An experiment in Audacity. Starting with Steve Roach‘s Mist of Perception as the base (overall track volume lowered), I layered tracks from Chris Russell‘s new album, Portal on top @ various intervals…for a just over 52 minute long-form piece that I’ve had on ear-buds this week.
In 1985, Brian Eno released a CD called Thursday Afternoon. The hourlong work was the soundtrack to a video piece, a project notable for two uses of technology. One, the video was meant to be viewed on a television placed on its side (there’s a YouTube rip out there that requires you to rotate your laptop). And with its 61-minute runtime, Thursday Afternoon was promoted as the first piece to be created specifically for compact disc. Before the arrival of the CD a couple of years before, works of such duration had to be spread across sides. And since Thursday Afternoon was an immersive ambient piece in the classic Eno mold, the idea that you could absorb it uninterrupted in one hour-long session was important.
Thursday Afternoon seemed to drift in place; it was music that seemed not so much “played” as “allowed to exist.” Its structure brought to mind wind chimes, as a handful of individually pleasing elements– a few notes of piano, some light synth treatments– knocked around the space arbitrarily but seemed to benefit from the lack of order. Eno’s first true ambient work, Discreet Music, from 1975, was his first example of the form; there, he generated a handful of electronic synth tones and allowed them to cycle through chance patterns (the title track from that album also pushed the limits of technology, with over 30 minutes of audio on a single LP side). And now, Eno’s new solo album, first created for an art installation, is another. Lux consists of four tracks spread across 75 minutes, but you don’t really know where one ends and another begins and it doesn’t matter. Like those earlier works, a small number of sounds that complement each other are set loose in a space and allowed to move around in different configurations, with subtle patterns sometimes emerging from the randomness. The most prominent of these sounds is single piano notes played quietly, which further connects the work to Thursday Afternoon in the Eno lineage. But where the 1985 album felt submerged and ghostly, Lux is clear and bright, with the crisp higher harmonics allowed to come through.
The other Eno work that comes to mind with Lux isn’t a CD, but yet another boundary-pushing use of technology, and that’s his iPhone app Bloom. The basic elements of light, thin drone mixed with piano notes that strike, decay, and play against other notes is also the central idea of Bloom. The danger with a program like Bloom, where Eno creates a generative system that allows the listener to make his or her own ambient pieces, is that it raises the question: What purpose does the artist himself serve at that point? He’s possibly invented himself out of existence. But if Lux does nothing else, it suggests that there’s a reason Eno’s name has become synonymous with “ambient” and why his thoughts on the music remain the gold standard.
Thursday Afternoon was assembled to accompany a “visual painting” and Eno studied art, and it’s best to think of his music using the language of design– the colors used, their proportions, how they are laid out and balanced in the space. Eno is brilliant at getting things just so. So Lux has a mix of space and sound that feels right; no one element dominates or becomes grating over the course of 75 minutes, even though all repeat over and over. Piano notes linger, there are light plucks on what could be a harp, and everything is bathed in Deep Listening-levels of reverb. While it accomplishes Eno’s long-stated goal of changing the mood and feel of a room, “tinting” the atmosphere, it refuses to enforce any feeling in particular.
It’s easy to forget that Eno’s ambient work doesn’t always fit his strict definition. Music for Films sounds like it– it’s very suggestive of particular feeling– and the brilliant Ambient 4: On Land conjures an entire landscape, one filled with swamps and strange creatures. But Lux is squarely in the tradition of music that can be ignored but holds up (sometimes just barely) to closer scrutiny. It turns any living room into an art installation where interesting things may or may not happen, and its lack of direction and specificity is in its own way brave. Sometimes it’s hard to not say anything; Brian Eno is doing just that, once again, and beautifully.
I’ve read approximately 25 online reviews of David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ album (deluxe version), made 2 rock mixes (here & here) using 11 of the album’s tracks, 1 Ambient mix (using the instrumental, ‘Plan‘) & have re-ordered the album on my BlackBerry (tossing 2 useless tunes & setting the remaining songs up slowest to fastest).
I’m a 53 year old ambient music mixer who has been digging the #ThinWhiteDuke’s creative output since I picked up the then new ‘Young Americans’ & began digging through the back catalog. I’ve seen him 3 times in concert (Station to Station, Let’s Dance & Glass Spider) & wrote a college paper comparing his ‘Cracked Actor’ to Robert Frost’s poem ‘Provide, Provide’. I’ve never been a nutty fan (though I did dress up as Aladdin Sane for Halloween one year to impress a chick I was dating) but, as an English literature major, I have generally been impressed with the concise clarity of Bowie’s writing as well as his adventurous experimentation in presenting his work (and have been appreciative of his leading me to Robert Fripp & Brian Eno via his collaborative associations with those gentlemen).
But enough of the preamble; here’s what I think of ‘The Next Day’:
My reordering of the disc:
Plan | Heat | Where Are We Now? | I’d Rather Be High | Dirty Boys | Boss of Me | Valentine’s Day | So She | Dancing Out in Space | How Does the Grass Grow? | The Stars (Are Out Tonight) | I’ll Take You There | (You Will) Set the World on Fire | If You Can See Me | The Next Day
At 66 years old, I don’t expect ‘Rebel, Rebel’ from my rock-stars…but neither did I expect the title track’s blistering, sneering vocalizations…so I was impressed right out of the box. I’ve used the slightly caustic ‘Plan’ on an ambient mix (‘Causticity’) and instantly memorized the lyrics to ‘The Next Day’ (title track) to sing along in the car (on the 1st mix, right after ‘Beauty & the Beast’). ‘Heat’ reminds me of Outside’s ‘The Motel’, ‘Dirty Boys’ – “Heroes” ‘Sons of the Silent Age’, ‘Valentine’s Day’ of Aladdin Sane’s ‘Drive-In Saturday & ‘The Prettiest Star’, ‘If You Can See Me’ a combination of Earthling & Tin Machine II’s ‘A Big Hurt’. ‘(You Will) Set the World on Fire’, with its quasi-plagiarous nod to Jack White’s ‘Sixteen Saltines’ reminds me of same, ‘Where Are We Now’ of Station to Station’s ‘Wild is the Wind’ and ‘The Next Day’ a conglomeration of ‘Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)’/’Repetition’[Lodger]/and Heroes ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
The subtle & inspired cover art at once makes a bold statement. It says “Here’s where I’ve done…and here’s what I’m now doing” – both embracing and moving on from the past. Bowie’s not going to go down quietly crooning his greatest hits in Atlantic City or Las Vegas…OR make us wish he was! It’s the story of one of THE icons of Rock & Roll letting us know that he’s still “got it” some 45 years after launching his ever changing, driving career.
I’ve given ‘The Next Day’ a 4.5 out of a possible 5 for a return to form and overall play-ability (AND because it’s definitely NOT ‘Never Let Me Down’, ‘Let’s Dance’ or ‘Tonight’). David has definitely delivered on this latest offering: solid sonics, tight lyrics & musical/lyrical/chronological references to keep his core fan base satisfied. The inclusion of Earl Slick, Gerry Leonard, David Torn [Prezens!] & Tony Levin are, for me…comfort food…familiar sonic pioneers, yet safe choices for a re-entry oriented Monsieur Bowie as he has worked with these gentlemen & knows that they’ll deliver the sounds for the songs he’s meticulously crafted herein.
…but: the bottom line with Bowie is that I’m a long-time fan, and I know what I like and I like #TheNextDay. I like it a lot; and no amount of pseudo-punditry is going to change my mind “+” or “-“. At 66…Mr. Jones a.k.a. Bowie has nothing to prove and thus, I needs must think, has given of himself as he hasn’t, comprehensively, for quite a while. It’s a labor of love; and…that’s a good thing for this #JeanGenie (my formal name is Gene).
So plug in your ear-buds (I prefer Bose), lay back (or work out), don’t be too critical and…“let yourself go!“
(it’s a Bowie thing…you either know what I mean or you don’t).
As a member of the Relaxed Machinery (ello) community, I’m privileged to hear, see & spin some excellent ambient aural material…from both established & existing artists (ambient, microsound, space, drift, wave, dark, drone and just about any other sub-genre you can name).
I was downloading a few weeks ago & suddenly got the idea to make a mix around the work of emerging artists on RM…and this is the result; ’emergence__RM’ – a small sampling of what’s going on both at the site…and in the ambient galaxy in general. Young [ambient] lions; fresh faces…
the new frontier.
Part 2 of a two mix set reflecting Mr. Bowie’s recent release, ‘The Next Day‘.
I’ve been hooked on Bowie’s creative genius & sound since age 16 when I bought the then (1975) new ‘Young Americans’ album…& then started digging into his back catalogue. Moving through college with Station to Station/Low/Heroes/Lodger & Scary Monsters, (as well as any output by Robert Fripp & Adrian Belew) I grew addicted to raunchy/creative guitar while friends lusted after pop-ier fare like Elton John, Billy Joel, Boston or Journey). I also realize that, as I age, so do my rock stars…so I don’t expect “Rebel-Rebel” from a 66 year old, ;- ).
I give #TheNextDay 4.5 stars (out of 5) for creativity & return to form (title track, ‘Heat’, ‘Stars..’, ‘Dirty Boys’, ‘Where Are We Now?’, ‘…Grass Grow’, ‘V-Day’ & ‘If You Can See Me’ are my faves) . The sprinkles of back catalog references (wow – the drum ending of ‘You Feel So Lonely…” to “Five Years” is cool) are very much noticed & appreciated. There are several I deleted when x-fering to my Blackberry (I never like ALL the songs) but the gritty title track is one I’ve been singing in my car (yesterday AND the next day and another day!). Love the Earl Slick, Tony levin & David Torn (‘Prezens’!!, anyone?) inclusions…and of course we cannot overlook the fabulous Visconti touch (David should never have produced ANYTHING without Tony). Signed: satisfied @ fifty-three.
01 David Bowie – Where Are We Now? [The Next Day]
02 David Bowie – Wild Is the Wind [Station to Station]
03 David Bowie – Drive-In Saturday [Aladdin Sane]
04 David Bowie – Valentine’s Day [The Next Day]
05 David Bowie – The Prettiest Star [Aladdin Sane]
06 David Bowie – Seven [Hours]
07 David Bowie – 5.15 the Angels Have Gone [Heathen]
08 David Bowie – Boss of Me [The Next Day]
09 David Bowie – Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197_) [Aladdin Sane]
10 Iggy Pop+David Bowie – Fire Girl [Blah Blah Blah]
11 Tin Machine – Betty Wrong [Tin Machine II]
12 David Bowie – How Does the Grass Grow? [The Next Day]
13 David Bowie – V-2 Schneider [Heroes]
14 David Bowie – The Secret Life of Arabia [Heroes]
15 David Bowie – I’ll Take You There [The Next Day]
16 David Bowie – Panic in Detroit [Aladdin Sane]
17 David Bowie – (You Will) Set the World on Fire [The Next Day]
18 Jack White – Sixteen Saltines [Blunderbuss]
19 David Bowie – Blackout [Heroes]
So the 66 year old maestro releases an album…and it’s kiLLer! A complex puzzle, lyrically & musically; well…it delivers (and the next day and the next and another day!). This is the first of 2 – the 2nd will deal with the slower stuff from the thin, older & slightly more wrinkled, white duke.
01 David Bowie – Win
02 David Bowie – Heat
03 David Bowie – Sons of the Silent Age
04 David Bowie – Dirty Boys
05 David Bowie – It’s No Game
06 David Bowie – Andy Warhol
07 Mick Ronson + David Bowie – Colour Me
08 David Bowie – What’s Really Happening?
09 David Bowie – Slow Burn
10 David Bowie – Cactus
11 Iggy Pop + David Bowie – Hideaway
12 David Bowie – What in the World
13 David Bowie – If You Can See Me
14 Tin Machine – A Big Hurt
15 David Bowie – Joe the Lion
16 David Bowie – Scary Monsters & Super Creeps
17 David Bowie – The Stars (Are out Tonight)
18 David Bowie – Breaking Glass
19 David Bowie – Beauty & the Beast
20 David Bowie – The Next Day
21 Tin Machine – Tin Machine
22 David Bowie – Reality
On March 27th, Dr Sounds will release an EP, ‘DY9397‘. The name comes from a flight number, DY9397, and is music that fusions eastern tablas with chill out. This video features one song, ‘DK2808‘ and the full EP will be available on March 27th, the same day his flight to Gran Canaria is going.
The story of King Crimson’s revitalization for a new decade with the album Discipline has been told many times over. The 1981–84 period is usually discussed in terms of personnel, with most commentary marveling that no two consecutive prior King Crimson albums had ever before featured the same lineup. No doubt, for a band defined by perpetual lineup changes, it was novel indeed to finally stabilize around a fixed group of musicians. It’s a handy narrative hook upon which to hang a record review, but it’s only part of the story.
1981–1984 saw the band unusually focused on a core set of musical ideas. They laid them out in a nearly perfect thesis statement in the form of their debut album Discipline in September 1981. This “new” Crimson was to be defined by interlocking guitar parts (shared at first by two virtuoso guitarists, but expanded on later tunes like “Neal and Jack and Me” to encompass the full quartet), bleeding-edge technology (drum and guitar synthesizers, plus the futuristic instrument the Chapman Stick), quirky New York pop tendencies (of the Talking Heads variety), a dash of world music influences (particularly Afropop and Indonesian gamelan), and composition derived through improvisation (examples being “The Sheltering Sky”, “Requiem”, and later most of side two of Three of a Perfect Pair).
Similarly, the trilogy of albums released between 1981–1984 saw the most unified visual design work King Crimson would ever enjoy. Across the full band discography, the three early-80s albums are obviously and unmistakably associated; even to someone who has never heard the music, one glance reveals that they belong together. Minimalist design was also employed in varying degrees in related releases during this period (including various singles, laserdiscs, and videocassettes). The 1998 archival live release Absent Lovers marks a lost opportunity to visually call back to the style of the period.
Previous Crimson albums were all over the place in terms of design. They made use of painting, illustration, photography, and absent or inconsistent logos. In stark contrast, the 80s trilogy is marked by minimalism, graphic illustration, strictly limited color palettes, and a consistent typeface. Discipline and Beat go so far as to reserve the entire back cover to track listings and credits, without any graphics at all. This level of restraint was not seen since the refined illustration of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973) and the bare-bones aesthetic of Earthbound (1972). The latter’s plain black sleeve is likely a result of its bargain-basement origins, but in retrospect looks quite attractive on the shelf adjacent to the 80s trilogy.
The typographic style is also admirably restrained. I haven’t been able to exactly identify the particular serif typeface, but it shares a kinship with the type on Larks’ Tongues in Aspic and Starless and Bible Black. If you want to approximate it in a graphics app such as Photoshop, try Garamond or Caslon with the horizontal scale reduced about 80–90%.
Discipline vies with Islands for the Crimson album with the most complex release history. Indeed, about the only characteristic the two disparate releases share is that they have both been issued with more than one design. The original Discipline LP sleeve unwittingly featured a copyrighted Celtic knot design by John Kyrk. Additionally complicating matters, the 1986 and 1989 CD reissues featured crudely and disproportionately enlarged versions of Kyrk’s icon, presumably to compensate for the reduced physical scale of the format.
The 2001 30th Anniversary Edition belated rectified the matter by finally inaugurating a new version illustrated by Steve Ball (a member of Fripp’s course of study Guitar Craft). The 30th Anniversary sleeve also restored the proper proportions based on designer Peter Saville’s original LP sleeve design (alas, my copy appears to have been misprinted, seemingly lacking the proper amount of white or silver ink).
Saville is credited for “graphica” on the original Discipline album package. He famously designed many now-iconic sleeves released by the legendary Manchester label Factory Records in the late 1970s and early 80s. He is most associated with the short-lived band Joy Division and its reincarnation as New Order, but he was also embraced by latter day BritPop bands like Suede and Pulp. Discipline was to be his only work for King Crimson, but of interest perhaps to fans of Crimson’s immediate family of connected collaborators, he also designed David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981) and Peter Gabriel’s So (1986).
For context, above is a selection of contemporary album covers that might have been seen in record stores alongside Discipline circa September 1981. As you can see, many of these designs could also be described as minimalist, with large fields of solid color and limited palettes. It’s worth noting that these designs would have appeared even more bold and striking on the dominant format at the time, the LP record sleeve.
As noted in the Introduction to The Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson Album Art, an LP copy of Discipline makes a few cameo appearances in the 2000 feature film High Fidelity, by director Stephen Frears. One might like to imagine that the album was selected for its historical significance and artistic merit, but it’s just as likely the film’s art director simply liked how the large solid red square looked on camera.
Variations of Steve Ball’s knotwork icon are used to this day as the logos for Discipline Global Mobile (DGM), Inner Knot Records (an independent record label associated with DGM), The League of Crafty Guitarists, and The Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists.
The celtic knot motif has had the longest life of any King Crimson-related iconography. Unlike the six-pointed symbol used on many THRAK-era releases (which symbolized the double-trio concept of paired guitars, basses, and drums), the Discipline knot is not tied to the band makeup but rather to the philosophies that Fripp has studied, and later, those that he established himself. In that respect, at least, it follows in the footsteps of the mystical or philosophical emblems such as the Tantric dualities on Larks’ Tongues in Aspic and the Jungian archetypes on In the Wake of Poseidon.
The actual design’s origins, however, are murky. King Crimson biographer Sid Smith unearthed a quotation from designer John Kyrk in the now-defunct online internet listserv Elephant Talk:
“When I started hand letterpress printing in 1975, I designed a printer’s mark for myself. I modified an ancient celtic knotwork pattern so that it alluded to the enneagram. At small size it also looks like a lion’s face. When Claymont started its journal Impressions in 1981, my knotwork was printed with permission on the cover. Robert Fripp says that, when saw it, he thought it was an ancient mark, and erroneously put it on the cover of the King Crimson album Discipline, where it was copyrighted. Robert apologized, paid me a token of appreciation, and promised to stop using the mark.“ –John Kyrk, quoted in the Elephant Talk listserv
Kyrk was a participant in the Claymont Society in West Virginia, studying the philosophies of J.G. Bennett, whom Fripp had discovered circa 1974. It is beyond the scope of this visual survey to summarize Bennett, but very briefly, he was a follower of the mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, and the writings of both men had a profoundly significant impact upon Fripp. The most outwardly visible effect to music fans was his extended sabbatical from King Crimson and the music industry as a whole in the mid to late 1970s. On a personal level to Fripp as a human being, the philosophies directed his behavior, interactions with others, and formulations of plans for the future.
The “enneagram” Kyrk referred to in his post to the Elephant Talk online forum to is likely the Fourth Way Enneagram, associated with Gurdjieff. I’m not sure if Fripp is on record regarding the glyph’s personal significance to him, Guitar Craft, or DGM. He often publishes notes from his Guitar Craft courses on his online diary, including text laid out visually in forms resembling enneagrams. Examples may be found in plain text format on the official Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists site.
This is purely supposition on my part, but the knots may be related to the structure of Guitar Craft itself. There are seven levels in Guitar Craft, but the original Discipline icon has only six kinked loops in the outer ring. More likely, the interwoven aspect of the entire piece reflects the mechanics of group collaboration in Guitar Craft, particularly the concept of the Circle and the practice of passing one note from one player to the other known as Circulation. As is clear from reading Fripp’s online diaries and Eric Tamm’s book Robert Fripp: From King Crimson to Guitar Craft, group work in Guitar Craft is not only musical but also just plain “work” — for a significant portion of the courses involves compulsory chores such as kitchen duty.
Even on a more literal level, many Guitar Craft exercises involve playing in an inwardly directed circle. The players contribute to a whole, with their full attention directed towards each other. The ensemble is also the audience. The later versions of the knot used by the League of Crafty Guitarists and the Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists, accordingly, are more “open” in design, with an intricate weave around the circumference and a loose connection in-between. Sid Smith takes this analogy further when writing about the Discipline group:
Constructed from several different and independent lines, each one in itself is quite fragile. Yet, when all the strands are woven together the remarkable results are as strong as they are flexible. Like the knot-work relief which graced the spartan cover, Discipline, is about the interconnectedness of ideas and experience harnessed together. – Sid Smith, Discipline 40th Anniversary Series liner notes
Eric Tamm professes to not being a fan of 1981–84 King Crimson, and makes a point of selectively quoting negative reviews from the era. One especially nasty barb comes from Melody Maker on what I consider one of Discipline’s many high points: “The Sheltering Sky” is “a drippy, overlong piece of doodling that should have Genesis fans closing their eyes and muttering phrases like ‘distinguished musicianship’ while the rest of us fall asleep”. Tamm is nevertheless moved to some of his most poetic language, describing the music in explicitly visual terms. Tamm analyzes each Crimson album individually, but here deviates from form and treats the 80s albums as a trilogy. Interestingly, he describes them in visual terms: “handsomely packaged”, “cohesive set”, with an “architectural rather than a lyrical style” (Tamm 136–138). Here he enthuses further in terms that simultaneously describe the knot icon itself:
“a continually sustained vision, a set of possibilities that permutate from piece to piece, a view through a kaleidoscope that shifts at each slight turn from piece to piece, a sculpture in the round seen from different angles as one slowly circles it.“ – Eric Tamm, Robert Fripp: From King Crimson to Guitar Craft, page 138
The knot may have had its origins with G.I. Gurdjieff and J.G. Bennett and relatively briefly became associated with King Crimson, but later iterations became more permanently affixed to two very different ventures: Discipline Global Mobile and Guitar Craft. The Crafty knot variant has adorned at least three League recordings, including Live II, Show of Hands, and Intergalactic Boogie Express.
Some notes for the hardcore collectors: it appears that only the Elephant Talk 12″ and Matte Kudasai 7″ were issued in picture sleeves (and as you can see, the Elephant Talk 12″ cover design is functional at best).
The so-called “Dance Remix” of “Elephant Talk” was included on the US promo 12″ LP only. A needle-drop recording features among the 40th Anniversary Edition DVD bonus features, and it appears to be nearly identical to the album mix, save for a slightly extended instrumental introduction. It’s for completists only, but I found it interesting to get a clearer listen to the intricate backing tracks sans vocals.
A version of the Matte Kudasai 7″ released in the Netherlands included a “Special Mix”, but I have been unable to determine what that means, exactly. The original 1981 vinyl pressings of the Discipline album included a “Matte Kudasai” mix featuring a solo lead performed by Robert Fripp. Subsequent issues substituted a different mix with Fripp’s playing excised. The 30th Anniversary reissue includes the original mix as a bonus track. So if in 1981, the only version of “Matte Kudasai” was the one with the Fripp solo, what is the “Alternate Mix”? Possibly the one without Fripp, that later became the definitive version?
ART & DESIGN CREDITS:
1981: Graphica by Peter Saville
1981: knotwork by John Kyrk (uncredited)
2001: Discipline knotwork by Steve Ball
2001: 30th Anniversary scrapbook design by Hugh O’Donnell
2011: 40th Anniversary Series package art & design by Hugh O’Donnell
There I was. Just sitting there. Minding my own business. I wasn’t even thinking about making another mix [yet].
And then Dirk Serries released several videos highlighting tracks from his forthcoming release, ‘microphonics xxiv‘…
…and I was hooked!
So, starting with the track ‘There’s a Light in Vein‘, I crafted [another] mix around Dirk’s recent offering & am making it available (with his kind permission) as both a single & separate (still mixed) track download.