November 15, 2012

Designated: Daiso Japan

I’ve always found the concept of “value” to be an especially slippery one.

The Haul ($13.50 Total)

It’s a word whose meaning is almost completely customizable, depending on the situation in which it’s applied. When it comes to consumer products, most people assume something to be of “good value” if it’s priced below the acceptable going rate. It’s a bit of a different story in the arena of “durable” goods, like cars or appliances, for which any average consumer is willing to do a little cost/benefit/lifespan analysis. The point that many overlook is that objects of high “value”, as an intuitive measure of cost, utility, aesthetics, durability, and emotional resonance, exist in equally rare distribution across the price spectrum.

As a student of Industrial Design (though not much of a practitioner), I was trained to appreciate the hard-working luxury of designer furniture, and to look upon the majority of consumer products cranked out by huge retailers like Ikea with a skeptical eye. These prejudices notwithstanding, I am, and always have been a pretty frugal dude. I buy almost everything second-hand, and can’t resist the allure of a dollar store. While by and large the Chinese-made merchandise is admittedly junk, the pleasant surprise of any object that costs so little lasting even 6 months is undeniable.

So, it was with great curiosity that I stopped into downtown Berkeley’s newest dollar store, Daiso Japan. Obviously, the “Japan” suffix implies a certain cache that “China” never will (though of course the vast majority of the products they sell are made there). I roamed the store’s isles of exuberant stationary, glazed sake cups, paper lanterns, and bath mats, and hand-selected the best $1.50 items (the store’s flat rate) I could find. Unique aesthetics, unique function, and quality of manufacturing were of highest import. Here’s what I found:

1. Stainless Steel Ashtray Super-normal in all the best ways. Shallow cylinder, 3 indents, no frills. Guaranteed to last forever. Not exactly expertly machined, but satisfyingly precise. B

2. Black Rubber Doorstop Dense, grippy, not huge. Covered with little bumps. It’s got an almost ‘high tech’ style, and actually looks kind of cool just standing on a table. B

3. Steel Bicycle Tire Levers Many people that I talk to about bikes shun the idea of a metal tire lever, worried that they might mar their rims, but after destroying probably 5-6 of the plastic ones over the years (not cheap ones, either), I was excited to find a legitimate metal alternative. 50 cents each retail. A-

4. Plastic & Steel Mini-Chisel I liked the idea of a hobby knife that was set up with a chisel head. It’s got a nicely patterned handle that feels adequately dense, but the blade is almost comically dull, and non-replaceable. Might be useful for removing stickers from thrift store objects. C-

5. “Thin” Water Glass This glass was made in Poland, which is a pretty huge sign of quality, and unusual for a dollar store. The walls of the glass are super-thin, making it incredibly light, and surprisingly satisfying to drink out of. It almost feels like a hard plastic party cup when it’s full. Seriously impressive craftsmanship going on here, with ZERO embellishment. Jasper Morrison would be proud. Unfortunately, I will probably break this. A

6. Enameled Steel Bookends I’ve actually been looking for a cheap, interesting bookend for a while, and these are without a doubt the best I’ve found. First of all, they look like they were designed by Michael Graves or Michele di Lucchi, but painted a nice mid-century yellow. They’re the load-bearing type, with a tongue that extends under the books, and vertical pleats for rigidity. A perfect example of when things go inexplicably right in some shadowy foreign manufacturing plant. A+

7. Stainless Steel Soap Pellet (not pictured) I half expected this little 2″ diameter nugget of stainless steel to be hollow and/or completely useless. I was pleasantly surprised at its ability to soak up weird kitchen smells from my hands. Can’t go wrong. B+

8. Plain White Poly/Cotton T-shirt (not pictured) The extreme thinness of this shirt is actually a selling point to me. The material feels substantial, but has the “burnt out” look of a cheaply made ploy-cotton shirt from the 1970s. The collar is a little puffy. If it survives a wash, I might head back for more. B (Provisional)

October 25, 2012

Rev You: Pye Corner Audio –
Sleep Games LP

Mysterious UK synth loner Pye Corner Audio steps up to the majors with “Sleep Games”, a new full length for the venerable Ghost Box. Pye Corner practices a familiar yet alien brand of a vintage sci-fi songcraft that dovetails nicely into Ghost Box’s “hauntalogical” agenda. The label represents a niche meta-genre whose heros include BBC Radiophonic Workshop darlings like Delia Derbyshire and Tod Dockstader, but whose true sonic genesis might lie in the early work of Boards of Canada. Pye Corner’s 3-volume “Black Mill Tapes” on Further Records were artfully composed highlights of last year’s tape-milieu, and this LP delivers more of that same dusty genius in a more taught, compelling package.

The album employs a plethora of satisfying touchstones from decades past. At its most effective, white-noise hats and ghostly claps shuffle along melodic and menacing soundtrack synthesizing of the deepest order. Warm, tape-saturated distortion adorns each track in varying degrees, adding layers of refracted wistfulness to a largely dark and menacing sound palette. There’s plenty of antique airlock tape hiss and vintage spring-sproing reverb for the real heads, while occasional found-soundscapes and plodding mystery ballads break up the shadowy street scenes.

The most fully realized tracks on the album blend the standard spectral faire of Ghost Box mainstays like Belbury Poly and The Focus Group with darker, minimal-wave martialism. There’s plenty of Giallo influence in these more hard-stepping outings, with rock-solid kicks bolted to a vacant dancefloor. Gone is the “Anglo-eccentric” bent that defines the Ghost Box Sound, exchanged here for a streamlined Detroit drive.

Ghost box has existed for close to 8 years, with a scant 17 full-length releases to its name. If one thing can be cited to the label’s credit, it’s their commitment to consistency and clarity of vision. The label is given a new lease on life with the signing of Pye Corner, an addition so perfect it’s hard to believe it isn’t yet another pseudonym of the label’s co-founders Jim Jupp and Julian House.

Despite the album’s vintage trappings, this collection feels definitively contemporary, citing the Italo/Horror revival (which has already flashed in certain pans, producing little memorable content), and even giving nods to Sandwell District-style side-chained darkness. In some ways a departure from the label’s typical library-music miniatures, this set plays best as a collection of uniquely inflected technoid experiments. If an artists exists to be referential, there’s something to be said for utter conviction, which Pye Corner Audio demonstrates here in spades.

Listen to a snippet from this mysterious unit’s latest live appearance below, and peep the entire LP at your convenience on Spotify.

October 15, 2012

Rev You: Robert Hood
Motor: Nighttime World 3 LP

In the world of Techno, there is almost no one bigger than Robert Hood, having basically co-innovated the concept alongside fellow Detroit practitioners Juan Atkins and Jeff Mills at the dawn of the 90s. With his latest LP “Motor”, subtitled “Nighttime World 3″ (its previous 2 volumes having been released in 1996 and 2000 respectively), Hood continues in his long tradition of truly exemplary tech-house excursions, all thematically tied to his long-suffering homeland, Detroit. Billed as a “concept album”, “Motor” evokes just about every facet of the famed city’s history. From the industrial clank and smokey ribaldry of its Halcyon days, to the desolate night-scapes of its near-abandoned present, all charged with the cyclic, driving purity of the “automotive” impulse that forged its identity half a century ago.

The album is a dense, varied, and engrossing effort, built on a wholly unique yet purposefully referential sound-set, with a nuanced, off-the-cuff flair. This being a true “Album”, (and clocking in at nearly 80 minutes) Hood directs the tracks, and indeed each sound, cinematically, not just in dynamics, but with an overt sense of plot and pacing. The storytelling aspect is completed by the simple yet evokative track titles, which are undeniably apt.

Hood, as one of Techno’s innovators, is thankfully liberal in his approach to composition. These 12 lengthy workouts are through-composed in a way that is almost totally singular, with an emphasis on 4-on-the-floor bass hits being the only shared trait. On top of this stripped down framework, Hood brings layer after layer of morphing digital/acoustic sound, embracing the stereo field, and throwing all manner of sonic curveballs. Each track is inhabited by evolving sonic characters, whose through-lines are brought in and out of focus over the its length. There’s plenty of variety at play, as each track is shot full of post-apocalyptic ambience, industrial shrapnel, string stabs, and all manner of synthetic filigree, executed with a loose, improvisational verve.

A sense of melodic interplay is the real surprise element, as panning/morphing synth shards and throbbing bass registers share the stage with a mechanically soulful piano vamp, or tear-jerking string swells. Of course, there’s still a handful a few heads-down techno bangers in the mix for the purists.

To me, re-listenability is the hallmark of any great electronic release. This sprawling record boasts more than a handful of unusual grooves and settings which, consumed as a whole, perfectly compliment Hood’s obviously subjective and impassioned impression of his city. A mission statement, critique, and history lesson all in one. Robert Hood is a total legend, deserving of our attention for any one of a dozen reasons, but “Motor” should now be at the top of your list. In a perfect world, fully-formed releases like this should be expected of a veteran of Hood’s status, but how often are they actually delivered? This record works on a pleasantly surprising level, and could easily be a cross-over hit in months to come(see Homework, et al).

Fortunately for you, me, and everyone, the complete album is streaming on Soundcloud. ESSENTIAL!

October 10, 2012

Tomes: Mondo Materialis

The year is 1990. The place is the venerable Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York. The exhibition is the historically insignificant, yet unbelievably time-stamped “Mondo Materialis”, an exploration of new, relevant, and trending materials for the design trades, organized and executed by the Steelcase Design Partnership. 125 design and architecture firms contributed square collages of raw materials, ranging from materials science tech-demos to self-aggrandizing calling-card mood boards, or even snide “subversive” commentary. The images included here were scanned from the exhibition catalog, titled “Mondo Materialis: Materials and Ideas for the Future”, published concurrently. The book itself is a glossy oversized tome, 12″ square, filled with photographs of every entry, the material components of each thoroughly cataloged, alongside the occasional pull quote. While a few stood out as big-timers (Ross Lovegrove, Michele deLucchi, George Sowden, Dakota Jackson, and Andrea Branzi), the most aesthetically cohesive and generally NEXT LEVEL contributions came from virtual unknowns. The photos below were among my favorites.


Kozo Design Studio, Inc

Paul Ludick

The blatant hi/lo conceptuality/commerciality of the pieces, along with the sort of “real-world cyber-collage” aesthetics of the vast majority is super-inspirational, when detached from its trade-show roots. With the ‘Net Art world’s current re-contextualizing of marketing photography/design techniques, appreciation of HD material simulacra, and the camouflaged avant-gardisms of commercial art in genera, this is an especially scintillating collection. #Relevant.

Vent Design Associates

Walz Design

Ross Lovegrove

Studio De Lucchi

Peep the whole set HERE

October 1, 2012

Unheard-Of: Inkey$ Vol. 2

The Globule is proud to present an obscure and idiosyncratic cultural artifact from a bygone golden age of synth music fandom.

Inkey$ was a relatively short-lived “cassette magazine” assembled and distributed in the United Kingdom through the 80s. An enthusiastic outlet for the far flung hearts of space that dotted the UK’s underground landscape, Inkey$ featured interviews, reviews, and previews of self-released synthetics in a myriad of spacey styles. This volume, the second issue from 1983, is a nearly 90 minute exploration of the boundaries of analog synthesis delivered with a profound sincerity and a dry, Anglo wit. Having digitized the ancient cassette myself, 2 brief disclaimers are in order: (1) In a classic hand-dubbed manuovour, the tracks on the first side cut off abruptly. (2) As each side nears its end, the audio slowly dissolves into an almost “bitcrushed” sound-cloud. Apologies in advance, but 30 years is an eternity to ferrous particles, just ask William Basinski. The warm, slightly corroded fidelity of the audio gives an appropriately vintage and almost “hauntological” patina to the proceedings. Lossless, this isn’t.

The centerpiece of the volume is a lengthy feature on Robert Schroeder, a Klaus Schulze disciple (and Innovative Communication signee) in the early stages of his long and varied career. Schroeder’s solid Berlin-school pieces pair up sumptuous pads with loping, delayed arpeggios, for some kraut-lineage black-light anthems. Plenty of layered, panning lines, and soundtrack-inspired key shifts sprinkled throughout to bring you back to earth. The tracks featured are an unreleased predecessor to his uniformly excellent “Harmonic Ascendent”, and slightly more chunky, at times cartoonish slices from his then-yet-to-be-released “Cygnus A”. The sounds are pitch-perfect reference points for the current crop of synth-sploitationists, with a studio musician’s flourish and an engineers precision. Betwixt the two is a fairly languid interview, as Robert recounts his Ars Electronica accolades and rock-band dalliances in his thick German accent. while the shop talk throughout is more for context than illumination, the lackluster deadpan of the host is quite amusing on its own.

The side continues with several brief offerings from 3 other European explorers.
Rudiger Lorenz is up first, with a track off his wonkily titled “Wonderflower”. Long-release bell-like progressions peak with analog saturation over phasing arpeggios. An exquisitely wistful ambience. The kind of perfectly somber wow and flutter that inspired early OPN.

Daniel Arfib is up next, with a cut off his “Musique Numerique”, a #Rare, private-press LP that’s since gotten the Creel Pone treatment. Pure noise wash, with primitive FM-Bass swells. Crunchy!

Next, some resonant, groovy fare from IC recording artist Klaus Kruger, featuring the venerable Manuel Gottsching. Swinging string synth stabs, live-drumming bop, and funky upbeat guitar punctuations.

The uber-nerdy ESSP (“Electronic Synthesizer Sound Project”?) picks up side 2, a showcase of the UK’s most subterranean knob-twisters. The first track (“Experiment 144″) is a low-fi tour de force consisting of lyrical, jaunty tracks, produced entirely on the EDP Wasp synthesizer, Spider sequencer, echo unit, and “dr. rhythm” (Roland DR55 to these ears). Reedy, hissing riffs squeak out over Mort Garson-lineage foxtrots. Occasional foghorn samples (recorded Dorset, England) punctuate throughout, for a truly goofed-out opus of bent squelch.

Aside from this cassette documentation, “Experiment 144″ and its creators have left almost no discernible trail. A true lost gem of bedroom blip-funk. You heard it here first (and last). Finders Keepers, get on this!

Next up: Mark Shreeve with his epic “Assassin”, a bizarre versioning of John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13″ theme, released some 7 years beforehand. Though the track retains much of the paranoid boom-bip of the original, you can’t help but wonder how he got away with releasing this as an original composition. Nonetheless, as the lesser known of the two (I guess it’s 3/3, if you count the Bomb The Bass re-make)the soaring solos and snappy drum programming make this a synth-groove opus worthy of any Carpenter fanboy’s attention.

Carl Matthews – Iridescence Cassette

“Iridescence” is next from Carl Matthews, a true underground entity, with a catalog of almost exclusively self-released cassettes. Birdsong and plaintive 4 note motif give this a floating, melancholy feel. Echoes of Froese’s Epsilon in Malaysian Pale, with a more “staring out the window on a rainy day” loner vibe. The five minute glimpse of the 13 minute original is a moving miniature.

Ron Berry’s “Sea of clouds” is an epic, high-altitude cruiser. Thick pads, swelling banks of white noise and ratcheting oscillations. A menacing, simplistic baseline underpins mysterious lfo’d tone-float and shadowy solo lines.

Last but not least is Mark Jenkins with “Time’s Winged Chariot”. An active audio field filled with shuffling percussive thump, virtuistic looping sequences and some superb vintage vocoder verbiage. A bouncy bass-line moves in, as the leads get more animated, morphing into zipping, panning glissandos. A high-energy missive.

Research indicates Mr. Jenkins to be a synth nerd of EPIC proportions (Holy Hell, look at that setup. He gives Klaus Schulze a run for his money, approaching Dave Wilson levels of analog obsession). This track is available nowhere but on a CDr of Mark’s self-released “Analog Archives”. A quick Discogs search reveals all sorts of biographical nuggets. Apparently a former member of White Noise? Later entries in his catalog include a collab with Damo Suzuki? Definitely a prime candidate for future digging.

The “Inkey$ News” outro includes updates on synth releases by the likes of Klaus Schulze, Kitaro, Nash the Slash, and a barrage of new, bizarre-sounding releases from micro labels like Mirage Tapes, Syntape, and “Hawkfriend”(?) by artists like “Sea of Wires” and “Dr. Phil”(?!)

A truly immersive trip through a forgotten nook of synthetic sound. So glad I could re-release this dusty statement back into the world at large. (BTW, if this is already floating around, please DON’T tell me.)

Grab this piece of history HERE