Friday, November 29, 2019

Africa, Music from the Nonesuch Explorer Series

by G. Jack Urso

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.
Africa, Music from the Nonesuch Explorer Series is a sampler from the aforementioned Nonesuch Explorer Series, released on CD September 24, 2002. This album provides a selection from each of the thirteen Explorer Series albums from Africa. Nonesuch’s Explorer Series is one of the most comprehensive catalogs of World Music with albums representing the regions of not just Africa, but also Central Asia, East Asia, India, Europe, Indonesia/South Pacific, Latin America/Caribbean, and Tibet/Kashmir. The album is available on the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.

From the late 1960s through the late 1970s, Nonesuch producers for the African albums recorded the pieces in the field, on street corners, in universities, marketplaces, cities, rural villages, along the coast, and in the deep interior. These albums provide the Western ear with a broad exposure to the wide variety of indigenous instruments and musical styles which, in many ways, still remain relatively unknown outside the Dark Continent except to those of us who appreciate the vast palate of World Music offerings. These collections became widely influential to a whole generation of Western musicians. In fact, some tracks from the Nonesuch Explorer Series were included with the Voyager Golden Record that was attached to the Voyager I spacecraft launched in 1977.

While samplers and “best of” collections are typically a mélange of sometimes aesthetically discordant tracks lacking a unifying thematic cohesiveness, Africa, Music from the Nonesuch Explorer Series manages to avoid this pitfall by focusing on primarily sub-Sharan Africa and those nations North of South Africa. From these regions come the rhythms and sounds that influenced whole genres of Western music including Jazz and Rock and Roll.

Other titles from the Nonesuch explorer series uploaded to the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel and profiled on this website include Kōhachiro Miyata: Shakuhachi – The Japanese Flute and Ghana: Ancient Ceremonies, Songs & Dance Music.
Catalog of Nonesuch Explorer Series Albums

Listen to the entire album at the top of this article or individual tracks by clicking on the links below.

Track list
1.            Alto Bung'o Horn (Kenya)                                                             0:42
                — from East Africa: Witchcraft & Ritual Music
2.            Nhemamusasa (Instrumental Excerpt I) (Zimbabwe)              2:38
— from Zimbabwe: Shona Mbira Music
3.            Alhamdulillaahi (Burkina Faso)                                                    3:08
— from Burkina Faso: Rhythms of Grasslands
4.            Take Me Back to Mabayi (Burundi)                                            3:47
— from Burundi: Music From the Heart of Africa
5.            Kouco Solo (Mali)                                                                           4:41
— from West Africa: Drum, Chant & Instrumental Music)
6.            Aluar Horns (Zaire Border, Uganda)                                           3:42
— from East Africa: Ceremonial & Folk Music
7.            Song with Tar (Nubia)                                                                   4:44
— from Nubia: Escalay (The Water Wheel): Oud Music
8.            Bus Conductor (Ghana)                                                                 2:24
— from Ghana: High-Life and Other Popular Music
9.            Kumakudo (Zimbabwe)                                                                 3:08
— from Zimbabwe: The Soul of Mbira: Traditions of the Shona People
10.          Marimba (Tanzania)                                                                       3:09
— from East Africa: Witchcraft & Ritual Music
11.          Djongo (Burkina Faso)                                                                   4:07
— from Burkina Faso: Savannah Rhythms
12.          Bounkam Solo (Burkina Faso)                                                      3:48
                — from West Africa: Drum, Chant & Instrumental Music
13.          Dzil Duet (Ghana)                                                                           2:31
— from Ghana: Ancient Ceremonies, Dance Music & Songs
14.          Gonje Songs (Ghana)                                                                     4:18
— from Ghana: Ancient Ceremonies, Dance Music & Songs
15.          Tipe Tizwe (Zimbabwe)                                                                 4:31
— from Zimbabwe: The Soul of Mbira: Traditions of the Shona People
16.          Rhinoceros (Amboseli National Park)                                        2:22
— from Animals of Africa: Sounds of the Jungle, Plain & Bush


Thursday, October 31, 2019

Evening Ragas from Benares (1981)

by G. Jack Urso

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.
Evening Ragas from Benares is a 1981 Academy Sound & Vision recording which was later released in 1986 and 1994 by the Musical Heritage Society. Originally recorded in December 1967 in Benares, India by Deben Bhattacharya, the 40-minute recording is comprised of three pieces. Click on the links below for individual tracks or on the video above for the complete album on the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel:

1) Raga Puriya Kalyan (21:06)
                Debendra Krishna Chattopadhyay, Sitar
                Surendra Mohan Mishra, Tablá

2) Raga Pilu (11:00)

                 Amiya Bhattacharya, Subahar
                 Narayan Chakravorty, Vicitra viná

3) Raga Darbari (8:00)
                Narayan Chakravorty, Vicitra viná

Selections from the liner notes to Evening Ragas from Benares:
The sitar (right) is undoubtedly the most popular stringed instrument of north and central India for raga music today. It is the direct descendant of the vina, the stringed instrument of India played for 2,000 years. The present form of the sitar is attributed to 13-century musician and innovator, Amir Khusru, and is less complicated to play than the vina. Most sitars have seven playing strings together with a number of sympathetic strings which resonate to enrich the sound. On its long neck are movable metal frets fastened by silk or gut strings. Hollow gourds are attached to the back of the neck, usually at each end, to increase the volume of the sound. The strings of the sitar are plucked using a wire plectrum fitted to the right index finger.
The surbahar (left) resembles the sitar in appearance but is larger in size and scope. It is nearer to the vina in its quality of sound and is regarded as superior to the sitar as an instrument. The vicitra vina belongs to the vina family of stick zithers and has five melody strings, three built-in drone strings, and 11 sympathetic strings. Unlike the sitar, the vicitra vina is fretless, but the skill and expertise of the musician enable him to unerringly find the exact note in its long neck. 

Vicitra Vina (top), Tambura (bottom)
The accompaniment on the recording is provided by the tambura (above), a four-stringed drone instrument, and the tabla (below), a pair of drums which make the tala or rhythm which is an essential part of Raga music. The table is played by both hands — the right hand drum gives the strong beats and the left hand drum the soft strokes.

The raga Puriya Kalyan is associated with the early hours of the evening and is heptatonic or in the seven-note scale. The rhythmic accompaniment, or tritala, is in 4/4 time. This raga, also known as Purva Kalyani, is of a feminine nature and expresses tenderness and love.

Pilu, a raga of the late afternoon, is in the seven-note scale and expresses a bashfulness and timid love. The severe and courtly midnight raga Darbari is again in the heptatonic scale. Both Pilu and Darbari were recorded during a gathering at a private house and the sounds of passing travelers and the cries of a vegetable salesman in the street outside combine to bring the atmosphere of India to the listener.                                                                   
                                                                                             — Deben Bhattacharya


Halloween Howls: 45 Minutes of Fear

by G. Jack Urso

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.
Halloween offers an opportunity for Aeolus 13 Umbra to entertain two of its favorite subjects:  the ghastly holiday itself and ambient music. While typically regarded as a contemplative soundbed for peaceful and positive meditation, ambient music also has a dark side. Not evil, but as the seasons shift from the vibrancy and warmth of summer to the cool autumn winds, so to do our thoughts change to meditations on our mortality, and inevitably to the afterlife and the spirit world.

Halloween Howls, posted above on the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel, is one of several similarly named albums for ll Hallows' Eve. Typically, these sort of holiday-themed CDs have a collection of campy Halloween sound effects, dialog, and maybe a ghost story or two. Halloween Howls, however, takes a more subtle approach. Moody and atmospheric, yes, there are the expected groans and moans and the cackling witch, but long periods of environmental noise mark this work, sometimes penetrated by a blood-curdling scream, a frantic heartbeat, a chainsaw, or slow, plodding footsteps that punctuate the silence. In real life, the only demons dogging us are the ones we create ourselves, but for those who have encountered crime, mental illness, and misfortune also know that the darker side of life, like a hurricane, can be a natural, unpredictable force unto itself.

If, by chance, Halloween happened never to have originated in late October, surely it would have to be moved there. In the Northeast, the colorful cacophony of leaves is past its peak and the transition to the dead and dormant state of winter, though still nearly two months away, is soon to settle in.  The 21st Century modern human seldom affords itself time for contemplation, private space, and to be alone with our thoughts. We are never too far away from our cell phones, computers, car radios, TV in office waiting rooms — all clamoring for our attention. Convenient distractions from our fears and which protect the tenuous psychological barriers that buffer our sanity from the stark reality of our fragile mortal existence.

Halloween Howls, whose composer remains a mystery, is not music per se, but if John Cage’s three-movement composition 4’33”, which consists entirely of the ambient noises of the listener’s environment, can be considered music then I think we can afford Halloween Howls some measure of inclusion into the musical world.

For more Halloween-themed entries on Aeolus 13 Umbra, please visit: An Aeolus 13 Umbra Halloween (with some classic horror films on Aeolus 13 Umbra’s YouTube channel), The Monster Club: Classic Horror 80s-Style, and the spoken word performance, Medieval Death Poem.


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Planet of the Apes Film Soundtrack (1968)

by G. Jack Urso

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.

Composer Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack for the ground-breaking 1968 film Planet of the Apes is a remarkable, underappreciated work that exemplifies the experimental spirit of the 1960s. The “Main Title” theme immediately establishes a sense of mystery, layers of woodwinds hooting like monkeys, the rattle of sticks, a single chord pounded on the piano. There’s no melody — nothing analogous to the structure of typical movie scores, not to mention epic big budget sci-fi films. No rousing theme to be sold as a single. Here, Goldsmith creates not only an alien landscape, but also a contemplative space. Planet of the Apes poses an existential philosophical question to the audience and Goldsmith’s soundtrack gives the space to contemplate it.

“Earthly mysterious” is a phrase I’ve previously used to describe this album (“Logan’s Run Film Soundtrack,” also scored by Goldsmith), and I think it fits pretty well. The instrumentation feels organic, at times even imitating natural sounds. There’s a tension — even paranoia — in the soundtrack as the mystery unfolds in the film. The score reflects the audience’s journey as the secret to the Planet of the Apes slowly reveals itself. Goldsmith cites Arnold Schoenberg as an influence in his work, and one can hear the avant-garde Austrian composer’s atonal influence on this soundtrack in addition to on parts of Logan’s Run.   

In Cinefantastique’s Planet of the Apes issue (Summer 1972) Goldsmith spoke about the soundtrack, saying, “it should not be an electronic score, not gimmicky, and [I] wanted to do it with a normal orchestra. I did not want to do the obvious on this . . . I was thrilled with it." Goldsmith also notes that at the time of the interview, “the Austrian Ballet is using it in their production of 'Othello'” (37). While Goldsmith does use orchestral elements, he departs from the epic orchestration approach in place of what is a minimalistic and sometimes discordant soundtrack that captures the sense of mystery and danger in the movie. According to Goldsmith, no experimental techniques or “unusual instruments” were used, except perhaps for stainless steel bowls used with the percussion section for the waterfall scene (“The Clothes Snatchers”) and putting the mouthpiece backwards on the French horns, to achieve “that swooshing sound in the desert scenes” (37).

Additionally, in the Cinefantastique article, Goldsmith reported that he used “A Polynesian instrument called ung-lungs . . . used in the cave sequence” (“The Cave”) (37). However, as noted in Celluloid Symphonies: Texts and Contexts in Film Music History (2011), "no such instrument, Polynesian or otherwise, appears to exist" (313). My own research likewise found nothing. Why Goldsmith is tossing out a red herring here is unknown. I can only conjecture that it was perhaps to maintain a professional secret or maybe even as a joke to the still up-and-coming fanzine.

Global rights to the soundtrack were obtained by the International Tape Cartridge Corp. in what was then the first-ever deal that the rights to manufacture the vinyl album and celluloid tape versions of the soundtrack were awarded to a tape cartridge duplicator/distribution company. The soundtrack was released as an LP set, “in all mechanical forms, and both 4-track and 8-track cartridges,” according to Billboard (22 June 1968). The 1968 Project 3 Records release, featured here, has 10 tracks, but a later 1997 release from Varese Sarabande includes nine more tracks from the original motion picture soundtrack.

Goldsmith was a wide-ranging composer with scores to some of the most important and popular film and TV shows of his era. He garnered Academy award nominations not only for Planet of the Apes (1968), but also for Patch of Blue (1965), The Sand Pebbles (1966), and Patton (1970). Goldsmith also scored for other films such as In Harm’s Way (1965), Our Man Flint (1966), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) as well as the themes to the TV shows The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964), Room 222 (1969), and The Waltons (1972), among many other examples too numerous to list here. His soundtracks to Logan’s Run and Planet of the Apes represent two avant-garde extremes: the former, ambient and electronic, and the latter, “Earthly mysterious” and organic. Both albums are essential listening for both film score buffs and sci-fi fans — neither will be disappointed.

Listen to the album on the YouTube video above or individual tracks by clicking on the links below.

Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith.

1.       Main Title (2:13)

2.       The Revelation (1:13)

3.       The Clothes Snatchers (2:40)

4.       New Identity (2:06)

5.       The Forbidden Zone (2:56)

6.       The Search (4:59)

7.       The Cave (1:21)

8.       A Bid For Freedom (1:22)

9.       A New Mate (1:08)

10.   No Escape (5:17)

Total time: 35:23


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Logan’s Run Film Soundtrack (1976)

by G. Jack Urso

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.

Released along with the film Logan’s Run (1976), the film soundtrack album by Jerry Goldsmith captures the futuristic ambiance of the film. Although it has elements of ambient and electronica music, best heard in such tracks as  The Dome and Love Shop, it doesn’t quite fit neatly into either genre because it is constrainted by the cinematic needs of the film. The lush orchestrations in such tracks as The Monument and the Love Theme from Logan’s Run pull the soundtrack away from pure ambient or electronica. Nevertheless, the soundtrack also displays Goldsmith’s uncanny ability to shift expertly from genre to genre. From the sci-fi soundings of Logan’s Run, to the Earthly mysterious, and sometimes discordant, sound bed to Planet of the Apes, the epic themes for the Star Trek movie franchise, or the country folk music from the theme to The Waltons, Goldsmith was one of the most versatile, if underrated, film composers of his era.

Original Recording Credits:
Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith.

Produced by Harry V. Lojewski.

*Arranged by Jimmie Haskell/Produced by Barry Oslander

Orchestration by Arthur Morton

Recording Engineer Aaron Rochin

Recording at MGM Studies, Culver City California

Listen to the album on the YouTube video above or individual tracks by clicking on the links below.
Track List:

1) The Dome (2:08)
2) On the Circuit (3:45)
3) The Sun (2:11)
4) Flameout (3:26)
5) The Monument (8:13)
6) You’re Renewed (2:50)
7) Ice Sculpture (3:36)
8) Love Shop (3:45)
9) The Truth (2:08)
10) Intensive Care (4:00)
11) End of the City (2:25)

Total Time: 41:34

Compact Disc Credits:
Produced by Nick Redman

Executive Producer Bruce Kimmel, Alain Silver

Digital Remastering: Ken Robertson Sony Music, NY

Technical Consultant Don Rivard

Graphic Artist: Karen Stone

Production Assistant: Gyangyver Savago

Special thanks to Jim Moreno, George De Vito, Bruce Eder, Rikki Zee

Related Content
I created the video below set to “The Dome” using Microsoft’s now-defunct Movie Maker, which allowed me to adjust the hue to create color shifts.

An extensive look at the film, novel, and TV versions of Logan’s Run, exploring little known or missed details: Beyond the Dome: A Critical Analysis of Logan’s Run.