Sunday, February 4, 2018

Cantosphere Eversion I

"Where Time Becomes a Loop"

[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.]

There are people who like music that pushes the boundary of what “music” means.  Some of these people like experimental jazz, and some of these people like no wave, and some of these people like proto-industrial, such as Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle and the ever-inventive (and ever-impenetrable) Einstürzende Neubauten.  I am not one of those people.  If you’re interested in playing “wrong” notes (by which I mean playing simultaneous notes that deliberately diverge from what most people understand as a chord, particularly when the result is discordant to the ears), or perhaps just combining various noises with no notes at all, then you’ve lost me.  I understand, intellectually, that there are artists who are extremely talented and produce such work.  But, emotionally, I just can’t respond to it.  I’m sure it’s a personal failing.

But, strangely, I am okay if what you want to mess with is the structure of the song.  Perhaps you want to take notes and play them “out of order,” or you want to combine random noises along with the notes, or you want to throw random samples and loops into the mix, or perhaps you just want to throw several completely different songs together and see what happens.  You can get some interesting (and very weird) music this way, and of course there will still be people who see it as not-quite-music, but for me it’s very different than the types of music I enumerated in the first paragraph.  It’s pushing borders, but pushing completely different borders ... perhaps we could even say it’s more rearranging internal borders than truly breaking through external ones.

When you take a sphere and turn it inside out, that’s called sphere eversion.1  Well, to me, the music I’m talking about today involves turning a song inside out.  It’s a cantosphere eversion.

Now, the absolute masters of this form, in my book, are the Art of Noise.  While they have produced some perfectly “normal” songs (like their version of “Peter Gunn”) and some songs which contained some outré elements (like the inimitable “Paranoimia”), their best work, in my book, is that which pushes a bit beyond the conventional structure.  I’ve included 3 tracks from AoN (although 2 of them are quite short), all off of their briliant album In Visible Silence.  “Opus 4” is our opener, just as it is on IVS.  It very much sets the mood for what is to come.  “Beatback” is just over a minute, serving as a bridge into the volume’s middle section.  And “Eye of a Needle” is a wonderful, longer piece, that anchors the volume’s final third.

But really I would never have been able to properly appreciate Art of Noise when I finally discovered them if it hadn’t been for Yazoo.  I’ve talked about my love for this 80s synthpop miracle before,2 but all those times I was going with their more traditional fare.  But as soon as I knew this mix was going to become a reality, the very first song I reached for was “I Before E Except After C,” which has always fascinated me.  It’s weird and nonsensical, and many people absolutely hate it, even when they love the remainder of Yazoo’s output.  But I was always entranced by it, and I’m so glad I finally found a happy home for it here in my mixes.

Now, as much as I love “I Before E Except After C,” it’s not actually the mix starter.  What really kicked this mix off was learning of the existence of Animal Collective, who played the absolutely magnificent “FloriDada” on Steven Colbert’s show one night back in May of 2016.  As soon as I heard it, sounding as it does like 3 entirely different songs being played by the Collective’s 3 front-men, I was enthralled, and also instantly reminded of the Art of Noise, which I hadn’t listened to in quite a while.  It’s no surprise that the first 3 tracks on this volume are AoN, Animal Collective, and Yazoo.  By the time you get to end of that triplet, you know exactly where this mix is going.

Probably the next most obvious choice for this mix was “Revolution 9” by the Beatles.  A great deal has been written about this track and what it could possibly mean.  Personally, I’ve always just thought it was the lads having a bit of fun.  There are quite a lot of strange noises and brief snippets of dialogue that fade in and out, as if you were traveling very fast and just hearing snatches of conversation as you passed by.  This is the same basic model used in “Let’s Talk About Cars” by the Butthole Surfers, although the latter at least has some semblance of a melody running through it.  The Surfers, of course, offer quite a lot of choices when it comes to experimental songs, but I’ve always been partial to Electriclarryland, which is certainly their most accessible album.  This track, though, proves that “accessible” is always a specturm for the Buttholes.

Of course, there are quite a few tracks on this album that are experimental primarily in the sense that they consist of just a few phrases repeated over and over.  First and foremost is Orbital’s classic “The Moebius,” which is, as Lieutenant Worf tells us repeatedly in the song, where time becomes a loop (and that also handily provides our volume title this time out).  But we also have John Standing giving us a list of “Elements,” with backing by Lemon Jelly (who are also sampling some of the music on that track), and German downtempo artist Naomi reading us a list of cities interspersed with the repeated word “Rainfall.”  In fact, I like Naomi so much that I let them do essentially the same thing twice: they show up on the back half of the volume repeating some nonsense about a “Butter Worker.”  These are the tracks that almost didn’t make the cut ... well, except for the Orbital tune, which I was always eyeing, for the perfect title drop if nothing else.  They’re not really in the same ballpark of “inside-out-ness” as most of the remaining tracks here.  They have real melodies and everything.  But, in the end, I decided to let them stay.  In some sense, they provide a little break from the weirdness of the rest of the volume.

A step above these tracks are those which are musically not so strange, but lyrically just consist of screeching or grunting.  My favorite of these is probably “Cry of the Vatos” by Oingo Boingo, in which Danny Elfman and the boys sound like they’re doing imitations of caged animals, but “Cthulhu’s Night Out,” by favorite of my Paradoxically Sized World mix3 Ugress, with its odd cross between wordless crooning and creepy chanting, is fun too.  “Christianity” by Skinny Puppy gives us what might be demonic chanting.4  And let’s not ignore Odyssey, by Canadian electro-house artisan OVERWERK, which somehow manages to sound like a Wagnerian opera as performed by cartoon characters.  Normally this latter style—similar to popular fare by Daft Punk and deadmau5—doesn’t really appeal to me.  But something about this track really pumps me up.

There are also a few more songs here that seem, like “FloriDada,” to be a couple of different songs going on at once.  “Pirhana One Chord Boots” by Transglobal Underground is a good example.  It’s not really too far off of normal, but the background music and samples never quite match up with the foreground vocals, giving the tune a mildly shizophrenic quality.  Which is also a great description of my choice from Devo.  I sort of assumed that Devo would be rich fodder for this mix, but they actually don’t mess with a good pop song structure nearly as much as you might think.  “Too Much Paranoias” is the obvious exception, and it somehow serves as a musical expression of its subject matter.  And there’s certainly a lot of weirdness going on in “The Voice & the Snake,” even for Enigma.  While most of their output is more suited to mellower mixes,5 this one is just ... strange.

Cantosphere Eversion I
    [Where Time Becomes a Loop]

        “Opus 4” by Art of Noise, off In Visible Silence
        “FloriDada” by Animal Collective, off Painting With
        “I Before E Except After C” by Yazoo, off Upstairs at Eric's
        “Rainfall” by Naomi, off Pappelallee
        “Revolution 9” by The Beatles, off The White Album
        “All Mink & No Manners” by Big Audio Dynamite, off Megatop Phoenix
        “The Moebius” by Orbital, off Orbital
        “Odyssey” by OVERWERK [Single]
        “Beatback” by Art of Noise, off In Visible Silence
        “Pirhana One Chord Boots” by Transglobal Underground, off International Times
        “Cthulhu's Night Out” by Ugress, off Reminiscience
        “Christianity” by Skinny Puppy [Single]
        “Elements” by Lemon Jelly, off Lost Horizons
        “The Voice & the Snake” by Enigma, off MCMXC a.D.
        “Cry of the Vatos” by Oingo Boingo, off Good for Your Soul
        “Let's Talk about Cars” by Butthole Surfers, off Electriclarryland
        “Eye of a Needle” by Art of Noise, off In Visible Silence
        “Butter Worker” by Naomi, off Everyone Loves You
        “Too Much Paranoias” by Devo, off Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
        “Is Yours Working Yet?” by Big Audio Dynamite, off Megatop Phoenix
        “Gin and Tonic Blues” by Reverend Horton Heat, off The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat
Total:  21 tracks,  79:18

For bridges, I was inspired by the interstitials from Big Audio Dynamite’s Megatop Phoenix.  These are strange little snippets of samples and bits of stray music stitched together and jammed in between BAD’s poppy, reggae-influenced tracks, where they sound a bit out-of-place.  Here, on the other hand, they fit perfectly, sounding like just shorter versions of some of the Art of Noise tracks (especially “Eye of a Needle”).  “All Mink & No Manners,” which bridges our opening third with the center stretch, is probably my favorite.  But “Is Yours Working Yet?” (which bridges into the utter insanity of the final track) is also pretty fun.  As Alfred Hitchcock says at the beginning of the latter, “I trust that everyone is enjoying the music.”

Finally, in the category of “songs that sound like they’re being slowly dissolved in an acid bath,” we close the volume out with “Gin and Tonic Blues” by the Reverend Horton Heat.  I originally tried to slot this track in Bleeding Salvador, but it’s just too much even there.  It’s not just lyrically surreal—it’s musically strange, and perhaps even a bit disturbing.  But here it works well, and the way it ends up sort of consuming itself until it abruptly falls off a clifff makes it a perfect closer.

Next time, we’ll look at yet another volume of contemplative, autumnal fare.


1 Click that link and then watch the video on the Wikipedia page; it’s a bit mind-blowing.

2 Specifically, on Darkling Embrace I and Totally Different Head I.

3 In fact, we’ve seen him on volumes II, III, and IV,

4 And, if you know anything about Skinny Puppy, that’s pretty much exactly what you expected from them.

5 Such as Numeric Driftwood III, which is where we’ve seen pop up before in this series.

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