Klaus Schulze – Timewind

A friend of mine does a lot of work restoring old houses. He often clears them of stuff that’s been left behind. Sometimes there’s some vinyl left over. If it is not claimed, he gets lucky. One of the albums he got, he passed onto me. That album is Klaus Schulze Timewind. My word, it’s good.

70s ambient is a rare beast for me these days, but is never forgotten. Tangerine Dream and even some Yes/Rick Wakeman still get a play now and again. The genre is another much maligned time in music. It doesn’t help when the aforementioned Rick Wakeman talks of sending out for a curry during Side 3 of Tales For Topographic Oceans when he played it live. In fact, Tales For Topographic Oceans was one of my favourite albums from that time. I can now add Timewind to the favourite list.

It is a little surprising, given the niche nature of this album, that it was a successful album for Schulze. He won an award for this, that meant it was stocked across many places of education in France. This, no doubt, contributed significantly to the units shifted. Although, i’m no expert on classical music, there are apparent references to Wagner. As was the fashion at that time, there are only 2 tracks: Bayreuth Return and Wahnfried 1883, each clocking in around the 30 minute mark.

What does it sounds like? Tangerine Dream isn’t a bad place to start. However, it is definitely more progressive and less monotonous. I am also a massive Nils Frahm fan. His tune Says reminds me of Timewind (i’d heard Says first so maybe it’s the other way around). Using only keyboards, synths and delays, the 2 pieces drift in and out of your consciousness without wavering from their core purpose. There aren’t drones in the modern sense, but the tracks are structured with that type of minor key backdrop. However, both are much lighter and very easy to listen to. The highlight is Bayreuth Return. I love the way it moves in an out, subtly shifting and changing but always maintaining the listeners interest.

2 things of note to finish:

It was reissued a while back with extra tracks. Live versions of Bayreuth Return and another track, Windy Times. Worth seeking out.

I read somewhere each track was recorded in a single take, Kudos.

I’m off to power my way through his extensive back catalogue.

Cocoon – You’ve Arrived

It’s been a good musical start to 2019: Umber and Billow Observatory were particularly strong releases, as was the immense Verve by Sebastian Plano. However, it was CocoonYou’ve Arrived that peaked my attention initially. What a rich and varied tapestry that it weaves. Taking in, ambient, modern classical, and even a bit of dub techno.

Cocoon, the solo project of Clair Obscur kingpin Christophe Demarthe, is his fourth album on Optical Sound. There is a pulse that underpins this album. Sometimes it veers off into beautiful ambience, other times something altogether more industrial. However, it all works, and all seems to fit together.

Bader is a slightly misleading opening. It promises something completely different than what follows. The album changes style into keys led piece, helpfully title Piano. The initially childlike/later industrial Romantic Distorsion with filtered vocals, first introduces the pulse. A Cure is a banger, pitched that up and it could be played on the more discerning dance floors. On Cab, all the influences come to bear, the childlike nature, the ambience and the pulse. Cindy & Bahn shows the dark and light in equal measures. Instant Valhalla is ambient techno, where echos and reverb predominate. Voyage, sits somewhere bang in the middle of a horror or Sci-Fi movie. Peace 3Mn reminds me a lot of the sound Sasha used on the original Northern Exposure back in the mid 90s. See, I told you it’s all different.

The title track You’ve Arrived is a dark epic. A sedentary pulse provides a structure to the synth. A slow march to the album finale Maos. which is another industrial banger. The album actually closes with Vinyl, which is roughly 3 seconds of static when a needle hits a record.

On the whole, this is not my usual bag but the variety of styles has enough to satisfy a wide variety of musical pallets. Highly recommended.

Jon Hopkins – Singularity

Jon Hopkins was an important part of my transition from house music lover to ambient head. Contact Note and Opalescent were 2 of the albums I played religiously. His Art of Chill compilation (try finding a reasonably priced copy of that!) was also a wonderful late-night mix. Move forward a few years and Insides started a move towards more electronic compositions, whilst still nodding towards his previous releases. Immunity was far more club based and this was echoed by his Essential Mix for Radio 1. The Asleep Versions EP that came with Immunity appeased lovers of ambience. So, for his latest release Singularity there was an expectation of something more grounded in 4/4 beats. This is partly true.

To use an old football analogy, this is a game of 2 halves. The first half of Singularity contains some ‘bangers’, for example Everything Connected. From Track 5 onwards the album has a totally different, more downbeat feel. I think it was Uncut magazine that thought the album fizzled out a bit after track 4. For me, it was the complete opposite. I was waiting for that change.

The title track and album opener would’ve made a great first tune during the epic house days of the late 90s. A long synth, a rising breakbeat and bang, it kicks off around the 4-minute mark. Emerald Rush was one of the tracks showcased in advance of the full album release. A gentle start, this time building to a more mid-paced 4/4 affair. Ot is similar in style to youAND:THEMACHNIES, which is no bad thing. Neon Pattern Drum has a stuttering intro before the pattern set by the first 2 tracks continues. It paves the way for peak time Everything Connected, which is a monster. A 10-min dancefloor epic finally winding down around the 9-minute mark. This is the track that Immunity promised. It’s big.

The album then pivots and the Jon Hopkins I love resurfaces. Feel first Life is a lush piano led piece then eventually incorporates a choir. It would sit comfortably on the annual Café Del Mar summer compilations. It was such a welcome reprieve. COSM is Hopkins in Contact Note/Opalescent times. Echo Dissolves is a Nils Frahm-esque piano piece who’s key is its’ simplicity. The backdrop to the track builds on occasion, but never boils over. Luminous beings lifts the tempo to that of the first half of the album but it has the feel of winding down through its’ melodies. Like when the DJ has peaked and it’s time to bring the situation to a close. After 7 minutes, there is a textbook Jon Hopkins break before the 4/4 resurfaces. Album closer Recovery is aptly named. Light keys bring Singularity to a close in a perfect way.

It’s not that the more upbeat half of this album isn’t good, it’s just that I am older now. I rarely listen to dance music and when I hear it now it sounds alien to me. The first half of the album, I would’ve loved even 10 years ago but now I struggle with. Jon Hopkins is still a great producer and Singularity is still a great album. It’s just that, in my life, there is a time and place for this rather than anytime, any place.

Nanook of the North – Nanook of the North

Polish musicians Stefan Wesołowski and Piotr Kaliński form Nanook of the North. I write with faux authority as I learned this fact but 3 days ago. During those 3 days i’ve have very much been enjoying their eponymous debut album. What first grabbed my attention was that the release was by Denovali. Just about everything coming out of the label hits the spot. The label often occupies the slightly darker end of ambient, try Greig Haines for example.

I love an album with a story behind it. Nanook of the North was initially born of an improvised soundtrack they created to the 1922 silent movie of the same name.

In 2012, for the Sopot film festival, they were asked to soundtrack a silent movie. Finally settling on Nanook of the North, as it was a rare 100 year old silent movie that wasn’t considered laugh a minute.  Years after the event, Stefan and Piotr re-recorded the soundtrack in, where-else, but Ólafur Arnalds’ studio in Reykjavik. Over a 7 day period. the result was a multi textured, richly varied but ultimately dark album.

Nanook of the North: A Story Of Life and Love In the Actual Arctic is a 1922 American silent documentary by Robert J. Flaherty. The film showcases the struggles of Nanook, an Inuit man and his family, living in the Canadian Arctic as they try to exist day to day. The challenging nature of the film has led to a score that is both haunting and moving. I say this having not yet seen the movie.

Nanook of the North Movie Poster

Musically it’s a meld of drone, dub techno, analog synths, piano, strings and field recordings including those of some Inuit guests. Given the harsh landscape the documentary is set in, the soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment. From the start of Siulleq the stark emotional darkness drifts in. It continues to roll on until an Inuit Eskimo chant is heard as the synth drops. It immediately feels cold, bleak and menacing. It is very reminiscent of the Rellik soundtrack created by Clark in 2017 for the BBC. In fact, that comparison is accurate across various points of Nanook of the North.

Tulleq comprises of layers of rich synths slowly building. The pedestrian 4/4 beat and piano threaten to burst open in Pingajoq but again there is a breakdown to reveal the piano section in all its’ glory. Sisamaat is a thing of beauty. Atmospheric and poignant, it is one of the 2 main album highlights. Tallimaat is a simple piano piece, sombre throughout, occasionally promising hope but ultimately not delivering. With Arfernat, the mood changes slightly as dub techno is introduced. Pitch this up and it wouldn’t be out of place in a darker techno DJ set. The nature of the synths in this track make this feel more industrial or even upbeat without changing the overall feel of the album.

The dark ambient drones of Arfineq-Aappaat are at odds with Arfernat. The introduction of a piano does little to lighten the mood created. I’m guessing this soundtracked a particularly difficult section of the documentary. The tone continues into, and throughout, the 8 minute Arfineq-Pingajuat. Inuit drumming enters along with the Rellik-esque synths building to another piano drop half way through whilst the synths continue to rumble on the background. The second half of the track is reserved for a slow build but never a full release of tension. A highly emotive piece of music which is the other album standout. Qulingiluaat is an interlude and hardly registers paving the way for the end. Album closer, Qulingat, created using a Korg PS 3200, makes for a fitting climax, slow and desolate.

This album is dark and moving, as it should be. However, on occasion, there are moments of light. It has only been a short time since the soundtrack release, but i am hooked on Nanook of the North. Now, to watch the documentary. I hope Nanook and his family were alright in the end.