What I’ve been most focused on, listening-wise, this past week:
(1) White Noise, Yoga Heat: The CD showed up in the mail late last year, and on first appearance it seemed like a prank: a collection of four lengthy, meditative drones attributed to Lou Reed, of the Velvet Underground, and released on a small record label. In fact, the album, Hudson River Wind Meditations (Sound True), collects music that Reed has explained he first recorded entirely for himself — “as an adjunct to meditation, T’ai Chi, bodywork, and as music to play in the background of life — to replace the everyday cacophony with new and ordered sounds of an unpredictable nature.” Heard in sequence, “Move Your Heart” has the sing-songy ebb and flow of an everyday drone, rocking back and forth like a small boat, while “Find Your Note” adds ringing tones that suggest a prayer bowl was sourced. Then comes “Hudson River Wind (Blend the Ambiance),” which is comprised of the white noise of field recordings. And then the whole thing closes on “Wind Coda,” which begins with a refrain from “Move Your Heart,” and soon moves to elements from “Find Your Note” and adds in some of the atmospheric material from “Hudson River Wind (Blend the Ambiance).” That last piece serves as a kind of meta-coda, a form of compositional reflection applied to inherently reflective music. More info at soundstrue.com.
(2) A Xylophone’s Spots: It’s true that Snöleoparden‘s self-titled album, due for March 3 release on the Rump label, isn’t as inherently electronic as Rump’s usual fare, but with its emphasis on a child’s xylophone and its communal, folk-core vibe, it’s right at home. The opening track, helpfully titled “Nr. 1,” layers sleepytime mallet-work above an increasingly squelchy noisemaker. “Xylofon” is a multitrack wonder, all pointillist glee, like if Steve Reich had written music for Sesame Street; “Lillecykel” employs the same tool set, but toward a more dissonant and quasi-ethnomusicological end. With a nasal whine in the background and cabal of guitars in the foreground, “Water Puppet Theatre” is what T-Rex might sound like if it were still recording today. And those are just a few of the album’s 11 tracks. Snöleoparden is a pseudonym for Jonas Stampe, of the groups Mofus and Badun. More info at rump-recordings.dk.
(3) A Quiet Legend: The great movie-score composer James Newton Howard can fill modern cineplex with the ethereal and the bombastic. Those are his minimal-techno tone poems in Michael Mann’s Collateral and Tony Gilroy’s recent directorial debut, Michael Clayton. But he’s also capable of potting up the orchestral and ethnic percussion, matching the music’s histrionics to the starring actors’s wattage, as he has of late in Blood Diamond, with Leonardo DiCaprio, and I Am Legend, with Will Smith — not to mention the old-school romanticism he’s brought to M. Night Shyamalan’s films. Howard’s scores, like the movies they accompany, have different audiences — and, as the ongoing awards season suggests, different admirers. Tellingly, his Blood Diamond work was nominated for a Grammy, while Clayton is up for an Oscar. Minus the introspection of the latter or the globalization topicality of the former, I Am Legend (VarÃ¨se Sarabande) is unlikely to attract many nominations. But fans of Howard’s less volatile scores shouldn’t pass it by. The cue titled “I’m Sorry” strikes the perfect balance between melodic infusion required in a Hollywood blockbuster and the hazy sound design to which the composer seems more naturally inclined. In it, a piano part is echoed and amplified by a string ensemble, each note setting off low-key undulations in the orchestration, and later the piano gives way to an elegiac horn. More info at varesesarabande.com.
(4) Test Tube, Baby: The Disquiet Downstream entry of the past few weeks to which I keep returning most often is the title track off The Door by Multi-Panel (aka Dutch musician Ludo Maas), on the Test Tube netlabel. The song is a mere shimmer of a recording, but it’s lent some texture thanks to a heavily processed vocal sample.(MP3, disquiet.com). More info at monocromatica.com/netlabel.