40. Sounds, like stars in the darkness
[Hubble Sees a Horsehead of a Different Color, 2013, Jet Propulsion Lab, NASA, Public Domain]
“No darkness lasts forever. And even there, there are stars.”
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore, 1972
Things have escalated quickly.
My timeline and feeds and passing conversations are all full of friends stressed with COVID-19 information overload.
Today’s newsletter is being quickly pulled together in the gaps in my new ‘working from home’ schedule. It turns out that working from home is a lot more meetings than usual, at least while we figure out a rhythm. As Laetitia Vitaud points out,
“Forced, full-time remote work in a situation of extreme, global uncertainty is not the same thing as part-time, voluntary remote work in a normal situation.”
I’ve tried to get this shorter one out in time for you, regular readers, to take advantage of Bandcamp’s zero-commissions day. Today from Friday midnight to midnight Pacific Time (so from Friday 10am London, Friday 6pm in Sydney/Melbourne etc), Bandcamp has chosen to waive all of the fees that it charges labels and artists. By the time you are reading this, Bandcamp will have started their campaign.
In response, quite a lot of labels have also decided to pass 100% of their cut on to their artists as well - so today is the day to spend up on Bandcamp, directly supporting the artists and bands you want to, and hopefully listening to a bunch that you haven’t yet heard of. Some artists and labels have also switched their catalogues and released to Pay What You Want. Today is the day to be generous on Bandcamp..
I’ve pulled together two quick reference lists of all the music that I have written about in the last twenty newsletters on a simple aggregator called Buy Music Club. These two links have direct links to the albums from episodes 30-39 and 20-29.
There’s also quite a lot of new releases that I’ve been looking forward to that are being released today. Here’s a few I’m recommending that you might also want to check out.
About three years ago I got obsessed with Canadian vocalist Ian William Craig. His heavily processed multitracked choral voices haunted his 2016 album Centres on Fat Cat Records ‘classical’ sublabel 130701 and I subsequently went out and bought everything on his Bandcamp. Last year he had new album in a duo, Minor Pieces, which has a gauzy choral 4AD Records vitality to it, and now he has a brand new solo record, Red Sun Through Smoke, out today. Written as his grandfather was dying and his Canadian town was surrounded by out of control forest fires, it is a very stripped back piano, voice, radio static-filled album,
“This whole record existed without thinking. Between hospital visits and the smoke and emotional support, there wasn’t time for it. I threw away pretty much all expectation and tried to turn myself into something like Grampa’s radio receivers, just there to channel what was going on while the operator was away. Very little time was spent in reflection. I would get some ideas out, iterate on them, shape them, mostly without editing or revising. I made a lot of garbage in those two weeks, which I then sifted through to find what was useful. My process was much more of an archeological one than one of building things from nothing. Besides which, on a record dealing with themes of loss, I thought it was fitting to distill ideas down from the whole and forget the rest.”
Hilary Woods has a new moody album out, too, on Sacred Bones called Birthmarks. Its her lo-fi gothic folk with close miked vocals now with synths, cello and field recordings. Woods was one of those discoveries I made when I went down a rabbit hole of YouTube music videos one night around the time of her last album Colt in 2018.
Former Sydney-sider Jasmine Guffond - formerly one third of Alternahunk - has a very excellent new album, Microphone Permission, on Editions Mego. Over its four long tracks, she builds soundsculptures out of various data sources, exploring ideas around surveillance and the data trails our digital devices leave behind.
Source material on Microphone Permission are from various projects Guffond has been working on; a commission to sonify the data of the city of Melbourne, a dance performance about the future sounds of an extinct forest, an installation that sonifies Twitter meta data in real time, a job as a composer for a theatre work about music and feminism by five young female identifying performers in Western Sydney and a site specific installation at the Linachtalsperre dam that employed the harmonic frequencies of electric currents.
Italian label Mixed Up has decided to make their entire catalogue Pay What You Wish and they have some really interesting records available from odd techno to strange ambient things, like this 2012 record by St Petersberg’s XYR, called Robinson Crusoe which was previously only in a run of 30 copies on a small Singaporean record label! I enjoyed 2019’s A New Smile by Your Planet Is Next which is much more straightforward bleepy techno.
Shifting into that ‘music for imaginary dancefloors’ - which might be the only dancefloors that we are on for quite a while, there’s an ever-growing number of fantastic records on Sheffield’s Central Processing Unit label. If you’ve liked Warp, Rehplex, Clear or other similar labels then CPU is releasing is going to be right up your alley. Of their recent records, new-ish albums from 96 Back, Djedotronic, and Datassette are good sparkly electro fun.
In a similarly ‘retro’ flavour, Khan has a done a digital release of his Lost Acid Tapes (Volume 1 and 2), two collections of work recorded in Brooklyn in the early days of New York raves before he relocated to Berlin. These are like little snapshots into long lost dancefloors and predate his albums for Harvest and Caipirinha. Once, long ago in 1992, I picked up Khan’s slightly more ambient acid work with Roger Cobernus (Kerosene) as H.E.A.D. from Disco City (which has now also been reissued digitally!). It was one of those albums that I’d occasionally drop a track from it in our Punos chill out room sets of the period, and later at our Cryogenesis ambient parties.
More contemporary sounding, there is an excellent 64 track compilation of Bristol bass music Bristol x Tokyo, which was put together as a fundraiser for the family of Naoki E-Jima who ran the Disc Shop Zero in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo. E-Jima fell ill earlier in the year and had to close his shop, and then died in mid February. He had been one of those rare super connectors, using his and his wife’s love of Bristol’s music over many decades, to bring artists to Tokyo to perform, as well as circulating their music across Japan. There’s exclusive tracks by all sorts of Bristol producers and it is a perfect listen if you’ve been reading Joe Muggs’ Bass Mids Tops book on UK soundsystems that I mentioned back in Episode 37. Joe also pulled together a list of excellent electronic music he recommends too as part of his regular Bandcamp series.
Speaking of books, in my neighbourhood, the local independent bookstore is doing ‘no contact’ book home deliveries which is nice. I was lucky in getting into the Art Book Fair just before the National Gallery of Victoria closed and picked up a couple of new books for the reading pile - a physical copy of Silvio Lorusso’s Entreprecariat which looks at the way in which neo-liberalism has blended precarious zero-hour contract employment with mythologies of ‘the entrepreneur’, screwing everyone in the process. It feels even more relevant now! I also picked up four books from Tasmanian artists’ Justy Phillips & Margaret Woodward’s ‘slow publishing artwork’ series Lost Rocks. Its a really fabulous series and each commissioned book - each by a different artist - is quite different. I chose Sandstone, Granite, Marble and Lead Sulphide so if you buy some I’d love to hear what you think.
I’m wondering if I should buy the new Animal Crossing for the Switch - it looks suitably sweet but complicated - and while I ponder that, there’s a cute little thing that lets you browse an art museum of user submitted bird drawings. I’ll leave that to you to discover.
All my friends have been sharing this nice piece of writing from Francesco Pacifico in Italy. Its a good reminder.
Listen to me. The problem is your imagination. Stop using dystopia as your compass. Stop using metaphors. You have to live through this. We’ve been inside the house, inside the quarantine, for five days, and it is totally unreal even for people used to lying in bed writing. This is a proper quarantine, a real one, not just a brief dimming of everyday life. The newspapers are posting pictures of the empty Spanish Steps on their websites. They shouldn’t enjoy this too much, that messes up your defenses. You need them. I know this because I am endocrinologically impaired, and I know you have to stoke your immune system all the time to stay healthy. I left a WhatsApp chat of fellow writers and intellectuals the other day because they were posting and scrolling through photos of the apocalypse like children. I couldn’t stand it. No takes. No points. Stop making points.
Time for me to get back from my ‘home office lunch break’ and onto yet another video conference.
Stay safe, and given that opportunities for mass dancing are going to be not possible, get a good pile of books to read from your local independent bookseller. And buy up on Bandcamp for your music needs - those artists need your direct support now that they can’t tour, and Spotify certainly isn’t paying them well.
Until next time.
PPS - This post is full of links. Which you’d know if you clicked them. But I’ve collated them all here in case you want to cut and paste them to your browser instead because then they won’t activate the tracking codes.