One night after considerable basement-to-lawn water-relocation activity, I fired up the computer, only to be greeted soon after by the sudden onset of near-total darkness (thank you, PSE & G). I say near-total, because my laptop was still on, having switched to battery power. But my aged titanium PowerBook (which must be all of three or four years old) no longer charges very well, and only ever says it has a half-hour of power left (which actually means it's on the verge of shutting down). Besides, the modem went out too.
So I turned it off and instead of fumbling around for some lights, I went to bed. But I was wide awake, so I located my battery-powered discman and headphones, the plan being to listen to something to lull me to sleep. But of course there was no light, so I couldn't just pop in, say, Trances & Drones or anything by Alio Die. So I picked something at random from the many piles of discs within arm's reach. Here is the result of that search for your amusement. The first disc I selected turned out to be:
1. Kettel – Through Friendly Waters (Sending Orbs)
Kettel is a Dutch person/ensemble (I think person), and this is Sending Orbs 001, from a couple of years ago. I've only listened to it a couple of times, but after a few minutes I identified it correctly, which was harder than you might think, as quite a bit of contemporary ambient sounds somewhat like this. There was something about the sequencers though which sounded familiar. After a couple of tracks I found it too busy for my present purposes, so I moved on, to
2. Sogar – Basal (12k)
This too I recognized pretty quickly (although I did get a hint from the slimline case). Here also we have a common style (minimal/pointillist DSP stuff, like virtually everything else on that label), so it wasn't obvious. I like this disc, but I didn't want to hear it just then. Next:
3. Sandoz – Digital Lifeforms (Touch)
Some people swear by the amazingly prolific Richard H. Kirk (ex-Cabaret Voltaire, if you remember them), and I have a number of his discs under various monikers, but I don't. Swear by him, that is. This one is from 1993, and it has some good tracks on it, but like his other discs it's very beaty and not what I was looking for. I failed to identify it, by the way. I listened to most of track 1, not liking its plodding drumbeats at all and wondering what mistake I had made, that this disc takes up space in my collection (but as I said, some later tracks are good). I forget the exact order of the next few discs I chose. One of them was
4. Daniel Menche – Beautiful Blood (Alien8)
Menche is one of the premier American noise artists, and I have several of his discs. This one is billed as being a bit more ambient/listenable than the others, which I suppose it is, compared to, say, legions in the walls, but after several portentous low piano notes at the beginning of track 1, a tremendous burst of static reveals what sort of disc this is. Track two is indeed more drony, and might have worked, but I had not pegged this as either Menche or this particular disc, so I didn't try it.
5. Alp – at home with alp
This one begins with several minutes of rumbling, and I impatiently took it to be one of those avant-garde discs that sounds better on the page than in the ear; and indeed it turns out to have a semi-trendy conceptual-art-ish component, in that all the sounds are derived (as the disc's title suggests) from objects found in the home (track 1: disk drive, kettle, washing machine). I ejected it quickly; but like the Menche disc, if on a smaller scale, this is a fine semi-noisy effort. In fact I think I'll listen to it all later. This is the first Alp disc; his second, out and about with alp, uses found recordings from outside, and has some lovely ambient tracks.
6. Greg Davis – somnia (Kranky)
Here we have a promising title (but of course I couldn't see it). And in fact for heavily DSPed computer music it's very drifty and ambient (as we might expect given the label, home of Stars of the Lid and suchlike). On the other hand, for drifty ambient it has more of a harsh digital edge than one would really want if one is indeed hoping to drift off to sleep. Maybe I'll listen to this one too.
7. Shostakovich – String Quartets 3, 8, & 13 (Fitzwilliam String Quartet)
This was not what I wanted either. Of course I could have gotten a light and located something non-random (looking now, I see several candidates at or near the top of the various piles: not only Alio Die, but Jeff Greinke, Oöphoi, Thomas Köner, Synthetika, shuttle358, etc.). But I was determined to stick it out. Of course this is a great disc too. I recognized it immediately, although I knew it was #3 not because I know it that well, but because it's the only opening work on any single-disc Shostakovich quartet collection I own (I've got two cycles) -- oh wait, I might have a 7, 13, 14 somewhere. You might think #3 was an early work, but DSch didn't start writing quartets right away (good move), and #3 turns out to be a middle-period work from 1946, about the same time as the Ninth Symphony, and totally rocks. Which is not what I wanted to do.
8. Robert Wyatt – shleep (thirsty ear)
Okay, now I know someone's mocking me. The front painting (by Alfreda Benge, Robert's wife) even shows Robert asleep on the back of a gigantic bird. But the music, great as it is (all-star cast, including Evan Parker, Phil Manzanera, Brian Eno, Paul Weller, and Philip Catherine), is not sleepy at all. The opening track, "Heaps of Sheeps," about trying to get to sleep, has been running through my head ever since. Here's a lyrical excerpt:
Still not sleeping,As it says on the back of the disc (tweaking Hamlet, no doubt): "fat chance to dream".
I tried counting sheep.
One by one,
they leapt across the fence
constructed for them.
Right to left,
across the fence I had constructed.
they refused further direction.
Each sheep, where it landed,
refusing to exit, remained.
(Creating a vast writhing heap
growing fast on the left).
Try as I might,
I could not stop them entering
Try as they might,
not one could leave the stage.
9. various artists – Infraction Sampler 1: Fall/Winter 2005-2006
A short but glorious bath of frayed string chords greets my ear. Here, finally, we have some seriously ambient material, from a fine microlabel dedicated to same. (Check website here.) I did have some trouble IDing this disc though. A CDR was generously included with one of my orders as compensation for having waited so long for a pre-order, and as I have most of the tracks on the discs themselves, I hadn't listened to this one that much. I should have gotten the Ultra Milkmaids/Aidan Baker track (track 3), but it just hadn't occurred to me that this disc might be an anthology, and I was still puzzled about track 2 (an unreleased track by Mifune), which was a very nice guitar/echo piece in a sort of muted Günter Schickert mode. At one point I did indeed start thinking Andrew Liles-y thoughts (track 5), but I knew the whole disc couldn't be him, and I still hadn't put two and two together. If I had stuck it out through track 10 (a track from a forthcoming reissue of Tetsu Inoue's classic World Receiver, which everyone should snap up immediately when it arrives), I would have understood; but I was indeed starting to fall asleep by track 7 or so, so I quit.
But I have learned my lesson: I have placed the Matthias Grassow/Klaus Wiese disc mercurius (Arya) where I can locate it even in the dark.
UPDATE: The World Receiver reissue, I see, has been out for some time. Go get it!