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Colin Self’s Siblings is a proposal for interdependence, critical joy, and an expansive sense of being. As the lyrics beam, “I used to live as an anomaly... no explanation biologically,” so siblings share hidden language, lore, and identity. On Siblings, ecstatic voices and sound knot to form new ideals of kinship, emerging as horizontal relations for multi-species flourishing.

Colin Self challenges boundaries of perception with his art, music, and performances. Inspired by the work of Donna Haraway (Cyborg Manifesto, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene), Siblings is the final segment of the six-part opera series entitled Elation. Informed by Self’s exploration of the ways of knowing, Siblings places a non-biological family at its center. The characters, bonded by curiosity and caring, generate ways of collectively coming together on a damaged planet. Self uses Siblings to define this familial experience through sound and its soundmakers.

Siblings is a mobile, transitional production, in equal parts by circumstance and happenstance. Field fragments taken from Halloween party laughter in Jamaica Plains and a cross-country video chat are refracted by session recordings willed to happen in places as far flung as Stockholm and Los Angeles. Siblings is a sound scrapbook or poster board collage, but not one without careful consideration of the clipping and composition.

From years experiencing Riot Grrrl shows around Self's early home of Oregon to his involvement in the New York City-based performance collective Chez Deep, Self expands the DIY ethos to a space and mind of Do-It-Together. Feeding into Siblings is XHOIR, Self’s ongoing project of group vocal workshops for singing and listening, and a broad cast of kin including but not limited to Michael Beharie, Greg Fox (drums), Martine Syms (words and voice), The Mivos Quartet, and Raul De Nieves (cover art).

On “Story,” Siblings’ opening moment, breath and beats emerge as echoes within a vast, heaving chamber, sound conjured and cajoled into a new, blistered terrain. “Foresight” urges us toward a worlding - a break from the planet we’ve disregarded: “I see on my screen all the doubt, where it comes from, why you trust in no one. I see a new light.” While the unhinged form of “Ante-Strategy” lays the sonic compost for a Belurusian political poem, written with Tanya Zamirouskaya and Anastasia Kolas, Self tends toward elaboration and excesses in a “joyous rendering of survival.”

Siblings splits sides with “Transitions,” a pluri-vocal burst called forth from interstellar margins to put uncounted bodies in motion. Repetitions of “I commit to you” end with “We commit to you.” Self utilizes theoretical vocabulary to encourage germination of a new language. “Research Sisters” will make their own myths and forge their own families, the work’s fire sparking frenetic, ecstatic voices flashing back and forth in stereo. The gathering of choral voices lift up the melancholic words of “The Great Refusal” over pillowy layers of strings and stumbling, sputtering showers of keyboards.


Michele Mercure often dreams of music, and in her waking life, reclaims fragments of these fleeting, floating melodies in her compositions and sound art. "Beside Herself", an anthology of Mercure’s self-produced and distributed cassettes released between 1983 and 1990, collects these dreamlike passages and lo-fi nocturnes, preserving the qualities of discovery and intimacy surrounding their genesis.

Mercure’s sound is a porous electronic art that overlaps ambient, abstract, and industrial sensibilities – its spaciousness reveals an artist attuned cinematically rather than for radio play or public performance. She approached the latter theatrically, and rarely, disdaining most live shows as too serious, and bringing her music to bare on her audiences in playful, immersive contexts. On recordings, Mercure’s night lit synth music evokes non-confined environments, at once expressionistic and minimal and always aware of its surroundings.

Mercure was a busy collaborator during the years surveyed by "Beside Herself", making music for theater, performance, film, and TV animation, yet it was through her self-released cassettes that she established her music among like-minded artists abroad. Circulated through tape-trading networks assisted by insightful reviews in Eurock, a seminal music magazine covering progressive rock and electronic music scenes, these album-length releases included "Rogue and Mint" (1983), "A Cast of Shadows" (1984), "Dreams Without Dreamers" (1985), and Dreamplay (1990). Though unvarnished in fidelity (and now scarcely seen), these tapes showcased Mercure’s transportive aptitude within and beyond the limited sound recording medium.

Mercure’s artistic path never ran through creative meccas New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. Raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, and then moving to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in her twenties, Mercure was already an adept musician when she encountered a local and lively theater scene, and was asked to score an unorthodox performance of Waiting for Godot. The experience was pivotal in marrying music and image for Mercure, and so she began making music for film, television, dance, and theater. It wasn’t until a long sojourn in Eindhoven, however, that she became transfixed by electronic music (ala Conrad Schnitzler, whom she would correspond with for years) that would inform her music to come.

Acoustic elements such as voice and stringed instruments add a haunting lyricism to the non-tonal space unoccupied by electronic presence in Mercure’s music. The graduality of phrasing and measured sequence of tones also distinguish her music from the repetition and improvisation-heavy hallmarks of the Kosmische genre, a stylistic antecedent for the artist. Mercure’s fascination, or obsession, with new, consumer conscious music technology is demonstrated in her inventive sequencing and sampling, adding a mechanical, sometimes menacing, feel to Beside Herself.

Mercure’s contemporaries became the kindred minds of the Eurock “scene” such as The Nightcrawlers, Lauri Paisley, and Don Slepian. It was in association with Paisley and Pauline Anna Strom that Eurock featured Mercure in an article titled “Women Synthesists” in 1986. The three artists all shared a bravura for homespun, self-produced electronic music that looked beyond pop conventions for a higher plane of avant-gardism or musical spirituality. Not long after the article went to print, Mercure offered Eye Chant, her standalone vinyl album self-released in 1987.

Beside Herself extends RVNG Intl.’s preservation efforts to sister label Freedom To Spend who reissued Eye Chant in 2017, an occasion marking just over twenty years since its original release on Mercure’s own Quick Shower Music. (Eye Chant, and the cassettes surveyed on Beside Herself, were originally credited to Michelle Musser, the name which the artist used until a divorce in 1987).

The anthological scope of Beside Herself joins Eye Chant to restore the canon of Mercure’s arresting dream-music, revisiting this anomalous creator’s breakthrough material. “Beside Herself” is available on double LP and CD, featuring liner notes by Emily Pothast and an incredible array of unseen photography and ephemera of the era.

Tashi Wada With Yoshi Wada And Friends

FRKWYS Vol. 14 – Nue

Composer Tashi Wada has performed for years with his father Yoshi Wada—artist, composer, and early member of the Fluxus movement. However, they have rarely appeared together in studio settings. Nue, the fourteenth entry in RVNG Intl.’s intergenerational FRKWYS series, finally brings Tashi and Yoshi, along with an eclectic group of close friends and extended family, together on tape.

Nue draws on aspects of Tashi’s background for his widest vision to date—among them the minimalist bagpipe music of Yoshi, who co-composed three of the tracks, the psychoacoustic and perceptual explorations of his mentor, composer James Tenney, and reimagined forms of ancient and devotional music. The album, however, is not a tribute to the past or a recapitulation of familiar sounds. Instead, Nue is an intertwining of people and ideas as a means of growing, of looking inward to move outward, and of looking back to move forward.

To achieve this growth, Tashi assembled a core group of fellow travelers, including Yoshi, composer Julia Holter, producer Cole MGN, and percussionist Corey Fogel, to give life to this multifaceted suite. As an experience, Nue subtly navigates the interactions, intimacy and spaciousness of this group.

The album’s title itself is a nod to Tashi’s abiding interest in duality and the unknown: nue is a mythological Japanese chimera with the face of a monkey, the legs of a tiger, and a snake for a tail, a composite form, at once disturbing and otherworldly. But, as the composer points out, nue is also French for naked—stripped of complexity, bare and exposed, but also raw and essential.

From the doubling of tones—and the world of harmonic nuances such an action produces—to the rich interplay between individual musicians, all baring their own personalities and experiences through shared performance, Tashi’s compositions allow space for these elements to join and grow. The multipartite creature that is an ensemble melds in the simplicity and purity of the music itself.

As explained by Tashi, each part was written with an individual in mind, not simply an instrument. And each individual performer makes their mark, from Holter’s vocal performances on the cresting, oceanic “Mutable Signs” and “Ondine” with guest vocalists Simone Forti, Jessika Kenney and Laura Steenberge, to Fogel’s resonant, precise percussion on “Bottom of the Sky.” Producer Cole MGN, who has worked extensively with artists like Beck and Ariel Pink, helped to create a world of sound with minimal yet multi-dimensional materials. Like many of its influences, Nue uses deceivingly simple means to create complex, coherent worlds and narratives.

Tashi notes the influence of legendary Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, whose work looked inward, investigating memory and emotion and dream, to understand the often overwhelming world outside the self. Like Lispector’s classic novel Near to the Wild Heart, Nue cleaves these archetypal dualities—world/self, old/new, complex/simple—to create a work that allows them to coalesce into something singular.

As Tashi states in his liner notes: “My desire was to create something both old and new sounding—ancient and futuristic—and ultimately something of its own world and other. Nue is a vision, an endless night of dreams, and a personal history of sorts, full of joys and demons.”


Few Traces surveys a near decade of Mark Renner’s scarcely released and unreleased material from 1982 to 1990, embracing and evoking the timelessness of his artistic statement: a wordless translation of the individual’s musical experience, met with the poetic expression of being here.

Mark Renner first encountered punk while a teenager in Upperco, a country town in rural Maryland. Growing up on his family farm, he became a young acolyte of the British exports hitting not-so-distant Baltimore record store shelves in 1979 / 1980 and was baited by an area musician-wanted ad declaring Ultravox a primary touchstone.

This nascent band and a pair of other group experiments flamed out under the typical totem of despotism. In their ashes Renner began recording independently around 1983 with a portable four-track, electric guitar, and classic Casio CZ101 synthesizer. Aside from John Foxx-era Ultravox, Renner’s process was inspired by the period’s electronic pioneers venturing into deeper, romantic pop pastures: Yellow Magic Orchestra, Bill Nelson, The Associates.

With his tools and teachers in place, the blueprints for Renner’s sound were laid out – metronomic, skeletal rhythms built on sturdy yet singular drum machines supporting luminescent guitar and synth lines, Renner’s reverent voice guiding the fables and construction.

Most directly influential, Renner’s enthusiasm for Days in Europa, the third album by Scottish new wave band Skids, would lead to a correspondence and long-distance tutorship with Stuart Adamson. Before Adamson would achieve worldwide success co-founding the group Big Country, a chance friendship with Renner would impart great confidence in the young musician from Maryland, who, after a visit in Edinburgh, would then travel to London to demo an early version of “Half A Heart” featured in its final form on Few Traces.

The sum of Renner’s music is one-part literary, one-part painterly. The artist cites the individualism of Herman Hesse as a guiding force, and there are overt references to W. B. Yeats and John Greanleaf Whittier among other authors. Lyrical themes evoke the presence of the ancient past, much like early Felt songs or the spiritual visions of Van Morrison. (Tellingly, Renner cites Morrison’s 1980s albums made between Inarticulate Speech of the Heart and No Guru, No Method, No Teacher as musical influences.)

Apart from his writing, Renner explored music as a complement to visual language: many of the dream-like instrumental passages presented across Few Traces were originally implemented as sound elements for exhibitions of his paintings. Renner pursued wordless music as a pure aesthetic in its own right, pristinely balanced segues and open-ended compositions that lead to pasture but not without shepherd.

Compiled three decades after the music was originally put to tape, Few Traces collects Mark Renner’s early music but strives not to simplify or reframe it. (Mark is still active making music and painting) The instrumental explorations remain on par with the great ambient adventurers of the period (Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Roedelius), while the vocal and guitar-centric songs crystalize across similar terrains being transversed by Cocteau Twins and The Chills.

Few Traces highlights in intuitive sequence gems from Renner’s scarce discography and archive: the self-released debut All Walks of This Life (1986), the aptly titled follow-up Painter’s Joy (1988), plus early singles, compilation tracks, and exemplary songs that saw no original release. The collection allows an intimate look at an artist growing into their sound and surroundings, finding the in between echoes and spirituality of the individual.

Pauline Anna Strom

Trans-Millenia Music

Otherworldly and anomalous, hushed and hallucinatory, Pauline Anna Strom’s unique style of inner space music reaches across time to futures and pasts far from our own. "Trans-Millenia Music" compiles eighty minutes of Strom’s most evocative work, composed and recorded between 1982 and 1988, for the first authorized overview of the enigmatic Bay Area composer.
Pauline Anna Strom introduced her music to the world in 1982 with "Trans-Millenia Consort", a collection of transportive synthesizer music providing listeners a vessel to break beyond temporal limits into a world of pulsing, mercurial tonalities and charged, embryonic waveforms. Strom’s solicitation into the unknown continued through a half dozen more stellar releases during the decade, which, despite their singularity and mastery, slipped into the more obscure annals of want lists and bootleg editions.
Though Strom’s work developed during the dawn of San Francisco’s influential new age and ambient scenes, her music remains non-programmatic, an adventurous tangent diverting from the era’s ideological tropes. The artist’s own path to creative maturation was atypical. Raised by her Catholic family in Louisiana and Kentucky, she was tragically deprived of sight due to complications from a premature birth. This impairment would sensitize her to listenable worlds with great acuity and creative engagement, the loss becoming a formative aspect of Strom’s spiritualist take on the power of music.
Recalling her youth, Strom says she was “a loner and heretic.” Seeking solace and solidarity, she moved to the mecca of California’s counter culture with her husband, a G.I., who was assigned duty in the Bay Area during the decline of the Vietnam War. Having dabbled with piano as a teen, Pauline’s passion for music reignited when synthesizers became central to the serene scene of San Fran FM radio in the mid-70s. Inspired by the electronic music of the instrument’s early ambassadors (Klaus Schulze, Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream), Strom purchased a Tascam 4-track recorder and a small array of synths (Yamaha DX7, TX816, CS-10) to navigate her own universe of space music.
As she gained confidence to share her creations beyond the walls of the apartment where she meticulously crafted under headphones day and night, Strom took on the artistic identity of the ‘consort,’ spiriting listeners through epochs described by her evocative musical passages. From this moment and represented within Trans-Millenia Music, Strom proves to be a delicate melodist and meticulous colorist, as well as a sound designer of great drama and inspired energy. The celestial sounds evoke the uncertainty of pre-physical and primordial elements, creating an impression of a world beyond access that Strom has always felt was hers. In the collection’s liner notes Strom recounts, “I have always been in touch with the past more than the present.” Apart from its mysteries, Strom’s curiosity for the non-present was also suffused with a social bent. She believed that humanity was confined by its inability to access the people of the future, therefore suffering in a kind of group solipsism. Designing a world of music that rooted itself in all times but the present, Strom’s alter ego, the Trans-Millenia Consort, became a musical activist for triggering this state of heightened consciousness.
Exemplary passages highlighted in Trans-Millenia Music were selected from the three full-lengths originally issued on vinyl in addition to a group of four full-lengths self-released on cassette. This substantive body of work challenges the canonization of new age and ambient music as one-size-fits-all categories. Strom’s music induces a dynamic range of listening that captivates and intrigues, a cinematic experience rather than a meditation for passive listening.

STAFF COMMENTS

Barry says: An entrancing and relaxing collection of library-style ambience, cosmic synths and hypnotic slo-mo tine-heavy electric piano. Blipping arps, psychedelic LFO scree and an intoxitating echoing fog will take you to the stars and back.

Helado Negro

Private Energy (Expanded)

Exploring the expressivity within intense states of being, Latinx identity, and pluralistic sensibilities, Helado Negro’s Private Energy (Expanded) is an engrossing statement achieved through lyrically personal and political avant pop music.

Private Energy (Expanded) carves a deep groove through the electronic music landscape, challenging to best Brooklyn-based artist Roberto Carlos Lange’s previous accomplishments under the Helado Negro moniker. Half a decade and half a dozen albums later since Helado Negro’s 2009 debut album Awe Owe, Lange has cultivated an untraditional approach to songcraft that places his voice on an adventurous musical impulse without shying from familiar pop appreciation.

The hymn of Private Energy (Expanded) initially sounded in 2014 while Lange absorbed accounts of the unjust death of Michael Brown and felt a sharpened sense of vulnerability and anger as a minority. Lange’s creative drive veered toward toward catharsis - he sought to make music that would protect as a form of protest. The music of Private Energy (Expanded) was shaped to demarcate the artist’s pride of being, preserving and persevering, and celebrating, as Lange puts it, “my brownness, my latinidad.”

For the marginalized, the personal is always political. This truth is not exploited by Lange but used as a platform to examine fluidity in love and amongst various genders. Singing “porque soy una mujer, porque sigo siendo tu hombre”, (“because I’m a woman, because I’m still your man”), on “Tartamudo,” Lange subverts the expectations of the “latino man,” embracing instead a genderless expression of affection and sexuality. And yet the title “Tartamudo” means to stutter; Lange acknowledges the challenge of articulating one’s progressive ideals and the personal demands of stewarding the Helado Negro project.

“Transmission Listen” is another exemplary selection from Private Energy (Expanded), a song so effortlessly tuneful and seductive it sounds beamed in from the radio waves of an outer world. Or alternately, an inner world. Speckled and reverberant, it’s a love song as much as a purely joyful sonic experience. “Young, Latin, and Proud” and “It’s My Brown Skin” are prideful lyrically but complicated texturally, fusing restrained synthesizer voicings with sparse percussion and an interpolation of rhythmic tones. Here, as elsewhere, though, Lange’s distinct voice is the spine of the music’s ambulatory energy.

Though Helado Negro is essentially a solo project, the contributors to Private Energy were numerous, demonstrating Lange’s compassion for community and collaboration. In line, the lyrics to “It’s My Brown Skin” work as a central tenet of Private Energy (Expanded) and an intimate invitation to the varied cast involved and surrounding. Identity is celebrated as a possible personal shelter of sorts, yet complicated and humbly inclusive within abstract territories - i.e. the real and surreal worlds, inhabited by fellow humans and those that don’t identify as human alike.

“My brown me is the shade that’s just for me / I’m never not missing anything but me, “the song’s lyrics state, offering insight into the infinite possible variations for individuality and self-invention that animates the music and ethos of Private Energy (Expanded).

Helado Negro’s Private Energy will be re-introduced to the public via RVNG Intl. in expanded form on May 5, 2017, appearing on vinyl for the first time alongside new CD and digital editions. Supplemented with three brand new “versions,” this iteration of Private Energy (Expanded) will continue the strong narrative of Helado Negro’s spectral and transmissive 2016 opus

RIYL: Tim Maia, Caetano Veloso, Stereolab, Empress Of, Xenia Rubinos Private Energy (Expanded) is remastered, redesigned, and expanded with three brand new versions.


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