Carlton Melton – The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse comes from Carlton Melton’s most recent release Mind Minerals from Agitated Records, which was released just at the beginning of February this year. While their earlier records had more of a psych sound (see Peaking Duck from their 2015 album Out To Sea), Mind Minerals is much more minimalist, blending improvised guitar and rhythm with dense drones, though tracks like Electrified Sky are definitely a little more psychedelic. I’d been getting away from drone and experimental stuff recently, but this release has pulled me right back in and I couldn’t be happier. I’ll confess I didn’t know much about Carlton Melton until recently, but I’m definitely going to try and keep tabs on them in the future.

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Mountains – Telescope

While I’ve been a fan of Thrill Jockey for a while, I only recently discovered Mountains by way of the Radio War Nerd podcast. After a few episodes of really good ambient music between segments they finally revealed their producer Brendon as the source, who works at Telescope Audio. Brendon is one half of Mountains along with Koen Holtkamp. They began releasing material as Mountains through their collective/label Apestaartje in 2005, which focused on “gradual development and extremely detailed listening.” In 2009 they released Choral, their first record on Thrill Jockey, and have released four more albums since then. After a few listens, this album in particular calls to mind another Thrill Jockey release by Town and Country, which I picked up on a whim because it was on sale and I have loved it ever since. Looking into Mountains for this post I found that Apestaartje also re-issued Town and Country’s self-titled debut from 1998, proving conclusively that all of the coolest people are friends with each other. You can pick up copies of this and other Mountains records over at the Thrill Jockey site.

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.

Bitchin Bajas – Transcendence

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.

Jon Gibson – Cycles

While the name Jon Gibson may not be the household name that Phillip Glass or Steve Reich has become since the 1970s, he was a vital part of the emergence of American minimalism. He was a founding member of the Phillip Glass Ensemble and performed many pieces by Reich, including “Reed Phase” which was written by Reich for him in particular. He began his career performing on flute and saxophone, though he has done some beautiful work with the pipe organ as well as evidenced by the piece above. This recording was done at Washington Square Church in New York in April of 1975 and was released two years later by Chatham Square Productions on an album titled Two Solo Pieces. He has dabbled in the visual arts as well, creating the cover art for Two Solo Pieces as well as others. The improvisational and highly collaborative nature of the New York scene at the time created fertile ground for composers interested in repetition, silence, and non-Western drone music. Though I like to think I’m fairly well-versed (for a layman) on this area, finding things like Cycles are what keeps me going back to this well.

Hermes Trismegistus

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.

Recording Notes:

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.