So, stop me if you’ve heard this one already: three remix producers walk into a bar, suddenly gain access to the complete recorded works of the late big-band-leader and electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott, and go back to their studios to do their own thing. Actually, it’s not certain if there was a bar involved, but that minor detail aside, that’s how you get this album.
And what a fun album it is! From a near-nonsensical mash-up of Scott’s electronic music and his extensive work in the realm of commercial jingles (“The Night & Day Household Greyhound”) to a career-spanning mash-up that somehow manages to encapsulate everything Raymond Scott was about (“A Bigger, More Important Sound”) to truly tuneful remixes that almost transcend their source material (“Cindy Byrdsong”, “Hey Ray”), every approach from very light remixing to almost rewriting the DNA of the original music is tried out here. Piling the output of Scott’s legendary homemade analog synthesizer/sequencer, the Electronium, on top of most conventional acoustic sounds does wonders (“Very Very Very Pretty Petticoat”), but that’s no less enjoyable than a cut-and-splice treatment of Scott’s narrated notes on a new piece of recording gear (“Love Song To A Dynamic Ribbon Cardioid”). At the end of the album, it’s all hands on deck as all three producers pay tribute to Scott’s most enduring creation (thanks to its heavy use in Carl Stalling’s cartoon music), “Powerhouse”.
I can’t help but think that Raymond Scott would have approved. The man devised and implemented a new instrument combining the functions of analog synths and sequencers in one massive box, in a near-total vacuum of information as to how one would create such a beast, because these ideas were new to everyone at the time. (No less a later electronic music pioneer than Bob Moog himself would go on to say that Scott was a huge influence on him.) A mind that could jump from big band stylings to otherworldly sounds for which there was no frame of reference…one can’t help but think that, had he been born a bit later, Raymond Scott himself would be doing some remixes of his own.
- A Bigger, More Important Sound by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (1:38)
- The Toy Penguin by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (3:12)
- Cindy Byrdsong by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (4:09)
- Ripples on an Evaporated Lake by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (4:10)
- Sleigh Ride To A Barn Dance in Sorrento by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:01)
- The Night & Day Household Greyhound by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (2:50)
- Love Song To A Dynamic Ribbon Cardioid by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (2:25)
- (Serenade On) Carribea Corner by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (4:08)
- In An 18th Century Discotheque by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (3:35)
- The Sleepwalking Tobacco Auctioneer by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (2:10)
- Very Very Very Pretty Petticoat by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:22)
- Hillbilly Hostess In Haunted Harlem by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (2:28)
- Good Duquesne Air by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (3:06)
- Hey Ray by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:54)
- Mountain High, Valley Higher by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (3:35)
- Siberian Tiger On An Ocean Liner by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (2:35)
- Shirley’s Temple Bells by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:12)
- Tick Tock Cuckoo On Planet Mars by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (1:56)
- Powerhouse by Various Artists (3:29)
Released by: Basta
Release date: January 14, 2014
Total running time: 54:55
I remember the Apple II. By way of the Franklin ACE 1000 clone that was later sued off the market, I grew up with the Apple II as my first computer. I programmed it – or tried to – endlessly. Trying to get music and sound right with the native Apple II speaker was an especially bruising experience: endless data tables, pokes, and very seldom getting what I wanted out of the machine. A whole sub-industry was born to bolt better audio capability onto the Apple II via add-ons like the Mockingboard sound card. It was never as easy as just plugging a MIDI-capable keyboard into it and just playing what was in your head.
Except that now, it is. And that’s how we got Class Apples – a new MIDI controller interface, and a modern-day software hack allowing for samples to expand the sound of the Apple II, and 8 Bit Weapon doing what 8 Bit Weapon does. The entirety of Class Apples is performed on Apple II computers, with minor post-production tweaks providing the finishing touches that the Apple itself can’t (reverb, stereo tricks, a bit of flanging here and there). It’s still the same lo-fi machine that it always was, but the Apple II can do more musically thanks to persistent fans of the machine grafting new abilities onto it, inspired by technological developments that have taken place since the Apple II’s heyday.
The music here is all from the classical repertoire, and heavy on pieces with complex counterpoint. Everything has a beat to it, and there’s a strong Hooked On Classics vibe to the whole thing. It’s hard to nominate any one track as a standout – each of them have their own charms – though I’m always a sucker for “Ave Maria” and, well, just about any flavor of Bach.
Computer music may be nothing new, and classics filtered through computer music may be nothing new, but there is something new here – significant musical capabilities have been grafted onto a machine that was known for little more than the plaintive PR#6 “BEEP” that accompanied a startup or reset. Just as 8 Bit Weapon helped alert the public to the possibilities of the NES and Game Boy as musical instruments, the same can now be said of the not-especially-musically-inclined Apple II. It’s a musical tech demo that is, if you know anything about the Apple II’s native sound capabilities, surprisingly listenable. You had me at INIT HELLO,S6,D1.
- Sheep May Safely Graze (Bach – 2:55)
- Two Part Invention (Bach – 1:03)
- Prelude and Fugue 1 in C Major (Bach – 1:29)
- Für Elise (For Elise) (Beethoven – 2:14)
- Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music) (Mozart – 5:24)
- Invention 8 (Bach – 0:51)
- Prelude in C Minor (Bach – 1:35)
- Rondo Alla Turca (Mozart – 2:07)
- Invention 14 (Bach – 1:13)
- Air Tromb (Bach – 1:29)
- Ave Maria (Bach & Gounod – 2:52)
- Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven – 4:43)
Released by: 8 Bit Weapon
Release date: July 22, 2017
Total running time: 27:55
Every once in a while, a soundtrack appears that you just kind of order on sight. This was one of those. I was no stranger to Mark Mancina’s propulsive, all-American-sounding score from the 1996 tornado disaster flick Twister, as I already had the original release of the score from that year, but the thought of a complete Twister score release was enough to lighten my wallet a bit…mainly for the love of a single piece of music omitted from the ’96 CD.
One of the film’s best sequences follows a somewhat introspective series of vignettes that nail home, none too subtly, the emotional stakes for the movie’s characters. After a hasty retreat from a decidedly southern meal, the ragtag storm chasers led by Bill Paxton’s character do a bit of ill-advised off-roading without being entirely sure where they’re going to wind up. The orchestral part of the soundtrack begins churning in a steady rhythm with the signature battery of cellos that anchor the entire score, eventually transitioning into “Humans Being”, the song Van Halen contributed to Twister‘s “songtrack” album. It’s quite possibly the best integration of score and tie-in song I’ve ever heard Hollywood pull off, and…it was missing from the original album.
That track, “Walk In The Woods”, tapers off rather than crashing into rock music territory (the Van Halen song can still be found on the readily available song CD), but it sold me on this whole remaster. Unlike some past reissues which doubled the amount of music available or blew our minds with alternates or unused takes, there are probably fewer than ten minutes of truly “new” music to be found on this reissue. But in conversing with fellow soundtrack afficionados, I found that “Walk In The Woods” was the tipping point for them picking this one up too.
The familiar tracks from the original album are renamed and shuffled around a bit from the original 1996 release, but it’s all there – with one exception. Missing from this new release is the snippet of movie dialogue (well, singing, really) in which a couple of the storm chasers sing a bit of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma (particularly badly); if you’re a fan of that few seconds of silliness, you need to hang on to the 1996 release as well as this one.
- Wheatfield (film version) (1:25)
- The Hunt Begins (3:50)
- The Sky (1:03)
- Dorothy IV (film version) (1:57)
- The First Twister (0:49)
- In the Ditch / Where’s My Truck? (2:00)
- Waterspouts (2:49)
- Cow (5:42)
- Walk In The Woods (2:05)
- Bob’s Road (2:13)
- Hail No! (2:43)
- Futility (film version) (2:17)
- Drive-In Twister (2:57)
- Wakita (film version) (5:19)
- Sculptures (film version) (3:06)
- House Visit (4:47)
- The Big Suck (film version) (1:47)
- End Titles (2:25)
- Wheatfield (alternate) (1:28)
- Waterspouts (alternate) (2:50)
- The Big Suck (alternate) (1:14)
- End Title / Respect the Wind (9:20)
Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: January 20, 2017
Total running time: 64:07
The Radiophonic Workshop is back, minus the BBC. If the band’s retinue of veteran analog electronic music pioneers can keep turning out original material like this, it might result in a new generation of fans wondering why they were slumming it for the BBC for so long. The Radiophonic Workshop is made up of former members of the storied BBC Radiophonic Workshop, an experimental electronic music & effects department of the BBC founded in the late 1950s to provide unique music and sounds for the steadily growing output of the BBC’s radio and television channels. The work, in those days before samplers and digital synthesizers, was grueling; membership in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was always fairly limited because you had to love what you were doing, working with oscillators a beat and tone generators and analog reverb and tape loops. The Workshop remains, perhaps unjustly, best known for the original Doctor Who theme music dating back to 1963, but its body of work spread so much further than that…until the BBC closed the Workshop’s doors in the 1990s.
But its members, it turns out, weren’t averse to workshopping their unique sound without Auntie Beeb paying the bills. Having spent over a decade as a touring group recreating their sound the old-fashioned way for audiences who already knew their work and audiences only just discovering them, the Radiophonic Workshop has now gifted us with a new album with the unmistakable sound that gained them a following in the 1960s and ’70s. Is it abstract? At times, yes – about 13 minutes into the lead track, you’d swear they were trying to make a musical instrument out of the sound of the Liberator’s teleport from Blake’s 7. Everything from white noise to whalesong crops up. But what’s amazing is how tuneful it is at times. Echoing piano is a constant presence, along with actual guitar work (Paddy Kingsland, whose Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s Guide scores in the early ’80s were ear-wormingly hummable, take a bow). There are a few places where a groove emerges from the soundscape and the Radiophonic Workshop proceeds to rock out.
Not a bad feat considering that some of these gentlemen are past what many touring musicians would consider retirement age.
The real fascination of Burials In Several Earths is that it’s electronic music created in a way that has almost been lost to time and the march of technology. That description doesn’t really do it justice though – that sounds more like the description of a tech demo. The Radiophonic Workshop is making actual music this way, delighting audiences on stage, and bolting new chapters onto a legacy of ridiculously hummable short tunes from a bygone age. At times ethereal, at times exciting, the one thing Burials isn’t is boring.
- Burials In Several Earths (18:58)
- Things Buried In Water (22:01)
- Some Hope Of Land (25:15)
- Not Come To Light (3:58)
- The Stranger’s House (11:23)
Released by: Room 13
Release date: May 19, 2016
Total running time: 1:21:35
Space Sessions: Songs From A Tin Can is Canadian astronaut (and former International Space Station commander) Chris Hadfield’s long-promised album of songs he recorded, at least in part, while in space. Holed up in his tiny sleeping cubicle on the station after “work hours”, and trying to brace an acoustic guitar against his own body so it could actually be played, Hadfield used an iPad to generate a click track by which to keep tempo, and to record his guitar and vocal parts as separate tracks. (His sleeping area was the quietest place aboard the ISS; air handling and life support systems created too much noise anywhere else. Turns out that the 1980s/90s Star Trek series, with their constant “air conditioning” roar in the background, weren’t far off the mark.)
Aside from the obligatory appearance of his mesmerizing YouTube favorite cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” as a bonus track, everything on Space Sessions is written by Hadfield himself in a folk-country style. A great many of the songs are, somewhat predictably, space-themed, though it’s worth noting that some of them were written while in orbit, while others were penned on the ground before liftoff. But even with the constant subtext of space in the background, there’s everything from a musical prayer for the reliability of the technology keeping space explorers alive (“Big Smoke”) to a number about getting accustomed to zero-G disorientation (“Feet Up”) to a story song about a woman giving birth while her husband is in space (“Caroline”).
All of it is performed with a strong singer/songwriter sensibility (I think John Denver would have approved of both the music and the venue in which it was made). Only a couple of tracks suffer from having been recorded in a sleeping cubicle on a real orbiting space station, but this can probably be forgiven for the following reason: recorded on a real orbiting space station. In all seriousness, however, Hadfield’s got the goods to command a space station or belt out a tune. This stuff would be worth a listen even if it was completely earthbound.
- Big Smoke (3:37)
- Beyond The Terra (4:05)
- Feet Up (2:57)
- I Wonder If She (4:19)
- Caroline (4:12)
- Jewel In The Night (3:08)
- Daughter Of My Sins (2:26)
- Window Of My Mind (3:15)
- Space Lullaby (3:25)
- Farm Auction (3:08)
- Ride That Lightning (3:20)
- Space Oddity (5:19)
Released by: Warner Music Canada
Release date: October 9, 2015
Total running time: 43:11
If you’re a fan of the music from The Matrix trilogy, you’re probably a fan of Rob Dougan without realizing it: the first movie’s music for the woman in the red dress, The Matrix Reloaded‘s scenery-destroying all-out melee in a museum-like space – basically, where you heard almost James-Bond-cool strings overlaid with a trip-hop techno beat, that was Rob Dougan, an Australian DJ whose work had gained a cult following nearly a decade before The Matrix hit theaters.
But Dougan has always had more artsy ambitions: sampled strings aren’t good enough for him. That’s the theory behind this EP, which continues his neo-classical (no Matrix pun intended) fusion experiments. The 22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time Sessions see Dougan’s compositions played by a real orchestra: “Frescobaldi’s Toccata” is stately, “Vale (Ave Atque Vale)” and “A Drawing-Down of Blinds-Valedico” are sedate, while the more driving “The Return” is presented both with and without a drum overlay. There are no lead vocals on any of the songs; this is a strictly instrumental (and occasionally choral) experience.
This is the first we’ve heard of Dougan since his knockout 2004 solo album Furious Angels, and hopefully it isn’t the last – indeed, he’s working on a full album even as his fans listen to The 22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time Sessions and ponder how much he’s been missed. This is classy, retro-cinematic cool at its finest.
Frescobaldi’s Toccata (Orchestral Session) (4:38)
Vale (Ave Atque Vale) (Orchestral Session) (4:46)
The Return (Orchestral Session) (5:02)
A Drawing-Down of Blinds-Valedico (Orchestral Session) (6:24)
The Return (Orchestral Session) (Alternative Mix) (5:00)
Released by: robdougan.com
Release date: May 9, 2015
Total running time: 25:50
A concept band tackling a concept album, Public Service Broadcasting applies its quirky style (mixing amazing musical proficiency with clips and samples from vintage public information films) to a singular topic: the technological sprint that took humanity from Sputnik to Tranquility Base in just over a decade. Individual tracks are devoted to everything from the earliest spacewalks to Valentina Tereshkova to the Apollo 1 fire.
The technical and musical highlight of The Race For Space is “Go!”, a rapid-fire piece built around the machine-gun pacing of the Apollo 11 flight director getting go/no-go reports from his room full of controllers. The result is that these rocket technicians are basically rapping over a piece of music built around their responses (which have been only slightly edited to keep a steady tempo). “E.V.A.”, “The Other Side” and “Gagarin” are upbeat numbers that combine vintage sound clips with musical virtuosity.
The most haunting piece is “Fire In The Cockpit”, which PSB has vowed never to play live out of respect to the Apollo 1 crew. The title track is a little bit on the ponderous side – I think that it’s a given that Kennedy’s public urge for NASA to reach for the moon was a monumental moment, so piling a choir on top of that comes very close to over-egging the pudding.
It’s a neat history lesson, and one to which you can tap your toes or play a little air guitar. Public Service Broadcasting has carved out a fascinating little niche for itself, and I’m curious as to what they’ll do next after the remix album built around The Race For Space, due very soon.
- The Race For Space (2:39)
- Sputnik (7:09)
- Gagarin (3:48)
- Fire In The Cockpit (3:01)
- E.V.A. (4:15)
- The Other Side (6:19)
- Valentina (4:29)
- Go! (4:12)
- Tomorrow (7:22)
Released by: Test Card Recordings
Release date: February 23, 2015
Total running time: 43:14