Objects I’ve Been Given – a creative series for 2020

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Objects I’ve Been Given is a monthly creative project I’ve embarked on for the year of 2020. The project is based around small sound-making objects given to me over the years by friends and family, maybe for a birthday, or as a gift when visiting their country, and in some ways is a return to the more experimental work of mine from the early 2000s. The objects range from a tiny brass bell, to a handmade sculpture to an antique wooden zither,  from the simple to the ornate. To me they are much more than simple gifts or noise makers, they hold stories and memories and have been cherished over the years.

During each month of 2020 I will create a piece of quiet, longform music with one or two of the objects and, for the sake of purity, will use the barest minimum of recording equipment and a set of self-imposed limitations in the studio. The idea is to explore not just the sounds these objects are designed to make but to also highlight their surfaces and materials. My hope is that you hear the material of each object as they are struck, bowed, or scratched as I try to utilize the entirety of their form, musical or not. Experimental in nature, I will not set out to create grand pieces of ambient composition but rather small, personal sonic odes to these humble forms.

At the conclusion of the 12th piece I will write again reflecting back on the entirety of the project and how I felt the objects influenced the process.

This project is a thank you to those who have given me these special gifts and is dedicated to my friend and fellow artist Steve Roden. Steve’s amazing early recordings with non-musical objects have been a huge inspiration to me over the years. The trajectory of my entire musical career wouldn’t be the same without his work.

Music I Really Enjoyed In 2019

Not a”top 10″ list… just 11 albums I listened to a lot in 2019 that definitely are not all from 2019.  Spending so much time in the studio mastering means I don’t have a lot of studio time to listen to music, but I bought a lot and listened to a lot of music this year. Mostly in the car, or while going to sleep, or on airplanes (Mark Hollis’ solo album still remains my #1 start-an-airplane-flight album). This list is in no particular order:

Valiska “Numbers”
I discovered Valiska’s music this year. Bought most of it, love it all. This just happened to be the first one I listened to.

M. Grig “Mount Carmel”
I try not to put 12k music on my lists, as I’m a bit biased. But I’m particularly happy to have found a new roster member in Michael Grigoni and what he brings to 12k is decidedly different than anyone else. He plays a beautiful lap steel.

Damien Jurado “In The Shape Of A Storm”
By far my favorite album from Damien. Beautiful, arresting music, through and through.

Great Lake Swimmers “The Waves, The Wake (Acoustic Version)”
Tony Dekker is one of my favorite songwriters. His music as Great Lake Swimmers has deeply touched me over the years. Unfortunately the last couple of albums have left me disappointed as the music has become a bit safer, the lyrics not as deep and the instrumentation and production less vulnerable. I long for what he did with his first three or four albums but also know that artists like to move forwards, not back. With the latest GLS album I didn’t find too much within  that resonated with me… that is, until Tony stripped it all away and found the core of the songs with his wonderful voice and acoustic guitar. Then I knew that, at their core, these are Tony’s song and his touch hasn’t gone away… it’s just been buried a bit. I’m very happy that he released these versions and hope he visits his stripped-down roots more often. (oh, and if you read this, tony, bring back Greg the drummer! he was so unique and complimented you and Erik so well)…

The Tallest Man On Earth “Shallow Grave”
I discovered TTMOE this year as well and immediately loved it all. Raw and powerful and often beautiful as well.

Various Artists: Thesis Recurring
My favorite kind of music is music that goes nowhere. I mean that as a highest compliment. Recurring, from the Thesis Label is an adventurous project of 100 seamless, beautiful 1-minute looped compositions from an amazing set of artists. Music that just starts and goes and the beginning and end have no meaning or authority.

Frankie Rose “Seventeen Seconds”
My good friend and collaborator Stephen Vitiello introduced me to this record as his “guilty pleasure”….. maybe feeling a bit cheeky for liking this song-for-song cover album of The Cure’s classic “Seventeen Seconds” album. While not terribly adventurous, mostly sound-for-sound covers, Frankie Rose does an amazing job and gives me an alternate version of one of my favorite albums. Her rendition of “A Forest” was played many, many, many times in my car this year.

Rafael Toral “Constellation In Still Time”
Rafael’s music and style has never stayed in one place too long but it his quiet ambient music that I love the best and this album, released in 2019, is a welcome return to that form. A longform, extended piece, that accompanied my sleep many times in the past months since its release.

Federico Durand “Musica Para Manuel”
I listened to a lot of Federico’s music this year. And I’m honored to be able to call him a friend, labelmate and collaborator. It wasn’t easy picking an album of his for this list, but this one is from a cassette he gave me a few years ago that was put on a shelf and not listened to until this year. While I regret missing out on a couple years of being able to hear this beauty It will certainly accompany for many years to come, as with all of Federico’s music. Which, to me, isn’t just “music” but really his spirit of kindness being given to us in aural form.

Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions “Bavarian Fruit Bread”
Hope Sandoval’s voice accompanies me around the world. Mazzy Star always…. but this year I listened to some of her later work more often and find it just as comforting and captivating.

Corey Fuller & Break Ensemble “Live In Tokyo”
As if Corey Fuller’s Break album weren’t a feat enough somehow he managed to turn the whole thing into a scored live concert for an ensemble in tokyo. Please check out the audio and video of this work, it’s really something. Corey’s heart and soul are in this music and an insane amount of emotion and struggle.

Other Labels Podcast: 12k

Was a joy to talk to Scott Orr from the Other Songs label who has a few series of podcasts and YouTube videos about music, the music business, and recording studios. We chatted for his Other Labels podcast and you can hear the full interview wherever you get your podcasts. iTunes link is here.

Brainwashed reviews Fallen

For his first solo album on a label other than his own for quite some time (although 12k and Spekk could almost be siblings in the world of record labels), Fallen features the prolific sound artist turning his focus to beautifully understated sounds to the piano, culminating in eight songs of delicate and pensive tones, with the focus shifting between the pure sounds of the instrument to gorgeous production and back again.

On many parts of Fallen, Deupree lets the piano do most of the proverbial talking, though things never are that simple.  Initially intended to be a solo piano record, Deupree ended up expanding his palette and introduced synths and guitar as well, though the primary instrument is largely the focus.  For the opening song, “The Lost Sea,” sparse notes spring up from a bed of pleasant analog hiss, resulting in just enough distortion and sonic grime to increase the sense of complexity, with the sounds between the notes carrying just as much weight as the piano itself.  There is an almost natural sense of processing to the sound of “Sill,” a composition that is simultaneously imposing and delicate, building to a rainstorm like roar at its conclusion.

A warm, inviting analog space encapsulates the layers of “Paper Dawn,” a piece that features less processing but no less complexity, resulting in a Spartan, but also delicate mood.  The synth opening contributes to a less distinct but no less gorgeous mass of tone and texture, but eventually the piano appears, and commandingly so.  From there on, the natural and processed sounds coexist splendidly, culminating in a conclusion of tape wobble and gentle fade.  In a similar dynamic, “For These in Winter” is at first a clattering of what could be pots and pans in a kitchen, before Deupree blends in a bit of complex notes and piano performance.

A song such as the expansive “Unearth” is a high water mark on an album with many memorable moments.  First a composition of shimmering, expanding piano notes, there is an added dimension from some droning low end rumble and richer processing in instrumentation that keeps its subtlety but dynamically expands, ending on a memorable repetitive set of loops.  The more significant processing to piano throughout “Small Collisions” also makes it remarkable, blended with a multifaceted buzz and repetitive, yet complicated interference-like electrical hum to give it a notable sense of depth.

Album closer “Duskt” is the perfect conclusion for the disc, acting as a culmination of what preceded it.  From beginning to end, it sounds like Deupree’s taped performance is quickly decaying away.  The notes shimmer, but each pass sounds as if more and more of the magnetic material of the master tape is flaking away, fragmenting the sound and adding additional distortion.  That distortion builds and swells consistently, finally hitting a peak before then falling away to end the album on a peaceful, very analog note.

Fallen is a brilliant record in its own right, but part of the allure of Taylor Deupree’s work is analyzing exactly how he managed to get the sounds he does.  Both as a composer and mastering engineer, his technological skills in the realm of production are unquestionably genius, but I know he is just as likely to record the sound of a thrift store toy keyboard as he is a gigantic modular rig.  So when I listen to the aforementioned “Duskt” I cannot help but wonder if what I am hearing is the result of a complex chain of digital signal processing and treatments or if he actually did just record a performance on a tape that was buried in his back yard for two years via a malfunctioning four track machine.  Never being able to know the truth is, of course, part of the magnificence of his work, and one that kept me revisiting Fallen.

Taylor Deupree: In Wild Air

I’m very honored to be a part of the amazing online magazine/archive based in Australia called In Wild Air. Each week, curator Heath Killen invites a guest to discuss 6 different subjects, based on 6 topics. It’s an incredible archive and beautifully realized and presented. I”m the first non-Australian artist to be invited and quite humbled.

You can read my edition here.
and see the complete archive here.

The subjects I discuss are sorted into these categories:

Culture: Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon
People: Hiroshi Sugimoto
Places: Sólheimajökull
Products: Physical Things
Ideas: Passion
Wildest: Tree Tapping