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.
Something Blue comes from Yoshimura’s 1986 release Soundscape 1:Surround. In addition to his commercial releases, Yoshimura was a prolific creator of soundscapes and installations for both the art museums and galleries and more utilitarian spaces like train stations. He was also at the forefront of computer music in general, forming a group called Anonyme in the early 70s which focused on exploring the blossoming intersection between computing and sound. Much of his material was self-released in Japan, which means tracking down physical copies may be a bit tough. There have been a number of contemporary artists featured on TOTD that share sonic ground with this (I’m thinking of Sabbatical and H. Takahashi). Finding these early pioneers of sound who paved the way for these current experimental/ambient artists sheds new light on an oft-maligned genre like new age, though a revival of interest in these artists by re-issue labels like Numero Group and Light in the Attic has done a lot to expose this stuff to a new audience like myself who were a few years from existing when this material was being released. Given the hefty price tag of some of the original physical editions on Discogs, I wouldn’t mind a re-issue of this release and his debut Music for Nine Post Cards from 1982.
Rainpiece comes from the first of Sylvan Grey’s two releases, Ice Flowers Melting, from Fortuna Records in 1981. Grey discovered the kantele while travelling in England, though the instrument is actually of Finnish origin. She trained for a while with the Finnish master Ulla Katajavuori, who herself was an active player from the 1930s through the 1990s. Grey released one more album for Fortuna in 1989 called Recurring Dream that is perhaps more well-known in New Age circles, both featuring original music for the kantele. Fortuna Records is a sister label to Celestial Harmonies, which over the years has put out material by Terry Riley and Popol Vuh along with many other new age and non-Western artists. Since the kantele in many ways resembles the zither, it may sound familiar to anybody who has listened to the work of Laraaji, who was a prominent name in ambient/new age music, although his was electrified where Grey’s instrument has a more acoustic feel to it. If you enjoyed Rainpiece there’s a song from Recurring Dream entitled Rainshadow that feels very much like a companion to Rainpiece despite being recorded almost a decade later. There wasn’t much in the way of biography for Sylvan Grey, but I’m tempted to think that great ambient stuff like this can speak for itself.
This material was recorded around the end of 2015 and 2016. I had been playing a lot in open D tuning and found some simple, pleasant finger picking patterns. If there is any real-world inspiration for this it is a trip I took to Alaska in July of 2015. The sheer scale of the terrain, along with the tremendous resilience and oddity of the people who live in the more remote areas is remarkable. I felt compelled to work towards expanding my musical vocabulary from playing around with synths and Ableton effects to live recording using more traditional instruments. Somehow it made me feel like less of a hipster dickhead, though I think most would still rightly label me as such. I don’t pretend to be a gifted guitar player, but it has grown to be one of my favorite pastimes and going forward I anticipate making even greater use of the instrument.
Though I had certainly played these guitar parts before, all of these recordings are mostly improvisational in that I started with a repetitive hook and went from there. They were recorded on a single mic built into a Fostex MR-8 multi-tracker with some reverb added upon recording and some effects added in Ableton, though the only substantial edits to the audio itself was to remove some pops and clicks resulting from the primitive recording setup. I mention this setup only because I’m timidly proud of how the guitar fades out in the final two tracks since this effect was achieved only through playing and not through fading a guitar track out in post-production. I recognize that despite this feat, there is much I have to learn in the way of recording methods, but as I’ve been preparing the final release I just thought I’d mention it since it still sounds pretty good to my ear despite all the creaks of my chair while recording.
Rest Stop Birds comes off what appears to be the debut cassette for Opossum Sun Trail, American Chemtrails which they appear to be self-releasing through Bandcamp. This is the type of thing that makes me bemoan my new car’s lack of a cassette deck. The group’s only other online presence as far as I can tell is a video for The Long Valley, a track off American Chemtrails. There wasn’t a ton of information online about these guys, but I did find a Facebook event for a show that that they played with Daniel Bachman. I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled for another repeat of that lineup because that would be one helluva time. This whole release exudes the sparse desert vibes that I really love in artists like William Fowler Collins, though in this case Opossum Sun Trail is channeling a bit of Ennio Morricone. And that’s just fine by me.
This track was featured on a compilation entitled Do Whatever You Want, Don’t Do Whatever You Don’t Want!! which features works relating to the Japanese collective known as Acid Mothers Temple. The collective got started around 1995 and have gone through many different incarnations based on who was performing at the time, including Acid Mothers Temple & the Cosmic Inferno, Acid Mothers Temple SWR, Acid Gurus Temple, and Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. This track from Ueh originally appeared on a self-titled release put out on the house label for Acid Mothers Temple. Though Ueh doesn’t actually share members with Acid Mothers Temple, it is associated with the group through both releases on their label and a split release, Pataphysical Overdrive To My Cosmos with Makoto Kawabata. That came out in 2004 and it doesn’t look like there has been anything else put out by Ueh, though members Benjamin Gilbert and Audrey Ginestet has been active with a group called Aquaserge since Ueh went on hiatus. I’d recommend digging into Acid Mothers Temple, though the sheer size of their discography can be a bit intimidating. I’ve got some recommendations below in case you’re ready to dive right in:
This track is one half of Schulze’s 1975 release Timewind and while it’s certainly a wonderful example of Berlin School electronic experimentation, one look at Schulze’s discography highlights the difficulty of picking just one release. He performed on Tangerine Dream’s debut album Electronic Meditation as well as on the Lord Krishna Von Goloka release that I’ve also written about here in addition to releasing over 40 albums of his own beginning with Irrlicht.
Part of that extensive discography includes releases under another name, Richard Wahnfried which he described in the notes for Time Actor as a blending of avant garde music and hypercommercial muzak. This appropriation of commercial ambient music in service of avant garde forms influences many experimental musicians today, from manipulating cassette tapes originally designed for corporate outreach by groups like Good Willsmith to the long-form future mall music of Virtual Dream Plaza. Schulze and the artists in his milieu helped to expand the vocabulary of electronics in experimental music and, eventually, music more generally and in my opinion it’s hard to overstate their influence. Since it is getting more and more affordable for people to obtain synths thanks to software-based synth engines, those interested would do well to immerse themselves in the music of this period if they have not already, both because it is good to understand the history and because it’s a sonic treat.