Günter Schlienz – Dust

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.

Isao Tomita – Bolero

Though his passing will not trigger remembrances of the kind we saw with Prince or Bowie, the electronic music world lost a titan in Isao Tomita when he passed last Thursday (May 5th) at the age of 84. He was a pioneer working in the early days of synthesizers along with Robert Moog and Wendy Carlos and released 37 studio albums over a career spanning from the late 1960s all the way up to 2016. Many of his releases comprised original arrangements of classical pieces in the vein of Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach, though many of his arrangements often focused on 20th century music. He produced arrangements of other Ravel pieces, Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite, Holst’s The Planets, and Stravinsky’s Firebird. Perhaps his best known release is a set of Debussy songs he recorded called Snowflakes Are Dancing. I was torn between choosing Bolero or his opening of the Grand Canyon suite (linked above) but all of his arrangements demonstrate just what a master he was of the modular synthesizer even in the instrument’s infancy.

If you have a chance to scoop up one of his albums I’d recommend it, and for the most part they have been relatively cheap where I have found them, typically new age or miscellaneous bins. They provide a pretty fascinating glimpse into the early days of commercially released electronic music because he would often list which instruments/tools he used on what tracks. Here’s an example of one such listing:

isao-tomita
Notice the listing of filters, tape recorders, and other gadgets to his right. Image Credit: Tiny Mix Tapes

In addition to his studio work, his live shows often featured stunning theatrics, like the performance of Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra which he mixed from a suspended glass pyramid. He was a giant in the world of electronic music both in his native Japan and around the world, and he expanded the vocabulary of the modular synth immensely over the course of his lifetime. Though he may not be as well known as some of the other luminaries lost this year, his contributions to the music of the last century are something to behold. RIP.