Top 10/Bottom 3: May 2013

May 02 2013

Make Noise Echophon

Make Noise Echophon

Top 10

  1. What else?  Boards of Canada, Tomorrow’s Harvest
  2. Make Noise Echophon
  3. Game of Thrones
  4. Parks and Recreation
  5. New Venture Bros!
  6. Portland Timbers
  7. A real summer vacation (until June 24, at least)
  8. Half in the Bag
  9. Jon Brooks, Shapwick
  10. Daft Punk, “Get Lucky” (I like it, though it would be way better if a woman were singing)

Bottom 3

  1. Every Republican in Washington
  2. GW Bush’s Library
  3. Heat

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Top 10/Bottom 3: April 2013

Apr 02 2013

My modular

Top 10 Eurorack Modules (in my system)

  1. Livewire Dalek Modulator
  2. WMD uHC
  3. Doepfer A-119
  4. Doepfer A-199
  5. Make Noise MMG
  6. Make Noise Maths
  7. WMD Multimode Envelope
  8. XAOC Devices Moskwa
  9. Pittsburgh Modular Analog Delay
  10. Circuit Abbey Unify

Bottom 3 Eurorack Modules (not in my system)

  1. MFB Dual ASDR (oddly cut–didn’t fit properly)
  2. SnazzyFX Ardcore (couldn’t find enough uses to justify keeping it)
  3. Doepfer A-190-2 (mine just didn’t work)

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Cookbook 069

Mar 10 2013

This is my first experiment at integrating my electric guitar into my Eurorack modular using the Doepfer A-119 external input. The guitar sound is mixed with a simple sequence I made using the Moskwa sequencer, a sine wave oscillator, some filters, and an ADR-cycled envelope. I’m still working on the basic idea here, but I thought it was an interesting first attempt.

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Top 10/Bottom 3: March 2013

Mar 05 2013

Ix Tab

Top 10

  2. Ernest Cline, Ready Player One
  3. IX Tab, Spindle & the Bregnut Tree
  4. Hacker Farm, UHF
  5. The League
  7. Start of MLS season!
  8. Spring Training in MLB
  9. New EP from Pye Corner Audio
  10. Meeting Dick Mills

Bottom 3

  1. Republicans
  2. The word “sequester”
  3. Fat

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Two “Modular Battle” Entries

Mar 05 2013 has set up a series of “Modular Battles.”  The first asked participants to create a 2-minute track with only one module, the second with only two, and the third with (you guessed it) only three.  I failed to participate in the first two, but I did have time to plop down two entries for the third.  Here they are.  Enjoy!

Update: Here’s a new one for the new Module Battle #4 that is even more Doctor Who than the others (if that’s possible):

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Gallifrey One, Dick Mills, and “Inspector Spacetime”

Feb 18 2013

Us and Dick Mills

My wife and I attended Gallifrey One, the annual Doctor Who convention held in Los Angeles around Valentine’s Day.  It was a lot of fun and super crowded.  We met a doctor (Sylvester McCoy), a bunch of companions, Dr. Bishop (John Noble), and many others.  But the highlight of all highlights was our one-hour small-group meeting with legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop member Dick Mills (pictured above), who was part of the workshop from the late 1950s to his retirement in the 1990s.  During that time, he was responsible for nearly all sound effects heard in Doctor Who and quite a bit of the music as well (including the original title theme, which he and Delia Derbyshire created from a score by Ron Grainer).  It was amazing to get such a first-hand account at the workings of the famous workshop, especially from someone who had been there from the beginning.  To top it off, he was a wonderfully sweet, warm, and engaging person.  He also gave a one-hour talk to the whole convention featuring lots of great photos and sound samples from his many years at the BBC.  That was, indeed, the highlight of not only the weekend but the year, as far as I’m concerned.

Another highlight was my introduction to Untitled Web Series About a Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time, the Doctor Who parody by the guy who played the Doctor Who parody Inspector Spacetime on the TV show Community.  I’ve been amazed by the fan response to a running gag on a show–they’ve created an entire history of the 51-year-long imaginary show, complete with more intricate detail than most real shows possess.  But all that creativity doesn’t really amount to anything if there’s no real show.  So Travis Richey (the 11th Inspector) and his compatriots (all up-and-coming writers, directors, actors, etc) created the show, which consists of one 30-minute web series and another on the way.  My wife and I attended their two-hour-long panel which featured a viewing of the series, interviews with the cast and crew, and a table reading of the first episode of the new series.  As I was watching, I remember thinking: this is the future.  Forget networks, cable, movies, all that–the future is people with good ideas and a little bit of money (they raised the funds for the series through Kickstarter) pooling their resources and creating awesome things.  This future already exists in music; it’s always existed in writing; and it’s coming to the big, big world of TV and film.  I can’t wait.


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Quick Thoughts on mbv

Feb 06 2013


My Bloody Valentine’s 22-years-in-the-waiting follow-up to Loveless came out over the weekend.  Like everyone else, I was checking the mbv website all day on Saturday waiting for the technical glitches that prevented the final unveiling from being released for a few hours.  But I eventually got my download (with a CD on the way).  Over the past few days, I’ve been listening to m b v over and over, and the thing that sticks out in my head is that it seems like exactly what it is: a follow-up to Loveless.  It’s not necessarily better than that earlier album, but it seems like a logical continuation of their sound–an incremental advancement in the realm of feedback-drenched-rock.

And…that’s quite a feat.  Most groups that take a long break between releases tend to lose focus, come up with something either identical to the stuff that they did before (read: a dated sound), or try to update their sound to (usually) ridiculous results.  Heck, even bands that wait a few years between releases have a hard time rekindling the “magic” of the earlier stuff.  The Band recorded their first two albums in relative isolation.  Once people heard the stuff and they got famous, they were never the same, and their later albums (recorded months, not years, after the first) were lukewarm at best.  That MBV have managed to keep that magic alive in their sound over all those years is quite an achievement, and a testament to Kevin Shields’s focus!

So I think the album is excellent, and I encourage you all to take a listen.  I don’t want to do a track-by-track analysis (The Quietus already did that, so check it out).  Shorthand: lots of great rock songs with a shimmery, feedback-drenched sheen with a few wrinkles thrown in.  Two of those wrinkles, though, are worth some attention: “is this and yes” and “nothing is.”  “is this” is MBV at its quietest, a lullaby of swirling synth noise, icicle murmurs of vocals, and that’s about it.  But positioned as it is between the first few songs, which feature MBV’s trademark whirling guitar noise, it is a perfect respite, and a great song in its own right.  “nothing is,” by contrast, is MBV at its most punk–a relentless, repetitive attack of bass, drum, and guitar, sped up like they’re being chased by a rabid beaver.  It’s the opposite of “is this” yet these two songs reveal exactly how MBV have molded their traditional sound in new and interesting directions.

Here’s hoping fans enjoy the new work and wait, at least, a few weeks before asking Kevin Shields when the next one is due.

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Camera, Radiate!

Feb 03 2013


Camera’s first album is fantastic and a great discovery for anyone who enjoys the Kosmiche Musik of Can, Neu!, Cluster, Harmonia, Faust, and others.  At first listen, they most closely resemble the robot-chugging motorik of Neu!  But while Radiate! shares an exclamation point with Neu! it has echoes that extend far beyond that Dusseldorf band.  I hear echoes of the guitar/synth fusions of Cluster and Harmonia in songs like “Utopia Is.”  There are hints of Can, Ash Ra Tempel, and even Amon Duul II in songs like “Lynch” and “RFID.”  I even get flashbacks to The Cosmic Jokers when listening to “Morgen.”  So, these guys know their Krautrock history.  They know that history quite literally, in fact–their early performances were all unannounced, unofficial, and probably illegal shows in tube stations and shopping areas (they’d set up, start playing, and keep playing until the cops told them to stop).  In this way, they were providing a direct link back to the early performances of Kluster and others in the late 60s.  So, really, anyone who loves that music owes it to themselves to check out this album.

But even if you’re not a fan of all these old German bands, then take a listen to Radiate!  As I listen to this album, I am struck not by how old it is but how new.  This is not a Krautrock cover album or even a Krautrock emulation album.  It’s an album that harnesses ideas from the past in the service of music very much in tune with bands like Sigur Ros, Radiohead, My Bloody Valentine, Swans, and all the other (more or less) contemporary bands that make noise with guitars and synths.

Get the album at Boomkat or Amazon.  Listen below for samples:


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Top 10/Bottom 3: February 2013

Feb 01 2013

Top 10

  1. The Cookbook
  2. MuffWiggler
  3. Analog Haven
  4. Seahawks–next year?
  5. Angels–this year?
  6. Pye Corner Audio, The Ever-Present Hum
  7. Hacker Farm, UHF
  8. NHL is back!  Go Kings!
  9. Gallifrey One
  10. Broadcast, Berberian Sound Studio (and don’t forget the film itself!)

Bottom 3

  1. Republicans
  2. The guy who writes the labyrinthine manual for the Maths module
  3. You (or me)

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Top 10/Bottom 3: January 2013

Dec 31 2012

Pye Corner Audio Album Cover

The rule is: I only pick music I’ve actually bought this year, so if there’s a work that you think I should have included, then chances are that I just don’t own it.  Also, after I put the list together, I realized that it does have a rather interesting theme: alternate universes.  More on that in the details below.  Also, best label of the year?  That’s easy: Bandcamp.  About half of these albums (not including my own) are available there and no place else.

Top 10: Best Music of 2012

  1. Pye Corner Audio, Black Mill Tapes Vol. 3 and Sleep Games–I see this”best of” list as a personal story about my relationship with music.  Nothing I listened to this year had as much of an impact as Pye Corner Audio.  That’s partly because the music is so much like the music I’d love to be able to create were I a better musician.  But it’s also because there seems to be a clear-cut vision at work in PCA: to use the sounds of the past (via vintage synths) to create the kind of music we should have been listening to back then (instead of crap like Heaven 17). If hauntology is nostalgia for a past that never was, Pye Corner Audio is the soundtrack for that imaginary past that should have been.  Or something like that.
  2. Burial, Kindred and Truant–Burial didn’t release an album this year, but these two EPs clock in at over 50 minutes total, so I’d call that an album.  And what an album!  Although he continues to dwell in that 3 AM vacant London universe he created on Burial and Untrue, the songs here are stretched and expanded in so many new and interesting ways.  Where claustrophobia has always been at the center of Burial’s style, there’s an added element of exuberance here.  The “I want you” part of “Ashtray Warp” (from Kindred) is a good example: equally joyous and creepy, like a dizzy spell after a really nice drunken haze.  I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!
  3. Mika Vainio, Fe3o4 Magnetite–The more prolific half of now-defunct (sigh) Pan Sonic released about eight hundred works this year, but this is the best, a work that is (like all Vainio works) about the interplay between noise and silence.  So few musicians today appreciate the power of silence, but Vainio does, and there is a lot of silence here, interrupted by tiny sounds and massive noise bombs.  There is a tension at work between these extreme elements that just adds to the listening experience.  It’s an adventurous disc, and one of Vainio’s best.
  4. Various Artists, Personal Space–I knew Pye Corner Audio, Burial, and Vainio would make good music this year; they always do.  But I did NOT see this one coming–an album of “electronic soul” created between 1974 and 1984at the early stages of the bedroom musician movement by unknowns or artists who are otherwise known for other genres (like bluesman Guitar Red).  And wow!   If Pye Corner Audio is the 80s music we should have been listening to, then this goes quadruple for this stuff, since it was actually created then.  I want to live in the world where Johnny Walker’s “Love Vibrator” was a hit.
  5. Can, The Lost Tapes–One of the truly undeniable powerhouses of rock music released new music this year, culled from hours of tape that wasn’t actually lost but was definitely shelved indefinitely before a few of the members decided to dig through and put it together.  This is amazing music by any stretch of the imagination.  There’s nothing revelatory here; it’s a more detailed look at the kind of music created on their seminal albums like Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi.  The big surprise here is the amount of music made with original vocalist Malcolm Mooney, who left the band fairly early on due to a nervous breakdown and was then replaced by Damo Suzuki.  I’d say a good third (or more) of this album is culled from the Mooney period, including the amazing “Waiting for the Streetcar,” which is a ten-minute jam with Mooney singing the title over and over (with some not-so-vague hints of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” thrown in).  That was improvised, as was a lot of the Can stuff at the time (including their formal records), so, really, this is just a few more hours of the music that made this band a legend.
  6. Tod Dockstader, Electronic Vol. 1–A lot of reissues were released over 2012 by seminal figures in the development of electronic music, including Daphne Oram, Laurie Spiegel, Suzanne Ciani, and the Parry Music set below.  This one, by the great Tod Dockstader, was originally released in the late 70s as “library music” (aka stock music for commercial use).  Why do I like this release more than the others?  Not sure–perhaps because there’s something both haunting and playful here that makes me want to listen to it on a more regular basis.  That’s also true of Parry Music’s release, too, though.  This is science fiction music made not for a specific movie or TV show but just to evoke images of the future–a future that we now inhabit, actually.
  7. Stratus, As the Crow Flies–There are two As the Crow Flies albums: this one and The Advisory Circle’s from 2011.  This one is better.  Stratus are Mat Anthony and Martin Jenkins (aka Pye Corner Audio).  Think of this as Depeche Mode curated by Ghost Box, and you’ll get a sense of what this music is like.  I wouldn’t call this pop music exactly, since only a handful of tunes have vocals (like the great “Where Do You Go?”), but the music here is warm, appealing, and above all joyful.  Standouts are the aforementioned “Where Do You Go?” with its almost whispered vocals that stretch across a circus wheel synth swirl; the stellar “Beneath the Wheel” (how’s that for a homage to Depeche Mode?); and “Aftermath” with is joining of guitars, elegiac synths, and those same whispered vocals holing up in the middle.
  8. Various Artists, Tomorrow’s Achievements: Parry Music Library 1976-86–Yes, another library music album, this time from a well-known Canadian library music studio (Canada’s version of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, I’m led to believe).  This music is quite varied, but there’s a sense of wonder and joy throughout–the kind of wonder and joy that is at the heart of documentaries and stories for children, which I’m guessing is where most of this music was used.  Some of my favorites include “Alpha Micro,” with the arpeggiated bass that slides into noise at regular intervals; “Technomobile No.2,” with its awesome groove straight out of Kraftwerk; and the final song, “Tomorrow’s Achievements,” by Harry Forbes, which is just about the best theme song I’ve ever heard and makes me wish I had lived in Canada as a kid.
  9. Georges Vert, An Electric Mind–This is the most recent release on Cafe Kaput, the Bandcamp label created by Jon Brooks (aka The Advisory Circle).  The works on this micro-label are often more esoteric or specialized in sound than regular Ghost Box releases, but not in this case so much.  This seems like a regular Advisory Circle release to me–perhaps a little less ominous but equally rich musically.  I think there’s a French theme here, with the pseudonym and some of the titles (like “Jovan Freak (Version Originale)” and “En Plein Air”) suggesting a sort of proto-Daft Punk or Air (or Stereolab) sound.  If so, awesome, but it’s not really necessary.  The music speaks for itself, as it resembles nothing more than a collection of groovy disco or funk tunes from the early 80s.  Once again, the big winner of 2012 was the music of the early 80s repurposed for a new audience.  From someone who was a teenager during the 80s: this stuff is way better than the crap that came out then.
  10. Camera, Radiate!–The rebirth of Neu!  Take a look:


Bottom 3: Worst Music of 2012

  1. Sigur Ros, Valtari–Okay, this probably wasn’t the worst music of the year, but Sigur Ros has been so good for so long that the failure of this work–where the guys retread every musical idea they’ve already thoroughly mapped in past albums–is magnified by both my expectations and disappointment.  I bought this right away, listened to it a few times, and then never went back.  Crap.
  2. Nirvana w/ Paul McCartney–Please don’t make an album.  Please!
  3. Everything on VH1–Do I need to explain this?

Final thought: my wife is adamant that the musical event of 2013 will be Depeche Mode’s new album and tour.  I’m holding out hope for the new Broadcast album (coming in January).  Have a happy 2013, everyone!


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