Barbara Morgenstern’s Sweet Silence

I am so glad to have discovered this amazing LP from Barbara Morgenstern.  I first discovered Barbara’s beautiful songwriting from her collaboration with Robert Lippok in Tesri.  In other words, it is for the love to sophisticated electronic music that I found her.  Moving on to the topic at hand, I am very impressed by Sweet Silence.  In short, it is the combination of incredible synth work underneath Morgenstern’s incantations that  does it for me.

Sweet Silence is the opening track.  Featuring stuttering sine waves, dramatic portamento sawtooths, simple, textured percussion, sustaining pad organs, and the words of Morgenstern – confidently charging forward to the rhythm of the electronics, echoing and haunting, as she tells of life’s most precious moments.

A very pleasing tempo change onto the 2nd track, Need to Hang Around, a faster tune.  Again we have this amazing portamento that slingshots from one note to the next in a very cool rhythm.  The lyrics seem to speak to the idea that love in the moment can hold you down, and hold you back from exercising your inner creativity.  “In the past three weeks I could have written tons of number one hits, but I was sick.  I could have experienced the very peak of my creativity, but I was too dizzy.”  Sweet arpeggios accompany the chorus along with the rubberband synth work as I’d like to call it.  The intensity builds as the resonance rises on the arpeggios.  This is an amazing tune.

Keeping up with the high bar clearly established by the first two tracks, Kookoo delivers a symphony of sophisticated feelings.  The sharp, reverberating synth stabs are one of the most amazing parts on the entire album in my opinion.  The lyrics seem to almost be about the sound itself: “Move to that song, round and round, it’s your dance.  This lonely tune could play for me too, just by chance.”  It is so beautiful.  In the background we hear the glitchy stuttering of “Koo-koo..” around and around, as if part of some Pagan chant, or a ritual in the cold Autumn forests of Germany.  This is probably my top pick from this LP.

Out on the Highway is another one of my favorites.  It has the most beautiful synth work.  And Morgenstern’s sweet words are so soothing.   There’s also an orchestral quality to this tune that creates a journey, and a story.  It’s actually a bit tricky to describe.

The last tune that I can’t help but to write about is Night-time Falls.  This is a very catchy tune, and probably quite suitable for a dance floor in Berlin.  Probably not in the U.S., however, as I don’t think Americans really share the same appreciation for this kind of sound, though I could be wrong.  This song seems to be about the honesty of true love.  She talks about spending the night with a promoter, but feeling nothing and wanting to go back home to her true love. “There’s no lies between us”.  Hearing this sweet love song with the synthesizer work is tear-jerking.  It makes me tingle.  There is this one bass synthesizer that reminds me of Cindy Lauper’s Time After Time, and the way it interfaces with the dancey beat and Morgenstern’s storytelling is so incredibly beautiful.

Please buy this record.  Especially if you love sweet, sophisticated German electronic music like me.  This music is not trying to be cool, but rather trying to establish itself as what will likely be considered as a timeless classic for decades to come, I predict.

Hate Heals No Wounds

To be quite honest, it is sometimes embarrassing to be an American. When I look at other countries, I cannot help but to notice how brutal and barbaric America is. Most other developed nations do not wage illegal wars or invade sovereign nations. Other developed nations do not round up terror suspects and torture them. They do not order drone strikes that miss their targets and kill innocent people. They do not raid houses in the middle of the night and humiliate men in front of their families and neighbors.  But the barbarism that comes with illegal wars is often unimaginable until you actually start digging into it, and the more you learn the less sense it makes. PBS FRONTLINE is my favorite eye-opener and I deeply feel that more people ought to indulge and get a better sense of America’s wars and the horrors that they create. It leaves you questioning who the real terrorists are.

One of the more recent documentaries on Frontline is about The Man Behind the Mosque.  I felt this to be an extremely touching story.  The short of it is that so many Americans evoke an extreme prejudice toward Muslims, so much that they stereotype ALL of Islam as being disrespectful – just complete, unyielding contempt for the entire religion, so much as to let it thwart the creation of a place of worship in one of the United States’ most forward-thinking cities, New York.  They said, “No, you cannot build your place of worship here.”  In New York City.  In the United States of America.  “The terrorists are trying to build a victory mosque.” And this guy behind the mosque is a model American, a community figure, a savvy businessman, and a total NYC character and amazing storyteller.  Basically the victims of 9/11’s family members are labeling this Muslim man and the imam he selects to run the community center as bad people because they are Muslim.  To the victims’ families they are no different than the terrorists.  This type of thinking is not just sad, it’s just so backwards and ignorant I can’t even sympathize with their thought process.

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

Hate heals no wounds.  I’m so disappointed by the reaction of my fellow Americans in the face of challenge.  All the awful wars aside, on the home front, in light of 9/11, Americans did not rise to the occasion when better judgement was needed the most.  Instead so many decided to exercise intolerance, racial and religious prejudice, and uncompromising hatred.  Whatever happened to freedom of religion?

Favorite Ambient Albums

I have been meaning to post something about the ambient music that I love for a while now. So, below is a short, meandering description of five of my favorite ambient LPs. I feel very drawn to this sort of music. I just hope that some person somewhere in the world will discover this blog post and it will provide a similar experience for them as it does for me.

Shuttle 358 – Understanding Wildlife

Clicks, thumps, pretty sounds all swirling together. Sunlight is definitely present here. It’s not a darker mood at all, but rather an exploration of the simple pleasures in life. The beauty of one’s backyard, the early morning light, the late afternoon lull as orange enters the room on a Sunday. The soporific tones of nap time after a long morning of working in the yard. “Rubber Clock” sets a very extraordinary mood, for me, in particular. The thump of the percussion in this track is very hypnotic. Pretty notes also exist on this record, which distinguishes it as a bright color such as yellow. This album could be classified as cinematic, and works well as a waking up record and also seems fitting for getting work done.

Donnacha Costello – Together is the New Alone

This is by far my favorite record to come from the now expired label known as Mille Plateaux. There are rumors on the web that it was created with samples of an acoustic guitar, which I would love to believe. I have the vinyl and on the back is says it was “recorded while Dublin slept”. This album is very slow. It makes very good use of the shortest sounds possible. Clicks and sticks and stabs and static and fuzz have never sounded so warm. The pad sounds here are irresistibly sleep-inducing. It’s a very sad record, in my opinion. These tracks have the power to change the mood in a room dramatically. It’s the type of record that one feels most comfortable keeping to one’s self out of suspicion that a regular person might make a very ugly remark like, “Can you please play something a little more up-beat”. Although, I do admit, I have played this record on several occasions to show off my sophisticated tastes in the finer offerings from this world’s most talented electronic musicians.

Signer – Low Light Dreams

What a perfect title for this album. I would definitely loop it in with Together is the New Alone in terms of the mood that it establishes in a room. In my opinion one of the main differences is that the sounds in this album are more sustained and textured, windy even. It clears the air. Yes, definitely an airy feeling to many of these tracks. Although here you also have subtle elements of 4/4 techno, but in a subdued atmosphere that you can still sleep to. There are strings present, and also vocals. “Interior Dub” is one of the highlights of the album, in my opinion. In it you can hear the hauntingly prophetic echoes of Signer’s voice, which simply must be heard without any further description. This album is one of my all-time favorite late night listens.

Mitchell Akiyama – Temporary Music

Temporary Music is ambient music at the core but is also noteworthy for its glitchiness. Each track is extremely hand-crafted to create an abstract landscape of lines, vectors, colliding polygons, confusion, static, inertia, time-travel, and all other kinds of feelings, for me. “Big Sur” and “Thaw” are my two favorite compositions from this record. The opening sounds in “Big Sur” haunt me while I lose consciousness in the night. The timbre of these sounds is unmatched in terms of the haunt. There’s a sharp attack on them but it still sounds so soft. It’s very tribal, for me. The rhythms on this album are incredible. It’s definitely a darker album as well. More abrasive than Donnacha Costello and Signer, but also more crowded. It’s probably a little harder to fall asleep to this album, so I recommend it more for working and for thinking than as sleep accompaniment.

Biosphere – Substrata

This is hand down one of the greatest achievements by man in creating a total, visceral audio experience. The landscapes created in this album are perilous. Icy Norwegian peaks, frigid caves, screeching wind, places you’ve never been but with a picture that seems so clear in your mind. It’s a marvel of audio-visual imagination. You feel like you’re there and you know what it looks like, but you’re unsure as to why it feels so good, despite the harsh conditions. This album is probably the reason I decided to pursue ambient listening as a hobby. One of the first times I feel asleep to this album I woke up in the middle of “The Things I Tell You”. There is a frequency in this track that occurs just before the vocal sample, and it is as if the track was designed to wake you up just for that sample, as if it couldn’t be any more impressionable than at that moment, where it literally penetrates your subconsciousness and connects your mind with the music. This album is just incredible.

Reflections About Kenneth Harding Jr.

On Saturday, July 16 2011 a man was shot and killed by officers of the San Francisco Police Department in the Bayview district.  At the time I heard the news I was DJing at Radio Bar in Oakland.  A friend of mine who had come out to support me shared the news via a text message from a third party, “SFPD just shot and killed a 19 y/o 10 times in bayview for fare evasion. People in Bayview started hurling bottles at the pigs. Ralley now at 24th mission. Pass it on! Fare evasion is not cause for capital punishment!”  Upon hearing the news my first reaction was to think, “How awful!”  At the same time, my gut instinct was to desire additional information regarding the incident.  In two shakes of a lamb’s tail my friend would vanish into the night to participate in the aftermath of the incident with some of his anarchist friends, which apparently involved a protest.  The protest would be ignited by perceived injustice and further exacerbated by anarchist principles of lawlessness and civilian oppression, ironically organized by middle class white kids.  Glass bottles were hurled at SFPD.  Trash cans were set aflame.  Family-owned store windows were vandalized.  In the name of justice, anarchy ensued.

The following morning I went onto YouTube to watch the 19-year-old man, Kenneth Harding Jr., die on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood right there on my computer screen.  The video depicted the post-shots-fired scene.  Mr. Harding squirmed as the blood spilled out of his body.  A large crowd circled around him as he eventually stopped moving.  People were screaming at SFPD demanding answers.  Eventually an ambulance arrived and took Harding to SF General, and he was pronounced dead at 7pm.  I was shocked by this video.  It made me feel immense sympathy for Harding.  I also felt an increasingly impatient desire to get more of the story behind this incident.

The only stories I could find online at the time were 140 character reactions alleging that this man had been gunned down for evading a MUNI fare inspection.  

For those unfamiliar to San Francisco, MUNI is our public transportation artery.  About 95% of inner city public transportation is covered by MUNI.  The fare to ride is $2 and this allows passage on any MUNI vehicle for a few hours as stated by your transfer (proof of payment ticket).  So the reports were all saying that Kenneth Harding Jr. was gunned down for evading MUNI authorities upon a fare inspection.  When approached by MUNI fare inspectors, it is standard operating procedure to proof of payment.  If the passenger cannot present proof of payment, a ticket may be issued.  In order for a ticket to be issued, a ticketless passenger must present the fare inspector with identification.

Getting back to the Harding shooting, I kept thinking to myself, “Why on earth would the SFPD shoot and kill a man for simply running away from a MUNI fare violation?”  I was extremely skeptical to believe that this was the real story.  Upon further investigation, I found some additional information regarding the incident.  Apparently Mr. Harding was in violation of parole and was also a suspect in a shooting in which a pregnant teen was murdered up in Seattle, WA.  There are also reports that Harding had fired the first shot at SFPD after they were called in by MUNI authorities.  SFPD possesses an audio tape of the entire incident and they are reporting that this tape proves that the first shots were fired by Harding. This already changes everything. Does it not?

While it seems nearly impossible to remain un-biased in a situation, I deeply believe that there is great value in thinking a bit before hastily choosing sides in a situation in which there is a lack of information present. If you’re going to take to the streets for a cause, research it a bit first. At the same time, this was a gruesome scene and it’s very sad that this young man died that day.

Read the article for yourself and tell me what’s on your mind:

Updated July 20, 2011: