isolatedmix 68 - Christoph Berg

 

An understated producer and renowned collaborator, Christoph Berg has appeared under his Field Rotation moniker across many significant projects in recent years, with several noted here on ASIP. He featured on Hior Chronik's album Taking The Veil, and provided remixes for Benoit Pioulard's Hymnal, and Ocoeur, for example, but as well as being a go-to collaborator for many of the genre's best, Christoph is a sublime composer and producer in his own right. 

His last album under his own name, Paraphrases was a collection of chamber music compositions, embracing an enigmatic modern-classical vibe that veered on the edge of the most intriguing, experimental soundtracks. To quote from the release notes, "Christoph scores the history of eight narrow worlds, carved only from wood - violin, piano and double bass", and we've been waiting a full four years for the follow-up. In a fitting tribute to Christoph's instrumental prowess, the brilliant Berlin-based label Sonic Pieces (home to releases by Deaf Center, Nils Frahm, Otto A Totland) is set to release Conversations at the end of this month, affording Christoph the stature he deserves, as one of the most exciting composers around. 

It's been a busy month for Christoph. Not only did he spend weeks putting this beautiful vinyl-only mix together, finessing it based on permissions like a true gentlemen, but we've also been treated to a collaboration with pianist Henning Schmiedt for bei, released on Tokyo-based imprint flau records just last week. 

For his isolatedmix, Christoph has picked one of my favorite pieces of his to start (featured on the Reflection on 2016 mix); a beautiful rework of the dramatic Night Falls by Hecq. What follows, are carefully curated pieces that highlight the intricacies of Christoph's work and passion for complex, intriguing, yet romantic compositions. Fellow renowned instrumentalists Jacaszek, Celer, and Deaf Center make appearances, and a track from Christoph's new album provides the perfect curtain closer.

"It's been ages since I released my last record. And it's been a while since I created my last mixtape. Now, since I am proudly adding my second solo album Conversations to my discography this month, I have taken this opportunity to rummage through my record collection, select a couple of incredibly inspiring vinyls and play them for you. So, never mind if you happen to spot some crackles or dust. Perfectly suits the music, if you ask me...

Thanks to all the artists and record labels involved for giving their permission to make this mix available to the public as a vinyl-only mix. Since it is also containing works that have never been released digitally at all, please respect that this isolatedmix shall not be made available as a download". - Christoph Berg.

Tracklist:

01.  Hecq – Night Falls (reworked by Christoph Berg)
from the LP Night Falls (Hymen Records)

02.  Kreng – Untitled
from the 10“ Selfed (Substantia Innominata / Drone Records)

03.  Jacaszek & Kwartludium – Kingdom (Les chênes, les bouleaux)
from the LP Catalogue Des Arbres (Touch / Gusstaff Records)

04.  Simon Goff – Orange
from the LP HUE (Hiddenseer Records)

05.  Mico Nonet – Maloja Pass
from the 7“ Maloja Pass (Mico Nonet Records)

06.  Christoph Berg – Interlude
from the LP Paraphrases (Facture)

07.  Celer & Machinefabriek – Maastunnel
from the 7“ Maastunnel / Mt. Mitake (Machinefabriek)

08.  Deaf Center – End Station
from the LP Pale Ravine (Miasmah Recordings)

09.  Christoph Berg – Conversations
from the LP Conversations (Sonic Pieces) 

Christoph Berg/Field Rotation web | Bandcamp | SoundcloudFacebook | Twitter

 

ASIP - Mysteries of the Deep LXVII (Windows at midnight)

 

I am very honored to be a part of the great Mysteries of the Deep series, which has hosted some of my favorite ambient DJ's and producers over the years. 

The mix I put together was drawn from a scene in my head which involved a kid escaping his bedroom at midnight. After the initial jump down into the garden, the complex emotions as he explores uncharted territory follow. He's scared, intrigued, has a sense of freedom and joy, but knows he shouldn't be out there, as he explores close-by woods, and deserted streets under the yellow hum of street lamps.

A big thank you to Mysteries of the Deep for hosting and to Candace Price for the beautiful accompanying artwork. I hope you enjoy it. 

Tracklist:

01. Ourson - Night Roads [Self]
02. Arovane - Electroacoustic Session 7 [Self]
03. Harkan - Unnamed [Self]
04. 1 Mile North - Broken Corners [Wortcunner]
05. Rafael Anton Irisarri - Abandoned (too soon) [Self]
06. Secret Pyramid - VII [Proposition]
07. High Plains - A White Truck [Kranky]
08. Malibu - Held [PAN]
09. Richard A Ingram - Valehouse 2.2.01 [Medium Format]
10. Arovane & Hior Chronik - Dornenreich [A Strangely Isolated Place]
11. Broken_Canyon - (MISSING) (Sea Of Clouds)
12. 36 - Black Horizon [Self]
13. Steve Moore - Depths Of The Earth [Moon Glyph]
14. Abul Mogard - Unarmored Love [VCO]
15. Paul Wolinski - MidiFlood [Self]
16. Carl Stone - Kuk II Kwan (1981) [Unseen Worlds]
17. bvdub - 01 [Self]
18. Ourson - Night Roads + Carl Stone - Kuk II Kwan

 

Billow Observatory - II: Plains​/​Patterns

 

I have to admit, I didn't see a follow-up Billow Observatory album coming. Jonas Munk and Jason Kolb's initial self-titled masterpiece was just that - a truly brilliant album - they somehow managed to encapsulate everything that's good about textured, emotional ambient music without a single note wasted. There was no doubting the purpose and vision they formed and executed upon flawlessly. I didn't need anything else. That was until, I heard their follow-up.

If you listen back to the Billow Observatory's ST album, it focuses on the gentle caress of guitars, lulled into oblivion - a colorful dream inducing pallet of superlatives, commonly associated and overused when describing ambient music (I for one am guilty). I'm not sure if Jonas and Jason felt a sense of achievement with the original album, but with this perceived perfection, comes the psychological inability to replicate it. 

II: Plains/Patterns, is a outstanding evolution on their original dreamy, distant sound. 

As described in the album's notes, "II: Plains/Patterns departs from the first LP’s amorphous ambient haze with a more rigid, albeit subtle, underpinning of rhythm and pulse". It's as natural a progression as evolution itself - the best parts remain, and the core essence of the album has morphed into an even richer, textured experience.

From the very first track, aptly named Pulsus, it's evident Billow Observatory have evolved. A stuttering of distorted guitars in Kercheval bring the album back into more familiar Billow Observatory territory, but the echoes of synthesizers in Nulstil remind us you're no longer *just* listening to the deep textures and dream-like murmurs found on their previous album - there's more energy, more light. Glimmers of their past album still however, remain. Guitars take to the foreground on Plains - perhaps the most stunning track from the album - but this quickly shifts back into a glorious ambient phase, reminiscent of early Biosphere pieces. 

The simplicity of Montclair harkens back to some of the earliest addictive textured melodies from Aphex Twin's Rhubarb, or many of Brian Eno's infamous pieces. The shifting beats and glazed static amongst Vex then tease out some additional electronic elements, before album closer Plum perfects the delicateness that I'm now realizing is the Billow Observatory magic. No-matter what elements have been added, they always manage to create this soft, hazy landscape. 

I didn't think there was any way to better their original album other than copy the exact same recipe. But Plains/Patterns has taken their ambient bedding, and added more color, and richness through these additional elements. The title is likely suggestive of the two layers that now form the music here. The soft, textured and dreamy plains, and the new pulses and patterns, add a new depth to Jason and Jonas' music that will go down as one of my favorite albums from either of them yet. 

Available on Bandcamp.

 

Jóhann Jóhannsson at the Walt Disney Concert Hall: the prequel to the sequel

 

I've been in LA for almost two years, and finding a reason to see a show at the architectural wonder of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, has been hard. Tickets go fast for such a beautiful venue, but I was lucky enough to snap some up to see one of my favourite musicians, Jóhann Jóhannsson, as part of the Reykjavik Festival. Showcasing some of the best talent to emerge from Iceland, the festival is spread out over a few weeks and also features shows by Sigur Ros, followed by a long-running digital installation by Bjork

The venue is worth a visit on its own. From the outside, Frank Gehry's concert hall is a large metallic sculpture, with swathes of curved metal that reflect a spectrum of colored light, and looks even more glorious at sunset. It was the perfect setting for the future Blade Runner sequel composer- the epitome of futuristic architecture, sat right next to the towers of downtown LA. 

Our seats were on the terrace level, but dead-center and looking straight at the performers. As long as you don't mind heights, there didn't seem to be a bad seat in the house. The metallic features outside are replaced by warm wooden beams on the inside, with graceful curves the remaining constant, as multicolored seating rose steeply on each side of the stage. 

Bedroom Community kicked off the evenings proceedings. A collective of musicians currently based in Reykjavik, they took it in turns to host a piece they had each written, which resulted in a mixture of styles, ranging from beautiful folk, to Icelandic themed experimental, and more electronic IDM sequences from label founder Valgeir Sigurðsson. To quote my wife, every piece had a sweet spot of around 3-minutes which peaked her interest, but they tended to go on just a little bit too long, becoming more abstract, and pushing the boundaries amongst each of their talents on stage. For the experimental admirers in the room (of which my wife is not), it was undoubtedly an impressive feat as the collective transitioned through various movements and toyed with different song structures and moods. What would start as a simple piano piece, became a cacophony of drums, electronics, vocals and organ, ending on, for example, a simple folk melody. 

After the interlude, the stage was changed slightly, with just one grand piano remaining, two synthesizers/pianos, a reel-to-reel, and a seating arrangement for five string players. Whilst the stage was still empty, the reel-to-reel was switched on, crackling through the short-wave radio transmissions we heard throughout Jóhann's latest album, Orphée. As Jóhann's orchestra took their seats and began to layer on top of the tape, the show quickly flowed through some of his most majestic pieces.

Because of this uninterrupted approach, it was hard for me to identify the many beautiful stages and compositions amongst his extensive catalogue. Tracks from Orphée, peaked at several points, but I didn’t take any mental notes for every other track, and kept my trainspotter activity to a minimum - it was the perfect score to drift off and immerse to on a Monday evening after rushing from the west-side. Flight From The City was odds-on to be the defining moment of the show, and it didn’t disappoint, with Jóhann's perfectly timed, and delicately sensed piano caressing the beautiful, heart-wrenching strings to his side. The emphatic Fragment II closed out the show to flickering strobe lights and a well deserved standing ovation. 

Unlike the Hans Zimmer show I saw the previous week, Jóhann didn't provide any commentary between scores, and instead chose to flow them together, sometimes with the help and interlude of the reel-to-reel short-wave samples. This practice became somewhat of a spectacle in itself, with Jóhann stopping the tape whilst his orchestra remained, placing the tape back into boxes, and then reattaching new tape for the next composition. It was a nice addition to the show - the refined and beautiful violinists purring away as Jóhann sorted through boxes, created a juxtaposed left and right stage atmosphere. Jóhann's cues and signals did not come in the form of a classical conductors hand wave, but instead from the crackling shortwave numbers and distorted vocals emitting from the reel-to-reel tape. 

I left the show feeing like I’d just witnessed a skilled professor give a masterclass. Jóhann was diligent, and every move he and his orchestra made was purposeful and poignant. His moments behind the piano were rare, but powerful- like a secret weapon amongst his many beautiful pieces - it kept each moment he sat down at the keys, extremely special. 

Only once, did he resort to instructing his fellow orchestra, pre-empting them to raise a section of one specific score. The rest of the time, he let them be the focus, whilst he gracefully assembled his reel-to-reel, or added subtle elements through his laptop setup. 

As I left the venue, it was an unusually foggy evening in downtown LA and the high-rise offices surrounding the Walt Disney Concert Hall mimicked scenes from Blade Runner, as the dim glow of coloured lights pulsed from the sky above. It was as if Jóhann Jóhannsson had planned it all along - this show, featuring discovered tapes from the past, set amongst futuristic architecture and a dystopian Los Angeles skyline; a prequel to the highly anticipated Blade Runner 2049 score he is set to deliver later this year. 

 

Hans Zimmer live in Los Angeles: lifting the curtain on the magic behind the music

 

Last Friday, I took my family to a sold out Microsoft Theater in downtown LA to see Hans Zimmer on his first US tour date.

The energy before the show was palpable, as people chatted before taking their seats, admiring the extent of the venue - it was clear this was no ordinary composer. Hans was now a rock-star in his own right, with whistles, cheers and rapturous support from the moment he walked on stage. Hans either has lots of friends in LA (very likely, actually given his base in Santa Monica and the glitz of Hollywood) or rather, this hidden genius, behind some of today’s most infamous films has truly solidified his status as one of the most revered composers of today. His reasoning for this tour, in his own words, was due to friends prompting him to get out of his windowless room and meet the people who admire his work. Much to everyones relief, they came in their droves to see him on this, his opening night of an extensive worldwide tour. 

The show opened with the emphatic jazz-inspired energy of Driving Miss Daisy, as his band were revealed, followed by an additional full orchestra tier, and finally a silhouetted choir lining the back of a massive stage. This opening track likely helped ease my in-laws into the night, as they had no idea what to expect after my vague "movie score" intro.

Hans took his place on the piano as the energy quickly ramped up and the fast paced tinkering kept everyone fixated. It was a perfect crescendo to open the show, leaving gasps and then applause, as the crowd realized the extending stage presence with each reveal of the curtain. 

Hans played the role of graceful host throughout the evening, giving short stories about his life, about the work that was to follow, and bellowing support for his fellow musicians. He was gentlemanly and appreciative, making the bustling theater feel like we were all sat in a glorified and intimate practice session. It was after all, an extremely manicured and refined setup, but he would go on to warn us of newly added middle-parts to tracks we know all too well, and some experiments the band wanted to try. One of which, included Hans sitting down and jamming on guitar in the middle of an the infamous Gladiator score, bookended by some beautiful vocals by Czarina Russell. It was an extended section to one of his best pieces to date - he was having fun, and it was infectious.

After a sombre but immersive Crimson Tide soundtrack, the programming moved relatively slowly, and the majority of pieces remained separated by Hans' personal introductions. With a production of this size, these guys needed time to rearrange and catch their breath. This was until, the familiar Lion King chant dropped without any notice - the stage background slowly lit by an African sunrise, and guest vocalist (and original Lion King vocalist) Lebo M, and his daughter, flanked the stage powering through the ‘Circle of Life’. It was a switch in pace, but for the eclectic crowd - many of which probably know him due to The Lion King and its extended franchise, it was the perfect energy bump for a set largely devoid of lead vocals. 

After the break, Hans had changed into a black t-shirt, and with a sly knowing of intent, introduced the following section of the show, as "the super-hero part". Hans’ fans likely arrived through many avenues over the years - his Academy Award winning Lion King score, his early 90’s scores for Crimson Tide or, The Thin Red Line, but perhaps most notoriously, his major epics for The Dark Knight, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Gladiator, Inception and most recently, Interstellar. It was within these pieces that we saw some of the key musicians in his band come to the foreground, with Cellist Tina Guo flawlessly displaying her eccentric and passionate style, drummer Satnam Singh pounding through a percussive, tribal Batman theme, and in the end, Hans himself pouring over the piano for my favorite piece to close the show, Inception. Hans would end up playing piano, guitar, banjo, drums (“when it’s your own band you get to decide”) and even a tribal chant as part of the Dark Night’s elevating and driving percussive suite.

Throughout the evening, Hans made sure he gave the spotlight to each of his key players on stage in a humbling manner. Not only were we dealing with one of the most successful composers of all time, but the likes of James Newton Howard was also plugging away somewhere back there, pioneering cellist Tina Guo could’ve been selling out concerts of her own and 'Multidirectional Flute Soloist’ Pedro Eustache, was truly one of a kind - and we were very lucky to have him (You may have heard his previous work on this classic chill-out track.) At one point, I’m sure I witnessed Pedro pick up three different wood-instruments in the space of 1-minute, all executed flawlessly as he ran from stage-right, to stage-center. Timing these energetic displays with 50+people could go very wrong, but this guy was truly the Pied Piper of the show. 

Surrounding himself with friends within his music is a sentiment that's echoed throughout Hans' career, for example, refusing to enter scores into Academy Awards due to the requirement of a singular composer credit. This collective approach has undoubtedly won him respect and admiration from his fellows, let alone his fans. Most of these relationships, as Hans explained, have been formed over many many years, and it was evident this wasn’t a band brought together by the shallow ask of a tour. Instead, this was a band brought together by decades of practice, friendship and shared experiences that have formed the DNA of every one of his soundtracks. Only someone like Hans Zimmer can distill that process into the epic sound we hear behind some of the worlds biggest movies. 

Next time you listen to a Hans Zimmer score, know that the energy and emotion you hear isn’t necessarily a canned Hollywood style, pre-programmed output. In Hans’ instance, it’s likely the result of an amazing group of friendships formed over many years, who are amazing at what they do, and evidently, have a lot of fun doing it.

And as Hans went on to detail at one point in the show - debunking the glitz and glam of Hollywood - it's often these simple friendships that provide the spark to the most epic of journeys. A phone call at 9am between Hans and his good friend, and director, Ridley Scott, decided they needed to make a film about Gladiators...

“Oh you boys", Hans' wife said at that moment.  

Hans Zimmer has forever been the Wizard of Oz, hidden behind the grandeur of the music, and some of the most successful films of all time. But with his friends at his side, this show lifted the curtain on the humble heart and driving passions behind it all.