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Giusto Pio, "Motore Immobile"

The recent news of the death of Franco Battiato drew me to Giusto Pio’s solo debut album, a classic of Italian minimalism. Produced by Battiato in 1979 and first released on Cramps records, Motore Immobile was generally ignored before languishing in obscurity. The Soave label reissued the album on vinyl in 2017, the year of Pio’s passing, and issued a vinyl repress shortly before Battiato died: an appropriate symmetry for two men who worked so beautifully together. The quality of their musicianship and compositional skill is such that, with simple organ drone, modest voice, delicate violin, and resonant piano, a vivid and sacred impression is created.


There is no law against trying to describe the subtle mystery and calm in this magnificent recording, but there probably ought to be. Let me first, then, defer to an expert writer on minimalism to succinctly describe those elements that Pio uses to achieve so much. As Alan Licht says "on the first side/title track, he uses a droning organ and moves very calmly from triad to triad, superimposing the next one briefly before moving on, occasionally expanding the sound with octave doubling and then just as quickly subtracting the lower tones. Intermittent humming and violin provide additional notes. On the second side, 'Ananta,' he uses a piano flourish to introduce each triad, landing on the tonic note each time."

The organ on the title track is played by Danilo Lorenzini and Michele Fedrigotti. Giusto Pio himself adds violin, and Martin Kleist doesn’t so much sing as hum almost beneath the surface of consciousness. Pio's violin playing has the care and precision of a sculptor or surgeon, shaping the music, and paring it down to bare bones. Matching the human voice with the organ drones produces a profound and spiritual harmony. Earlier in life I found the organ (in church) overpowering. It seemed at times to obliterate the congregation, as might a tool of class-based domination. While achieving a stunning musical purity, Motore Immobile also preserves the importance of the human voice. I have now come to love the organ, and recent works such as Kali Malone's The Sacrificial Code, where the instrument appears to be alive and breathing, have helped with that. For Pio's second piece, "Ananta," Lorenzini plays organ and Fedrigotti switches to piano. It too is an unforgettable work, dazzling as sunlight hitting colored glass objects in a Venetian shop window. Motore Immobile has a place among other classics of the period, such as Roberto Cacciapaglia's Sei note in logica (1979), Luciano Cilio's Dialoghi Del Presente (1977), and Franco Battiato's L’Egitto Prima Delle Sabbie (1978) that is assured for all time.

samples available here

4738 Hits

"Sound Storing Machines: The First 78rpm Records from Japan, 1903-1912"

This set all too briefly demonstrates why, from Henry Cowell to Tim Hecker, via La Monte Young, Alan Hovhaness, Olivier Messiaen, Lou Harrison, Benjamin Britten, and Ákos Nagy, many Western composers have been inspired by the sacred other-wordly elegance of gagaku music. Based on the tracks by Suenaga Togi and gagaku musicians from the Imperial Household Orchestra, a whole album by them is high on my list of coveted items. There are a variety of other styles here, with dazzling twangy sounds from the three-string samisen, Zen-meditative bamboo flute, a xylophone made of stones, boisterous songs from puppet theater, and enough surface noise to satisfy any connoisseur of hiss and crackle.

Sublime Frequencies

Anyone familiar with Victrola Favorites will have an inkling of what to expect from this set of ultra-rare early 20th century recordings from Japan, collected by Robert Mills: 78 rpm-related exotica in the form of intriguing photographs, a variety of sounds, with good information concerning the instruments, plus cultural and historical context. Sound Storing Machines is nowhere near as lavishly packaged as Victrola Favorites (few releases are) but it comes with enough generous and intriguing information to distract from the listening process. This is not a criticism, but I decided to approach it with several full listens without reading any background, without concern for like or dislike, and merely with openness, and the spirit of “disinterestedness.” John Cage has suggested that for the making of music to have the possibility for complete and fulfilled moments one should make music “as the Orient would say” for the love of making it, as opposed to the pursuit of fame or wealth. Listeners and musicians alike should approach music disinterestedly, in order to integrate the personality - which is "why we love the art." Without much thought I first listened at low volume on tiny inbuilt laptop speakers. I began to think that this music is the perfect pitch for earbuds,which I don't possess, and only later I tried using good quality headphones at even lower volume. I will never play this album loudly through speakers.

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5206 Hits

Phew / John Duncan / Kondo Tatsuo, "Backfire of Joy" short release captures the only performance from the trio. Recorded at Hosei University, Tokyo, on John Duncan’s first visit to Japan in 1982, it is a fascinating document both in the context of that visit but also in terms of the creativity, emotion, technique, and improvisation. The participants are meeting here for the first time, although they were familiar with each other’s work through tape exchange. Duncan is finding and processing shortwave radio signals, Tatsuo using piano, tape loops, and synth textures, and Phew vocalizing in English and Japanese. 

Black Truffle

On the first of two pieces, "Backfire," the group plunges straight into a tense section dominated by percussive tape loops and Phew’s hybrid chant-song. The effect is of a woman plodding around in metal boots and tinkering on a broken stylophone while absentmindedly reading aloud the labels of electronic appliances. Yet she is actually offering up a kind of liturgy “I already sold you… an electric plug, an electric bell, an electric cooker, an electric kettle, an electric toothbrush, an electric knife...don’t let me sell you... an electric chair.” If this is a serious message against consumerism or the death penalty then the paradoxical mundane glamor in the charming tone and rhythm of her voice elevates it far above dull moralizing. Around the seven minute mark comes a halt and bare smattering of applause gives way to a more mournful flow, with chiming and buzzing synth melodies. Then Phew switches to Japanese and the abrasiveness ratchets up in a thumping swirling climax.

“Backfire" is the more gritty and dissonant of the two pieces but the creative extemporization holds together very well. Pearls are made by grit, and the second, slightly shorter, “Joy” has a soothing and ecstatic atmosphere and more breathing space for the music. There is a wonderful feel to this track, and Duncan’s spluttering bursts of shortwave noise provide perfect contrast to elegaic singing and echoing piano notes. A slightly over-the-top comparison would be stalactites dropping into a moonlit pool of molten silver. Phew manages to sound as if she’s singing backwards.

The tape exchange meant these collaborators will have had an idea of what the others would bring to the performance, but it is intriguing to wonder if some of the audience knew of Duncan's previous events and expected to be challenged by upsetting or confrontational elements. To describe him as notorious would (still) be a massive understatement. It is arguable that this recording only exists because of his self-exile from the USA. He had acquired a reputation for transforming his personal experience into disturbing art and also using disturbing art to trigger transforming personal experiences in others. I refer in particular to the 1980 performance combining two separate but linked events: an audio recording of Duncan allegedly having sex with a cadaver (which he’d obtained by bribing a mortuary assistant in Mexico) and projected photographs of his later vasectomy, presented to a Los Angeles audience as Blind Date - a depiction of male rejection turning into rage and self-punishing loathing. This work made his earlier Scare from 1976, wherein people answered their door to be confronted by a figure (Duncan) in a head mask, pointing and firing a blank-loaded gun in their face before fleeing, seem relatively benign. Blind Date provoked a backlash of such fierce critical and personal opinion that two years later Duncan relocated to Japan as something of a cultural leper.

Backfire of Joy occurred as Duncan was deliberately submerging himself into a new country and the alienating effects of a foreign language. A creative dialogue works here, though, with Phew and Tatsuo at least equal partners in the trio. The record can be enjoyed without an understanding of how Duncan's upbringing and personal history affected his art. Equally, the event did not rely on Reichian breathing exercises or rather “hyperventilation used to create a complete loss of physical and psychic control" or the need for an audience to confront or dissolve the personal armor preventing us from getting in touch with our true nature. That’s just as well, as I won’t be shedding my armor any time soon - at least not the visor and codpiece.

Samples can be found here.

4745 Hits

C-Schulz, "Frühe Jahre" 2017, C-Schulz’s late '80s-early '90s work was compiled in this mesmerizing album. Barely in his twenties, Schulz created some genre-defying music which, although clearly located between the kosmische music of 1970s Germany and early techno-electronica, resists easy classification or dating. The compilation is impossible to become bored with since it is memorable and satisfying yet so unpredictable that it is strangely difficult to recall the atmosphere and pace of individual tracks. This sprawling array of shifting sounds can perhaps be understood as the equivalent of a classic neuroscience memory test where the subject tries to recall 20 unrelated items after they have been covered by a cloth. I remember a Dada collage, industrial rhythms, a tiny piece of acid funk, library musique-concrete, heavy breathing, carbonated liquid cracking ice cubes, galloping static and clattering train tracks, looped chanting, economic radio news chatter, giggling children, a growling beast, a racing heart beat, poignant brass and synth tones.

Unseen Worlds

For all the juxtaposition and surprise, this is an uncluttered and precise soundtrack of sustained tension which, decades later, sounds neither dated nor gimmicky. Music does not need a purpose but Schulz's could be suited for waking an astronaut from a deep space pod in the year 3000, or for having a panic attack sipping cocktails in a late-1960s airport lounge as the Mike Sammes Singers refuse to be drowned out by occasional road drills. Marcus Schmickler co-produced many of the 20 tracks and he contributes liner notes. Frühe Jahre came to my attention three months ago when (aged 64) I began a vicious bout of shingles. When it seemed nothing could distract from that nightly agony, thank God for these glorious, innovative, and timeless recordings.

samples available here

4507 Hits

Ziguri, "Kölsch-Schickert-Erdenreich"

Ziguri's debut album, produced by Schneider TM, blends smooth and powerful motorik monotony, babbling vocals, and also dares to set Thomas Pynchon lyrics to music.

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19996 Hits

Gut und Irmler, "500m"

500m beautifully combines Gudrun Gut’s programmed percussion and editing discipline with Jochen Irmler’s meandering organ playing and natural spontaneity.

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18525 Hits

Vaadat Charigim, "The World Is Well Lost"

This trio from Tel Aviv has created driving and airy songs suffused with somewhat doom-laden yet inspiring vocals, hollow rhythms, and gauzey guitar, for an album which could easily masquerade as a release from 1980s Manchester or Glasgow.

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8334 Hits

Kiki Gyan, "24 Hours In A Disco"

These seven lengthy grooves are sure to please disco fans and their refreshing quality can be appreciated by those others who, like me, tend to view the genre with a mixture of amusement and terror. Sadly, behind the ecstatic sounds of 24 Hours in a Disco is the tale of a talented artist who was cursed by addiction and doomed by fame.

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8928 Hits

Coolies, "Master"

Coolies started out in the late 1990s, a trio of school friends from South Auckland, NZ, making a homemade-punk noise. After a first spurt of activity they lost a couple of drummers, released hardly any music, and seemed to have gone silent. This brief new album captures their gleeful, raw, energy on a reel-to-reel recorder.

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8411 Hits

Baudouin de Jaer, "Gayageum Sanjo"

Legend has it that more than a thousand years ago King Gasil of Gaya ordered a stringed instrument to be created. Archaeology suggests that same instrument, the gayageum, may have been made even earlier. Either way, de Jaer's compositions have a quality that is both ancient and modern.

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8533 Hits

Zebu! "Chill Wave"

I don't know if there is much surfing in their Massachusetts location but Zebu!'s eighth record is mainly powered by waves of surf-instrumental tunes. Chill Wave twists a retro beach party vibe into something more bracing, brooding, and raw: as suggested by the LP cover with overcast sky and big lump of rock sticking up out a cold, dark stretch of ocean.

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8473 Hits

Shirley & Dolly Collins, "For As many As Will"

This is a very welcome reissue of the final album by the Collins sisters. They cast a marvelous spell on mysterious traditional songs from Southern England. It's all here: advice, a beheading, blacksmiths, erections, farming, happiness, a hanging, letters, loss, love, nosebleeds, poaching, pudding, rakes, revenge, treachery, and youth. All that and their cover of "Never Again," a Richard Thompson lament more contemporary to this 1978 recording.

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8693 Hits

Jakob Olausson, "Morning & Sunrise"

Jakob Olausson follows up his acclaimed album Moonlight Farm with another entrancing record. Its hypnotic quality comes partly from song structures which seem looser than they actually are, and from the stark contrast between emotionally raw lyrics, some sparkling guitar notes, and his doubled or heavily echoed voice.

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7322 Hits

"Oi! A Nova Musica Brasileira!"

Thankfully, Oi! is not a trawl through a dubious underbelly of UK punk. It’s a two disc snapshot of recent Brazilian music from Amapa to Rio Grande Do Sul, Acre to Paraiba, mapping the places where indigenous forms meet dub, funk, psychedelia, and several other outer-national sub-genres. Of the 40 tracks I prefer those suggesting cool, dark alleys, mind warping neon surfboards, or vertigo-inducing rooftops, to others which feel like over-crowded hip-hop/carnival nether regions where “party” is a verb and Karl Pilkington dreams of quiet reverie during a hellish episode of An Idiot Abroad.

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10765 Hits

Snakefarm, "My Halo at Half-Light"

Long-time musical partners Anna Domino and Michael Delory take ten songs from the public domain and recreate them in their own image: the cool detachment of Domino's voice and non-traditional arrangements contrasting with narratives of treachery and murder. As they previously did in 1999 with their much-heralded album Songs from My Funeral.

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13627 Hits

Geisterfahrer, "Stained Lunar"

New Orleans duo, Geisterfahrer, expand their previous palate by appearing to reduce it. On Stained Lunar they still eschew computers but also use clearer production, silence, and darker lyrics. The result is a separation of instruments and voices which better emphasize an ethno-catatonic, hypnotic, pagan sensibility.

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12047 Hits

FWY!, "CA 80's-90's"

Under the name FWY! (pronounced Freeway) Edmund Xavier offers a hypnotic instrumental tribute to various California highways.

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9569 Hits

Duane Pitre, "Omniscient Voices"

On his first solo album since 2015, Duane Pitre takes figures/motifs from a "justly tuned" piano and uses his Max/MSP-based generative network to convert them into data which is then sent to two polyphonic microtonal synthesizers which have patches he designed. There is also some controlled improvisation interacting with the piano-reactive electronics. That may be clear to many readers, but it is impressively baffling to me. No matter, I often enjoy the benefits of things I don't fully understand: hydroelectric power, photography, bees making honey, and sound "living in the grooves" of vinyl records, to name but four. So it is with this lovely series of degenerative musical feedback loops. They also have a consistently pleasing sound and invite inner contemplation and a sense of interconnectedness.


The key to why Omniscient Voices pleases the ear may be “just tuning.” This is an important part of the debate about how music should be played and composed, along with the concept of the harmonic series. “Just" tuned music is associated with composers such as Harry Partch and Terry Riley, with calmness, introspection, slowness, and tranquility. It stands in sharp contrast to the compromised "equal temperament" tuning which has been accused of ruining harmony and causing Western culture to be deaf to the resulting action-oriented, bland, buzzing, colorless, over-caffeinated, out-of-tune happiness-fixated din. I think there’s something in that. Meanwhile, lovers of Pitre’s 2012 album Feel Free may experience OV as less of a long form work, but the harmonic variety does not result in any dilution of intensity or loss of “naturalness.” The pieces are clearly connected and there is no fragmented concession to post-modern aesthetics. The track titles suggest excavations of creativity and learning from the past. I am interested to know why track 4 is called "The Rope Behind The Bee" but it may not matter too much. There is no wrong way to approach this recording. By all means listen while trying to grasp the notion that in tuning theory 5/12 = 5/6 = 5/3 = 10/3 = 20/3, but the album is going to sound fine either way.

samples available here

3964 Hits

Dwarr, "Animals"

In 1986, Duane Warr retreated to his trailer home with an 8-track recorder to make an album which turns out to be a bit more than a doom-laden, cartoonish amalgam of the antics of everyone who has played air guitar in just their underwear during a dark night of the soul.

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10173 Hits

Charles Tyler, "Eastern Man Alone"

This 1967 recording features an intriguing line-up of alto sax, cello, and two bass players. Since Tyler played on Albert Ayler's Bells and Spirits Rejoice it is no surprise that on his own album he challenges the other musicians to explore restless improvisation and avoid locking into too much of a groove.

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11147 Hits