Mix – Stefano’s Wisdom

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Yuppie A stares at himself in the mirrored closet door.  He’s having a crisis in white male fragility. Wife II divorced him, taking both the SAAB and son Jonathan. Passed over on the big promotion due to “passivity.” Spilled V8 on the white over-stuffed couch. But a mysterious new client, Stefano, understands.  He knows the “way.” Won’t you listen?

This is a playlist about the paradox of sentiment and spiritual bankruptcy in post-jazz music of the late 1980s early 1990s. I wanted to musically explore the debasement of jazz in this period, the feeling of excitement and wrongness when Miles Davis covers Scritti Politti. But most of all, I was thinking about the heternormativity, gender binarism, and hyper-masculinity of early 1990s commercial advertising, adult contemporary music, and any film with James Spader from 1984-7.

I tried to curate tracks that stood-out from the usual sludge of New age/Rock/Smooth Jazz/R&B fusion, and I hope each song hits that perfect blend of almost inspirational sincerity, non-reflexivity, and musical virtuosity.

Be warned, this is a playlist unafraid of passionate sax and guitar solos, which were in just about every imaginable song of the period and genre. Sanford Ponder’s “Oly” sounds like Bill Clinton playing a personal concert at your 1994 McDonald’s birthday party. Specific attention was paid to songs with odd or one-off production details, whether it be a random pitch-shift in David van Tieghem’s “Flying Hearts,”  stock whip noises in David Benoit’s “Wild Kids,” or basically the Duracell battery sound-trademark in Michael Colina’s “The Shadow of Urbano.”

Much of the concept shines through in song titles (which I swear to god I did not make up) like “Masculine Magic,” “Wild Kids,” “You Understand,” and “I Hate You.” It’s the perfect soundtrack for sharing Folgers coffee with a generic white nuclear family,  finishing a marathon, or careening down the Golden Gate Bridge in a mid-sized sedan.

Enjoy!

1. The Shadow of Urbano – Michael Colina -1988

2. Flying Hearts – David Van Tieghem – 1989

5. Many Chinas – Mark Isham – 1983

6. Sky Juice – Patrick O’Hearn – 1987

6. Winkin’ Blinkin’ & Nod – Carlos Alomar – 1987

7. Redstone – Synergy – 1987

8. Perfect Way – Miles Davis – 1986

9. Oly – Sanford Ponder – 1986

10. Heart of the Matter – Jonathan Gibbs -1983?

11. It Was You After All – Richard Souther -1986

12. Amber Whispers – Wally Badarou – 2001

12. Gib Mir – Purple Schulz – 1987

13. I Hate You – Jerry Goodman – 1988

14. You Understand – The Zawinul Syndicate – 1988

15. Masculine Magic – Software – 1991

15. Wild Kids – David Benoit – 1989

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Mix – Kinder-Klang

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That’s such a fascinating thing, the adult interpretation of the kid’s world. A world artificially sweetened for kids, full of things kids were supposed to like and want. The shows tried to tell kids that life could be fun and exciting, but the unconscious message was that the adult world is strange, twisted, perverse, threatening, sinister.”  – Robert Crumb, 2005

This is a personally spiritual mix I have been working on for a month or so. It’s intended to be a meditation on the simplicity, artifice, perversity, wonder, and uncanny feelings elicited by sampling and FM synthesis aimed at U.S. children during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s.

The ur-texts here are the vaguely ominous musical trappings of kid’s commercials, the bumpers on networks like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, and educational children’s games on Windows ’95 like Thinkin’ Things and KidPix [especially the cgi-hellscapes of Kid Pix]. The sounds that form the aesthetic backbone of this mix  are the presets on  FM synthesizers like the Yamaha DX-7 and the Casio CZ101, simple MIDI sounds with sequencing, and perhaps most importantly, sampling  on keyboards like the E-MU Systems Emulator, the Ensoniq Mirage, the Akai S1000, and the Fairlight CMI. Though the musical selection culls from the 80s and 90s, I don’t intend it to be historiographic. Songs were gathered from numerous different countries, and the mix attempts to evoke the emotional baggage of commercial children’s music from this historical moment indirectly.

 If past children’s media was disturbing because of how its artificiality barely masked the sleazy, commodified, and dark world of the adults who made it, the musical trends of sampling and  FM synthesis in music for kids of the mid 80s and early 90s  added an extra layer of unease to the equation. 

Early computer generated imagery is analogous to samplers and FM synthesis, not only because they simultaneously developed in the mid-1980s and became ubiquitous in the early 1990s. They can also all elicit feelings of the uncanny in the Freudian sense. This is because early cgi, sampling, and some types of frequency modulation synthesis all attempt to approximate a world of human, natural, or acoustic effects, but become almost eerie and jarring because of their artifice. For example, here’s a wonderful clip of Herbie Hancock on his Fairlight CMI making a young Tatiana Ali  feel both amused and uncomfortable by playing samples of her own voice on Sesame Street in 1983. The producers somehow thought kids would love hearing distorted parodies of their own voices! But alas, they look horrified at the 3:03 minute mark.

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“Make it stop!”

But the elephant in the room is Mark Mothersbaugh’s masterful Fairlight score for Rugrats and his contributions to Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Rugrats’ music and early content had an overriding ethos that exemplified the R.Crumb quote above, and in part guided the curation of this mix. Aside from the show’s alienating wide-angle shots and nightmarish surrealism, my favorite point was how it often contrasted  the artificially simple world of children with the bizzare, corporate, and soulless world of the adults who perpetuate it. Mothersbaugh’s deceptively simple soundtrack was the aesthetic glue of the show and its appeal. With its synth pads made out of arpeggiated mouth-noises, ominous ambience, and plastic samples of acoustic instruments, it both captured and amplified the discomfort and contrived innocence of childish things. Mothersbaugh’s  arguably more nuanced musical series Musik for Insomniaks (1983 and 1988 ), which landed him the job composing the Rugrats score,  is featured in the mix as aesthetic bookends. 

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the Rugrats imitate their parents by literally pushing papers

Though it’s my first mix, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did making it!

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Track-listing:

1.  Selig die Trauernden, denn sie Werden Getröstet Werden [clip] – Hubert Bognermayer & Harald Zuschrader  – 1983

 &  S. Louise by Carlos Maria Trindade & Nuno Canavarro – 1990

2. Bonzaiko – Mark Mothersbaugh –  1988

3. Ocargit – Claude Larson –  1982

4. Reverie – Roger Baudet –  1983

5. Hal’s Dream – Pyrolator – 1984

6. Indra – Chris Stein – 1987

7. The DIY Machine (1) – Dave Vorhaus – 1985

8. A Virgin & The Pipe-Cut Man – Joe Hisaishi – 1986

9. Orientation – Yoshio Ojima – 1985

10. No, I Deny It – Vito Ricci – 1985

11. Pierre in Mist – Brian Eno –  1992

12. Jazz From Hell – Frank Zappa – 1986

13. Manobras De Maio – Nuno Rebelo – 1989

14. They Drive By Night – David Van Tieghem – 1989

15. HUMAN_STG03_BGA – Osamu Sato – 1998

16. Pornodisko – Felix Kubin – 1998

17. Ooh! – Dead Goldfish Ensemble – 1992

18.  Dreamtime & Getting Light – White Noise IV – 1989

19.  Crimine – Nuno Canavarro –  1988

20. Chicago Death – Rimarimba – 1987

21. The Dead Goldfish Ensemble – All The Hands –  1987

22. Touch the Sun – Vangelis Katsoulis – 1988

23. Future – David Van Tieghem –  1987

24. Mark Mothersbaugh – Chechi –  1988

25. Sleep – Claire Hamill –  1986

[With elements of Selig die arm sind vor Gott, denn ihrer ist das Himmelreich by Hubert Bognermayer & Harald Zuschrader  and HUMAN_STG03_BGA by Osamu Sato]

Cover Art by Me

Bayou Moon – Tom Newman – 1985

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Have you ever gotten fed up with the vague-orientalism of your standard New Age album? Have you ever listened to a Hearts of Space release and thought, “OK, I’m pretty sick of hearing about seasons, oceans, white people’s conception of ‘Africa,’ forests, and rain-forests. What other themes were they exploiting?”  Have you ever wanted to open a Reki tent in a Louisiana Swamp? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then Tom Newman’s Bayou Moon is for you.

Continuing the rich tradition of theme albums on New Age labels, Bayou Moon is a weird and wonderful take on Cajun, Blues, and Zydeco music. It combines the basic motifs of these genres with occasional moments of Berlin-School synthesis, reverb drenched guitars, ominous bass progressions, and  the occasional jaw-harp. The first track “Concerto De Mango in E-major” sounds someone tried to adapt Vangelis’ Antarctica (1983) for the bayou part of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.

Brooding ambient tracks like “Moonrise” and “Straw Dogs” are excellent listening, but for me the upbeat and jangling track “Gumbo Fling” takes the proverbial cake [or gumbo].  Though I constantly grapple with my love of this kind of New Age music  and its issues of appropriation and essentialization [more on this in the  near future], Bayou Moon is quirky, refreshing, and adventurous in a that way many themed New Age albums aren’t. Side note, Tom Newman is incidentally the guy who produced Mike Oldfield’s classic album Tubular Bells.

This is the perfect album for your next paddle down the Mississippi, documentary on the everglades, or just sitting around in your living room. Enjoy!

Gumbo Fling I:

Concerto De Mango in E-major:

 

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