Saturday, September 12, 2015

Manfred Mann Chapter Three - Volume Two (Vertigo [UK] 1970)

After the popular English beat group Manfred Mann disbanded, founding members Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg continued their collaboration in an experimental, jazz-rock group, Manfred Mann Chapter Three. The new ensemble featured voodoo lyrics à la Dr. John over funk influenced rhythms and a full horn section with soloists doing their best Albert Ayler. Manfred Mann Chapter Three's first, eponymous album, released in 1969, was one of the first three records to be released on the newly minted Vertigo Records label. Volume Two followed in 1970 and was the their last recording. Mann went on to form Manfred Mann's Earth Band, apparently trying to get as much mileage as possible out of his given name. Download it here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

David Rosenboom - Brainwaves Music (A.R.C. Records [Canada] 1975)

David Rosenboom is an American composer. He studied electronic music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign among the likes of Kenneth Gaburo and Lejaren Hiller. He worked alongside Don Buchla and is considered one of the first composers to use a digital synthesizer, though I think Jon Appelton's works for the Synclavier synthesizer probably predate Rosenboom's digital works. He was also a pioneer in the use of neurofeedback and compositional algorithms as exemplified by Brainwave Music. These notes, taken from the back cover, describe the methods used to create "Portable Gold and Philosopher's Stones (music from brains in fours)" - 

"Electrodes and appropriate monitoring devices are attached to monitor the brain waves of four musicians who have been well rehearsed in the voluntary control of their pyschophysiological functions. Monitors are also attached to two of the performers for body temperature and to the remaining two for galvanic skin response. This information is all fed into an analyzing system that extracts such things as, percent time per mint spent emitting Alpha brainwaves, average time spent emitting Alpha, the amount of variance in the amplitude of Alpha, the coherence time of any patterns discovered in the brain wave, correlations between brainwaves or two or more performers, relative entropy of the waveforms, relative intensity of various spectral bands in the brain waves, etc.

A sound producing system is set up as follows. Four frequency dividers, capable of producing pulse waves that are some integral division of a sine wave frequency being fed to all four, are set up. These dividers are capable of producing exact pitch ratios that are a function of some control voltage, in this case, voltages from the monitors of skin temperature and galvanic skin response. The resultant precisely tuned chord of pulse waves is fed, then, into a bank of voltage controlled resonant band pass filters, called a Holophone. Relative amplitudes of the filters' outputs can be programmed. The result analysis of the performers' brain waves is directly applied to the voltage control inputs of the filters. The relative output amplitudes of the filters are controlled by signals deriving from a Fourier analysis of the brain waves.

When two of more pulse waves of exact pitch intervals are applied to a resonant band pass filter, the filter can extract the harmonics present in the waveform composite. A particular intercal will then produce a set of extractable harmonics that forms a mode. The music proceeds as an improvisation within these modal possibilities.

The technician's part lies in the modes of analysis of the brain waves he uses and their application as control for the sound producing system."

Well, that's quite a bit to process. It all makes for highly enjoyable music, though. The piece described above is essentially an 18:30 long drone of various harmonics and waveforms that shift, incidentally forming harmonies and dissonance. The composition that follows, "Chilean Drought", features three vocalists who recite individual texts. Each vocalist represents either Beta, Alpha, or Theta brainwaves and recites their text as their assigned wave arises from the control performer. The vocalists are accompanied by piano for melodic cohesion. The final composition, "Piano Etude I" utilizes a piano passage taken from another composition amusingly titled "How Much Better If Plymouth Rock Had Landed On The Pilgrims." The passage is played fast and is intended to be complex and repetitive, requiring endurance. Rosenboom was interested in the relationship between Alpha wave production and intense motor tasks. The rapid brain signals produced when performing modulate center frequencies of two band rejection filters that have the piano sound as their input. This results in random, fluttering pulsations that, as he puts it, "place a mask over, or carve a hole in, the block of piano sound."

Download it here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Entourage Music & Theatre Ensemble - The Neptune Collection (Folkways [US] 1976)

Now that I have revived this blog, I thought I would take us back to my very first post!

If you can remember correctly, Entourage was a collective beginning in 1971 and active for over a decade. They were a performance art group that incorporated music, poetry and dance, occasionally featuring as many as fifteen individuals. The group cites world music as an important influence on their sound and it is notably obvious in their use of various percussion instruments. Because of this influence, along with an aesthetic that can only be described as quasi-spiritualism or mysticism, I would consider Entourage early architects of the New Age movement. Their sound is a freer, unconstrained by melodramatic melody or programmed hifi world percussion, but the hallmarks are there.

The Neptune Collection is the follow up to The Entourage Music & Theatre Ensemble's eponymous debut, and it's more of the same free-form, experimental acoustic loveliness. This album features Wall Matthews, who had recorded previously with Biff Rose and went on to record a fusion record on Fretless followed by an odd, categorically easy listening acoustic piano record on Clean Cuts. At some point in the near or distant future, I will post an updated recording of Entourage's debut, as well as Matthews' subsequent releases for any completionists out there.

In the meantime, I'm going to listen to this record whilst I sit here with my cats and a dark beer, watching the sun set on my little island, enjoying a cool, late summer breeze.

If you would like to do the same, download HERE, and while you wait, watch this video of a performance by the group set to the first song on this album: