Friday, February 2, 2007

The iPod Challenge!

Phil at Dial M challenges:

post a randomly-generated Ipod playlist on your blog, with relevant commentary

The first ten songs in an all-iPod shuffle produced the following:

- Bob James, Fly By. Yes, smooth jazz. I feel somewhat sensitive about smooth jazz from years of abuse of the genre on jazz and improv mailing lists. But my wife likes smooth jazz, and we share much of the music on the pod. I will say that the smooth jazz players really rock when they play live, and that some summer evenings spent at a nice outdoor theater listening to Dave Koz and friends have been among the most pleasant ever.

- Christopher Bissonette, Proportions in Motion. One of my first emusic acquisitions, Bissonette is an artist on the Kranky label who makes glitchy, droney ambient. According to the Kranky site, Bissonette uses piano and orchestral samples, but his sound most closely reminds me of Christopher Willits and other guitar ambient artists.

- Green Day, American Idiot. I got introduced to Green Day's music last summer at a family wedding. There isn't much else like it in our collection. I've never been a huge fan of punk music, and studiously ignore top-40 music by avoiding commercial radio and other outlets where corporate record companies try to part this particular fool from his money. But I like Green Day. Their melodies are catchy, lyrics interesting, and their songs make for great driving music.

- Univers Zero, La Tete du Corbeau. Out of all the pieces selected here, this one takes me the furthest back memory lane. In the late 1970s, a fondness for Mike Oldfield led me to try other artists on the newly-formed Virgin Records, which led me to Henry Cow, which in turn led me to Chris Cutler's pioneering label and distribution operation, Recommended Records. I quickly became an ardent supporter of Cutler's subscription model, and picked up virtually everything he released. One of the albums was Ceux du dehors, released by the Belgian group Univers Zero in 1981 (the catalogue number was RR 10). They're now considered progressive rock, with this album reissued on the great prog label Cuneiform, but the instrumentation here is drums, keyboards, harmonium, violin/viola, and bassoon/oboe (!), and their lineage is usually tracked more to Bartok and Stravinsky than their proggy contemporaries. Their music was dark and scary, and could not have been further from rock in my young adult mind. Their track Combat, from this same album, reminds me of the great battle scenes in movies like Ran.

- Austere, Puissant (from the Drone Download Project). Stephen Phillips of Dark Duck Records has an project that's starting its fifth year now, collecting tracks from various ambient artists and making them freely available for a short period of time. A very nice deep ambient collection which has pointed me to other releases by the artists involved. Since this is a track by Austere, let me also signal their release Eco, which is in heavy rotation for us at night. A significant portion of our iPod is taken with sleep music, and Eco is designed to be a sleep aid.

- Väinmaa, Lauri, Maja (from Urmas Sisask, Starry Sky Cycle). One of the most interesting discoveries I've made this year has been composers from eastern Europe, including Sisask, Peteris Vasks, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (okay, he's from Denmark), up to more prominent composers like Schnittke. Amazon had a fairly cheap compilation called Northern Lights, from which this track is taken. Sisask's Starry Sky Cycle is a set of short works for piano, for which I hope to track down the score one of these days. I've also been impressed with the vocal music from this part of the world, which Paul Hillier has documented on a number of Baltic Voices CDs. A nice way to use up my emusic subscription tracks at the end of the month.

- Mick Karn, Bestial Cluster. I have a history of finding boutique labels and sampling their artists simply based on sharing the label with someone I like. In this case, the catalyst was David Torn, a guitarist prone to electronic extensions and slithery lines, and the label was the recently-resurrected CMP, which carried not only Torn and Karn, but percussionists Marc Nauseef, Glen Velez and Trilok Gurtu, and some of my earliest exposure to Asian music. As it turned out, Karn was the bass player in Japan, whose singer was David Sylvian, of whom I am also a big fan, but Japan wasn't known to me at the time. (Sylvian's first solo album was on Virgin, which was how I discovered him.) Karn plays fretless bass on his two CMP albums, and the music sounds a lot like the kind of twisted pop that I associate with Eno's post-Roxy rock albums (e.g., Before and After Science, 801).

- Murcof, Reflejo. When I visit other hip urban areas around the country, I try to find the interesting independent record stores. I discovered Murcof at the Wall of Sound in Seattle a couple of years ago because they were playing Murcof's Utopia album on the sound system while I was browsing. I had never heard of Murcof, nor of the Nortec Collective in which Fernando Corona played before going on his own, but Murcof plays a very pretty, minimal techno, similar to Frank Bretschneider. He uses piano and string instrument samples to make a very spacious sound. Reflejo is from his most recent album, Remembranza.

- Emmy Lou Harris, Wrecking Ball. Sometimes it's interesting to follow pop producers when they work outside of their usual sphere. Daniel Lanois collaborated with Brian Eno on some classic albums, including The Pearl (with Harold Budd) and Hybrid (with Michael Brook). While I was following Lanois around, he produced this album for Emmy Lou Harris, of whom I was vaguely aware, but never having been a big country music fan, I had none of her albums. This one's very nice with some great songs, and it's been on every iPod we've ever had (we're on our third, having finally graduated to his-and-hers after the death of our 2nd-generation pod), and as a result has the highest play count of any of the tracks listed here. One amusing side note: I worked for a startup software company for a while, which was so small that all of the engineers (four of us) worked together in one room. The architect of the project didn't like headphones, so we had a boombox for the enjoyment of all. Our junior programmer only liked country music, which the architect hated, so the junior never got much of a chance to put anything in the rotation. I tossed this album in one day, and the junior and the architect got into a big argument over whether this album was country music or not. The ambient stylings and sort of rock background was so foreign to the junior that he couldn't hear the clear and unmistakable country in Harris's voice. I guess that makes this album a genre-bender, because I still don't like country music that much (although we did pick up Harris's recent duet album with Mark Knopfler, Roadrunning).

- Mono, 16.12, from Walking cloud and deep red sky, Flag fluttered and the sun shined. Ah, post-rock! I've become a sucker for this kind of music recently, these epic instrumental tracks played with a standard rock instrumentation, but which seem to me to stem from classical influences just as much. The day we arrived in Tucson last summer, Mono played at the same concert as Pelican, another big name in this area, and to my great regret I was unable to attend (due to just having arrived from a cross-country drive, etc.). Mono's albums are on emusic, and with the length of the tracks, they make quite a bargain there.

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