Close To The Noise Floor embark on this invaluable project to highlight and expose the wealth of British Experimental and Avant-Garde Music between 1976-1984. Years in which you had the existence of Fleetwood Mac on one side of the Atlantic, while Duran Duran populated the other. Perhaps what is so cutting about this selection of pieces is how on-edge some of it is – although, perhaps more realistically, it all is. Opening with Trail Of Traps by Alterations is quite frankly on unnerving experience which jolts you when least expected (especially LOUD). The journey through the unexpected is then blissfully realised via the weird and wonderful as experimental sounds and ideas are rigorously developed, ever mutating into another world of riotous potential. What also exists here is an invigorating, breathless combination of hints and persuasions of every colour and rhythm from Classical input, through to dangerous explosions of sound, to free Jazz and more. So much so that its almost hard to take in all in one go. I’m not actually sure, at this stage, whether such a thing as standout tracks do exist as they all play a part in forming a document of the unconventional. But, as life progresses in ever more uncertain ways, releases such as this, play an ever more important role in cataloguing the unorthodox as it now feels entirely normal.
Joe Meek was a troubled genius who helped define the use of electronics in popular music. Not the most avant-garde as the likes of John Cage, Henri Pousseur, Luciano Berio and György Ligeti ripped up the music sheet of conventional thinking in ways beyond what anyone else at the time was doing, but none the less a self-defining, pioneering producer in his own right. What’s particularly brilliant about this three CD collection is that it files in context the contrasting styles and techniques of all those musical creators alongside England’s own Daphne Oram and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, plus the many other schools of thought dotted throughout Europe such as Radiotelevisione in Milan and musique concrète in Paris. Their experiments in electronic sound and magnetic tape alongside a radical new use of musical construction offers a rare glimpse into the unknown, yet feels strangely re-assuring like the return of a long lost friend who disappeared somewhere in the analogue of grainy, black and white television. And remember this was all happening in and around the turn of 1960 proposing radical, revolutionary theories only unfettered sound could denote.
But back to Joe Meek whose unreleased concept album: I Hear A New World from that year provides an insight into the opening world of possibilities as you will hear music washed and reverb and echo redefining what Pop could be. Not surprisingly it is a strange, otherworldly exploration which uses atmospheres as much as does treated melodies alongside an illuminating twist on the twang of Rock n Roll. Also included is the celebrated RPM restoration version from 1991 as well as an invaluable booklet detailing more about his life. And, on the story of the development and those involved in electronic music from that period now lost to time. Although not if you listen closely…
The word Joy popped into my head when I opened the box to reveal what lay within this tastefully packaged compilation of gems from the history of movie soundtracks. So it turned out to be entirely relevant as this selection charts moments of elation, alongside deeper darker terrain. From outright Classical via the brilliance of Claude Debussy and Beethoven through to old-time songs from the likes of Ray Charles this release contains it all. It’s enjoyable to let the sounds escape and weave from the room to room filling empty spaces, as not only music but likewise the accompanying pictures generated in your mind while remembering snippets from celluloid, or even imagining new ones. There’s also lots of Mozart with a great quote on the sleeve stating: “Mozart is for eight in the evening. Beethoven is for midnight”, Jean-Luc Godard. If indeed you did need reminding about the sheer strength contained in orchestras, as well as the traditional assembled array of played by hand instruments, then this is also an excellent place to start. Besides, Erik Satie is present too with his lone piano and for beautiful, unequalled poignancy there is none better: Gnossiennes No.3 Lent. A diverse selection of films are drawn on across the three-CD boxset from such disparate classics as Rosemary’s Baby through to The Italian Job and Clockwork Orange, alongside The Man Who Fell To Earth via the outstanding Mars by Holst. There are so many movements that feel reassuringly familiar, and yet almost forgotten until you reengage with them again – preferably with the volume turned up. And you really should engage again.
Release: June 28
From the minds who compiled the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ series comes this latest collection of music which is based around the creative power of synthesizers rather than the rock posturing of the guitar – although of course a good bit of rock guitar posturing is essential too. I guess if you approach this selection with the word Pop in mind i.e. the use of melody, just as in any other form of music, then this presents itself as a pretty uncomplicated equation by simply replacing the sound of six strings for the world of circuits. But, then comes The Normal – Warm Leatherette, Testcard F’s otherworldly Bandwagon Tango, Chris and Cosey’s October (Love Song), Fad Gadget’s brutal Ricky’s Hand, even ex-Hawkwind vocalist Robert Calvert’s haunting Work Song and so on, spread across four cd’s, which challenged conventional wisdom of how music should sound. If that’s the sort of theory which interests you then there is plenty to satisfy here, just as there is a wealth of Synth-Pop’s origins to discover along the route of history with those punchy keyboard motifs that would become so beloved of the early 1980’s. Interesting to note the sheer breadth of emotion which was created and utilised from the angry strains of Those Attractive Magnets – Nightlife, to the fizzy electrics of Colin Potter, to the chiming drum machines of Pink Industry’s Taddy Up. Contrasted by the more commercially accessible end of things, plus a fine version of T Rex’s Children Of The Revolution by The Fast Set. Some of the music leans towards the dancefloor such as Lori And The Chameleons delightful Lori, while other tracks seek out different things to play with. But whatever form things may take this is an intoxicating, always intriguing look at another side of how music evolved in the UK. And yes The Human League are here too – Circus Of Death.
Release: May 31
If you have already been eagerly consuming with fervour the series including: Close To The Noise Floor, Noise Reduction System and the Third Noise Principle then this collection celebrating each of those individually brilliant compilations, which challenged the mainstreams of boredom and musical conformity, will feel like a conformation of everything you have already thought. Dazzling flashes of genius emerge including Nagamatzu’s spell-binding Faith alongside supremely tempting numbers from the likes of Thomas Leer, D.A.F, The Legendary Pink Dots, along with Richard Bone’s liquid-funk ingenuity of Mambopolis plus a whole lot more. Not only bravely corrupting a sense of music’s decency but underpinning, underlining inspiration for the electronic future that was about to erupt onto the population en masse only a few years later. A lot of these sounds were deliberately defiant and are all the more wonderful in doing so. But perhaps some of the best words are saved for last as the Simulation Stimulation (Edit) by Hunting Lodge completes this six sides of vinyl heaven (or hell) with an almost idealistic, unrepentant intensity to be savoured and relished in glorious, riotous technicolour.
Release: Match 29
Karlheinz Stockhausen was a prolific composer and creator/ manipulator of sound. He lived between 1928 and 2007 in which time he composed some 376 works. His legacy and the ideas incorporated within last and inspire to this day, perhaps in ways that you may not even be aware of. Beginning to compose pieces at the beginning of the 1950’s what you will hear contained from that time is Kontra Punte (Counter-Points) from 1952-53. Which rearranges the classical repertoire into new, almost shapeless forms as he and composers of a similar mind-set challenged how music could be made after the second world war. Remaining otherworldly – with a spiritual dimension – redefining what was possible/ acceptable is an accolade only afforded to a few throughout the history of music.
This three cd boxset from EL charts the territory explored by Stockhausen while also including work by Pierre Boulez, examples of musique concrète from Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry alongside others which used recorded sounds as raw material. These collages of stimulation exist in a unique space of their own, even now, reflecting an uneasy world around them, yet there is also something reassuring about the flowing, freeform of expression as they take your imagination and run with it. Stockhausen’s own Gesang der Jünglinge inspired The Beatles – Revolution 9 and you can hear how too (and he’s there on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s). The third disc: Electronic Music For The Mind And Body features further studies in those concepts like John Cage’s magnificent Aria with Fontana Mix, as well as from Iannis Xenakis and the wonderful György Ligeti. The collection is accompanied by an invaluable booklet containing photographs and text setting this incredible story in context. And if you want to look beyond the familiar worlds of melody and syncopation then this is a perfect starting point.
Release: October 26
Kubrick’s very best films were steeped in mystery which required you to think beyond what lay in front of you on the screen. Things you witness sat in the memory, sometimes identifying themselves, creating the underlying sense of unease: HAL. I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that. You’ll remember that dialogue from 2001: A Space Odyssey from 1968 because as much as you reverberated with fear, you also marvelled at the depth celluloid could fathom. In much the same way that The Shining and A Clockwork Orange worked. The other notable was always the accompanying soundtrack which enhanced scenes without completely overpowering them, although they did often perilously come close. This excellent four CD boxset captures some of those various moments in time from 1957’s Paths Of Glory right through to the directors final film, Eyes Wide Shut from 1999. And highlighting a lot of those transcendent screenshots are the wild and varied music from the likes of Johann Strauss II, contrasted by Gene Kelly’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and the haunting ‘Midnight, The Stars & You’ by Ray Noble & His Orchestra (featuring Al Bowlly), to the then exhilarating Jazz of John Coltrane and Oscar Peterson, to name just a very few. Some of the music included was only finally used during production, to be later replaced, but as was all part of the original plan they play like an intriguing addition. In many ways, this compilation is almost too much to take in in one sitting and, like his films, require repeated viewing to fully absorb the full wealth and breadth of precisely what’s surrounding you.
Release: September 28
Located just off Oxford Street at 42 Hanway Street, London you would find Contempo, a record shop and mail order company opened in 1970 by Blues And Soul magazine founder John Abbey. They dealt out some of the hottest Black Music of the time as well as becoming established booking agents and promoters. This brand new compilation of their record releases pays testament to the strength of both the label and the music which existed then – like a bygone age, acting in defiance of today’s often bland, mechanical repetition. Spanning three cd’s of bliss as voices soar, feelings are realised and music transcends it seems like a strange, hidden pleasure to discover such an experience in the digital reality of 2018. The other vital thing that becomes quickly apparent is the sheer diversity of the sounds from Northern Soul’s up-tempo R&B with the likes of Major Lance etc to the low-slung Funk of The Masai’s ‘Cross The Track’ alongside Cymande’s timeless ‘Brothers On The Slide’ – which still sends shivers. Of course, the music evolved with the years and fresh styles where absorbed as the second disc flies by. 1975’s Howeefeel ‘Just Can’t Do Without Love (A Thousand Faces) feels like a long lost breezy classic and there’s a whole lot more revealed of that calibre too. Disco never was a dirty word and Crown Heights Affair delicious ‘Dancin’ testifies to the fact. Sam And Dave’s wonderful version of ‘Why Did You Do It’ is also excitingly included, as is JJ Barnes uplifting take on How Long from 1977, ending the journey on a high which you sometimes might wonder where it has all disappeared to.
Release: August 24
This isn’t about nostalgia. It’s history. The New York Dolls sleazy, excitable spirit of Rock n Roll is transmitted directly through time, right now, to your volume control. Play it loud, turn down the lights and swig at something to get you tuned in to their way of thinking. Glad to report that the trashy, breathy beauty of it all remains resolute, conveying precisely the same feeling emanating from the city that informed them then as now. The very one that was inspired by what went before and then helped shape the future, blasting the way forwards. Music works by causing a reaction and the Dolls cause all sorts of reactions – not all them pretty. However, this hugely wonderful boxset highlights their youthful zest for life grabbing and shaking it to the very foundations. It’s a collection of studio recordings starting in June 1972 that predate their debut and follow-up album for Mercury Records capturing a rawer, more real experience than perhaps those ever did. Add to that a number live performances from 1973 to 1975 and you’re all geared-up, ready to go. Accompanying it all are inspiring sleeve notes by David Wells which include some great photographs, while also detailing the New York Dolls roller-coaster ride of up’s and downs. An essential in every way.
Release: April 27
If you are new to the music contained on this companion of the decade then I envy what you are about to experience – forget the agony, this is just ecstasy. Reading Bill Brewster’s sleeve notes for the compilation of releases between ’90 and ’97 who couldn’t escape that excitable feeling only Strictly Rhythm could generate. There was always a sense of trepidation with what you would get to hear next from the label and that translates crystal clear across the three discs of prime, reclaimed time. Founded by Mark Finkelstein and Gladys Pizarro transcendent music such as After Hours – Waterfalls would hit one minute while pulverising epics like Joint Venture’s Master Blaster exploded the next. Musical possibilities were expanded via the Latin tinged River Ocean – Love & Happiness featuring the beautiful voice of India, while The Believers seminal Who Dares to Believe In Me teased out Jazzier notes next. The tough, tribal beats of Armand Van Helden’s delicious Witch Doktor sounded like a new era all over again as did Wink’s now Acid standard, Higher State Of Consciousness. I guess it’s fair to say that the label had few, if any, equivalents at the time and very much came to define those sights and sounds from the 1990’s which can relive here at your own leisure. Is this essential? Of course it is.
Release: February 23