Exquisite Personnel Corpse

My playlist in the October 2020 issue of The Wire

At the invitation of the magazine The Wire, I put together a playlist for the 411th issue, the one with a poolside William Basinksi on the cover (October 2020). Playlists in The Wire can take any theme the submitter desires, so long as 15 albums (or tracks, etc.) are listed. While opening a recent issue for a refresher course, I had thought, “Maybe I’ll make a list of records I play while doing cooking and the dishes” (which is pretty much Keith Richards’ Talk Is Cheap 14 times, plus whatever audiobook I’m into at the given time slotted in at number 15), and lo and behold, someone had done just that (Matt from CHEWn! Zine in the September 2020 issue).

I thought about other options, like my favorite records on the prolific Tzadik label, or select favorite Morton Feldman performances (I remember when it was easily achievable to own every Feldman CD), or my favorite records with augmented cello, or my favorite full-length hip-hop records that I’ve managed to find instrumental versions of (most gray market, some official).

In the end, I opted for a favorite game: connecting albums I like a lot individually by shared personnel in sequence, retaining a fairly consistent overall vibe throughout. The result was the Exquisite Personnel Corpse 15, which starts with the WordSound label compilation Crooklyn Dub Consortium, Vol. 1: Certified Dope, and ends with Scott Tuma’s Dandelion. The playlist space in The Wire is tight, so below I’ve listed the personnel who connect the dots between records, and added some observations that surfaced during the process.

1: Various: Crooklyn Dub Consortium, Vol. 1: Certified Dope (WordSound)

via Robert Musso ->

2: Ginger Baker: Horses & Trees (Celluloid)

via Bill Laswell ->

3: Various: Panthalassa: The Remixes (Columbia)

via King Britt ->

4: Mary Lattimore: Hundreds of Days Remixes (Ghostly)

via Julianna Barwick ->

5: Julianna Barwick & Ikue Mori: FRKWYS, Vol. 6 (Rvng)

via Ikue Mori ->

6: Death Ambient: Drunken Forest (Tzadik)

via Fred Frith ->

7: Gregg Kowalsky: Tendrils in Vigne (Root Strata)

via Theresa Wong ->

8: Ellen Fullman & Theresa Wong: Harbors (Room40)

via Ellen Fullman ->

9: Deep Listening Band & The Long String Instrument: Suspended Music (Periplum)

via Pauline Oliveros ->

10: Stephen Vitiello, Pauline Oliveros, Joe McPhee: SV+PO+JM (UbuWeb)

via Stephen Vitiello ->

11: Robert Donne, Stephen Vitiello, The OO-Ray: Nuvole (Geographic North)

via the OO-Ray ->

12: Marcus Fischer & The OO-Ray: Tessellations (Optic Echo)

via Marcus Fischer ->

13: Marcus Fischer & Simon Scott: Shape Memory (12k)

via Simon Scott ->

14: Simon Scott & Mike Weis: Thesis 15 (Thesis)

via Mike Weis ->

15: Scott Tuma: Dandelion (Digitalis)

A few things occurred to me as I put it together, among them:

▰ Liner notes are how I learned to listen to music, connecting the dots between records. While digital releases have to a degree removed such information from albums (the paucity of notes on Spotify, etc. is criminal), the internet fills in the blanks.

▰ An individual record is often a synecdoche of a scene, sometimes local, sometimes virtual. Great record labels are often scenes unto themselves. To make this a little more complex, I didn’t allow myself to mention the same record label twice.

▰ If it weren’t for Covid-19, I’d call them superspreaders, but the point is, there are certain musicians whose artistic gregariousness makes them, for a game like Exquisite Personnel Corpse, the equivalent of ABBA to makers of crossword puzzles. (Brian Eno is popular with Exquisite Personnel Corpse and crossword puzzle-makers alike.)

▰ Remixers and producers are essential connectors.

▰ If I’d wanted to level up the difficulty of this, I would have connected pairs of albums that each shared only one musician in common. That would have taken a lot more time. Several of the above pairings have multiple musicians in common.

▰ Connecting by personnel is only meaningful, I think, if there’s some aesthetic through-line to the end-result playlist. Also, I don’t think it would be as rewarding if, just to make the effort easier, you start including records you don’t actually enjoy.

▰ Music releases are way more singular than they used to be. A substantial portion of my current listening is solo records, and has been for years. Solo artists are nothing new. It’s just that albums by “solo artists” used to often include backing bands. The resolute solo-ness of so many musicians today makes connecting records more difficult, and also isolates many musicians from being connected at all. In some cases, the only connecting point would be whoever masters the record. Or, ironically, whoever wrote liner notes.

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