Assimilation and Ascension

Featuring : Ben Vince

Last week, nearly all of 20JFG spent their sunny Sunday afternoon amidst the utopian concrete spires of the Barbican.  Which is, of course, something we try to do as much as possible.  But in this instance it was to attend a gig, (organised by Max Richter) that answered a very important question: what would the Venn diagram look like if you overlaid people into the Avant-Jazz-Metal of Ex Eye (aka Colin Stetson’s metal band™) with fans of the overwhelming electronic dreamscapes of Caterina Barbieri.  That overlap looks a bit like us, it turns out.

Later that night, we found ourselves watching Colin Stetson videos on YouTube.  Marvelling at repurposing of the saxophone as rhythm/percussion/melody/sonic bludgeon while his Wikipedia origin story was read aloud.  Which led to the reader opining, ‘I always associated the saxophone with smooth jazz’.  Well, this week’s track is for you.

Ben Vince recently put out the five track LP Assimilation.  Aptly titled as four of the five tracks are dense collaborations; each track with a different set of artists so entwined as to be seamless.  So it feels a little weird to be presenting the fifth, collaboration-less track here but we wanted to focus on the sax.  The sax and its capability for strangeness.

Ben Vince – Assimilation

Assimilation, begins with a dizzying set of reverberating notes that draws on classical minimalism.  Yet where minimalism often evokes towering structures, complex and modern, Vince’s world seems to fly.  That it feels organic is probably indivisible from the breath in every note.

This airborne, restlessness is joined at times by a distant and bassy horn.  A harbinger of some enormous calamity.  Perhaps one that has sent the notes into the sky in the first place?  We are joined for a while by minimal percussion but this soon fades, as if movement from this place is fruitless.  Better to watch the notes ascend above.  Better to watch their strange dance with each other.

Ben Vince’s Assimilation is out today on Where to Now? Records.  You can buy it right here.

Elm Street Blues

Featuring : Tim Story

Emotions, vibes and moods blend into each other like shape-shifting swingers in a Brian Yuzna nightmare. We sense scaly beasts crawling under the emerald prairies of our Arcadian gardens.

Tim Story’s 1984  album Untitled illustrates such hybridisation. Approached from one side, it is all pristine piano melodies and mellow ambient-scapes subtly rearranging your soul with a feng-shui algorithm. Approached from another, it is a an exploration of an abandoned house full of unsprung psychic traps worthy of Stephen King or Peter Straub.

Sargasso makes us imagine John Carpenter working on the soundtrack for a John Hughes film, or Brian Wilson returning the favour in Profondo Rosso or Don’t Look Now. An awful darkness is revealed in the soul of that wholesome and charismatic character everyone trusted. We glimpse the motivations of the monstrous killer, understand the logic behind this trail of dead and forgive.

Opposites blend like ectoplasmic tendrils precipitating out of a psychic’s orifices in the doctored photo of a 19th century seancé, bringing separate parts of the universe together, and this way adding to the total sum of goodness.

Tim Story – Sargasso

Find out more in discogs.

Saturday Mixtape: Let perpetual light shine upon us

Featuring : Father Murphy

Today, in our infrequent Saturday mixtape series, we bring you the selections of Father Murphy.  More on their final album next week but today they’ve provided us with something conceptually appropriate…

Let perpetual light shine upon us
A collection of music for eternal rest by Father Murphy

1) Kyrie (Gyorgy Ligeti)

A swarm of voices pleading for mercy in a Cormac McCarthy landscape.

2) Bala (Senyawa)

The sound of transcendence delivered by shamans from the Island of the Deads.

3) Salomon islands women funeral chants

Heart wrenching and sublime at the same time: like only pain itself sometimes can be.

4) Ad mortem festinamus (Virolai, Llibre Vermell de Montserrat)

Melodies and harmonies, joyful and somehow triumphants, that allow us to accept Death as our dancing companion.

5) Danza Macabra (Francesco Filidei)

Rattling bones or military rolls, there will be sounds to keep us company inside the coffin.

6) Responsorio delle tenebre a sei voci (Salvatore Sciarrino)

Another swarm of voices, keening and muttering. A massive and feeble delayed sound in a perpetual search for vindication and rescue.

7) Malproksime (Mohammad)

Relentless and incessant, like a single gigantic wave that will cover all the land, a mournful chant that takes us by hand to witness a funeral rite.

8) Miserere (A. Castro, S. Chirdo, F. Falcone & M. Salatino)

We sing for Thee, holding our pumping hearts in our hands.

9) Hesteofringen: Min Dode Hest op. 55 (Henning Christiansen)

Sorrowful and breathtaking. The sound of consciousness holders, inflicting death and at the same time mourning for it.

10) I Thirst (ARIADNE)

“I fade to this dust and I shall be no more”

11) Koumé (Eliane Radigue)

“Ashes of illusion becoming light. Descent to the deepest, where the spark of life is. There, Death is born. Death becomes birth. Actively re-beginning. Eternity — a perpetual becoming.”

A Lullaby from the Edge of Time

Featuring : E Ruscha V

Imagine those cash soaked, monolithic mid-century corporations.  Hard I know.  Imagine the crazy things they got up to: building nuclear reactors in their basement, commissioning pioneering electronic music, building a utopian town in the Amazon, that sort of thing.  

Imagine that their endeavours encompassed the expansion of human consciousness.  Imagine an institute set up for this purpose, an enormous machine focussed on the individual; a process that would begin in a vast white hall.

So we stand in the hall, robbed figures gliding rapidly towards us.  We stand in a hall and are assured that our old lives are over and that we will be needing none of the things we have bought with us.  We move forward with our guides through chambers and theatres, courtyards and terraces.  

Months pass.  

Each morning we gaze upon the sunrise through a vast round window.  Each morning the synths stir and we hear music.  The final indulgence, a piece specially commissioned.  Soothing, beautiful and underneath it all a profound sense of awe.

E Ruscha V – The Hostess

The Hostess is taken from E Ruscha V’s awesome, blissed out, ambient/balearic album Who Are You.  Which came out in March but a mixture of being slackers and then thinking that we’d actually posted it meant we didn’t get round to writing about it till now.  Which kinda’ worked out well as it may well be the transportive synth album for your summer.  Get it direct from RVNG right here.  And check out the video for Carried Away below…

AI_er states of consciousness

Featuring : Susumu Yokota + UP!

Everybody is freaking out about the advent of super-smart Artificial Intelligences, and/or about the world’s almost complete takeover by really dumb ones. Your 20JFG reporters respond with a musical exposé where they delve into some techno musics which provide a artistic (silent, vociferous, ambivalent) response to the mysteries of Artificial Intelligence.

An obvious place to start is the ‘Artificial Intelligence’ series of compilations released by Warp records in the 1990s, where a bunch of (don’t call it intelligent) techno luminaries ‘demonstrate the capabilities of electronic music’.

If trance and rave producers are like the UFO crazies waving their welcoming placards at an armada of robotic dreadnoughts between being blown to smithereens, the philosopher kings of synthetic music in the AI comps resemble the PhDs in linguistics in Stories of Your Life and Others (aka Arrival), a cadre of highly specialised scientists developing a sonic language to communicate with those unfathomable minds which may be lurking inside the machine.

UP!’s (aka Richie Hawtin) Spiritual High builds a space of wonder at the marvel of consciousness which human and machines can share. AI systems being able to observe the micro-dynamics of their cognitive processes perceive this as the ripple with which the weights of deep neural networks are optimised to represent and predict complex reality in a multidimensional space. When you project this into human sensoria, the pounding beats, acid squirts and replicant chorus in Spiritual High provide a good enough approximation.

UP! – Spiritual High

More information about Artificial Intelligence in Discogs.

Imagine the platonic concept of the beat like a software class with a set of methods with some parameters which are randomly initialised, producing a rich variation of outputs all of which satisfy the constraint of making you lose your shit. Susumu Yokota’s Alphaville carries out a pretty thorough exploration of that possibility space.

Its beauty is in its minimalism. No bass, no melody, no effects. Only a sheer army of rhythm pushing forward with monomaniac purpose, like the dystopian civilisation in Zamyatin’s We as it constructs an Integral to conquer the galaxy, or that sorcerer’s apprentice AI in the Goal Misalignment fable, covering the solar system with paperclips you can dance to.

Susumu Yokota – Alphaville

Alphaville is included in Susumu Yokota’s masterpiece Acid Mt. Fuji. Read more about it here.

Mono No Aware

Featuring : Yoshio Suzuki

The arrival of the Spring always feels like a miracle.  Slumbering systems slowly awaken in the mothership of our body, and we sail outside to be kissed by the sun and embraced by the world. But this seasonal joy is always tinged with a hint of melancholy, for it is when the seasons turn that the passage of time becomes more apparent. With it comes a realisation of our impermanence, and a sadness for those who are no longer around to share this change with us (including our past selves).

The Japanese have a perfect name for this feeling: mono no aware, the pathos of things: “a sense of transience of all things in life. The sun, the dandelion, the cicada, the Hammer and all of us: we are all subject to the equations of James Clerk Maxwell, and we are all ephemeral patterns destined to eventually fade, whether in a second or an aeon”, in Ken Liu’s wonderful words.

Mono no aware is a bittersweet sensation. It intrudes in our moments of joy, a ghost whispering in our ear that this will too come to pass, while at the same time highlighting something we all share, hinting at a hidden harmony in the universe. We revel in it whenever it arrives. Today we will leave you with two gems of Nipponese balearica which act as beautiful mono no aware generators. Enjoy!

First Yoshio Suzuki, a peripatetic jazz multi-instrumentalist whose 1986 record Touch of Rain is pure marina cool threaded with exquisite wistfulness. Our Sunday Morning’s piano refrain harkens to that primeval moment in childhood when we discovered loss, and projects it over a bouncy pastel boogie, recognising wisely that in its absence, all our happy moments would be shallow.

Yoshio Suzuki – Our Sunday Morning

Find out more about Touch of Rain in Discogs.

Motohiko Hamase is a bassist and composer who we already featured in an article about nature-oriented japanese ambient. Today we wanted to tell you about his 1986 album Reminiscence, which unsurprisingly brims with mono no aware.

Its first track, Childhood, proustly summons that blissful sensation of possibility with which we approached reality as children, knowing that every room contained a treasure, every object a secret, and every situation could be the start of an adventure. We complete the mono no aware puzzle when we set that spirit alongside out present one, and realise what we have lost.

Motohiko Hamase – Childhood

More about Reminiscence in Discogs

The front-page for this post os obviously decorated by Studio Ghibli whose whole filmography is, one could argue, a big paean to Mono no Aware.

Techno in the Age of Oblivion

Featuring : Flatliner

This week we’re visiting another of 20JFG’s favourite labels, Holodeck Records.  Which is a good time to do so as they’ve got an epic label compilation out, spanning their entire roster of synth driven goodness.  There are 30 tracks on this comp but today we are focussing on one.

Flatliner – Dream Last Night

Where once these mournful, muscular techno tracks bullied their way across our overactive imaginations — recalling all our innocent 80s action-film power fantasies filtered through our equally naive existential angst — we are now more fearful.

They still conjure a sense of ascension and muscular, propulsive forward motion.  Like a side scrolling videogame where the only option is forward (or, more precisely, right).  This hyper-masculine space.  This co-option of Techno into an internal metronome for our beloved rugged individualists, stalking the night and armed to the teeth.  This space is now, in turn, stalked by our own encroaching dystopias.  For our muscle bound libertarians, railing against any regulation of their own primal agency aren’t to be indulged, they’re to be feared.  For the ironically detached fantasy has become a aspirational reality.  Where once we our tourists, we’re now prospective residents.

All of this perspective shifting leaves us with a fresh and tactile response to these synth bangers.  They still bang with all the power of the neon night.  They still plunge us into the power and the highest of stakes.  But this is beginning to feel like contemporary experience rather than the ironic detachment that might once has flicked through this minimal night music.  What is old will forever be new again.

Dream Last Night is taken from the Holodeck compilation Vision One which you can get right here.