Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 3C – Zeit

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Zeit (1972)
Origin of Supernatural Probabilities

I mentioned in my last entry that "Nebulous Dawn," the second track on Zeit, was a “monumental” work of space music. I stand by that. The next track, "Origin of Supernatural Probabilities," is also a monumental work of space music, but in a decidedly different way. "Nebulous Dawn" could be described as a free floating assemblage of spacey sounds, with not very much of a rhythmic pulse to it. "Origin of Supernatural Probabilities," on the other hand, has a strong rhythm. It’s one that may or may not actually be made with a sequencer but which strongly resembles the sequencer-heavy works of Tangerine Dream’s so-called Virgin years, which at this time were still a few years in their future.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Early Vampire Fiction – The Vampyre, by John Polidori

Vampires in fiction, film, TV and whatnot don't do much for me. But I thought it might be interesting to look at one of the pioneering works of vampire fiction – some say it may be the first. John William Polidori’s claim to fame, such as it was, derives from the fact that he penned this work – "The Vampyre" – and from the fact that he served as personal physician to the poet, Lord Byron, for several years.

Polidori’s work has been overshadowed by another work that had its genesis at about the same time, a book by Mary Shelley known to most of us simply as Frankenstein. The genesis for both works dates from a cold, rainy summer when Shelley, Byron, Polidori, Shelley’s husband Percy and her half-sister gathered in a Swiss villa, whiling away their time with fantastical stories and challenging each other to write one of their own.

Only Frankenstein and "The Vampyre" made an impact. The latter was supposedly based on a fragment penned by Byron but not much was taken from that original snippet. It first saw publication a few years later, in 1819, when it appeared under Byron’s name, a mistake that was later corrected. Not that it would matter much to Polidori. Like all of the men at the 1816 gathering of literary luminaries, he died young. Byron lived the longest of the three, dying at 36, while Mary Shelley and Claire Claremont both lived to a ripe old age.

"The Vampyre" concerns the exploits of one Lord Ruthven, a cold and aloof sort of fellow. Imagine that. Who happens to cross paths with the young and naïve Aubrey. He, along with his sister, was made quite wealthy by the death of their parents. This mismatched pair take off on the grand tour of Europe that was so common in this day among the “better” classes.

Ruthven is not a very forthcoming sort and so Aubrey takes it upon himself to try to figure him out. Before long a letter arrives from his guardians at home, laying out some of the faults of his newfound companion, who is apparently something of a rake, and urging him to sever ties with Ruthven. Aubrey proceeds to do so, but not before foiling Ruthven's plans to sully the virtue of an innocent young lady.

Aubrey finds himself in Athens next, where he becomes an enamored of a certain young lady, Ianthe. Who, coincidentally enough, regales him with tales of vampires and whose family are horrified to find that he’s setting out on an excursion to a certain dicey locale. He ignores their concerns and goes anyway, only to find himself (planning is not one of his skills) overtaken by the dark of night and a fierce storm.

Before long he finds himself outside a hovel and hears screams coming from somewhere thereabouts. Only to be assaulted by someone with “superhuman” strength. He’s saved by the requisite mob with torches (which probably wasn’t a cliché yet) but the screaming woman is not so lucky. Apparently she’s been attacked and killed by a…you know. Here's one from the annals of sheer coincidence, it’s his beloved Ianthe.

Aubrey lapses into a raging delirium and soon Ruthven, of all people, turns up to serve as his attendant. He seems a changed man, at first, and apologizes for any previous misdeeds, but it doesn’t last. But the now rather melancholy Aubrey has been changed by his ordeal and before long he and Ruthven are back on the road again, exploring various corners of Greece. At one point they are set up on bandits and Ruthven is shot in the shoulder. Surprisingly, Ruthven doesn’t do so well and before long he is dead. The fact that his corpse disappears thereafter probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Nor should it be surprising that he turns up again, at a coming out party for Aubrey’s sister. Which pretty much sends Aubrey off the deep end.

I’ll leave it at that. If you’d like to know the rest try it out at Project Gutenberg. It's not very long - about 8,000 words - though the author's habit of using interminable sentences and paragraphs sometimes makes it seem that way. And, not to spoil it, but if you're looking for a happy ending you're going to come away disappointed.

Old Guy Blathers About Record Stores

It started with Give Us A Wink, by Sweet, probably in 1976 or 1977, in the record department at Korvettes. For those too lazy to Wikipedia I’ll elaborate on Sweet and Korvettes. Sweet (formerly The Sweet) was a British band who started out doing catchy bubble gum hits. They morphed into glam rockers with garishly shiny clothes, platform shoes and awful haircuts somewhere between shag and mullet. This is how it was done in the early Seventies.

By the time of Give Us A Wink, Sweet were probably a (blow-dried) hair past their peak. That came an album earlier with Desolation Boulevard, featuring the megahit, "Fox on the Run." Perhaps you know them from "The Ballroom Blitz," which came earlier. Perhaps you don’t give a rat turd. No matter, since they flamed out in fairly typical rock star fashion a few years after Give Us A Wink. Two versions of the group are apparently touring to this day, each fronted by one of the two surviving members of the original group. Sad. But I digress.

Korvettes was also about to flame out at the time. Korvettes, saith Wikipedia, was “an American chain of discount department stores, founded in 1948 in New York City.” They were well-known for their record departments. I thought maybe it was just me who thought so, but this segment of their business was significant enough by 1964 to merit a profile in a Billboard special issue on record retailing. According to Billboard’s numbers from that issue, record stores were already dwindling, from 12,500 in 1957 to 7,500 in 1963. Which might have raised more alarms if the volume of sales hadn’t tripled during the same period.

As for the nebulous connection between Sweet’s Give Us A Winkand Korvettes, there’s not one, unless you’re me. It was the first album I bought and that’s where I bought it. Korvettes had a deep inventory (at least as I recall it, 117 years later), the prices weren’t bad, and their doorbuster specials were even cheaper. Best of all, for us under-sixteens, you could roam the bins while Mom was off stocking up on doilies, toilet brushes and whatnot.

I bought as many records at Korvettes as my limited budget would allow. A few stand out. Rush’s first live album – All the World’s a Stage – a double album I bought for the criminally low price of $4.38. With the platform shoes, serious bell bottoms, silk shirts and hair that beat Sweet by a long shot, it was a fashion manual for the wasted youth of my era. It included a song called "By-Tor and the Snow Dog." You'll never be that cool, Kanye West.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 3B – Zeit

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Zeit (1972)
Nebulous Dawn

This is space music. Space music of monumental proportions. Though it should be noted that there’s not much here that sounds like music in the traditional sense that most of us know. Better to think of it as well conceived assemblage of assorted and sundry ambient shards of sound that starts slow, builds to a peak, and then wanes again. I’ve seen this album referred to as one of the pioneering works of dark ambient – whatever that is. I suppose that’s a fair enough description of what’s going on here, if you like labeling things.

Care and Feeding of Your Evil Overlord

Congratulations on purchasing an evil overlord from Unbridled Malevolence, LLC. You now own an evil overlord from the leading brand in sinister oppression. Our commitment to quality and innovation ensures that each evil overlord we produce offers unrivaled vileness. Here are pointers to help you keep your evil overlord in good working order for the lifetime of the product.

Evil overlords are like kittens or skid steer loaders. They require periodic inspections and proper maintenance to continue working properly. An evil overlord should have a regular inspection to prevent problems and keep the owner from suffering consequences such as repair bills or total world domination. Your evil overlord should be inspected once a year by a qualified professional.

Evil overlords are native to parts of Cincinnati and the mountain ranges surrounding Mordor. There are two species of evil overlord, C. badicussmellicus and C. blackheartaie. At birth they range in size from two to five ounces (and are really quite cute). Baby evil overlords are born with demon eyes and will typically shed their fur within the first few weeks of life. Evil overlord pelts were once highly prized and so they were hunted almost to extinction. However, they have now been bred in captivity for nearly half a century.

Although small in size, baby evil overlords are very active. Their cages must have sufficient space to allow movement. They are mostly lovable and cuddly but can tear your throat out in a fraction of a second.

A baby evil overlord's toys should be kept in an orderly way on a shelf or in a closet.

Evil overlords' teeth grow continuously. Incisors may grow up to ten inches annually. This can actually make it difficult for them to rend flesh effectively. Your evil overlord should have their teeth trimmed several times a year.

Evil overlords are nocturnal. They are not social animals and prefer not to be in groups. Most groups would prefer not to have them so it's just as well.

Evil overlords should not be picked up by the ears.

Male evil overlords are prone to urinary tract blockages. They are also prone to attempting to destroy the universe.

An evil overlord's natural diet consists of shrubs, flesh of humans they have ground under their boot heels, lemon vanilla cupcakes and sludge.

Evil overlords may engage in dirt-eating. More rarely they will hoot or slap their knees. They cannot vomit.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 3A - Zeit

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Zeit (1972)
Birth of Liquid Plejades

Prior to starting this project I hadn’t ever heard Tangerine Dream’s first album, Electronic Meditations. It did not impress and I doubt that I’ll listen to it again. Revisiting their second album, Alpha Centauri, after a long time, I thought it showed some promise but didn’t quite come together.

Their third album, Zeit, is another matter entirely and showed that they were finally starting to hit their stride. You could argue the point, I suppose, but this is the first time where Tangerine Dream actually begins to sound like Tangerine Dream.

To kick things off, there’s "Birth of Liquid Plejades." Which is a pretty keen title, if you don’t take the time to analyze it much. As far as the track itself goes, it doesn’t work for me as well as the other three on the album, but it has its moments. The group employed some “real” musicians for this one, namely a quartet of cellists. Who dominate the first half of the proceedings with long droning tones that come and go, weaving in and out of the piece, before finally giving way to the organ that dominates so much of early Tangerine Dream.

Neurosurgeon's Correspondence Course

He follows the diagram, carefully cutting in the correct places. He removes the brain and places it in a tupperware container filled with formaldehyde. His roommate slumps forward in the chair.

He is starving. He makes a blt and a can of soup before continuing. He eats quickly. When he finishes, he picks up the brain and pats it dry. He is about to place it back in the cavity when the cat jumps up on the table, spilling his glass of grape juice all over the manual.

It does not go well after that.

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 2C – Alpha Centauri

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Alpha Centauri (1971)
Alpha Centauri

I haven’t listened to Alpha Centauri for quite a long time but I had vaguely fond memories of it. Which were pretty much dashed when I listened to it again. The first two of the three tracks weren’t exactly bad but they weren’t anything to write home about.

Then there’s the 22-minute title track. The first time I revisited it for this project I had to grit my teeth and bear down just to get through it. The second time I revisited it – just one day later – I found it quite intriguing. Until about the half way mark, that is, and then it started to wear.

On a third listen I was again entranced by the opening, with tones that are so static that they seem like vast sheets of sound. But before long the trippy flute kicks in and kind of spoils things, before fading out and giving way to slightly more melodious droning tones interspersed with freaky sounds of indeterminate origin. Unfortunately, it’s not long before the flute reappears and noodles and doodles along with various other instruments and makes kind of a mess of things. It could have been a contender, as the saying goes, but it never quite coheres.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 2B – Fly and Collision of Comas Sola

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Alpha Centauri (1971)
Fly and Collision of Comas Sola

A couple minutes of eerie echoing tones in the upper register to start and then, like the first song on the album, the kinda churchy sounding organ takes over. To be joined here and there by some trippy sounding flute interludes and then a bit of fairly frenetic percussion that closes things out. Not so bad, as this sort of thing goes, but I wouldn’t rank it too high on my list of favorite Tangerine Dream tracks.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 2A – Sunrise in the Third System

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Alpha Centauri (1971)
Sunrise in the Third System

Electronic Meditations, Tangerine Dream’s first album, is one I never listened to before starting this project. Chances are I’ll never listen to it again. Alpha Centauri, their second effort, found them moving in the direction of what they would become. But they weren't quite there yet. "Sunrise in the Third System" has a title that seems intriguing enough if you don’t think about it too hard. But the piece itself doesn’t quite click. It starts with a mix of eerie sounds that eventually blends with a churchy sounding organ and proceeds on like this until just past the four-minute mark.

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 1E – Resurrection

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Electronic Meditations (1970)

Electronic Meditations is not the Tangerine Dream most of us know. It would take a few more albums before they evolved into that group. But throughout their first album there are a few frustratingly brief hints of what's to come, mixed in amongst so-so instrumentals that are pretty well suited to the waning days of the psychedelic age.

"Resurrection" kicks off like nothing special with a churchy sounding organ and a recitation of some sort, presumably in German. Just as I was about to dismiss it it gave way to a short snippet that offers yet another hint of what's to come. Perhaps the best bit on the album, even though it only lasts for about two minutes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 1D – Ashes to Ashes

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Electronic Meditations (1970)
Ashes to Ashes

Yes, Virginia, those are drums on that Tangerine Dream song. It’s a pretty straightforward rocking piece, this one, albeit a little bit trippy, and there’s some organ in the background. But mostly its Edgar Froese on guitar who steals the spotlight here. Not hard to listen to but also not particularly memorable.