James Knight Top Ten (Part 5)
This week we have another Top Ten from our dear friend James Knight!!! Make sure you check out his Low Bias radio show with Robin on NTS!
Easy all, apologies for the delay since my last list – life has been occuring at a rate but here I am, better late than never! I really like long extended drone/ambient music so here are ten of my favourite albums from that area of my record collection. I file this kind of stuff under ‘Straight Ambient/Drone’ and the records that end up in there tend to have little in the way of melody/modulation etc (although all them have a lot going on in other ways!). Next month I’ll shift to the next rack along in my collection and look at ten records that fall under what I file under ‘Trippy Ambient/Kosmik’ but for now here are ten straight drone out favourites of mine:
1. ‘The Black Record’ – La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela (Edition X, 1969)
Various non-Western forms of music have utilised held notes and drones for (literally) centuries but La Monte Young and his wife Marian Zazeela helped bring the transformative power of the drone into a Western context from the mid-60s onwards in New York City and have remained committed to the cause ever since. Along with like-minded contemporaries (including at various times: Terry Riley, Tony Conrad, Angus MacLise, Jon Hassell and John Cale) Young and Zazeela’s performed as The Theatre of Eternal Music as well as performing as a duo. Young also performs solo (perhaps most notably his Well-Tuned Piano concerts).
The YouTube link above contains both the A and B sides of the first commercially released material by Young & Zaeela as a duo. The first 25 minutes of the video constitutes the A side of the LP – a recording from a live performance in Munich in 1969 which was part of a longer work entitled Map Of 49’s Dream The Two Systems Of Eleven Sets Of Galactic Intervals Ornamental Lightyears Tracery (Young does a mean line in track titles!) and it involves sine wave drones and Zazeela’s vocalisations. The second 25 minutes is the B-side which is more of a gong workout and is part of a longer work entitled Studies In The Bowed Disc.
Interview footage with Young is rare, he did sit down for the BBC documentary series Tones, Drones & Arpeggios last year although that seems to have disappeared off the iPlayer for now but is worth a watch if you see it pop up again. Here’s some footage of Young, Zazeela and Terry Riley performing with Pandit Pran Nath, who was something of a guide and inspiration to them, in the 1970s:
If you are ever in New York City you can go and visit Young and Zazeela’s home in Tribeca which they call ‘The Dream House’, there is almost always some kind of sound and visual installation going on and it is well worth a visit, more information here:
p.s: OG copies of this LP are hard to come by although there is a moody but fine sounding boot that came out a couple of years back on a label called Oddullabaloo that does pop up!
2. ‘Balsams’ – Chuck Johnson (Vin Du Select Qualitite, VDSQ 021 LP, 2017)
As mentioned in my Alt-Country/Americana Top Ten I have a real soft spot for the sound of lap steel and pedal steel guitars. The noises they make are totally ethereal, other-worldly and transportative to me so finding this LP was a real gift! It contains six tracks that consist of little more than slowly unfolding steel drones with the odd one note bass line dropped in here and there. Heaven. The track in the video is entitled “Labradorite Eyes” but every track on the album is a killer. If you like the sound of the steel – look no further!!
3. ‘Grapes From The Estate’ – Oren Ambarchi (Touch, TO 61 CD, 2004)
Australian renaissance man and experimental multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi has a sprawling and fascinating back catalogue that I’m very slowly accumulating. Much of his work is filled with drones and this album in particular is one I often return to, hypnotically beautiful stuff. In addition to the original CD release on Touch the album was reissued as a double LP with a full side per-track in 2006 by Southern Lord.
4. ‘Four Full Flutes’ – Phil Niblock (Experimental Intermedia Foundation, XI 101 CD, 1990)
Pretty much everything Niblock touches is well worth a listen but I particularly like this album which consists of four twenty minute long pieces of flute drone. He has a particular gift for transforming acoustically produced tones such as these into electric sounding pulses that unfold endlessly. Since the late 1960s Niblock’s NYC loft has been home to the Experimental Intermedia Foundation which he set up and to supports artists, provides a space for their work to be performed, and also act as an outlet for Niblock’s own work. Here is a film that he made of Arthur Russell performing ‘Terrace Of Unintelligibility’:
5. ‘Dropsonde’ – Biosphere (Touch, TO:66 CD, 2006)
The majority of the music I buy tends to be on vinyl purely because I like the format, I’m certainly no format fascist though and I’ve owned a crapload of CDs in my time (Chris can attest to the ridiculous wall of the fuckers I had in Nottingham), over the years I’ve shed a lot of them but there are certain artists who have released a lot on CD only and I’ve never been able to bring myself to shift the shiny silver discs and plastic boxes despite having transferred them all onto a hard drive long ago. Along with a load of Fax/Pete Namlook stuff, Biosphere is one of those artists. I have great memories of putting his stuff on after a hefty raving session and drifting off and this album in particular came out just as I moved back to London and was going out to Plastic People and Mass a bunch. Good times!
6. ‘The Tired Sound Of Star Of The Lid’ – Stars Of The Lid (Kranky, KRANK050 LP, 2001)
Like I said up top – I file this kind of stuff under ‘Straight Ambient/Drone’ and there’s maybe no artist or album that personifies the sound I have in my head when I think about this kind of music than this LP. Ethereal, eternal, endless music that somehow completes itself as it decays. I’ve been returning to this album pretty constantly since it came out almost 20 years ago (!) and I still really love it. Someone has smooshed the whole thing together as a 2 hour Youtube vid on the link above so tune in and drone out! A friend of ours called Lucinda Chua who has released a couple of great LPs on Kranky under the name Felix (go check them and her out!) actually played cello live with Stars Of The Lid on tour with them which I still find a total trip!
7. ‘Empty Bell Ringing In The Sky’ – Pelt (VHF, VHF43 LP, 1999)
Another absolute go to record when my brain thinks ‘drone’. As with many Pelt releases this double LP is made up of recordings of live performances and each side is effectively a different jam but they are all amazing scratchy, scrapey, bowed string work outs of beautiful droning abstraction. These guys literally have not put out a bad record and I’ve said it before in these columns but I’ll say it again: R.I.P. Jack Rose. Here’s 20 odd minutes of Jack playing live solo at the Ecstatic Peace offices circa 2007, we shall not forget:
8. ‘Dreamweapon’ – Spacemen 3 (Fierce Recordings, Fright 040 CD, 1990)
The LP where Spacemen 3 fully let rip and blissed out to infinity. I’ve only ever owned the original CD issue of this which is a single 45 min track recorded live in London in 1988 but the version I found on YouTube seems to have some extra bits at the end – Brucie Bonus! Pete Kember would continue taking drugs to make music to take drugs to and explore the ambient drone zone’s furthest reaches with his E.A.R. records which I dearly love. For all you youfs out there buying DMT on the darkweb – Sonic Boom made a track called “D.M.T. Symphony – (Overture To An Inhabited Zone)” way back in 1993! Here it is in case you need some sounds to help you break through:
9. ‘Consciousness’ – Windy & Carl (Kranky, KRANK045 LP, 2001)
Another Kranky-related record that is right up there in this realm for me. I actually stumbled upon Windy & Carl trawling the Brainwashed site back in the day while looking for Coil and Current 93 stuff and was completely blown away when I finally got hold of this and the ‘Depths’ LP that preceded it. This is another one that is still in heavy rotation to this day. If anyone has a copy of their ‘Antarctica’ LP on Darla hmu, been after that one for ages…
10. ‘Morals & Dogma’ – Deathprod (Rune Grammafon, RCD 2035 CD, 2004)
I have Chris to thank for introducing me to Rune Grammafon and there are a whole load of artists on that label I like a lot but I return to the Deathprod records the most regularly. This album came out a good ten years after his mid-90s LPs ‘Treetop Drive’ and ‘Imaginary Songs From Tristan Da Cunha’ and I actually got it in a 4CD box set that collected it with those two albums and some unreleased stuff. They all came in a little black box that has never really left my bedside table. As well as his solo releases he has shared a couple of albums with the aforementioned Biosphere which makes total sense to me. I’ve definitely drifted off to sleep listening to those two artists music more than pretty much all others combined!
If you dig this kind of stuff I play a lot of records in this ballpark in the first hour of my monthly NTS show (https://www.nts.live/shows/low-bias-show/) and you may be interested in an improvised live set that I did with my brother that mixed field recordings treated on the fly with records a lot like those described above: https://thevinylfactory.com/news/james-michael-knight-pervilion-art-night-soundtrack/
Until next month – cheers!