It’s All a Blur

21 04 2013

Though he’s been at it for about 25 years, Steven Wilson is still at the forefront of the modern face of prog.  His sense of the music’s grandeur and its uncanny ability to absorb styles such as murder ballads and metal, coupled with a highly productive work ethic, is what keeps his work fascinating.SW

Wilson cares deeply about sound, issuing his recordings on Blu-ray for maximum audio firepower with 5.1 mixing. It’s a perfectionist’s work and one to applaud. Recent recordings such as Storm Corrosion, Grace for Drowning, and The Raven That Refused to Sing are a pleasure to absorb in a far-flung, highly detailed and beautifully imagined surround-sound audio field, all mixed by his own hand.

He’s done the same for others. The famously detail-oriented Robert Fripp oversaw Wilson’s 5.1 mixes of King Crimson classics like Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, In the Court of the Crimson King, and Red. Fripp was well pleased with the results. Wilson’s vision is to not entirely re-imagine the feel of the original recordings but to pursue the original artist’s audio goals. The results make previously great recordings sound even better, something that can’t be said for a lot of remixes.

Wilson’s no stranger to touring America, but he’s not a frequent visitor. That made a recent appearance at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse, with capacity at under 1,000, a treat. A small venue wired for quadrophonic sound, a little talked about facet of Wilson’s current tour but one that can’t be stressed too much, is highly unusual and at the same time long overdue. Wilson’s crew added speakers to the rear of the theater, both downstairs and up in the balcony, then remixed the live performance on the fly. Brilliant. The surround sound played up the best parts of a floor-rattling band and provided a highly detailed sound field that shifted depending where you stood in the venue.

What’s old and cliche still works for Wilson: his mellotron sound brought back pleasant memories of classic prog from the late ’60s and early ’70s. He’s managed to make the mellotron meaningful again, decades after punk managed to kill it. For that alone, prog fans should be grateful. And around the world, they are.gra9900094

Remixing and re-imagining classic performance is a tight-rope walk. Wilson does it seemingly with ease. So does Jeffrey Norman for the Grateful Dead. He’s been upgrading Grateful Dead concert soundboards now for a few years and he also manages to take a great performance and juice the less than perfect original recording into something that isn’t afraid of some volume, a subwoofer, and a bolstered sound field. His HDCD reworkings of the Dead’s Europe ’72 tapes is a marvel. What was once slightly murky and certainly hissy sound quality was issued in 2011 as a dazzling package of a legendary run of shows. He’s doing the same for the Dave’s Picks series, which has a new release in May. It’s another instance of what’s old is not only new but it’s worth hearing … again.

The Bryan Ferry Orchestra loves the past, worships at the altar of the 78 rpm disc and the jumping sound of ’20s jazz. Ferry’s latest recording has no vocals, we don’t hear him sing a note, but he’s there in every re-imagining of songs from Roxy Music and his own solo career. It works in unexpected ways. The songs don’t always sound like the originals but somewhere along the line there’s a hook or chorus that serves as a reminder of the original. Click here for the band’s recent performance in Zermat, Switzerland, with Ferry crowning the performance with a distinctive vocal.packshot

There’s already plenty reason to give CNN a hard time. John King didn’t help the network much the other day. He would have done better with more evolved editing skills, but he’s only as good as his sources. He didn’t have to use the information passed on to him by an anonymous source. But he’s only quoting someone else. He’s the messenger who gets killed while the source is hidden. High-velocity news coverage has to be smarter and learn that no matter how right it can be, it should pay to keep quiet and allow more thought instead of breathless speculation and misinformation.

Slower news cycles won’t come back, like the imperfect old days. The newest imagining of news clearly goes faster than old media can properly handle.

Heavy Rotation

4 06 2011

‎”If I’d known I would be this happy in my personal life at 65, I’d have got older quicker.” — Robert Fripp on his most recent birthday.

Our flounder.

Speaking of whom, Six-String Genius ranks its top 10 Fripp-works here. Quirky list and sincere. David Sylvian’s Gone to Earth at No. 2? Really, it’s hard to argue with any of these choices. But let the breeze rearrange the titles & rankings and it’d still be an inspiring list of energy and ideas. As a sound manipulator, Fripp is extremely hard to underrate. Head-shakingly creative music.

Here’s another positive NYT review of Rob Young’s Electric Eden. “The visionaries here, in broad terms, are folkies who drew their inspiration from the music of a bucolic past rooted in the land — the nascent Britain of long-ago Albion, with a millennium or two of fairies, druids and whatnot to pick from. These artists rejected the decaying industrial England they saw around them in favor of a simpler pastoral one that enlivened their yearnings with mysticism, (really) retro clothing and mannered vocalizing. Young sees this as a search for an “electric Eden”; his vast travelogue encompasses novels, films, poems and BBC documentaries; reams of folk, religious and spiritualist scholarship; tales of public flamboyance, festivals and hippie-dippy explorations; and, first and foremost, music.”

Reviewed by Bill Wyman. No; the other one.

Speaking of reviewers, Greil Marcus continues to fox. The NYT sez: “His recent scrapbook compilation, ‘Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010,’ shows him in a decades-long game of chess against the man who is his favorite subject, bugaboo, muse, hobbyhorse and intellectual crush object.”

So then, it’s not crap. OK. If you insist.

Marcus continues to be truly out there, somewhere. It’s tough to ignore him but hard to completely buy in. Whenever it becomes too easy to trash him, read Real Life Top 10 in Believer magazine. That’s the beauty of art criticism– there’s evidently no right or wrong, only options.

You’re reading the voice of jealousy here, by the way.

Live Fripp: ’74 & ’10

17 05 2011

When music cost more it seemed there was less of it. Now that music is often free, there’s a glut. More is good but more is a lot to wade through.

Prog loves this glut and it’s a pleasure to sip from the fire hose.

Robert Fripp’s recent performance in a very public space in New York playing his version of ambient jazz is available to listen to any time for free here and here. Free music that’s actually worth paying for … but why bother. Thank you, seriously, WNYC Radio, for actually creating programming in the public interest, at no direct charge, with an interview that is not over-the-top fawning. Archived too? There is nothing to not like and that’s a compliment for the stale loaf of bread that’s become American radio.

The context of this show’s broadcast fits into the progressive mold: a live recording, strictly by the station for its listeners. This practice fled from album-oriented rock radio’s demands for low budgets in the mid to late ’70s. A live broadcast from a local venue, usually a small one, was a treat for those who couldn’t get a ticket. Grateful Dead on KSAN formed the mold.

Fripp that costs is available too.  Toronto ’74, with all the beautifically jagged edges Fripp owned at the time. Bill Bruford’s hollow-with-a-solid-bottom drumming, the heady pull of the dark bass, and the sheets of steel guitar. DGM makes the show available by mail order as the most recent release in the King Crimson Collectors Club series that dates back to the late ’90s.

Pay the guy; he deserves it. No one should have received the bad treatment Fripp’s been meted out by the music business, and he’s only one of tens of thousands to realize he had to be part businessman in addition to avant garde musician. Evolve or die, eh?

Both performances are progressive, a foot in the past and one in the future. Put each in context with its time and it’s clear they’re an accurate mirror of our time, then and now. Those who listened closely, and those who still do, are still present for a feast of audio.

Plus, it’s a Robert Fripp audio feast. He’s easy to underrate and tough to overrate.

Prog should be rewarding in this way. It’s not a drive-by  experience. It’s meant to resonate and both these Fripp performances will bounce pleasantly around the room and your head for a while after you’ve heard them.