I would like to take a moment to talk about some music that is very inspiring to me in this first post series i will call the Saseme Strete Music Society. You wanna be in my society?! The music I would like to base this article around is the forthcoming new album by Golden Retriever. With an unstoppable amount of new music coming at us every day, most of which is not taking us anywhere new, surprisingly there are still frontiers to traverse!
Golden Retriever, which is made up of two men — Jonathan Sielaff and Matt Carlson, who currently reside in Portland, Oregon — is putting out a new release with big label Thrill Jockey on July 24. The new album, titled Occupied with the Unspoken, is made up of the same elements they have been pushing since 2008. But this time the songs, which are usually (and shockingly) live-recorded improvisations that weigh in at as much as 30 minutes, are edited down to shorter pieces, with some flourishes added in post. Golden Retriever is essentially making polyphonic music from instruments that are actually monophonic, which I think is a beautiful conceptual basis to work from. Its sounds create a molecular structure by which you can easily visualize their music. But moreover, using a wind instrument (the bass clarinet) combined with modular synthesizer electronics, is still a hardly explored coupling in music. It is extremely rare that a wind instrument is paired with electronics as though they are on equal planes and/or the wind instrument is the driving force in an electronic composition. In this coupling I would like to present some standout (if not the only) examples of such music, as a sort of look back at Golden Retriever's few predecessors. One of which, from a brief conversation with Matt Carlson, I happen to know is very inspiring to him, being Brian Eno's collaboration with Jon Hassel. As well as another he was not familiar with, by avant garde performance group Urban Sax with electronic composer veteran Pierre Henry. I think Mouse On Mars's work with Harold Sack Ziegler is also a very significant exploration in this uncharted area of music.
In 1980 Brian Eno made a collaborative album with John Hassel called Fourth World Vol 1. Possible Musics. This album combined Eno's experimental recording and studio techniques with Jon Hassel's very special trumpet playing. Hassel had been making music after discovering Pandit Pran Nath via another friend & collaborator, Terry Riley, who studied under Pandit Pran Nath in the late 1970s. Hassel wanted to mimic or work within Nath's raga vocal techniques but using his trumpet in place of vocal. Ragas are scales in Indian music; the word means "color" or "musical tone." Raga scales are made to evoke different times of day and seasons but also cover nearly every individual feeling or natural event. The raga is one of the most compelling and conceptually fascinating things to me, so I intend to talk about it more in detail some other time. Hassel, using electronic delay and some processing, was able to mimic Nath's raga vocal technique in a beautiful, haunting way that sounded like nothing else. On this album in particular Eno's treatments make Hassel's playing sound like a voice bursting through the spirit world from the beyond but without the ability to remember how to form words. It's maybe one of the most beautiful things I have heard. Hassel was reportedly exceptionally pleased with the outcome of the album and felt it to be the best representation of what he had been working at over the last several years. Soon after, Brian Eno recorded My Life in the Bush of Ghosts with David Byrne, in which Eno utilized many of his discoveries from the Fourth World sessions. When the Bush of Ghosts was released, Hassel heard it and felt that Eno had exploited the very special sound they had built together and made it too commercial. Hassel would later reconcile with Eno and they would work together several more times.
Pierre Henry & Urban Sax collaborated later in 1982 to make an album called Paradise Lost. Henry is a Ground breaking French experimental composer who started releasing music in 1950. He was obsessed with working with "noise" and turning unconventional sounds into music. He was one of the early musique concrete artists. Early in his career he worked with electronic compositions and tape music to create his palette of sounds. He recorded many experimental pieces that scored many films, ballets and performance pieces. Urban Sax is one such performance group which was already built primarily around music. Urban Sax was an ever-fluctuating performance art group led by fellow Frenchman Gilbert Artman. Artman's primary focus being the saxophone, he created Urban Sax to be a large outfit, with sometimes up to 52 saxophone players and 200 total performers, which created a stunning visual effect. The saxophone players were all incorporated into every performance in costume as well. They would do giant performances that regularly took place at monuments or architecturally beautiful sites, especially on water, all over the world. Each performance was organized around its very specific site and played out like a ritualistic celebration of the place. Or, more specifically, it looked as though an invasion of human-like spirits had come to celebrate life on earth with the gift of the saxophone, dance, light, smoke and color. The best known event they performed for was probably Expo 86 in Vancouver.
Pierre Henry & Urban Sax's Paradise Lost is exactly that. This album seems to have gotten little attention over time but is so complex, beautiful yet harsh in places and rewarding on multiple listens. It's catchy, and yet you feel each time you hear it as though it's brand new to your ears and you find new exciting things to run off with in the aural sensory playground of their lost paradise.
I would say that this album is most closely related to what Golden Retriever has achieved. Golden Retriever's recorded work and this album are very texturally and compositionally similar. However, Golden Retriever's raga influence, which lies heavily in the Eno/Hassel collaboration, is missing in Paradise Lost.
Mouse on Mars worked closely with musician Harold Sack Ziegler, most noticeably on the album Nuin Niggung. Mouse on Mars is a very special electronic dance act that formed in the beginning of the 1990s. They have evolved a distinct blend of very detailed dance music, showing their native German side, that fits in very easily with early komische music, but with an edge of progressive house, along with un-house skittering rhythm sounds all mashed in with (surprisingly not distasteful use of) reggae influence. In fact, Mouse on Mars takes a lot of direction from two things i tend to cringe at — reggae and Brian Wilson. Harold Sack Ziegler is an experimental musician who is trained in many instruments but predominantly lends his exceptional skills on French horn To Mouse On Mars's palette.
Harold Sack Ziegler's work with Mouse on Mars is much more akin to Conny Plank's Rastkrautpasta album with Moebius of Cluster, than to Golden Retriever's freeform-yet-composed song structures. However there is no ignoring the extremely heavy impact that Harold Sack Ziegler's French horn, though heavily processed, has. When it is not the driving force, it performs tumbling gymnastics through the field of music with its distorted rhythm sections. This is basically a pop album made to put you in a trance of dance in a space where you can make angles within circular breathing. This album's balanced use of electronics and processed French horn shares a lot of qualities with Golden Retriever, in the way that it often feels like the sounds are at any moment going to become crowded and burst at the seams before you are delivered to a state of bliss guided by wind that never truly put you in any harm and maybe put you in a state of higher consciousness.