Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Coil — Musick to Play in the Dark Vol. 1 (1999)

I remember in 2003, the group Coil was invited to the Mutek electronic music festival in Montreal. At the time I didn't know their albums very much and so I decided not to attend the concert. Unfortunately, it was the last occasion I had to see Coil. Jhonn Balance (signer) died in an accident the next year. The second member of the group, Peter Christopherson (composer and Balance's former lover) passed away in his sleep in 2010. For those who know Coil, this departure while he was asleep is almost like a self-fulfilled prophecy. Their music always had a dreamlike quality. It is the music of the ritual, the unconscious, the altered states.

After having produced darker albums with an "industrial" atmosphere, Coil have taken another direction in 1999 with Musick to Play in the Dark, making what they called "moon music". The music of Coil on this album is cold, dreamy with surrealist lyrics ("Remember, always eat your broccoli"). Singning is evacuated from this album and instead the lyrics are spoken in a monotone voice. The music is very eclectic, sometimes more calm, other times more menacing or aggressive, some tracks are more experimental, others sound like some sort of electronic children lullaby. In the last song of the album (titled The Dreamer is Still Asleep), Balance sings: "In ten years' time / Who'll care? Who'll even remember? / One dies like that, deep within it / Almost inside it / It's there for a reason".

Coil is gone. But they leave us with rich and powerful albums (more than twenty without counting singles, EPs and rarities). And I bet André Breton and the surrealists would have been fans.

Andrei Tarkovsky — Nostalghia (1983)

Final scene of the movie Nostalghia by Tarkovsky

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bohren & der Club of Gore — Black Earth

There are groups who follow musical trends, and there are the groups that create a musical genre all by themselves. Bohren & der Club of Gore is the latter. You can find "clones" of Bohren, but none is as good in my opinion (The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and the Dale Cooper Quartet & the Dictaphones are two of the best).

Since their second album, Sunset Mission (1995) it is safe to say Bohren & der Club of Gore have created a genre: doom-jazz (or dark jazz). A music that doesn't have much common with jazz except the instruments used (saxophone and vibraphone). In fact, the music of Bohren has far more in common with Doom Metal. It's slow, heavy and depressing. Not surprisingly, the quartet is composed of former metal musicians).

Their darkest album, and in my opinion their best, is Black Earth. It is a strange mix of jazz and ambient music. The sound is very characteristic, deep bass, very slow music. In fact, the music is so slow that its unsettling the first times you listen to this album. Black Earth has a sound that evokes the atmosphere of a rainy street at night or a smoke filled nightclub in the 20's. Like the soundtrack to an unexisting film noir movie. It is music for a nightmare, but it never gets violent. I have read many reviews making a parallel with the music of Angelo Badalamenti (especially the Twin Peaks soundtrack). And I must say it is very reminiscent of the soundtrack of a David Lynch movie.

If you take the car at night and have a lot of driving to do, Black Earth is the ideal soundtrack for the road.

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) — 3 collages

Elikan (1925)

Bild mit heller Mitte (1919)

Merz 231 Miss Blanche (1923)

Dead Can Dance — The Host of Seraphim (1988)

Dead Can Dance — The Host of Seraphim
Album: The Serpent's Egg (1988)
Images from the movie Baraka by Ron Fricke

Saturday, January 28, 2012

William S. Burroughs — Quote of the day

"A paranoid is someone who knows
a little of what's going on."

Burzum — Filosfem

Black metal is probably one of the most marginal musical genres. It is, not surprisingly, the genre that makes the most efforts to be marginalized. New albums are released on cassettes with photocopied artwork, sound is dirty and low-fi, imagery is morbid or shocking. Everything is calculated to make it as unpleasant as possible to the majority of people. Black metal has been in existence since the 80's. However, it is in Norway during the 90's that a little group of friends were to make the music known to the world. Murder, church burnings, satanic statements did the headlines of Norwegian press in the 90's.

Burzum is the one-man band of Varg Vikernes, one of the figures of 90's Norwegian black metal (later imprisoned for murder and church burnings). He released a few surprisingly good albums, different from what black metal was used to sound like at the time. This genre was later called atmospheric black metal.

Filosofem is my favorite Burzum album. It has a minimalist sound, often repetitive, very low-fi and dirty. Varg coined the term necrosound to describe it. Dunkelheit, the opening track of the album is pretty good and you can feel yourself transported to a nightmarish universe listening to it. It's a music that evokes nature and pagan rituals (like the beautiful artwork of Theodor Kittelsen on the cover. Towards the end of the album there is two ambient electronic music tracks, very simple, sometimes too simple but I like them. One of them is 25 minutes!

Musicianship isn't impressive but it is very expressive within the limit of the musician. A little bit like a children's drawing, naive art or primitive paintings. This album succeeds in being touching, with limited resources. Varg Vikernes isn't a great composer but he's an artist with a vision. Altough I prefer to enjoy his music and keep a distance from his ideas (an idiotic mix of fascism and paganism).

Surprisingly, black metal is getting fashionable nowadays (much to the despise of "true black metallers"). There is a new american black metal scene, sometimes labeled "hipster black metal", with a more artsy approach. But we can definitely hear in these groups the influence of Burzum (Wolves in the Throne Room and Liturgy).

Friday, January 27, 2012

Brian Eno - Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978)

I discovered ambient music two years ago, during a very rough winter in which I needed time to think. I was in a difficult part of my life, being a new father, and needed to question a lot of things I was taking for granted in my life. No music is better when it's snowing outside than this slow, meditative music to take the time to relax. And I started listening to ambient with the most logical album to start with, Music for Airports by Brian Eno.

It didn't take a lot of time before I bought dozens of ambient music albums. And I'm now really addicted to this kind of music.

Brian Eno composed this album while he was waiting for his plane at the Köln-Bonn airport. The idea was to create background music that was discreet and relaxing to alleviate the tense atmosphere of a typical airport. Le first track (1/1) is by far the best of this album. It's a simple melody at the piano reminding of the early experiments of american minimalist composers (See John Cage — In a Landscape). I think the other tracks on this album are also interesting but the synth sound feels a little outdated.

This album was the first to use the word "ambient" to describe music. So it's a very good introduction to the genre. It's also the first of 4 albums by Eno and friends (Ambient 1: Music for AirportsAmbient 2: The Plateaux of MirrorAmbient 3: Day of Radiance et Ambient 4: On Land).

I'm often listening to Music for Airports at the end of the day, to relax, and my 3 years old daughter is now asking me to "put the green CD" before sleep. Yes, this albums may sound new-agey at times. But it is also a classic of the genre. If you like this album I strongly recommend you have a look at Music for Airports by the New York musical ensemble Bang on a Can. It's a remake of the 1978 album that dosen't sound as outdated.