Sunday, December 6, 2015

Numeric Driftwood I

"Sail on a Silver Mist"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

When my eldest was little, he would hear music—perhaps on the radio, or television, or just music that The Mother or I were playing—and let us know in no uncertain terms that he liked it.  I made him his first mix when he was just turning four.  Soon he would hear a song and say “put this on my mix!”  He accumulated 3 such mixes, with another 2 in the works, before the tradition sort of trailed off.1

My middle child was never much into music.  I toyed with one idea for a mix for him for quite a while, though it too remains unfinished.2  Then along came LittleBigPlanet, and consequently the Paradoxically Sized World mix, and that became his music of choice.

When my youngest was about to be born, I started on her first mix while she was still in the womb.  I wanted to put together a succession of my favorite songs to soothe oneself to sleep to.  Such a mix could serve a dual purpose: it would help her sleep and have wonderful dreams, and at the same time it would instill in her excellent taste in music.  This has worked, as she’s the child who most appreciates my tunes, and will happily dance to most anything I choose to throw at her.

Now, I’ve never considered mixes made for my children part of my “regular” œuvre.  However, Numeric Driftwood is different.  Although it was designed for my baby girl, I still listen to it quite a lot.  I enjoy putting it on when I’m drifting off to a nap, or when I just need to quiet my mind.  The title comes from my habit of naming mixes for my kids: the first word always contains their actual name.3  And, since the tracks are designed to help you drift away, “driftwood” seemed like a pretty spot-on choice.

This is some of the mellowest stuff I own, although not at all depressing.  As I said above: soothing is the emotion we’re going for here.  So naturally most of my limited new age collection appears here.  I’m not a huge fan of new age, in general, but those bands I like, I tend to like a lot.  So on this volume (and the next), we’ll see quite a few names repeated.

Probably first and foremost of those is Kitaro, whose album India was one of the first examples of the genre that really spoke to me.  I picked up another Kitaro album at the same time as India, and several more since then, but that one has remained my absolute favorite throughout the years.  The other new age artist that I’ve always loved since I first heard her is Enya.  I’m sure “Orinoco Flow” was the first tune of hers I ever laid ears on, but it was my snagging of her insanely good album Shepherd Moons in a used CD store that really turned me into an Enya fan.  I wore that album out, especially around bedtime.  There’s one track from each album here.

Of course, predating even my discovery of Kitaro, I used to use Victorialand for putting myself to sleep.  Now, feel free to refer back to my full discussion of how I discovered this life-changing album, but for now I’ll just remind you of my go-to description for what it sounds like: angels singing in a pink fog.  For many years, the opening strains of “Lazy Calm” (which is the Victorialand opener) could steal away any number of troubles and worries that had accumulated throughout the day and knock me right out before I ever got to “Fluffy Tufts.”  There was just no way I could start this volume with anything else.  For good measure, I threw in “Feet-like Fins” as the closer.

Going back to new age, another artist I’m fond of is Angels of Venice, from Venice Beach (right down the road from where I now work).  I first heard Carol Tatum’s harp on Hearts of Space, which I’ve talked about many times throughout this series.4  AoV is Tatum on harp, plus a flautist and cellist (the exact musicians have changed a few times over the years).  The music is so perfect for this mix that I’ve thrown in three different tracks, off three different albums.

In the category of true ambient—that is, natural sounds blended with soothing music—I’ve long been a fan of this CD I picked up from God knows where: Tropical Rain Forest, from the “Nature’s Relaxing Sounds” series.  It’s mostly rain forest, with just a touch of new age in the background.  While it’s not really well-suited for this mix, it did lead me to appreciate an artist I do feature heavily on this mix: Ukrainian-born Anjey Satori, who I discovered via Magnatune.5  Many of his tunes are long (including one of the two I use on this volume: “River Surround” clocks in at a whopping 12:22), which I usually consider a drawback.  While a track that goes on for ten-plus minutes can work in the context of an artist’s album,6 I generally believe that that’s too long to go without some variety in the context of a mix.  But Satori really has a deft touch when it comes to driving out tension, and most every track from his excellent For Relaxation will probably eventually appear in this mix somewhere.

And, speaking of Magnatune artists, Hans Christian is another one I discovered there.  I wouldn’t really call him new age,7 but “Atlantis” really works here.  This album of his (Phantoms) is sort of like a worldmusic version of smooth jazz, in a weird way.  Unusual, but very fitting.

Also unusual and very fitting is the utterly delightful version of “Trust in Me” by Siouxsie and the Banshees.  One of the biggest reasons I fell in love with Siouxsie’s cover album Through the Looking Glass, this one is a cover of the Disney song from The Jungle Book.  You know: the one where Kaa the snake8 attempts to put Mowgli to sleep.  Siouxsie’s reimagining of this classic song from my childhood includes a lot of new-age-y touches, such as harp and cello.9  But it’s still a Siouxsie song at heart, not as dark as many of her tracks, but still with the ethereal, dream-like touches that let you know you’re listening to the godmother of goth.  The very first mix tape I ever put together for helping myself drift off to sleep was probably nothing but 3 or 4 tracks off Victorialand, 3 or 4 tracks off India, and “Trust in Me.”  Being one of only two songs with any decipherable lyrics in it on this volume,10 it also handily provides our subtitle.

Lastly among the more-or-less expected artists we have Skyedance.  I’ve always sort of loved bagpipes—in my experience, you either love them or hate them.  Of course, even when you love them, you can’t take them for long stretches at a time.  The biggest problem with bagpipies, in my opinion, is that they’re usually heard in the company of other bagpipes, and little else.  The bagpipe combines a lilting woodwind tone with a buzzing that’s almost harsh to the ear.  Multiply that by several bagpipes playing simultaneously and it can easily overwhelm the listener.  Too bad there’s no cool music which features a bagpipe but also has other instrumentation, which is also cool.  I happened to mention this to my programming friend from ThinkGeek11 and he handed me his Skyedance CD.  Formed by Scottish fiddler Alisdair Fraser, Skyedance features a Canadian flautist specializing in wooden flute, a jazz/worldmusic bassist, and a percussionist specializing in medieval/renaissance music.  And also Eric Rigler, often considered to be one of the most prolific pipers in the world.  He played bagpipes in Braveheart, Titanic, Battleship ... it’s sometimes said that, if you hear bagpipes in a movie or on television, you’re listening to Eric Rigler.  On top of that, he plays Scottish smallpipes, uilleann pipes (the Irish version of bagpipes), and tin whistle (a recorder-like instrument featured often in Celtic music, as well as in pop songs by the Cranberries, the Pogues, and the Dave Matthews Band).  The net effect for Skyedance is quite intoxicating: their fast songs make you want to move, and their slow songs are gentle and soothing.  I chose “The Lupine” for this volume, which has a pretty, almost lullaby-like quality.12

Numeric Driftwood I
    [Sail on a Silver Mist]

        “Lazy Calm” by Cocteau Twins, off Victorialand
        “Atlantis” by Hans Christian, off Phantoms
        “River Surround” by Anjey Satori, off For Relaxation
        “Caravansaray” by Kitaro, off India
        “18” by Moby, off 18
        “The Enchanted Forest” by Angels of Venice, off Music for Harp, Flute and Cello
        “Forest Surround” by Anjey Satori, off For Relaxation
        “Trust in Me” by Siouxsie and the Banshees, off Through the Looking Glass [Covers]
        “The World Beyond the Woods” by Angels of Venice, off Awake Inside a Dream
        “Into Dust” by Mazzy Star, off So Tonight That I Might See
        “No Holly for Miss Quinn” by Enya, off Shepherd Moons
        “The Lupine” by Skyedance, off Way Out to Hope Street
        “Starshine Lullabye” by Angels of Venice, off Forever After
        “Feet-Like Fins” by Cocteau Twins, off Victorialand
Total:  14 tracks,  73:25

And that just leaves us with the more unlikely candidates.  Electronica artist Moby is often known for his more pop-leaning compositions such as “South Side,” “We Are All Made of Stars,” or “Porcelain.”  But he can do EDM with the best of them, and also downtempo too.  “18,” from the album of the same name, is a particularly relaxing track.

As for Mazzy Star, their songs are never fast-paced, but they usually still have a bit of harshness to them, a buzzing to the guitar work that often seems more fitting to a thrash or punk band.  Even their more languorous tracks have a tendency to skew more towards “creepy,” which is obviously not good for this mix.  But I’ve always found “Into Dust” somewhat soothing.  Maybe just don’t listen to the lyrics too closely.

Next time, we’ll take a trip to the beach.


1 Although I still have all the details on all those mixes.  So they’re easily resurrectible at any point.

2 Since this writing, I resurrected and finished this mix.

3 For my eldest, that’s trivial: his name is a word.  For the other two, one has to get a bit creative.

4 First way back in the intro, but probably most extensively in relation to Shadowfall Equinox.

5 For more details of what Magnatune is and how I discovered it, see the discussion in Rose-Coloured Brainpan.

6 Although probably not as often as the artist believes, unfortunately.

7 Although apparently Magnatune does.  Perhaps some of his newer stuff better fits that label.

8 Voiced by Sterling Holloway, probably most famous as the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh.

9 The latter provided by the ever-excellent Martin McCarrick.  You know, when discussing Shadowfall Equinox, I mentioned that McCarrick was my second favorite cello player.  We’ll be hearing from my first favorite—Jami Sieber—on volume II.

10 The Cocteau Twins are known for many things, but decipherable lyrics ain’t one of ’em.

11 The same fellow I mentioned back in Smokelit Flashback, who also introduced me to Lemon Jelly, Naomi, etc.

12 And no actual bagpipes.  While bagpipes feature prominently—and excellently—in Skyedance’s faster songs, they’re not really designed for helping you drift off to sleep.

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