Good Music We Can Know

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Synthesist Map of the World: Peru Mega-Post

This should surprise exactly none of you, but I am fascinated by records that propose to take the listener on a global journey, to arrange exotic locations along an exhibitionary order and then take you to those places via audio-voyage and armchair travel.  I love it when exotica records do it, obviously, and there's a uniquely delicious imperial flavor when library LPs go for it.  But oh the synth and e-music albums offer a nebulous delight as well; generally less dependent on intentionally exoticizing elements, synth records come at the third world/ancient world/exotic other with a sort of New Age optimism combined with alien remove.  It's a strange and strangely winning combo, one we find in a lot of 70's/80's synth and new age music, particularly Dieter Schutz, Deuter, or Edgar Froese's solo albums Ages and the sublime Epsilon in Malaysian Pale.  But nowhere is it better exemplified than in the career of Peru, an offshoot of the Dutch band Nova.

(I know I've covered some of these albums before, but bear with me as I go over them again.)

Peru's Continents (1983) is one of my favorite albums of synth-travelogue and electro-exoticism, taking the listener as it does to various points of the globe (mainly Africa and the "Orient"). As though via spaceship, Continents looks down at the landscape, occasionally even touches down, but never really seems to leave the ship.  Maybe it's all taking place in a simulator bay.  Textual analysis aside, it's also just excellent electronic music, just on the right side of pop without falling too deep in cheese; very sparse and austere in a majestic way but still extremely inviting.  Its goal is pleasure and universalism, without a doubt, not the mind-fuck of the electronic avant garde, and it pursues its goal much in the way of late or mid-period Tangerine Dream or Jean Michel Jarre's Oxygene, with emphasis on accessible and evocative melodic structure, pulsing sequencers, and huge embryonic oceans of soundscape.  Especially transportive is "Savane" (with its artificial bird and elephant calls), and the following track, the superb "Africa."


Predating Continents, Peru debuted (originally as a more "serious" offshoot of the more populist Nova) with 1981's Macchu Picchu, another exotic-leaning effort which seems to have set the standard of geographical synth-sploration that came to define the majority of Peru's output.  Macchu Picchu is a real delight, the most spare and mythic sounding work of the whole ouvre.  Side one is a bit of a grab bag: opening with the minimal and avian-themed "Voliere," it transitions with an aquatic wash into "Draailierswals" (or "Hurdy-Gurdy Waltz"), then to "Sons of Dawn," which opens with the intonation: "We are the Sons of Dawn.  We come from a star system you haven't spotted yet.  We are programmed to entertain you with music from our minds...." and continues on in a ufology-inspired alien-messiah manner, then opens up to an  almost goofily optimistic instrumental (Nova actually used this one for the basis of their own hit, "Aurora").  Side two is where it gets primeval and exotic: a three-part suite, possibly concerning Ufology and intergalactic intervention in relation to the Peruvian site of Macchu Picchu (if I were to extrapolate based on the info at hand, that's what I imagine).  This material is really wonderful, heavy and haunting in a manner similar to some of the best Tangerine Dream (albeit with a much, much thinner sound).  I love this record; the original cover (pictured above) is so amazing to me.


Peru followed with 1982's Constellations, a much more cosmic-themed record that nonetheless hints at taking the listener on a journey of sorts to a sampling of various points– this time, in the night sky.  It's not as though each track is named after a constellation, however, or intended to evoke the essence of their symbolic avatars (and it's not an astrology-themed record, thank heavens).  Constellations is interested in more impressionistic responses to star-gazing (or perhaps star-travel, who knows), with titles such as "Déjà Vu" and " Out Of Time."  A bit fuller and darker in sound, it's also dizzyingly, almost plagiaristically close to the Oxygene sound (except for the motorik warp-drive of the title track), but in a good way.  One of the truly great space records, with undertones of a cosmic travelogue.


Peru followed Continents three years later with another geographical odyssey, Points of the Compass.  It continues its predecessor's aesthetic by edging a little further into various borderline-cheesy sound effects and settings, but ultimately to wonderful effect.  It's also committed to conveying the listener on a virtual voyage to the titular points of the compass, including both a "West Mountain" and "East Mountain," "Black Desert," "Northern Lights" and "China Town." The latter is a highlight of the record and a particularly enjoyable bit of synth-chinoiserie; endlessly more essentialized than something like the very similar China by Vangelis but nonetheless delightful.  Another highlight is the epic title track. 


1988 found Peru holding it down fairly well, with the release of Forlian.  The compositions are consistently pretty good and very much of a piece with the earlier work, even as they incorporate an ever-broadening palette of sounds, including the occasional wordless vocal.  I'm not sure what I'm missing in the title and cover art (I have no idea what either the word or the image might mean), but the theme of travel is once again the driving force of the record.  "Iceland" is cold and stern but bubbling with life, "Whales" is a tad bombastic and heroic like a chopper shot of a pod from above, "East and West" is just classic sequencer-heavy stuff, and "Journey Through the Land" is a lot like one of those misty Vangelis epics.   


Also in '88, Peru released "Africa" as a single and had some success with it.  The release has three versions of the track, none of which is dramatically different from the original (except that they're a lot shorter).  Still, it was a great track and the single has an enchanting cover. 


Peru did make two more albums, 1991's Moon and 1993's The Prophecies.  The latter loses me quite a bit, but isn't wholly without merit (it is way into the 90's club sound though).  Moon is actually pretty decent, managing to hold on to much of that early 80's sound even at the dawn of the 90's; it also maintains the travel aesthetic.  The track "Peruviana" has a lot going for it, as does "Jules Verne" and "China 2000."  Still, a great deal of it starts to seem silly, particularly with the overuse of gated drums, and a general decline in quality of composition.  These can both be found over at Synthesized & Electronic, which is also where I found several of the others here (along with The Growing Bin).  There's not much of a commenting culture over there, but if the spirit moves you to thank the S&E blogmaster it wouldn't be a bad idea.  Definitely poke around, maybe grab some Nova records.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Flash Strap Presents: Piero Umiliani- Esotico Ossessione

Good news for those of you out there who enjoyed my Roger Roger and Nino Nardini compilation, Obsession Exotique-- I've done a similar thing with that other unbelievable maestro of library exoticisms, Piero Umiliani.  I do hope you find it to be an enjoyable outing.

Umiliani has produced a great wealth of material, much of it exotic in one way or another.  I've done my best to draw from as much of his ouvre as possible (at least what I can hunt down, which is a lot but not everything), and of course a few LPs loom rather large: Continente Nero, Africa, Polinesia, La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna, and L'Isole dell'Amore.  A great many of the best tracks from those albums are present here, along with many others from the wide catalog of Omicron and beyond, both library LPs and soundtrack work.  In an attempt to put them in as interesting and productive a new context as possible, I've collected them in a vaguely narrative order across two sprawling volumes, each concerned with its own themes.  Volume one, Esplorazione, deals in exploration: danger, adventure, mysticism, ethno-encounter.  Volume two, Paradiso, is paradise: sensuality, relaxation, sex, happiness.  Heart of Darkness, followed by Loti's Rarahu.  Each track title is accompanied by a parenthetical concerning the originating album and, when necessary, an English translation (the best I can do, anyway).

Play vol.1 as you canoe down the dark jungle river of madness and immensity, then pop on vol.2 once you land on the beach and start sippin' out of a coconut and smelling the noa noa fragrance of "the islands."

Mondo Inquieto, track 13 (from Mondo Inquieto, "Troubled World")
Viaggio Nel Tempo ("Time Travel"; from Genti e Paesi del Mondo, "Peoples and Countries of the World")
Nel Villaggio ("In The Village" from Continente Nero, "Dark Continent")
Nuove Realtà ("New Realities" from Continente Nero)
Exploration (from To-Day's Sound)
Cantata Per Maryam (from La Ragazza Fuori Strada)
Oasi (from Continente Nero)
Bongos en Suspense (from Percussions)
Erbe magiche ("Magic Herbs" from Polinesia)
Il Santone dell'Isola ("The High Priest of the Island" from La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna, "The Girl with the Skin of the Moon")
Ultimo Stregone ("Last Sorcerer" from Continente Nero)
Canoe (from Polinesia)
Danza della Luna ("Moon Dance" from La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna)
Arabian Synthetyzer (from Synthi Time)
Un'Isola Felice ("A Joyful Island" from La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna)
Lonely Village (from Africa)
Saudade (from Angeli Bianchi… Angeli Neri)
Rite (from Africa)
Danza Magica (from Polinesia)
Drums Suspence (from Africa)
Viaggio Nel Tempo #2 ("Time Travel" from Genti e Paesi del Mondo)
Pelle di Luna - feat. Edda Dell'Orso ("Moon Skin" from La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna)
Richiamo del Golfo ("Call of the Gulf" from Polinesia)
Stream- alt. (from Il Corpo, "The Body")
Tropical River (from To-Day's Sound)
Savana (from Il Corpo)
Continente Nero (from Continente Nero)
Stella del Sud ("Southern Star" from La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna)
Funerailles d'un Heros ("Hero Funerals" from La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna)
Nostalgia (from La Ragazza Fuori Strada)

Desert Island (from Il Corpo, "The Body")
Momento Ritmico (from Effetti Musicali)
La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna ("The Girl With the Skin of the Moon" from La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna)
Princess - alt. (from Il Corpo)
Le Isole Dell'Amore ("The Islands of Love" from Le Isole Dell'Amore)
La Foresta Incantata ("The Enchanted Forest" from Angeli Bianchi… Angeli Neri)
Crepuscolo Sul Mare ("Twilight On The Sea" from La Legge Dei Gangsters)
Isola Sperduta ("Desert Island" from Le Isole Dell'Amore)
Desert Island #2 (from Il Corpo)
Sotto le Palme ("Under the Palm Trees" from Polinesia)
Sotto le Palme #2 ("Under the Palm Trees" from Polinesia)
The Body (from Il Corpo)
Synthi Pianola (from Synthi Time)
Venere Creola ("Creole Venus" from Venere Creola)
Addio Isola Felice ("Goodbye, Joyful Island" from La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna)
Seychelles Isole Dimenticate ("Seychelles, the Forgotten Islands" from La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna)
Il Tamoure' dei Bambini ("The Children of Bambini" from Le Isole Dell'Amore)
Isola Tuttofare ("Island Handyman" Le Isole Dell'Amore)
Vita Pigra Ai Tropici ("Lazy Life In The Tropics" from Piccola Jam)
Laguna Tropicale ("Tropical Lagoon" from La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna)
Blue Lagoon (from To-Day's Sound)
Lady Magnolia (from To-Day's Sound)
Synthi Melody (from Synthi Time)
Plenilunio ("Full Moon" from Polinesia)
Green Dawn (from Africa)
Nuku (from Le Isole Dell'Amore)
Synthi Marcia (from Synthi Time)

VOL.1: esplorazione
VOL.2: paradiso

Notes on the album art: vol.1 has an image from Thor Heyerdahl's Aku-Aku: The Secret of Easter Island (the snake is an unidentified image from an old encyclopedia).  vol.2 features a photo from Bengt Danielsson's Gauguin in Tahiti.  Yes, both authors were part of the crew of the Kon-Tiki, fancy that.

Oh, and here's some great footage from La Ragazza Dalla Pelle di Luna:

Friday, February 7, 2014

Collages Musicales: Antropoloops

I just want to take a moment to say that I really like this project and I admire the way it's carried out: Antropoloops.  Sound collages of music from various far-flung regions, full of interesting juxtapositions and propelled by infectious rhythm, each track accompanied by a world map (detailing each geographic point from which a fragment is derived) and individual art (a collage assembled from the LP covers of each of the fragments).  This is how it should be done, in my opinion, and it has my profound respect as a fellow artist, collagist, collector, and student of cross-cultural exchange and phenomena.

It's also really good, musically, and fun to listen to.  No imposed beats, no extraneous gestures towards contemporaneity, and really good, smart construction that's exciting to listen to-- both aesthetically and textually-- as it unfolds. 

Go check out the site, listen to the tunes, drop a comment if you please-- and download the mixtape, I doubt you'll regret it.

A bit of explanation, from the site:

This project is like a celebration. A celebration of the diversity of musical expressions in different cultures and historical moments. And a celebration of the amazing possibilities that the web offers as far as knowledge sharing and the collective construction of a common public domain.
I have always been fascinated by the presence of something close and familiar in distant and culturally alien music. I think this project responds in part to this fascination, or at least i see it as a way to work with it.
All songs uploaded are based on a fragment of a song, to which other fragments are added following a set of minimal rules:
  1. The tone is not changed, all loops are in their original tones
  2. Only small time adjustments are made so that the original character of the song does not vary in excess.
  3. Working with 8 tracks, there are a maximum of 8 loops playing together 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"A Queer Tone Hovered in the Air- Could It Be a Girl?": Norrie Paramor- Amor, Amor! (1961)

This would have been an easy record to pass by.  My goodness, what an unappealing cover.  I ran into this one in a thrift bin somewhere and almost ignored it, but because there was definitely something unsettling about this gal's eyes, I lingered.  After taking a look at the tracklist, I figured it was worth 50 cents and took it home.

I'm glad I did.  It's no masterpiece, but it's actually pretty great.  It's a sort of late-period, exotica-lite LP of a rather common variety, centered on "Latin Standards" and padded out with the usual suspects (Lecuona, "Baia", etc.).  The sound is generally pleasant-- the string section isn't overly saccharine, and the percussion is tame but rather delightfully full, mixed to the front and sort of round and juicy.  Nice stuff, but if it were just that and nothing more, I don't know if I'd have mentioned it here.  The kicker on this album, for me, is that it features a really weird, naggingly off female vocal on some of the tracks (a commenter, der bajazzo, has pointed out that these vocals belong to a Patricia Clark)

There are no vocal tracks per se-- she's mostly employed as an accent or bit of punctuation at the end of the song (Latin rumbas used to do this a lot too, end an instrumental with a few bars of the vocal).  I don't mean she's a bad singer (this isn't an Ethel Azama or Sondi Sondsai situation), though she's not a conspicuously good singer either (in the vein of Yma Sumac or something)-- it's just that she's used really weirdly.  It's the kind of off-putting, slightly dissonant (but also decadent, exotic) accenting you see all over exotica, in the form of, say, bird calls, or ethnic instruments simplistically played for effect, or electronic sounds.  Come to think of it, this lady sounds like a less-shrill theremin, a quality that must have been noted by Norrie Paramor himself: on "Luna Rosa (Blushing Moon)", he seems to be doubling her creamily caterwauling vocals with a moog or perhaps another synthesizer (could be a weird orchestra effect, however).  The result is metallic, intriguingly dissonant, alienating, inhuman, and totally befuddling.  The first time I heard it, I remember doing a classic double-take.  The thing is, it's so subtle and out-of-place (even on what is a slightly bizarre record) that it just bugs you out, it makes you feel crazy.  It's definitely the highlight of the record.

At this point, I may have over-hyped Amor, Amor! somewhat.  It's no lost masterpiece, and it's hardly a significant oddity of any real heft.  I do enjoy playing it, however, and I've played it a lot.  So it endures. 

AMOR, AMOR! (320)

(Anybody holding a good copy of Gene Rains' Lotus Land or Rains in the Tropics which they wouldn't mind sharing?  I'd love to do a post on him but my rips are bad, just bad.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Flash Strap Mixtape on Magia Negra Tomorrow *Updated*

In a follow-up to the interview at Magia Negra, I wanted to let you all know that they also asked me to put together a mixtape, and that that mix will be airing at 1pm tomorrow (that's 1pm Portugal time, so that would be, I think, 8am US East coast).  You can check it out here at RUC's site, or just go straight to the live feed.

I'll also post a link when they put an uploaded version on the Magia Negra site, but I thought I would do this post now for the benefit of those of you out there who are either invested in the magic of hearing live radio live, or whose schedules overlap at all with that time.  Thanks for listening, and I'll be back soon with new posts.

UPDATE: here's the link to that mix.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Flash Strap Interview with Magia Negra (now with link)

Magia Negra, the excellent black magic-and-music radio show on Portugal's RUC, just published an interview with yours truly.  Please check it out, if you like.  It's a sprawling chitchat across a wide range of subjects related to music, art, culture, and collecting.

And while you're indulging me, please check out my artist website.  It has just a few choice things on display now, but it will soon be bursting with content, once I finish fully documenting my book.

New music posts coming soon.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Flash Strap Presents: Exotiste•Control Car, The Jaws of the Pink Widow (Lalo Schifrin's Black Widow)

When I first heard Lalo Schifrin's 1976 disco-jazz LP, Black Widow, I was simultaneously excited and disappointed.  Schifrin's work is often amazing, and the idea that he might pack an album with exotica standards and tackle them with a heavy disco funkiness and complex jazzy interplay (replete with synths) is a potential promise of paradise indeed.  And it is a really cool album, in places-- depending on your taste for disco, it may well rank as a minor masterpiece-- but for my money, the disco was a little too far over that slick line, so polished and sleazy that it's hard to get a grip on that burnished and speeding surface.  It's not that the rhythms aren't deep and fat, nor that the musicians aren't doing interesting, invested work.  Maybe it's just me, but when I heard Black Widow I thought to myself, this pony needs to slow itself right on down.

So I did just that, as I have done before, both on the Exotiste series and Afrokraut•Control Car.  It may make for an interesting supplement to Lalo's own album, or just a great cruisin' soundtrack.  I like it a lot, myself.  The Exotica tracks (Quiet Village, Tabu, Frenesi, Flamingo, and two versions of Baia) were the draw for me, obviously, and they make up the bulk of the thing's runtime, but the biggest standout is "Jaws."  Lalo's own version is the jewel of the original as well (and a bit of a hit in '76), dark and funky and naturally very menacing.  The chopped-and-screwed version here is a lot of fun to my ears, stretched out to ten intense minutes of prowling danger: I picture an eyebrow-less Scwarzenegger from the first Terminator, on patrol in that cop car, on his way to meet up with that guy with the cowboy hat at the leather bar in CruisingAnd then a great pink shark collides explosively with a mack truck in an industrial setting ringed with palm trees underneath a nuclear sunset. This, I picture.

Allow me, then, to present The Jaws of the Pink Widow, the best tracks of Schifrin's album treated to the Exotiste•Control Car touch, a sludgy armageddon of exotica tracks retooled for Robocop funk and dangerous dancing.


And here's the original.  It's not my favorite thing ever but it's still a hell of a something.  If you're really into disco and damn-it-all you like your disco a little slick, then this is a holy grail.  Definitely highly recommended. 


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In Search of the Waters of Oblivion: John Tender- Fantasyland Vol. 1 (1981?)

As we slide like snails down the edge of a straight razor, utterly doomed to tip our inarticulate bodies over the side and into the precipitous chasm of an unknown and unknowable new year, I feel like Sadak in search of the Waters of Oblivion, hanging by a finger and struggling to rise, unable to discern what exotic surprises or apocalyptic ruinations may befall me at the top of the in the daunting and inscrutable mountain of the future, but helpless to stop my ascent.

What better sonic guide for such a compulsory transition into the void than John Tender's Fantasyland?  Future exoticism, an expedition into the unknown, full of lead-heavy dread and breathtaking wonder.  Every track is a perfect marvel, clear as a crystal in the pink sun and heavy as a storm cloud on Jupiter.  So highly recommended, so deeply necessaryWelcome to the end of today, see you tomorrow.


PS: This rip originally came from the luminary blog Lunar Atrium, whose now-emptied treasury was a hall of wonders now sorely missed.  Thanks brother.  There is a volume two, and I don't have it, so allow me to beseech you all to toss me a link if you're holding.  Please!  Ten pleases, all pretty.

And permit me to apologize for being so long inactive this month, the throbbing of life is at times overwhelming for us all (and my how the jingles do bell away our days).  Rest assured I have many plans for the coming days and weeks, including an Obsession Exotique centered on Piero Umiliani, as well as just some regular ol' extremely excellent exotica, funk, and synth music that's been kickin around in my ears.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Savage Toy Recommendation: The Tropicals- Urumbamba (1972)

Of all the incredible, one-of-a-kind treasures over at Boxes of Toys, Urubamba is a major highlight for folks, like myself, on the eternal exotica hunt.  Just in case any of you in my readership were unaware of the business over at Boxes of Toys, it's sort of my solemn duty to tip you to this thrilling LP of Italian library exotica.

It's got this classic, very cool sound, not super original but still subtly unique-- a toy-box simplicity with fat grooves and sugary lines of wordless vocals-- the sort of thing that would fit ever-so-nicely between Jungle Obsession and Umiliani's Africa/Polinesia, without really being more of the same in either (or any) category.

The link below will take you to Boxes of Toys.  Grab the link while it's still live (it's in the comments).  Two things: almost every other track on this album is, in my very humble opinion, even cooler and weirder than the one in the soundcloud sample, so just trust me that this LP is the bizarro bee's knees if you have any doubts.  The other thing: For the love of all things good, be thankful in the comments (specifically over there, not here, though I love and welcome your comments always).  I ask this of you.


There's lots of great stuff over there too (like this and this), check it all out.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jungle Drums in the Primordial Wasteland

I'd like to present to you all a piece of work that I've recently completed: a three-part video suite, comprised of re-edited dinosaur claymation videos, salvaged from my elementary school library and transferred from VHS tape.  Intensively sound-designed and re-scored to be saturated with Exotica, library, and cosmic synth music. 

I won't lie to you-- I do have lofty aspirations and intellectual arguments for this work.  I hope that it functions as more than a nostalgia-steeped supercut for the Exotica-niche (in many ways, it is better served as a real-life installation-video piece, where one may be more easily encouraged to experience the work in an immersive fashion, rather than the immediate-gratification environment of a youtube video).  While those aspirations are true and earnest and hopefully not too tiresome, I want to say that when making this kind of work, the most important guiding principle, for me, is to create provocative entertainments.  (In the vein of Jodorowski's midnight movies, or 2001:A Space Odyssey, among many, many others., which were for thinkers and stoners alike, or even for the thinking stoned, a not-rare but too-rarely mentioned or respected type.) 

Which is to say, I hope for the viewer to be able to participate in the fantasy, illusion, or distilled nostalgia whilst allowing for engagement in something like a personal examination or philosophical critique (pseudo-science/infotainment as a coded language of poetics or propaganda, the timeless past as an exoticized temporal fiction, the primeval as a twin to the post-apocalypse and manifestation of a human longing for annihilation or nonexistence, the constructed narrative of the dinosaurs as a sort of martyr-allegory in humanity's modern creation-myth, memory fragmenting and purifying fact into surreal new forms which are crumbling and unstable, etc., etc., blah blah blah)

So I hope you enjoy, and don't feel that you have to think too hard unless you want to.  If you're extremely generous, you'll pull them up on a big screen and settle into them like a movie.  Or just click and watch, and have my gratitude for your eyes.

With all that ado and nothing more, I'd like to present to you:

Millions of Years Ago: A Primeval Bolero in Three Parts
Concerning the Origins of Man and the Savage Early Days of the Earth
For the Edification and Pleasure of the Audience: In Order to Please the Eye and Excite the Imagination

(click the images to link to videos)