Kraftwerk's connection to R&B and black DJs in America

Pioneering hip hop musician Afrika Bambaataa's love for Kraftwerk is evidenced by his groundbreaking 1982 electro track "Planet Rock" (above). Indeed, Bambataaa's underground DJ sets in black nightclubs were a key point-of-entry into the United States for many international electronic musicians in the early 1980s, from Yellow Magic Orchestra to Gary Numan. I hadn't realized though that Kraftwerk readily acknowledged that it was a two-way musical conversation: Black American music, particularly R&B, was a massive influence on Kraftwerk's music. In The Wire, John Morrison writes:

In an interview with Dan Sicko, the late author of Techno Rebels: The Renegades Of Electronic Funk, former Kraftwerk percussionist Karl Bartos gives an essential statement on the influence of black R&B on the band's work: “We were all fans of American music: soul, the Tamla/Motown thing, and of course, James Brown. We always tried to make an American rhythm feel, with a European approach to harmony and melody.” When exploring the band’s early work, this rhythmic influence does occasionally peek its head up through their abstract sound. On “Tone Float” (the title track from founder members Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Esleben’s pre-Kraftwerk 1970 debut album as members of Organisation), the band can be heard experimenting with a rhythmic framework similar to the “Bo Diddley'' beat, the heavily accented drum pattern that dominated rock ’n’ roll in the 50s and early 60s. For their first release as Kraftwerk, the “Bo Diddley” beat remerges, albeit with an aggressive Jazz flair courtesy of drummer Charly Weiss providing the driving pulse for the the album’s ten minute closer “Vom Himmel Hoch”.

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Rare early Kraftwerk performances before they were showroom dummies

Here's a cool 1971 performance of Kraftwerk on Beat Club. This short-lived long-haired lineup included Florian Schneider, who passed away last week, the late Klaus Dinger (Neu!), and Michael Rother (Neu! and Harmonia).

And here is Michael Rother's eulogy to Schneider in Uncut.

“Florian had a unique metal construction onstage on which he assembled his effect units and a mixer. He played an electrified violin which he ran through a fuzz box and a wah-wah pedal, and a flute which he treated with delay and a unit that changed the pitch to one octave down. Especially this flute, and the way Florian played it like a crazy fast-forward bass, was thoroughly exciting and unheard before. Unfortunately, the sound engineers who did the recordings at Beat Club (TV) and Radio Bremen didn’t understand that Florian’s contributions to our sound were much more interesting and vital than my guitar playing, and so they put Florian too low in the audio mix.

“The trio with Florian, Klaus Dinger on drums and myself on guitar only lasted for 5 or 6 months but I remember some truly exciting concerts, and everything that followed in my musical life had a connection to this beginning with Ralf and Florian. After we separated in July 1971, Klaus and I continued as a duo (Neu!) and Florian got back together with Ralf Hütter.

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And here's an even earlier 1970 lineup with Schneider, Dinger, and Ralf Hütter.

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Gorgeous new song by DC's Beauty Pill

I am obsessed with this new track and cool video from DC's severely underappreciated punky art rock band, Beauty Pill.

The song, called "The Damnedest Thing," is from their forthcoming record, Please Advise. As the simple and unique "textfilm" video points out, the track was inspired by a profile of photographer William Eggleston that Pill's Chad Clark read in The New York Times.

I can't wait to hear the rest of Please Advise which is out today, May 8th, on Northern Spy Records.

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"Seinwave," a vaporfunk rework of the Seinfeld theme

SeinWave by Abelard

In recent weeks, I've shared the joy of Seinfeld with my teenage son. To reciprocate, he's been turning me on to the myriad incarnations of vaporwave, vaporfunk, chillwave, and other desktop electronica microgenres of the last decade. Finally, today, he decided the time was right to reveal an unholy hauntological overlap of our interests: "Seinwave" (2015) by Abelard. Listen above. From Abelard:

Seinwave is a rework of the iconic slap bass infused pop-click theme of the classic Seinfeld sitcom TV show. Created on a whim, Seinwave holds its own as a funky, danceable track, exploring new melodies, sounds and hooks, whilst retaining the faded sitcom hues and tones that we all remember.

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Aphex Twin will be streaming his Warehouse Project show with interactive visuals tomorrow, April 10

Aphex Twin will be streaming his 2019 Warehouse Project live show tomorrow (Friday, April 10), complete with interactive visuals and editing from regular collaborator Weirdcore.

The set will be broadcast on Warehouse Project’s YouTube page and on Facebook starting at 1 pm (EST) tomorrow (6pm BST).

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New Blackmouth record, featuring Jarboe (formerly of Swans)

Multi-talented musician, artist, and graphic designer, John Bergin, has just released a new Blackmouth recording. Blackmouth is John, his long-time collaborator, Brett Smith, and Jarboe (formerly of Swans).

The trio's first album was released in 1999. The current record is a deluxe edition featuring 26 tracks and includes the 1999 recording. Here is the first video from the album.

Previous coverage of John Bergin on Boing Boing:

John Bergin goes pop-art post-apocalypse in new Wednesday comic Moving Paintings From Inside

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Marvelous mix of chill-out, ambient, and experimental sounds from DF Tram

My old friend and favorite DJ, DF Tram, pulls threads from from far-out jazz, psych, experimental ambient, spoken word, downtempo EDM, and avant-garde classical to create transgenre ambient mixes. A crate digger of the highest order, he has turned me on to countless artists, tracks, and albums that I'd never hear anywhere else. A collaborator with Alex Patterson, Mixmaster Morris, and Youth, DF Tram has toured with The Orb and performed at the most prestigious electronic music festivals in the world including The Big Chill, Glastonbury, and OZORA. Above is his live set from the 2019 OZORA Festival. Lose yourself.

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Touring the inner workings of the Mellotron on King Crimson's anniversary

Fifty one years ago today, the first incarnation of the prog rock band, King Crimson, gathered in a cramped basement space below the Fulham Palace Cafe in London. One of the instruments the band would use that would come to distinguish their early sound was that strange, iconic 60s instrument, the Mellotron.

Keyboardist Ian McDonald was taken by the sound of this instrument as it was employed by the Moody Blues (and on The Beatles' Strawberry Fields) and thought it would work well with the type of lush and orchestral sound the band was looking to create. Later in the year, in the summer of 1969, the instrument would again appear on David Bowie's Space Oddity (played by future Yes man, Rick Wakeman).

Of all of the strange instruments that've worked the edges of popular music (the Theremin also comes to mind), the Mellotron is probably the oddest. Basically an upright organ cabinet filled with tape heads and recorded tape strips that you trigger through the keyboard, the Mellotron is like some crazy one-off contraption that caught on and actually got manufactured.

In this video, Allison Stout, of Bell Tone Synth Works, a synthesizer repair shop in Philadelphia, PA, takes us under the hood of a Mellotron MK1 and how it works. One can only imagine how finicky and prone to breakage touring versions of these things must have been.

And here's one of King Crimson's Mellotrons in action during a performance in 1974 at the ORTFTV Studios in Paris. Read the rest

Beautiful electronic easy listening music from the USSR (1960)

Theremin virtuoso Konstanin Kovalsky (1890-1976) performs with Vyacheslav Mescherin's Orchestra of Electronic Instruments, USSR, 1960. From Discogs:

The Ensemble of Electro-Musical Instruments directed by Vyacheslav Mescherin was founded within the music department of the State Radio of the Soviet Union in 1957. For more than thirty years, from the Fifties up to the Eighties the music of Ensemble Mescherina could be heard on radio and TV, in radio plays and cartoon movies almost every day. The ensemble managed to compose more then 700 pieces of music until 1990. Some of Mescherins compositions are public domain by now and can be hummed by everyone in Russia. One example is the track 'On the chicken farm', which was used in the very popular cartoon series 'Rabbit and Wolf'. In 1959 the Soviet government asked Mescherin for an electronic sound recording of 'The Internationale', to be sent to outer space on board of the first sputnik. Mescherin also designed and built many electronic instruments himself. Balalaikas, accordions and guitars, which he amplified, now sounded as if played on another planet. Mescherin and his ensemble were more or less the only experimental musicians in the field of electronic music in the USSR up to the Sixties.

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The Theremin is almost 100-years-old

The Theremin, an electronic musical instrument that you play by not touching it, celebrates the 100th anniversary of its invention next year. Smithsonian looks at the history of the first successful electronic musical instrument that New York Times critic Harold C. Schonberg described as sounding like "(a) cello lost in a dense fog, crying because it does not know how to get home." From Smithsonian:

Theremin was a radio engineer with the Soviet military in 1918 when, while building a powerful transmitter-receiver, he noticed odd feedback sounds coming from it. He said in a 1995 interview, “it turned out that when the capacity changes at a distance of the moving hand, the pitch of the sound also changes.”

He had happened on heterodyning, a process that combines two frequencies to shift one frequency range into another, new frequency. It makes for a change in pitch and volume.

Other radio engineers in Europe at the close of World War I had noticed the same effect but Theremin was the first to play with that feedback or heterodyning effect in a musical way. The new sound pleased the inventor. Fully committed to Soviet nationalism, (Metropolitan Museum of Art musical instrument curator Jayson) Dobney says, Theremin “tried to find a musical sound that was modern, forward looking.”

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Mallwave: nostalgic synth music for imaginary and abandoned shopping centers

Mallwave is a microgenre of bedroom electronic music and smooth jazz meant to evoke nostalgia for the vibrant mall scenes of the 1980s and 1990s that many of the music's composers are too young to have experienced or at least remember.

Think of Mallwave as a hauntological soundtrack for an Orange Julius-fueled consumer culture where Suncoast, Merry-Go-Round, and Spencer Gifts anchored suburban reality. (Or, in the case of some of the moodier tracks, the kind of muzak that might play in your mind as you wander an abandoned mall in a Ballardian trance.)

From Hussein Kesvanio's feature in MEL:

“The nostalgia is so real you can cry and wish you went back in time,” reads one comment underneath the video “Neon Wave Mall (Vapor Mix).” “I feel a certain sense of… familiarity watching this footage. Almost like I myself have set foot in these places,” adds a viewer of “Corp Palm Mall.” Under the same video, another person opines: “Why wasn’t I born in this time? This video makes me realize how much things were not as advanced as we have now but it was better. I could be wrong, but sometimes I feel like living around the ‘90s sounds fun. Lifestyle is different, mindset is different and not as much laziness.”

According to writer Joe Koenig, this kind of feeling — a “nostalgia for a past you’ve never known” — is called anemoia. In his ongoing project, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, Koenig describes it as “the desire to wade into the blurred-edge sepia haze that hangs in the air between people who leer stoically into this dusty and dangerous future.”

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THE BUREAU: Part Three, "Assessing Others" — with a Metasonix D-2000 Vacuum Tube Drum Machine

Your supervisor would like to speak with you today at 10:53am. Good thing you have a great tasting sandwich to deal with that unreasonable feedback.

New anthology of Michele Mercure's 80s synth music from the cassette underground

In the 1980s, Pennsylvania-based Michele Mercure was composing music for theater, film, and TV animation. After a trip to the Netherlands, she became inspired by the German kosmiche music scene of Kluster, Tangerine Dream, and the like. But Mercure cut her own path into experimental electronic music, weaving her synthetic, rhythmic soundscapes with strange samples and cut-up vocalizations, resulting in tracks that move between abstract and ambient dreamscapes and mechanized intensity. For decades, Mercure's self-released cassettes (under the name Michelle Musser) moved through underground trading circles but many of those recordings will now reach a wider group of heads. Beside Herself is a gorgeous 19-track Michele Mercure retrospective released today by the esteemed curators at RVNG Intl. and Freedom To Spend labels. To celebrate the release, Mercure and Mary Haverstick created the wonderful "Electronumentary" above. Below, one of the album tracks. From RVNG:

Mercure’s artistic path never ran through creative meccas New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. Raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, and then moving to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in her twenties, Mercure was already an adept musician when she encountered a local and lively theater scene, and was asked to score an unorthodox performance of Waiting for Godot. The experience was pivotal in marrying music and image for Mercure, and so she began making music for film, television, dance, and theater. It wasn’t until a long sojourn in Eindhoven, however, that she became transfixed by electronic music (ala Conrad Schnitzler, whom she would correspond with for years) that would inform her music to come.

Mercure’s contemporaries became the kindred minds of the Eurock “scene” such as The Nightcrawlers, Lauri Paisley, and Don Slepian.

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Electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani explains synthesizers on kids TV show (1980)

On this 1980 episode of 3-2-1 Contact -- the excellent PBS kids TV show about science -- legendary experimental electronic musician Suzanne Ciani explains the basics of synthesizer technology. If you aren't hip to Ciani's music that spans avant-garde, classical, cinematic, and new age genres, I highly recommend you check out the fine anthologies and reissues of her work from the good people at Finders Keepers Records. Below, her stunning track "Paris 1971" from the compilation "Lixiviation 1968-1985." And you can check out Ciani live at this May's Moogfest in Durham, North Carolina.

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Trippy geometric animation for intense, layered electronic music

Thunder Tillman is a Swedish musician whose work lends itself to trippy animation, like this piece for Alignments by Mario Hugo and Johnny Lee. Read the rest

Moog Music introduces new Sonic Origins series

Moog just unveiled a new showcase of artists using their instruments. Sonic Origins starts things off with Russell E.L. Butler of Black Jeans, who thinks of the sounds "as an initiator of dialogue." Read the rest

Kid Koala's "Collapser" featuring Emilíana Torrini and chemical puppeteer Karina Bleau

Yesterday saw the release of Canadian artist, graphic novelist, and scratch DJ Kid Koala's latest record, his fifth, Music to Draw To: Satellite. An ambient concept record, Music to Draw To: Satellite is about a pair of lovers separated by a one-way trip to Mars. Each track is like a sonic love letter, an expression of the loneliness of extended isolation, the wondrous, terrifying void of space, and missing those left behind. Seven of the tracks on the record feature vocals by Icelandic singer Emilíana Torrini (known for, beyond her critically-acclaimed solo career, recording with Thievery Corporation, and singing "Gollum's Song" in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers).

I have been soothing my restless psyche for the past few days with heavy-rotation listening to "Collapser," one of the first tracks released. This lost in space lullaby features the most wistful and dreamy vocals from Torrini on the record. For the video, Kid Koala teamed up with "chemical puppeteer" Karina Blea whose work is described as "an ultraviolet study of chemical theatrics under a microscope." The slowly changing, minimalist liquid world of colored drips, languid swirls, and chemical reactions is a perfect complement to the insistent rhythms of the music and Torrini's melancholy vocals sweetly swimming over the top.

Kid Koala says that he was inspired to do this project by the go-to records he listens to whenever he's drawing and working on his art. He wanted to create such a piece himself. He and his record company, Arts & Crafts Records, have even gone so far as to release a deluxe version of the CD which comes in an 80-page sketchbook so that you too can draw along to the music. Read the rest

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