Welcome to a holiday edition of my monthly newsletter covering what I’ve been up to and what’s been catching my attention.
Flowmatic Blood Moon is a piece, available in the form of a (single episode) podcast, that combines Shadi Bazeghi’s poetry and the music of Mansoor Hosseini, with the overall montage and sound design by yours truly. It’s Poetisk Podcast’s first bilingual ‘production’ and I’m very pleased to be able to share it more widely.
Since there’s not all that much information on Mansoor available online, I thought it might be interesting to conduct an interview with him, which is now also available as a bonus episode. We discuss his origins as a refugee from Iran, his studies in Europe and rediscovery of Persian culture, dance, movement, kung fu, Frank Zappa, underground cultures in present-day Iran, and his approach to creating the music for the podcast, amongst other things.
All the attention on Iran took me back to My Persian Love – one of my favourite Holger Czukay tracks, built around recorded Iranian shortwave broadcasts. That also served as one of my reference points in terms of shaping, with copious use of Felt Instruments’ Rysy filter, the overall sound of the podcast piece.
Some of the Iranian vocal techniques on the Czukay track are unfolded more extensively in the Khyam Allami microtonality playlist that I mentioned in the previous newsletter. From 1:18:37 to 1:31:27 one can listen to Alim and Fargana Qasimov singing spiritual music from nearby Azerbaijan.
The Wire published an article on the power of radio to connect, in which it mentions The Boat Woman Song from Czukay’s Canaxis album, created in the year I was born and released in 1969. And via that track YouTube automatically sent me on to the Ode to Perfume from his album On the Way to the Peak of Normal, released in 1981. I’d listened to more recent versions that Czukay released on the Claremont 56 label in the years leading up to his death in 2017 (more on that process in Fantasy and Discipline), and especially in the case of My Persian Love appreciated the clarity and polish of his later version, but listening to the 18 minutes of the original Ode to Perfume brought home to me the delight of the first album version, and got me re-evaluating my original take on it all. The sound and overall arch of the track (filling one side of an LP back then) is wonderful. The ‘seams’ are clearer – but as David Sylvian pointed out in his 2018 article for The Quietus, that’s a feature, not a bug.
Holger had added some more samples, a minor piano motif, a flute sample, etc., accompanied by some very radical, audible, editing. I thought this very brave. I remember I once played Holger’s ‘Movies’ to an engineer I was working with. He kept laughing, part admiringly, part mockingly, at the seeming technical ‘errors’ in the work. But this was one aspect of Holger’s approach that helped him find and explore his own, I dislike the term idiosyncratic, unique means of utilizing technology for his own innovative ends.
Those ‘seams’, left audible, remind me of the philosopher Richard Wollheim’s take on Manet in his wonderful book Painting as an Art – how the painter used certain elements: brushstrokes, strange backgrounds etc. (at the time viewed as inept), to pull the viewer back to the surface of the painting, just as they might be loosing themselves in the illusion of the image or the psychology of the person portrayed.
And as on more thing in YouTube’s never-ending stream of suggestions, here’s a quirky 1991 German TV documentary on Czukay that I hadn’t come across before. In it one gets to see the converted cinema studio the David Sylvian describes, along with the four large reel to reel machines that Holger did his editing on.
David Sylvian also recently uploaded some footage from the recording sessions for his album Brilliant Trees, released in 1984. In it one can see Holger Czukay with the IBM 212 dictaphones that he used extensively on the album. It’s wonderful to get the chance to see him in action with those machines. As David Sylvian explains:
Samplers in those days were completely inflexible. But he’d found this IBM machine – two of them – in a dumpster outside an office building in Cologne, and he could move the playback head of the Dictaphone across the tape at random speeds, and so it really made it a marvellously flexible instrument.
How many hours in my teens and twenties (and later life too) did I spend immersed in the extended percussion coda that closes the title track at the end of the album? Delightful to get a peek behind the scenes after all these years.
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Another dive into the past:
Listening to “Blue” Gene Tyranny’s Degrees of Freedom Found (a wonderful title, the more I think about it), and increasingly appreciating The Driver’s Son the more I listen to it, got me thinking about Robert Ashley again – specifically about a story involving “Blue” and a risky South American border crossing. Something about standing in line and having to make a decision, based on some kind of shamanistic spiritual answer, as to whether to continue, with the risk of imprisonment, and choosing to go through with it – with success. My recollection is of reading the story, some 20 years ago, in the apartment I used to live in, in The Hague. Probably in connection with a recording of The Backyard (probably) lent to me by Nathan Fuhr. I’m wondering if it had something to do with Robert Ashely’s opera eL/Aficionado in which one of the scenes is “A Simple Border Crossing”.
A group of scenes from the life of an Agent. The scenes are a kind of debriefing to a jury of Interrogators, in which the Interrogators challenge the Agent in various forms of musical dialogue.
No amount of searching has however turned anything up. On closer thought it might very well be a story involving Sam Ashley, Robert Ashley’s son and a regular performer in his operas, who practiced shamanism for most of his life. See the letter that he shared with New Music Box on the occasion of Robert Ashley’s death.
It’s curious how wanting to get to the bottom of a (seemingly inconsequential) memory like that can take hold. I’ll let you know if anything turns up.
It occurs to me that’s there’s a little theme around interior life that’s emerged here: Wollheim’s back and forth between the interior life of the viewer and that of the subjects portrayed in Manet’s portraits. Or in the Czukay TV documentary a description comparing him with a church cantor – always in contact with an inner life, even as he moves through the city. Or as BGT described Ashley’s eL/Aficionado:
…a grand metaphor for the interior life of most of us who question our actions and thoughts at different times in our lives.
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I got round to making the ‘alt text’ archive for my Lockdown Photo project: A version with the alt-text descriptions instead of the usual collection of image thumbnails as an overview. Not always strictly speaking descriptions, but certainly on and around the photographs in question. Small stepping stones to the images themselves. It’s been interesting (freeing!) to write texts that while strictly speaking public, are at the same time somewhat hidden. I’ve enjoyed that the descriptions aren’t immediately visible, also in terms of posting, since that allowed for adding/filling them in later in some cases. There’s also something nice in simply being able to present an image without necessarily having to include a whole spiel around it every time.
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I haven’t gotten that much further in exploring the Sho-like just-intonation drones that I mentioned in last month’s newsletter, but I did get to listen a little more to some of Pauline Oliveros’ justly-intoned accordion recordings:
Horse Sings From Cloud is a good example:
Horse Sings From Cloud taught me to listen to the depth of a tone and to have patience. Rather than initiating musical impulses of motion, melody and harmony I wanted to hear the subtlety of a tone taking space and time to develop. The tones linger and resonate in the body, mind, instrument and performance space. ~ Pauline Oliveros, 2007
All the best
One last thing: Amidst increasing dismay around the mismatch between words and action on the part of multinationals and governments when it comes to the climate crisis, here’s something that restored a little hope for me. Kiss the Ground is a film (available on Netflix) as well as a site, podcast, blog etc. that demonstrates some simple steps that can be taken when it comes to our approach to agriculture and the consequences in terms of the release and capture of C02. Wonderful in how simple and low-tech (almost no-tech) it is.