“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”

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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)”

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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”

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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”

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Mnemosyne’ is the debut album from Mexico City based multi-instrumentalist, film composer and sound preservationist Carlos Morales, who creates under the name The Phonometrician. His music incorporates classical and American primitive guitar with elements of ambient, drone, and post-rock as well as field recordings, synths, and tape. It is a very special brand of music that finds an ideal home on the Lost Tribe Sound label which includes on its roster such illustrative & kindred artists as Western Skies Motel, From the Mouth of the Sun, Seabuckthorn, and William Ryan Fritch – a potent apposition of rustic authenticity and acoustic alchemy with opaque abstractions. The title of the album refers to the Greek goddess of memory and remembrance, a fitting symbol of its overarching theme.

“‘Mnemosyne’ is an album that asks what memories would sound like if they were captured through sound…Morales deploys a very specific palette of instrumentation to realize his musical vision, it’s as if a classical guitar is slowly being worn away and devoured by an onslaught of looping, ever-shifting analog sound creatures, scattering for cover when the light hits them too directly and continuously eat away at the strings. Much like rifling through the pages of an aged and tattered diary, warm shuffles of vinyl and airy waves tape saturation emerge only to retreat once more into the darker recesses, leaving the pysche grasping wildly to recall the meaning of their existence.” – Ryan Keane (Lost Tribe Sound) 

Continue reading “Video Premiere: “Chloe” by The Phonometrican”

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Ryan Dugré is a freelance guitarist and multi-instrumentalist based in New York City. He has recorded and toured with several pop & indie bands as well as performing live in such wide ranging settings as Le Festival d’été de Québec, Bonnaroo, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, BBC 6 Radio with Marc Riley, the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul, and Eliot Fisk’s Boston GuitarFest at New England Conservatory of Music of which Dugré is a graduate. He is also a solo recording artist with a newly released second album called The Humors, a title referencing the ancient medical system based on the theory that one’s health and emotional well-being is determined by the balance of the body’s four fluids, or humors, each of which corresponds to an aspect of temperament. Dugré explains how he attempted to translate this concept to music:

“I wrote everything on the guitar. A lot of the songs are in alternate tunings that I kind of stumbled into. This helped me connect what I was hearing in my head to my hands in a different way than I was used to. Certainly not a new technique, but it helped me remove myself from standard movements on the guitar…I had been thinking a lot about this idea of balance in a song, balance of an album. Staying aware of what types of sounds happen when, and how even small tweaks affect the listening experience. Sometimes, taking a little sweet away and adding more sharp was the move, and other times it was the opposite.” 

Continue reading “Ryan Dugré – The Humors [Birdwatcher Records]”

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Vargkvint is the project of Sofia Nystrand which she named after a dissonant musical interval known as the “wolf fifth” due to its howling properties. It is a name which perfectly evokes the enigma of her spellbinding sound which offers sweet enchantment permeated with the aura of forces both ancient and primal. Her debut EP Brus took us deep into the forests and folklore of her native Sweden and on her first full-length record entitled Hav, she turns her focus to the sea. Having grown up in a small coastal city, it is an environment Nystrand knows well for all its allure, mystery, and power all of which she seeks to capture on the new record.

”The sea has played such a huge part for us, in how societies have formed and grown, it has connected us with each other and given us life, and is the base behind much of our mythology. But at the same time, it has been a really cruel mistress – its storms, tsunamis and rising sea levels have been devastating to individual lives, whole societies and now humanity as a whole. It’s in that conflict – its beauty and its menace, its life-giving and its life-taking, this concept-album was created”Sofia Nystrand 

Continue reading “PREMIERE: “Drivved” from Hav by Vargkvint”

20190223_matineeThis travelogue introduces some wonderful recent & upcoming modern classical releases showcased through a collection of new videos. Featuring Hania, Rani, Flying Hórses (Jade Bergeron), Nico Casal, Erland Cooper, Peter Sandberg, and Aukai.

Continue reading “Travelogue 2019.02.23: Saturday Matinee”