Various Artists(Compiled by David Toop)

Ocean of Sound (Virgin UK 1996)

links are down, but will be reposted tomorrow.

Although it sometimes spends too much time sniffing its own arse, The Wire, a British magazine, has helped turn me on to new horizons during the thirteen years I have read its pontifications. Yes, I could do without its testimonials to grime and its ill-fated interludes with post-rock, but no current magazine delves into the nitty gritty of oddball musics like they do. Although he doesn’t seem to write for them anymore, David Toop’s meanderings on music warped my mind in new directions. To be honest, I read them now and find less to love, but his articles and book Ocean of Sound provided the context for why I found whirrs, buzzes and drones to be such a wonderland. In 1996, Toop wrote a book entitled Ocean of Sound which attempted to trace the history of ambient music as well as the motivations behind those who devoted themselves to its creation. He touched on Satie, Terry Riley, Eno and Aphex Twin and how supposed background music became an artform. I still kind of dig this book, but years have hardened me and I no longer have the same bright-eyed and bushy-tailed look as I read the words. However, this book really gave my musical loves a sense of place. It connected dots and made sense of things that my young mind didn’t grasp until then.

A double cd was released in conjunction with book and I’ll be damned if there isn’t a better compendium of music to correlate with the book’s explorations of the ability of music to create an atmosphere. Now the book and compilation do not limit themselves to mellow bubbles and chirps since Peter Brotzmann and Ornette Coleman play a role as well as My Bloody Valentine and Jon Hassell. I love the diversity of this collection because its field recordings of howler monkeys and rain songs just melt into the more austere terrain of Harold Budd. At heart, it is just an excellent mix tape devoted to the power of sound by a man who put all of his love into each selection.

Marc Ribot-Saints

August 23, 2008

Marc Ribot

Saints (Atlantic 2001)

http://www.mediafire.com/?s5uawdkaipt

As a bored and lonely teenager, I tended to search for any free or all-ages concerts to fill in the many blanks in my life. There was a series of free concerts at Penns Landing in Philadelphia where I got to see Billy Bragg and Roger Mcguinn as well as lesser lights like Suddenly Tammy. I had never heard of T-Bone Burnett since this was before his work with the Coen Brothers on the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. However, the concert was free and my dance card was empty, so what the hell. To be honest, Burnett was kind of a drag, but his guitarist had so much charisma and his playing was electrifying and eye-opening to my young soul. His name was Marc Ribot and I did some research and found that he played on one of my favorite albums, Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs. From that moment, I decided that I would always keep an eye out for any record on which he played.

Sadly, my obsession was never fully rewarded as he hadn’t released any solo records at that point. A few years later, I shelled out a bunch of money for Shrek, a Japanese import on John Zorn’s Avant label, and was kind of disappointed. I plowed through Yo! I Killed Your God and Shoe String Symphonettes and I appreciated and enjoyed some of it, but they didn’t inspire me like those life-affirming moments of his live performance. His work was challenging, but it didn’t speak to me. I put my fascination with Ribot on the back burner and this hiatus lasted for many years until I encountered his Saints album in 2001.

Maybe it is due to the fact that most of the album consists of covers of Albert Ayler, the Beatles, Stephen Sondheim, John Lurie and John Zorn, but Saints was an entirely different beast than anything else I had heard him play. Maybe it is because Ribot is the only ingredient here. It is just a brilliant guitarist paying tribute to his favorite compositions while reinventing them in a new light. Saints is such an intimate listen and he creates a noirish atmosphere that is so minimal and moody. In fact, it is one of the few solo guitar records where I really feel every note that the musician is playing. I want to hear every twist and turn he takes with the source material. To be honest, it’s kind of a sensual record to me because he takes his sweet time mining every ounce of emotion from each composition. I love Albert Ayler and his versions of “Saints” and “Witches and Devils” outdo the master as Ribot replaces the fire of the originals with some meditative, expansive shit. I always say this, but I am shocked that more folks haven’t embraced Saints because it is such an evocative piece of work. The man even takes “Happiness is a Warm Gun” into some languorous, meditative place that Lennon and McCartney never intended. Definitely one of the best instrumental albums of the past decade and possibly one of the first records I reach for when I want to zone out and ponder life.

Arnold Dreyblatt

Animal Magnetism (Tzadik 1995)

http://www.mediafire.com/?njyjz1mn45n

I have spent an hour or two pondering life while listening to the rich drones of Arnold Dreyblatt. I first encountered the name while paging through an issue of Your Flesh where Jim O’ Rourke listed his favorite albums of the year and christened Animal Magnetism the best of 1995. Being the bleating sheep that I am, there was an immediate order placed at the Wall to Wall Sound and Video in my godforsaken town. I expected something akin to the Scott Walker, Roy Montgomery and Rafael Toral listed in his love letter, but was pleasantly surprised to hear that it wasn’t quite like anything else on that minimalist list.

There are many improbably combinations that our minds can conjure: Peanut butter and cauliflower puree, scallops and butterscotch or Kevin Spacey in a Bobby Darin biopic. Most of these flights of fancy are purely the result of narcotics. However, I cannot explain Kevin Spacey’s unfortunate foray. However, if you had suggested that you could combine Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians with Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs, I would accuse you of putting your mustard in my chutney.

Thankfully, Arnold Dreyblatt’s Animal Magnetism does exactly that. It takes the textured waves of minimalist composition and the musician play like a band made out of junkyard instruments. This is somehow funky in its clunky and hypnotic sort of way. It is a strong, muscular album that removes minimalism from the realm of lanky miscreant and makes a dance party out of it. I haven’t yet been so far gone to attempt an Arnold Dreyblatt dance party, but give me a ring and we shall see what we can muster up.

This is the sound of music hitting ecstatic peaks and mining mournful valleys. This is the sound of repetition taken to new places. This beats the pants off those moments where I pleasured myself with sounds of a single string. It is a joyful cacophony that makes me realize all that is wonderful about music.