The Last Angel of History starts by introducing a musical trio of cosmic influencers — George Clinton, Sun Ra, and Lee Perry — as an extension of Robert Johnson, who received the “black technology” of the blues in exchange for his soul. Or does this legend refer to a sort of visitation? We then move forward (or backward, as these interviews date from 1995) to techno and breakbeat jungle as recent applications of this technology. Science fiction is posited as an accurate reflection of the African diaspora, and we hear from the likes of Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany. This all serves as an Afrofuturism manifesto, aided in tone by the enigmatic pronouncements of a “data thief” and director John Akomfrah’s mind-melting edits and shadowy stagings of the interview segments. A fascinating artifact with lingering contemporary significance.
Season 3 of KCRW’s Lost Notes → This week, I spent 30 minutes each morning listening to the third season of KCRW’s Lost Notes podcast series. The other two seasons are terrific, but this latest particularly grabbed me. This time, each episode focuses on a prominent event or artist from 1980. The host is poet and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib, approaching his subjects with an engaging language. The series suggests 1980 as a pivotal year, setting the tone for the next decade and reverberating into the present.
If you’re me, the temptation is to skip to the end and listen to the fantastic Grace Jones episode (which also throws in a short history of Chicago’s Disco Demolition, occurring the previous year). But roll through them all, in order, to get a grander picture of the influence that year had on music and culture. Stevie Wonder, Ian Curtis, John Lennon and Darby Crash (together), Minnie Ripperton, The Sugarhill Gang, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba — each topic is fascinating and offers something to learn.
You can also read each episode online via KCRW’s site (click on the artist’s names above). But Hanif Abdurraqib’s personable narration, peppered with audio and musical examples, is the way to go. It’s a compelling production.
Throwback on a Comeback: The Last Cassette Tape Factory → I enjoyed this mini-doc on ‘The Last Cassette Factory‘ — though I’m wondering if any tape manufacturers have popped up since the video’s release four years ago. As noted in the video, there’s a resurgence of cassette releases. This growth is partly thanks to Bandcamp and a need to give fans a limited, physical version of a release without breaking the bank for vinyl pressings. It’s an excellent idea for emerging bands to offer cassettes, especially when personalized with homespun artwork and packaging. Just don’t believe that your fans are listening to your cassettes. For one thing, as the first commenter on the video’s page notes, “The problem is I don’t see any quality cassette players being made today.” As for this video, we’ve all seen footage of the whirring machinery found in record pressing plants. It might be surprising to see that a cassette factory’s inner workings are also fascinating and highly technical.
A Guide to Sun Ra on Film → A useful list of long-form Sun Ra footage found on YouTube and elsewhere. Some of this I hadn’t seen before. The Magic Sun film, intended as a projection behind the Arkestra as they performed at Carnegie Hall, is particularly wild. And I think the writer of this piece somewhat downplays Space Is The Place — it’s a great movie, low-budget or not.
As a proponent of focusing influence on one’s own ‘world,’ I like this quote from Ra in the listed French television interview: “You want a better world, put the blueprint down.”
Ralph Kinsella – Lessening → My 8D Industries label released a new album today on Bandcamp. Titled Lessening, it’s the debut album from Scottish guitarist and ambient producer Ralph Kinsella. I’ve written about Ralph before — I discovered him after he reached out to this blog with his music. A few months ago, he sent the demo for this album, and I haven’t stopped listening. An antidote to lockdown — this is travel in a small room.
The last paragraph of the press release does a great job of describing Ralph’s music:
Kinsella’s guitar is the even thread, sometimes bare and then often processed, awash in texture and synthetic glares. Tracks like “In the In-Between Light” use the guitar to express enormity — of space and emotion — before the song is gently brought close by calming lines and reassuring synth patches. There’s also a soft tension in songs like “Lung Noises,” sharing the masterful slow build of the shoegaze genre’s finest practitioners. Lessening‘s closer, “Born on the Cusp,” offers a resolution — chiming guitars and reverberant tones signaling both loss and promise. This is the sound of an uncertain present feeling its way to that better world.
I hope you’ll check it out. Lessening is available now exclusively on Bandcamp and, like all 8D Industries releases, is set to ‘name your price.’
I’m having a deep listen to Strut’s new reissue of African Rhythms 1970-1982, a collection of classic tracks by Oneness of Juju. The Richmond, VA, based band is led by saxophonist/flutist James “Plunky Nkabinde” Branch, with its roots in the early ’70s avant-garde jazz community of San Francisco and the NYC loft scene. As part of the former, he met and collaborated with South African exile Ndikho Xaba who introduced Plunky to the concepts and philosophy of African music. Inspired, Plunky incorporated these concepts with his jazz influences and developed a ‘music as devotion’ mindset. He brought these ideas to New York, where he worked directly with Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra. A move back home to Richmond stirred more ingredients into this already flavorful stew as Plunky sought to build a music for the people:
“In the Richmond, Virginia, area, there was not as much of a market for avant-garde jazz as you might think,” Plunk says with a laugh over the phone. “So we incorporated some R&B elements, and a drummer playing a drum set, and a guitar, and added a female vocalist. We had to meet our audience halfway. We started bridging this line between R&B and funk and avant-garde jazz. I was conscious of trying to find an audience for the message we had in our music, and trying to serve the community and make a living, which is how we ended up with this convergence of styles.”
Richmond’s vicinity to Washington, DC, allowed frequent performances by Oneness of Juju in the nation’s capital. DC’s audiences were receptive to the diverse stylistic palette the band offered. Plunky thinks this is because “all these embassies and people coming from all over the world for various reasons … different parts of their culture were based in DC.” And these performances often took place at protests rather than concert venues, exposing a political subtext to Oneness of Juju’s cultural mixture. Again, the band sought to provide the music of the people:
”… all of those dudes, Gil Scott, Chuck Brown, Oneness of Juju, Experience Unlimited, a big part of what we did in those days was not just parties and nightclubs, but also participating in demonstrations. There were any number of other community-based activities in the public parks; summer-long festivals and weekly concerts that all those acts would participate in. They started out as street concerts and would get thousands of people to come out. And music was the drawing card.”
Plunky’s mission to deliver his people’s music continues to this day. Since the beginning of The Strange Times, he’s given impromptu concerts on the porch of his Richmond house nightly for neighbors who require musical relief.
African Rhythms 1970-1982 is a spirited listen, its songs moving effortlessly from funk, afro-rhythms, disco, rock, spiritual jazz, and in between tangents. The supercharged disco of the Larry Levan favorite “Every Way But Loose” will probably ring a few bells, as will the undeniable classic “African Rhythms,” famously sampled and reworked by none other than J Dilla. I’m also taken by the collection’s ‘unreleased version’ of “Bootsie’s Lament” which sounds not too far off from a lost Sun Ra Arkestra nugget. Percussive jazz workouts like “Sabi” are also here and extraordinary, as is the slow, night jazz of “Space Jungle Funk” — a classy instrumental made strange via some wild stompbox effects on Plunky’s saxophone.
In its physical form, the collection is a triple vinyl album, featuring over two hours of music. Despite the variety of sounds and influences, these 24 tracks distinctively belong to Oneness of Juju. Listening from beginning to end is an illuminating and coherent journey — you can hear Black music’s history and its future steps. Uplifting and combative, audacious and resilient, African Rhythms 1970-1982 is the music of a turbulent past and suitable — while optimistic — for our stormy present.
There’s an effort to make the entire Sun Ra catalog available online, and that’s no easy task. The inimitable jazz artist’s catalog is vast and perplexing, and previously unknown recordings are unearthed on a regular basis. Admittedly some of his work is impenetrable to the uninitiated, creating an impression that Sun Ra is a cacophonous weirdo. That would be a misunderstanding. Irwin Chusid, who is managing the reissue series via Sun Ra LLC, had this to say in an interview with Bandcamp Daily:
He is an institution. He is a cosmic force. He is a genius. He’s one of the great neglected composer-musicians of the 20th century. There’s no question what this man created is singular. There’s no one like Sun Ra. […]
I think 75 percent of Sun Ra’s sprawling catalogue is accessible … Is it slick? No. Is it smooth? No. Is it mainstream? No. But it’s fun. It’s musical. It’s engaging. It’s adventurous. It’s diverse. And a lot of it is jazz.
Diving into the catalog is daunting but rewarding, and it’s not difficult to find starting points. That Bandcamp Daily article suggests many good intro albums. This piece in Vulture has some excellent recommendations, too.
I’ve been going down the Sun Ra rabbit-hole, exploring the extensive catalog available on Bandcamp, and ran across the compilation Sun Ra Exotica. I do love the strange ‘50s genre of ‘exotica,’ exemplified by the likes of Martin Denny, Les Baxter, and Arthur Lyman. The style, in a way, is a precursor to what Jon Hassell coined ‘fourth world music:’ a blending of different traditional styles with Western music to create a previously unimagined sound.
I had never thought of Sun Ra in the context of ‘exotica,’ but it makes sense. He was, after all, an exotic dude. And his oeuvre is so expansive that contextualizing groupings of his compositions under a theme, like ‘exotica,’ reveals something new about Sun Ra’s work.
From the release notes to Sun Ra Exotica:
Was Exotica kitsch? Did it represent “cultural appropriation”? Was it a dilution of indigenous art? Who cares? Music should be enjoyed on its own terms. … Exotica has roots, but those roots are uncopyable. What emerges is something derivative, yet original. Here you have Sun Ra, of African-American extraction, influenced by Les Baxter, a Caucasian from Texas, who was in turn influenced by primitive jungle rites. It’s a cultural feedback loop, best enjoyed by leaving politics out of it.
Sun Ra Exotica is a terrific starting point for those unfamiliar with Sun Ra’s spaceways. It’s also a pleasure for this longtime fan, the 25 tracks fitting together effortlessly in Ra’s cosmic sonic puzzle. It’s the soundtrack for my weekend.
- Readying Monta At Odds‘ Unsuspecting album for release on January 18 on my 8D Industries label. This is a reissue of the Kansas City combo’s first album from 2005, and I’m planning for it to be the first in a reissue series for this prolific band.
- I’m also expanding my consultancy, a big plan for 2019. I just sent a proposal to one prospective client and will be checking on a couple of others next week. There will be a website for my music publishing consultancy, which I’ll be working on in earnest once January 18 passes. I’m also debating another site focusing on my DIY label management consultancy.
- The daily blog practice has been amazing. I’m so happy I relaunched this. So far, I only missed a few days around Christmas and NYE. But I must remind myself it’s not a competition — there’s no pressure.
- After spending a week in the sticks (that is, a remote wooded location), I’m back home in time for some beautiful Florida weather. We’ve paddle-boarded two days in a row and it’s possible we’ll make it three. That might be it for a while as the weather looks to go downhill starting tomorrow.
- Movie: last night we watched Leave No Trace and loved it.
- Music: listening to Ultramarine’s terrific new album, and today’s been a Sun Ra day with the albums Crystal Spears and Sun Ra Exotica (the latter a great starting place for any Sun Ra neophytes).
- Reading: How To Make It Big as a Consultant. At times an amusing read as it’s a little outdated but there’s plenty of useful advice within.
Sun Ra is often cited as the founding father of afro-futurism, a tangent of thought which extends through the mothership connections of Parliament-Funkadelic, to the astral techno of Underground Resistance, to the aquatic, lardossian narratives of Drexciya; his work examines racial identity and the black experience in America through the eyes of an alien visiting humanity. The language of this deconstruction is peppered with his own neologisms, like the “astro-black” of outer space, the “myth-science” or “solar-myth” of creation, right down to the name he chose for his band, “the Arkestra”, a linguistic riff on Noah’s biblical safe haven.
Buran, the Soviet Union’s answer to NASA’s Space Shuttle programme, wasn’t quite as successful as its American rival. Just one flight-capable Buran orbiter (craft OK–1K1) was completed, and flew only once, unmanned, on November 15, 1988. Today, a handful of relics from the Buran programme lie strewn across the former Soviet Union and beyond, from half-finished orbiters to a series of full-scale engineering rigs and other test articles; among them was this wooden wind tunnel model, abandoned for years in a corner of Zhukovsky Airfield in Moscow Oblast.
Have you ever wondered how a vinyl player actually plays a record? Well, wonder no more. Microscopic Images shared this image on their Twitter some months back, showing what a record’s groove looks like under 1000x magnification.
Meenakshi Temple was originally built by Kulasekarer Pandya in the 6th century BC, but the credit for the present look of the temple goes to the Nayakas, who ruled Madurai from 16th to 18th century. The reign of the Nayaks marks the golden period of Madurai when art, architecture and learning flourished expansively. The riot of colors, however, is a more recent addition.
Mark’s approach to working with a band always began with hearing their ideas for the project first, because, he pointed out, they always had ideas for it. “It’s pretty rare that someone comes to me and says, ‘Hey I’m doing this record, but I don’t know what to do for the cover.’ That almost never happens. What they really usually need is for someone to edit those ideas.”
It’s time for our semi-regular round up of articles and links that we found particularly interesting over the past week. And, yes, I do need a better title for this section.
The term Afrofuturism might only have been coined in 1993 by author Mark Dery, but the black cultural experience of freedom achieved through sci-fi, ancient African cosmology and magical realism has been underway since the middle of 20th century. Time, for an Afrofuturist, is a fluid concept, and the terms past, present and future aren’t necessarily linear.
I’ll just be blunt: why can’t you get metadata right? What’s keeping you from tagging digital song files with all the information I and everyone else needs? This is important data. And supplying everyone with this data is your job!
It’s just funny to imagine Donald Trump listening to Pavement. Trump has written real tweets praising stadium acts like Taylor Swift and Aerosmith. What if he heard Pavement? He probably wouldn’t like them very much! I imagine a man of such extreme wealth and ego being repelled by the uncompromising, lo-fi aesthetic of early Pavement recordings.
It appears that when Apple ships iOS 9.1, iPhone users will have access to a key symbol of human communication. In a beta posted yesterday, Apple greatly expanded the number of supported emoji, including multiple new hand gestures. Of course, there’s one gesture that all have been waiting for, and it looks like we’ll be getting it at long last.
Orlando is known around the world as a theme park playground for children and adults alike. Yet visitors often miss out on the relatively undiscovered sections of Orlando, cherished by locals as up-and-coming cultural havens. In our humble opinion, these neighborhoods—your friends may not have heard of them yet—are a destination vacation in and of themselves.
Mr Ricciardi did not get up at all during hours of playing and kept his thumb tucked in his armpit. The 37-year-old player was also “batting his eyelids in the most unnatural way”, (referee Jean) Coqueraut said. “Then I understood it. He was deciphering signals in Morse code.”