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Category: Gute Musik

A talk with Rasha Nahas about her album Desert – which should be a striking candidate for Manafonistas‘ best albums of 2021 lists. Rasha Nahas was born into a Palestinian family in Haifa where she grew up and lived before she moved to Berlin in 2017. In Germany she has been working with various musical and theatre productions and has just released her debut debut album Desert on her label Rmad Records.

 

One of the many things I find remarkable about your album is that these songs sound like you had been living with them for a while. I can’t exactly tell if I get that impression from the arrangements or from that fine flow in the lyrics. Some of the lyrics have such a wild, or complex, imagery that seems to be a mix of very personal thoughts and feelings and also some sentiments about society and the places you lived in. Lots of songs have a striking energy that sounds elaborate and emotionally lived-through at the same time.They sound like songs that have had some history before they’ve been put on tape.

 
 

The songs went through different arrangements. Yes, I lived with them – played them acoustically, only me with classical guitar, then I did them with more electronic elements, and then with different musicians. Little by little I started gathering the band. Me and the violinist [Shaden Nahra] have played together for seven or eight years. There was a very strong connection between me and the musicians, and we definitely explored and lived the songs a lot. It’s not a matter of time, though, rather a matter of commitment and a sense of being involved artistically. I actually wrote a lot of songs for this album, I just didn’t release them, apart from an EP in 2016.

 

You developed the music partly in your hometown, Haifa, and then you toured with it before you recorded it here in Berlin?

 

Yes, the music was written during my last few weeks in Haifa and during my first few weeks in Germany. It was really written through my transition. The title track, “Desert”, for example I wrote in my apartment in Haifa the month before I left. “The Clown” and “Ashes” were written in my first apartment here in Berlin. It was really like documenting my travel, documenting that period of my life, asking myself where I want to be – and doing it.

 

And that was three or four years ago?

 

Yes, I moved to Germany in the summer of 2017. I simply had a lot of friends here in Berlin. In 2017, we played Glastonbury Festival in England and a few other gigs, and it just made sense that I stayed here. Then I started performing here and applied for an artist visa.

 

The whole album really sounds like it could have been live in the studio, although I’m guessing there was a lot of work involved with how the the violin, the cello and the instruments in general blend together.

 

After I wrote the songs, we arranged the basics with the band, like verse, chorus, the lengths of sections and such. I worked mainly with the bass and the drums to really gain this solid, heavy feeling. The songs are intense there’s something very … like stepping in mud, you know? To me that feels like heavy steps. That was the the main work, to realise this solid rhythm section to build on.

We did work a lot with the cello and the violin lines, some of which I had in my mind – for example “Ashes”, these lines [sings] I must have had forever. I was always singing that when we were rehearsing. Then we were in the studio, and we’d never discussed it before, but I just went like, “try this line“. And it worked. A few songs were done in one take, “The Fall” for example, all of us together, including the vocals. We didn’t dub anything, just mixed it.

 
 

 
 

What was the co-producer’s role on this project? Where did he come from?

 

As for the co-producer, I basically needed someone on the technical side. As a band, we had a vision – we had a sound, but with me being lead singer and guitarist, I needed someone to execute this sound in a technical way. Plus, Jonathan is a great musician; he was a classical pianist. I trust him when it comes to giving me feedback, as a person from outside the band. Jonathan also mixed the album. I needed the same engineer to mix it, because the band really had a very specific sound, which I don’t think I could have executed without him.

 

In “Cat Lady“ I like this this raw atmosphere, with the guitar sounding almost like it was improvised, very much like played on the spot.

 

For “Cat Lady” we recorded bass, drums and guitar, then added violin and cello. And then I didn’t like the guitar part. So I just played one take of guitar on it. That was basically improvised. It was two chords, this whole song, but it has many variations. We play a lot with the colours. So with the guitar part I am basically reacting to what’s happening around me.

 

Indeed, you present all sorts of different colours on this album. At first it can be a bit overwhelming – for the listener, having all these different vantage points on your creative personality. All these elements are very fascinating to roam and experience. Every time I put on the CD, it feels like listening to a new album again. Let’s take the Leonard Cohen song: At first one might think, “why does a Leonard Cohen song end up on this album?”, but having listened to the album many times I in a way forgot it once was a Cohen song … until that fabulous chorus comes in and reminds me. Your recording of that song comes across as a very personal take, even though it’s not one that you wrote. Usually I’m a bit hesitant about people covering famous songs – and Cohen’s have been covered and recorded a lot. Singers often perform it in such a way that you can hear they like the song, but their take is not in any way unique. Here, it sounds like it’s your song, like there’s a deep personal connection. That’s why it fits splendidly into the overall concept of your album.

 

He’s a big inspiration. He’s one of the greatest songwriters that ever lived, at least in English music. His work definitely shaped a certain part of how I write in English and express specific things. I love this song very much. I played it acoustically on classical guitar a lot. During one rehearsal I plugged in my guitar, we were still in the beginning, like half tuning, half jamming … I started playing it, and then the bass gave the first note, then the drums did a bit of cymbals, then we went to the six eighths, and then the cello came in… So I just felt like recording it, because I think it’s a song that speaks about identity, about not recognizing yourself, about transition, about love. It’s also a dialogue with the father that can be also God, so it’s a somewhat religious song – this whole thing about covering the face… It’s very metaphorical but also very specific. It fit the album really well.

 

It does fit on the very personal side of these songs on the album. There are lots of very personal moments to it, but they’re never as bare as if you’re talking about something private. “Ashes” is a good example. It sounds like a very personal story, and this is where “Lover Lover Lover” fits in. “Ashes”, the longest and one of the most dramatic songs on the album, starts like it’s a quiet one and then it becomes more dramatic. And in the end it calms down again. I had this feeling that it’s probably a love song, but the metaphors you chose are anything but ordinary. They could easily relate to something else than merely a personal situation from a relationship.

 

“Ashes” is a love song, yes. It started from cigarette ashes. You find an ashtray with a lot of ashes of cigarettes. But it’s also a metaphor for burning, like when you get close to fire and then lose your balance – like a musician on stage is completely surrendering to the music, and burning, and after the concert thinking what is left. That sounds a bit tragic, but it’s also beautiful. And it’s about love, about relationships and balance, learning about the line between you and the other person. “And my ashes remain in the room as you leave” – it’s a beautiful metaphor. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album and one of my dearest things I wrote so far. I’m sharing a lot there.

I love personal music. Take Jeff Buckley, for example, or Joni Mitchell. If you go back in time, there was no ego in love songs – or maybe it was ego in a different way. I feel today love songs are so much about ego, and there’s a lot of thinking about how you’re perceived.

 

It’s great how these songs are more like open vessels for my – or other listeners’ – associations. And then there are others which are more eccentric. There’s lots of these associative elements which I find really fascinating to be drawn into. Did you work a lot on the lyrics, before you decided this is the final text? How much time do you spend on developing a song?

 

It’s different with every song. For “The Clown” it took 15 or 20 minutes to write the text. The arrangement took a bit more time, finding out how we’ll do it, rehearsing all the stops and the riffs. “Ashes” I wrote in the morning, then I went on my bike to get something in the city. I remember listening to the recording I had made on my phone, thinking about what I was going to change. Then I came back home, changed it – and that was it.

For me, with text I usually feel like it may not be perfect, and even though I could make everything sound a bit better or fix everything so that it will be more accurate, but I think that I prefer to just keep it as it is, because it’s what it is. I never felt that reservation of things not being good enough to let them out. It’s like taking a photograph and showing it to a friend. It’s a beautiful, very fluid process, and there’s no right and wrong. There is a lot of space to create and to invent.

 

You started playing music when you were very young and played classical guitar when you were about ten? Why didn’t you become a classical guitarist, or rather, where did you start taking a different turn? When did you decide to go down this path as a songwriter between cultures and countries?

 

I love classical music. But to play classical guitar is like flying an airplane – if you really want to do it in a way to pursue a career. In a way I find it classical music very impressive and very “royal” – to see people playing such sophisticated music and investing their life into manifesting it in a great way. I guess the music I make is more direct and accessible than classical music. My classical guitar studies were enriching for my experience as a musician, but I had something to say. I wanted to write songs. I wanted to speak to people. I wanted to share verbally. I just feel that I’m a songwriter.

When I was very young, I really grew up on John Lennon. He’s great. My Dad had a collection of Lennon CDs, and I just listened to them like every time I was in the car – every time we were driving somewhere, to visit my grandparents in the village or wherever. So it was like John lLennon from like my early my earliest memory of music. And later on we got Queen and Freddie Mercury, just like such great rock bands.

 

Lennon and Mercury – that makes sense to me, listening to your album.

 
 

 
 

About this album cover: What’s the story behind the image? Was it your idea, or where did this artwork come from?

 

It was a deep dialogue with the graphic designer [Haitham Haddad]. He is an amazing artist. He was a good friend of my sister’s and I’ve known him since high school. When we recorded the album I didn’t know the order of the songs, didn’t know how it’s all gonna be put together. The pieces felt so different from each other. Admittedly that was my plan: I didn’t want to create one genre. I don’t believe in genres anyway, I just want to do art and express feelings, express thoughts, express myself. And I realized it’s a collage. It moves and it takes you with it. Every song is a journey, but the whole thing is also a journey. It’s very personal, but also very theatrical – so the double exposure with the different layers basically represents the album like different personalities. The theatricality is in the distortions and the burned colour. There’s also something very clear in the face, but there’s this moving and shifting thing around it, it’s fluid. The graphic designer did a brilliant job.

 

How have you changed since the album has been finished? It’s been a while since you recorded it, and judging from all the projects you worked on since then, you seem to be in a very different place now, artistically at least.

 

Yes, it took time for me to understand what this album means. I started “Desert” in 2018 and I did a crowdfunding campaign. Then after the recording I had an injury in both my hands which stopped me from making music for almost a year. I had inflammation in my hands, and I couldn’t play guitar or carry my groceries, make food or type emails. I was not in a good place. I’m doing okay now, but I needed time to heal, time to to be with myself, prioritize things a bit.

I learned to know my limits. I started touring a lot, and it was the most important thing for me for some time. My music was more important than myself. It was a very romantic relationship to my art. It still is important, but it’s different; it’s healthier, because being ill for many months and not being able to play music taught me a lot about my relationship with music and my relationship with myself. I was forced to prioritize myself, my well-being, my health before everything else. That was the most precious lesson I learned in my life.

My relationship with music can still be the ashes that remain in the room, you know, but it’s a bit more balanced. I found a very beautiful relationship with music that is not as tragic. I just learned to do it in a way that is good and healthy.That’s the main thing that changed.

Making the album felt very intuitive. I’ve been through a lot with it, and it was very important for me to release it, before I release anything else. And it took me time to put it in a frame and say, “okay, this is what it is”, and so it’s such a perfect timing for it to be out now. It’s like opening a new chapter.

 

The conversation between Rasha Nahas and IJ.Biermann, recorded in Berlin in March 2021, has been edited and condensed for clarity.

 

In diesem Jahr wird das spoken word-album zehn Jahre alt, das Brian Eno und Rick Holland gemeinsam entwickelten. Es hat nichts von seiner Anziehungskraft verloren. Brian hatte stets ein Faible für spoken-word-music, ein frühes Beispiel kann man auf seinem ersten Songalbum „Here Come The Warm Jets“ finden. Er war vollends fasziniert von jenem Album von The Books (das mit dem grünen Cover), das ich ihm 2005 mitbrachte zu unserem Berliner Interview im Adlon anlässlich „Another Day On Earth“. Und auch bei dem im April erscheinenden spoken word-Album von Marianne Faithfull ist er mit zwei, drei Arrangements und einigen „treatments“ dabei.

Das Interview mit Rick Holland war ein Highlight meiner Interviews jenes Jahres, und es zeigt, dass solch vielfältige Poeme einen immerneuen Ansatz der musikalischen Darbietung einfordern. Genau das ist Eno gelungen, und deshalb ist DRUMS BETWEEN THE BELLS so schillernd geworden, Füllhorn, Klangrausch, „food for thought“, und, wie es ein Kritiker nannte, „electronic soul music for the mind“.

Damals habe ich mit Freunden alle englischen Gedichte ins Deutsche übertragen. Sie finden sich, unter „Ältere Beiträge“, in den Sommermonaten 2011. All meine Texte von jenem ersten Jahr der Manafonisten, die es m.E. wert sind, erhalten zu bleiben (ungefähr 10 Prozent, schätze ich), werden sich, anlässlich des zehnjährigen Bestehens dieses Blogs, also hier wiederfinden, anno 2021, im Laufe der Zeit. Der Rest wird vermüllt. Die Übersetzungen der Gedichte, oft direkt neben die Originale platziert, werden allerdings wie Ruinen in jenem Jahr verharren. Wenn uns nichts Besseres einfällt. Viel Freude bei der Entdeckung oder Wiederentdeckung eines ganz besonderen Albums.

 

 

 

 

 

THE APPEARANCE OF ELISHA MUDLEY

 

Michael Engelbrecht:   On a lot of his albums, Brian only rarely works with clearly defined lyrics when entering a studio. This time, he had your poems – and, as I imagine, letting their impact on him work, he was inspired to approach every track with new ideas, new sounds. You have only a rare apparition as one of the nine voices on the album; how have you been involved in the studio work? Did you offer him any musical ideas, from the point of view of a “real” non-musician?

 

Rick Holland: You are right that each track was approached as a unique organism, and there were nearly fifty pieces when we first sat down to finish the record. I do offer musical ideas and also extremely vague and over-reaching requests, Can you make this part sound more like primordial sludge Brian?’, that kind of thing. Of course his answers tend to be, ‘Yes, yes I can.’.

We worked together in his studio throughout the intensive final weeks and also at most of the sessions that spawned the initial ‘skeletons’ of the tracks over the years. I think we both took some steps away from our comfort zones over these sessions, which is what collaborating relies on, and there was certainly never a sense that he ‘did’ music and I ‘did’ words. Poems and Music were equally likely to change in the process of making, and the making process was an open forum of ideas.

‘The Real’ is perhaps the most recent example of a ‘school’ of song formation whereby  Brian would have several pieces on the go and I would provide or write words for the ones that most spoke to me. The first stage in these tracks was to superimpose a vocal over the existing music. Sometimes, a vocal just steers the piece towards its final shape and many musical ideas were provided by the vocalists, not directly, but in the nuances of their readings and more specifically their own ways of forming spoken words.

The components of this one just fell into place with a combination of reshaping an existing ‘poem’ I had been working on, and the beautiful chance arrival at the studio of Elisha Mudley, who really did appear like an angel that day, unannounced, and just in time for us to record. Not all days ran that smoothly!

 

Michael:   Your poems allow the listener to drift freely between the impressions the single words and pictures are offering. As a material that is not fixed to transport a certain message, and more open to free associations, one can experience the words in a very relaxed way. Can you explain this a bit, with a look at the opening track, this London poem “Bless This Space”. And what was the first idea that brought this poem on its way? The albums starts,  almost programmatic, with the words “Bless this space / in rhyme and sound”…”

 

NEAR OLD STREET IN LONDON

 

Rick: This is a very good question. The great interest for me in the whole of this process has been the giving up of control of meaning. Many poets would really not like this idea. By allowing the idiosyncrasies of accent and word formation in foreign English speakers the centre stage, and then enjoying and exploiting the accidents of meaning those sounds can create, the poetic process is often greatly enhanced, and often in surprising ways. I was already a poet who enjoyed leaving ‘image lines’ and indeed sounds to trigger a journey into personal meaning before I met Brian, but over the years of working with him, I have developed a clearer idea of the middle ground between pure audio material and carriers of meaning and how the two can play off each other.

The example you cite ‘Bless this Space’ is an interesting one, as it is not typical of how we worked. The poem was inspired by a production job of sorts I had for the Map making project in 2003 (the event I met Brian at actually). It was a very ambitious collaboration between artists of all kinds, from ballet dancers to painters to orchestras; I was unofficially tasked with pulling the show together with some kind of thread. It was set in St Luke’s, in what used to be a church near Old Street in London but is now the home of LSO and a beautiful music venue. I was asked to write something to accompany the dance piece that opened the show, and so I decided to play on the idea of the art venue being a place for people to come and ‘unfold’ the daily pretences of life. The rhythm and feel of it was ritualistic in keeping with the motions of the dance and for me it made a good opening ‘blessing’ for the performance to come, like a call to the audience for an open mind, or a mock invocation of the spirits.

I included it in a bundle of words I once printed out for Brian and forgot all about it, until one day I received an email from Brian with his reading over a pulse track. I liked it, but again we forgot it for a long time, and then it re-emerged in this form after Leo Abrahams and Seb Rochford had worked their magic; Leo’s guitar part and Seb’s drums knock it off kilter and add even more a sense of the intoxicating freedom after the ritual, as though you are marched to the precipice and have no choice but to jump into the unknown. Now it is a piece of music which as you say can be linked into lyrically, or just grooved to, or both. Hopefully, lines jump out differently for different people. And it keeps the half life of that original poem but adds a new life, or several new lives at once to it. For me, ‘step through mediums/outside of the race/to look in’ works on many levels for individuals and society. I love this track.

 

BRIAN´S FREAK-OUT SECTION

 

Michael:  On Glitch, as on many other poems,  you´re working with the freedoms of “Konkrete Poesie” (Gomringer, Arp, Jandl a.o.) by using the whole space, letting go traditional forms of arranging words. The graphic space between the words (white canvas) produces an airy climate for the words, sometimes even a kind of rhythmical pattern. Can you describe the story behind the writing of “Glitch”, and how Brian´s music did  surprise you?

 

Rick: Before meeting Brian I had set out on writing directly to music, and in ways that were inspired directly by music; in fact I had been experimenting with writing as a direct translation of  other forms of expression, of which music is for me the most direct and enjoyable. ‘Glitch’ was written a long time ago, but I think it was written only in relation to a very sparse drum pattern that I had asked a friend to make for me and without much editing for meaning. This perhaps explains the context you give it and why it worked so well in relation to the graphic space you mention. The space was perhaps already there, a la Konkrete Poesie  but it was certainly consciously manipulated in Brian’s transformation to music. Brian is forever asking readers to ‘go slow’ for precisely this reason. I don’t have much knowledge about “Konkrete Poesie” so I will investigate, thankyou.

So, ‘glitch’ started from the words, and Grazna Goworek (who looked after Brian’s studio some years ago) was invited to read. She didn’t even bat an eyelid when he asked her to go and sit in the toilet to read the poem, which is where the rasping atmosphere of the reading comes from, along with Brian’s processing of her voice. Then the music was built from these starting points, the words and the voice became a pulse and an atmosphere, so actually the music did not surprise me in this case.

However, we returned to ‘glitch’ several times over the years, and the greatest surprise came in the very last week of working on the record. In response to one of my more outlandish requests (something like ‘Could you make a section that sounds like the sub atomic code of the universe?’) Brian constructed the ‘freak out’ section that I think now takes the track to the next level. That part is the real language of the piece for me, condensed and magnified like a real poem should be. It speaks in greater volumes than all of the words!

 

BLAIR AND THE BIRDS

 

Michael:  One of the beautiful moments  in “Dreambirds” is when the words say “invent new colors”, and the music sounds like a perfect example for synasthesia, the transformation of colors into music. In the lyrics there are two interesting elements that produce a kind of tension: the dreamy skyscape with the birds, and then, the  political allusions…  a kind of “utopian poem”, so to speak?

 

Rick: Yes absolutely in the synaesthesia sense. We experimented with various ways of representing words with sound, and in this case I agree, the elements hang together like a visual trace across the sky. The politics are also there, and they are a strange mixture. Having worked as a teacher in various guises, in London and further afield in Central Africa and India, the untrammeled potential of youthful imagination is always inspiring to me. It is also violated by the ‘facts’ of life so often, when the young person’s perspective is very often the right one but is denied.

The financial crisis most recently points to this fact so I’ll use it as a slightly cumbersome example; while I was growing up in a country of people doing jobs that I couldn’t really understand I always sensed very strongly that our economic foundations were built on make believe, but I would dampen these impressions and assume there was someone who was far more intelligent than me in control. In the Blair years, the promises of equal opportunities for all youngsters to learn and aspire made me feel equally uneasy. We were ‘rich’ as a nation, but no-one really understood or even bothered to understand why this was, and we had a government rolling out initiatives that always sounded as flimsy as the new labour theme tune to me.

What was clear is that back in the real world we needed truly ‘brilliant’ young rather than political spin versions of brilliant young who weren’t really prepared for anything useful by this aspirational lie of an education. So ‘Dreambirds’ was a poem about the tussle between the true potential of imagination, and the mirage that was being sold that let everyone ‘express themselves’ and have the impression that they were on the ladder to somewhere better when perhaps they weren’t at all (a blank dioxide perhaps).

Thankfully, the beautiful musical accompaniment allows the imagination to roam and doesn’t focus instead on that satirical edge, and ultimately in  the poem and in the music, it is the imagination that wins! We do need brilliant young inventing new colours that fly, and they are out there working very hard at it, right now. When I listen to this one now, I imagine wonderfully odd semi-robotic species of bird full of character and colour. This piece makes me smile, as though we live in a very complex world that is still full of charm.

 

Michael: “Seepods” is a good example for your preference (sometimes) to use very sensual, miscroscopic details of everyday life and then build up a kind of impressionistic picture… does this poem in some way reflect your interest in a free, unconditioned way of perceiving things that can produce magic without being linked to a certain message?

 

Rick: ‘Yes’ is the best answer to this question. I can’t express this better than you have! I will add that I have a belief that the internal world and the external world can both be understood far better by just looking; looking carefully at them both in the context of the other. ‘Looking’ itself needs examining and re-evaluating too. Relationship (like that of the very large to the very small) is everywhere in this album, and in my work in general. I also recognise lately that so much of  what we experience as ‘feeling’ is just projected, and from the top of the 344 bus in London (where I wrote this one) it is possible to see ‘seven different feelings’ responding in their ‘seven’ different ways to the same trigger at any given moment. Only a conditioned mind fails to see this every day in London.

 

LIVING IN MUMBAI

 

Michael:  One of my favourite poems and tracks (in fact, they are nearly all favourite pieces)  is “the real”, a fine  example of producing mistrust  about so-called “reality”.  By repeating some of the words and changing them subtely, the listener´s security is more and more feeling like a fake. Could be a Buddhist poem for the Western world, couldn´t it? And Brian enhances this by heavily treating the voice in the last part of the long track…

 

Rick: This is one of my favourite tracks too. An undressing of the myths of language, and because of Brian’s wonderful idea of stretching and elongating the ‘repeat’, an undressing of the very myth of speaking (and telling ‘facts’) too, it is an opportunity to meditate on your own understandings.

Living in Mumbai for a while really opened my eyes to the fact that these ideas are not new or strange, and are also not ‘hippy’ (or any other similarly Western kind of identifying word to discredit anything ‘other’). In India I found a society that was able to talk about things not from a self conscious position of quasi-scientific authority but from an open position of questioning and critical thinking built into the fabric of daily life by an ancient tradition of such thinking. Exact ‘classification’ was not the stated end of this thinking, unlike the West, rather an acknowledgement that giant forces of the world and universe were in flux, and that human beings played only a small and equal part to all other forms of life.

I am not Buddhist, or a Hindu, nor have I studied either way exhaustively, but I do see the frontiers of science shifting all the time and making fools of experts, and the fact that people have also long agreed on one simple truth, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. At the ends of our formalized intelligence lives imagination. Ultimately, we are all looking for the same thing and anyone who tells you ‘no, you are wrong, life is rigidly this way, full stop’ is almost certainly selling you something.

 

WHAT TAGORE SAID TO EINSTEIN

 

Michael:  Who is “The Airman”… Where does this title hint to? A space traveler?  Quite often in your poems you´re writing  about stuff from a kind of “outsider perspective”. A kind of “alien perspective”… Another good example is the poem “A title” that offers some excursion to evolution theory…

 

Rick: The airman is a representation of my own attempts at thinking logically through smaller and smaller building blocks of life in an attempt to understand it. Like deep sea divers and space explorers, we are still searching our own consciousness and wondering where it can take us; often it is our ability to travel further away from ourselves that allows us to better understand ourselves. The actual idea of ‘airman’ I am almost certain was taken from Auden or the ‘pylon poets’ of the 1930s, and really is just about jumping on the back of technological advance to steal a clear view of its secrets like a magpie (Auden’s airman I think was a first world war pilot scanning the earth to make maps). “a title” is similar, as we get closer  to understanding ourselves through a meditation through a microscope, or appreciating our true nature beneath all the constructs.

 

Michael:  “Sounds alien” has, from the lyrics,  clear musical references, like  “sounds are alien and dense…”.  Did you write this or other poems with the idea in the back of your mind that Brian will make the music?

 

Rick:  ‘sounds alien’ came from a collection of consciously shorter work that I was writing at the time it was made (I think around 2006) and almost certainly these shorter poems were influenced by the fact I was working with Brian and other musicians and with music in mind. The rhythm of these words certainly lend themselves to manipulation or repetition (very much in the vein of what Tagore said to Einstein about ‘Eastern’ music with its words that were not necessarily anything other than structural stepping stones in a greater and more vivid picture.

These words also relate to a long term love of ‘drum and bass’ music, with the ability it had to take me out of my own thoughts through its broken beat repetitions and alterations. It is worth mentioning here that I think it was listening to music with live MCs and rappers that first made me interested in ‘poetry’, I have always loved hearing a voice adding its layers to music, and in the rare instances that the images are vivid too, that is my musical heaven.

I do draw a great deal of fuel from music and drums, as a writer but also just as a stress reliever in day to day life. If I remember correctly Brian picked these words from the group of short poems I brought to one of our sessions and read them with Aylie over an existing piece. We made this track in the same session as ‘multimedia’ and ‘the airman’ (which were written with the words as starting points).

 

CLOUD 4  

 

Michael:  And then there is this wonderful poem – and the wonderful song „Cloud 4“. For someone who likes Brian singing it´s  a bit sad that  it is so short, but the form is perfect. Do you have a relationship to his song albums… have you been a fan of Brian´s music before you met him personally. I mean he had written great  song lyrics in his song albums, and then there is the ambient work full of strange moods that might inspire the writing of  poems with the music running in the background, So what´s your story with Brian´s music?

 

Rick: I grew up with Brian’s music forming part of the background of my life without realising it. A lot of people of my generation can say that. I didn’t have a direct experience of or knowledge of Brian’s music until I met him. It is lucky really, because I had no preconception of working with him, and so no reference to either influence me or intimidate me. I have learned so much from him and have been really interested to discover his work after meeting the man, rather than the other way round. I have to admit that it was a good few years even after working with him that I really grasped his attitude to lyrics. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone that first day if I had known what I was letting myself in for! I did actually have a crack at writing words for a lot of the songs that came out very differently in his previous two ‘song’ albums, including the lovely ‘Strange Overtones’.

I love his song ‘This’ incidentally and I think that is a good example of his approach to lyric writing as I can imagine the words came in streams and in servitude to the music. I’ve also heard some unreleased songs that are just stunning and perhaps lyrically incomplete. Perhaps my story with Brian’s music is that of the covert secret operative who has had access to the vaults. My relationship to all of his work, across art forms, is one of ongoing illumination. Most recently I’ve read about Stafford Beer and loved those parts of his work I could understand, and while I still perhaps know less of Brian’s ‘song albums’ than some do, I have certainly heard him sing a lot.

A quick aside, regarding the length of ‘Cloud 4’. The option of continuing with it and building it did come up, but we both thought it delivered its message. As an aside to an aside, I remember also Brian saying that one of his favourite songs ever, Maurice Williams’ ‘Stay’ was the perfect song encapsulated in 1 minute and 39 seconds. I certainly know what that song is saying!

 

THE RAIN WAS HAMMERING DOWN

 

Michael:  Starting  reading a poem with the title “multimedia”  I didn´t expect some strange archaic rituals? What triggered this fantasy of caves and elemental sounds…?

 

Rick: Aboriginal spot paintings, Australia, Fire, Music, ‘Click Sticks’ and also the ‘archaic’ rituals that are carried out in techno parties all over the world or anywhere where people dance to drums. A lot of us find release in dancing to loud beats (expertly so in Germany). I wrote this at a time where a lot of self conscious multimedia art was around and it made me think that mixing art, dancing, music and ecstatic energy was nearly as old as the most ancient human practices and not perhaps as clever as smug artists were implying (in the ‘Dreambirds’ years!). I had also seen an Aboriginal man on ‘walkabout’ in central Sydney which was a contrast that had a great impact on me in a country whose real history fascinated me, with it’s stories of totemic beings singing the world into existence and naming the land. The very common need for release is the thing that triggered the fantasy, projected onto an outback scene from the other side of the world. It is a poem that is proudly from my youth, when the political climate and behaviour of a lot of my peers seemed a million miles removed from what I thought was real.

 

Michael:   Did Brian tell you why he decided to sing the last track of the album with an utterly deep voice. The “silence” before it is well-chosen after the poem that ended with pure optimism and the words  “things will be good”.   The change of mood makes the silent period nearly necessary, and,  what  seemed to be a happy ending of the album turns into something dark. Can you give some suggestions about your perception of this last track?

 

Rick:  I am going to take some credit here for pushing Brian to do something he wasn’t necessarily comfortable doing. We were in a new part of his studio, he had moved all of his equipment into what had previously been an office, with large glass skylight windows. The rain was hammering down in heavy drops, the daylight had disappeared behind the clouds, and he had this dark and thrilling sound on the go. In short, the stage was set to try ‘Breath of Crows’, a slow meditation that is both dark and uplifting in my opinion. His choice of singing voice fitted the whole atmosphere, and I pushed him to carry on with this sung approach. I think he enjoyed confounding his own doubts, and I love this track. The silence was completely necessary, yes, and the atmosphere too different from the rest of the album to place anywhere else.

As for my perception it is completely bound up in where the poem was written, which was under a Mumbai monsoon, in my small room over there, which was at tree level and meant I lived in close proximity to the city’s crow population. It was the culmination of a lot of reading, thinking, working as a teacher at Utpal Shanghvi School, and living closely with these very intelligent animals in a culture that revered and took notice of all living things. The song is perhaps like a non religious hymn.

 

Michael:  Anything you like to add? At the end…

 

Rick:  I would just like to add that working with Brian enabled me for the first time to watch a full time artist at work; someone as committed to his work as a research scientist and constantly pushing himself and his ideas and modes of thinking. While the working process necessitated give and take I never once felt anything other than his complete equal and this is down to his total commitment to remaining open and curious to the world. I am proud of the album and the journey we have taken to realise it, but most of all I am just very grateful to have been given the opportunity to meet him and work with him. I hope you enjoy the record, and give it some good quality time to listen to (perhaps on shuffle mode for best effect).

Interview with Kateryna Zavoloka, Ukranian sound artist, composer, performer, and visual artist, who is now based in Berlin. Living in Kyiv in 2006, Zavoloka founded the label Kvitnu with her partner Dmytro Fedorenko (aka Kotra) and designed and curated the visual appearance of the label’s releases, while also releasing her own music through the label. Cluster Lizard is a duo project with Dmytro Fedorenko.

 

I mainly became really aware of Kvitnu and of your visual design work with the release of the Pan Sonic concert album Oksastus – Live In Ukraine. It was released in 2014, but Mika and Ilpo had already ended the Pan Sonic collaboration a few years prior, so for their fans – like myself – it was a great surprise and event to hear some new music from them (and the album had been recorded at the end of their collaborative years). Can you talk a bit about how you approached that album design? An impressive artwork, it’s just as unusual for Pan Sonic as it is mysterious, opening up a really strong atmospheric world, before one actually listens to the music on the album. It’s a peculiar combination of organic, abstract and artificial elements; the image on the front reminds me of a seed of some sort of grain, but also of an egg from the movie Alien. What’s the story behind it?

 

We invited Pan Sonic to play at the Kvitnu_live event in 2009 in Kyiv, and it was an amazing and very powerful concert. We recorded it properly and asked them if we could release it on Kvitnu, and five years after the concert we made the double LP. The first release was on 20th of February 2014, and it was the last days of the Maidan revolution in Kyiv, Ukraine, during the clashes of protesters with Berkut special forces, police troops, and that day the snipers shot protesters. Those were the most tragic days and a transformational period for Ukraine – and of course for us, and I will remember this day forever. Pan Sonic called the release Oksastus – the Finnish word for process of grafting or cultivating of plants. That is why I decided to use some plants in the design for the artwork, I wanted to make it abstract and organic. I found the slide films of different seeds made by my grandfather Oleg Kozlov, who was a biochemist, scientist and inventor. In the 1960s he made the “scanning microscope” that could make very sharp images of very small objects like insects or seeds. So I used his slides, transformed the images and added textures and special print techniques like UV-lacquering, bronze paint and foil to create a metallic effect. The vinyls me made in white for a contrast, and Dmytro then stamped each LP label with the Pan Sonic logo by hand. Real art work.

 

 

Can you talk about the relationship between your visual work as a designer or graphic artist and your work as a musician/composer? Having the mission and the chance to come up with designs for other artists’ musical worlds must be a bit of a challenge sometimes, I guess.

 

I always asked musicians if they wanted anything particular, and most of the time they answered that they trusted me. While I made artworks, I always listened to their music, kind of sinesthesia. Sometimes musicians would give me some image or photo and I would transform it, and we would add some special effects, like hot foil pressing or the glitter, metallic paint, embossing or silk-print. I’d the say musicians have been happy with my designs for them, as we always would listen carefully. But we never compromised our visions of Kvitnu.

 

You grew up in in Kyiv when Ukraine was still a Soviet Republic – so you experienced the changes from the 80s through the challenging years after 1991. Where did your path as a visual artist and musician start?

 

Yes, it was during the Soviet Union, and I hated it. I was a kid when the union collapsed and Ukrainians were very happy to have independence in 1991. It’s true that those were challenging years for us, but it was wonderful; finally, we we allowed to travel abroad, have private property or make business, listen to music in the end! From my childhood I was interested in visual art and music, my father and mother were painters and designers and I went to millions of different art workshops for kids and sang in a children’s choir. Somehow from my childhood I already knew that I would design artworks for other musicians.

 

Then at some point in time you moved to Vienna and later to Berlin, so in a way you are now in between here and there — also artistically?

 

Dmytro and I moved to Vienna because we wanted to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. A year after graduation we moved to Berlin. It was the most transformational period for me. I think it is very important for any person to have such an experience, and especially for any artist. Living in other countries shifts your perception of everything, removes clichés and patterns in your head, causes tectonic transformations in your consciousness; you start to question your reality more and more, and therefore make more right choices for yourself. This is so important for creativity when you have a more clear vision, of what you want, and what you would not accept anymore. This period made me more balanced and happier after all these stormy times, and this first year in Berlin was actually shiny fruitful in my art.

 

Usually it’s rather the other way round: People from stable Western countries like Germany say how transformational it has been for them to live in much more unstable and messy places for a while. In what way have Vienna or Berlin had such a transformative impetus for you?

 

Maybe it was not very clear: I meant that moving to any other country from your own home country and living there would shift the perception and would offer you different perspectives. We moved to Vienna in 2014 to study and we lived there for five years; and in the middle of 2019 we moved to Berlin – actually, not so long before all the lockdowns. I think when you live in your homeland you have some vision of some sort of spherical happiness in a vacuum about another countries, which is not true for sure. For us, living in Austria was not stable and not comfortable at all, as for immigrants with a non-EU passport it has been extremely tough.

Transformational experiences don’t come from the country itself, but rather from extreme situations, more like a shock therapy that wakes you up, like if you plunge yourself into boiling water and then have to pull yourself out of it. My album Promeni from 2018 is about that.

 

So what kind of things – in art – do you not want to accept anymore?

 

In general, I don’t want to accept compromises with myself, I would rather think and meditate a thousand times and ask myself intuitively: does that resonate with me? Does that what I really need? And after that make better and calm decisions.

 

You had already several years of experience, working as an artist, working with music, sound, visuals, as well as, through the label, with lots of different musicians and artist. What caused both of you to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna?

 

I wanted to learn more about video and motion graphics, Dmytro had math and economy educations and wanted to study at an art academy, that’s why we applied. Well, it was my second art education, as I also used to study at Kyiv State Institute of Decorative and Applied Art and Design before, where it was more academical and technical, whereas in Vienna it was more conceptual and ideological. For artists, it is important to be free thinkers, and free from any ideology templates installed in the head by educational institutes, and I am very glad that I don’t need to study anymore.

 

Earlier you worked with vocals on some releases – you even made a whole collaboration album with AGF, who is a well-versed vocal artist, and I also like your remix of Колискова Для Ворога (Lullaby For The Enemy) by Стасік (Stasik).

 

Стасік is a young Ukrainian singer, songwriter, and a veteran of the Russian-Ukrainian war. She doesn’t have many songs yet, but all of them are like the sharpest knife into the heart, very strong. When Lullaby for the enemy came out, I was so strongly impressed that I immediately wrote to her and suggested making a remix. Then we decided with my partner Dmytro to release these two remixes on Kvitnu as an exclusive EP.

 

On my new album Ornament I also worked with my voice, but it was kind of hidden, and I didn’t want to draw attention to it, but rather work with the voice like an expressive sound source, untraceable in the sonic fabric.

 

 

On the last few albums your music on the one hand seems to have become more reduced, compositionally – but on the other hand, sound-wise, also more high-energy“. I often find a curious combination of smooth, or mellow elements in your music – while it is still very energetic, these more recent releases, too. Did living in Berlin have an influence on the new album?

 

I don’t think it’s influenced by Berlin, because the music came from the period of the album Syngonia, which was written around 2016. Just before that, I spent several years looking for the sound I needed. I even wanted to stop composing music, I was not satisfied and thought that I was tired. I think it’s a natural evolution, and it’s natural for an artist to have such peaks of negativity and positivity, and it’s really great to find a middle way and balance in creativity.

 

Right before Syngonia I was going through a difficult period. Syngonia and Promeni were the last two volumes of the series of “Purification by Four Elements: Air, Water, Earth, Fire” and I felt relieved when I finished them. Ornament was written in 2019–2020 and is a stand-alone album with a different concept, where ornament is the coding element for the unique algorithm that modulates an intention, path, state, and a space.

 

Since you commented on your art or process becoming clearer: The artwork of Ornament is probably your most reduced and minimalist cover – at the same time it also seems to be inspired by some sort of extreme contrast, it’s almost aggressive.

 

The artwork of Ornament is more minimalist because I wanted to make it like a colourful contrast of extreme states of consciousness, where balance is the key. As it is contrasting sonically.

 

The album is very contrasting in atmospheres and in sound, it is like travel.

 

And Prophecy, the 2018 Cluster Lizard album, was the last one you recorded in Vienna? What’s the main idea behind it? I notice the tracks are quite long (as are the track titles, which are quotes from poetry). What kind of prophecy does the album title refer to?

 

Prophecy is like a message of revelation. The tracks are as long as their poetic titles, we wanted to create narrative atmospheres, sonic trip.

 

So Kvitnu has been running since 2006 with around 70 releases. So what caused you to start another label, Prostir, in 2018? 

 

Yes, we started Kvitnu in 2006 in Kyiv and made it for 14 years, until 2020. At first, it was only for Ukrainian experimental electronic music, but soon we received so many demos from around the world, so Kvitnu became international. We helped many musicians to release their music, it was truly an honour for us to discover wonderful artists and to help them from the heart. We have decided to close Kvitnu, because it was an art project, like an art movie with a good ending. We already heard several melancholic stories about other labels, and it was extremely important for us to make a positive finale at the highest peak of development. We became friends with our artists, we have a very grateful audience, and the release of Kotra & Zavoloka Silence became the final endless silent loop with the question written on the EP label: What do you hear, how much you hear nothing?“


Prostir me and Dmytro started in 2018 for only our own music and arts with the second release by Cluster Lizard, Prophecy. So it was natural that I wanted to release my solo album Ornament there. We consider Prostir not only as a music label but also as an art space (“prostir” / “простір” means “space” in Ukrainian) for any other art forms and other dimensions we might imagine.

 

Which direction would you like to see your music moving towards?

 

Our plan is to release the new Cluster Lizard album, which will sound different from our previous albums. We already composed several tracks. Dmytro has played on his guitar and bass with various effect processors and pedals, so the new album will sound more bright and fresh. And after we finish the album, I want to compose for my solo work – I have some thoughts already.

 

How is your view on the situation among your friends in Ukraine today? Would you consider moving back sometime, or do you think the political situation is too dire — and you prefer to stay in Berlin?

 

We moved to Berlin for music. Now, of course, it’s a bit quiet everywhere, but I hope it will change soon. Somehow now I play more often in Ukraine than before and love to travel there. And I am very glad that so many very good events and professional promoters have appeared in recent years; it’s wonderful! As any Ukrainian has a cherry-blossom garden in their heart, whenever I will be bored here, I will move back.

 

 

Finally, which music has been the most evocative and inspiring for you in 2020?

 

For me, 2020 has been precious as the most productive and intense year in my own music and I believe for other artists too. I liked the new albums of my friends – Kotra’s Namir and Ujif_Notfound’s Neumatonic. Amazing new album by Liturgy, Origin of the Alimonies, Simon Posford‘s Flux & Contemplation – Portrait of an Artist in Isolation, and Extrawelt’s Little We Know and many others. Of older music, I opened for myself this year Japanese collective Geinoh Yamashirogumi and the last album by Jack White, Boarding House Reach, and Muslimgauze’s Salaam Alekum, Bastard are great.

I think we are currently in a time of beautiful transitions and transformations in music.

The conversation between Kateryna Zavoloka and IJ.Biermann, was conducted in Berlin, in December 2020.

Das Jazzfest Berlin beeindruckt jedes Jahr mit einem einzigartigen Programm bekannter und zugleich durchweg spannender internationaler Musiker/innen aus dem weiteren Jazzbereich. Ich kann hier immer wieder Anfang November, nur wenige Minuten von meiner Wohnung entfernt, eine beeindruckende Menge hochinteressanter, oft auch seltener Konzerte erleben.

In diesem Jahr hat die neue Leiterin Nadin Deventer die vier Festivaltage so geschickt wie ambitioniert nach thematischen Überlegungen geordnet, unter anderem gab es den „Fokus: Chicago“ mit Nicole Mitchells Black Earth Ensemble, dem Projekt ihres aktuellen Albums Mandorla Awakening, das Art Ensemble of Chicago erstmals seit 27 Jahren wieder in Berlin und Trompeten-Jungstar Jaimie Branch. Zusätzlich traten unter dem thematischen Überbau „Blick zurück in die Zukunft afroamerikanischer Musik“ (Überschneidungen offenkundig) u.a. Irreversible Entanglements, Moor Mother, Roscoe Mitchell und Jason Moran auf. Allein diese Namen waren bereits große Versprechungen, und ich hatte mir, wie in den Vorjahren, vorgenommen, einiges anzuschauen/anzuhören. Meine frühzeitige Bewerbung um Pressekarten führte jedoch zu wenig Erfolg, was leider erst in den letzten Tagen vor den Veranstaltungen mitgeteilt wurde, und da waren dann schon fast alle Konzerte ausverkauft … zumal mein trister Kontostand als Unter-Hartz4-Satz-Verdiener mir auch nicht wirklich einen Erwerb weiterer Eintrittskarten ermöglichte.

Am Ende besuchte ich daher also auch in diesem Jahr nur eines der vielen tollen Konzerte und kann so leider keinen wirklich ergiebigen Festivalbericht erstatten, wie ich das gerne getan hätte – sondern belasse es stattdessen bei ein paar persönlichen Zeilen zu dem letzten Konzertabend. Am Sonntag beschloss nämlich Bill Frisell, dessen jüngste Alben hier ja einige begeistern, das Festival mit einem intimen Auftritt, den er in ein und derselben Position ohne große Worte, allein mit einer Gitarre, im kargen Licht sitzend, bestritt. Der ganze Abend stand unter der nicht ganz adäquaten Überschrift „Melancholic Sunday“, was, wie seine aktuelle Karriererückblick-CD Music is verrät, immerhin ganz besonders auf Frisells bewegendes Programm zutraf. Manchmal können diese unaufdringlichen Improvisationen etwas lang werden, doch der ganze Saal im Haus der Berliner Festspiele lauschte gebannt und zeigte sich hinterher mit langem Applaus begeistert von dieser unprätentiösen, fast schon weisen Lebensreise des 67-Jährigen. Als ich ihm hinterher bei der kleinen Signier-Viertelstunde mitteilte, dass ich seine jüngsten ECM-Mitwirkungen besonders schätze, verriet er, dass im Februar ein weiteres Album mit Thomas Morgan erscheinen soll. (Das brachte mich auf die Idee, dass man vielleicht mal ein Portrait-Video von Thomas Morgan machen müsste.)

 
 
 


 
 
 

Zur Zugabe holte Frisell die jüngere Kollegin Mary Halvorsen zu einem Duett auf die Bühne. Halvorsen war beim diesjährigen Jazzfest „Artist in Residence“ und entsprechend in vielen unterschiedlichen Formationen, Auftritten und Veranstaltungen aktiv – was vielleicht erklärt, warum sie beim ersten Europa-Auftritt ihres Oktetts (mit dem Programm des Albums Away with you) eine erstaunlich untergeordnete Rolle einzunehmen schien. Man konnte den Eindruck gewinnen, dass sie vielleicht schon etwas müde war. Einem Freund, der das Konzert ebenfalls besuchte (aber nicht wie ich im Parkett, sondern oben in der Loge saß), gefiel es nicht, dass Halvorsens Gitarre gegenüber den anderen Instrumenten kaum zu hören war (War das evtl. oben mehr ein Problem als unten?), speziell auch, weil neben ihr Pedal-Steel-Gitarre von Susan Alcorn so viel Raum bekam. Mich störte das weniger, aber es fiel schon sehr auf, dass jede/r der Mitwirkenden ausgiebigen Raum für Soli, meist mehrfach, bekam, während die Chefin sich diesen Raum nicht schenkte und geradezu bescheiden am Rand saß und spielte, als wäre sie eine Nebenfigur des Ganzen. Ihre Mitmusiker waren durchweg beeindruckend und mitreißend, speziell Bassist John Hébert und Saxofonist Jon Irabagon kamen beim Publikum sehr gut an. So unterhaltsam ich das etwa 45-minütige Programm auch fand, es schien mir auch ein klein wenig enttäuschend konventionell, in American-Jazz-Mainstream-Weise, weshalb mich sehr wunderte, dass Bill Frisell die Zugabe mit Halvorsen später mit den Worten einleitete: „It blew my mind. I’ve never heard anything like that.“ Denn so vielseitig und eingängig Halvorsens Oktett-Programm auch war, dass man das, womit die acht oder neun hier dargebotenen Stücke aufwarteten, nicht bereits irgendwo so oder ähnlich gehört hätte, konnte man nun wirklich nicht sagen.

Dabei fällt mir ein, dass in einem Kurzbericht zum Festival (im RBB, wenn ich mich nicht irre) ein paar Gäste nach den Konzerten befragt worden waren, und einer dieser Interviewten, laut Selbstaussage seit vielen Jahren ein regelmäßiger Jazzfest-Besucher, brachte es tatsächlich fertig, in seinen kurzen Statements sicher sechs- bis achtmal zu sagen, dass das Programm in diesem Jahr besonders „anstrengend“ (gleichwohl lohnend) sei, „so anstrengend war es noch nie“. Man darf daher mit einiger Sicherheit annehmen, dass der Herr sich über das zumeist ruhige Programm des „Melancholic Sunday“ sehr gefreut haben dürfte. Leider war ich nicht bei dem Doppelkonzert am Nachmittag, obgleich Maria Fausts großartiges Ensemble-Programm für eines der besten und fantasievollsten im zu Ende gehenden Jahr veröffentlichten Jazzensemble-Alben (Machina) gesorgt hat, das ich liebend gerne live erlebt hätte, zumal in der Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche und gefolgt von einem Soloauftritt von Kara-Lis Coverdale.

Zurück zum Abendprogramm: Während Mary Halvorsens Oktettstücke also mit Abwechslungsreichtum und Publikums-Eingängigkeit punkteten, das Konzert indes leider ein wenig steif und unflexibel wirkte (ein Eindruck, den mein Freund oben auf der Loge ebenfalls bekam – jedes der vielen Soli vermittelte weitaus mehr das Gefühl von Pflicht als von Kür, schade), war der Auftritt von Kim Myhrs Septett, der den Gitarren-Konzertabend eröffnete, gewissermaßen das Gegenteil: Interessanterweise machen die Stücke seines Albums You | Me in ihrer etwas ausgebauten Live-Variante (erweitert auf ganze vier Gitarristen!) erst einmal den Eindruck streng durchgeplanter und unflexibler Minimal Music. Wer das Album kennt, weiß, dass es sich hier um zwei epische Kompositionen für Gitarre und mehrere Perkussionisten (Hans Hulbækmo, Ingar Zach und Tony Buck) handelt, die in der Tradition von Steve Reichs „klassischem“ Material stehen, gefiltert durch leise Anklänge an norwegische Volksmusik und die aus dem Osloer Sofa-Music-Umfeld (oder ähnlich auch von den Necks, apropos Tony Buck) bekannte Ambient-Improvisation, wo Kim Myhr und Ingar Zach mit dem Sofa-Label und ihren zahlreichen Bands und Projekten seit mindestens 15 Jahren wesentliche Protagonisten sind. Der Ansatz, den diese Musiker verfolgen, ist oftmals der eines hypnotischen Musizierens mit sich ineinander verzahnenden und auseinander herauskristallisierenden Entwicklungslinien, was auch beim Zuhörer gerne einen latenten Trance-Zustand evoziert. Das gelang auch beim Auftritt am Sonntag Abend sehr schön und vor allem ohne, dass es je steif und formal geworden wäre, nicht zuletzt weil sich die sieben Musiker offenkundig seit vielen Jahren kennen und gut verstehen. Man darf dabei freilich keinen konventionellen Jazz erwarten, wie das wohl die beiden etwas älteren Besucher/innen neben mir hatten, die nach dem Myhr-Konzert kommentierten, dass das die Konzerte aufzeichnende Radio jetzt fürs erste wieder genügend banale Dudelmusik für die Minuten vor den Nachrichten in petto habe. Schätze, die beiden waren mit dem deutlich jazzigeren, aber auch gefälligeren Auftritt des folgenden Oktetts dann gut bedient.

Gerne hätte ich wie gesagt auch andere Konzerte erlebt, zumal der erwähnte Freund sehr positiv über die Auftritte von Jaimie Branch, Moor Mother und Irreversible Entanglements berichtete. Bill Frisell hat er wiederum durch diesen Abend schätzen gelernt. [Fotos © Camille Blake. (Die zweite Gitarre fasste Frisell während des ganzen Auftritts übrigens nicht einmal an.) Ein paar Fotos von dem Abend kann man hier bei der Jazz-Zeitung sehen.]

Since our view [here on this blog], when it comes to jazz albums, is (most of the time) predominantly focused on albums from our favorite label in Munich, I would, once again, like to draw some attention to the U.K. With a similarly unique visual and artistic style as well as at the same time a broad variety of contemporary (mostly) jazz albums (and the music on the “fringes“ of jazz), Dave Stapleton’s Edition Records have just celebrated their tenth anniversary this spring and have released a string of fascinating albums this summer.

Firstly, the work of tenor and soprano sax player Tim Garland would fit nicely into ECM’s releases (just take a look at the colourful cover image), but being an English musician (he was born in 1966 around London) and his latest project being inspired by the scenic, mountainous Lake District in North West England, he’s no doubt more at home on Edition. Weather Walker (droll title) features a whole orchestra, which Garland not only wrote for but also conducted, with Yuri Goloubev on double bass as well as Jason Rebello and Pablo Held on pianos. Like many Norwegian recordings, this grand, one-hour suite in 12 parts (on a side note, it somewhat reminds me of my favourite Abdullah Ibrahim album African Suite), bears a similarly strong connection to nature to Norwegian jazz composers’ works as well as that one by Ibrahim, and much of it is also based on folk music, specifically an English folk tune called The Snows They Melt The Soonest, “that can still cast a powerful spell“, as Garland puts it. There you have some obvious parallels to quite a lot of contemporary jazz from Norway. So it is not far fetched to adhere that – like some of Jan Garbarek’s works with orchestra – Weather Walker draws a fascinating line from European classical music to intimate chamber jazz. Garland’s approach, though, is a probably lighter and more elegant, while in parts also much more rhythmic one. He likes to use the orchestra in a percussive manner, which I find rather entertaining and would love to hear in a concert situation. Like the old Concerto Grosso, Garland says, Weather Walker sometimes works with an 8-piece within the large 35 piece string orchestra, to reach a lucent, sweeping sound. An album as warm and gentle as it is full of atmosphere – the cover image makes that clear it right away.

Around Edition’s 10th anniversary, Pianist Pablo Held has furthermore released his 10th album in his own name – with his trio again, their first on the British label, after the preceding 2016 album Lineage came out via Bavaria’s now defunct Pirouet Records and was rightly praised with top ratings and recommendations in German media. (The Berlin daily Tagesspiegel called them “Germany’s most democratic and most adventurous piano trio“, among other things.) Strangely enough, last year Pablo Held was part of not one, but at least two extensive features on young and promising German jazz musicians in major German magazines, though the trio has (in its still current form) been existent since 2005, has released 6 or 7 albums, one of which featured John Scofield, with Investigations being Held’s 1oth album overall, plus more than 25 album appearances as a sideman. Anyway, I really like that Held, who lives in Köln (or, Cologne, as the Besatzungsmächte still like to call it) with his family, calls Herbie Hancock his favourite musician. And when he replies with Miles Davis’ Filles De Killimanjaro, Federico Mompou’s Complete Piano Works, and Joni Mitchell’s Song to a Seagull to the question about his three favourite albums, one can get a sense of where his music might be heading towards.

Which is, well, somewhat misleading… And I am not sure how I feel about that. Would I prefer Held’s albums were more extravagant, like many by the daring Hancock? I am still somewhat undecided if I prefer Investigations over its predecessor, Lineage, but this new album does show an even more matured group, whose members appear highly at ease with each other – and a more intuitive selection of tracks that hardly ever follow a beaten path. This music is rhythmically and melodically complex while the performances remain impressively immediate and playful. And speaking of ECM, it is noteworthy, I think, that there is a quote by, of all people, Ralph Towner in the album’s booklet, saying: “The beautiful music of the Pablo Held Trio strikes me as an important example of the evolution of the piano trio in jazz. They embody the poetry and depth of this tradition, while extending the harmonic and rhythmic possibilities of the tradition. The music of this trio brings me joy knowing that this great art form continues to grow and flourish.” If it wasn’t for the rather silly, pastel coloured cover image, I think I’d be a huge fan of this album. [Side note: The pianist administers a website called Pablo Held Investigates, where he uploads conversations with other musicians, like John Scofield and Chris Potter.]

 
 
 


 
 
 

Another trio, which couldn’t be more different from the Pablo Held Trio’s modern approach, has also just released a new album on Edition, their third one, and first one with a new guitarist, and has captivated and surprised me a lot more right away. To be honest, I don’t remember having heard any of the Leeds based Roller Trio’s music before I put New Devices into my CD player, even though their debut album had been a Mercury Prize nominee in 2012… well, the Mercury Prize is obviously as big in Germany as it is on the British Islands. New Devices is definitely contemporary jazz, well, is it jazz?… never mind… taking shreds of the past and the present and merging it into a wholly unique kind of music. Some people will hear rock music in there, others heard hip hop, while electronica is surely a strong influence (all members are credited with programming and synths besides their respective principal instruments – saxophones, guitar, electric bass and drums). Also, it is possible to describe them as Terry Riley jamming with Tortoise, while a strong urban feel dominates most of the album (reportedly they included sounds sampled from the Leeds night life, seamlessly, I must say). This is a wild album, highly energetic – with some slower tracks as well – very organic tracks as a result of collective improvisation, definitely on of my favourite jazz-etc records of the year, and easily the best Edition release of 2018 (so far).

I also wanted to write about Tonadas by Julian Argüelles, but for some reason I can’t find the CD anywhere (always a bit annoying with those thin promo copies… they easily get lost), so I’ll have to do a follow-up. I can’t remember much about this album, as I have only listened to it before I went to Norway for the whole summer… Right now I am listening to Bloomer, the debut album by saxophone player Tom Barford, Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize winner, about whom Evan Parker is quoted saying, “We are witnessing the birth of a new star in the jazz firmament.” I don’t know about that (yet), but the album plays vibrant and dynamic, with sax, piano, drums, bass and an impressive Billy Marrows on guitar. I haven’t heard the new Dinosaur album Wonder Trail (yet), mainly because I only received it as a download, and I never manage to work through all those downloads in my tons of folders I download throughout the year. But I am looking forward to listening to this album some day, as the quartet’s first CD, Together, As One, a couple of years ago, was truly intense and still deserves a strong recommendation. And, yes, the new Phronesis [another forward-thinking piano trio on Edition] album is terrific, as were several of their predecessors.

Finally, I’d like to draw some attention to the untitled album by the electrifying trio Enemy, which my fellow Nordische Music writer Stefan strongly recommended, saying:

 

Enemy is about continuing the history of the piano trio. For this [Petter Eldh] has teamed up with British pianist Kit Downes (who recently succeeded with a completely different kind of church organ project on ECM) and his fellow countryman James Maddren on drums, and they brilliantly prove that this story is far from over. Unlike Gogo Penguin, who seek (and find) renewal in this discipline by retreating into patterns and structures, Enemy succeeds more out of tradition. Because the riffs, which often underlie the pieces, could just as well originate in bebop. They are, however, staged astonishingly (poly-)rhythmically complex, tempos are constantly stretched and compressed, and one hears radical groove switching. […] Everything they present happens on the edge of what is technically possible, and yet they move (apparently) playfully and “tightly“ around all the cliffs. Luckily, all this is possible without being highbrow or elitist in any way; rather, the three garnish their playing with a good dose of humour […]

For quite a while I have wanted to take the opportunity to recommend a few current albums that are not (yet or otherwise) mentioned here. There are already numerous albums on this list, which is why I’m now shortening my recommendations in a telegram-like style.

Although I have been a big fan of the English duo Autechre since the mid-1990s and appreciate and strongly recommend almost all their albums, I can only be amazed at their latest album. This is not necessarily because the opus is eight hours long (the previous album elseq 1-5 was almost five hours long, the preceding exai a 2-CD album of over two hours, and the two preceding ones – Quaristice and Oversteps – were each followed by a one to two hour-long „EP“). Autechre have released so many CDs since the early nineties (and their numerous so-called „EPs“ were in most cases album-length releases, plus their first live album consisted of nine tracks each lasting around an hour) that it is almost astonishing how varied and complex, how imaginative and surprising and at what high level each new release still is – even though Autechre still keep their own unmistakable style and never have guests or producers on board on their regular albums. NTS Sessions 1-4 is an 8-hour-opus; as of now it is only available as download, but the 8-CD-version can be pre-ordered at the Autechre Bleep store and will be produced according to the numbers of the pre-orders.

Mark Smith writes in his epic Resident Advisor review (and he actually only states „Autechre“ as their „style“ or „genre“):

 

The majority of artists in Autechre’s cohort either dropped off in quality or entered the extended victory lap period of their careers. […] ‚NTS Sessions 1-4′ […] their best record in many years. […] The range Autechre get out their patches is staggering. You can feel their own sense of discovery as they’re pushing and pulling parameters. They navigate treacherous skies but they always breach the cloud line, providing clarity, a sense of scale and structure. Even though they’re challenging themselves, there’s no doubt as to who’s created the rules.

 

Without question one of this year’s top 10 albums.

 

Far less spectacular, but most likely also among my album favourites at the end of this year, is Meshell Ndegeocello, an extremely versatile and fascinating songwriter, singer, bassist and producer (Anthony Joseph, Jason Moran and others) from the U.S., who will celebrate her 50th birthday this August. 25 years ago a certain Madonna released Meshell’s first CD Plantation Lullabies on her then newly founded label Maverick, and since then I have fallen in love with almost every Ndegeocello album. Ventriloquism is a personal collection of songs the singer interprets as if it were her own. Which is obviously because she has a very personal relationship with each one of them.

In the frequently very recommendable songwriter podcast Sodajerker, Meshell Ndegeocello talks very openly about her work process and also mentions her many role models and inspirations, some of whom she has already honoured by interpreting songs in her very personal way, such as her gorgeous Nina Simone tribute album Pour Une Âme Souveraine with guests like Valerie June or Sinead O’Connor, among others, and a flamboyant version of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. Taking into consideration that I can easily recommend every single Meshell album with all my heart, Ventriloquism (with a terribly uninspired cover image, though), reflecting personal episodes and recent experiences, may be an album rather for the advanced listener, an unusually quiet one at that, but the intensive, masterful 7-minute rendition of Prince’s (another one of the singer’s idols) Sometimes it snows in April, which condenses the song to its essence and emotional core, is worth the purchase of the album alone.

At this moment I am listening to Eurythmics’ 1983 album Touch — admittedly I have never been a big Dave Stewart fan, but Annie Lennox has been one of my favorite pop artist since the days of my childhood. So it is worth mentioning that all but one of Eurythmics’ studio albums are now, long overdue, being re-released on vinyl, and PopMatters’ Adam Mason has written this extensive recommendation of their body of work. No two albums of theirs sound alike, but arguably best of them, and my personal favorite for 30 years — though most people prefer Touch —  is 1987’s Savage. Both these albums are halfway between avant-garde and pop. Mason concludes,

 

we are here to witness again the powerful counterblow of ‚Savage‘, now becoming the firm fan favorite of the Eurythmics catalog, while building up a reputation as the duo’s ‚Revolver‘, or maybe ‚Low‘, with an experimental sound dominated by Stewart’s adopted digital synthesizer of choice, a synclavier, facilitating Lennox’s excursions into concept-album territory, where the distinctive two sides of the record tell the unsettling story of a woman’s descent into heartbreak, cynicism, emotional devastation and masochism.

 

 

Jon Hopkins, whom some of you will know as Eno’s collaborator on the wonderful Small Craft on a Milk Sea album, finally has a new album out, five years after his deserved breakthrough with the excellent techno-ambient-electronic album Immunity, which ended up on many best-of-the-year lists in 2013. I loved Immunity, and I instantly loved Singularity on first listen. „As striking as Immunity was, Singularity feels more developed, and it’s ultimately a tough call as to which album is more exciting,“ writes Paul Simpson. And Paul Carr summarizes, „Jon Hopkins‘ Singularity evokes the euphoria and vivid awareness of a psychedelic experience.“

The man behind the pseudonym Amen Dunes is Damon McMahon, and his fourth album Freedom is strongly reminiscent of the songwriting and style of Robert Forster, though with a different, slightly softer and more versatile sound. „Everything feels silvery and romantic, like a hallucination of the classic-rock songbook,“ writes Sam Sodomsky.

Meg Remy reaches a new level of complexity with her latest album under her U.S. Girls alias, In A Poem Unlimited, an idiosyncratic sound palette of noise pop, funk with saxophones, trumpets, synths and multilayered percussion; she crafts catchy songs between old-fashioned pop and contemporary art. „[…] her glorious, danceable new album is a righteous collection of razor-sharp songs, full of spit and fury, a high-water mark for political pop music,“ says Jonah Bromwich.

Mouse On Mars, another unique duo, this time from Germany, has also recently released a fascinating new album, which – while retaining the duo’s peculiarities – once again sounds completely new and different from any of their 14 preceding albums. They changed their M.O. and recorded Dimensional People abroad with dozens of (star) guests, including Justin „Bon Iver“ Vernon, rapper Spank Rock and the National bros. Bryce and Aaron Dessner. In the band’s 25th year the album may sound less radical than some predecessors, Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma may enter their „mature“ phase, but they are by no means less inspired and dazzling. The epic, 13-minute opening piece in three parts already surprises with its confrontation of Steve Reich’s stylistic devices and Bon Iver vocals. Mouse On Mars remain their unique universe. Benjamin Moldenhauer:

 

None of this should really fit together. But the perceptible naturalness with which techno, hip-hop, dub, krautrock, indie pop, drum robots, violins, ambient, dissonances and all kinds of indefinable things are brought together here is very delightful. […] Perhaps Mouse on Mars are the most thorough dialecticians of the electronic avant-garde. Two opposing attitudes determine what happens: that of the child euphoric about his own world discovery, who wants to touch everything and tests its suitability for his own, purely intuitively controlled mind. And that of the control-mad tinkerer, who still has to define the smallest sound shred and can do so. ‚Dimensional People‘ draws its tension from this entanglement of exuberant joy of discovery and demiurgical virtuosity.

 

Germany’s currently best rock band is arguably Die Nerven (The Nerves). Even Thurston Moore recommended them. Their new album Fake may not be as urgent and punchy as the preceding Out, but it is still great. Andreas Borcholte: „The fundamental [..] disorientation of society is the theme of Fake. It is, that much is already certain, one of the most haunting German albums of the year.“

 

… to be continued …

2017 15 Sep

Das Weite Land

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Im Rahmen meiner „50 States Tour“ bin ich nun in Oklahoma angelangt, einem der wenigen Staaten, die ich zuvor noch nicht besucht hatte. Und dabei fiel mir besonders auf, wie wenig ich tatsächlich bislang über dieses Land wusste. (Womit ich in Deutschland bzw. Europa sicherlich keinen Einzelfall darstelle.) Klar, anhand des markanten Umrisses könnte ich Oklahoma stets problemlos erkennen, und auch die Hauptstadt kann wohl jeder auch ohne Vorwissen benennen. Doch darüber hinaus war mir Oklahoma bislang eigentlich fast ausschließlich als Heimat der Flaming Lips ein Begriff. In der deutschen Wikipedia-Ausgabe werden erstaunlicherweise weder die Flaming Lips noch Wayne Coyne in der „Liste von Persönlichkeiten des US-Bundesstaates Oklahoma“ geführt. Dafür immerhin Chet Baker, J.J.Cale, Woody Guthrie, Lee Hazelwood, Chuck Norris und ja, auch William Bradley „Brad“ Pitt. Als Band werden immerhin Hanson genannt. Haha! Der Regisseur Ron Howard wurde übrigens in der Kleinstadt Duncan geboren, wo ich im Moment diese Zeilen verfasse. 

 

 

Also wollte ich endlich mal einen Ausflug in den Big Bend National Park einbauen und fuhr die vier Stunden von El Paso, der nächsten größeren Stadt, über Alpine, der letzten Ortschaft vor einer knapp 200km-Strecke zum Visitor Center des Nationalparks. Nach den Sommerferien sind dort mittlerweile nur noch sehr wenige Besucher unterwegs (auf der Rückfahrt kamen mir über knapp zwei Stunden Fahrt gerade mal zwei Autos entgegen — aber umso mehr Tiere, die die Straße überquerten), so dass man wirklich noch in die großen Weiten der amerikanischen Landschaft fährt. Ein außergewöhnlich schöner Ort ist dieser Nationalpark. Und wie schön, dass man auch heute, in Zeiten von Überall-Internet und stetiger Erreichbarkeit noch so weit hinaus fahren kann. Eine Autopanne möchte man da auch nicht haben.

 

 

In Texas findet man irgendwie alle Klischees wieder – aber auch einiges mehr. Faszinierend sind die Steinadler (Golden Eagles), die überall im Land umherkreisen. Kein Wunder ist er so etwas wie der Nationalvogel und prangt auf dem Great Seal of the United States. Auch durfte ich in Texas die Bekanntschaft mit den ernst dreinblickenden State Troopers auf dem Highway machen, die, als sie mich dabei erblickten, wie ich nach einer Ausfahrt kurz anhielt, um mein Fotostativ aus dem Kofferraum nach vorne zu holen, mit Fragen konfrontierten und letztlich eine Verwarnung ausstellten. Das war offenkundig ein Akt der Willkür, denn während sie die Begründung lieferten, ich hätte am Stop-Schild nicht haargenau am Schild, sondern erst zehn Zentimeter dahinter angehalten, taten zahlreiche andere Autofahrer quasi direkt neben uns genau dasselbe, eben weil man am Schild nicht um die Ecke sehen konnte.

Wie dem auch sei, sie befragten mich dazu, welche Art von Filme ich in Deutschland mache, wozu ich das Stativ auf dem Beifahrersitz installierte (Erläuterung: Ich mache z.B. Zeitrafferaufnahmen von meinen Fahrten auf den Straßen, die ich den beiden Polizisten natürlich direkt unter die Nase hielt. Antwort: „I get dizzy only from watching this. … How did you call this? … Time lapse, never heard that.“), warum ich die Autobahn überhaupt verlassen hätte, wo ich herkäme, wo ich hinwolle und ob ich irgendwas im Auto hätte, das ich dort nicht haben dürfe („Do you have anything in your vehicle which you shouldn’t have in there?“). Ich frage mich tatsächlich noch immer, welche Antwort er eigentlich zu hören hoffte.

Später erklärte mir jemand (a real Texan), dass höchstwahrscheinlich mein kalifornisches Kennzeichen die beiden Texaner dazu veranlasst hatte, mich unter die Lupe zu nehmen, „because Texans hate Californians“. Leider habe ich versäumt, die beiden um ein Erinnerungsfoto zu bitten. Immerhin betonte der größere der beiden, die wie aus einem Film entsprungen schienen, zum Abschluss noch einmal, wie man am Stop-Schild zu halten habe. „That’s how it is done here in Texas.“

 

 

Apropos Film: Wunderbare Musik zum Fahren hier ist die Soundtrack-CD Hell or High Water, dem starken Film von Taylor Sheridan, der schon das Sicario-Drehbuch geschrieben hat (das ja ebenfalls weitgehend in West-Texas, sowie in El Paso und Juarez spielt). Auch ohne Kenntnis des Films ein sehr empfehlenswertes Album! Taylor Sheridans Regiedebüt (spielt diesmal in Wyoming), für das er in Cannes den Regiepreis bekam, muss ich nachdrücklich empfehlen, Wind River, mit einer großartigen Musik von Nick Cave und Warren Ellis, kommt demnächst in Deutschland ins Kino. Mein „Lieblingsfilm“ in Cannes in diesem Jahr. Sehr bewegend.

Auch hörte ich bei Fahrten durch die Sonora-Wüste viele Aufzeichnungen der „Klanghorizonte“ (einige habe ich schon häufiger auf Autofahrten gehört), sehr passend etwa die Stunden vom 19. August, mit Joseph Shabason usw. Nicht zuletzt deshalb erwarb ich vor wenigen Tagen auch Father John Mistys Pure Comedy, da es in einer Special Edition für unschlagbare $7,99 bei CVS in Dallas stand. Noch besser ist, meiner Meinung nach, allerdings das neue, fantastische Album von The War On Drugs, A Deeper Understanding. Die perfekte Musik für Autofahrten durch Das Weite Land.

Kürzlich haben mehrere Mitautoren hier über das Sortieren und die Ordnungsmethoden eigener Plattensammlungen philosophiert. Dabei tauchte bei mir die Frage auf, was man als Musikliebhaber überhaupt bei sich behält oder wie andere das System handhaben. Die meisten Leute, die ich kenne, besitzen eine mehr oder weniger überschaubare CD-Sammlung. Manche/r kauft sich mal eine Platte, die als „Fehlkauf“ verbucht wird … Aber so eine richtige Sammlungspflege betreibt kaum eine/r. Oder ich höre später, dass einer alles verkauft hat.

Vor zehn Tagen hat ein Nordische-Musik-Bekannter (genau genommen hat er die Seite einst ins Leben gerufen), der zuvor bereits viele lange Jahre für unterschiedliche Zeitschriften geschrieben hatte, geschätzte 6500 CDs verkauft, also mehr als ich besitze – alle auf einen Schlag an einen Händler. Nur einen kleinen Teil persönlich wichtiger Scheiben behält er. Glücklicherweise konnte ich gerade noch rechtzeitig für einen Kurzbesuch dort aufkreuzen und mir einige Sachen heraussuchen, die ich zum größten Teil schon lange gerne haben wollte, unter anderem einige ECM- und Real-World-Veröffentlichungen oder je zwei CDs von June Tabor und Birthday Party. Klar kann ich mir bei weitem nicht alles kaufen, was ich gerne haben möchte – häufig leihe ich verschiedene Musik aus dem reichhaltigen Sortiment des Berliner Bibliotheksverbunds aus, einiges davon erwerbe ich später auch, wenn ich es zu günstigen Preisen finde. Und klar konnte ich bei der Sammlungsauflösung bei weitem nicht alles einpacken, was ich gerne mitgenommen hätte … Doch nun räume ich so nach und nach die CDs in mein Regal, und in der ECM-Sektion gibt es längst nicht mehr genug Platz.

Ich kenne Leute, die finden es ganz wichtig, zu Hause eine ordentliche, will sagen große Bibliothek zu besitzen. Hingegen haben Bücher mich nie so interessiert wie Musikalben. Auch DVDs habe ich nie gesammelt, besitze nur sehr wenige. Man kann doch fast alle Bücher und Filme einfach ausleihen, in einer Stadt wie Berlin sowieso; außer Spezialistensachen vielleicht. Und beim Umzug erst! Uff.

Ja, ich habe Respekt vor den riesigen Bücherregalen von Bekannten und Freunden. Ich verstehe: Dahinter steht der Gedanke, dass man ja dieses oder jenes Buch vielleicht doch irgendwann noch einmal lesen möchte. (Doch kommt man schon dazu, all die Bücher zu lesen, die man gerne lesen würde? Ich überhaupt nicht.) Oder dass einem dieses oder jenes Buch ganz arg am Herzen liegt (bei mir Siri Hustvedts What I loved oder der Katalog zur großen Steve-McQueen-Retrospektive in Basel). Oder man einfach gerne alles parat hat, um gegebenenfalls mal reinzuschauen, für ein Zitat oder ein Gedicht. Aber wenn ich ehrlich bin, sind Bücher für mich eher Gebrauchsgegenstände. Ich hatte nie eine so leidenschaftliche Verbindung zu meiner Hausbibliothek wie meine literarisch bewanderten Freunde. Man häuft schon so vieles an, und wie oft kommt es vor, dass ich in ein bestimmtes Buch unbedingt reinschauen will? Also stehen und liegen hier (fast) ausschließlich Bücher, die ich noch nicht gelesen habe oder von denen ich annehme, dass ich zur Fortbildung oder für ein konkretes Filmprojekt etwas nachschauen oder nachlesen will. Und das sind immer noch zu viele.

 
 


 
 

Ich hingegen pflege lieber eine Musiksammlung, auch wenn man heutzutage vieles online oder ebenfalls in der Bücherei bekommen kann. Aber da kommt es tatsächlich oft vor, dass ich gerade dieses bestimmte Album im Sinn habe und es zum alltäglichen Glück gehört, das dann umgehend aus dem CD-Regal ziehen und in die Hand nehmen zu können. Oder dass ich einfach den Reichtum schätze, aus hunderten von Alben wählen zu können. Und online bzw. über MP3 höre ich sowieso nie Musik, allenfalls wenn ich einen Mietwagen habe, in dem sich – wie in letzter Zeit immer häufiger – kein CD-Spieler befindet. Ohne Cover fehlt mir was bei Musik.

Was aber tun, wenn man weiß, dass man so manche Platte seit Jahren nicht gehört hat und auch nicht davon ausgeht, dass man sie in nächster Zeit wieder hören wird? Marilyn Mansons Mechanical Animals, das Spaghetti-Album von Guns N’Roses oder David Lynchs Eraserhead will ich eigentlich nicht abgeben, auch wenn ich sie nur selten höre. Es sind einfach starke Alben. Am Freitag hörte ich seit langem mal wieder Meds von Placebo – und freute mich, dass ich sie behalten habe. Aber wenn man mit einer Platte nie richtig warm wurde? Bei einigen Alben gehe ich davon aus, dass ich sie noch nicht gut genug kennengelernt habe und womöglich irgendwann mal eher auf ihrer Wellenlänge sein werde (Pat Metheny, Paul’s Boutique, Abercrombie …), und häufig traf das auch zu. Gelegentlich stehen Platten aber auch lange im Regal, immer wieder sehe ich sie, halte sie in der Hand, überlege, höre rein, lege sie womöglich wieder zurück. Manche verkaufe ich irgendwann.

Von ECM gab es immerhin schon drei oder vier Alben, die ich bislang wieder verkauft habe, weil sie mir überhaupt nicht zusagten. (OM und Judith Berkson fallen mir da gerade ein). Doch bei ECM weiß ich eigentlich, dass der Zeitpunkt irgendwann kommt, wenn ich nicht gleich damit warm werde. Aber sonst: Manche Musik versucht man immer mal wieder, ohne dass sich was tut. Eigentlich verabschiede ich mich fast laufend von Platten und CDs, schon allein, weil ich nie all das anhören kann, was ich besitze. Und eben, es gibt ja auch nicht endlos Platz. Bei vielem fällt es mir aber schwer, weil ich denke, vielleicht kommt der Zeitpunkt doch noch …

In den letzten Wochen habe ich gerade wieder einige Platten bei Discogs eingestellt. Dann kaufe ich von dem Geld gleich neue Sachen. Manche CD habe ich tatsächlich irgendwann mal bei Ebay verscherbelt oder verschenkt oder zu Oxfam gebracht… und es dann Jahre später doch mal wieder hören wollen. Da hab ich mir dann Stings Ten Summoner’s Tales oder Notwists rotes Album oder Graffiti Bridge von Prince dann bei Ebay für ein oder zwei Euro wieder besorgt und sie wieder schätzen gelernt.

Und dann entdecke ich oftmals CDs in irgendeinem Laden oder so und denke, ach, die hatte ich ja auch mal, gute Platte. Aber gar nicht vermisst.

So listen to the silence. Once all other external sounds cut out, there´s no more escaping from yourself. The late John Cage put it like this: “ … sounds (which are called silence only because they do not form part of a musical intention) may be depended upon to exist. The world teems with them, and is, in fact, at no point free of them. He who has entered an anechoic chamber, a room made as silent as technologically possible, has heard these two sounds, one high, one low – the high the listener´s nervous system in operation, the low his blood in circulation. There are, demonstrably, sounds to be heard and forwever, given ears to hear.“

Silence marks the escape route through the self into a infinity of sounds. And this infinity finds its echo in what Gaston Bachelard, author of The Poetics of Space, discribed as the „intimate immensity“ that lies just beyond the immediate world. „Immensnsity is within ourselves“, he wrote. Ìt is attached to a sort of expansion of being that life curbs and caution arrests, but which starts again when we are alone. As soon as we become motionless, we are elsewhere: we are dreaming in a world that is immense. Indeed, immensity is the movement of motionless man … Always elsewhere. Driftworks resonates such inimate immensity.

 

(Zitiert nach den Liner Notes aus der CD-Box Driftworks)

 
 

 
 
 

Nun ist endlich auch klar, welch grandioses Werk heute aus meinem Plattenschrank endlich einmal wieder ans Tageslicht geholt wird. Es ist fast genau 20 Jahre her, ja es war 1997, da brachte Big Cats Records eine Vier-CD-Box heraus. Je eine CD des in Australien geborenen Paul Schütze, stateless, eine zweite nahm der Dortmunder Thomas Köner auf, Nuuk, die dritte kommt aus Japan, Nijiumu, der Komponist: Keiji Haino. Bleibt noch die vierte zu erwähnen: Pauline Oliveros & Randy Raine-Reusch, der Titel der Platte In The Shadow of the Phoenix. Von Pauline Oliveros, die eine US-amerikanische Komponistin und Akkordeonistin war und im November letzten Jahres starb, ging es ja erst kürzlich in dem Beitrag von Uli Koch zu Insect Music.

Diese einmalige CD-Box, die hoffentlich eines Tages wiederveröffentlicht wird – im Moment ist sie nur für einen riesigen Batzen Geld zu haben – trägt einen buchstäblich fort, man driftet ins Ungewisse, lässt sich irgendwohin treiben, ins Offene, eine musikalische Reise ohne Geländer.

 
 
 

 

(45) Songs from the West Coast (2001) ****

Finally, a new Elton John studio album! Finally, a new producer – Patrick Leonard instead of standard Chris Thomas, who’d been around for 20 years, way too long. Released on September 11, 2001. I actually bought it at the West Coast, at Tower Records in Hollywood, where Elton lived at the time. No doubt this is his best album in 25 years – since Blue Moves, I’d say. (Others might say since Too Low For Zero, which is just as acceptable.) 16 years later, this verdict still holds up, only The Diving Board surpassing it. Songs from the West Coast  is much more than a solid, professional effort like Made in England or The One, and it’s neither an imitation of his 70’s sound and style as many reviewers claimed, but a mature and diverse collection of songs by John and Taupin in their mid-fifties. Only in the latter part, one or two songs could have been left as b-sides.

Standout tracks: Dark Diamond, Birds, The Wasteland, Original Sin.

(46) Peachtree Road (2004) ***

Peachtree Road continues where Songs from the West Coast ended – just more respectable, and therefore slightly boring. Elton produced the album himself, which may not have been the best decision. Some fairly good songs, though this time with a few more references to earlier hits and albums. Some of the lesser songs play like they were made for „Wetten dass…?“, though, and the first half is much stronger than the second one, with the overall atmosphere and sound becoming too uniform.

Standout: Porch Swing in Tupelo.

(47) Billy Elliot – musical cast recording (2005) *½

Another musical, this time an immensely successful one based on the successful British film. This time it’s a cast recording instead of an all-star album. Does anyone care? I guess not.

(48) The Captain & the Kid (2006) ***¾

Conceived as a follow-up to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, a kind-of autobiography, telling the story of Elton’s and Bernie friendship since that previous album. A mature collection of songs, not overly fantastic, but very good. A nice piano album recreating „the old sound“ of the seventies.

Standout tracks: The Captain and the Kid, And the House fell down, The Bridge (finally, a solo piano song).

(49) Lestat (2006)

Lestat is another Broadway musical, the first one by Elton and Bernie, based on Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. A cast recording was reported to be finished, produced by Guy Babylon (who played in Elton’s band from 1988 until his untimely death in 2009) and Matt Still (who co-produced The Captain & the Kid). After the show’s closing however, EJ’s management stated „there are no plans to release the recording at the present.“ Since I have not seen the show on Broadway, I have never heard the music and therefore can’t give any opinion about it.

(50) The Union (Elton John and Leon Russell, 2010) ****

Leon Russell had been Elton’s idol and influence on the late 1960s and early ’70s, but when Elton noticed Russell and his songs had been forgotten about, he initiated a collaboration album, produced by T Bone Burnett. They composed and recorded 16 new songs, backed by a committed band that includes Marc Ribot and Booker T, among others. Neil Young and Brain Wilson came around to sing on a song each, and Cameron Crowe made a documentary about the recordings.

The Union continues the retrospective line of The Captain & the Kid. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable album with strong performances, sounding very down-to-earth, thanks to Burnett. However, not all of the 16 songs are equally captivating, in particular the second half drags on a bit. (The standard version is 63 minutes, and the deluxe edition is almost 72 minutes, with 16 songs.)

Standout tracks: If it wasn’t for bad, Hey Ahab, Gone to Shiloh (with Neil Young), There’s no tomorrow.

(51) Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)

I don’t really know what that is. Never heard it. I believe it’s a mix of (mostly) old and (a couple of) new songs for another animated movie.

(52) Good Morning to the Night (Pnau feat. Elton John) **½

Provided with 100% creative freedom, Australian dance pop duo Pnau were invited to produce mash-ups from Elton’s recordings of the 70s. As a matter of fact, the results could have been less respectful, but they sound nice, evoking a very 70s disco feeling. It’s not really good. But it’s also not that bad either. It’s what it is.

 

 
 

(53) The Diving Board (2013) ****½

The Diving Board was announced as – at last! – the album to feature only Elton and his piano. Unfortunately, the final album (the release was postponed after its first announcement and re-recordings were executed) is mostly a full band album, save for the opening song and some other sections throughout the 15 tracks, including and two short instrumentals. However, producer T Bone Burnett has helped arrange the songs and a third instrumental in a cautious and unpretentious way; the piano is always in focus of the songs, and 2 cellos, bass (Raphael Saadiq), drums, and, on a few occasions, a choir or a horn section, have usually been mixed in a supportive manner.

It’s furthermore notable that there are no pop songs intended to stand out, no hits, with the album having been conceived as a mature late work, in parts melancholic, in parts joyful, with the odd wink to the past (Can’t stay alone tonight strongly references I guess that’s why they call it the Blues). An arresting album of immensely inspired songwriting. The closing title track is arguably one of Elton’s best compositions ever.

Standout tracks: The Diving Board, Ocean’s Away, The Ballad of Blind Tom, Oscar Wilde gets out. 

(54) Wonderful Crazy Night (2016) ***

Another T Bone Burnett production. Unfortunately, after The Diving Board, this is a disappointment. After three rather somber and introspective studio albums, Wonderful Crazy Night was announced as a return to the colorful and extrovert sound and performance of the 1970’s albums, which is why it’s the first album with the usual live band since The Captain & the Kid. A pity there are hardly any memorable songs on this one. Painting by numbers. And the cover art is just awful and as tasteless as it could possibly get.

Standout songs: The Open Chord, In the Name of you, I’ve got two Wings.

(55) Deep Cuts (2016/2017) ****/*****

So, after you have read through all of this, here is something else I prepared for you: A year ago, around the release of Wonderful Crazy Night, Elton created a Spotify playlist with 20 „Deep Cuts“, i.e. non-hits from his back catalogue:

 
 

 
 

It’s a nice and interesting selection, of which I made a playlist of for my iTunes. Having taken a look at it again after I finished this 5-part blog entry, I am not surprised to see several of my „standout track“ choices in this list (My Father’s Gun, Have Mercy on the Criminal, Amoreena, Razor Face, The King must die, even the very unusual choice Too Low for Zero in addition to Crystal, about both of which I assume none of you co-manafonistas would like). I am rather surprised about the inclusion of a few not-great tracks, such as Leather JacketsLive Like Horses, Shoot down the Moon and Restless. For all those among you who would like to listen to the 20-track collection, I’ve put the iTunes playlist into my Dropbox for you to download. You’ll find a link in the comments. [Non-commercial offer, for private use.]

But, as I don’t really agree with this selection (I think it is, in parts, a missed opportunity) and would like to present a much better one, I have created my very own Deep Cuts collection for you, as a 70th birthday present. I don’t assume you’ll like all of those songs, but I can promise you that anyone with open ears and a love for accomplished songwriting and arrangements will find more some of these choices worth listening to – and will hopefully enjoy as much as possible in this playlist. I’d make a bet that everyone of you will find surprising things in there. Even though it was tough, I forced myself to keep the playlist run under two hours. The first half is more straightforward, whereas the latter part includes a few peculiar choices. I’ll add a download link to this selection as well. Enjoy! (NB: Only two or three of my selected songs overlap with Sir Elton’s own Deep Cuts playlist.)

I just found a readers‘ poll in Rolling Stone (from 2015) which offers ten „deep cuts“ and adds some interesting background information about several of the songs in these two playlists.

previously: part 1part 2, part 3, part 4


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