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.

Hiroshi Yoshimura – Something Blue

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.

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:

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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.

Jordan De La Sierra – Music for Gymnastics

Jordan De La Sierra was a classically trained pianist who began his recording career with a double LP of hypnotizing long form ambient works in the minimalist style of Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and La Monte Young. It anticipates a lot of the work that would make Windham Hill a new age juggernaut, but his debut record, Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose, was released on a small label called Unity Records in 1978. Though it received little attention at the time, it has luckily been given the Numero treatment since then, and I would argue the world is a better place for it.

The original release came with a 16 page booklet which includes some original artwork, an essay by the artist called “The Tableau of Space” and a greeting from the artist (image from Discogs):

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Now who isn’t charmed by that kind of earnestness. It reminds me of the art of Gilbert Williams, who really embodies the sort of hypercolor utopia that I find so irresistible:
 
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In short, put on your peasant shirt and dangly earring, get out your crystal prayer bowl, and become a being of pure light.

Klaus Schulze – Bayreuth Return

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.

Sabbatical – Sojourn North

So often when writing these I look up an artist that I’ve really been digging but don’t know much about and find a wealth of releases to dig through. While that is always a pleasant surprise, there’s a part of me that kicks myself for not finding them sooner. I’m pleased to announce that this is the opposite case. Sojourn North comes off Sabbatical’s debut, Sundown, which was put out on the label Love All day in January of 2016. Of course the result of finding a group this early is that there is not much information on them, so this comes from the description by the label:

Recorded over a six year period, Sabbatical’s Sundown germinated in the cracks that separate the disparate moments of a life, and found its rhythms nursed in the openings that emerged between other projects. In those spaces – periods of exception from the flow, journeys, downtime, lacunae – Sundown waited for its creator, gathering energy, until it grew to become the centre point around which Sabbatical’s other activities would begin to orbit.

Cheers for usage of the word lacuna! Love All Day has only put out a few releases, including a cassette from Panabrite, but those who are interested in warm, synth-driven ambient drones should keep their eyes on them and Sabbatical in the future.

Wil Bolton – Wishing Well

Wishing Well exemplifies Wil Bolton’s hypnotic blend of guitar, synths, and field recordings, looping, and other effects. I had to pick one track, but this whole release is pure ambient pleasure. Wishing Well comes from Bolton’s most recent release, February Dawn put out by elian rec. as a CD. In addition to recording music, Bolton also contributes site-specific sound art works for places like the Tate Modern Museum in London. Though I couldn’t find a video for any tracks on February Dawn, he has released videos in the past on his Vimeo page that are as blissfully beautiful in image as the audio work which accompanies them. In addition to his solo work he has ongoing collaborative efforts with Lee Anthony Norris under the name The Ashes of Piemonte and Phil Edwards under the name Ashlar. You might be too late to snatch up the CD release of February Dawn, but I’d encourage you to give the whole album a listen.