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.
This is the title track from M. Mucci’s 2013 release put out on vinyl by Tall House Recording Co.. The distinctly medieval sounds accompanying M. Mucci’s guitar come from a Vielle, here performed by B. Grossman. The vielle is a stringed instrument somewhat resembling a violin but with five strings instead of four, and it was a popular instrument among troubadours and court musicians during the medieval period. In the 15th century the word began to be used when referring to a hurdy-gurdy which is also a stringed instrument but which is performed by a mechanical wheel turning against the strings instead of a human bowing them, in the case of the vielle.
M.Mucci has a Bandcamp page with lots more music, though I’m not sure if more medieval instruments make appearances.
Below is an image from the National Gallery in London depicting an angel playing the stringed instrument, likely painted by a contemporary of Da Vinci.