on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2014 5 Nov

The Think Tank in Action

von: Manafonistas Filed under: Blog | TB | Comments off

(For Anonymous)



Let’s think about instrumental music with vocal sections –
„The third area“ between song and soundscape

I love it when nearly unrecognizable words can be heard in instrumental music,
hushed voices, voices from old tapes, even singing from old tapes, bad quality tapes (with vocals on it) can have a huge emotional impact.

Gavin Bryars: The Sinking of the Titanic (Obscure Records)

Steve Reich: It’s gonna rain (the asyncronicity of two tapes leads to „semantic extinction“ – word becomes sound)

– I think Roger Waters et al are talking quite a nonsense, but I always loved Pink Floyd’s „Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast“. No real song, no real soundscape.

Brian Eno very often tries to attack his vocals, push them from the center, looking for an area where ambient and song intertwine. Another Green World is regarded as as a song album, though two thirds are instrumentals. Another Day On Earth (buried treasure!) also strives for a „theatre of voices“ where vocals lose their egos (or just vanish after short appearances). Listen to „And then so clear“.

– The Residents: Eskimo

I haven’t heard this album for a very long time, but reading your mail, it rings a bell. In my memory the way the „authenticity“ or „gibberish“ of the tribal singing and the enveloping soundscapes are my ideal of this „third zone“ (but, as I said, long time ago, memory may play tricks) I only loved two albums of the Residents, this one, and „The Commercial Album“.

Spoken-word-albums can do the trick for me, too. Listen to the fortcoming David Sylvian album with the long title (samadhi sound). Listening to it, you won’t have even a fleeting suspect the speaking voice of the old writer (damaged, wrecked) would weaken the music. It’s the other way round: the music has to live up to the falling apart / storytelling of the old man’s voice (not soften it, opening a second perspective)

– David Sylvian: There’s a light that enters houses with no other houses in sight

And, please, don’t miss this album:

– Heiner Goebbels: Stifter’s Dinge (ECM)



Press info: Sounds, tones, noises, voices and texts converge in one of Heiner Goebbels’ most extraordinary acoustic creations. Is it a composition, environment, installation or sound sculpture on the grand scale? Its creator once described it as a composition for five pianos with no pianists, a play with no actors, a performance without performers, “one might say a no-man show.” Yet it is teeming with sound sources – ranging from Bach to chants of natives of New Guinea to Greek folk song, and overlapping voices of, amongst many others, Claude Lévi-Strauss, William Burroughs and Malcolm X. The work was inspired by the work of 19th century Austrian Romantic writer Adalbert Stifter, who meticulously documented the signs and sounds of nature.

No, no,  it’s not overloaded with cultural references. Smart Alec’s Finnegan’s Wake. The whole album has a quiet flow thereby matching the tranquility of Stifter’s epic descriptions of landscapes. For me, it’s „the third zone“.

Personally, I’m dreaming of a long piece of music in which at certain, well-chosen moments an a-capella-„choir“ of three voices sings a small melody full of understatement, low-key (not longer than 45 seconds) – and the instrumental music is so thrilling that you don’t wait for the „vocal moments“…. Let’s say they sing three times within 25 minutes, always the same melody, always different lyrics…. May sound weird, but the idea is simple, and I never heard anything like that.

I do also think of the vocal „emanations“ (might be the wrong word) of early Can albums like Tago Mago. The voices become sound (you won’t think about semantics there) – it’s the shaman’s world:)

And how often did I listen to the first track of „High Life“ (the latest Eno/Hyde-collaboration, hope you know it!) –  the singing half buried in the electric guitar strummings – the soft singing surfacing and vanishing, you only get glimpses of meaning. Like My Bloody Valentine did it, in a different way, once upon a time. I never was a huge fan of them, but liked their approach of burying melodies.

Now imagine this: an electric guitar that plays free, moving sideways without being trapped by history or cultural baggage meets a singer that also improvises and avoids conventional language. One of the most expressve voices on this planet. Would you call it a song? Would you call it a soundscape? I’m speaking of the two albums of Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus (both on Rune Grammofon, the second one will be released on Nov 21st – frightening beauty!) – human aliens…

And then I thought about

– Paddy McAloon: I Trawl The Mega Hertz



As did my friend Ian McCartney from the Manafonistas. I sent him your mail (we’re discreet people) – and these were the ideas he mailed to me:



that is really interesting.

It’s something I do wonder about sometimes. In fact only last week I was listening to Bordeaux (Harold Budd/Brian Guthrie) and thought what if I start singing over the top of it? So I did. There was fun in changing the pitch of my voice but no semantic value to the exercise and of course Bordeaux doesn’t follow a verse/chorus structure, it’s more like a very slow cosmic spasm.

I think the semantic thing is at the core of the problem. In his book of short stories and essays, the author Russell Hoban gets close to an understanding of this. He describes a park at dusk (Eelbrook Common) an ordinary part of London he can see from his room. His writing is powerfully descriptive: he sees a ’scrawl‘ of kids playing in the park, who form a ’scribble on the dry grey concrete, black against the blue-grey dusk‘. In one incredible paragraph, Hoban draws a 3 dimensional world with vividly presented variations in light and a slight feeling of mystery and strangeness.

In the next paragraph Hoban then explains what he did – i.e. he described the onset of evening using language. But then he says something that has stayed with me for years: „To me it seems that everything that happens is language, everything that goes on is saying something“. I guess that’s why when I stared at that LS Lowry pencil sketch, my eyes went a little bit watery. It was crowded, bursting with language and colour yet it was monochrome and wordless.

Hoban’s novel Kleinzeit has an odd set of characters that include a hospital and the London Underground:

„Listen, said Underground.

No one listened. The chill rose up from the black tunnels.

Are you there? said Underground. Will you answer?

No one answered.

Are you Orpheus? Said Underground.

No answer.“

This novel (at its best) opens the space between the semantic and beyond-semantic, entirely using printed alphabet. What it’s saying goes deeper than most language but it’s all done with language, making language even more miraculous – and without ever reverting to that kind of over-thought boring trendy Barthes/Derrida style theorising.

I don’t know about a third state – for me Paddy McAloon’s I Trawl The Megahertz kind of does this. Very strong mortality theme, words feature in some places but not in others – like consciousness being passed in and out of.


1 – Havergal Brian’s amazing and totally bonkers Symphony No.1 in D Minor. The whole thing is like moonlight on gravestones, with lichen dancing on the stone, or appearing to. It’s just the moonbeams temporarily being blocked by clouds hurrying across the sky. Words are integral to various sections, but it’s like they emerge out of the music rather than superimpose upon it. I’m thinking specifially about the allegro moderato section 3 here.

2 – John Foxx and Theo Travis „All The Tides On All The Streets“. No words in this one, but the woodwind to me sounds like uninflected words.

3 – Aphex Twin’s „Minipops 67“. I know you’re not a fan of this guy’s stuff, but this track has 3 or 4 different vocals on it that have been fucked around with so much that any meaning is lost. One of them sounds a bit like „walking around in the park/ with you“ but it could be anything. The interesting thing here is that while it’s deliberately nonsensical, there’s a definite relish in the rendering of each syllable in every iteration of the repeated phrase. And not unlike the Havergal Brian allegro molto section 3, the words and the music seem to be aspects of the same thing. Bob Dylan’s voice and guitar are of course aspects of the same thing, too. But pop forms mutate, the same way languages break down from analytic to abstract e.g. High Latin to modern Italian/French/Spanish/Romanian – and of course the glorious fucked-up mush that is English.


So far some thoughts by Ian.

X, Michael


This won’t change music history, but I’m sure Mr. Anonymous  will find at least some inspiring stuff.

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