Discontent – Hypnogogic Pop (Mixtape)

This mixtape is inspired by David Keenan’s ‘Hypnogogic Pop’ article in August 2009 issue of The Wire. Keenan asserts that the phrase refers to “pop music refracted through the memory of a memory“, drawing its power from “1980s pop culture into which many of the genre players were born, and which is now being factored into underground music as a spectral influence“.

I was drawn to this partly due to my admiration of Pocahaunted (featured briefly in the article), but also more particularly to the aesthetic – music drawn through layers of continual disintegration, indifferent to (and indeed almost entirely opposed) to clarity or crisp production, with instrumentation seemingly drawn from cheap, disposable sources. The packaging too is born of the same sensibility – many of these releases find themselves distributed via cassette, in limited runs, with photocopied covers and no hope for a simultaneous digital release.

In times when the printed zine is making a stand against the endless digital ephemera of blog culture, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a new generation of experimental artists would reject free and easy digital distribution in favour of lo-fi, corruptable, DIY recordings. But in this hypnogogic realm, looking back across the planes of over two decades, the time-scarred inspiration from that era is also corrupt, endlessly photocopied and degraded to such a point when it becomes almost entirely detached from the source. The natural result, as Keenan notes, is a sense of being “haunted by pop” – which also references “hauntology“, coined by Simon Reynolds in 2006 describing a crop of British artists who deploy “delectable morsels of decaying culture-matter”.

As with all material on Discontent, music found on this tape has been made available for free by the artists, hence it represents only a slice of the scene. Some of the artists on this collection are cited in the original article, others I’ve take liberties to include – such as Australia’s Cock Safari (whose new EP feels like the perfect bridge between continental scenes) and Salem‘s take on Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Streets Of Philadelphia’, which feels like a more direct coda to the abstract references peppered throughout these 72 minutes.

Discontent – Hypnogogic Pop | Download

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Discontent – Music For Merce

Earlier this week, I read that Merce Cunningham had passed away. Whilst regularly lauded as one of the finest choreographers and dancers not only in America, but also worldwide, Merce’s contribution to music is no less profound. His avant garde approach to movement was matched directly with his work within sound. His life partner, John Cage, was the inaugural musical advisor for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and, between them, the duo forged an unparalleled relationship between music and dance, so much so that the repertory now reads as something of a ‘who’s who’ in 20th century avant garde music. Familiar names such as Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Brian Eno, Sigur Ros, Gavin Bryars, Pierre Henry, Erik Satie rub shoulders with composers and musicians who bent form, twisted genres and stretched definitions – and all of them sound-tracked work from a visionary artist, the like of which we may never see again.

It seemed fitting to construct a tiny tribute to Merce, utilising music and sound both lifted from artists within the repertoire (Pauline Oliveros, Sigur Ros, Earle Brown, Brian Eno, Sonic Youth, Yasunao Tone and, of course, John Cage), and those who were inspired by it. The latter is represented directly and indirectly. La Monte Young, who scored Merce’s 1964 piece ‘Winterbranch’, cited Ustad Abdul Karim Khan‘s ‘Jamuna Ke Tira Kanha’ as “one of the great masterpieces of music”. In addition to Charlotte Moorman’s realisation of a Cage piece, artist Mikrosopht also blends one of Cage’s many spoken words recordings into his own composition, where the composer’s influence on Nobukazu Takemura is more oblique – citing his “impressionist and objective conception” as key bearings on the creative process. I’ve also included My Brightest Diamond‘s variation of Radiohead‘s ‘Lucky’ from Stereogum’s OKX project – a puzzling hit and miss affair, particularly given the subject matter.

I was extraordinarily fortunate to have met Merce Cunningham a few years back – a close friend was working with him and invited me to lunch at his apartment when I was visiting NYC. I remember him being extremely warm, good humoured and incredibly genuine – it was one of those rare and beautifully uncommon episodes that will remain with me for life.

Discontent – Music For Merce | download

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Discontent Phase Two | ‘Free Music’ Mixtapes

For over 20 years, I’ve been making mixtapes. Originally on cassette, briefly flirting with MiniDisc before landing now on the ubiquitous CD-R, there are just under 200 of my own mixtapes clogging up shelf space in the house. The first, titled ‘Aural Subculture’ (a vague reference to New Order) is dated February 1988 and includes tracks from The Sugarcubes, Cocteau Twins, Joy Division, The Fall and the Jesus & Mary Chain, amongst many other less notables.

For me, mixtapes serve two purposes – first, they are archival documentation that not only preserves a moment in sound, but that also ensure that I don’t lose pieces; that artefacts are catalogued and available to recall at any given moment. As a broadcaster, charged with identifying and promoting new music on a weekly basis, music can pass me by in a heartbeat – the average audition time for a track is less than ten seconds. It has to catch me in that time frame, otherwise, I’ve clicked on to the next. Without that dictum, I’d never get through the volume required in any given week. Thus mixtapes help me preserve the stand-outs, to ensure that they get played (often repeatedly so) on radio and remain on the shelf for a lifetime to come.

If that sounds a little clinical, then be assured – the second purpose is pure pleasure. The curation, collation and sequencing of mixtapes is one of my favourites pursuits. Even if no one else ever hears them, it gives me great joy.

Thus, when considering phase two of Discontent, it felt very much as if the time had finally arrived to put two and two together. Blogging and mixtapes, as one. Blogging about a single track in a single post certainly gives space and context, but the time allocated to writing is disproportionate to the length of the music itself. With mixtapes, I can get across a wider selection of music, but also create a context in a different way – by placing each piece in a sequence with a considered selection of other sounds.

Importantly, as always, all of the music on Discontent remains ‘legal’ or, more simply, ‘free music’ – that is, that the music in these mixtapes has been made available for free by artists, labels or other organisations. Perhaps they never considered that their music would be used in this way, but hopefully, the introduction of a new filter, a new context or a new curation will help distribute and ‘sell’ their work more widely.

To launch Discontent 2.0, I’ve posted two new mixtapes – the first is inspired by an article in this month’s Wire magazine on ‘Hypnogogic Pop‘ and features new music from Sun Araw, Pocahaunted, James Ferraro, Salem, Witchbeam, Yeti Scalp, Cock Safari, Jason E Anderson (also in his Brother Raven guise), Steve Hauschildt and Emeralds.

Although most of the mixtapes will feature new music, the second selection this week takes a more retrospective approach – in memory of artist Merce Cunningham, who sadly passed away on Monday. The mixtape includes musicians that have at one point or another featured in the repertory for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (Pauline Oliveros, Sigur Ros, Earle Brown, Brian Eno, Sonic Youth, Yasunao Tone and, of course, John Cage) as well as music inspired by Cunningham’s artistic and personal partner, John Cage. ‘Music For Merce‘ is a small tribute to a great man and a timeless body of avant-garde work.

In addition to these tapes, I’ve also reposted recent mixtape selections: Discontent Mixtape Volumes One & Two, the first volume in the New Weird Australia project, and ‘Databass Eclectic Audio‘ – a 1997 collection of (then) new experimental Scottish music.

I hope you enjoy this new approach for Discontent and get just as much pleasure from listening to these selections as I had putting them together.

So it goes,
Stu.

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