Syrinx was an electronic music group from Canada at a time where the coolest thing you could be doing was experimenting with synths and electronics. John Mills-Cockell seems to have been the prime mover behind the group, and he spent the 60s doing what I would do if I had a time machine: experimenting with tape manipulation and electronics while studying classical composition at the University of Toronto. Well maybe I wouldn’t be in Toronto but you get the idea. Before forming Syrinx, he toured North America with a collective called Intersystems, which combined spoken word, tape manipulation, and other electronic tricks. Check out one of my favorite tracks of theirs here. Mills-Cockell joined up with Bernie Finkelstein to record his music on Finkelstein’s new label True North, and once Mills-Cockell met Doug Pringle and Allan Wells the group was up and running. There is an excellent write-up over at Bandcamp Daily about the group with lots of cool archival pictures and more details about the bands recording history.
This compilation of re-issued and previously unreleased material from Syrinx comes courtesy of Rvng Intl., which still has copies of the release in CD and LP form as of this writing. They also put out a short documentary on the group that is worth checking out too. Hollywood Dream Trip was originally released on their self-titled debut record, but the group put out only one more release before disbanding, with Mills-Cockell going on to compose for film, TV, and theater along with apparently producing techno music. I was torn between Hollywood Dream Trip and this longer track also from their debut Chant for Your Dragon King, which anybody who digs this would probably also enjoy.
After putting out a few cassettes on their own, Houston trio Khruangbin released this track on an EP with the same name on LateNightTales in 2014, where it waited patiently for three years to be discovered by me. The group takes its name from the Thai word for airplane, which originally referenced the shared love of Thai surf and funk that brought Laura Lee (Bass), Mark Speer (Guitar), and D.J. (Drums) together, though it is doubly appropriate now that the band is split between the U.K. and the States. If you’re looking for an entry point in to the kind of Thai music they are influenced by, Sublime Frequencies has put out a number of great compilations of Thai rock from the 60s and 70s. Two good places to start are Thai Pop Spectacular and Shadow Music of Thailand. Khruangbin released their first full-length album in 2015 titled The Universe Smiles Upon You. They also put together a mix tape that highlights some of their other influences which you can find here. According to their website they’re playing a couple of festivals this summer, including Bonnaroo, Electric Forest, and Outside Lands. Because I’m a curmudgeon I won’t be able to see them live, but discovering this group is almost enough to make me take the plunge. Here are some links to purchase the releases I mentioned here if you are so inclined:
This track comes off what might be the best volume in the Air Texture compilation series. For each volume of the series, two artist curate a CD of contemporary ambient work, and perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that I like Volume IV so much because Steve Hauschildt (formerly of Emeralds) was one of the curators. Schleinz performs on synths be built himself, the schemes of which he shares on his website, which is well worth checking out for anybody interested in technical details of synthesizers and electronic music. He started building standalone circuits from various books and sites and soon graduated to assembling modular synths by putting his “toys” into larger modular cases, with an eye towards portability (no easy task with modular synths). As an amateur musician myself, I’m so thankful for the great resources he’s assembled on his site, including links to DIY synth designs, CD printing services, and resources for live visual effects. Schlienz has released quite a few solo tapes/CDs on labels like Sacred Phrases and Constellation Tatsu, which have released material by other artists featured on this site. As if that weren’t enough, he also runs the label Cosmic Winnetou, which has featured some of my favorite artists including Pulse Emitter, Matthias Grassow, and TALSounds of Good Willsmith. I am always very pleased when in the process of writing these posts I learn that someone who I’ve previously just admired as a musician has been involved with a bunch of other artists who I also admire greatly. To hear more of solo work head over to Bandcamp. He also put out a series of collaborative tapes/CDs starting in the late 90s under the name Navel which have their own Bandcamp page. Just in case there weren’t enough Bandcamp links on this page, you can hear the rest of the Air Texture series here.
Mike Gangloff has been camped out, fiddle in hand, at the intersection of drone/psychedelia and folk music since the mid-90s. He started his career as a founding member of Pelt along with Nathan Bowles, Patrick Best, and Jack Rose. Though Pelt has not released anything since 2012, Gangloff has released a number of stellar records, including Melodies for a Savage Fix in collaboration with Steve Gunn. I typically roll my eyes at colored vinyl because a)I’m a smug piece of shit and b) it kinda seems gimmicky, but I’ve gotta applaud the design of Poplar Hollow because it’s a treat for all senses (ed: I haven’t eaten it but I bet it’s delicious). It comes by way of Blackest Rainbow Records whom I had never heard of before looking at this release but, upon snooping their Discogs page, I learned they’ve put out a number of things by artists I really love, including Nadja’s Aidan Baker and the excellent Expo ’70 tape Beguiled Entropy. I may not have known about Mike Gangloff before I bought his record, but I’ve leapt into the deep end of the pool, and the water is just the way I like it. One other thing this record really reminded me of that comes by way of Japan is World Standard’s Country Gazette record, which I also recommend if you dig Cat Mountain.
It’s as if someone opened a time capsule and found a whole new Fripp/Eno record for me to put in my ear holes. Transcendence comes off the groups 2013 release Bitchitronics put out by Drag City. The group coalesced as a solo project of CAVE guitarist/organist Cooper Crain and primarily comprises Crain, Rob Frye, and Dan Quinlivan. All three are active in the psychedelic/experimental scene in Chicago, with Frye and Quinlivan contributing to releases for Chandeliers, who came to WNUR when I worked there and rocked it, as well as appearing on small-print releases for Circuit Des Yeux, who appears on Chicago label Thrill Jockey. Crain is also an active recording engineer, working on records for Heavy Times and Circuit Des Yeux. Given that the earth is rapidly heating, if you’re not gonna get out there and try and shut down Exxon Mobil then I’d recommend loading up on fuzzy guitar drones and blasting the hell off.
Since I’ve alluded to him a couple times, the least I could do is devote a post to a New Age giant: Laraaji. Born Edward Larry Gordon in Philadelphia, PA, he was a student of violin, piano, trombone, and voice in his youth and originally pursued studies in music at Howard University. He moved to New York to become a stand-up comedian and it was while in the Big Apple that he began studying eastern Mysticism and the zither, which he found in a pawn shop. The term zither is derived from the Latin “cithara” (also the root word for guitar) is used to describe harp-like instruments consisting of many strings strung over a flat body with no neck, which separates it from more guitar-like string instruments. Though there are a few different varieties, it is unclear which type Laraaji found that fateful day in the pawn shop. Regardless, he took the instrument home and began experimenting with adding electronic amplification to the instrument. Legend has it that Brian Eno heard Laraaji busking in Washington Square Park and, recognizing a sonic comrade, insisted they work together. The result is the third installment of Eno’s Ambient series Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, which brought international attention to Laraaji’s unique instrument and sound. Thus began a long career of recording beautiful, contemplative music that continues to this day. Universe comes from a 1987 release on the great New Age label Audion Recordings.
In addition to his work as a musician, Laraaji began leading what he calls Laughter Meditation Workshops that tie together his stand-up roots with his music. In an interview over at Aquarium Drunkard he sums it up pretty nicely:
To laugh often is to keep the breath open and the energies of the body flowing. And then there’s communal laughter, the laughing of a community. Start with the family, the laughter of a family getting together for a meal or a holiday. There’s something about a giggling kind of joyous, smiling, lovableness that’s not necessarily fueled by jokes or humor, but just the joy of being in each other’s presence. Laughter is a sensation of communal bonding.
K. Leimer (aka Kerry Leimer) has been releasing ambient/experimental music since the late-1970s, primarily on his own label Palace of Lights. Very Tired closes out his 1983 release Music for Land and Water and is a good demonstration of his deliberate method of constructing sonic landscapes, primarily with synthesizers and tape loops. Music for Land and Water was originally composed not for commercial release but as part of a performance and installation series. Though I couldn’t find an audio clip of it available to share, the setup for the lead track “Art and Science” consisted of four tape systems playing loops of different lengths, which sounds like a real treat. Yet another example of the pioneering work that can be found in your local New Age bargain bin. Leimer made extensive use of loops in both his solo work and as part of the group Savant which featured Marc Barreca and other ambient artists. You can purchase physical releases from Palace of Sound here though it doesn’t look like Music for Land and Water is available on the site.