From one can come many…

unheard tones from a scale unread

unheard tones from a scale unread

One of my guilty pleasures has always been the compilation album. Every since I became fanatical about collecting music in the early ’80’s, the compilation has been a serious resource for me in my quest to find new artists/bands. Back in the day when quality record labels sold them for the price of a single, it only took 2-3 songs you liked to feel like you’ve hit the jackpot, and if I was buying a compilation from a label I already new, I felt I had just scored free music. With the advent of Creative Commons and online netlabel releases, that music really is now free and my guilty pleasure has only gotten worse (or cheaper, depending on how you look at it.) I now download at least of 3 or 4 compilations a month, sometimes getting 2 or 3 a week. Because of that, the number of artists/bands that I have discovered in the last 10-12 years is something I couldn’t have imagined 30 years ago. Everyday there’s a new project I’m just hearing of, and at times these artists have been releasing material just beyond my hearing for years.

The inspiration for discovering a new label/compilations can come from anywhere. I’ve recently joined a Facebook group, Intelligent Ambient Music, hosted by Jack Hertz. Jack is a perfect example of an artist who has been releasing material for years without my having had the pleasure of listening to it. An overview of his work would be a blog post unto itself and that’s not really the aim of this blog. I only hope to inspire you to begin your own search and am merely pointing out some of the signposts I’ve seen along the journey. But Jack has become a thread that has exposed me to more music in the last year or so than I ever would have imagined when I first discovered his netlabel, Aural Films. Home to many of Jack’s releases, in particular, his recent Wetlands, a series of compositions crafted with the distinct aim of submersing the listener into an electronically manipulated environment and whose intention is to create an alternative reality within the listener’s own perspective (in Jack’s words, “part documentary and part hallucination”), it is a perfect spot to begin to understand the dynamics Jack is trying to capture. Very good, and very heady, work.

Aural Films is also hosting a couple of new releases from another of my new favorite artists, Cousin Silas. Both his collaboration with Jack, Jaguars & Shamen (another collection of transcendent compositions meant to invoke the spirit and imagery of Amazonian shamen and the hallucinatory practices they embrace), as well as his own release, Ballard Landscapes 3, are among the heavy plays in my headphones right now. The third in his series of J. G. Ballard inspired releases, Landscapes 3 is a collection of glistening pads and celestial swoops gliding alongside deep, thrumming drones nestling among found sounds, lilting piano chords and ominous, cascading washes. I think Ballard would be impressed. In fact, this so rekindled my love of Ballard, I revisited another favorite resource of mine, UbuWeb, to peruse their collection of Ballard videos. If you’re unfamiliar with UbuWeb, please do yourself a favor, visit them now. Their collection of experimental and avant-garde material from the 20th century is a remarkable resource. Their mission statement, alone, is worthy of praise. But I digress, an alternative, and topically appropriate, entry point for Aural Films, may be their recent compilation, Prehistoric Tar Pit Music. Comprising 19 tracks spanning over 2 and a half hours of music and inspired by the Facebook group mentioned in the opening of this paragraph, this release captures Jack’s vision of creating internal landscapes through manufactured realities, this time arousing the primal instincts and emotions of our prehistoric ancestors. More than a compilation, this is an effort to provide form to an individual’s artistic vision that can, and is, shared by many.

And that’s just the beginning of Jack’s thread this post. His newest release, a haunting we will ghost, on we are all ghosts, celebrating the first anniversary of waag’s launching, reaffirms the singular vision and voice that Thomas Mathie has cultivated at waag. An air of haunting, melancholic reminiscing permeates waag’s releases, giving them a heft and gravity usually not associated with ambient soundscapes. I look forward to every new release they offer. Jack has also released material on Earth Mantra Netlabel. Now, in all honesty, this is not a name that would have normally jumped out at me, but Jack has a couple of releases through them, so I thought I’d check it out. And that’s when I discovered Stefan Paulus.

In my small world, Stefan is brilliant. Constructing intricate, intoxicating compositions through the use of psychogeography, I’d be disingenuous, at best, if I implied I could explain his theory any better, or more accurately, than he does. To paraphrase a single paragraph in his statement, “Psychogeography is drifting, is action, is the collection of things that can be found on the street – getting into a subway, the nearest bus and get somewhere out. It is about paying attention to the terrain, the animals, the garbage in the streets.”  Exactly! Both his release on Earth Mantra Netlabel, Becoming – Dissolve, an hour long meditation spanning 3 compositions which hum along to the subconscious heartbeat of a subterranean society hovering on the edge of remembrance (from which the video below is taken from), and his latest release, on Treetrunk Records, Sea Salt Island, a continuing effort to define and construct impressionistic internal vistas using a soundtrack both unfamiliar and familial at the same time, encapsulate his aesthetic and singular vision. I have already become a massive fan of his music and his artistic vision.

Another netlabel I find myself repeatedly returning to is Nostress Netlabel. I’ve been singing their praises the last couple of weeks and just can’t seem to stop. Their recent compilation, The Astounding Fair, is another example of great music lurking just around the corner. Continuing their mission of promoting unsigned and often overlooked artists and bands, this compilation has opened my eyes to a couple of projects I was unfamiliar with. First mention has to be Cinema Noir, from Palermo, IT, a 5 piece post-rock experimental outfit that might have easily continued to fly under my radar if not for my favorite song title of the last few years, “when sigur ros don’t play music, they name Ikea’s furniture“, a 7 and a half minute foray into a dark, droning world of heartbeat kick drums and guitar chords washing over landscapes littered with discordant electronic signals and the detritus of a forgotten civilization. A very strong track and a band I will watch for in the future. Another revelation from this compilation is Neuf Meuf. The working alias of Rok Vrbancic of Slovenia, his deep, droning scoundscapes are music to my ears. Both his 2012 release on Nostress, What’s Left in Chorus, and his new release on No Source Netlabel, On Titled EP, are releases getting extensive play in my headphones right now. On Titled, in particular,  adds a slight sense of hope in an otherwise oppressive world of forces sweeping out of control and the inability of the average human to harness those forces. But the single most impressive release from Nostress recently has to be from Milan native, Francesco Vecchi, under the guise of his Etterem moniker, Dark Irish, Some Tunes. An impressive endeavor of traditional Irish music samples stretched and looped and treated with layers of electronic effects and underpinned by recurring drones and cycling samples, I haven’t heard anything this original in quite awhile. Just in time for dj’ing this St. Patrick’s Day, you know several of his compositions will be popping up during my sets over the weekend. Very impressive release!

There are several other netlabels I’ve recently discovered and which have provided me with new sounds to follow and enjoy. Cold Fiction Music has been releasing quality ambient, dub-techno and minimalist projects since 2009, but have only recently entered my world. And what’s really surprising, their 2012 compilation,  futur(e)cho 2‘s tracklist reads like a who’s who of my favorite netlabel artists. Coppice Halifax, Zzzzra, Orcalab, Martin Nonstatic, Textural Being and AXS are all featured on it. How I missed this for 6 months is really staggering to me. Fortunately, there was an artist I was not familiar with, DeepWarmth. With 4 releases on Cold Fiction Music over the last couple of years, I’m slowly working my way through his back catalogue. Deep, warm pads meet minimal, dubbed-out beats and glitchy atmospherics to create hypnotic and inviting compositions that are blissfully enveloping. Very pleasing and a joy to discover.

The next three netlabels I’ve recently started following are all courtesy of Stray Theories. The ambient project of Micah Templeton-Wolfe, his self-released compositions have been floating around my hard drive for a couple years now. He’s recently had tracks included on two different compilations and I’m better for having discovered both labels. The first, Future Astronauts‘, Vessels 2, is an impressive introduction to the future garage, downtempo, ambient philosophy of the label. Only knowing Stray Theories from the list of bands, this release is providing hours and hours of exploration and discovery for me. Micah’s second appearance of 2013 is on the Document 10 compilation, Page One. The decidedly more ambient of the two compilations, this one really piqued my interest knowing it also featured a unreleased track from the glorious Radere. The most impressive new find for me through this release has to be Pillowdiver. While I must admit he doesn’t usually release material through Creative Commons, I have fallen in love with his breathtaking compositions and ethereal soundscapes. Finally, Stray Theories has added a remix to the Great Grey Records release, Into the Distance: Remixes. Happily, there’s yet more research for me to do while I work through their first couple of releases.

Finally, Document 10‘s Page One compilation has also directed me toward another brand new netlabel. Opening with the haunting soundscape, In Bruges by Tone Color, it took me awhile to remember when I first came across Manchester artist Andy Lomas, but after much searching (okay, I really just went to his soundcloud page…) I found his track Ebowed an’ Clear was featured on the Futuresquence, Sequence 3 compilation (more on Futuresequence in later posts, as they are a netlabel I revere.) Searching for more of his work, I came across the brand new label, Assembly Field and their debut release, VA Compilation#1. Featuring tracks from Tone Color, Gallery Six, Pleq and Wil Bolton (among others), this is a very impressive roster for a debut release. And Tone Color‘s track 061 is a stand out effort. Already rumoring to have a second release in the works, this is a label I will be following feverishly in the months to come.

Finally, another 2012 compilation I’ve recently discovered is Nu Sounds from Poland from No Echo Records. Releasing material from the heart of Krakow since 2008, an unknown world has just opened up for me and this is the release that will afford repeated listening for me as each artist/project is a new entity to me. Focusing on experimental music from the underground Polish music scene, this release spans the musical spectrum from broken beat and nu jazz, to droning soundscapes and micro-house tonalities and almost everything in between. A very eclectic collection of songs and one that bears new insights with each listen. This is why I listen to music and why the search for new sounds is a never-ending process. Hope you find an intriguing bit somewhere in the post and pick up a thread of your own to follow. Enjoy…


it’s a small, small world in netlabel land…

drains to Boston Harbor 69

As those of you who may have read my inaugural post know, this blog is meant merely to be a long personal thread that wanders through the fabric that Creative Commons and netlabel music weave, tracing a faint seam across the sounds that this global music community expands every day. Not surprisingly, it can be a very tight-knit and supportive community that crosses wide geographgic, political and cultural divides. And picking up the thread in one spot can lead to a longer unraveling of many, many threads that can lead anywhere but home.

A case in point is The Fucked Up Beat, a sound project created by Eddie Palmer of New York with Brett Zehner of San Diego in October 2011. I first came across them about a year ago through Free Music Archive, an invaluable resource for anyone interested in finding music on the edge of any genre you may favor, FMA continues to provide me with hours and hours of inspiration every time I return. Eddie and Brett have posted all their recent releases on both their FMA and Bandcamp pages with links to the respective netlabels that host them. While I did find myself familiar with several of those netlabels, I wasn’t familiar with Nostress Netlabel.

Founded in 2011 and operating out of Palermo, Italy, Nostress offers CC music in a wide range of dark and experimental genres with The Fuck Up Beat’s epic two-part foray into the death of the American dream, Rust Belt (1961) & (1968), released at the end of last year, being a perfect example. It truly is an unbelievably impressive feat and an extended glimpse into their creative process. Last month, Nostress released BAUMANN.electronic‘s, Zeitgeistangst.  I’ve been following Jep Cuesta for the last couple of years on all his platforms, in particular his Mixcloud page, and am overwhelmed at the sheer scope and breath of his latest release. Clocking in at over an hour, its 3 compositions offer an unsettling ride through dark dub-techno beats juxtaposed with detached found loops and low grumbling washes. It really does evoke the sound of “Anxiety from the Spirit of Times.”

The Fucked Up Beat have also released music  through picpack, a small netlabel out of the Ukraine that’s already nearing 170 releases, opsound, an almost overwhelming resource for free music, free art, free literature and free creativity of nearly every genre  founded by Sal Randolph, (a long-time copyleft advocate  and someone you should be familiar with!) and who hosted The Fucked Up Beat’s Schizophrenic Wolf last spring, among several others. But it’s their new release, Roswell Radio Cult,  on HAZE Netlabel, which has knocked the pins out from underneath me. An invigorating mash of concrete found sounds and post-ambient/retro-futurist beats and space, Roswell Radio Cult creates one of the most original and intoxicating listenings I’ve had in quite awhile. Their composition titles, visuals and music combine to create an aural poetry that is a refreshing reminder of just how unique an artistic vision can be.

HAZE, a netbal based in Belarus, has been releasing a wide range of experimental music since 2007. They’ve hosted the two most recent The Fucked Up Beat’s releases and have been on my radar throughout the last year for a series of monthly releases they call Sound Interpretations and feature musical interpretations of 20th century writers they feel have been some of last century’s most influential. Beginning with Julio Cortazar, the series features a variety of interpretations of the writer’s words, feelings or personality by a number of HAZE labelmates and outside contributors, and currently includes releases focusing on Franz Kafka, William Gibson, Albert Camus, Stephen King, and (my current fave, of course!), James Joyce. They plan on finishing out the series with interpretations of Jack Kerouac, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett (which I hope to have a piece finished to contribute…) and Antoine de Saint-Exupery. And it is through these compilations that I continue the thread for this post. While initially drawn to them through their literary angle, once I noticed The Fucked Up Beat were included, I rushed to download them all, leading me to discover Mystified.

A solo project from the prolific Thomas Park, who, as a trained musician from youth, brings a refreshing sense of timbre, tempo and scale to his compositions often lacking in today’s experimental music. Despite having released sounds on such legendary netlabels as webbed hands records and magnatune,  as well as several of my current faves, Petroglyph Music,  Vuzh Music and Buddhist on Fire (among many others), since 2004 (!), I’ve only just become aware of his music. Crossing many musical genres with his vision, Mystified’s Moonshine, on Buddhist on Fire is a particularly intriguing release as it takes Park’s sound in a more  motion driven direction with a feeling of long miles spent on endless highways in lonely cars transecting the unwashed underbelly of empty southern expanses with a radio pulling indistinct sounds from an extraterrestrial signal.

Vuzh Music, a netlabel out of Colorado initially founded to release C. Reider’s personal compositions, has also released material by Mystified and Phillip Wilkerson (see below), growing over the years to spawn several sister labels including  dystimbria, and provided me with my first exposure to the incomparable and entrancing Saffron Slumber through his release Piano Drones 1. I’m now an avid follower of his Soundcloud page.

Mystified has also released a 47 minute track, Coming From the Void,  on we are all ghosts, a netlabel out of Motherwell, Scotland. Started by Thomas Mathie, who also presents the podcast circumambient under the moniker headphonaught, waag features expansive, beatless soundscapes that are more meditative than contemplative. The recent V.A. release, Silas & Friends vol. 1, a collection of collaborations between Cousin Silas and fellow ambient enthusiasts like Phillip Wilkerson, Bing Satellites (both of which will be discussed in detail below) and emptywhale (among others), typifies the close comaraderie this community possesses.

Mystified’s  foray into the uncharted terrain of his inner vision continues on his newest release, Music for Journeys, this time on the netlabel he founded, treetrunk records (originally begun as an opportunity for him to release material of his own which had not found a home but which has grouwn to include a pretty impressive roster), and from which you become fully aware of the breath of his compositions. He has clearly become one of the more influential producers, as well as promoters, in the ambient/experimental community through treetrunk records and its sister site, Complex Silence, a “creative challenge (…) to explore the depths of long-form ambient music composed entirely of extremely subtle changes, dissonant harmonies, stretched-out harmonics, abstract tone washes, layers of mystical atmospheres, or field recordings, but without straying too far from beauty, mystery, or wonder” (italics author).

The most recent Complex Silence release, Complex Silence 32, is a collaboration between Phillip Wilkerson & Mystified, a slightly darker, earthier release in this series that will take the listener on a deep journey through both the lower reaches of seamlessly looping drones and the shimmering peaks of crystalline pads and provides a wonderful introduction for those unfamiliar with these releases. Other outstanding offerings in the series include works by both Bing Satellites and Cousin Silas. In particular, my recent discovery of Brin Coleman’s work as Bing Satelites has provided immeasurable pleasure in both listening to his music and discovering the netlabels he has appeared on.

Once again, as is often the case in the experimental music community, not only is Brin a musician, but also operates the netlabel BFW recordings. His most recent release as Bing Satellites on BFW, The Dream, showcases his use of ambient treatments and lush orchestral strings interspersed with  laconic beats and treated found sounds, creating a mesmerizing blend of driving rhythms and ethereal dreamscapes.

And like treetrunk, BFW has also released material from Phillip Wilkerson and Cousin Silas. All three of these artists have also had material released on another of the influential Creative Commons netlabels, Free Floating Music. Originally begun as a music blog by Vancouver based music lover, Brad Ross-MacLeod, in 2007 (becoming Free Floating in 2008), Brad expanded to a netlabel in 2011 and has already posted some of my favorite releases in the ambient scene, the newest being Cousin Silas’s, Whispers Fall. A mournful, elegiac ode to the moments between day and night, light and dark and sleep and wakefulness, Whispers Fall is a collection of 5 tracks (none less than 10 minutes in length) that point decidedly toward everything that I hope for in an ambient release. It has been on repeated play in my headphones for several weeks now.

Finally, Phillip Wilkerson has also collaborated with litmus0001 on the Anubis Music Netlabel release, The Renaissance House Sessions. A collection of 3 tracks written and recorded over the course of one day, it not only shows the warmth and friendship many of these artists have but also highlights the inherent creativity they have in creating such detailed and intricate work in such a brief time period. It also is the debut release from Anubis and so begins another thread that will hopefully lead down many, many currently uncharted paths, allowing us to unearth riches as yet unimagined.

And for your continued listening pleasure, here is the first installment of mixes that will accompany each post as we journey on: it’s a small, small world in netlabel land on mixcloud. Happy travels.