Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Arve Henriksen, Best Of…

Arve Henriksen, The Best Of ... compiled with covers and notes by Trace Reddell

The versatile and prolific Norwegian trumpet-player, Arve Henriksen, is given the greatest hits treatment in this double-LP collection. A founding member of the mysterious free jazz and space music group, Supersilent, Arve is represented here by his solo work and collaborations outside of that band. This retrospective treatment uncovers the ritualistic properties of music, presenting an ever-deepening mystery from an initial  ceremony opening up sanctified soundscapes to the ultimate angelic ascent within a contemplative mountain shrine.

Part I Invisible Cities

Side A
Opening Image (4:16)
This is an audacious opening track from Chiaroscuro (2004), one of the first albums of Arve’s that I heard beyond Supersilent. It presents such a raw and isolated treatment of sound while demonstrating Arve’s various approaches to the trumpet … as effects processor, as percussive instrument, as flute and voice. The track is so worshipful, and Arve just goes for it vocally. Most of the track is so stark, but then there is this wonderful little fade out into space and mystery that suggests the more cosmic dimensions to come. It is the quintessential opening ceremony to clear out the old dust and call upon new energies.

Saraswati (4:29)
This track just drops you right into a churning bubbly melt that is so fantastic. I’ve never heard Arve working in such a Bitches Brew outtake mode. The string settings evoke a kind of spy theme, but there are some spacey shimmers that work as mystic sci-fi. This track moves into such a holy space. It felt like some transformation has occurred, and we reflect back on it in a state of bliss. This is, fittingly enough, from Places of Worship (2013).

Migration (5:41)
This track flows so perfectly from the space of “Saraswati” that sometimes I’ll forget and think they’re part of the same piece, it’s just such a fantastic extension and deepening of the other realm opened up there. The album that this track comes from -- Cartography (2008) -- is probably my go-to Arve. This piece is so cool, great late-night vibe that feels more urban than most of Arve’s jazz formats, an invaluable visit to a new place on the map. The bass in this track really lends the mix the cartographic waveforms, spatializing the mix down into the depths. Once again, Arve’s solo albums can drift into the most unexpected places. The cave that we get into in “Migration” is full of reverby percussive blows and a kind of water droplet sound. This track is great, too, for spacing out, but then it drops back into the melodic rhythm to take us out on the bass.

Yerevan (2:07)
Arve makes an appearance here on Lars Danielsson’s Liberetto (2012). It’s great to hear Arve in ensembles like this, contributing to a very organic statement by this thoughtful quintet featuring Lars Danielsson (bass, cello), Tigran (piano), Magnus Ostrom (drums), and John Parricelli (guitar).

Side B
Parallel Action (4:38)
Well, another one from Chiaroscuro so soon, but this track just sounded right as a re-entry into Arve’s solo work. Arve’s immersion in multiple languages of the trumpet is fascinating to me. This “parallel action’ is a statement about the diversity of settings in which he plays, but also about the many types of textures that Arve can add to a single track. I like being in this space where I’m unsure whether I’m hearing some technique Arve has honed, an electronic filter or other manipulation, or a combination. I’m prodded to wonder what synthesizer and electronic music will do after the electric era, and I hear something in this jazz that suggests a kind of “post-electronic music.”

Zat Was Zen … Zis Is Now (3:27)
Here, Arve appears on Stian Carstensen’s Backwards Into the Backwoods (2004), a weird Scandinavian hillbilly album full of ethnological forgeries like this Zen Garden of a track. I like how straightforward and unaffected Arve’s horn sounds here with the upper-register winds of the Carstensen’s kaval, all blowing over the restrained pluckings of the spinet, also played by Arve.

Mlouk (6:10)
Arve in a trio setting with Giovanni Di Domenico and Tatsuhisa Yamamoto on their album Distare Sonanti (2012). I love the synthesized elements underlying everything here. This is imaginary film soundtrack stuff, from a heavy psychological thriller, vaguely occult. The restrained but aggressive piano, the panned right drums, and Arve’s horn slipping at times toward something other than trumpet, so breathy with all that whispering. Then an actual voice. Who is this Mlouk? Something’s been summoned. One of Arve’s best dark pieces. After the creepy atmospheric break, the return of the theme is so cinematic climatic.

Assembly (3:56)
This track from Cartography confronts the dangerous energies of Mlouk with a song of psychic confrontation. A choir clears the space after Arve’s initial benediction, then we are off into a joyous space for the horn to play, floating around on top of such an engaging bed of sounds, little rips of static. This is too active for an ambient backdrop, it keeps taking me a bit by surprise, changes up for just long enough, then returns into something I remember, that loop made from instruments and sound sources I can’t even identify. From what dimension have we tuned this in, this cascading electric current, and something like voices again that reinforce the horn and get rid of the voice of Mlouk for once and for all? Something about this track suggests an Eno production, another Another Green World,  where the acoustic instrumental sound accrues this haze of processing that takes on a life of its own.

Nash Lontano (4:39)
Here, Arve performs as part of the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble on The Zoo Is Far (2007), a sombre blend of alternative jazz and post-classical chamber music. In a score, “Lontano” notes that the player should perform as if from a distance, something this track establishes right from the beginning of its slowly approaching fade in. The piano is plodding, heavy, but restrained, footsteps from far off. The track is upon us surprisingly suddenly after the long build-up, especially Arve’s soulful horn, with its downward turned melody -- somewhat uncharacteristic, this is, his melodic runs tend to go up the scale, not descending. Another melody line that picks at nostalgic threads. There is a heavy discordant modulation at times on the brass and piano, sudden outbursts from them that really stand out, and amplify an undercurrent of anxiety or anger that go along with this dark, depressed state. If this is at a distance, imagine what it must sound like right in front of you.

Day One (2:54)
One last track from Liberetto takes us out with some real after hours chill, again in that clean and organic horn setting that Arve favors with Lars Danielsson. There is a kind of smoky gray scale ECM chamber vibe on this whole album. The playing is present but cool, restrained but at the same time inspired, so vast the imaginary black and white stage, but also such vivid individual tone colors flickering through the darkness.

Part II Cosmic Music

Side C
Ascent (5:57)
After the subdued introduction, and the synthesizer strings appear, I am there, out of this pitter-pattering elemental landscape into some exquisite Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd sound garden. The horn proves to be the gift that this kind of cosmic music needed all along. The percussive chug at times underlying this material is always so perfect, as well, to prevent stagnation in a deep elemental way. Powerful forces are at work just around the peripheries of awareness. This is one of those tracks that I would love to inhabit, second only to “Bird’s-Eye-View.” It’s from Strojn (2007).

Bird’s-Eye-View (4:07)
This personal piece of fluttering avian consciousness comes from Chiaroscuro, a very spiritual album for me. There is so much essential Kosmische Musik on this album, but this is one of the most amazing pieces. The loopy winds and strings motif suggest Ralph Lundsten’s electronic post-classical compositions. The brief space-out that the track drifts into a little over halfway through is just so epic, sounding a bit Berlin School and then very Pink Floyd “Echoes,” which had a similar atmosphere in its central spaces, as well as its own extended gull calls to bring us back. This piece is so psychedelic. The sudden awakening of the flock at the end is fantastic and funny. Anyway, I don’t want to sound like I like this track just to play connect the dots, and here’s what I think it sounds like, and let’s do a family tree of this sound. It’s not a dry exercise. Rather, I think having heard Lundsten and Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh and Miles Davis and Joe Zawinul, I’ve been looking for someone to extend and enhance that overall creative project, to keep this sound alive through the breath and the circuits of those who have heard it. A single epic song lives on through these different composers and musicians, each channeling and adding to its substance. From this elevated position, we may conclude that a particular type of sound may exist beyond any given producer, and that a living sonorous object is waiting for those performers who can keep it alive and always becoming-new.

Portal (4:11)
From Places of Worship, this track takes us into contemporary classical spaces as it prepares us for the next phase of the night ahead, calming and chilling out to a deeper level. It seems we’ve almost lost the beat, but a cool bass and drums with a falling cascade of strings gives us one last late night cop show theme before a brief outburst of Arve’s voice puts us back in mind to the singer encountered in the opening image.

Black Mountain (5:05)
Another Tangerine Dream journey, cinematic and epic, a bit daunting and arduous at times, from Strojn. This is the epitome of Arve’s work and everything I have hopes to ever hear. Everything feels so gritty and slightly worn out, it feels like a very old recording, which is still triggering some of those nostalgic longings for Brain-era Tangerine Dream. The attention to that textural aging quality of the sound suggests more like Boards of Canada. This recording is an aged artefact from a parallel world; like new music evolved along a divergent pathway from a ‘70s somewhere else, transmitted here from that another timeline, a distorted mirror or altered Polaroid fantasy.

Side D
Viewing Infinite Space (3:12)
Another of those glorious Kosmische spaces that Arve taps into. These were the moments that I went looking for based on what I loved about Supersilent, then after getting my first solo album, Chiaroscuro. One of its kind on this early release,Sakuteiki (2001), this was just the kind of mysterious cosmic music I was hoping for. The horn just sounds vast, regal. It seems like it’s going to fade out, but then it gets so edgy at the end. But the dominant energy is like Popol Vuh, uniting a common ancestral acoustic sensibility with an electric shimmer of sound processing or synthesis. This is an ancient holy song, and it expands my consciousness by putting the sparkling edge of outer space on ordinary reality, drawing me back into a past I didn’t realize I had always inhabited.

Recording Angel (6:23)
The sound on this track from Cartography is so immense. Mysterious, beautiful, dark, perception fluttering just around the edges of consciousness, all aspects of the infinite bird’s-eye-view of the angel. The transformations that a single track undergoes is frequently amazing. I think that is part of the cinematic, or narrative, aspect of these experiences … though entirely suggestive, rather than fixed into a program by Henriksen. This piece takes off into 2001 territory, with the Ligeti-like tone clusters and choruses that take us out of the track and into expanded space after its major turning point.

Visa Till Fårö (arr. G. Eriksson) (4:15)
Arve performs here with the Oslo Chamber Choir under direction of Gunnar Eriksson and Grete Pedersen. His work is understated, at one point at its most flute-like, another very unprocessed. This sounds like the best of Enya to me, and I actually prefer this layering of actual, multiple voices compared to the multitrack processing and digital chorusing of Enya’s voice. This is such a lovely folk song, and again so fine to hear Arve working in a different context. This may be more Middle Earth fantasy than outer space, but I think it’s good for any sonic cosmonaut to have some memento that reconnects the body to the earth and to its legacies and songs.

Alpine Pyramid (1:29)
This is another majorly regal track from Strojn. The recording feels so crackling and aged. And yet not completely of this world, recorded from some far distance. The surface noise that I’m picking up, I think, is an artifact of Arve’s playing technique and a close-microphone. It’s near to hand but also sits at  very high altitude. Is all this an artifact of the recording angel at pyramid’s peak?

Bonus Single

Side A.  Chiaro (3:28)
From Chiaroscuro, “Chiaro” is mysterious, spiritual space music. The song feels ancient, a medieval hymn or something older with a holy cast. The bed of strange sounds and atmospheres that this voice sits on top of is so incredibly trippy, with more than a hint of danger or at least darkness, a  geographical soundscape that goes from ice cave to deep rain forest. “Chiaro” indicates luminosity, a strange word to associate with this track. It feels so dark. But perhaps the voice is the vivid sunrise that illuminates the shadowed obscurities.

Side B.  Glacier Descent (7:31)
There’s a Wagnerian sunrise quality to the start of this piece from Strojn. The “Glacier Descent” sustains a brilliant shimmery quality throughout. First the Icelandic throat singing, then the glorious synth bed and echoing processed voice put this squarely in a landscape shot from an imaginary Herzog film as Arve again channels Florian Fricke and Popol Vuh. Arve also creates a contemporary holy music that combines folk traditions from West and East along with electronic atmospheres. It’s too edgy and sublime to sound like prefabricated New Age. With throat-singing and yodeling, both lifting from the root of worshipful resonance, this is the most ascendent descent you will ever make.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Hypnogogia 1 (The pHarmanaut's continuous deep sleep mix)

A premium pHarmanautical aid for continuous deep sleep, hypnogogic visions, lucid dreaming, and out-of-body experiences. (Batch vintage 2002.)

Benevolent Spore (The pHarmanaut's Deep Space Beats Mix)

The ambient encounter with the benevolent spore gets a bit out of hand. Noise ensues. I had a lot of fun making this mix, and I hope you enjoy the journey. Brings you back out safely on the other side. Cover art by Trace Reddell.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Deep Space Plant Entity (The pHarmanaut's Drum'n'Bass in Space Mix)

The subharmonic cryogenic containment cells are opened at last! Join The pHarmanaut on his latest journey into deep space propelled by drum'n'bass thrusters with the support of several space age booster packs. Cover art by Trace Reddell.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mooggets: 22 Kitschedelic Electronics and Psych Pop Classics

If this isn't Moogfest packing music, I don't know what is! Article to come! I'm getting ready to get Mooged.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A brief history of Nuggets

Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman's compilation, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968, with liner notes by Lenny Kaye, anthologized an era of rock history that, by 1972, already seemed to have taken place ages ago. The four years of releases from 1965 to '68 were well on the other side of the shattering events that turned the high '60's hippie dream into a messy and unsettling downer: the Manson Family killings, the disastrous Altamont Free Concert, the always intensifying but perpetually stalled war in Viet Nam, and the deaths of Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison, to name a few. Whatever "psychedelia" had become by 1972 -- when the West Coast psych groups had settled in as country or jam bands, Pink Floyd and other progressive bands upped the ante on studio concept albums, and glam and art rock were on the horizon -- it was different enough to situate the 27 "artyfacts" on Nuggets in "the first psychedelic era." But it's not like "psychedelic" was ever a clear and transparent signifier; if anything, the tracks on Nuggets retrieve an alternative psych not at all synonymous with "hippie" culture.

Despite the pop-art pop of its cover art, the original Nuggets documents a time that wasn't as sunshiny and groovy as the summer of love had implied. When they are psychedelic, these songs are psychedelic in a punk way; not a paisley clouded sunrise but a dark and dangerous night of the unhinged soul, tinged by the constant threat that you'd taken things too far this time. Fuzzed out guitars, pulsing Farfisa organ, the chugging train of rhythm guitar, bass and drums, and big, open reverberation on voices -- all these become characteristic pieces of the "nuggets" sound. So does the sonic association of freak-out guitar solos and other heavily-processed instrumental voices with extreme psychological experiences. But most of the original Nuggets are down to earth, the stuff of adolescence, snotty white post-R&B rants against love, girls, social conformity, and mental health. These were the elements that led Kaye to label this a kind of "punk music," and certainly the lo-fi production, the sometimes amateurish skills of players, the edginess, the darkness as well as the asinine snarl, and the emphasis on the "single" -- all but 3 of the 27 cuts on the original Nuggets clock in at less than 3 min. -- come back with the '76 punk scene, when such sonic signatures were at the core of punk's rejection of the bloated pigs of progressive rock and their polished concept albums as well as the coke-fueled country rock that so many of the Sixties' biggest artists had devolved into. Even the relative anonymity of the first-era Nuggets bands could be seen as a virtue that shielded them from the fate of over-exposure that had claimed so many of the '60s greats.

The Chocolate Watchband
The Seeds

The off-the-radar aspect of the original Nuggets bands might suggest an early kind of indy music, but most of the groups that Holzman and Kaye document rather indicate a regionalized sensibility. Picked up by local record labels and radio stations that thought they might have a reasonable chance of a hit with the new adolescent market gave countless bands their first taste of recording out of the garage and in a studio. The preponderance of LA and other SoCal-based bands in the scene -- The Electric Prunes, The Standells, The Seeds, Count Five, The Leaves, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, and The Chocolate Watchband -- indicates a solid music industry infrastructure in the area, but bands are also represented from Chicago (Shadows of Knight), Detroit (The Amboy Dukes), Austin (13th Floor Elevators), Philly (The Magic Mushrooms), and Boston (The Remains). Most of these groups would not make more than a couple of significant albums, if that, and what we hear on the four-sides of the first Nuggets album are often the "one-hits" (several in the Top Ten) of their respective wonders. But wonders they are. Alongside frantic pastiches of the Byrds, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, we hear elements of frat-rock, surf, blues, soul, folk rock, and freakbeat.

The cover of the 1976 Sire reissue of Nuggets looks
more like a Steve Miller record than punk.

The relative diversity of sounds taken up on the original Nuggets is vastly expanded in the 4-disc box set that Rhino Records released in 1998. But Nuggets never went away. Sire Records reissued the first two LPs in 1976, just in time for the punk explosion, when new listeners would hear the collection in the context of The Stooges, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, The Ramones, and others; though judging by the dramatic change in cover art, it's not surprising that the unaware may have expected a set of jammy acid rock, not the stinging garage punk that's on the record. In 1978, the Pebbles series launched, mining ever more obscure gems from the same three years at the end of the '60s, which it labels "the First Punk Era." Pebbles eventually unnumbered 28 volumes over a 10 year period, eventually extending from the States and UK-centric sensibilities of the comps to include volumes on the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and Switzerland. There were also the 20-volume Rubble series, begun in 1984, and 10 volumes of Back from the Grave, also starting in 1984.

The album that started it all for me, bought brand new
in 1984 at the Record Exchange in Austin, TX.

This banner year also saw the return of Nuggets outright, with Rhino Records taking the original compilation and expanding the concept over 14 volumes that included sub-themes such as "The Hits," "Punk" (in three volumes), "Pop" (in four volumes), "Acid Rock," "San Francisco," and "The Northwest."

While British and other European continental collections of music along the same Nuggets bandwidth had appeared earlier, Rhino Records again made a substantial collection in a 4-disc box set of international Nuggets in 2001's Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond 1964-1969.

It was 1984 when I first discovered this otherwise lost generation of music from an era that I loved. Some of my earliest listening experiences were hearing my sisters' pop records by The Beatles, The Lovin' Spoonful, Herman's Hermits, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Kinks, The Hollies, and of course The Monkees, whose "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" is still one of the greatest garage rock songs of all time. I always held onto these pop groups, no matter how much I learned to love heavier music, dug deeper into the catalogues of other '60s bands, or took the dive into prog. And even while loving these groups from the '60s, it was also listening to new wave, punk, post-punk, and most importantly, the Paisley Underground and neo-psychedelic rock of the early '80s, which meant that Nuggets would not only fit right into this sonic vocabulary that I was building but also filled in historical as well as stylistic blanks for me.

Zoroaster "Bruno" Clarke, of Sha Na Na,
at Crystal Palace, London, 1974

More importantly, Nuggets fueled my desire to understand where songs came from, how music goes forward by going back, how something recorded almost 20 years earlier can sound like it came out today, or vice versa. Around this same time that I found my first few Nuggets albums, the greatest rock'n'roll prof ever, Bruno Clarke, in my first undergrad "critical literary theory" class, turned me onto an idea of Eliot's. In "Tradition and the Individual Talent," Eliot claims that the various eras of poets are in fact channeling the same essential literature, which keeps looking for new poets of each generation, through which the Poem can be expressed and renewed, not because of one person's talent, which arises from hard work and not inner-genius or inheritance, but because of a great and impersonal fusion of history and the current moment, of the individual and the collective. This process insures that certain aspects of a new poem can be measured and understood by what came before; but it also insures novelty and renewal and relevance to the moment.

Songs work the same way. They carry on by means of off-the-cuff copies and unintentional pastiches, blatant rip-offs and inspirational repossessions, as well as through unexpected syntheses and splicings and sudden discoveries and detours into local flavors and regional scenes that hit us with a sense that something new is going on. The song doesn't so much remain the same; rather, it keeps going back to the garage for re-tooling and tune-up.

"Biggest Hits: A Nuggets Collection" is the first of two prefaces to a series of contemporary psychedelic and garage mixes, "Godchildren of Nuggets," which will be annotated here at Pharmakopolis for your enjoyment. These 22 cuts, most 50 years old now, take us through timeless themes of teen angst, of chemically fueled journeys of mind and soul, of basement and garage satori. They speak to experiences that stretch the limits of language and music, turning to fuzzy squalls of feedback and distortion to express those electric peaks of the psychonautical experience that goes beyond words and mind. At other times, the lyrics cut through all the shit and hit the truth of youth with a power undiluted by big record labels and radio censors. Without a marmalade sky or kaleidoscope eyes in sight, acid trips have rarely been so honestly portrayed as in the precarious, dark, and unsettling lyrics of the 13th Floor Elevators' "Reverberation (Doubt): "Well, you finally find / your helpless mind / is trapped inside your skin. / You want to leave / but you believe / you won't get back again." Or as mundane as the Pretty Thing's stomping "L.S.D.," for that matter. Straight and hipster society alike are equally hard to fit into, as we hear in "My Flash On You" (one of the earliest anti-heroin songs recorded), "Pushin' Too Hard," "Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl," "Summertime Blues," and "Vacuum Cleaner" -- and again and again, in "Psychotic Reaction," "Psycho," "I'll Make You Sorry," "I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)," and "Public Execution," we find that "love" is the thing that always pushes us farthest over the edge. Never has a "love-in" seemed more menacing than the one conjured up by the snarling vocals of David Aguilar in The Chocolate Watchband. Most of these songs are diatribes directed at "you," which may mean a girlfriend or a parent or a teacher or a boss or a congressman or a scenester, but might as well be YOU.

Pharmakopolis launches as a psychedelic blog

Trips through strange music of all generations, personally selected from the pHarmanaut's subharmonic stash of weird sounds, nugget rock, psychedelic freak-outs, kitschedelic lounge, hi-sci-fi, and more.