recommend you read: Neil Stephenson’s Seveneves.  I was an early fan of his work; I loved Snow Crash and The Diamond Age as a grad student.  By the time he got to Cryptonomicon, though, I felt that he needed to get a better editor.  He hasn’t changed in his verbosity and detail, but the more I read his stuff, the more I appreciate the detail for what it is: a complete and thorough account of the world he is creating.  Anathem was just wonderful in its detail and complexity; its connection to the Long Now project was a plus (I’m a member).  But Seveneves is something altogether different–a story that spans both the end of life on earth and the creation of a new life.  I can’t spoil it for you; read it.  It’s the best novel of the year, and it’s the one I’m voting for when I vote for the Hugos in 2016.
  • Other wonderful, wonderful novels I read this year: everything by Peter F. Hamilton, the Ancillary trilogy by Ann Leckie, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem and The Dark Forest, and Ernest Cline’s Armada.  During my nice, long break from teaching, I plan to read a whole host of novels by James Corey, Stephen Baxter, and Raoul Peter Mongilardi (damn, there’s so much good stuff out there…).
  • Great science fiction on TV, too: Syfy decided to actually make science fiction again, and I really like their shows DefianceKilljoys, and Dark Matter.  The Expanse is really promising; I am eager to see more of it.  I LOVE Agents of Shield, even though it’s cheesy and uneven.  It’s just damn fun (and I’m a huge fan of Daisy Johnson from the comics, so seeing her come to life on the screen is a blast, too).

My final note to all 3 of you who might actually read this: our world 2015 saw the rapid rise of intolerance, racism, and fascism.  Fight these things with empathy, intelligence, and courtesy.  Think before you speak, consider your audience’s perspective, avoid personal attacks and other fallacies, and be polite.

Thank you all,

Haunted Ink (aka Michael Heumann)

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2014 Wrap-Up

Jan 02 2015 Published by under Feature, Internet/Media, Music, Personal

I haven’t written much on this blog over the past year.  It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say but that I simply didn’t feel an intense compulsion to write up my thoughts on this space.  Are blogs dying in favor of social media?  To a degree, yes.  Certainly more people read Facebook posts than would ever read these words.  But who cares?  I write because I am.

So what was 2014?  It was an interesting year, to be sure.  Aside from the usual work and family events, my lasting memories of the past 12 months will be the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl championship, the World Cup, buying and selling tons of different Eurorack modules, and finally digging into the world of Marvel comics (go Kitty Pryde!).

On the music front, there was a number of standout works, from Pye Corner Audio to IX Tab to Kemper Norton to Mika Vainio to Leyland Kirby.  I listened to and enjoyed all of this music.  However, if I had to pick one album for 2014, I’d probably go with Kemper Norton’s Salvaged.  It’s a weird mixture of spoken word and ethereal electronics, and it’s been in my car CD player since I bought it back in September (or thereabouts).  To me, it’s the sonic equivalent of Children of the Stones and other awesome occult 70s sci-fi from the UK.  It’s just a beautiful and beautifully creepy work that grows in my imagination every time I listen.  Listening to the floating drones and the random vocals that flitter through songs like “To Mahina: Departing” and “To Mahina: Meeting,” I really feel like I’m floating slightly above stone circles and other pagan monuments in and around Avebury (or getting flashbacks to the classic John Pertwee Doctor Who episode “The Daemons”).  Wonderful work!

Really, though, my musical focus this year has been in the Eurorack modular world.  I absolutely love creating music with a modular synth.  It’s so much more unpredictable, fun, rewarding, challenging, and frustrating than creating music with a computer!   Creating music on a modular synth has forced me to rethink my whole idea of music and music composition.  If you are at all interesting in creating music, I highly recommend modulars–they are well worth the investment (which is significant, trust me).

As I said earlier, I buy and sell modules all the time, looking for that perfect combination that doesn’t exist but that I continue to see all the same.  In the process, I’ve actually used just about all the big Eurorack modules over the past few years.  What are my favorites?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  Here are my current top 5:

  1. Intellijel/Cyclonix Shapeshifter–calling it a “VCO” (Voltage-Controlled Oscillator) is really not doing it justice.  This is the most complex and dense module I’ve ever owned, and it’s also the most rewarding.  It has the potential to create just about any weird sound I can imagine, though getting that sound to match up with the sound in your head requires a lot of patience and sweat and tears.  Still, totally worth it!
  2. Hexinverter Jupiter Storm–I got into modulars mostly because I wanted to pretend I was in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop creating sound effects and alien music for Doctor Who and Blake’s 7.  With the Jupiter Storm, I can do all that.  It’s a noise module that can be twisted and manipulated in all sorts of interesting ways.  It’s great for percussion, to be sure, but I find it most interesting when I hook it up to an echo/delay module for truly alien soundscapes.
  3. Hexinverter Galilean Moons–I can handle the Shapeshifter’s complexity, in part, because of modules like Galilean Moons, which is about as simple and straightforward (yet incredibly useful) as a module can get.  It’s a VCA and an envelope generator, meaning that I can plug in an audio source and immediately generate long drones, short percussion sounds, or anything in between without the need of any other modules.  Really, really useful!
  4. Synthrotek’s Eko (or Echo)–a weird little echo module that I often pair with the Jupiter Storm to create total weirdness.  It’s a simple echo mostly, but push this module to the extremes and you get some of the weirdest and most wonderful sounds you can imagine.  I’m actually building myself another one of these modules so I can have two!
  5. Transistor Sound Labs Stepper Acid–I don’t really get along with sequencers all that well. I can’t explain it, but they tend to annoy me.  However, I immediately bonded with the Stepper Acid.  It’s super easy to program and manipulate on the fly, and it works incredibly well with just about any VCO I use.

Honorable mentions should also go to Make Noise’s new Wogglebug, Flame’s C-3 knob recorder, Qu-Bit’s RT60 effects processor, and especially Synthesis Technology’s E102 Quad Temporal Shifter (which I left out of the top-5 because it’s so new I haven’t really been able to explore its full potential).

What is in store for 2015?  Tons, from what I can gather.  In fact, I’ve already pre-ordered three awesome modules that should all arrive in January: Mutable Instruments’ Streams (VCA/VCF/EG combo), Sputnik Modular’s Quad VCF/VCA, and Ginko Synthese’s Sampleslicer (which might just be the modular sampler I’ve been waiting for all these years).  Here’s hoping these and many more modules make the coming year bright and interesting.

To end, here’s a memorable song of mine from 2014.  Its working title is “Trantor 007,” though if this ever finds its way to an album, I’ll most definitely find a better name.  Enjoy!

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Best of 2013: Hacker Farm, UHF

Dec 31 2013 Published by under Feature, Internet/Media, Music, Personal, Politics, Technology

UHF

I didn’t do a Top 10 or Top 25 for music this year, in part because I didn’t want to and in part because I was focused more on creating my own music than I was listening to others.  But looking through my iTunes library to see what I have been listening to, I notice that there was a lot of interesting music released (or re-released) over the past twelve months, including new music from two long-dormant names: My Bloody Valentine and Boards of Canada.  Both of those works were quite good, especially mbv (I thought BoC’s was a bit too derivative of their older stuff, but then I haven’t listened to it as carefully as I could).

But the album that I listened to more than any other this year was UHF by Hacker Farm, a British artist who makes wild, crazy music from (apparently) DIY projects and scrap (or something like that).  Yes, this album came out at the end of 2012, but I didn’t hear it until 2013, after reading an article in Wire and then ordering the CD from the UK.  UHF is a messy, chaotic work that goes in all sorts of weird and wonderful directions, most of them sinister and all of them interesting.  The tracks range in tone and style, from wild, sci-fi atmospherics (“Burlington,” which features a voice-over advertising a town that seems straight out of The X-Files) to V/VM-like noise collages (“Konrad”) to mutated pop tunes trapped in jars of noise and static (“One, Six, Nein” and “Grinch”).  Throughout, the senses of foreboding and anxiety are mixed with a determination to fight back against the forces that seem to have crushed the spirits of those who would prefer a world that wasn’t dominated by drones, spies, and greed.

I had this album running in a loop in my car for most of the year as I drove around the city that I currently call home, a place that has been annihilated by the recession, a place with rampant poverty and unemployment, a place that (until recently) seemed to be on the verge of despair and collapse.  UHF was a perfect soundtrack for such a world.  That this is both the most depressing and the most hopeful album of the year says a great deal about the artist who created this and the world in which we live.

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Inkbottle Special: A Tribute to Trish Keenan

Jan 14 2011 Published by under Feature, Music, Personal

Inkbottle Special: A Tribute To Trish Keenan by Mheumann on Mixcloud

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Top 10 Albums of 2010

Dec 20 2010 Published by under Feature, Music, Personal

Emeralds cover To me, 2010 will stand out as the year musicians returned to the 70s and early 80s, stole the synths, and came back to play them for us.  The Wire magazine coined the phrase “hypnagogic” to refer to the music of Rangers, Emeralds, Arial Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, and the like, music suffused with warped nostalgia.  But Boards of Canada did the same thing 15 years ago, and Ghost Box has been doing the same thing for years, and they’ve been calling THAT “hauntology” for quite a while, so I don’t know why they needed a new term.  Oh wait, these groups are mostly American, so we have to separate them from the proper British groups.  Well, that’s just stupid. And it doesn’t matter.  What matters is the quality of the music, and the quality of the music this year was as good as it has been in quite a while.  Emeralds’ album is ethereal, lush, and overwhelming.  It took me a while to get it, but once I got it, I couldn’t let go.  But the same can be said for the other works on this list–works that I have examined and celebrated both here and in my car (and between my ears) for the bulk of the year.

I love end-of-year lists not for the competition of seeing who is on top; rather, these lists always give me ideas for music to buy, since there’s no way to hear everything in a given year (unless you are paid to do this, which I’m not).  So hopefully this list will have one or two suggestions for you as you go shopping for new music in the new year.  I’ve provided links to each work to help facilitate that end. Happy holidays, and have a great 2011.

  1. Emeralds, Does It Look Like I’m Here — Unbelievably beautiful, captivating synth music from a band I’d not even heard of when the year began.  If the 80s had sounded like THIS, perhaps we wouldn’t have needed so much hair gel.
  2. Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me — I waited a long time for this album to come out, but it did not disappoint.  It’s very long, and it is hard to get through it all in one sitting (I don’t bother), but there’s enough here to study and dissect for a lifetime, and Joanna is just getting started!
  3. Pye Corner Audio Transcription Services, Black Mill Tapes Vol. 1: Avant Shards — This is just wonderfully muddy, trippy, eerie music that captivated me from the moment I first heard it.  Wire magazine called it “evil,” which made no sense unless “evil” is British for “awesome.”
  4. North, Darkside — This has been a fixture in my car for a few months now.  It’s the best thing Hyperdub has released since the last Burial CD, and that’s saying something.  Wonderful, weird, twisted synthpop.
  5. Rangers, Suburban Tours — Each song on this guitar-swirl album sounds like the engineer pushed “record” halfway through.  If there is such a thing as “hypnagogic,” then you’ll find it here–AOR radio from the 80s squished into knots and reimagined by punks.  Awesome.
  6. Pan Sonic, Gravitoni — Pan Sonic’s last, great work was too much like their earlier music to place any higher on my list, but this is a band who redefined electronic music and whose output will be respected and revered long after the concept of “electronic music” has been shelved.  A final, great summary of a truly great band.
  7. Ghost Box Study Series (Vol 1-4) — This was the Ghost Box filler year, when they released a bunch of singles that, together, make one of the best albums of the year.  The Broadcast & the Focus Group single is of particular note–a continuation of their 2009 collaboration that is every bit as wonderful.  I can’t wait for 2011 and a new Broadcast album (perhaps?  perhaps?).
  8. Philip Jeck, An Ark for the Listener — As always, Touch records stands at the top of the mountain in electronic and experimental music.  This was a wonderful, inspiring work from one of the label’s stalwarts–an artist who manages to create symphonies using only turntables.
  9. Frank Bretschneider, EXP — I’ve always loved Bretschneider’s music for its grooviness, but this year’s effort was wonderful because it pared down the grooves into their component elements and turned dance music into an abstraction (which is what it always has been anyways).  Yes, clicks & cuts live!
  10. Arcade Fire, The SuburbsI know that this is the only album on this list that anyone has actually heard of, but don’t let that fact diminish the quality and inventiveness of this Canadian group’s third effort.  If the world is lucky, they are the band of the future, and this was only the beginning.

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Top 10 Albums of the 1990s

Nov 17 2010 Published by under Feature, Internet/Media, Music, Personal

In the Aeroplane over the Sea album cover

It’s been over ten years, so I think enough time has lapsed to look at the music of the 90s objectively.  But that’s not really what this list is about.  I culled this list from my own listening habits over the past decade-plus.  The criteria is simple: to make the list, the work had to have been released in the 9os (duh), has to be in my iTunes directory today (before I conceived of this list), and it has to be something I continue to listen to on a regular basis.  So that’s why there’s no Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails here.  Sorry, dudes, your music is great, but it’s not in my catalog right now.  Oh, and I wanted to include The Conet Project’s Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations, and while it is on my computer, I honestly don’t listen to it on a regular basis (though its importance is even more obvious now).

So it’s a biased and a (somewhat) arbitrary list of great music from the 90s.  But isn’t every list biased and arbitrary?  At least I own up to it.

One final thought: most of the music here was released in 1997 and 1998, two of the best years for music in decades.  No one talks about this fact, but those years are right up there with 1968, 1977, and 1984 for sheer volume of amazing music.

  1. Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
  2. Boards of Canada, Music Has the Right to Children
  3. Tricky, Maxinquaye
  4. Massive Attack, Mezzanine
  5. Pan Sonic, A
  6. Radiohead, Ok Computer
  7. Belle & Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister
  8. Portishead, Portishead
  9. Chris Watson, Outside the Circle of Fire
  10. The Caretaker, Selected Memories from the Haunted Ballroom

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Children of the Stones

Oct 12 2010 Published by under Feature, Film/TV, Internet/Media, Literature, Music, Personal, Random

Children of the Stones

Derrida coined the term hauntology during a lecture at my alma mater, the University of California Riverside.  He used the term to suggest that the present only understands itself in and through the past (and that the future haunts the present in the same way).  It’s a term used here and there in philosophy and critical theory circles, but its main use is in the realm of music.  Initially, it was used in the 90s to describe trip hop and ambient music; then it was used to describe the Ghost Box label and the weird, unsettling British Information Films sound of The Advisory Circle and The Focus Group; more recently, it has been applied to any music that combines nostalgia and weirdness (like Boards of Canada, The Caretaker, Mordant Music, Moon Wiring Club, among others).  The concept has always had a decidedly English feel to it–to the point that The Wire magazine coined a different term, hypnagogic, to describe American music that shares some hauntological themes (like Emeralds, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Pocahaunted, and so on). A lot of people absolutely hate these two terms for the same reason they hate all labels applied to music–because they deprive unique artists of their very uniqueness.  And I think that is true.  But I have a soft spot for hauntology for a few reasons.  First, I really like English weirdness (or really British weirdness–I’m part Scottish and part Welsh, so the Celtic is important to me), especially when it is coated with pagan sensibilities (which comes easily in the UK since it’s hard to throw a dead cat without hitting a henge or standing stone).  Second, labels have a way of giving attention to music that might otherwise be under-appreciated, and anything that gets more people to listen to Belbury Poly or William Basinski is a good thing in my book.  Finally and most importantly, hauntology (and my listening to and reading of anything connected to the concept) helped me rediscover something from my childhood that had been buried in the nether reaches of my unconscious for 20 years: Children of the Stones.

I have a vague, almost unreal sense of watching Children of the Stones in the early 80s.  Apparently, it was on Nickelodeon in the United States, but I don’t remember watching it on that channel.  In fact, I only have fleeting, fragmented memories of my original viewing.  I remember being disappointed that I only caught one or two episodes (the empty, unfulfilled sense of “what will happen next?” pervading my mind).  I remember being scared and a little creeped out, but I don’t know why.  I also remember my parents not liking the series because it seemed vaguely satanic (in their minds; they were quite religious).  The most significant memory, however, is of the standing stones (the show was filmed at Avebury).  I probably had no idea what a standing stone was back then, and I probably didn’t really care much.  But they left an impression of ancient mysteries that percolated in the back of my mind for many, many years, only to resurface when I actually went to England and Ireland and I suddenly realized how amazing and fascinating these stones really are.

So these memories were buried in my mind like a time capsule waiting to be opened at the right moment.  That moment came when I stumbled across a reference to the series in a hauntology-based article somewhere, which led to a quick YouTube search (followed by a trip to Amazon to buy the DVD).  The moment I heard the strange music of the opening, the memories came flooding back–the weirdness, the paganness, the surreality:

I’ve heard this music sampled in several different works by Mordant Music, Moon Wiring Club, and others (hell, I’ve used it too).  Honestly, I’m amazed that Trunk Records hasn’t released the OST for this series (they did The Tomorrow People, so why not this?).  The reverb-rich moaning voices, matched with the images of standing stones, bring a chill to my ears and eyes–and drive my wife crazy (she can’t stand the series).  It’s truly spooky music that is designed to frighten children, and while I was probably too old to be truly frightened by these sounds when I first heard them (I must have been 13-14), the true otherness of the music must have struck a chord. Added to this odd music was the very odd behavior of the people in the fictional village of Milbury (where the story is set).  The villagers are always happy and over-polite in a way that immediately raises red flags in the minds of the protagonist and his son (visitors to the town–the father played by none other than Roj Blake himself, Gareth Thomas).  These people were odd precisely because they were too normal, an impression that anyone who grew up in a suburb (like I did) can instantly identify with.  Add to this the fact that all the happy children in the town are (somehow) super geniuses at math, even smarter than the protagonist’s astrophysicists son who is otherwise quite bright, and it doesn’t take long for our heroes to sense trouble.  As the plot unfurls, we learn the source of the town’s happy normality, and I don’t want to give it away to anyone who hasn’t gone to YouTube to watch it, but suffice to say that the stones are involved (along with druids [for some reason–druids came long after the stones were erected, but whatever], psychic energy, ley lines, and black holes). Watching today, I am impressed by the acting in the series (especially Thomas, though the kids could use a few more lessons) and the intelligence of the show (they don’t dumb down kids programs in the UK the way they do in the US).  Really, though, what stands out is the nice way that the show manages to link the everyday strangeness of the people with the very extraordinary world of ancient Britain and the Avebury standing stones.  As a student (and teacher) of mythology, I really appreciate the emphasis that is placed on linking the past with the present.  As a music fan, I enjoy how the series uses sound to convey so many deep, dark, unsettling feelings–and I like the fact that the majority of the music is created using only human voices (reminiscent of Ligeti).  But I love the series mostly because it gives me a window into my own past, a past of a teenager who lived in a strange world of happy people and wondered why they were happy, what made them happy, and why wasn’t I happy too? And I think that’s what hauntology is all about–not so much celebrating all things weird and (mostly) British but exploring epiphanies of weirdness from the past in order to better understand what makes the world so damn weird to begin with. And perhaps the very Britishness of Children of the Stones helps me better understand my own fascination (or is it obsession?) with the UK: why my favorite TV shows are from the BBC, why my favorite musical artists are British, why my plans for vacations always begin in London, and why–especially why–I spent 12 years getting a PhD in English with a focus on 20th century British and Irish authors. To think: despite all that British stuff, I still ended up in a small desert town on the Mexican border.  Now that’s weird.

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