on life, music etc beyond mainstream


Two soundtracks I enjoy listening to frequently are White Bird In A Blizzard by Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie, and Le Grand Bleu by Eric Serra. The deep enjoyment of these soundtracks means that approaching the films isn’t something I’m in any hurry to do, because I’d be too busy listening to the music to concentrate on the film, and in any case, the music has already conjured up a kind of amorphous non-narrative film of its own for each of these soundtracks.

White Bird In A Blizzard is an astounding listen, every single time I hear it. The record’s compositions vary between those written solely by either artist, with only a couple that were co-written by both. The opening track (by Guthrie) sets the scene. If music could sound cold and luminous to the point of being able to see and feel it, then this is an example. But (perhaps counter-intuitively) the effect is warm rather than cold, not unlike watching snow falling outside, through a window: the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Le Grand Bleu is a longer record, with more thematic variety. Sure, there’s all the watery bits with all the mystery and danger you’d expect, but there are also moments back on dry land – the contrast giving the impression that neither state is ideal, even if one is preferred. Serra’s compositions are brilliantly textured – maybe a bit 1980s sounding, but in a cool way. Two killer tracks here are Homo Delphinus and Much Better Down There, both of which hint at an emotional depth I can only hope the celluloid actually provides.

As for films I have actually seen, well 37°2 le matin by Gabriel Yared is about as good as it gets. Or Blade Runner by Vangelis. Then of course there’s film music for films that don’t even exist – such as Brian Eno’s „From the Same Hill“ and The Durutti Column’s „For A Western“. But that’s a whole ’nother blog.

2018 14 Sep

Scarlet Nights

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Two records that I never stop listening to, records that get played on a daily or weekly basis. This is stuff that never loses any of its fascination. David Sylvian’s Gone to Earth and Prefab Sprout’s Jordan: The Comeback. It would be fair to say that both of these works explore the theme of death. What is death, to the dead? Fuck knows. And I’ll be too dead to care when I myself am over the waterfall. It’s one of life’s imponderable questions.

Anyway, both records go into this broad theme in different ways. Gone to Earth brilliantly contrasts songs with instrumental compositions, moving from the groundedness of language into something beyond it, over into a world of mysteries and doubts unlimited by the need to check for fact or do reason. Jordan: The Comeback is all songs, no instrumentals, and it hints at a beyond, stopping at the shore and looking over. That’s how I read it, anyway. The writer Philip Pullman has this to say about stories:


As a passionate believer in the democracy of reading, I don’t think it’s the task of the author of a book to tell the reader what it means.

The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and the thoughts in the reader’s mind. So when people ask me what I meant by this story, or what was the message I was trying to convey in that one, I have to explain that I’m not going to explain.


And so here’s how I read Jordan: the Comeback. The word Jordan relates to Elvis (whose backing singers were of course The Jordanaires). It also relates to the River Jordan, a place of miracles. The song’s fictional, once-mighty singing star says (note: says, not sings) in the title track he is „biding his time“ waiting to make a comeback. He just needs the right song for this to happen. But you just know the character is on his deathbed, and that the comeback won’t be a Vegas thing but a trip past the pearly gates. The song closes with this:


End of the road I’m travellin‘
I will see Jordan beckonin‘
Jordan, sweet Jordan
Hand me any cup you find that’s lying spare
I’ve longtime been a-thirstin‘ for a share


At which point Jordan (the river) becomes the place where crippled horses heal, and where autumn is reversed, as well as Jordan (the character) being the one who can dispense some of the river’s miracleness. The second last track, Scarlet Nights, hints that, yes, it’s the end. But it’s also a beginning:


This is where your sleepless eyes will close
This is where the weary find repose
This is where a kind of bugle blows
This is where you’ll wake to find the River Jordan flows

It was great to read the recent post here on Manafonistas that referenced the inner goth in relation to Ocean Rain by Echo & The Bunnymen.

The idea of Echo & The Bunnymen being goth had never occurred to me before. I guess the French language, and French smoking influence got in the way.

I always imagined Echo & The Bunnymen lighting up Gauloises or Gitanes and digging Brel’s „La Valse à mille temps“ rather than reading Bram Stoker and sleeping in coffins. But it did kinda make sense. Look at The Royal Liver Building, its granite face. Liverpool’s most famous building – if it can be said to be representative of the city – isn’t exactly a splash of colour.

Anyway, the idea of the inner goth got me thinking about what is goth and what isn’t. And there’s no real answer to that, apart from the fact that Havergal Brian’s „Gothic Symphony“ is most definitely gothic. Inner goth though? That’s a subjective call. So here’s my Inner Goth Top Five. (Lifers, every one.)

BauhausThird Uncle (Beggars Banquet, 1982). Eno’s original is post-punk, but it was recorded and released before punk, in 1974. That is an achievement, of course – and a big one. Bauhaus are wise enough not to try and alter the style of Third Uncle too much. They just put it back out there, and remove any sunlight from the original, replacing the sunlight with moonlight.


This Mortal CoilKangaroo (4AD, 1984). Another cover, this one is a rendition of Kanga Roo by Big Star. It’s the singing style that makes this, as well as the bass and the strings. The overall effect is of moonlight turning ramparts and flagstones silver-blue under a midnight sky.


The Cassandra ComplexSecond Shot (Play It Again Sam, 1988). „All that glitters isn’t gold, but who cares, anyway? Let me bounce off your lens and into the trees.“ Goth with saxophones. A powerful and shattering listen.


The Royal Family & The Poor Art on 45 (Factory Records, 1982). „Vast emptiness, nothing holy“. This song’s words echo the writings of Belgian philosopher Raoul Vaneigem, especially the 1967 book The Revolution of Everyday Life. With style.


John Maus… And The Rain (Upset The Rhythm, 2011). „And the rain came down, down down down down down.“


This week’s Lost Classics is Seventeen Stars by The Montgolfier Brothers. And what a fucking genius record it is.

Now, I’ve no idea whether the whole Heißluftballon thing is one of its themes, but it’s kind of inescapable for my ears. It’s a work that deals with vicissitudes, with contrasts, with ups and downs. Seems to me that the instrumental tracks on this are its moments of reflection, when everything’s (literally) up in the air. The album’s instrumentals are great – like miniature Eric Serra soundtracks that swap one Grand Bleu (the sea) for another (the sky). Meanwhile, the songs with words sometimes describe moments of upwardness and hope, and sometimes the opposite: a bump of earthwardness.

Seventeen Stars arrived by chance, by way of an automated playlist. The best records always come from nowhere, with no hype or announcement. One day you’re sitting there in your kitchen thinking you’ve heard all you’re likely to hear – then, boom: another classic arrives and renews your faith in music.

Listening to Seventeen Stars is a bit like going on holiday. Not a city break to, like, Bucharest or Vienna though – an actual holiday where there is space, time and sand. Here are the opening lines of the title track:

A trip down south
On the coast of France
An hour by coach –
Takes us from Bordeaux
To the middle of in-between
Arès and Arcachon
A mass of shuttered chalets
A stone’s throw from the beach

Stick Seventeen Stars on. Up, up and away.

Artist: The Montgolfier Brothers
Release date: 4 May 1999
Label: Vespertine
Producers: gnac, Roger Quigley
Genre: The concept of genre is what it is

2018 8 Feb

Defining ambient

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How do you define ambient?

The closest I could ever get wasn’t really a definition, more a kind of description of one of its occasional attributes: that it’s not easy music to hum along to. There’s too much space in it, and the space is where the magic happens.

So, reading this ambient piece on, a piece of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place:

The composer and the listener must recognise that total control can never be realised and the identity of the music is never wholly owned, but rather it is constantly becoming. Upon each re-visitation, in a different place, at a different time, through a different playback situation, the music evolves. It lives within the complexity of these relations and is primarily about, to use Eno’s initial provocation, “to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular”.

2017 3 Dez

Ian’s 2017 top 20

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2017 top 20

  1. Kietsuzukeru Echo – Hisato Higuchi
  2. Take Me Apart – Kelela
  3. Wonderful Wonderful – The Killers
  4. Fatherland – Karl Hyde
  5. Moth – John Beltran
  6. Humanz – Gorillaz
  7. Elaktrac – Shobaleader One
  8. The Man Who Fell From Earth – Anders Parker
  9. Blade Runner 2049 – Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch
  10. More Life – Drake
  11. Live at Iklectik – Philip Jeck
  12. True Care – James Vincent McMorrow
  13. Gang Signs & Prayer – Stormzy
  14. Narkopop – GAS
  15. Process – Sampha
  16. Mark Kozelek with Ben Boye and Jim White
  17. Mellow Waves – Cornelius
  18. 13 – Indochine
  19. No Mountains in Manhattan – Wiki
  20. Fiction / Non-fiction Olivier Alary

… bubbling under:


  • As You Were – Liam Gallagher
  • Ctrl – SZA
  • Lifetime of Love – Moon Diagrams

2017 3 Nov

Vacanța de iarnă …

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… wish you were here!


2017 2 Nov

My 2017 Top 20

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… to follow


On a rainy Thursday afternoon two days ago I purchased these three cassette tapes from the miraculous VoxBox Music shop. 50p each. Listening to them involved hunting down my Sony CFD-S22L „CD-RADIO-CASSETTE-CORDER“ [sic] – which had been in its analogue vortex since the 1900s.

IBTABA – I have Michael Engelbrecht to thank for my new-found love of Wire. He sent me copies of 154 and Chairs Missing a while back. My response was probably a bit rude, along the lines of „yes, these LPs are OK“. But genius plastic is never a first impressions type deal. I went back to these records again and again. IBTABA is from decade after these, a decade that is now three decades ago. On cassette! Zeitreise stylee.

The White Room – not listened to this one yet.

ZOOROPA – magnetic tape didn’t suit IBTABA. It sounded squashed, wowed and fluttered. Oddly trebly. The quality of the music and the humour won out though. ZOOROPA was different magnetic deal. It sounded fantastic. It sounded – on tape – like a spin painting, throwing colours of realisation over everything. Which, I guess, just goes to show that music isn’t about one format fits all.

2017 2 Sep

Revisiting Wandermüde

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„All stories are love stories“

Robert McLiam Wilson (from the novel Eureka Street)


„All Stories Are True“

John Edgar Wideman (From the story collection All stories are true)



The cover art for Wandermüde shows the gloves from a space suit placed on a mantelpiece, each palm facing decorative wallpaper. If there is a story here, it’s one that your mind instantly tells you, when your eyes see the juxtaposition and try to make sense of it. Or maybe you just get questions, like „are these gloves antiques placed there for fun in a bohemian living room from the past/future?“, or „are these gloves the gloves of someone who returned from space?“ or „are these gloves the gloves of someone about to go to space tomorrow“. Space. You’re already in space. Space is within you and without you. The gloves and the mantelpiece will soon be dust.

The first and most important thing to say about Wandermüde is that it is a work of great beauty. It may not be the most accessible of records – there are sustained notes, Ligeti-stylee ghostisms, corridor vibes, and in places a sense of epiphany and strangeness not seen outside of the closing scenes of Tarkovsky’s film Stalker or Russell Hoban’s novel Fremder. (I sent my copy of Fremder to Hoban’s publisher with a request for him to sign it. They said „sure“. Nothing came back. I emailed to ask what had happened. They replied that my hero was unwell. Nothing came back. My copy of Fremder is lost in space. My hero lives on.)

No point getting into the musicology of Wandermüde. Have a read at this Guardian article on accelerationism, (it’s a read alright!), take a breath, then listen to Deceleration. Or think of Florian Fricke and Popol Vuh and then check out Dark Pastoral. Wandermüde, like Fricke’s work, isn’t confined to some genre idea of prog or rock or drone/ambient. It moves in all directions.

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