“I could hear everything, together with the hum of my hotel neon…” Jack Kerouac

One of the privileges of being on this journey of musical discovery over the past five years or so has been to witness first hand the trajectory of emerging artists from their tentative beginnings to their creative peak, and one of the most satisfying among these has been Hotel Neon. What began in 2013 with brothers Michael & Andrew Tasselmyer, some inexpensive equipment, and a little inspiration from Jack Kerouac has blossomed into a vital trio (multi-instrumentalist Steven Kemner joined in 2015) that is doing some real heavy lifting in the field of ambient & electroacoustic music.

From the perspective of the outside observer at least, some of the keys to Hotel Neon’s success would seem to be an extraordinarily clear vision of their sound from the very outset, a commitment to avoid repeating themselves, an intense work ethic, and persistent efforts to cultivate a sense of camaraderie with fellow artists as well as their audience. All of this has translated into a series of albums each of which becomes essential listening as soon as it released. This travelogue features the last two most recent full-length records, the brand new Vanishing Forms and last year’s Means of Knowing, both available on Agustín Mena’s outstanding Archives imprint.  Continue reading “Travelogue 2019.04.21: The Beautiful Hum of Hotel Neon”

Photo by Image by Robert Katzki
Source: unsplash.com/photos/yKWuzGyVsBM

Welcome to the listening room.  Make yourself comfortable and check out some of the latest sounds that have caught our ears as well as previews of upcoming releases.  We begin with the quarterly Soundcloud “field journal” playlist for the spring season as well as new music by THESIS (ft. Taylor Deupree, M. Grig, & Porya Hatami), Rafael Anton Irisarri, Benoit Pioulard & Sean Curtis Patrick, Antarctic Wastelands (Ben Tatlow)Michael Price, Maiya Hershey & Steve Jansen, Sven Laux & Daniela Orvin, Richard Luke ft. Amini Bedrush-McDonald, and Laura Masotto Continue reading “The Listening Room (April 2019)”

Veins_Cover_3000pxBorn in East Berlin to actor Klaus-Peter Thiele and painter Rosemarie Rautenberg, Valeska Rautenberg grew up living and breathing creativity and has followed that path throughout her life. She started working as an actress at the age of eleven and continued starring in movies and television shows on & off while at school and later during university. During her teen years, however, she discovered music was her true love and since then she has engaged in all aspects of it as an instrumentalist, singer, composer, producer, and teacher.

Rautenberg has also performed in a wide array of settings from pubs & underground clubs to gala events and major venues, but her latest release is an especially personal and intimate one. Part of a series of releases that began in 2017 after taking some time off to tend to her personal life, Veins (Songs for Piano, Wind, & Water) is a collection of four beautiful piano-based vignettes inspired by early morning walks on the streets of Berlin and being attuned to sounds that can easily be drowned out when the city is bustling.  Continue reading “Video Premiere: “Wandering” by Valeska Rautenberg”

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“A week before leaving, I bought a dictionary and phrasebook…”

Under the moniker of Celer, American musician, writer, & photographer Will Long has released a staggering amount of material – a wide assortment of drones, soundscapes, sketchworks, and processed loops. No doubt his many followers each have their own favorites, but personally I always find his work most compelling when he creates deeply immersive on-location narratives such as Sky Limits (2014) which presented a sense of daily commuter life in urban Japan, or Two Days and One Night (2016) which wistfully retraced the steps of an elderly uncle’s tragic visit to Tunisia in the 1984.

Long’s preternatural ability to capture scenes and emotions in a kind of musical amber and then turn it into a story comes to the fore again on Xièxie, in which he takes us on a journey from Shanghai to Hangzou on China’s high-speed rail line. Like a cinematographer who slows fast-moving action on celluloid for dramatic effect, Long turns the journey into a mesmerizing soporific reverie punctuated by scene-setting cues like the bustle of a busy station or the whir of a speeding train. To deepen the immersion, he narrates the excursion in the liner notes with all the eloquence of a novelist.

“Covered in rain, during the days and even the nights, Shanghai was lit in a glow, a mist turning to a constant grey fog. Buildings lined with neon and LCD screens flashed, and from around corners and behind buildings, the night was illuminated much the same as the day. Cars separated the classes, their horns voices punctuating the streets, as pedestrians in groups loosely scattered the streets, talking and walking on speakerphone…”

Continue reading “A Sense of Place: Xièxie by Celer”

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After a little winter hibernation, things are beginning to spring to life over at 1631 Recordings, one of my favorite contemporary classical labels since its inception. In addition to three releases announced in conjunction with Piano Day 2019, the label will be bringing us a collection of brand new reworks of material from Jakob Lindhagen‘s ‘Paces which was originally released in late 2017 (read the ST review here).  While Lindhagen successfully etched the quintessence of long Scandinavian nights into each of the album’s austere, delicate compositions, these carefully curated reworks reveal how just how adaptable they are to new ideas and constructions.  Continue reading “Premiere: Jakob Lindhagen – In The Machinery (Aisling Brouwer Rework)”

Impermanence (2000x2000)

Ian Hawgood‘s name is absolutely inseparable from the contemporary ambient & experimental music scene. His Home Normal label, which just marked its tenth anniversary, is one of the first and still one of the best of its kind. He is also a tireless and kind supporter of other musicians in this space and has had a hand in mastering many of their albums across a wide array of labels. His own solo albums, however, have been few & precious so it comes as great news to see one arrive this spring only a year after last year’s for Eilean Rec. Hawgood himself draws a connection between the two, saying that they are “partners in construction”, the result of patient late-night cultivation over nearly a five-year period spent living in Warsaw and Tokyo before ultimately selling off his entire collection of synths and reels, some of which went to the British Library.  One might argue he saved his best for last as Impermanence is a sublime document of sonic ephemerality and extraordinary filigree in terms of both texture and emotion.

“After many years of in-demand mastering, label curation and collaborative focus Hawgood now offers us a definitive portrait of the technical expertise and personal integrity demanded by exemplary modern tape-based practice…In studios between Tokyo and Warsaw walls of reel-to-reel tape recorders, analogue synthesizers, processed textures and degraded cassette recordings were all carefully coaxed into braiding together their hiss, wow, flutter and warmth into this beautifully flowing nine-chapter arc of delicately unpredictable sound.” – James Murray (Slowcraft Records)

Continue reading “Premiere: “Whispers” from Impermanence by Ian Hawgood”

Jacob Pavek - Brick Wall

Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, Jacob Pavek began his journey as a modern classical recording artist in 2012 with his acclaimed debut album Bloom. He followed that up in 2015 with a moving collection of tender solo piano pieces and duets with violinist Leah Ottman entitled Illume on Unperceived Records as well as a soundtrack to the Emmy-nominated documentary ‘Hello, Montevideo‘ which showed his more kinetic, electronic side. Pavek returned to the label this year with a gorgeous and emotionally resonant new release called Nome which finds his grand piano still at the heart of his work along with violin performed by Josh Misner (Laurels String Quartet).

I am very grateful Jacob found the time to talk to us a little bit about the new album, his creative process live and in studio, and the growing indie classical scene both locally & abroad. Continue reading “Duologue: A conversation with Jacob Pavek”

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 photo by Arūnas Naujokas on Unsplash

This special edition of The Listening Room features the Soundcloud selections playlist compiled from the many wonderful tracks uploaded for Piano Day 2019. You can also find recommended piano recordings released earlier this year by Hauschka, Adrian LaneBruno Sanfilippo, Julien Marchal, Bruno Bavota, Tom Blankenberg, and Lullatone as well as Piano Day releases by Mikael Lind, Akira Kosemura, Kyle McEvoy, and Garreth Broke. Finally we’ll peek ahead with previews of upcoming albums by Alex KozobolisJohannes Hirschmann, Tristan Eckerson, and Tom Adams. It is nothing less than a movable feast for piano music lovers. Happy listening!

Continue reading “The Listening Room (Piano Day 2019)”

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Minneapolis composer Chris Bartels has been writing ambient music under the name Elskavon for a decade and this past year was arguably one of his most productive with the release of Skylight and numerous collaborations and work supporting the burgeoning indie classical scene in the area along with artists like Jacob Pavek, Philip Daniel, and John Hayes. Not only that, but the Bora York indie pop project fronted by Bartels and wife Rebekah are in the process of developing a new album as well.  Sounds like more than enough to keep even the most restlessly creative musician busy, does it not? Yet, somehow Bartels has found the time & energy to put yet one more iron in the fire with Blurstem.

The project was born as a piano-centric offshoot of Elskavon. Chris and Rebekah were gifted an old spinet piano when they bought a house in 2015. Always slightly out of tune, a little dusty sounding, and very much imperfect, the instrument had a character that Chris wanted to explore. He cut up an old sweater and taped it to the strings, so as to avoid waking up their children at night and ended up writing so many new songs on this spinet that he felt the need to start a whole new project.  Fittingly, the first single from the album that resulted is premiered here on Piano Day.

Continue reading “Premiere: Rubrik by Blurstem + Brique A Braq”