Improv II

There is so much great ambient music that’s improvised. Today’s show is a continuation of last week’s show, and mixes works from the Stillstream library in with new releases from our artist of the month, Joe McMahon, favorite artists, and relative newcomers (at least to Stillstream) Oneironaut and Stephen Briggs.

Improvised Broadcast rig
Improvised Broadcast rig

Oh, and the show is being broadcast from the middle of a small party in West Hollywood. 🙂

Oneironaut – “Upon Awakening” – – 2013 (6:57)

Oneironaut is Ryan Rock, a relative newcomer to the pantheon of artists. Most of the acoustic guitar in the begining of this track is loosely improved, as Ryan says he starts with a kind of guideline in his mind as to what he’s going to play but what he ends up doing is what ever feels right.

Joe McMahon Shatterday – 1995

  • “DB” – (3:32)
  • “The Empty Sky” – (5:03)
  • “The Lamps of Avernus” – (3:43)
  • “Approaching Thunder” – (5:08)
  • “Primum Mobile” – (3:43)
  • “Aztec Polyethylene” – (5:17)
  • “Shatterday” – (6:18)

Most of the tracks on this album were pieces composer Joe McMahon came up with by improvising until he  had a jazz-style “head”, and then building a piece around them. The one exception is The Lamps of Avernus (noisy), which was a pure improvisation. “Approaching Thunder” is Joe’s homage to the Twin Peaks soundtrack music, and “Aztec Polyethylene” is a nod to the work of Pat Metheny.

Cousin Silas – Whispers Fall – 2013

  • “The Ninth Door”  (13:02)
  • “Turning Towards Galaxy 7 (For Mel)”  (19:21)

From the new release Whispers Fall on Free Floating Music, these two tracks are almost entirely improvised.

Cousin Silas has been creating soundscapes and atmospheric music for going on 15 years, having over 20 albums released as well as appearances on many compilations and one-off radio sessions. Inspirations range from Fortean events, Science Fiction, especially the work of JG Ballard and landscapes, be they suburban or rural. Falling Whispers is a more reflective album, concentrating on the softer and gentler side of ambient. As with most other releases, there are Ballardian influences here, especially on Coral Escarpment and Lament For Eniwetok. The Ninth Door and Turning Towards Galaxy 7 (for Mel) are some of his first attempts at ‘live’ looping. Allowing Time is one of the longest ‘gentle’ ambient pieces in his discography.

Emerald Adrift – Wings of Morpheus (Live in Kansas City) – 2010 (16:57)

  • “Ghost Ship Along the Dust Lanes” (16:57)
  • “Fairy Glen” (17:02)
  • “Blood Brain Barrier” (11:09)
  • “Familiar Streets in Familiar Dreams” (13:44)

Emerald Adrift is David Herpich, a phenomenal musician, classically trained and at the same time one of those rare musicians who can leave behind the classical training and let emotion and instinct take over. He holds degrees in music theory and composition from the University of Kansas, and completed his master’s degree in contemporary composition as a recipient of the University Graduate Fellowship Award at the University of South Florida in Tampa. At both institutions, he focused his studies on electronic music, working under Michael Timpson, Paul Reller, and Edward Mattila. In addition, Herpich has written award-winning works for acoustic ensembles, scored theatre, dance, and film productions, and lectured on the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen.

As one might deduce from the title, this is a live album, recorded during a concert David performed at the Electro-Music Festival in Kansas City in the summer of 2009. Unlike some live recordings, however, where only the best excerpts are chopped out of a much longer recording, this album presents the entirety of David’s amazing performance, note for note, with only the momentary pauses between pieces excised. What you hear in this remarkable recording is exactly what the audience heard that day.

Incredibly, David reports that he had originally planned and prepared to do a sequencer-based concert, with much more rhythmic material, but for reasons unknown about an hour before he went on, he decided to jettison the initial plan and “instead fly into the complete unknown”, performing a total improvisation for the audience. The only preparations he made were to select a group of timbres for each piece, with no preconception of any melodies, harmonies, or formal structure. When the concert began, he simply loaded up the timbres, hit ‘record’, and started performing. When he thought a piece had reached its end, he stopped. Everything came out of the immediacy of the moment, with intuition leading the way, rather than planning, logic, or analysis.

And the results are simply revelatory. Like all of David’s work, the music is immaculately performed and the sound design is exquisite. But what really sets David apart is the sheer sophistication of his compositions. He is always exploring new territory and pushing the boundaries of tonality, structure, and experimentalism. His music is somehow deep enough to satisfy the most discerning and demanding academic listener, while at the same time remaining thoroughly approachable to anyone listening for the first time. The fact that David is capable of producing such immensely deep and highly structured material while “flying into the complete unknown”, improvising in real time with no set plan of any kind, is quite frankly mind-blowing.

Different Skies – Arcosanitarium – 2009

  • “Sodium Lamplighter”  (9:02)
  • “Pinkshift” (8:16)
  • “A Flock of Migrating Pencils”  (5:43)
  • “Sharkfin Soup and Circus Peanuts”  (6:39)

Every year, a group of electronic and experimental musicians gathers in the Arizona desert at the Arcosanti architectural laboratory and spends a week living and working together, rehearsing existing music and composing new music with the goal of creating a full musical program in time for a live concert at the end of the week. This festival, Different Skies, is different every year, because the participants and their backgrounds are different every year. Veterans of past festivals mingle with newcomers, old and new ideas are exchanged, and the music bears certain common themes with previous years while being wildly different in many ways.

This album, Arcosanitarium, represents some of the more energetic and experimental (as well as amusing) meanderings encountered during the week’s jams. Ranging all over the ambient map, these improvisations for keyboards, sequencers, electronic percussion, guitars, vocals, and unusual sound sources combine into an arresting and absorbing whole, a unique glimpse into the madness and delight of Different Skies 2008. You’ll also want to experience its companion release That Merciless Sky, which combines unreleased tracks from the live concert with thematically compatible improvisations.

Har – “LIVE: Autumnal Nightscape 1 – September 24, 2011” – – 2011 (29:14)

Har performed a live solo long-form dark ambient 8-string guitar improv set, as part of the all-day Electro-Music Autumnal Equinox concert on September 24th, 2011. He describes it as “…an Autumn neighborhood scene at dusk, of low-angle red sunlight through trees as the atmosphere turns colder and alternately serene and tense as the darkness settles in with a rhythm of its own…”

This is mainly just processed/looped guitar played in real-time with no synths, MIDI pickups etc. used, along with night-time field recordings made in his front yard.

“Raging Ruby” – Stephen Briggs – (23:08)

“Several months of drought whilst all those around and about get heavy falls of rain has become too much! So I recorded this track to illustrate the raging storm coming from afar and building up but deciding to veer off both East and West of us, rain within 1 mile or so all around and then slowly passing by and off into the sunset!

“The guitar finger picking could well be some children happily playing outside in the sun, whilst the storm can be heard groaning in the background!

“And yes this a live ambient looping piece recorded in stereo – 2 x amps onto a Zoom H1 stereo mic. Not the best but seemed okay that day!”

Rebekkah’s Cousin Silas – “a gig is a gig” – the devil came to me (waag_rel002) – 2012 (3:14)

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