Sunday, 14 August 2016

Pages

In my recent yacht rock trawling I’ve discovered a number of lesser known artists that have particularly impressed. Top of the list is Pages, most intriguingly known as the group that would become Mr Mister. Little of that legacy is in the Pages sound, save for the undeniably rousing vocals of Richard Page, namesake – obviously – for the band. Steve George is the other core member of Pages (and Mr. Mister), on vocals and keyboards, most crucially an array of synthesizers (Minimoog, Yamaha CS-80, Oberheim, ARP 2600 ). They’re joined on each album by a pool of top shelf smoothsters from the era – Kenny Loggins, Al Jarreau, Michael Brecker, Dave Grusin, Jeff Porcaro – resulting in polished but eccentric music. With the prominent electronics they sound kinda like Starbuck, but with cleaner production and slicker material. Thus, the contrast between abstract analog synth blurps and smooth late seventies-early eighties commercial AOR is more pronounced, strange and – to my ears - gripping. This is the stuff that thrills me now that I’m firmly middle aged.

I first heard Pages, unwittingly, via vaporwave project Macintosh plus, who sampled their biggest hit You Need a Hero on their "ライブラリ" (Library).





This was a blatant descendent of Oneohtrix Point Never’s Chuck Persons echojams, where he ‘vaporwaved’ the likes of Gerry Rafferty and Toto.








These were all great, and part of the catalyst that had me searching back through my parents’ record collection. Toto, Rafferty, Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers; all were stock favourites in my childhood home, alongside oodles of less commercial jazz fusion, a spin off from my dad’s interest in prog.

Like much yacht rock, but unlike prog, Pages fused fusion with slick pop-rock, which resulted in critical acclaim but commercial disregard, unlike their peers Steely Dan, Kenny Loggins etc. This is surprising, and a bit sad, as they sound like perfect seventies AM radio fodder to me. Perhaps that synth-AOR blend didn’t gel so well with mass taste. Pages recorded three albums between 1978 and 1981, all with plenty of gems (and a few duds), but the highlights I’d rate as the finest within the broader yacht rock AOR canon, and indeed some of the finest fusion of synths with standard commercial pop rock instrumentation and arrangements of any era. This is not synth pop by any means, but AOR with synths.

Pages are ripe for rediscovery and I’m surprised by how they remain overlooked, and I’d recommend all three albums to be reissued, or perhaps a Music From Memory style compendium of the hits. Very hard to find on vinyl, my brother picked up a copy of their last album in Ballarat of all places (thank you!), but snap up whatever you can find.

Here’s an interweb blurb of their work album by album:
Pages (1978)
Pages' eponymous first album, released in 1978, featured tracks ranging from light funk ("Clearly Kim"), calypso ("Love Dance") and driving rock ("Room At The Top") to smooth, harmonious ballads ("This Is For The Girls," "I Get It From You") and luscious instrumentals ("Interlude").
The album featured an impressive array of session musicians. The roster of talent included Colomby, Philip Bailey (Earth, Wind & Fire), Steve Forman, Dave Grusin, Claudio Slon, Victor Feldman and Michael Brecker. Although Page provided most of the lead vocals, George took the lead on "Let It Go" and "Listen For The Love."





Colomby was quoted as saying that "Pages represents the mainstream of contemporary music. They utilize various elements and combine them into an original and tasty mixture that will appeal to all formats of radio." Despite Colomby's prediction, radio found it hard to place the group's sound. Neither Pages nor its single "If I Saw You Again" made the Billboard charts. Leinheiser and Battelene went their own way after the album was recorded.

This dub/edit of Clearly Kim is an absolute cracker:



Future Street (1979)


After the commercial failure of their debut album, Pages went back to the studio to record their 1979 follow-up, entitled Future Street. Charles "Icarus" Johnson joined on acoustic and electric guitar, and George Lawrence was brought in on drums.
According to Page, "Jerry [Manfredi], Steve [George] and myself were writing all the music but it just didn't sound right. Everybody knew it, but it was left unspoken for a long time because of that lingering bond. With Charles and George everything went perfect for the first time. The potential was just staring us in the face".




Once again produced by Colomby, the album blended the finely crafted overtones of the first album with a somewhat hard-edged pop-rock sound with progressive overtones. Additional musicians and artists on Future Street included Kenny Loggins (backing vocals and songwriting on "Who's Right Who's Wrong"), George Hawkins, Joey Trujillo, Jai Winding and Steve Lukather. George took lead vocals on "Two People." Another detail is that the cover sleeve was designed by John Lang.
The opening track, the energetic "I Do Believe In You," peaked at number 84 on the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1979.

Both the artwork and title of Future Street hint at the group’s progressive reach, but perhaps they were too forward looking and ahead of their time as the album failed to chart.

Pages (1981)
The band switched to Capitol Records, and brought in acclaimed producer Jay Graydon. The resulting album - eponymous like their first album - was released in 1981. Two singles were released from the album, "You Need a Hero" and "Come on Home." Interestingly, these were the only tracks produced by Colomby on the album.





The players on this album consisted of Page (lead and background vocals), George (backing vocals, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer: Yamaha CS-80 - Oberheim - ARP 2600, Mini-Moog, clavinet, electric power oboe and grand piano) John Lang (co-writer), Charles Johnson (guitar), Neil Stubenhaus (bass), Ralph Humphrey (drums), Steve Khan (electric guitar), Jeff Porcaro (drums), Paulinho DaCosta (percussion), Vince Colaiuta (drums), Tom Scott (sax), Jay Graydon (guitars, synthesizer programming, producer), Mike Baird (drums) and Al Jarreau (vocal flute). Despite this powerhouse lineup of musicians, the album failed to chart.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Ambient Music from Japan


Earlier this year I caught up with dear old chum Floating Head and we set ourselves the challenge of each recording a mix of Japanese ambient music. Several months later the work is done and here it is: two different takes on an hour-ish mix of ambient music by Japanese artists.

Floating Head’s description of how he put his mix together is included below, so here's my blurb. Floating Head and I go way back and connected over music, and an interest in Japanese art and literature among other things. We’ve mostly lived in separate cities (he in Barcelona, me in Melbourne) so we’ve kept in touch by sharing music, and talked music and reading recommendations, so this seems a natural extension. On his last visit we were talking current music interests – he mentioned Yui Onodera, I was on a Haruomi Hosono obsession – and we noted Susumu Yokota’s recent premature death, and our general abiding fondness for ambient music. From there somehow we got onto the idea of a challenge, a way of shaping our listening and providing an objective. This is the sort of thing I’m always keen for, given my sense of drowning in music and the flitting I do haphazardly from one world to the next.

Until the our mixes were finished all details were secret. Surprising only one overlap (Gallery Six’s ‘Hakasui Gasansui’), and very different sounds and approaches. I’m currently fascinated with the slick polish of 1980s music production of the more commercial variety, and Japanese 80s music seems to go one step slicker. That goes for ambient/new age music of that period too, as exemplified by artists like Yoshio Suzuki and Hiroshi Yoshimura, and everything on Hosono’s Yen Records label, where even twee lo-fi is hi-fi. I wanted to celebrate this sound, linking it with more recent, older, and varied work by Japanese artists. Beyond that I wanted it to be repeatedly listenable, erring on the pleasant side, without ruffling feathers (by either abrupt dynamic shift, or boring through lack of).

As for whether Japan has a unique take on ambient music, through associations with Zen tradition, a particular understanding of nature, space and silence, or somesuch, I would rather not comment. One thing that can be noted is that there does seem a large volume of ambient music made by Japanese artists. Is this the result of the economic boom in the 1980s and a need for corporate relaxation (see root strata), or a pervasive market for it by western audiences? Or a particular knack for synthesis? Or those notions touched on above...?

DJ Tropical Breeze: Japanmbient Mix:



1 Minamo Beginning Durée 12K 2010
2 Toshiki Kadomatsu Sea Song [Reprise] Sea Is A Lady BMG Victor 1987
3 Gallery Six Hakasui Gasansui Shimmering Moods 2015
4 Hiroshi Yoshimura Green Green Air Records Inc 1986
5 Yoshio Suzuki Meet Me In The Sheep Meadow Morning Picture JVC 1984
6 H Takahashi Soft Wave Sea Meditation Entertainment Systems 2015
7 Yoshio Ojima Serene Une Collection Des Chainon I Wacoal Art Centre 1988
8 Pass Into Silence Iceblink Calm Like A Millpond Kompakt 2004
9 Inoyamaland Morn Music for Myxomycetes Transonic Records 1998
10 Toshiro Mayuzumi Mandala Mandala Symphonie Columbia 1969
11 Midori Takada Trompe-l'oeil Through the Looking Glass RCA 1983
12 saburo ubakata from late spring Reflection Primal Kaico 2013
13 Susumu Yokota Azukiiro No Kaori Sakura Leaf 2000
14 Yoshio Ojima Glass Chattering Une Collection Des Chainon I Wacoal Art Centre 1988
15 Satoshi Ashakawa Image Under Tree Still Way Sound Process 1982
16 Akio Suzuki Bottle K7 Box Alm Records 2007
17 Haruomi Hosono wakamurasaki Tale of Genji OST Sony 1987
18 sawako Piano.cote Nu.it Baskaru 2014
19 Yui Onodera Cloudscape 01 Cloudscapes Serein 2015
20 Ryuichi Sakamoto Nostalgia Three Decca 2013
21 Kazumasa Hashimoto Ending Epitaph Flyrec 2004

Here's Floating Head's comments:

"To be honest I can’t quite remember the exact reason how this started. The real origin of the seed of the idea could have come from anywhere, perhaps just the need to have a basic concept to tie a mix together. Why Japanese in particular I cannot really say anymore. I don’t remember if there was a particular album or anything that triggered it off. But in any case, I remember discussing it with my good friend, fellow music lover and radio presenter Josh/DJ Tropical Breeze while in Melbourne at Christmas time. The idea from that time was that we would each prepare a mix of Japanese ambient music and publish them around the same time. Since then it has been a steady immersion in as much Japanese ambient, synth pop and experimental music as possible, around 6 months of focussed listening. While we did exchange names of artists and albums, there was no other insight into what the other was doing until we shared our mixes and track lists this week. Several of the artists consequently overlap, although in the end there is only one track that is the same between mixes, Hidekazu Imashige/Gallery Six’s Hakasui [Shimmering Moods].

My shortlist for the mix was 100 tracks clocking in at around 12 hours of sound if unedited and unmixed, so about one third of the tracks made the final cut and plenty more that didn’t make it. Consequently there is also quite a bit of overlap between tracks, with the first 17 tracks all fitting in to the first 25 minutes alone. That is, for the first 25 minutes there is generally at least two and sometimes up to four tracks playing at the same time. It’s a bit less crowded by the end.

One thing that surprised me making the mix, which was assembled carefully on Adobe Audition and in no way was mixed live, was that the tendency was to mix down tracks and not up as is usually the case. Not sure if this is something specific to Japanese ambient or it relates more to the superimposition of multiple tracks at the same time. In any case, the mix uses a lot of dynamic range and tries to emphasise the noise and the silence where possible.

I have seen quite a few Japanese artists complaining about lazy Western journalists describing their music in terms of Zen and related concepts, probably without really understanding anything about Zen and having only a post-card image of what Japan is really like. In any case, I really appreciate a lot of the material I found was based on field recordings and even in some cases people playing instruments as if joining in with nature and natural sounds as well as of course some temple sounds and related audio phenomenon. It would be interesting to talk directly to a lot of the artists and to see what terms they would use to describe their sounds and if Zen is a genuine interest or it is just a coincidence.


Floating Head: Japanese Ambient Mix:



1 Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. La Novia - Speed Guru (Live in Tokyo) Acid Mothers Temple 2002
2 Tetsu Inoue Background Story Instinct Ambient 1996
3 Ametsub Faint Dazzlings Mille Plateaux 2010
4 Ghost Masttillah Drag City 1996
5 Geinoh Yamashirogumi Shohmyoh Victor 1988
6 Ground Zero Paraiso 1 Trigram / ReR Megacorp 1995 / 2005
7 Gallery Six Hakusui Shimmering Moods 2015
8 Yui Onodera Rhizome 4 Gears Of Sand 2007
9 Buddhastick Transparent Labyrinth (Lunatique Lux) Sharira 1997
10 Adzuki 秋 / Autumn Adzuki Self-released (Bandcamp) 2014
11 松本 一哉(Kazuya Matsumoto) たゆたう水月(Tayutau suigetsu) Spekk 2015
12 Chihei Hatakeyama A bronze pike Room40 2015
13 松本 一哉(Kazuya Matsumoto) 秋霖(Shurin) Spekk 2014
14 Yasuaki Shimizu Kono Yo Ni Yomeri #2 Better Days 1982
15 Tetsu Inoue Remote DiN 2005
16 Stilllife 彗星 Nature Bliss 2014
17 Ippu-Do Alone Epic 1982
18 Stilllife やがて霞とともに Nature Bliss 2014
19 Ametsub 66 Mille Plateaux 2010
20 Michiru Aoyama World Shimmering Moods 2015
21 Yoichiro Yoshikawa Crater On The Moon (Short Version) Eastworld 1987
22 Yamaoka Late in summer Twice Removed 2015
23 Fourcolour Double 12k 2016
24 ENA Absorption #2 Samurai Horo 2014
25 Go Hiyama Hiku Stroboscopic Artefacts 2011
26 A.O.T. ”フィードバック (Go Koyashiki Remix)” (Rundgång) SonuoS 2013
27 Yui Onodera Semi Lattice Part 5 Baskaru 2015
28 Dumbtype Drawing #3 Digital Narcis 1997
29 Toshifumi Hinata Colored Air Alfa 1986
30 Maki Asakawa Onna Honest Jon's Records ? / 2015
31 Fruit Of The Original Sin Interscape (-X) Kin Sound Recordings 2001
32 Susumu Yokota Shinsen Leaf 2000
33 Buddhastick Transparent Morpheus (Eve Eva : X) Sharira 1996

Soft Options

Soft Option is over, so relive those mellow midnight memories by streaming! 4 episodes, 8 hours, 2 charming hosts, and 4 sadsack Sabbath songs:

Episode 1: http://ondemand.rrr.org.au/player/128/201605070000
Episode 2: http://ondemand.rrr.org.au/player/128/201605140000
Episode 3: http://ondemand.rrr.org.au/player/128/201605210000
Episode 4: http://ondemand.rrr.org.au/player/128/201605280000

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Soft Option


For the month of May, I am back on the aiRRRwaves to present a new program for the Friday midnight Tabula Rasa slot, entitled 'Soft Option'. Joyously, I'll be joined by Lexican Devil on presenting duties.

The title is rather self explanatory as to the show's content, but here's the blurb:

Soft Option celebrates music’s tender, gentle moments, a world of mannered, smooth vibes and adult contemporary sophistication. Soft Option finds the common ground between hazy country classics, heart-on-tear-stained-sleeve rock ballads, slick yacht rock product, honeyed Philly soul stirrers, wispy new age doodles, major-keyed fusion noodlers, dinky Balearic chuggers, and private press bedroom whingers… united under a shared vision of sweet, smooth, soft music.

Sometimes revolutions happen in velvet.


Tune in midnight, this Friday 6 May. It's going to be a cool night...

Prince


So long Prince.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Music and Hyperobjects


Timothy Morton's fascinating Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World introduces the term 'hyperobjects' to describe objects that are so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend spatiotemporal specificity, such as global warming, styrofoam, and radioactive plutonium. His thought is grounded in Speculative Realism / Object Oriented Ontology and Hyperobjects provides an approachable and engagingly thorough introduction to these concepts and the implication to art, literature, religion and, of course, ecology.

Morton's understanding of music is particularly engaging and in the final chapter, 'The Age of Assymetry', he examines the transition of eras of Western thought from the Symbolic through to the present alongside the art and music of these times. Here he discusses artists from Mozart through to Schoenberg and Cage, but also looks at the likes of La Monte Young and Francisco Lopez. Here he is on the Classical collapsing into the Romantic period:
In the Classical phase, there is a Goldilocks sweet spot in which there is a pleasant symmetry between Spirit and art materials. A harmony emerges that a later age can only regard as an illusion. Humans and nonhumans meet each other halfway, generating all kinds of beautiful machinery. Mozart and Haydn sound sweetly neoclassical, their music embodying how the nonhuman no longer towers over the human, but the human doesn’t fully comprehend the depths of its own inner space.



So the Classical phase collapses into the Romantic phase. Spirit’s selfunderstanding far outstrips the materials of art at this point. Philosophy takes over the driver’s seat. In this period, humans recognize the infinite depths of their inner space for the first time. It becomes radically impossible to embody this inner space in any nonhuman entity. So Romantic art must talk about the failure to embody the inner space in outer things. Yet by failing this way, art ironically succeeds to talk about the inner space. Isn’t the inner space precisely what can’t be embodied? So the job of art is to fail better, or rather, more sublimely. So, oddly, medieval cathedrals are less Christian than a Beethoven string quartet. From here on, art can only be about the failure of its materials to embody Spirit fully, precisely because Spirit is not reducible to those materials... Art becomes deeply story-shaped, as artists realize that since they can’t directly express Spirit, they must tell the story of the failure to express it. Music develops into the extreme chromaticism of Mahler, who explores every possible relationship between the notes of a tune.


Equal temperament and the invention of the piano are shown to embody the Romantic era and the beginnings of the Anthropocene:

In order to express the nonexpression of the inner life of the human, technologies were invented such as the piano, whose massive resonant interior can be heard when the sustain pedal is depressed. Equal temperament came to dominate modes of tuning, because it enabled music to wander around in a consistent world, no matter how much chromaticism was employed. Now in order to attain equal temperament, you have to detune the piano strings a little bit. The relationships between them are not based on whole number ratios. If they were—a tuning called just intonation—then wild dissonances and interference patterns between sound waves would result: the wolf tones. Equal temperament fudges the ratios a little bit. The endless journey of musical matter in search of Spirit happens in a coherent world of equal temperament fudge, like a sepia painting or photograph. So, ironically, Beethovenian expressions of the rich inner life of Spirit are bought at the price of the enslavement of nonhuman beings—piano strings—to a system that turns them into fudge. Likewise, conductors arose to command the orchestra like a boss commanding workers in a factory. Gone were the genteel classical days when an orchestra conducted itself through the agency of the lead violinist, an arrangement that rather elegantly expresses the Goldilocks harmony between Spirit and materials that exemplifies that earlier era...



The Romantic period is the very advent of the Anthropocene, when a layer of carbon is deposited by human industry throughout Earth’s top layers of crust. It doesn’t seem like a random coincidence, the epochal event of carbon deposits in Earth; the invention of pianos, gigantic slabs
of hollow wood wound with strings tightened with industrially made nuts and bolts; the invention of the factory-like orchestra with its managerial
conductor; and the dominance of equal temperament, spearheaded by the age of the piano. Equal temperament allowed the piano to dominate,
to become a general musical instrument, much like the steam engine.

La Monte Young is held up as among the first to recognise and most successfully explore the features of our current era and fully reject the 'Goldilocks fairytale' of the past:

Then La Monte Young, a student of John Cage, took the next step. He liberated the strings of the piano from equal temperament, reverting to the just intonation that had been abandoned to create the Romantic world of sepia fudge. To return the strings to just intonation was indeed an act of justice, a “doom.” In justly tuned piano wires, we hear the doom of wire and wood. It was Young, first of the New York Minimalists, who used sound to end Romantic storytelling. Serialism had deconstructed the Romantic narrative by feeding what Webern calls the Strukturklang, the ghostly, spectral–material sound of structure as such, back into the music. Cage had gone further and fed household objects into pianos. Instead of coming up with a new tune, Young decided to work directly with tuning. Young’s The Well-Tuned Piano explodes the tradition begun by Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, organizing music not around a journey but around the vibrations of strings tuned to whole number ratios, ratios that allow ears to hear a dizzying height of crystal clear harmonics within any one note.



This is the music of attunement, not of stories. Young’s drone music, accompanied by Marian Zazeela’s light pieces, happen for days at a time, sometimes longer, as human voices try to tune to a sine wave that is as pure as possible. The world of sepia, the consistency that enables the world as such to be, is brought to an end by vibrant colors that clash and interfere with one another, like lines in a painting by Napangati or Riley.



There is much, much more here but worth reading Hypoerobjects in its entirety.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Lee Gamble on Max Headroom


This Thursday 24 March for Max Headroom on www.rrr.org.au I'm joined by ex-junglist and post-rave experimentalist Lee Gamble ahead of his appearance at this weekend's Inner Varnika festival. Listen live (from 7pm) here.