Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sigur Ros live from the Walt Disney Concert Hall with the LA Philharmonic Association; Carl Craig, "Versus"

I'm on Sigur Ros' mailing list and news of this concert certainly got my attention.  Even the band admitted to being a bit nervous.

The full concert features a one hour set with a huge LA orchestra, and a second one hour set with just the band. It was streamed live worldwide and can be viewed here.  But I almost always find that these band + orchestra in a classical music setting collaborations never live up to their promise.  Any band that aspires to this kind of performance already has a cinematic majesty to their music, and adding the orchestra then fails to amplify the magic that is present in the bulk of their recordings.  That's essentially the case with this performance.  Sigur Ros fans will certainly want to check it out, but there's hardly anything resembling a definitive version of these songs.

I enjoyed the second half of the show more, because it was my first time seriously checking out the stripped down, three piece version of Sigur Ros -- with no backing musicians, and no backing tapes (none that I could see).  When a band loses an multi-instrumentalist/keyboardist, the bass becomes more of a lead instrument to fill the space, but in this case it can't come close to filling it completely, nor does the band even try.  What's left over is raw, airy (well, more so than before) and sparse, like the home demo recordings version of Sigur Ros.  Nobody gets to hide behind a wall of feedback or a string loop, and for me it's a refreshing change to see this severely stripped down version of the band.


And then there's Carl Craig's "Versus".  This isn't Jeff Mills banging out techno with real strings instead of synthesized ones.  It may be Carl Craig's best album.  It's undoubtedly his most challenging one.

"Versus" is uncategorizable, because nobody's pulled off a techno/classical hybrid quite like this before.  This is the furthest thing from a techno album with added strings to give it extra flair for the dramatic.  It's also not a classical music score that attempts to capture the rhythmic pulse of the clubs (which reads like a horrible idea anyway).  Carl Craig deconstructed his most famous tracks and remixes and has rebuilt them from scratch.  The pacing, instrumentation, and mood of each track has been completely re-envisioned.  The border between acoustic and electronic elements has been erased, thanks to nine years of painstaking effort in the studio to meld everything together just right.

Many contemporary artists see the orchestra an opportunity to lend sophistication to their comparatively simple compositions. Carl Craig and Francesco Tristano looked at each other's respective domains and see a vast space into which they can expand their palate of sounds.  If it was as simple as it sounds, everyone would already be doing it.  But Craig and Tristano have basically claimed an entire genre for themselves.  If the genre lives and dies with them because they're the only ones capable of pulling it off, more power to them.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Caretaker, "Everywhere at the End of Time - Stage 2"

In one of last year's best interview pieces, Leland James Kirby laid out his plans for the Caretaker persona's six part slip into dementia.

"The interesting thing is the switch between the first and second album. The second one is a massive difference between the moods. The second one is the point where you realise that something is wrong. You’re seeing doctors. You’re still coherent enough to say, “Right, I’ve got dementia…” You know this thing is coming. There’s a bit of disbelief."

There are way too many great quotes from that interview to list here, but it's rare to see an artist's vision translate so vividly into the finished product.  "Stage 2" is exactly what Kirby promised and more.  If anything it's even more nerve-wrackingly beautiful than I ever could have imagined.

The first album didn't stray very far from much of his prior work as The Caretaker.  His gently distorted ballroom ballads conveyed a type of nostalgia that could either be sad (crushing realizations that the old days are gone and never coming back) or wistful and peaceful (happy remembrances of how simple and fun those old days were).

True to his words, the transition to the second album is brutal.  Parts of the old memories are still there.  The crackling static is more pervasive, and yet the mind perseveres and sometimes can retain its focus throughout one of the old standards.  But at other times it increasingly becomes clear that important parts are missing.  The tone of the instruments becomes so distorted that there's some doubt about who or what is playing (is that a saxophone?  clarinet?  bassoon?)   The solos are still there, floating through the haze, perceptibly stretched in time, and are no longer anchored to anything in particular (where is the bass line?  where are the verses?  are these parts even from the same song?)

There's a functioning human being in there who can still hum the choruses to plenty of long forgotten tunes, but 20-30% of the time he's humming on autopilot, recalling without thinking, feeling empty and confused as to why things don't make sense like they used to.  It's a horrifying feeling, really, to fully understand what's happening to you, powerless to do anything except grip your memories tightly before they disappear forever.

At the time of the interview, Kirby had just started working on the third album.  He acknowledged that his patient was degrading fast and that he was unsure what the last three albums would entail.  "How do you make complete confusion a good listen?", he wondered aloud.  Can it really get more depressing than this album is?  

Friday, April 07, 2017

Diary of Musical Thoughts Podcast Episode 36

So important was this mix that this mode of consciousness became an instinct - 54 minutes

It's been so long since my last mix that Mixcloud sent me an email about this week.  I've been sitting on this mix for nearly three months.  Inspired by Dan Selzer's New York Endless Mix (which I wrote about here), I had been thinking to myself, "why can't my mixes be as fun as this?"  Nothing too challenging, no downer experimental interludes, don't be afraid to make abrupt transitions as long as the sequencing works, always think about how it would sound on the dancefloor, and don't wear out anyone's patience.  Get in and out in about an hour.  

All that, and I managed to span twenty years of techno too.