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Irene_Rible on 10/27/2013 at 09:30PM

Creative Commons Halloween Mix 2013

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horror, halloween
Irene_Rible on 10/18/2013 at 06:15AM

Chillin' with DJ Spooky: An Opus for Antarctica

In 2007 electronic music producer DJ Spooky (né Paul D. Miller) traveled to Antartica to obtain field recordings of the sounds of melting ice and climate change - an expedition that birthed the multi-media performance Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica, the book and digital download The Book of Ice: A Manifesto for the People's Republic of Antarctica, and the record Of Water and Ice, released as this remixable CC-licensed album.  Like a sonic geologist, Miller samples Antarctica like a giant record of archived source material.  The sounds of shifting glaciers, crunching ice, powerful winds, echo chambers, waterfalls, and even penguins intertwine with symphonic interpretations of water and ice with the results sounding closer to a cinematic Phillip Glass score or a Boards of Canada retro-futurism piece than a hip-hop album.

The project started several years ago as the DJ's response to growing environmental concerns and a need to bring climate change closer to home - in Miller's case, the metropolis of New York City.  Unlike acoustic instruments or folk genres, the relationship between hip-hop and nature is harder to connect as we usually don't see parallels between the urban, manmade terrains of electronically produced beats and the natural environs of remote locations. While the harshness of urban life is rarely interpreted as part of the natural world, on this album DJ Spooky blurs the arbitrary lines of organic and inorganic and finds unusual analogies between hip-hop and nature, bringing to mind the metaphorical obsession with the coolness of ice in urban culture (Iceberg Slim, Ice-T, Ice Cube, etc.).  Although strings and other "natural" instruments are still employed, Miller connects through the beats that are created to mimic algorithms found in nature.  The geometric structure's of the molecules in ice and water as well as the mathematical equations of climate change data form the basis of Miller's compositions.  The live accompaniment to the album includes large projected screens of icebergs shifting, melting and in flux, all part of Miller's efforts to bring the climate crisis into the forefront of our consciousness.

Released as a CC-licensed open source album with Miller encouraging listeners to remix tracks, the album reflects the utopian potential of Antarctica on a social and political scale.  Miller's Book of Ice is a combination of essays, photography, and graphic design, including reports from his own travels, early photographs from the first Antarctic expeditions, and a series of faux-propoganda posters declaring the continent as "The People's Republic of Antarctica".  Miller chronicles both the geological and political history of Antarctica, examining the Antarctica Treaty signed in 1959 forbidding any military usage of the land or any claim to ownership.   Pristine and nearly untouched by human presence, the treaty ensured the continent "shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes".  Subsequently, Antarctica is geographically "the commons" of the world, shared by all nations for the pursuit of science and discovery.  With eons of time preserved in its ancient ice, Antarctica also serves as a collective memory of the earth we all share. 

DJ Spooky continues to explore ways of incorporating music into the dialogue for eco-consciousness as the founder of The Vanuatu Pacifica Project, an art retreat and sustainable living community located in the country of Vanuatu in the South Pacific islands.  Since the island is experiencing increasing urbanization, the foundation and art center fosters a conversation with the islanders via art, music, and performance regarding traditional practices and sustainable energy solutions as a way to help them with the transition from a subsistence economy to a more modern way of life.  Spooky also continues to follow-up his Antarctica work, more recently documenting his time in Cape Farewell, Greenland with the Arctic Rhythms/Ice Music project.  Very cool.

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Irene_Rible on 10/30/2012 at 01:45AM

Creative Commons Halloween Mix 2012

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It’s Halloween again at the FMA!  This year's audio treats include some poignant advice from the Book of Matthew, H.P. Lovecraft inspired musical insanity, instructions from Eastern Europe's answer to Willard, haunted Korgs, and finally, what you would hear in hell for eternity if your call was put on hold. For more FMA Halloween selections check out the mixes from 2009, 2010, and 2011.

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halloween, horror
Irene_Rible on 03/08/2012 at 03:15PM

Heavenly Creatures: Angels in America

Facing the void at The Red Room in Baltimore, 10/23/2010

So after a long Free Music Archiving hiatus I was happy to discover that Angels in America released their album Narrow Road to the Interior and made a WFMU appearance!  If you're new to them, Angels in America are two people going by the aliases of Moppy Pont and Merv Glisten.  They started making music in 2007 while going to high school in New York.  At their most noisy and distorted they resemble no-wave and industrial acts from decades past, with occasional shoegazing quieter moments, but mostly they embrace a WTF quality that is all their own.

They sent their first two cassette only releases to WFMU in 2009 and chose The Free Music Archive as their sole public presence.  You can get a sense of their cultural taste from the books and newsletters they distribute as Pleasure Editions which includes an impressive mélange of esoteric influences while Merv's weird and wooly Free Music Archive reviews expose the musical diet being fed into in these sonic regurgitations.  And then there is Moppy’s performance art, including her role in Smile Stealers, a student film that looks like what Matthew Barney would create if he directed a Sid and Marty Krofft production. 

More contradictory to their music is their “public persona” (by that I mean their twitter page and one interview).  Their twitter page exhibits the kind of banality media studies professors rail on about during fiery tirades regarding social decay and the decline of Western Civilization.  You won’t glean any insight into their music from this, but you will learn that Merv likes donuts. They also named their first album Cunt Tree Grammar (like that Nelly album - they love puns!).  When I ordered some tapes from them Moppy’s package came wrapped in adorable Hello Kitty stationary while Merv’s included a complimentary Limp Bizkit keychain.

So yes, they can be willfully and perplexingly retarded.  But aren’t nonsense and absurdity just fun, distracting road stops along life’s frightening, existential highway?  Merv and Moppy may laugh, but their music doesn’t.  Rather it cries, and screams, then breaks some stuff, gets driven to the hospital to get a Demerol injection so that it calms down, and passes out.

Moppy’s half-sung/half-spoken vocal delivery is forever vague and ineffable, much like a dream, by the end of the albums you can only pick up small glimmers of meaning, and you're left anxiously scrambling for resolution.  A sense of dangerous excitement emanates from these whispers, like you've discovered a little keyhole through somebody's skull and you’re nervously eavesdropping in on their internal dialogue. Her voice can either hypnotically lull you to sleep or creep with premonitions of something sinister.  The Mazzy Star comparison in the Digitalis review seems strangely appropriate. She’s like Hope Sandoval’s younger, punk sister Hopeless Sandoval (these guys are getting to me - I couldn’t resist a shitty pun!).  Songs such as “Free Galaxy” and “Follow Me Out” are pretty enough that in a more indie-rock friendly incarnation she could be making melancholic make-out music à la Ms. Sandoval…except she might chew off your tongue and spit it in your face.  

Moppy gets her primal scream on for “In Spades” which is probably the stand-out track on the Narrow Road record. Resembling the raw expression present on Patty Water’s “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” or the visceral vocals of Jarboe's live performances, it occupies the psychic space somewhere between a breakdown and a breakthrough.  Drawing strength from confrontation, it's liberating while simultaneously painful and frightening. But just when I feel they're about to suck me into some infernal lair of darkest darkness, then I remember they're tweeting about their snacking habits in random txtspk and I feel way better; maybe they know it's all just a bit of clever theater on a gnostic stage.

As hard as it is to use an achingly earnest word like "authentic" when people are calling themselves Merv and Moppy, there is a feeling here that goes beyond histrionics to hit a place that feels very real. Merv's machines grind away like some kind of aural trepanning while Moppy sings like a siren from the id, beckoning you to dive deeper into the waters of your own unconscious. Much like a shamanic performance, the music drones while she screams, crawls on the floor, and stares into the distance as if in a trance. But rather than voicing the pain of death or destruction, perhaps Angels in America express the struggle of transformation, a black mass burning towards ablutio.

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angels in america
Irene_Rible on 10/29/2011 at 03:00AM

Creative Commons Halloween Mix 2011

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The FMA returns this year with more legal downloads for the Halloween holiday.  This time around we've got some sinister classical favorites, 8bit Dario Argento film scores, Peter Lorre interpreted via twisted circuit benders, and some frighteningly bad tunes from America's premier mass murdering folk troubadour.  Be sure to check out the Halloween mixes from 2009 and 2010 for more copylefted Halloween spookiness.  Big thanks to the FMA community for all the great suggestions!

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Irene_Rible on 12/02/2010 at 06:00PM

Top Ten for 2010

#1-4  It was good to see Angels in America return this year with some new tracks from Welcome to Miami and E.M.S. and side project Laura Warholic.  I missed them on their 2009 tour, but they seem to have gained a higher profile this year performing at Pop Montreal.  To preserve their mystery, I prefer not to see them live…well maybe I would, but only if they performed here.  I can listen to both bands repeatedly; the songs travel effortlessly like a soothing lubricant for some worn in cerebral groove.  Please Angels in America, upload more before I start heating up your tapes and mainlining you.

 #5-7  Wm. Berger’s My Castle of Quiet reintroduced me to the mind-bending powers of Excepter via several Excepter members who performed on his show this year, including Telecult Powers featuring Lala Ryan, Hex Breaker Quintet, and SSPS. I’m very excited to get started on the Ten Films to Watch Telecult Powers By and check out the hundreds of hours of Excepter’s live streams available here and here.  I'm not sure why I need this much Excepter, maybe it's just this lingering suspicion I have that if I listen to them long enough I just might levitate.

 #8-9  I discovered a plentiful amount of haunting, experimental music from around the world on the Clinical Archives page here on the FMA as well as much more to be found on their websiteKerim Safa's otherwordly wails particularly stood out.  Girilal Baars is somewhat similar but moans in a lower register.  I don't know what this guy is saying but he sounds something like an institutionalized Fester Addams or a dying moose...painful!

 #10  Found this great theremin album by Turkish electronic musician Meczûp while looking for Halloween tracks for my mix.  I can't find out much about this artist, but his Myspace page includes several tracks not found on his album. Hope to hear more soon.

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Irene_Rible on 10/28/2010 at 12:30PM

Creative Commons Halloween Mix 2010

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Having drained the FMA of CC-licensed spookiness for last year’s Creative Commons Halloween mix, this year I prowled the net-label databases of the internet in search of fresh mp3s.  My ears were satiated with an aural smorgasbord of horror film soundtrack tributes and audio collages, eerie theremins, bewitching women, and countless cookie monster voiced death metal front men warning of the impending zombie apocalypse.  Click the "i" for more info about the artists and CC licenses. Have fun, and remember to be safe.

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Irene_Rible on 10/05/2010 at 02:30PM

Blessed is the Meek

Joe Meek Shoe, cc-by-nc-sa 2.0, source

The Comfort Stand netlabel has released a compilation of Joe Meek demos, exposing the songwriting process of one of rock’s most innovative producers.  Eccentric, possibly schizophrenic, and homosexual, Meek was an outsider in the music industry both for his lifestyle and for his unusual recording techniques.  Rather than working out of a studio, he recorded in his kitchen and was one of the first engineers to purposefully distort sounds by utilizing heavy echo and intense compression techniques.  Obsessed with the supernatural, when Meek was looking for inspiration he would summon the ghost of Buddy Holly via Ouija board.  Meek even claimed his first number one hit “Johnny Remember Me” was written by Holly from beyond the grave.

Meek is most remembered for the hit song he produced for the Tornados “Telstar”, which predated the British invasion when it topped the charts in America in 1962.  More fascinating than Meek’s pop hits are his lesser known projects, such as his involvement with the shock rock pioneer Screaming Lord Sutch, who became famous for terrorizing his audience with his song “Jack the Ripper”, which he performed cloaked in Victorian garb and covered in chalky face paintI Hear a New World was Meek’s most personal recording – an outer space fantasy album that only saw partial release in 1960.  Backed by the spacey sound effects that became famous on “Telstar”, the album stars the Chipmunk-voiced Dribcots, Sarooes, and Globbots – the creatures Meek imagined would inhabit the moon. 

In 1967 Meek fell into a deep depression due to financial struggles and his increasing paranoia that his recording sessions were being secretly tapped by producers who wanted to steal his songs and ideas.  One such paranoid episode resulted in Meek killing his landlady before putting his rifle in his mouth and taking his own life.

Perhaps only a footnote in rock ‘n’ roll history in America, Meek is still highly revered in England, inspiring the BBC documentary The Very Strange Story of the Legendary Joe Meek and the play Telstar, recently turned into a movie starring Kevin Spacey and the Libertines' Carl Barât, among others.  Adding more insight into the mind of Joe Meek is the yet to be distributed American documentary A Life in the Death of Joe Meek which can be previewed here.

>> Joe Meek demos

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Irene_Rible on 04/14/2010 at 09:00AM

Spotlight: Amish Records

Amish Records was founded in Pennsylvania and began releasing 7"s in 1994.  Since then they've moved to New York and have accumulated an eclectic catalog of music rooted in the folk tradition, ranging from Oakley Hall's harmonized bluegrass-inspired Americana to the spacious psychedelic soundscapes of Hall of Fame (Dan Brown/Samara Lubelski/Theo Angell); from Bird Show's electronic/jazz meditations to Black Taj's Chapel Hill-style classic rock reinterpretations.

Before I say anything more, I've been warned by the Amish website: "we'd rather be listening to records than reading what blogs and/or bad music writers are championing as the 'new best thing since [fill in the blank].' Though these terms are often bandied about as signifiers of cool or as a coded form of insider-speak, very little holds up through time. Don't embarass yourself or your music by catering to these trends.  Have you seen what today is being pimped as 'New Weird America'?  To us, it looks like a bunch of kids dressing up for Halloween and playing Manson while their parents are away on business."

For a label that's been releasing various strains of folk music from the beginning, it's easy to understand their distaste for such trend-mongering.  At least no one on the Amish label has appeared on a Volkswagen commercial or is dating Chloe Sevigny, Winona Ryder, or an Olsen twin. Let's hope it stays that way.

That being said, one could call Amish an early supporter of "New Weird America".  However, as much as that genre has been touted as a community or a movement, music catagorized this way mostly reminds me of a person or place that existed long ago, someone or someplace just beyond the horizon, or maybe more accurately no one and no place at all.

Mike Wexler makes just such out of time and place music on his records.  "I'd Like to Solve the Puzzle" was my introduction to his songs, his idiosyncratic vocals and mystical lyrics sounding like a sober Devendra Banhart or a warlock incarnation of Jeff Mangum. There's something refined, almost chivalrous about his songs, I can almost imagine him kneeling in a medieval tapestry.  Like what a court composer would play as two lovers lock eyes in a Shakespearean tragedy, romantic longings weighted down by premonitions of ensuing futility.  Wexler paired with Jordi Wheeler from The Occasion for an acoustic set on Hatch's show on WFMU a few years ago that is archived here.

WFMU has had the good fortune to host several other artists from the Amish label that are now available to download on the FMA such as Theo Angell's performance on Maria Levitsky's Show.  Angell began playing experimental folk music with Hall of Fame, but unlike Wexler his approach to folk is rougher, like something you might find on a field recording of primitive American music.  His music facilitates somber meditations, like the mist in an early morning forest, obsfuscated shards of light wrangle to wake up the day from the night, yet these songs feel as comforting as mate and oatmeal on a wood stove. I never would have guessed all this was emanating from a Brooklyn loft as his ethos still seems firmly planted in his rural hometown in Oregon. Some of Angell's collaborators have also made appearances on WFMU, including P.G. Six and Hall of Fame on Irene Trudel's Show and The Stork's Club, respectively.

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Irene_Rible on 03/15/2010 at 02:00PM

Finny Peculiar

Free Music Finland Spectacular on Brian Turner's Show August 30th, 2005 source

I'll admit, my knowledge of Scandinavia in general doesn't extend much farther than my Pippi Longstocking veneration.  Although, given Pippi's penchant for ingesting magic peas, taking off in makeshift bicycle powered flying contraptions, and other hallucinogenic adventures; I can imagine her feeling very comfortable with the ethics of her Finnish psych-folk neighbors.

I think the Finnish psych-folk scene owes a lot to the spirit of childhood.  In a musical sense by their uninhibited manner of exploring the textures of sound within their songs without letting the restrictions of melody hold them back too far.  Each sound breathes freely, often droning on in fascination as if heard for the first time.  Often they even incorporate toy instruments and found objects into their milieu of traditional folk instruments and electronics.

But in a broader sense, there is something innocent about their music that is harder to find in America and makes the Finn's music particularly intriguing and I think novel for an American audience. Just like so many European children's television shows, their culture of childhood is rooted more in folklore and a natural wonder as opposed to our more commercialistic entertainment.

When I listen to most of these Finnish artists I envision dust covered puppet theatres and marionettes, all the dreams and nightmare's of childhood.  Much like Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, the music captures not so much the vibrancy of actually being a child, but the vague and faded ghosts of our memories that haunt us later.

However, I think the innocence of the Finn's music isn't so general or personal, but feels almost like a collective remembrance of pre-civilization, like the sounds of buried pagan souls resting in their safety coffins, ringing the bells up on the surface just to let us know they're not dead yet.  The underpinning of melancholy that is present in so much of the Finns' music (especially Islaja, similar to Nico's recordings before her) perhaps mourns the childhood of mankind and laments a severed connection as our species moves farther away from an intuitive state.

But the primordial innocence is paired symbiotically with a primordial dread. Just like all the fairy tales with reoccuring forest motifs, we are led to believe that the pagan forest contains many earthly delights, but don't stray too far because it can get very dark and nasty things lurk in the shadows.  At some of their most evocative moments these songs sound like what the wind would whisper into your ear as you wander deeper and deeper into the woods of your subconscious.

Here on the FMA several Finnish bands have cropped up including Kemialliset Ystavat, Avarus, Kiila, Es, and adoptive Finn Fursaxa (she's really from Pennsylvania but appears on Finland's Fonal label on compilations such as Surrounded by Sun).  Unfortunately, I missed Islaja and others from Fonal records when they collectively toured the United States in 2005, but you can listen to their performances from that tour on Brian Turner's show on WFMU and WNYC's Spinning on Air.  A Finnish DIY cassette tape from the Lal Lal Lal label is also available to download from WFMU's Beware of the Blog and another out-of-print compilation can be downloaded from Lal Lal Lal's website.

Although the current Finnish scene claims to have no connection to their predecessor's from the Sixties and Seventies, Love Records has released three great compilations of Finnish psychedelic music from that era including Artic Hysteria, More Artic Hysteria, and Psychedelic Phinland which are also worth a listen.

While it is unfortunate that no Moomins roam our American forests or television sets, we do have an American counterpart to the Finns, with the Jewelled Antler Collective releasing mysterious, hand pressed psych-folk recordings that channel the woodland sprites of our own terrain.  You can listen to one of those artists, Thuja, here on the FMA.

Kiila - "Kelmeja" (05:03)
Kiila - "Kelmeja" (05:03)
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