This could be the real lo-fi funk. A clockwork, underwater funk that isn’t quite as danceable as it thinks it is, but instead magics up all kinds of hallucinatory thoughts about dancing in your mindbrain.
I Want To Believe by Project Pablo has perhaps unexpectedly proved to be one of the albums of 2015. Its submerged disco is loved by music fans across the board – from tape ‘heads’ to lovers of more ‘proper’ dance music.
Although it might seem weird for a blog that used to bill itself as “Not jazz or funk or great, sorry,” to feature an exclusive interview with the free jazz musician of the 21st Century, Mats Gustafsson – a man that is probably terminally referred to as “saxophone virtuoso Mats Gustafsson,” when what he should really be referred to as is “saxophone motherfucker Mats Gustfasson,” but read on.
We’ve previously told you about Mats’ astral big band, Fire! Orchestra, and the collaboration between his band The Thing and Neneh Cherry was one of our albums of 2012. One of the most ass-kicking records of 2015, meanwhile, is Cuts of Guilt, Cuts Deeper – a fierce collaboration between Mats, Thurston Moore, Merzbow and Balasz Pandi.
Mats is a master of transcendental noise, and his place in the pantheon of this cosmically-inclined blog is inarguable.
As such, we grabbed a chat with him about his feelings on electronic music, beauty, the saxophone and his next release – two side-long pieces quite unlike anything else the musician has put his name to in his long and illustrious career. Called Piano Mating, the album consists of two incredibly pure, simple-sounding and slowly-ascending drones that feel convincingly like conveyor belts for the soul.
It is spiritual music for heathens, and came about because the label Blue Tapes and X-Ray Records asked Mats to record an album using an instrument he’d never played on an album before. What he worked with wasn’t his usual mind-toy, the saxophone, but a long-forgotten curio by Stylophone-makers Dubreq called the Piano Mate.
Intended to be a sort of quasi-synthesiser “add on” for the piano common to the living rooms of many 1970s homes, the Piano Mate basically turned your gran’s piano into a giant stylophone! Perhaps one of the weirdest and least flexible instruments ever, Mats found a way to get an expressive, unique sound out of the machine – not attaching it to a piano or other instrument, but manipulating the device on its own to create the minimalist sonic prayers of Piano Mating.
This is what Mats had to say about the instrument and the record:
“I first discovered the Piano Mate in a great music instrument shop in Vienna: Flash musik. You can find incredible vintage stuff there still. In the basement they had this ‘weird’ amp. As they called it. I was on tour with Fire! and we went to look for vintage mics and amps, having this particular shop recommended by great sound wiz and guitar player Martin Siewert. We went down in the basement. Loads of old stuff. Locating the ‘weird’ one in a blink. I opened the lid of it… and found a pair of keyboard ‘handles’ in there and just couldn’t understand what kind of instrument this was. Trying it out in the shop…and I immediately fell in love with it.
“‘Microtonal electronic maracas is perhaps an apt description? Ha ha!
“I brought it with on the ongoing Fire! tour and had some great fun with it, watching the European ‘ jazz beards’ in the audience go upset with it… as everybody were expecting me to play my usual stuff on my horns.
“It is just a totally different beast compared to anything else I ever played.
“Not really controllable. In the same way as some of the electronics I am using, from the UK based Bug Brand company. All filled with touch and light sensors and shit. Reacting to humidity and temperature and creating a lot of unexpected noises and sounds.
“As well as those instruments, the Piano Mate does whatever it wants really. But I can control pitch and volume and detune it while playing. The microtonal clusters that it offers are highly inspirational to work with and really something that is quite hard to achieve on the saxophones.
“And I just love the sound of it. That color really kicks my mind and ass.
“I made no modifications. Just cleaned it up. It is all microtonal in itself, because of the pitch shifter. You can move that along as you play. It is a truly weird invention. Why would you – in the name of Freja – like to add such a thing to your normal piano? To have an additional synthetical organ sound, on top of your piano…. Ha ha! Why would you like such a thing?
“Anyway – I use it without a keyboard. The handles are supposed to sit on top of the keyboard. Maybe I use it in a way it is not supposed to be used? Ha ha! But it fits me well.
“To play drones…. Is really all you can do when you use the Piano Mate the way I do, ha ha! My idea was basically to focus on the two separate ‘handles’s on each side of the album. A & B. Low frequency and high respectively. And play with the sounds coming up. It depends all on how you angle the ”handles”… tricky shit. During the 5 month long theatre project we did with Fire! in Stockholm I had plenty of time to work on the techniques with this amazing instrument.
“And, during the recordings, I had additional help of some local seagulls flying outside, over the studio room. You can hear it in the beginning and the end of each side. Yeah – the Mate were guiding me.
“It is all about limitations and restrictions. Music and art is always about that.
When you create. That is what you have to deal with.
“And the Piano Mate is quite limited, yes it is! It is a mysterious thing.
“What is musical beauty is up to anyone to judge of course. What I think is noise is for someone else musical beauty of poetic qualities. I love rough sounds… on the edge of distortion. Or just completely distorted, though I prefer analogue distortion. Digital sounds…are not really for me… I love layers of undefined sounds and noises…when frequencies interact and create something new. Something unheard. Not definable. And if you try to ‘rub’ people any direction…. You ‘rob’ them from a true and honest experience.
“You can’t really lead people into what they ‘should’ experience. People have to decide for themselves what to think and enjoy.
“Making this music was a lot about creating a specific state of mind. Letting the music take over. Letting the sounds create the music. Slow. Listening for it and going for it. Never pushing it. Hard to describe actually. And of course part of the mystery of it all.
“How to explain? Why explain? It is all there.
“And you hear what you want. What you need. But if listen close enough… things could change. At every given moment, things might change.
“I really hear very different things every time I listen back to these recordings. I found them still very surprising and funny enough very inspirational to me. In my sax playing, I get a lot of inspiration from listening to the piano mate.
“One thing feeds the other. How it feeds… is always a mystery. The mystery.
“I m always a bit uncomfortable listening back to my own recordings after they made it onto vinyl. When it is done – it is done.
“But I have to say that the piano mating sessions still thrills me. And yeah – it has really given me some good ideas about how to approach my different sax axes.
“And of course there is a huge difference in the fact that Cuts of Guilt, Cuts Deeper is a shared experience w 3 others. And at least I can enjoy what they are doing, ha ha. It is hard to listen back to my own playing, as I said… but, a good fact to realize over and over again… that my music can always gets deeper and better. There is still a long way to go.
“I am a sax player. I decided for the sax as an axe early on. When I was 14 and heard Sonny Rollins live for the first time something really changed! It was a revelation. I had played flute and electric piano in various punk and jazz-rock units in my hometown Umeå… but by changing to the sax…it all changed for me. Dramatically. I could identify with something. And I am happy that I walked the long road – figuring out the mechanics on my own, I made a huge amount of initial mistakes, but learnt some useful techniques along the road that aren’t taught at the conservatories
“By playing other instruments, such as live electronics, keyboards and the Piano Mate I can learn a lot for and in my own sax playing. Shit feeding each other. I am addicted to practicing the sax. I cannot wait to find the new sounds and techniques on my horns. A never-ending process (thanx Tor and Odin) – you will never be done. There are always stuff to learn and research. I will now try to find a way to play Piano Mate techniques on my horns… it will probably take a while to finish that project…
“I have a new sax being developed by my sax tech in Sweden…that looks and sounds very promising. Especially when it comes to copy some of the Piano Mate insanities! I only dislike the fact that I don’t have time enough to practice enough on my saxes. I love my saxes.
“And I love my Piano Mate! – there should be one in every household!!!”
The blockchain is a ledger, and a ledger is a way to tell a financial story. Some people think that we could use its system of collectively authenticated recordkeeping to tell other kinds of stories – legal stories, organisational stories.
Why not horror stories?
Imagine the equivalent of the Necronomicon codified in the blockchain: a set of transactions between a mad priesthood and The Forces Beyond, each of them a spell (algorithm) that permits an operation that increases the absolute levels of horror in the world.
The injection of subliminal images of unfathomable dread into user generated photo and video sites.
Outbursts of impossible language initiating mass psychosis in those who dare reading the comment boxes of popular news-sites.
Hidden gates opening up in the entrails of some recondite video games dungeon, granting access to niches with chests bursting with doomed loot that will corrupt your avatar’s body and soul, and pollute your dreams with slimy shapes.
Abominable shapes unfolding in the pixelated shadows of a badly streamed on-demand film.
Augmented reality games layering upon urban reality the sense of foreboding that anticipates the arrival of the thing outside the diner in Mulholland Drive.
All situations that could be aptly sound-tracked by the music we are leaving with you today:
Samoln’sTsch is an obsessively propulsive slice of cosmic disco skewered with an eerie dulcimer melody that Goblin and John Carpenter would have killed for. Perfect tune for a jet set party no-one leaves alive. It is included in the excellent forthcoming 12’’ compilation curated by Sam de la Rosa from Led Er Est, for Monofonus’ Ixtab series. Pre-order here.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is an emotionally augmented reality of the best countryside walk you ever did. Rolling hills and quaint little villages, the joy of discovering a hidden path taking you to one of those secluded spots where the epiphany awaits.
It is as close to the real thing as we can get with contemporary technology and it would be a triumph if it was only that, especially for English folk for whom it is bound to generate an irrepressible avalanche of Proust-like memories of damp summers in impossibly optimistic holiday resorts, of blissful spring-time pints in wasp-infested beer gardens.
But it is much more than that.
As we stroll down Yaughton Valley, we witness glowing echoes of its inhabitants’ lives, ectoplasmic moments from before and while it was washed over by a mysterious eschaton we seek to understand. These are vignettes of the quotidian, the worries, joys and regrets of a community about to be dissolved – perhaps exalted – into infinite light.
The whole experience is incredibly affecting, partly because the micro-victories and tragedies we stumble upon feel real, partly because its protagonists’ terror as they are overcome by a cosmic force is something we know we would share. Even if the final outcome is eternal rapture, it is still a rapture of ghosts, and who would prefer that to imperfectly human immersion in this earthly valley and its fractious community?
The paradox is that this is a game about transcendence as apocalypse, set in the midst of the kind of countryside landscape where we ourselves look for transcendence, pure, unselfconscious, motes of life flowing over the fields, under the sun?
A loop is closed like the pattern in the stars, thus are the landscape, the story and the ambiance of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture perfectly integrated, to enthral us as we play it, and haunt us in years to come.
We have managed to write all of the above without using the term “hauntological” once, but we cannot deny that EIGTTR shares the sensibility of Ghost Box et al, and its “cosy apocalypse” has strong echoes of John Wyndham and his ilk. You could perfectly imagine Yaughton as the scenario of a Doctor Who adventure, if only its theme was regret, and its director Andrei Tarkovsky.
This obviously makes us love it even more. It gives us a new sensorial backdrop and bag of qualia over which to scatter our favourite music, such as say, Alexander Harvey’s Harmonic Choir, whose synthesisers simmer like particles in some unstable equilibrium, an apparently chaotic stream of numbers arrived from the stars configuring themselves into an emergent structure behind which we sense loneliness, and intent, a pattern…The Pattern.
Skittering beats across a desert plane.Mara dancing by fire, the cloudless sky illuminated by the laser trails of countless celestial beings.The smoke from the flames helping give the laser light form and shape.
As the darkness begins to spread at the far corner of the sky, a lone figure moves in the desert valley below.It’s not quite clear how she came to possess the fuel, but this distant figure is almost certainly building a fire, or a pyre, or some other low wooden structure that seems ripe for burning.
As the desert turns cold, the sun picks out the black edges of the surrounding mountains.
Now it is night and the fire rages.We are closer.Closer to the warmth of the fire.We can see that our fire builder is Mara.She dances behind the flames and as she does so, we hear music.
Skittering beats cross the desert plane.From above we see shapes against the stars.
Right on the beat, the cloudless sky becomes illuminated by the laser trails of countless celestial beings. The smoke from the flames helping give the laser light form and shape.Their metallic wings and angular bodies blot out the stars.
And Mara dances.And Mara sings.And the desert becomes a dance floor for the black birds in the sky.
If anyone thinks choral music is an anachronism in 2015 then they’re just not listening. Two years ago Katie Gately’s Pipes took Bjork’s Medulla approach to acapella arrangements and exploded it (leading to the inevitability of the two inniuses actually working together this year).
Just as exciting are Roomful of Teeth – a Massachusetts choir formed in 2009 by singer and composer Brad Wells. Roomful of Teeth profess to approach music more like a band than a choir, bringing in influences from Tuvan throat singing as much as opera and Korean p’ansori singing as much as Gregorian chant.
Their output to date consists of a mix of the members’ own compositions and new pieces from modern composers such as Missy Mazzoli and Merrill Garbus (aka tUnE-yArDs). It is intense, innovative, of-the-moment music from people with a genuine love for sound in all its myriad formats.
They’re possibly the closest thing XXJFG can imagine right now to a contemporary version of our beloved, untouchable Geinoh Yamashirogumi. There is no higher compliment.
We spoke to members Brad Wells and Cameron Beauchamp who told us a little about their working processes.
“The selection process for composers is intuitive and informal. We look for creative musicians with distinct, original compositional voices – composers who have something to say and whose music connects with audiences.
“Not every ensemble member composes (about half of us do). But every member does contribute creatively to the process of building new work – especially if that new work is generated from composers within the group. Suggestions, ideas, different perspectives from each singer are welcome and often incorporated into our new pieces.
“There’s no consistent style or quality that I look for when writing for the group. Suffice it to say I look for feeling – strong feeling – whether it’s a physical sensation of ring or buzz that results or a vivid emotional response or release. The human voice – in speech or song – is drenched in emotion; if one doesn’t feel something when the extraordinary vocalists of Roomful of Teeth are singing, something is wrong.”
“Hopefully, our music can draw in listeners from all walks of life and turn them on to genres of music that is foreign to them. We aim to widen the general listen audience.
“Our music gives a freedom that I don’t experience when performing other types of music. Never have I felt this depth of expression through so many colors of singing.
“I don’t believe a good singer is defined by his/her pedigree. I believe the integrity and dedication to the musical line is the defining point. I am equally moved by a simple folk tune, a florid aria, or a shredding metal tune. It’s all in the honesty of the performer. ”