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The Discotheque of Babel

Featuring : Interior

The discotheque of Babel contains an infinite set of records made from all possible permutations of cool sounds – mellow marimbas and fuzzy basslines, tropical percussions and phased drums, Pacific Highway sunrise guitar solos and synthesisers made of fireworks.

The overwhelming majority of the results are pleasant enough. If you are lucky they will improve the quality of the time you spend on hold during a call to customer services, or your ascent up a skyscraper implemented by sound designers in a retro-ironic mood.

And from time to time, an exception: a similar form animated by a spirit of melancholy, existentialism and sadness, an awareness of the nostalgia we will feel for the present we live today, which adds an irresistible dash of complexity to what otherwise would be a shallow pastel façade.

These records have a touch of genius and are frantically tracked across the Discotheque by otherwise suave gentlemen and ladies straight out of a Michael Mann flick.

And they are frequently produced by Haruomi Hosono. He needs no introduction. Yellow Magic Orchestra member, hyper-creative solo artist and producer extraordinaire, Japanese left-field pop’s version of Conny Plank. And you will know him by the trail of smooth.

We have only started exploring his catalogue recently, and in doing this discovered two 1980s albums by Japanese synthy loungers Interior, which is what we will focus on today. These records are called Interior and Design, and they perfectly represent what we said before: a confluence of cool styles arranged in exquisite harmony, above which hover a spirit full of enigma and soul that helps them transcend what could have otherwise been cheesy or banal.

Just listen to the joyous ‘math rock soundtrack for a John Hughes film’ of Giant Steps, and Shadows of You, which begins as you enter the dressing room of a fashion-store to try on a  white suit, and instead step into a Narnia-style fantasy land of flying dragons and Jean Michel Jarre wizards.

Interior – Giant Steps

Interior – Shadows of You

Find out (a little) more about Interior in Discogs.

A Mandala for Mega-bear

Featuring : Eitetsu Hayashi

From one angle, Jeff Van DerMeer’s Borne is The Road with levitating mega-bears. From another it is Akira on foot. From another, it is Repulsion if Catherine Deneuve adopted the spiky Dali horrors creeping through the cracks on the walls of her house. From yet another, it is a coming of age tale for the barrel-shaped star-headed things in the Mountains of Madness.

Now you see why it is our favourite book of the year, and why you need to read it.

Whenever we say the word ‘Akira’, a gamelan drone unfurls inside our heads, so today we’ll leave you with this one, by Eitetsu Hayashi. It’s mystical layers probably aren’t the best fit for Borne’s squishy body horror, but then we have always associated gamelan’s a-linear mandalas with the uncannily harmonious cycle of the double helix, so there’s that connection if you need one.

Eitetsu Hayashi -カラビンカ (Karabinka)

Karabinka is included in Hayashi’s first album, 風の使者.  More info via Discogs.

Legal dark

Penelope Trappes spent a year in a small piano studio in East London crafting the majestic collection of dystopian lullabies which is Penelope One.

But why am I telling you this? You know it already. The dark spaces in Penelope One are wormholes that cut through space and time, bringing you into the outskirts of the zone when she made it. You gaze inside like a Tarkovskian Stalker, mapping the territory, pristine pools and wild hills and strange megaliths, all haunted, all haunted. You probably have been there before, and you are definitely there now, as the silver synthetic melody around which Low is embroidered unfurls in front of your eyes, illuminating your way down a stone spiral staircase, to a place below where there be monsters, and truth.

If video game marketing departments had any taste, they would use musics like these to promote Hidetaka Miyazaki’s dark fantasies, and these videos would look like the dance of shadows in a hazy Jacques Tourneur hallucination, and we wouldn’t be here writing this, because we would be lost inside them, dancing with the cat people and powerful projection of dreams, mysteries and fears, dancing in that darkness, forever.

Penelope Trappes – Low

Pick up Penelope One from Boomkat.

The excellent folks at Anti-Ghost Moon Ray are releasing the Second Volume of the Annual General Meeting Record and it is a very great thing, and highly topical too. We need a soundtrack for these strange days of psy-ops carried out by undead technologies, server farms foreboding like Harkonnen cathedrals, and eerie dreams of algorithms that have no eyes, and must see.  The Second Volume’s decomposing freestyle jams, poltergeists of dub dissonance and rare moments of searing beauty could well be it.

If you need proof, just check I Speak Machine’s Blood from a Stone, which sounds like Cabaret Voltaire remixing Scott Walker for a cyberpunk edition of The Drift. The personal becomes political, the technological becomes paranormal, and it comes inside you.

I Speak Machine – Blood from a Stone

Get Annual General Meeting Record (Vol 2) from Bandcamp.

A Beautiful Place out in the Desert

Featuring : Canada Effervescent

There’s a moment in all the best weird sci-fi of the 70s and 80s, where are hero/avatar looks out upon the world to see that ‘everything has changed’.  In the best, this change is imperceptible to the eye, taking place entirely in the mind of our hero, and thus us.  So given the inherent limitations of cinema when it comes to showing us the mind, the filmmakers wisely resorted to sound.

So we stand, gazing across a desert landscape, at the sinisterly modernist buildings that, we’ve just discovered, house an affront to all that we hold dear.  The hero knows this.  We know this.  We are about to struggle for the survival of what we understand to be humanity but first, this epiphany needs to be acknowledged.  The horror momentarily addressed.

Enter the synth.

What’s great about New Age music of the 70s and its symbiotic relationship with science fiction is how both co-opted the formally utopian idea of the synthesiser and placed it in unnerving contexts.  New Age used it to evoke another state, to hold out the possibility that there was more, outside of organised religion and political movements.  Science Fiction used it to evoke another state, to hold out the possibility that while the world was having a nervous breakdown, there might be something worse.

Which is why, when I look longingly at the artwork at the top of the page and listen to Canada Effervescent’s beautiful oscillating drones, I feel a slight sense of unease.

Canada Effervescent – Rayon Solaire Holistique

Canada Effervescent’s Rayon Solaire Holistique is that moment of beautiful dread.  It is that sonic encapsulation of something outside of ourselves that, at the sharp end of evolution, we’re struggling to grasp.  The low drone that underpins the entire track is almost lulling yet sufficiently sinister to keep you alert.  The (appropriately enough given the name of the album) crystalline synths that dance around it feel indistinct, like a mirage if a mirage was merely our mind’s way of dealing with the impossibly beautiful.  And these two forces slide past each other, eternally probing your ability to comprehend what terror or beauty is in front of you.  At least for four minutes.

Rayon Solaire Holistique is taken from the album Crystalline which is out today on Not Not Fun.  You can get it right here.

Techno-thriller

Featuring : Ebi

Ebi is Susumu Yokota making acid house music in 1994. It has a shrimp in the front-cover (see below) and it sounds blue, blue like the image results when you google ‘AI’, blue like memories of Keanu in Johnny Mnemonic, blue like the background for the best Netrunner ICE breaker card ever devised, an ocean of chrome providing the backdrop for a grid of digital poison that stretches into infinity. If Daft Punk had been Singularitarians, this would have been their Homework.

We are currently playing Pandemic Legacy and Ebi fits it like a glove. The oppressive throb of the virus relentlessly spreading, the acid squelches of its unpredictable mutations, the thrillingly tacky technoid vibe mapping the jaggy journey of a cursor jerking over the abominable user-interface for the government-procured geographical information system where the intrepid CDC researcher is tracking down the source of the outbreak. Pam pam pam pam pam, Sandra Bullock gotta be there somewhere.

We could go on for ages. If you are us, Ebi is nirvana.

Ebi – Kai

More info about Zen (where Kai comes from) in discogs.

Appendix: Shrimp artwork

The Vanity Wars

Featuring : Brian Case

Arising from the eerie hum of unknown machines, Brian Case’s cover of Ship Building taps into the electronic terror of the early 80s.  It’s a cover from an alternate timeline where Elvis Costello gave the song to Throbbing Gristle rather than Robert Wyatt.  Of course in this timeline TG were fronted by Alan Vega as Genesis was busy being Postmaster General, but I digress.

Case’s version is relentless, built on a thudding drum pattern, distant explosions and the electronic hum that most approximates a fly sparing with an electric light.  It’s Industrial in the same way that Eraserhead’s soundtrack is Industrial.  It’s the surreal madness of machines that’s captured not their percussive energy.  Which is fitting given the conflict and melancholy of its subject matter.

Brian Case – Ship Building

Ship Building is taken from Brian Case’s new album Spirit Design.  It’s out on 25th August and you can pre-order it (and potentially get it early) right here.