Sunday, July 22, 2018

Dreamtime I

"We Came Out from the Deep"

[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.]

This mix is a bit unusual, for a couple of reasons.  Primarily, it’s different from other mixes that I have presented here because it’s a “transitional mix.”  That is, it’s one of the three mixes I made between the “pre-modern mixes” and the “modern mixes.”1  As such, its original version showed the strong influence of Hearts of Space, but still didn’t have the full sophistication that my current mixes have.  For instance, the themes of the transitional mixes were very loose, not very specific.  They tended towards mellow instrumentals, beacuse that’s what HoS was doing.  And, while the transitions were somewhat important, I didn’t fuss with them the way I do now, and I didn’t put much thought into openers and closers at all.

Now, the mix I’m presenting today is Dreamtime, which is pretty much what it says on the tin—dreamlike ambient, showcasing the unusual and perhaps slightly sonically surreal.  It’s slightly upgraded from its original form: songs have been shuffled around, and in some cases shuffled out entirely (mainly to bring them in line with the No Reuse Rule).  A new opener was chosen, and the mix was cut off at a track that provided a good closer, in order to make a statisfying volume.2  So it’s much closer to a modern mix now.

The transitional mixes were different in another way as well: instead of consisting of songs from my collection, for the most part they utilized various snippets I found lying around the Internet.  Some of those I’ve since purchased.  Some of them are just gone—while the Internet is often forever, even the Wayback machine doesn’t generally have copies of old WAV and MP3 files.3  So some of these tracks here only exist on the hard drives of people like me who downloaded them æons ago as curiosities.  For that reason and that reason alone, I’ve uploaded a few of the more bizarrely obscure tracks myself.  I am in no way attempting to claim ownership or in any way infringe on the copyright of any of those original authors.  I just want to see these tracks preserved in some way.

Now, I’ve already spoken about my discovery of Ensemble of the Dreamings; reread the relevant paragraph there if you need a refresher.  Back in those days, the Internet was new and jumbled and just a little big like a huge flea market: there were treasures, if you had patience, but they were buried under a whole lot of useless junk.  Who can say how I found some of this stuff?  Linkwalks, maybe, or just aimless wandering.  Besides the two tracks here we have from the aforementioned Dreamings, there’s “Dotiki,” by Bostjan Perovsek, a Slovenian “musician, composer and soundscape artist,”4 who dabbles in setting electronic backgrounds to the natual sounds of animals, especially insects.  “Dotiki” is an amazingly original piece of ambient music that I’ve adored for years.  Taking that concept a step further, the aptly named Zoolophone (in reality, Randy Weddington of Arkansas) composes tracks entirely of animal sounds: frog calls for basslines, cricket chirpings for percussions, etc.  As you might imagine, this is one of those experiments that doesn’t always work, but, when it does, it’s kind of amazing.  The track here, “Clair de Loon,” is centered around a loon’s evocative call, but also features an eagle’s cry, and the buzzing of some mosquitoes or flies ... really, you have to hear it to believe it.

Continuing on the natural sounds theme, at some point during those early days of the Internet, I went looking for a nice, ambient thunderstorm recording.  But I couldn’t find one.5  What I did find were various snippets, each one a minute or two, of various rainstorms that were uploaded to various sound hosting services.  And then I had the brilliant idea to glue all those bits together and make one big thunderstorm out of them.  Thus was born “Washed Clean,” which I composed out of various bits in some primitive late 90s/early 2000s sound editing software.  It starts with just the thunder, then the rain comes in, gently at first, then ratcheting up to a downpour.  Finally the rain stops, the thunder rolls away gradually into the background, and you start to hear birds, and then a stream, which starts out as a trickle but soon becomes a flood.  Just for fun, I threw in some very distant wind chimes in the background, but I made it so subtle that I personally can only pick them out when I’m listening with headphones.  Listen for them at about 3 minutes in.  Anyways, it’s not my original work, since I just glued together other parts, and it’s nothing fancy (because I am only barely adequate with sound editing programs), but I’m happy I finally got an opportunity to share it with you here.

So all this is hopefully giving you the idea that, aurally, this mix is a journey through soundscapes that are just a little ... off.  Sometimes I’m almost a little too on-the-nose with this theme: one of the Ensemble of the Dreamings selections is literally titled “Here in Our Dreams.”  And a bunch of songs featuring actual insect sounds apparently wasn’t enough, because I also threw in “Insect Justice” by A Produce (the nom de plume of Barry Craig, who is one of the greatest ambient artists you’ve never heard of), which features electronic noises that only sound like insect noises.  To really nail it home, I threw in a track off Iain Bellamy’s brilliant soundtrack to Mirrormask,6 which is exactly as surreal an experience as this mix wishes it were.

When it comes to genres of music that might have something that works here, darkwave is of course good, and I fell back on my two go-to choices there: Black Tape for a Blue Girl and Falling You, both of whom give us a very early tracks of theirs.  “Overwhelmed, Beneath Me” is one of the first BTfaBG tracks I ever actually loved;7 it’s from The First Pain to Linger, which compiles some of the tracks that didn’t make it onto his early albums.  ”(and the muse spoke solemnly)” is a track which floated around the Internet for many years but never ended up on any actual Falling You album that I know of.  Its quiet beauty is perfect here.  Bridging the gap between darkwave and dreampop, I added a track from Unto Ashes when I upgraded the mix; “Swarm” is another insect-evocative track with a droning sort of minimalism.  And arriving in dreamscape proper, we couldn’t of course forget about This Mortal Coil, whose mellow-but-trippy track “Barramundi” is perfect here.

But of course the epitome of dreampop is the Cocteau Twins, and the original version of this mix opened with “Lazy Calm.”  But that’s also the opener for Numeric Driftwood I, and really it works much better there.  So I went hunting for a new opener, and finally settled on “Second Chapter,” which is the opener for Enigma’s overall-less-good follow-up to their excellent MCMXC a.D., The Cross of Changes.  Despite coming out the worse for comparison to Enigma’s strong debut, Cross has a few good songs, and “Second Chapter” is one.  Plus it finally gave me a title for this volume.  But then there was no Cocteaus on this volume, and that just wouldn’t do, so after long delibaration I settled on “Whales Tails,” which is also off the amazing Victorialand.  I’m not 100% sure it’s dreamier than the rest of that excellent album, but I felt like it worked well enough for this mix.

But of course the best subgenre choice for this mix is ambient, and there’s a decent chunk of it here.  Returning yet again to the insect theme, “Humito Final” is from the collaboration between well-known ambient artist Michael Stearns and lesser-known (but undeservedly so) Native American ambient artist Ron Sunsinger, Sorcerer.  This is my favorite track off that album: it’s got a spooky, ritual vibe that works very well here.  Ably representing the Magnatune influence, Claire Fitch provides a track from her album Ambiencellist.  Although much of that album is more mellow (and neoclassical, really), this track has a sort of surreality that really speaks to the theme of this mix.  And our closer is yet another track from unsung ambient genius A Produce, the live version of “The Dreaming Room,” one of his most ambitious pieces.  At over 13 minutes long, it’s one of the longest tracks I’ve ever put on a mix,8 but long tracks are okay for this sort of mix, where you’re just letting your mind drift away.

Dreamtime I
    [We Came Out from the Deep]

        “Second Chapter” by Enigma, off The Cross of Changes
        “Swarm” by Unto Ashes, off Moon Oppose Moon
        “Whales Tails” by Cocteau Twins, off Victorialand
        “Here in Our Dreams” by Ensemble of the Dreamings, off Chthon [Videogame Soundtrack]
        “Insect Justice” by A Produce, off Land of a Thousand Trances
        “Overwhelmed, Beneath Me” by Black Tape for a Blue Girl, off The First Pain To Linger
        “Abandoned Hall” by Iain Ballamy, off Mirrormask [Soundtrack]
        “Humito Final” by Michael Stearns and Ron Sunsinger, off Sorcerer
        “Washed Clean” by Wavmaster B [Single]
        “Clair de Loon” by Zoolophone [Single]
        “Monkey Road” by Ensemble of the Dreamings, off Chthon [Videogame Soundtrack]
        “(and the muse spoke solemnly)” by Falling You [Single]
        “Really” by Claire Fitch, off Ambiencellist
        “Barramundi” by This Mortal Coil, off It'll End in Tears
        “Early Bird” by Banyan, off Anytime at All
        “Secret Heat” by Jami Sieber, off Lush Mechanique
        “Dotiki (Touchings)” by Bostjan Perovsek, off Bio, Industrial Acoustica
        “The Dreaming Room [live]” by A Produce, off Land of a Thousand Trances
Total:  18 tracks,  76:42

That only leaves us with two tracks: “Early Bird,” by Banyan, and “Secret Heat,” by Jami Sieber.  The first is an almost-bridge that features some slow, jazzy noodling around by Buckethead and Stephen Perkins backed by what seems to be a bird washing itself off.  The second is a primarily instrumental, electro-ambient piece which is quite a departure for the American cellist.  I’ve read that she sometimes plays an electric cello—who even knew there was such a thing?—so perhaps that’s what’s going on here.  The syncopated plucking of the cello combined with her background whispers make this a weird, dreamlike track indeed.

Next time, let’s get nostalgic, like we did once before.


1 For a full set of definitions, check out the series listing.

2 No doubt the remainder of the mix will eventually show up as a volume II.

3 Trust me.  I tried.

4 According to his website, which didn’t even exist at the time I originally discovered this piece of his.

5 Remember: that was 20 years ago or so.  Nowadays, I could find hundreds.  But we had no YouTube back then.

6 Another artist we also heard from on Phantasma Chorale I.

7 I’ve said before that I admire Sam Rosenthal much more for his influence and the record label he founded than for his actual music.

8 And the only longer one I can think of will show up on volume II of this very mix.

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