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 what.cd, please DON’T tell me.)

Grab this piece of history HERE


June 6, 2012

Haruomi Hosono – Watering a Flower

Muji and Yellow Magic Orchestra. Two of my favorite Japanese exports.
How thrilled I was when I discovered at last the overlap between the Super Normal retailer and the founders of Technopop.

A (very brief) history lesson:

-1980: The first collection of Mujirushi (No-Brand) Ryohin (Quality Goods) is released into Seiyu supermarkets, consisting of 40 simply-packaged food and household products.
-1983: The first stand-alone MUJI storefront opens in Aoyama, Tokyo, Japan, selling goods and clothing. The artistic/brand direction of the shop is put in the capable hands of celebrated graphic designer Ikko Tanaka. That same year, Muji’s directorship commissions YMO member and progressive electronics wizard Haruomi Hosono to compose “Background Music” for in-store play.
Thereafter, Hosono and Muji go their seperate ways, each embodying an irreconcilable side of the same obsessive coin that is the Japanese aesthetic.

This release, an ultra-rare 1984 cassette entitled “Watering a Flower”, contains the 3 tracks originally composed for the project (only one of which was used), and is a totally unique yet totally accessible entry in Hosono’s admittedly bizarre catalog. All three tracks are bobbing and hypnotic, embracing peaceful, melodic synth lines, side-stepping the overwrought grandiosity that plagues so many “new age” outings. The idyllic synth mantras of “Talking”, and melancholy formations of “Muji Original BGM” loop calmly through warm tape saturation, making for perfect Basinski-eque deep listening exercises. The track “Growth” (listen below), is the purest display of Hosono’s Non-Standard inclinations, its wafting atonal sequences and stoic, distant chiming creating a playful, yet uneasy dream-space of aural fog.

In total, this tape comprises a perfect nugget of tech-spiritual asceticism that manages to encompass everything I covet about Japan, circa 1980. Unfortunately, scans of the tape’s original packaging are scarce. Consider instead the imagery below, as a pastiche of the post-materialist, “Me Generation” Wabi-Sabi mindset of that gave birth to these sounds.

Ikko Tanaka Poster

MUJI Product Line, 1980

Ikko Tanaka Poster

Grab the Cassette HERE

May 2, 2012

Marginal Cuts Vol. 2

Back with another grip of mutant tracks from the dollar bin gutter. This time, you can’t even dance to ‘em. Nerds only.

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  • Patrick Vian - Tunnel 4 (Red Noise)

Patrick Vian is a little-known French prog-rock oddity, and son of Boris Vian, illustrious Jazz musician and hard-boiled author. This track comes from his one and only album, 1976′s “Bruits et Temps Analogues”, and it’s the most OUT of the bunch. While the LP is chock full of motorik beats and fusion-synth filigree, “Tunnel 4″ goes straight for the cortex. Layered modulations and accelerating arpeggios build into a series of constant build-ups and fly-bys. Chugging white noise rhythms speed past unidentifiable synthetic landmarks, phaser pedal to the metal. Panning atonalities expand and implode in paranoid dissonance, and lines of alien cat-synth occasionally approach a “melody” before they’re consumed by HARD FX. The whole thing stops just about as abruptly as it started, a swirling tech demo of golden-age analogue sound. LINK

This SF-based synth-pop band played it pretty straight throughout the 80s, but this confounding cut off their 1982 debut “Zimmerkampf” stuck with me for its pure “half-assed experimental” approach. For the entirety of the track, a bell-like atonal sing-song melody loops over blurred voices and occasional slap-back echoes. Meanwhile, a subtle bass-synth riff plods absentmindedly underneath, unwilling to abandon the song mentality. Overall, it’s an unusual but charming exercise in spook-house goofery, with a less than expertly executed locked groove kicker. LINK

Another band I know next to nothing about, Electroscope were apparently a duo from the UK, in some sort of league with the early Stereolab/Broadcast “twee experimental” camp. In the opening track from their first LP “Homemade Electroscope”, shrill electronic birdsongs and shuffling static give way to mumbling recitations over crackle-box echolalia, badly tuned shortwaves, and outsider guitar strum (think Shadow Ring lite). This track is definitely on the “vintage” tip, with a patina of Amps for Christ-style cracked domesticity. Dusty and alien. LINK

Kerry Leimer, the mysterious force behind the now-reformed label Palace of Lights brings us a soundtrack-esque synth and piano miniature from his 1980 LP “Closed System Potentials” that deftly straddles the modern composition/minimal electronic boundary. Starkly arranged synth, woodwind, and piano counterpoints build a sense of weirdly idyllic foreboding. Phased and filtered rhythm loops rise and submerge, sounding like massive rusted clockwork. A sombre and succinct etude to the ghosts of industry. LINK

April 11, 2012

Unheard-Of: Krisma – Fido

Here we have an unexpected nugget of new-wave styled italo-pop from 1983, by Krisma (aka Chrisma), a male/female synthpop duo by the names of Christina Moser and Maurizio Arcieri, fondly regarded in their native time and place (Italy, post-disco), but little-known stateside.

Krisma in 1985 (from "Krismarts")

In addition to the human talent, the real star of this quirky LP is the venerable Casiotone MT-65, an entry-level PCM-based digital synthesizer introduced in 1982 (big brother to the MT-40, of “Under Me Sleng Teng” fame). In fact, the entire album is composed on the instrument, and it can be seen mugging on the LP’s back cover (with hand-wired expansion box).

As one might expect, “Fido” is an in-depth exploration of its crispy crunchy sound palette. Punchy bass, hissing snares, and pocket-caltulator leads are layered and post-processed into all manner of “light industrial” modes. Some melodic sing-song pop ditties , some chip-chopped rhythm-only tracks, and some dark Italo arpeggiations, with plenty of high-minded knob twiddling and external effects to keep things lively. At times the envelope is pushed to borderline Detroit darkness, with flanged ‘hats and bass drum pummelling. Icy boy-girl vocals are the icing on the cake, delivered in phonetic English for a true International Feel. All in all, the closest touchstone to this album would have to be Roberto Cacciapaglia’s legendary “Anne Steele Album”, in terms of sheer technopop exuberance and Italo-futurist vision.


March 23, 2012

Marginal Cuts Vol. 1

I’d estimate that about 20-30% of the LPs & tapes I buy are by groups and projects I know next to nothing about. When faced with a mystery pile of clearance LPs, I enter some sort of self-destructive “dollar bin mania”, and dig til the dust hurts my eyes.

The mental checklist goes like this: Do I know the album? (no) Do I know the artist? (no) Do I at least know the label? (no) Is there something compelling about the album? (reptile brain says YES) Now, delineating WHAT that compelling thing is, and whether that THING translates into forking over 1-5 dollars is where the real science comes in. Simply nabbing an LP based on quirky art or a badass band photo is a sucker’s game. For me, if you’re on the fence about some slab of mystery wax, an instrumentation list always tips the scales towards “horde”. If you get a solid list of instruments (cross referenced with the year and country of origin, natch), you can usually get at least a ghostly impression of the sound-palette inside, and let your imagination do the rest. As far as personal inclinations go, if there’s at least a drum machine involved, you’re in the ballpark.

This post is an attempt to distill the best of the far too many LPs I’ve accrued through this admittedly half-baked method into a few choice tracks of true NON-STANDARD genius. And yes, they all have drum machines (i think?)

The first track is off the 1983 album “Pop Eyes” by Danielle Dax, a total hidden gem in the underground post-punk/outsider/home-taper canon. Though she had a reasonably successful pop career in the years to follow, the album this track appears on was recorded entirely by Ms. Dax, on gear such as tapes, sax, bass, and 808 (which features prominently here). This meandering but beat-driven track comes straight off the dome, with no real structure to speak of, but plenty of weirdo Fem energy. Eastern sax motifs, GOA-style diva vocals, and liquid funk guitar(??) all coalesce over incessant drum machine claptrap for a bizarrely smooth trip.

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  • Benjamin Lew & Steven Brown - II, Les Quitta A L'Aube

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  • Benjamin Lew & Steven Brown - Dans Les Jardins

Up next are two cuts from Benjamin Lew and Steven Brown, a duo who recorded 2 albums for the Belgian Crammed Discs label in the early 80s. On the first track, both play a variety of reeds, hand percussion, synths and rhythm boxes in a contemplative, melancholy mode that’s totally unique. Straddling the territories of minimal electronic music and 20th century classical, the subtly textured melodies and clunking beat approach eno/riley levels of sublime ambience. The second track throws you from the country to the urban jungle, with all manner of ethnic percussion and radio detritus giving way to full on post-industrial tribalism. All executed with a composer’s restraint, never resorting to sheer power where pure moods will do.

Thought I’d close with the one straight-up dancefloor ripper out of this uneven batch. When I picked up the 1988 album “Rorschach Testing” by Click Click (again, based solely on instrument listings), I expected icy synth pop or new wave, but what I got was much more exciting. Playing what can only be described as “True EBM”, the tracks on this LP are a perfect encapsulation of everything that’s good about an extremely spotty subgenre. With a pleading vocal style, dark ensemble synth playing, and amazingly layered machine rhythms, they just throw down in a way that’s totally enticing. No cheese, all meat.