Thursday, 28 January 2010

Instrumental Asylum

After watching the rather excellent Arena documentary on Friday about Brian Eno I got to thinking about instrumental music and the power of removing words from song. I guess it's a bit like the relationship between poetry and the novel - some might argue it forces you to distill down to the very best stuff you can conjure, others that it takes a different kind of skill. Not only great for writing university essays to (less distraction) and avoiding puking on pendalino trains (thanks to Eno for getting me through a 3 hour journey with Virgin trains) I think sometimes you need a bit of a palette cleanser when you listen to music as much as I do. A bit of a place for your mind and ears to go to as a kind of asylum from the constant onslaught... Although I always get more of an urge to dance to instrumental pieces because it tricks my brain into thinking i'm back in a ballet class or something....

I first really got into Brian Eno after coming up to London to hear Bang On A Can perform Music For Airports in the Royal Albert Hall at the BBC Proms. I don't normally have a high attention threshold for classical music but this was really incredible and we got to lie down in the middle section of the hall and look up at the amazing parachute ceiling (or whatever it is they have up there... ) The Eno piece I've chosen here -  2/1 - actually uses only "voices" (so I'm not sure it counts strictly as an instrumental! It intermingle four "ahhh" notes which repeat and loop back on themselves, interacting with one another.

I often use instrumentals as warm-ups as I don't like doing scales or playing other people's music so I've ended up composing little bits over the past few years that have grown into pieces of their own. Sometimes they develop so much that they get lyrics and melodies and grow up to be real life songs, others stay as Pinocchio wannabee little children and some them suggest segues between songs or get spoken words (like instrumental #21 that some of you have heard). I might post one up in a few days once my finger heals from picking up a hot metal spoon that I stupidly left in a saucepan full of soup...

So, here's my playlist of instrumental stuff I've been listening to recently (there's a bit of a cinematic theme going on here and I couldn't chose between the Cave/Ellis soundtracks so you get both).

Any suggestions of more things to listen to would be greatly received!

Just click on the red link below and it will open in your Spotify player:

1. Brian Eno – 2/1
2. Philip Glass – Opening - Instrumental
3. Ólafur Arnalds – 0040
4. Hauschka – Blue Bicycle
5. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – The Road
6. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Proposition #3
7. Yann Tiersen – Comptine D'un Autre Été, L'après-Midi
8. Alexandre Desplat – New Moon
9. Michael Nyman – The Heart Asks Pleasure First/The Promise
10. Nico Mühly – Mothertongue: Pt. 1
11. Jon Brion – Theme
12. Jon Brion – Punch Drunk Melody

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Wolves + my harmony playlist

<a href="">The Wolves (Bon Iver Cover) by Catherine A.D.</a>

Being snow-bound sometimes has its upsides like actually getting some work done and eating lots of hot soup and having an excuse not to go for a run for fear of breaking bones ; )

So yesterday I took a bath in some reverb and knocked up a home-made version of one of my recent obsessions,  Bon Iver. I didn't really take the time to 'get' him (apart from 'Skinny Love') when everyone else was going gaga for the album but then I heard the 'Rosyln' track he did for the Twilight soundtrack with St Vincent and literally played it on repeat for a week (which is kind of how I consume music - I once listened to the string section in Kate Bush's 'Houdini' about 100 times in one day...).
I think it's the harmonies that really get me. There's something that always gets the hairs standing up on my neck about voices weaving into each other. I must have spent a good deal too much of my last few year's at school huddled up in stairwells harmonising with my best friend and harassing any boy with a guitar so they'd let me sing with them. Car journeys in my family were me and my sister competing against each other hollering out Carpenters songs (a masterclass in harmony) and I once spent a week dissecting the harmonies for the Beach Boys' 'Good Vibrations' just to figure out how it all fitted together.

There's a simplicity to just layering voices against one instrument - you've got nowhere to hide and it's only the song itself that will stand or fall. It's also really good practice for the horrible aural exam part of grade exams where they ask you to sing intervals and sight read which, even though I 'apparently' have perfect pitch, I always used to dread because I didn't play the piano at the time and had to learn it all by ear rather than theory.

Well enough geekery. Here's a selection of great harmony songs that I randomly remembered liking... you can hear them all on Spotify by clicking on the playlist title.

1. Alison Krauss – Down To The River To Pray - Soundtrack Version (O Brother Where Art Thou?)
2. Carpenters – We've Only Just Begun
3. The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations
4. Gram Parsons – In My Hour Of Darkness
5. Panda Bear – Bro's
6. St. Vincent – The Strangers
7. Crosby, Stills & Nash – Helplessly Hoping
8. Ryan Adams – When The Stars Go Blue
9. Bon Iver & St. Vincent – Rosyln
10. The Everly Brothers – Bye Bye Love
11.Imogen Heap – Hide And Seek
12.10cc – I'm Not In Love
13. Grizzly Bear – On a Neck, On a Spit