Got this one done pretty quickly! I actually finished listening to all the records on Friday, February 26th, but took some time to re-listen to things and edit. There’s more krautrock here and some more music that is a little out there, as well as totally “normal” stuff, like Liz Phair.
1. Chris Walla – Tape Loops 
I’m not too familiar with tape loops music. I listened to the four Ambient records Eno did, and that’s pretty much it, and that’s the extent of knowledge I have when it comes to ambient music. I should actually listen to the Eno records again because it’s been a while.
I really like the idea of tape loops. Looping in the digital realm seems like cheating. It’s a lot more impressive when there’s a machine that can be tricked into playing the same section of tape over and over, and I like how the loop goes outside the machine and through everyday objects in the studio (or home). Chris Walla’s record is interesting to me from this aspect (and he talked about the technical side of recording it and making the loops in Tape Op #111). Musically, I find it hard to relate to, partially because it sounds a lot like Eno’s ambient records, and in fact Walla said in that Tape Op interview that one track is actually him trying to reverse engineer an Eno piece.
I only listened to it
once twice so far. In an interview I watched with Terry Riley he said that loops reveal more of themselves and change the more you listen to them. So far it hasn’t revealed much, and a part of me wonders if the fact that he made it with old technology (tape) cornered him into making something that’s already been done.
2. Conrad Schnitzler – Con 
This entry is edited [June 16th, 2016] from how it was originally posted.
It took me a couple of listens to start understanding this record, and since those couple of listens I’ve listened to it probably 20 times. There’s something about this record that even if you don’t initially get it, you want to go back to listen to it. For me, I think what kept drawing me to it was the sounds. It just has really amazing electronic sounds, so I kept going back to listen just for the way it sounds more than anything. I think that the sounds are still my main fascination with the record, but I also enjoy the rhythms and melodies in here.
Schnitzler was in Tangerine Dream (briefly) and in Kluster, and originally I thought this record will sound like Cluster (because Cluster was Kluster minus Conrad Schnitzler), but that doesn’t make sense. Kluster sounded nothing like Cluster, but at the time I initially wrote it, I barely got Kluster. It wasn’t until recently that their records started to click for me. So the point of this detour is to say that Con is actually a continuation of Kluster’s music more than it touching on anything Cluster did. Con is an abstract record, and the tracks don’t have a clear theme. There are melodies and beats, but they are sparse and they’re not meant to drive a song as much as they’re there to drive a feeling or a moment. I’m not sure that makes sense. When I first heard the record it actually reminded me of Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon (see Week 11) in the sense that both are broadening the musical vocabulary. I don’t know if it’s fair to say that musically similar.
3. Tangerine Dream – Zeit 
This entry is also edited [June 16th, 2016] from how it was originally posted.
Originally I said that I couldn’t figure out what to write about this record, and to be honest, I still don’t. I have listened to this record multiple times, but it’s a double album and I don’t always have the time to listen to it all in one sitting, so I end up not listening to it as much as I want.
Musically, I don’t know what to call it. It’s not the krautrock of Neu!, or Can, or Faust, or Kraftwerk. I’m not sure what people mean by kosmische musik (“cosmic music”) but my feeling is that this record falls into this category. The best way I can describe it right now is that this record is like watching a storm. It’s like being somewhere very open, like a field, and watching a storm slowly heading towards you. At first it’s just an image from afar, but then the winds are getting stronger, then the sky is turning grey and the light turns a different color. Then it seems like it should start raining at any moment and maybe there’s a bit of a drizzle, but all of a sudden the storm is gone. It takes a turn right before getting to where you stand and goes in a different direction. That’s what this record feels like to me. There’s a great, long build up, but it’s not really building up to anything big or pompous, it just takes a turn and quiets down.
There’s not a lot more to say about this record except that the instrumentation is pretty cool. No drums (I’m pretty sure), just a bunch or synthesizer and something like four cellos.
4. Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville 
I read an interview in an old TapeOp with Brad Wood who recorded this record (produced it too?) He worked with a lot of Chicago rock bands that I like or are related/similar to bands I like. Anyway, it was a cool interview, and I decided it’s finally time to check out Liz Phair.
From what I understand, the record is a response to Exile on Main Street (which I never listened to), a very 90s response in the way the songs are written, recorded, and the way her voice sounds. It didn’t really grab me on a first listen (it’s also very long), but after listening to it I was humming a few songs, so there’s that.
I want to say that I’ll listen to it again, but it is very long, so I doubt it would happen. I do like Liz Phair’s voice, though.
5. La Düsseldorf – La Düsseldorf 
La Dusseldorf is Klaus Dinger’s band (he was in Neu!) with his brother. Of all the krautrock labeled records I’ve been listening to recently, this one jives with what I always thought is considered kraut the most. It’s similar to Neu! but a little more rocking and goofier, but not as intricate.
I’ve listened to it two or three times and I can’t tell if there’s anything else that will reveal itself or if this is it.
6. Ash Ra Tempel – Ash Ra Tempel 
Amboss starts off sounding like Tangerine Dream’s Zeit (see above), but then it turns into a “freakout” jam, or whatever you want to call it. Essentially, it’s a 15 minute guitar solo, and while I love guitar solos, this one is a little uninspiring.
Same thing with Traummaschine, the second track. Starts abstract and ominous, and then after 10-15 minutes there’s the long guitar solo again.
7. Damaged Bug – Cold Hot Plumbs 
This record was mentioned in a thread about krautrock a while back (different from the one I was referring to in the Conrad Schnitzler entry), and I listened to one song and was intrigued.
I would describe this as “current krautrock”. There are other influences in here, some of them I can’t put my finger on exactly, but the drums are all motorik or a variation of it, and every song has a synthesizer playing along. However, the sounds they’re getting, especially out of the synths, are leaving me a little cold. I feel like they went with the first sound you could get out of a Mini Moog. I feel like it would be a whole different record if the sounds were more messed up.
I will have to revisit this one a few more times for those other influences to kick in.
I’d like to mention here that I listened again to Stereolab’s Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements again, and man oh man, I really dig it now. It didn’t click the first few times I listened, but I’m totally in now. I just thought I’d mention it here since I consider Damaged Bug to be modern/current krautrock, and so is Stereolab.
8. Manuel Göttsching – Inventions for Electric Guitar 
I was talking to a friend about how I’ve been listening to krautrock and early electronic music and he suggested I check out Manuel Gottsching’s record New Age of Earth. As I was looking Gottsching up, I saw that he was in Ash Ra Tempel and that he also made the record I’m writing about right now – Inventions for Electric Guitar. Being someone who’s always interested in music that pushes the guitar further, I decided to check Inventions first.
Inventions for guitar is a good way of describing this record. The guitar playing itself isn’t different (and he’s not doing any prepared guitar stuff), but the processing of the guitar – lots of delays and loops and arpeggios, that is different. It’s interesting but I’m also conflicted about it. First, the sounds are sounds you could get out of a synthesizer, and like I said the playing isn’t different than “regular” playing in any meaningful way.
Musically, I don’t know if you ever played around with a guitar and a looping pedal, but it’s easy to corner yourself into boring patterns, and that happens a lot on this record. However, some moments are cool, like from 12:30 until around 17:50 in Pluralis. Quasarsphere as a whole is pretty good.
9. Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry – Symphonie Pour Un Homme Seul 
This is a musique concrete record, and if you don’t know what it is, then go read on Wikipedia because it’ll do better job of explaining it than me. Basically, it’s music that is composed with found sounds and existing music, so essentially it’s a collage. I think it’s easy to discredit it from today’s perspective, because we can record whatever, and then load it into whatever DAW and organize it the way we want. However, this record came out 66 years ago, and all they had were mono tape machines, so it took a lot of foresight and tape splicing to put together each piece. I don’t think it’s wrong to call that composing. It’s just that they were composing with already existing sounds.
Even though this isn’t my first exposure to musique concrete, it is the most avant-garde record I have ever listened to. What makes it so extreme for me is that I cannot follow the narrative. I don’t even know what is the narrative! I think music always has narrative, and this idea is very instinctual (just thought of it) for me and not something I can put into words yet, so I won’t even try. But anyway, music always has a narrative, and it’s not the lyrics or a narrative the listener can follow like a story. It’s something about the song that keeps it propagating. Sometimes I start listening to something and I want to know where it’s going, because the narrative seems interesting and I’m not familiar with it. Sometimes I start listening to something and I know where it’s going so I turn it off – the narrative is boring. With this record, I don’t know what is the narrative, but I believe there is one for two reasons. One is that from what I read Schaeffer was a smart guy, so he probably didn’t just whip something together without giving it much thought. The second is that the technology of the time was so limiting that there’s no way someone could compose something like this without a clear idea of what they’re doing.
I think that intent is what separates avant-garde from fake avant-garde. Everyone can hit random keys on a piano and say “here, I made an avant-garde recording”, kind of like Mirror Father Mirror. You can program a computer to do that. But when there’s intent to stretch boundaries, and there’s a particular process for stretching those boundaries, then it becomes interesting.
So yeah, no idea what the narrative is here, but I’ll keep listening.
10. Perry and Kingsley – Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Spotlight On The Moog 
As I was finally getting Stereolab last week, I read about about Transient Random-Noise Bursts and it mentioned something about this album. I think they sampled something from it. Anyway, I know some of Jean-Jacques Perry’s music so I jumped in.
This is electronic music in the sense that it’s music being played with synthesizers. The actual music, though, isn’t different from pop music of the time, and in fact most of the tracks on the record are covers of famous songs. This is the same criticism that the west coast synthesizer people (San Francisco Tape Music Center) had for Wendy Carlos’s Switched on Bach. Playing classics on a synthesizers isn’t expanding music.