Category Archives: Things that make me Smile

The Fountain – I actually felt like I was surrounded in beautiful golden light

Well, not quite, but this film did put me into an almost blissful state. Just warm and happy and at ease with the world. Smiles galore and a feeling like the air was flowing clearer around me.

So yeah, I guess I liked it.

It is indeed fairly baffling. I think I got more of the symbolic connotations of the narrative than I did the finer points of the plotline (we are talking three parallel lives of one Huge Ackman, and one of them takes place almost entirely in an interplanetary snowglobe). But I felt so much emotion and beauty in all of it. The sound (and music by Clint Mansell) was absolutely incredible. A couple of tiny shocks prepare you for the entire universe exploding in your face at one point.

And it all looked gorgeous. I was marvelling at the use of colour, light, dark and the way things were framed. Actually marvelling. At one point Huge (as conquistador) turns his head to leave one eye as the centre of the frame, just for a moment. It’s a perfect reflection of a constantly repeating visual motif, that just drops by slyly.

The acting was all solid, even when you’ve got an ex-x-man cuddling a tree, and while the plot may not exactly grip you (I watched it with Fanny and she felt herself drifting) if you just let it all wash over you you’ll be blown away anyway. The climax is frankly astonishing visually, though it takes a mind more lively than mine to tie up all the loose ends (although this may be me trying to complicate things…I do that with Lost too, occasionally getting excited by the more apocalyptic theories, the ones involving transhumanism and gnosticism). Though at the same time, I think I might have got it all in a way. It’s just a bit more open ended than that.

But yeah, it raises all the great questions about life and death, and how to deal with it.

Purely fascinating.

The thing that got me was the ‘explosions’. Not action film explosions, just things bursting out. Life from death and the road to awe.

It really is.

There’s not much more I can say without spoiling. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s pretty damn awesome in my book. It just put me at ease with the world (though Fanny found it a little depressing, guess it’s a matter of perspective).

So yeah, where I’m buried, plant a tree…that’s all I’m saying.

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Yield To Total Elation

Indeed I will, I shall and I have been for the last hour.

The track (YTTE by Matmos) is only 9 minutes and seven seconds long. It is rare that I repeat a track this many times. But it’s just so damn good. Before I start talking about the music though..a bit of background.

Here’s what the artists themselves have to say, from their wonderfully detailed ‘discography’ 

Y.T.T.E.The title of this song refers to the imaginary city that visionary draftsman Achilles Rizzoli spent his life depicting. He peopled his city with skyscrapers, cathedrals and vast public buildings that symbolically represented the tiny group of friends and family members who supported his art and attended his occasional exhibitions. The letters Y.T.T.E. stand for Yield To Total Elation. We weren’t planning to copy it, but the opening synthesizer sound is a wee bit reminiscent of the synth intro to Madonna’s “Lucky Star”. Dunno why, but it is. Many people say the drums and bassline sound a bit like Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”. Others point out a certain (Robert) Fripp-ishness to the guitar solo. Pop music=total elation. The freaky guitar solo was made through an elaborately layered process: Mark Lightcap played a screaming psychedelic distorted guitar line through a rack of pedals and wahs and whammies, which was then burned as a soundfile on a CD, which was then physically scratched; the resulting skipping CD was recorded and then further chopped up in SoundEdit16 and then re-edited and manipulated in Digital Performer. We were told (jokingly?) the other day that the German electronic music magazine De:Bug refused to review “The Civil War” at all because there was a guitar solo on the record. Ha ha!

http://outsider.art.org/01intuit/americanmasters/010.html

Which is cool in itself. Some of the links are dead. I found some info and pics by Rizzoli here. Go to the full page on the album as well. Just click on the links…there’s so much here even if you haven’t heard the music.

A little bit of background on the artists. This is a brief excerpt from their label site.

Matmos is M. C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel. They have toured with Lesser, Labradford, The Rachels and Bjork, shared stages with Terry Riley and Wire, remixed The Melvins and Otomo Yoshihide (and most recently Erase Errata), and are still working on an ongoing collaborative project with The Kronos Quartet. They have taught seminars on sound art at Harvard University and DJed at proms for homeless teenagers. They have had pieces in the Whitney Museum of American Art, and have scored the soundtracks for five gay porn films.

Bless ’em.

Anyway, know we know a little bit about them we’re almost ready to get on with the show. One last link though…if you don’t like music then just read this. It’s a wonderful bit of art talking by Otto Muehle, I’d never heard of him but they link a site from the discog excerpted above. Basically this made me laugh like a mule and at the same time I think it’s brilliantly intelligent…and covered in shit. What more could you want. I’m still touring the site…well, I will be once I’ve finished writing.

Anyway, it’s real time review time. I’m unlikely to be able to type fast enough to explain just how good this is. Really, there’s so much miraculous energy in this song. These guys have such a detailed ear for production. The subtlest things are lying around everywhere like a million little bits of magic hiding in a beautiful giant haystack. You dive in and enjoy the hay, then get hit on the head by a bit of magic and it turns you into a kind of primitive beast experiencing happiness for the first time and not quite being able to work out what it is.

Maybe.

Here goes…oh…and this is just one track of one of the best albums I’ve heard in a while. This is the one I think all of you should buy a thousand times. And I hate consumerism.

Get ready to Yield.

Tiny little toy box style noise. Just a little reverberating ting to start..then a couple more, then a magical floaty noise, some synth or other. Sounds like somethings being eaten by something large as well. Or maybe fireworks in the distance. Strum a guitar a coupla times. We’ve got a lot going on here…and it’s still just the intro.

Drums

Oh yes. Lovely drums, really lovely drums. Indeed the rhythm from lust for life.

But that’s not the point…it’s slower..its got much mroe energy though. Guitar part….looooovvvveeeeellllyyyyy riff. Like eating Love with your eaars.

I kind of want to cry at this point. Bass just adds to the drums. Occasional harp style glissando in the background. The guitar line is actually a coupkle of interlocking guitar lines at different levels. Finger picking style.

Then the electro guitar…drums constantly busying and building with this weird static guitar solo…sounds like someone beating up a really wanky guitar solo…but a good one.  Plus a noise I can’t even bring myself to describe, once a bar. It’s coming to the fore now.

The guitars are all fading out. We’re entering something new. The indescribable sound (like a kind of rich eating noise.. crossed with a snore…only made by organic robots…maybe not). is the main thrust here. High pitched noises rambling around. Loads of random sounds and bursts of weirdness in every direction.

THis is amazing. The tingling from the beginning is still there.

AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

The magical factory of noise just suddenly cuts out for just long enough for me to come disturbingly close to orgasm. Then back in…a little more rhythmic and regular now. Not just trying to assault you randomly. Some great percussion sounds here…like someone playing bongos with those big gas tanks you get on the outskirts of towns. It’s all fading already…lovely little tinkling from the intro back….filling up the sound..going left to right. All alone…lost in a lovely ice cave or something.

Keeps on going…reverberating…like prayer bowls. Very high pitched. Someone’s playing a guitar occasionally…just plucking their way around it. Now it’s come to the fore. (Right channel first). Just like someone playing a basic guitar thing….everythings faded out apart from it now. It’s just kind of sitting there. Lovely actually….such a simple thing to do …just sit and play guitar. Now it’s being edited by computers…it’s like a buzzing. As they say above..very minimalist. A buzzing made out of guitar shifting up and down.

And the track ends abruptly.

Fuck yeah.

The track after ain’t half bad either. (It’s great actually…but now isn’t the time).

Still, I’m going to go back and listen to that again.

Louder…with my eyes closed.

Wonderful.

It’s all in your head – Ways of Listening

So, this is about a lot of discussions I have with people. It’s about music, but it’s not going to be just like my random reviews of music. I want to look in a bit more depth at why I like music so much, and some of the kind of processual analysis of music that I do.

Woah, that sounded really heavy there, I actually meant something closer to the title. I listen to music in unusual ways sometimes.

No, this still isn’t right.

There’s a lot of different kinds of music. I like most of them. It’s a question of how you listen to it. Or mood. I’ve had arguments though. Sometimes the stuff I listen to is too abstract for some. John Cage for example. It seems to be as much about the ideas behind the music as the actual music itself. But it’s still possible to have both.

So I have a theory.

There’s a load of different layers of meaning to a piece of music. These can be obvious or non-obvious. Something with a sturdy bass drum and a 4/4 beat might imply that it has a dancing rhythm. A nice simple repeated rhythm can (and will) make me want to move. Stuff that is good to dance to is often a little more predictable, so you know where to move even if you haven’t heard it before.

The layer I’m most likely to skip is the one most people think is most prominent. I think it might me because I have bad ears…but I rarely concentrate on lyrics. A vocal part I can listen to, but only once the song has grabbed my attention (or I’m reading the lyric sheet) will the actual meaning of the words really sink in.

Odd considering my usual passion for words.

Anyway, then there’s the nostalgia element. A lot of the time songs have a very personal meaning caused by past events. Times when the song has been present for. The song your heart first broke to will always bring a twinge, even if its by S Club 7 (am I joking? I honestly can’t remember….it wasn’t really love anyway…the broken heart came much later). The songs of your childhood, even the ones you hated at the time. Always bring a smile, because they remind you of the times when everything was big and blurry (I didn’t get glasses until I hit around 10/11…I think this is part of the reason I have very little specific memory of life before this….but I have no evidence…so ignore me).

That is one of the ones that I think is actually a cheat. That’s not what it should be about…though it is the most commonly ascribed (in people I’ve talked to about this at least) reason for liking music. It reminds you of good times, or allows you to relive those times…in some way or another.

Anyway, it’s a reason. I kind of have a problem with it…as I think there actually is something in music that is special in and of itself. When I’m DJing I often get complaints from people that I don’t play enough stuff they’ve heard before. This always pisses me off. I mean…If they’re saying what I’m playing is shit, that’s fine, but its just they want something that ‘everybody knows’…but why not just enjoy new things…there’s a great John Cage quote about that: ‘I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.’

I know I’ve put it on here before…but it’s a really important thought.

Anyway, there’s more to this.

The sound itself wraps you up. There’s the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements. They move your head around and make you feel things. Emotions are expressed through tonality and structure. Energy pulses along with the music. You can feel your brain dancing, even if your legs aren’t. There’s a hidden layer in there…one you make up yourself. You fill in gaps and make guesses. That’s why unexpected shifts take you by surprise..you may not even realise it but you’re predicting what will come next. There’s a satisfaction if you’re right, and even more if you’re wrong. The surprise is nice.

This is all very much unconscious, though sometimes you can work it out. You’re just trying to come to terms with bits and pieces of this weird process by which you understand these shapes of noise.

It’s really fucking screwy isn’t it.

Like…seriously weird. I mean…you just receive these vibrations in the air. Just a bit better organised that the noises and sounds that fill up our life, just put into a structure, and suddenly they have a whole load of emotion meaning, a narrative, all that kind of stuff.  Out of just organising these sounds. A Saxophone just organises air into a nice uniform order so taht you get this huge rich boom noise. It gives it a texture, almost a taste. It becomes something that is part of a bigger structure even than that, the harmony of the song, the rhythm; structure through time.

Crazy.

So then someone like Cage comes along and starts asking some weird questions: “Which is more musical, a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?” (all Cage quotes are from wikiquote by the way, though I read them first from other sources).

I mean…Music is Noises, right? Well…that’s the theory. You can take a noise, and it is music. Of a sort. It may be less organised. But it is still a noise which has an effect right. So the essay I wrote that I just linked to, that’s talking about Noises being shifted in to music using samplers. You can get a sound and turn it into music. Any sound at all. Like when Matmos are playing around with a Cow’s Vaginal Tract or a Printing press, or when Matthew Herbert (Radioboy in this case) is eating a MacDonalds and giving away the music for free.

Now, I’m going back into territory I’ve already trod, but basically, by adding specific objects (and the noises they make) to their music, these guys (as well as others) are adding an extra, almost undetectable element to the song. You have to look it up to find out what it is about, but it is something totally intrinsic to the piece in question. It is a type of creative process, it is also actually an inherent element of the noises you listen. The music is made out of the object. The moment of performance is ‘summoned’ when you listen…and if you know the details…you become aware that the music is more than it appears. That squeaking noise is a cows vaginal tract being played like a bag pipe…that Rushing and booming sound is a Diet Coke being drunk.

The items are being used for other than their intended purpose, the meaning itself is subverted, or at least given a new meaning. The song also inherits some of the meaning of the object. But only through reading the liner notes or investigating  the music we hear on the internet do we find out what these meanings are. They are slightly outside of the music, even though they are at its core. (Check out Matthew Herberts perspective here)

That is interesting.

Music is really interesting.

Plus I love accordions.

What do you think?

Venetian Snares – Hospitality

New record in the post.

Oh my word. I’ve already heard most of it before. But now I’m getting to consider it properly. This is the good shit. Sorry if all of my music reviews lately have been Breakcore related..I promise to write about other stuff eventually.

Anyway…on with the show. First track is a stormer…kind of like a certain type of Breakcore perfection. About two minutes of gentle synth intro, all world music sounding drums and a hint of a less shit Enya. Then it slams into action….and it is real action. The initial burst is formed as much of harsh synths as of hectic beats…the beats are ‘well hectic’.There’s definitely more to this though. The ‘melodic’ elements take the fore beautifully. Snares hasn’t really done this since the hungarian titled album (Rossz Szillag something something…..I can never remember the full name off hand). Only here it sounds less like an experiment in contrasting classical elements with the harsh thrust of the breakcore beats…but actually a beautiful experiment in maintaining a focus on something. The structure of the first track is incredible…pushing up and down all the time. Once the beats kick in they don’t really die until the end, but its not just full on aural assault (although it is that too) its a more balanced approach. It actually challenges you to think about the muscial qualities of it. There’s an amazing sense of energy and beauty here. More like real songs than just a kind of sonic sodomy. It still remains brutal and scattered enough to appease most tastes though.

I don’t want to describe this record as accessible…because it’s effectively a put down. Squarepusher did a similar thing on his latest album, eased up a little to do a more easy to listen to tour of his kind of sounds. I loved it, I didn’t think it was copping out…I think it was just a matter of relaxing enough to explore some simpler ideas…adding up a lot of what he’s learnt over the many years he’s been making head screwing music. He always had a good sense of instrumentation and melody though…Music is Rotted One Note proves that he doesn’t need beats to screw you to the wall in paroxysms of joy.

Anyway, the album isn’t really accesible…not to most…it’s is still settled on beats too disjointed for most people. The thing is…its got this melodic focus and the energy kind of makes more sense than usual. I’m a big fan of not making sense, but as an introduction to this type of music you could do a hell of a lot worse. On top of that it’s definitely a contender for being one of the best Breakcore albums he’s ever produced. As this is by Venetian Snares, that makes it one of the best albums in the whole screwed up genre.

I can sense the lasting appeal in this one to. There’s so much interest in it. The simpleness of the complication is just so damn warming. There’s a lot of brutality here…but its like it has a reason.

Ok, I’m starting the second side. This is opening with more conventional beats…that kind of pulsing bass synth so common to the genre. Then the beats slide out and you get a bass tone to consider…then the beats return…different though. The bounce here is infectious. So much energy and excitement. Harmony is the thrust so far…the melody has only just kicked in. This is amazing. It relaxes in a really impressive way. It doesn’t feel the need to just pound on your skull constantly…its doing a much better job by easing up and pushing the excessiveness in subtly. Subtle excess….wonderful.

Synth break….lovely structure to a beautiful toying with the melody. Then reintroducing the beat by (I think) putting the melodic elements through a granulizer or similar, and highlighting the rhythm of it. Then slamming the beats back in. This is pretty damn cool. It’s almost laid back…but not many people would agree with me there. The BPM is high enough to make you feel like you should be running at the speed you can only run when fleeing from a horrific and nightmarish monster. The end of the world is night..yet you’re still dancing.

A wash of phaser sounding synths….the kind of stuff my dearest Davey would describe as ‘space music’ in the joyous tones of a young child just discovering that magic is real…and it has a tasty beat.

That was a good track.

The album doesn’t ever entirely let up on the beats…it just makes it sound easier to listen to. The focus is perfect. At no point does it feel like you’re just being messed around for the sake of it. Structure and form are used to exceptional ability here.

This is really fucking good.

I mean…the things you can do with these simple ‘traditional’ jungle beats. The music has been twisted into something really special. Snares has been twisting for years. The sheer volume of output from that guys shed is incredible. Some of it is a bit lacklustre though. Its all pretty good at screwing your head up and giving you something to just bounce like a fool to. It really is made for dancing like you’ve forgotten how to dance but instead remember how to beat yourself and others up whilst having some kind of uncanny fit.

Not that I condone violence.

For such a short album (technically just an EP really) it is shocking just how many ideas and how much energy this thing has. There’s a joy in it too. You can tell that this guy actually lives, eats, breathes and shits music. I just don’t see any other way you could make such refined breakcore…refined…not like posh or anything…its just been treated to perfection.

Seriously…this is good. You should give it a listen…don’t just stick to samples of it though. Find the full tracks (and pay for them…this guy is on an independent and is exactly the type of music it is really important to support) and give them a play. Any sample can’t give you an impression of the richness of it. The ideas are carried out to their fullest extent.

The only way I can see of making it better by adding more accordians.

The album’s over, so I shall now stop writing.

Any questions?