Thursday, September 20, 2007

Alastair Galbraith: Coordinated Universal Time

Alastair Galbraith is a musician based in Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand.

One of the most admired musicians in the New Zealand underground, Galbraith began making music in Dunedin in the 1980s, with the group, The Rip. He later went on to play with Plagal Grind, before recording as a solo artist. He has released many albums, including Hurry On Down, Morse/Gaudylight, Mirrorwork, and Cry on labels such as Siltbreeze, Emperor Jones and Xpressway. Galbraith's sound is highly personal exquisitely intimate, and unerringly emotional. His employs violin, bagpipes, softly spoken lyrics, organ, and backwards-guitar to create what American writer Bill Meyer describes as 'otherworldly lyrical miniatures'. Galbraith also collaborates with Bruce Russell in the improvisational group, A Handful of Dust, and with Matt De Gennaro, with whom he creates distinctive 'wire music', using piano wires.

[ isol: transmission03 ]

Broadcast date: 10.03.02

This programme features a new commissioned sound work by Alastair Galbraith:

[ Coordinated Universal Time ]

The times of various events, particularly astronomical and weather phenomena, are often given in "Universal Time". In civil usage, Universal Time usually refers to "Coordinated Universal Time" - the system by which all the world's clocks are set. It is based upon the time on the 0 degree longitude passing through Greenwich, England, home of the now-closed Greenwich Observatory. Many radio stations broadcast Coordinated Universal Time signals, allowing listeners to accurately set their clocks. The BBC began transmitting time signals in 1924, and since this point a variety of specialist time broadcasters have been established, many broadcasting in the Shortwave range.

Alastair Galbraith has utilised these broadcasts as the basis for his project for i s o l. His piece incorporates three half hour Shortwave broadcasts of standard Coordinated Universal Time. Galbraith is fascinated by the way in which the broadcasts are decontextualised as soon as they are recorded - the time signals can only be accurate and relevant when heard 'live'. Once recorded and played back out of their live context, the chiming ticks can no longer be used to set watches and merely become rhythms.

Galbraith has also noted that it becomes obvious during prolonged listening, that these minute and hour announcements are prerecorded. When they were recorded the time signals were false, destined to only become accurate at a future point in history. Galbraith also ponders the accuracy of the time signals from a receiving perspective. Questions arise as to how long the shortwaves take to travel from the transmitter to the receiver - do the 'ticks' arrive fractionally late in remote locations?

Galbraith is also investigating the relativity of time. [ Coordinated Universal Time ] muses on the nature of the broadcasts intended purpose - to coordinate and standardise time itself.

Galbraith has utilised the Coordinated Universal Time broadcasts as a rhythmic backing track, to which he has aesthetically intervened by adding a droning loop of a vocal recording, and a range of other shortwave samples.

In relation to [ Coordinated Universal Time ], Alastair writes:

"i left it long for hypnotic reasons
i've loved playing with shortwave at night out here
at taieri mouth
waiting for the dark
when the tide of shortwaves comes rolling in
i love the ephemerality of the time announcements
the weather warnings
contrasted with the endless tick
the rhythmic atmospheric hiss see-saws."


Note to [ Coordinated Universal Time ]:

Intially Alastair Galbraith planned to hire or buy a very sensitive shortwave receiver and record non man-made sounds from a remote South Island location, such as Kaikoura. He planned to take the resulting tapes to the Physics Department at Otago University to discover exactly what caused each sonic blip, squeal or hum. The sun, and even the planets in our solar system create noises across quite wide bands of the shortwave spectrum. The object of Galbraith's intended project was to attempt to uncover the sounds which the planets in our solar system make.

Galbraith discovered that the the earth is one of the loudest sources of natural radio emissions in our solar system, broadcasting a tone that coincidentally is the same frequency as an un-earthed hum. He also discovered that what he had been planning to do was essentially to use a weak radio receiver as a radio telescope. Realising that a very large array, or some other multi-million dollar installation would do a much better job, he decided to change tack with his project.

Galbraith commented: "I read that radio telescopes were made to represent radio transmissions as visual material. I am left wondering if the great radio receiving telescopes have even been hooked up for sound in the last 50 years. Perhaps some astronomer will one day release the c.d. I would have loved to make."

Coincidentally, r a d i o q u a l i a's project for i s o l, Radio Astronomy, utilises sounds intercepted from our solar system using a large radio telescope based in Latvia.


[ isol: transmission03 ]
Broadcast date: 10.03.02

Broadcasted on ORF's Kunstradio, as part of their Curated By series.
Broadcasted on AM in Austria, and Shortwave globally.
Visit the ORF Shortwave page for SW frequencies in your area.

i s o l: transmission03 is a 52 minute acoustic navigation of New Zealand. It portrays an intimate and elliptical internal landscape, encompassing arcane electronics, backwards guitars, distant echoing squalls, alien vocal beauty and psychic morse code. The programme evokes rainy days in Taieri Mouth, the windswept expanse of the Canterbury Plains, hunkered afternoons with cups of milo, emotional yearning, dark clouds hovering, thoughts flowing, spirits tumbling and soaring. A bird dreams, the tide comes in, and time itself is audible on crest of a breaking wave. The transmission features a new work, Coordinated Universal Time by Alastair Galbraith. The programme also includes other tracks by Galbraith, including collaborative work with Matt De Gennaro, and a range of other sonic artifacts from New Zealand.

[ transmission substance ]:

Artist: Alastair Galbraith
Track: In The Taieri (1:20)
Release: Cry
Date: 2000
Label: Emperor Jones

Artist: Alastair Galbraith
Track: Anais (3:32)
Release: Introversion 7"
Date: 1994
Label: Roofbolt

Artist: Alastair Galbraith
Track: Coordinated Universal Time (25:00)
Release: commissioned for i s o l
Label: unreleased
Date: 2002

Artist: Omit
Track: The Encompassing (4:32)
Release: Le Jazz Non
Date: 1997
Label: Corpus Hermeticum

Artist: Alastair Galbraith & Matt de Gennaro
Track: Two Wires (extract, 3:53)
Release: Wire Music
Date: 1998
Label: Corpus Hermeticum

Artist: Rain
Track: Invisible (4:46)
Release: Le Jazz Non
Date: 1997
Label: Corpus Hermeticum

Artist: Delire
Track: A Bunker Sympathy (extract, 1:26)
Release: Topographical Amnesia
Date: 1999
Label: Select Parks

Artist: Alastair Galbraith
Track: Milky Milo Man (1:00)
Release: I Hear The Devil Calling Me
Date: 1991
Label: Drag City

Artist: Roy Montgomery
Track: The Last Kakapo Dreams of Flying (6:38)
Release: Scenes from the South Island
Date: 1995
Label: Drunken Fish

[ please note that tracks breaks in this download are approximate due to crossfades on the original programme ]


This programme was commissioned for's i s o l program.

The preceeding notes are reproduced verbatim from the original i s o l pages.

Al Gal photo © Marty Perez.

The programme was originally presented as streaming RealAudio and is now offline via i s o l; it can now be downloaded in mp3 form here.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Happy Birthday, Hank

He would have been 84 today.
Sorry that it worked out this way.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Leonard Cohen: BBC-TV, Summer 1968

What can I possibly say about Leonard Cohen that hasn't already been expressed with greater eloquence elsewhere? Imaging a world without Leonard is like picturing a wintry, barren continent bereft of even spindly, leafless trees. No music has helped me navigate more hard times (such as the breakup with the ex who described Cohen as a "Singing Easter Island head") and left me feeling stronger for it. I can never repay him, but I can pass this on to you.

Thirty-nine years ago today, Leonard made his first television appearance in a concert for the BBC, recorded at the Paris Theatre on August 31 and September 07, 1968. In a short-sighted move sadly typical of the era, the videotape was apparently erased, but fortunately for us the excellent-quality audio tape remains. This set is particularly noteworthy for a very rare concert appearance of Teachers, and the oldest live known live performances of Sisters of Mercy, The Story of Isaac and One of Us Cannot Be Wrong.

From the August 31 broadcast:

01. You Know Who I Am
02. Bird On The Wire
03. The Stranger Song
04. So Long, Marianne
05. The Master Song

From the September 07 broadcast:

06. There's No Reason Why You Should Remember Me (improvisation)
07. Sisters Of Mercy
08. Teachers
09. Dress Rehearsal Rag
10. Suzanne
11. Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye
12. Story Of Isaac
13. One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong

This performance has been bootlegged a few times; all I know about the source of this recording can be found here. Illustration by The Etch-A-Sketchist.

:: click here to download ::

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Snakefinger's History Of The Blues - Live In Europe

Our first offering is a slightly belated memorial to the late Philip Charles "Snakefinger" Lithman (Jun 17, 1949 - Jul 1, 1987). The fact that you even stumbled on this blog in the first place means that I probably need not to bother with rehashing the perfectly adequate bios available here, and here, or any of the info linked via least two different MySpace tribute pages.

I was fortunate enough to see Snakefinger play on three occasions -- once with his most notorious collaborators, The Residents, on their 13th Anniversary Tour, and twice with his own band, The Vestal Virgins. One show in particular cut a deep, jagged and permanent groove into my nascent musical consciousness, a Ralph records package tour in 1986 that also included the largely forgotten band Rhythm & Noise and guitarrorist Eugene Chadbourne. Excited by the prospect of seeing Snakefinger's own band for the first time, I dragged my girlfriend at the time down to Chicago's Vic theatre at least a couple hours early, convinced that our unreserved seats would surely put us at the far back end of the room once the place reached sellout capacity. In fact, we arrived so early that soundcheck was commencing, so we sat ourselves down right in front of the stage where, to our surprise, no one even looked at us askance. The run-through was dazzling so we guarded our seats with our lives, sure that a standing-room-only crowd would soon form around us.

As the witching hour approached, the most adventurous musical ears in Chicago has gathered in that room. It was a spectacle that left us dumbfounded: by showtime there were at least.... fifteen people in the audience -- maybe even seventeen! Actually, to this day it leaves me dumbfounded. Less than two fistfuls of audience were present, but that did nothing to deter the Virgins, who treated the faithful to a blistering yet intimate, full-length and full-energy set. And oh, how it fried my little brain. I'm sure the poor promoters took a bath, and I can't help but wonder how the band members felt that night, or remember it now; but after a lifetime of literally thousands of concerts and performances of all stripes, it remains one of my all-time favorites. Maybe you had to be there, but I've always wanted to thank everyone involved for that night, and whenever I've met anyone responsible for it, I've done so. By some small miracle the show was videotaped, so you can see a couple samples for yourself:

The Model (yes, it's a Kraftwerk cover):

Trashing All The Loves Of History:

But I digress.

In the years after his death, all of Snakefinger's recordings have been made available again in one form or another (if only intermittently) -- the aforementioned show was released on CD and VHS, and even a Chilli Willi rarities set materialized a while back. But one recording has remained elusive. In 1984, Rough Trade Germany released a limited-edition document of Snakefinger's History Of The Blues tour, which played a handfull of dates in Europe and the US the previous year. How scarce is this little gem? Well, when it was released, I held a copy in my hands at Rave On records in Glen Ellyn, IL, but for some unfathomable reason, did not buy it. And that, dear friends, was the last copy I ever laid eyes on. Anywhere. No one I know -- and I know some world-class vinyl fetishists, let me tell you -- possesses this album. For over twenty years I've searched for a copy, to no avail. But! Lo and behold! Thanks the Interwebs, I recently lucked into a full set of mp3s, ripped from a good-condition vinyl copy, which I humbly present to you here, including artwork scans, no less. I've even included a bonus track not found on the original LP, a cover of Elmore James' It Hurts Me Too that only surfaced on the Vestal Virgins' original Night Of Desirable Objects CD in 1986, and a UWEB ("Uncle Willie's Eyeball Buddies", an early-90s Residents fan club) Snakefinger tribute CD, both long out of print.

Rest in peace, Mr. Lithman. You are sorely missed.

It was hotter than Hooker in Heater today, and hotter than Heater in Hellmouth.

Please stand by.