Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Music’

THE PUREST FORM

A blog about the music of Brian Eno, Harold Budd & others, in which I let myself go a bit

During the day I often have BBC Radio 3 playing at a very low volume: unlike recordings with vocal content the classical music doesn’t interfere with my train of thought in any way, but does provide a level of stimulus. (Radio 3 does play a lot of opera, which is obviously vocal, but you know what I mean.) A while ago the station played a gentle ambient piece by Brian Eno, which caught my attention. I looked up some more Eno, and asked a friend who likes Eno’s music what he’d recommend as a starting point. He suggested a couple of albums.

I’ve found that I love this stuff. The title track of The Pearl, an album by Brian Eno and Harold Budd, is wonderfully eerie and atmospheric, a deceptively simple composition that gradually increases in complexity and layering. Through headphones a stereo-pan whooshing sound is audible, which I reckon is one of the analogue effects used on the track, adding an effect of its own. The music overall is like fairies, sparks of light that exist in the spaces between moments. Curious visitors with delicate, pointed features, thin bones visible through their translucent skin.

The Winter Garden album – a collaboration between Eraldo Bernocchi, Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie – is probably my favourite. Harmony and the Play of Light is a beautiful track of sweet, gentle sounds with almost menacing undertones and harmonics. Instead of decaying, notes increase in volume, or shift in pitch, or develop vibrato. The relationships between the notes change and grow. The notes seem to create music of their own as other sounds rise or drift in. I see a black lake in a cavern. The light of the music reflects off the water’s oily surface, changing colour and shimmering. The lights rise, blue and white and sparkling gold, then drift back into the blackness. Some of the notes are old and wise. Younger ones want to play.

Heavy Heart Some More is like signals broadcast by a vast alien machine housed in a subterranean chamber. It’s ancient. Huge. A monolith. It’s sent out these signals for thousands of years but received no response. None will come.

There is Nobody on Eno’s Music for Films is almost tribal-sounding. Quartz is beams of light in ice-blue and gold rising from circles of stone in a pebbled garden, merging with thicker red and orange bands. Alternative 3 is a giant wolf stalking, trailing salvia, all hot breath and coarse black fur.

Slow Water on Eno’s album Music for Films has distant alien broadcasts. Then wine glasses singing. (You know how to make a wine glass sing, right? Right.) And maybe a bit of whale song. Then it all comes together in this incredibly relaxed, gentle piece. A woman in a floaty dress levitates above the ground with her arms swaying out beside her. She’s looking to her right, long red hair rising up above her shoulders. Maybe she’s under water. She just drifts, utterly at peace. As the track fades, she does too.

I find this music really stimulating to work to. All music I’ve previously experienced has been somehow two-dimensional, created and performed. But the music of Eno and Budd et al is not of this world; it is of other, far more exotic places. It is the music of gods and aliens, of transcendence. I don’t think this music is even owned by the musicians who created it – each soundscape is an entity in its own right. It’s as if these musicians have formed these sounds and then released them to find their own way, in turn producing sounds of their own. An analogy is obvious. To me this music seems to represent the purest form of creation.

Gotta love your man – a blog about Riders on the Storm

Riders on the Storm was never really one of my favourite tracks by The Doors. It was a bit too sophisticated, and that thunderstorm stuff was a bit corny, wasn’t it? I always preferred more rock ‘n’ roll/blues tracks such as Back Door Man and Soul Kitchen. But I was younger then, and while I still really like these tracks, when listening to Riders on the Storm recently I was stuck by the track’s true beauty.

Ray Manzarek’s keyboard shimmers and sparkles. John Densmore’s drums are soft and jazzy and sit snug with the steady bass from Jerry Scheff. The vocals are warm but with a distant, ghostly reverb. And Robby Krieger’s guitar? If I still played guitar and could have only one sound it would be the clean tone on this track. It’s smooth and warm and sweet, with just the right amount of sparkle through the amp as Krieger digs in. Listen as Morrison sings take a long holiday or make him understand within the first few minutes, and you’ll hear the guitar sound thicken as the harmonics develop. There’s a great contrast with the vibrato sound, too.

It’s not just about the sounds of course, but the playing. The musicianship is wonderful, the lightness of touch and the relationship between the members of the band really in evidence. The guitar and keyboards often play the same phrases simultaneously – a feature of many Doors tracks – or bounce off each other while the rhythm section maintains a solid foundation.

Riders is a gradual builder. So gradual you don’t realise it’s happening. The track’s relatively long, too, with an extended jazz/funk instrumental break. This section itself builds, gradually increasing in intensity, pace and complexity until eventually the keyboard takes us by the hand and leads us down into a wonderful, quiet few moments of thunder and rain. Then there’s a brief drum fill, and the steady, mellow music resumes. This bit gives me the tingles every time.

The production seems relatively straight, but the simplicity might be deceptive: often a considerable amount of work has gone into making something like this seem uncomplicated. Listening to the track repeatedly, many details become apparent. For example as the track ends and the storm reaches its peak the very subtle percussion becomes busier, and Morrison’s repetition of riders on the storm gradually gets more vocal layers until he can be heard screaming the words way back in the mix.

And then it all slows, the shimmering call and response guitar and keyboards fading as the storm weakens. Wonderful.

Here’s a link to Riders on the Storm, on youtube.

Martin
Tweet me.

I Think That’s the One – a blog about my favourite vintage Bowie

While performing a mundane household task the other day I thought I’d put on some music. I had a look through our CDs and settled on some Bowie – a “best of” collection. Just out of interest I thought I’d try to decide which was my favourite of these vintage tracks. (Well, I guess all Bowie’s vintage now, but this particular album covered 1969–1974.) One track did win out for me, but there were a few close runners-up.

Hazy cosmic jive

I’ve been a Bowie fan since I was first aware of Space Oddity. I would’ve been two years old when this was released, so its one of those tracks that’s always just been there. It’s a unique track, and listening to it closely there’s incredible detail in the recording – something that’s true of all of these songs. But this one’s not my favourite.

For a while I thought it’d be Changes, with its warm, alluring intro, shifts in tempo and key. Or Sorrow with its soft, lilting vocals, saxophones and strings. But no. The Man Who Sold the World (my wife’s fave) is another great track. I love it’s lazy, compressed guitar hook, but the lyric I gazed a gazely stare drops me out of this one every time. I’ve got something of a soft spot for Rock n Roll Suicide: like Space Oddity it’s a track that stood out even when I was a kid. But I didn’t feel that was the one, either.

So which track was it? Well, in a way I didn’t want it to be this one, because in many ways it’s an obvious choice.

The winner is (insert drum roll here): Life on Mars

Oh, man, look at those cavemen go

Life on Mars is a stunning track. The piano riff on the run up to the chorus is superb. Take a look at the lawman, beating up the wrong guy. That lyric alone could swing it for me. There are eddies and flows and orchestral flurries, the sheer drama of the cellos and strings. Timpany drums! And that beautiful, delicate piano in the reprise, followed by the ringing phone and the words I think that’s the one – presumably referring to the recording, I don’t know. Life on Mars is melancholy and dramatic and unashamedly epic, and I love all that about it.

While listening to these tracks I was reminded of Bowie’s immense talent. The man’s a master of vocal variation, and the musicianship on these recordings is fantastic. I even liked the bass on most of them. There will not be another like him, so versatile and influential.

So that’s it: my favourite vintage Bowie track. Predictable, perhaps, but with good reason. What’s yours?

Tweet me.

Don’t Get Any Big Ideas – a blog about my favourite Radiohead tracks

I wrote some time ago about Radiohead releasing “stems” of their beautiful track Nude from their album In Rainbows. The idea of releasing the stems was to allow people to remix Nude, with the results the band liked best being uploaded somewhere (I think it may be radioheadremixcom). While initially tempted to have a stab at it myself, in the end I couldn’t bring myself to meddle with this wonderful track, which is among my Radiohead favourites.

Don’t get any big ideas. They’re not gonna happen.

Instead, I often listen to the stems – drums, bass, guitar, effects and vocals – in their own right. Separating Nude into its component parts gives a fascinating insight into the work that went into the track, and the stunning musicianship and production. The guitar stem is probably my favourite: the sound is warm, clear and mellow, and the playing incredible, with touches of vibrato that are simply lost in the complete track. You can heard the guitar stem here (it’s silent until 1:12, and falls silent at other points where there is no guitar on the finished track).

You’ll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking.

For a long time How to Disappear Completely was my favourite Radiohead track. I love Thom Yorke’s vocals and the rolling, edgy strings, the rise to a cacophony followed by the abrupt drop to lullaby. But listening to the two tracks back to back, Nude wins out by a country mile. The track takes the sweeping emotional soundscape the band opened up with How to Disappear Completely but reigns it in a little – everything has more space, and the emotional impact is intensified through restraint and subtle tweaks of production. Yorke’s vocals are incredible, and the lyrics of Nude certainly have more impact for me.

There are a couple of links to the songs on YouTube below. If you’re not familiar with the tracks, give them a listen and decide for yourself. I recommend closing your eyes. Click Radiohead in the tag cloud, right, for related posts.

Martin
Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

How to Disappear Completely (YouTube)
Nude (YouTube)

Radiohead – The King of Limbs

I’ve listened through the The King of Limbs once as I write, so this is a first impression.

A lot of people won’t get this record. It could be a bit like jazz. Or Marmite. You know.

For me, it’s an amazing soundscape of gentle restraint and breathtaking inventiveness by artists whose brilliance is likely to be obscured by its understated nature. I kept having to stop what I was doing just to listen to the echos and the gently plucked strings. It’s music for listening to when you’re alone in the house, headphones on, curtains closed.

You won’t be singing along. You might not even hum a tune afterwards.

But it’s a Radiohead album.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.