Friday, January 26, 2007

Listener Questions (part N)

"How come you didn't play any [artist/recording] when I called to request it? Do you think they suck or something?"

Although it was not always so, I plan every single RTQE program in advance. In part, this is because I'm programming from my personal library quite a lot of the time. In addition, I honestly try to make sure that things fit together with something that (at least at the time) seems like it has a logic, and the logic of free association is such that your request might not fit well, even if I did know it was in the station library.

So don't feel bad. I try to pay attention to requests and selections, and it's quite likely they'll show up the next week or thereafter."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Well-known Address on Broadway

Something like 15 years after he entered my listening life, the work of Tetsu Inoue continues to be something I personally seek out and continue to enjoy. I confess to a certain general interest in how artists grow and mature over time (even in those situations in which only a slice of their collected work is of interest to me. The later "tonal" work of Arvo Pärt and Talk Talk's last two recordings Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock come immediately to mind here as examples], and -- in particular -- the work of artists who are apparently willing to venture as creators outside of the zone of comfort provided by decent sales or critical acceptance or the inertia of a "fan base."

Like a lot of his fans, I was unprepared for the arrival in 1998 of the Tzadik release Psycho-Acoustic; there'd been some general discussion that Tetsu might have decided that he'd gone as far as he could or wanted to within the zero-BPM ambient genre that he'd pursued with such success. But the release was a bolt out of the blue, jettisoning nearly every outward and visible sign of the work that preceded it [timbre, form, time scales] in favor of a completely different universe. It wasn't the case for everyone, I found the release [and the release of Fragment of Dots on Tzadik the next year] to be a real revelation -- a chance to hear someone you thought you knew reinvent himself right before your very ears. So I've never been among that group of people who wanted Tetsu to go back to conjuring giant fogbanks [If you're the sort of completist who is always in the mood for impoverishment, there's a complete listing of his ambient-era Fax releases (along with mention of which ones have been reissued on the Fax Ambient label) here.].

So it was a real surprise to have a new "oldskool" Tetsu Inoue disc cross the transom -- one which in both form and title hearkens back to his ambient days on the Fax label. While I am not likely to stop encouraging you to hunt up a copy of his wonderful 2006 release Yolo anytime soon, this is a lovely piece of work.

2350 Broadway 4 is the fourth of a series of ambient collaborations with Fax label owner and canonical ambientalist Pete Namlook, and picks up there the earlier discs in the series [from 1993, 1994, and 1996, respectively] left off. Suffice it to say that it continues the work of its predecessors -- expansive and evocative single-take soundscapes of great grace and elegance.

The new release is a 2 CD set, but not in the traditional sense: it's a single stereo audio disc and a companion DTS 5.1 surround version of the same material. While both are nice, it's very interesting to hear the way that Namlook and Inoue imagine spatializing the piece. I'm considerably more accustomed to hearing multichannel works of the electroacoustic variety, where the grammar of space and placement has more to do with trajectory and velocity than it would with, say, diagrams of plantings in a large and formal English garden. If you're familiar with the earlier 2350 Broadway releases, you'll no doubt recall that careful placement and languid movement within the stereo sound field was a large part of the sound and feel of these recordings. Re-imagining them as 5.1 surround is not that hard to imagine. It's often the case that the differences between a surround recording and a 2-channel folddown are pretty radical; 2350 Broadway 4 does a considerably better job of making the transition down (or up). It's a fine addition to the series, it'll probably make people who found Tetsu's more recent recordings from the late 90s on to be problematic [i.e. people who are not me], and it's great to have the surround mix.

Since I really enjoy and value Tetsu's work over the course of the last decade, I think of 2350 Broadway 4 as more a note from a friend that reminds you of your shared past with them.

On a related ranty note, I continue to be amazed just how lousy surround stuff can sound on people's "Home Theatre" systems. I shouldn't be surprised to realize that lots of those things are judged by their owners to be great based on their ability to deliver butt-rattling low-end for big-budget pyrotechnics and shizzy high-frequency crap whizzing around intended to make the experience of seeing movies about beehives "more authentic," should I? But man oh man, some of that stuff in the middle range [where lots of interesting things like music take place] sounds just dismal.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Paging Mr. Proust, White Courtesy Phone....

Something amazing happened this morning.

As a result of the release of some recent work of mine as a part of the Palace of Lights FLOOD series, an old acquaintance from the days when I was involved in cassette culture got back in touch after a number of years. That kind of thing is always a rare kind of pleasure, if for no other reason than forcing you to compress some large period of your life into a single short newsy paragraph.

He pointed out that he still had all of my old releases from the 1980s. It was certainly flattering to think that he valued them enough to hang onto them, but also got me thinking that - as nearly as I could tell - I might well not have some of them amidst various relocations and repacking for sabbaticals, etc. He was going to transfer the cassettes to CDR, and offered to run copies of them for me.

A package of five lovely CDRs arrived in the morning post covering a little over a decade of released work of mine during the decade of the 1980s, sporting jaunty color covers derived from the original cassette liners. I was stunned.

This was work I've not heard in at least a decade, and probably a lot longer. Imagine that someone reported finding a whole box of your treasured posessions in the attic of a house you lived in while growing up and sent the box to you and you'll begin to get the flavor of the rare gift my acquaintance blessed me with.

What's made me slow down while listening has been the discovery of the extent to which hearing these brings back a flood of memories about how and when they came into being. Election night of Ronald Reagan's first term when the engineer and I got drunk in the studio and recorded this beery eccentric handclapping for a track, an odd record of my learning to program FM synths and discovering samplers, backing tapes for my wedding, and guest appearances of my friends' children, now grown.

There's no absence of cringe in the bargain, as you would imagine [I certainly liked analog delay lines and gauzy synth pads, it would seem]. But I'm going to be a long time repaying or paying forward this chance to meet my old self and listen to the stories he has to tell me. This is a gift I would wish on everyone (and yes, I'll probably put a few of them up on my downloads page, at some point. There's a lot to choose from. :-) ).

Thanks, Robert.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Listener Questions (part N)

"Why don't you play more lowercase recordings on RTQE?"

It's a matter of politeness more than taste, on my part. Probably the main reason is the same one as the reason that I don't play more stuff that falls within the Japanese "Otaku" genre circle of light—some of my listeners drive cabs for a living, and they simply can't hear the work over the noise floor of their "moving office." Back in the days when the WORT transmitter link was considerably flakier than is the case now, they would helpfully call me to inquire as to whether or not we were still on the air. Having driven cabs for a living myself and knowing the despair that comes from slim radio pickings while moving between fares, I remain mindful of that segment of my audience and avoid things that exist predominantly in the low or high frequency ranges, or work that is exceptionally quiet.

Another reason to avoid extreme changes in dynamic range is that some listeners with sleeping children will occasionally turn up something that is very quiet, only to have themselves scared silly and to have their children wakened when the next piece begins at a (now] very high amplitude.

And yes, I do think of silly things like an audience when I prepare programs.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Rampant Careerism

Part of my New Year's resolution was to bring my behavior more into line with my pronouncements. Rather than merely speaking with admiration about online labels and artists who make their own work freely available in ways that don't include a UPC label, I decided that I would seek to do so myself. To that end, I created my own downloads page on my website, and also decided to pursue some online release opportunities.

The first one of those has come to fruition. A half-dozen excerpts from longer live performance recordings of my work is now available as a part of the Palace of Lights label's online release series, FLOOD. You can access those recordings here.

I'm very excited to be involved with Palace of Lights — it was one of my favorite American indie labels during the decade of the 1980s, and Kerry Leimer, its owner, has emerged in the new century with amazing new work. I commend both his new and reissued work to your attention without reservation. If you're a regular RTQE listener, you'll certainly have heard some of it.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Back in Black [Deathprod!]

I first ran into Deathprod (Helge Sten) on a remix disc which took as its source material the work of the Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim. Actually, I was initially curious about the Biosphere remix on the disc, but found myself actually preferring the stuff this Deathprod person did with the material. Dense, but very carefully constructed and mixed. In time, that led me to the improvising ensemble Supersilent, an ensemble that included Sten - one of those listening discoveries that is the start of a long and appreciative journey.

Trying to locate Sten's earlier solo work was quite a challenge - small release lots, some on obscure Norwegian labels, etc. But the release of his most recent solo project Morals and Dogma provided a marvelous respite from the endless search - the disc was also released as a 4 CD Box Set in tasteful black called, simply, Deathprod, which included not only Morals and Dogma, but his hard-to-find first two releases, Treetop Drive and Imaginary Songs From Tristan Da Cunha, along with a fourth CD of much older and unreleased work. The 2004 release, in its time, went out of print and once again, it became hard to connect with this sumptuous dark and strong body of work. In the meanwhile, I kept spinning it and ranting and raving about how great Morals and Dogma was, even though I knew that the truly serious Seeker After More among my audience was in for a bit of a hunt. As some of you know, this is one bit of my radio life that I always feel vaguely guilty about.

But ranting more broadly is once again an option - the 4-CD box is back in print, and well worth your time and listenerly attention if you have any love at all for beautifully and patiently crafted 0 bpm soundscapes. There is a more recent vinyl-only collection of a half-dozen remixes that I'll be spinning for you in the near future on RTQE. Stay tuned.

By the way - you can find an interview with him that might (or might not) shed some light on his methods and intentions here.

Monday, January 1, 2007

The Return of the Invalid Objects

I'm never sure whether or not starting the new year with a post on something old is appropriate or not. But it seems to me that a consequence of living online is that diffusion trumps novelty.

Voiceband Jilt, the CD of my work released on the c74 label last year, took as its source material a set of recordings called the "Invalid Object" series. It was a project of the Irish label Fällt, originally released in the form of 24 3" CDs, each of which took their title from one of the "reserved words" in Java. Although I included a weblink to a location for the original recordings in MP3 format in the liner notes for Voiceband Jilt, the Fällt site was down for redesign and retooling for quite a lot of the last year or so.

The great news is that Fällt is back with a nicely redesigned website, and a reliable link to the material is back, too. I would commend that material to your attention (you can find it here) once again.