Big Science is being reissued at a very timely moment: America is reinventing itself again. It’s a self-rescue mission, and just in time: democracy, we have been led to believe, has been snatched from the jaws of autocracy, maybe. A New Deal, leading to a fairer distribution of wealth and an ultimately liveable planet, is on the way, possibly. Racism dating back centuries is being addressed, hopefully. Let’s hope these helicopters don’t crash.
I watched Laurie Anderson’s Norton Lecture yesterday — the second in a series of six. She spoke on perception and memory, regular topics in Anderson’s oeuvre, and pushed the limits of a ‘Zoom lecture’ through shifting virtual spaces. At one point she became a creepy deep-fake John Cage. And, at another moment, she played the end of the concert clip above. That’s from the 1986 film Home of the Brave. There’s a trio of great artsy ’80s concert movies: Stop Making Sense, of course, but also Tom Waits’ Big Time and Home of the Brave. The first on that list is, of course, widely available. The second was missing until a couple of months ago when it unceremoniously appeared on Amazon Prime. Home of the Brave is sadly missing in action, only available in full via an illicit YouTube upload. I’d love someone like Criterion (who was involved with Anderson’s 2015 film Heart of a Dog) to step up to the plate and give a proper digital release of this gem.
Tom Waits – Big Time → Tom Waits’ Frank’s Wild Years is a longtime favorite album of mine.1That album followed Waits’ Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs, completing one of the great album trios in recorded music. In 1988, a concert film from this album’s tour was released, titled Big Time. The movie is beautiful, and the performances of the songs are creative and mischievous. It’s as good as Stop Making Sense, in my opinion (that Talking Heads concert film was probably an influence on Big Time). Big Time has been missing all these years, only available via used DVDs and extremely low quality torrented files. But! Without fanfare, Big Time suddenly appeared to stream on Amazon Prime Video at the beginning of the month. Watch it. (Side note: fingers crossed Laurie Anderson’s digitally unavailable Home of the Brave follows soon.)
ECHO: The Music of Harold Budd and Brian Eno → ECHO is billed as a YouTube documentary about the early ’80s collaborative relationship of Brian Eno and Harold Budd. In actuality, it’s a mix of music from their classic albums The Plateaux of Mirror (1980) and The Pearl (1984), accompanied by snippets and quotes from interviews. The visuals are suitably ambient — dreamy pastures, scrolling snow-fields, and misty cityscapes. The video does have some interesting bits, including Eno pointing out various ‘treatments’ and even identifying tools like the Lexicon Prime Time delay. Despite the occasional commentary, the 40-minute film ends up as soothing and hypnotic as the subject albums. Hat tip to Sasha Frere-Jones, who listed this today in his always illuminating email newsletter.
Rimarimba – Below The Horizon → I recorded my first ‘album’ in the ‘80s, and it was cassette-only. I was a part of the self-released cassette movement (as documented in the book Cassette Mythos), even having my ‘albums’ reviewed in a few ‘zines. I still remember a friend of mine, also active in the cassette underground, telling me one day: “I know why all this music is released on cassette. Because it’s not good enough for vinyl.” Ouch.
There might have been a little hard truth in that. I mean, just revealing that I recorded some cassette albums in the ‘80s has me a bit nervous, because I would hate the fine folks at RVNG Intl. or their Freedom To Spend side-imprint track down these cassettes and offer to release them. Because they really weren’t ready for vinyl. In retrospect, they were quaint but kind of terrible (btw – Ira Glass is right). But that’s not the case with Rimarimba, an artist who I’d not heard of until today and who seems to have once existed on the edges of the ‘80s cassette underground.
That said, Below The Horizon might not count — according to Discogs — as it was released on cassette in 1983 but made its way to rare-ish vinyl in 1985. And, this time, it is good enough for vinyl. What’s not to like? The first couple of tracks sound like Penguin Cafe Orchestra playing the last 30 seconds of Faust’s “The Sad Skinhead.” If that doesn’t sound wonderful to you, then … still give it a try. And then this final track, titled “Bebang,” is 20+ minutes of layered, ringing guitar loops and riffs, a fanciful, improvised toy synthesizer line, and a subtle tick-tock rhythm that helps the song’s time pass in an instant.
I’ve got a few quickies for you and then some music news.
First, I’ve officially entered the clicky keyboard club. Mechanical keyboards have tempted me for years, and this Kickstarter campaign finally inspired me to take the plunge. My Keychron K8 arrived today, and this post is pretty much the first thing I’ve typed on it. I’m doing a lot of writing and thought a more physical keyboard — with clicks and noise! — would help inspire and lead me frequently into ‘the zone.’ It’s too early to say. I’ve heard some people can’t get used to these keyboards, and it is larger in height than I’m used to. I’m using a palm rest, which helps, but it’s still going to take effort to get acclimated. But so far, so good — the feel is impressively tactile, and I love the keys’ noise. The fancy backlighting makes typing feel special, too. I’ll report back once I get some serious use out of this thing.
Here’s a fun piece about John Cage’s expertise with edible mushrooms. Well — he was an expert most of the time as there’s that dinner where he unintentionally poisoned his guests. If you know about Cage but didn’t know about his mushroom obsession, then you’ll find this paragraph fascinating:
In one particularly famous episode, in February 1959, Cage appeared on the Italian television program Lascia o Raddoppio (Double or Nothing) and won five million lire (something like eight thousand dollars) by being able to name 24 white-spored agarics — edible mushrooms — that were mentioned in the Studies of American Fungi field guide. Cage listed them in alphabetical order and then bought a Volkswagen bus for his partner, choreographer Merce Cunningham, and a piano for his home in Stony Point.
There’s a new two-volume book — John Cage: A Mycological Foray — that details Cage’s mad mushroom skills though his writing and essays by others. It looks lovely.
Speaking of lovely-looking books, Craig Mod — who might be responsible for my favorite email newsletter — has self-published a book based on his incredible Eater article, I Walked 600 Miles Across Japan for Pizza Toast. I know the title of that article is baffling but, seriously, give it a read if you haven’t. This new book is titled Kissa by Kissa, and it expands on the article with lots of new graphics, photographs, and text. It’s obviously a labor of love and looks fantastic. Even more fantastic, Craig coded his Kickstarter-style platform to raise money and sell it from (he jokingly calls it ‘Craigstarter’). It’s open-source and downloadable from Github. Labels and recording artists take note — you could use this to do a PledgeMusic (ugh) style fundraiser for your next album right from your site. (Update: I see the book sold out. Congratulations to Craig! I imagine it will be online in some form in the future, like his ‘digital book’ Ise-ji: Walk With Me.)
Brian Eno. Laurie Anderson. Nitin Sawhney. Simon McBurney. These four brains got together (on Zoom) and had a conversation about listening. It’s terrific. And Eno’s lockdown beard is impressive.
My bit of music news is about Gemini Revolution. The brothers Dedric and Delaney — from the cool Kansas City combo Monta At Odds — lead this project. We call Gemini Revolution their ‘alternate timeline band.’ I’ve just released their rad new album Supernova Remnant on the 8D Industries label. Earlier today, I described this album to a friend as “kosmiche-styled space jams, ambient builders, and textured dream-droppers.” I won’t back down from that description. Have a listen in the player below, and if it strikes your fancy — it should! — then please head down to Bandcamp where the album is downloadable at the special price of ‘name your price.’