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Listed: Olivia Block + The Horseís Ha

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Every Friday, Dusted Magazine publishes a series of music-related lists compiled by our favorite artists. This week: Chicago sound artist Olivia Block and The Horseís Ha, a collaboration between the Zincsí James Elkington and Freakwaterís Janet Bean.

Listed: Olivia Block + The Horseís Ha

Olivia Block

Olivia Block is a contemporary composer and sound artist who combines field recordings, scored segments for acoustic instruments, and electronically generated sound. Her recordings include Mobius Fuse (Sedimental, 2001), a collaboration with Seth Nehil called Sunder, Unite (Sedimental, 2003), and Heave To (Sedimental, 2006). She has performed throughout Europe, America, and Japan in tours and festivals including Dissonanze, Archipel, Angelica, Outer Ear, and many others. She has completed residencies at Mills College of Music and the Berklee College of Music, and she is a member of the sound department faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Untitled, her collaboration with video artists Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder, screened at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and will be released on DVD by SOS Editions. A collaboration with oboist and electroacoustic musician Kyle Bruckmann is forthcoming, and she will perform with Thomas Korber in Fall 2009 at the Sonic Circuits Festival in Washington, DC.

Here are a few of my most beloved records. Many favorites often change, but right now, these come to mind...

1. Talking Heads - Remain in Light
I still think this is one of the best funk records ever made. I havenít played this at twice the speed intended but I suspect that if I did it would sound like African music of some kind. I have loved Brian Eno since I was in grade school because of his pop sensibility and layering techniques, exemplified perfectly on this album.

2. C-Scultz & Hajsch - C-Scultz & Hajsch
This is a lovely record, and one of the first pieces I heard with instruments and field recordings together. There is a particularly nice passage with clarinet in it.

3. Salvatore Sciarrino - Lo Spazio Inverso
This is one of the only composers who can shape an an ensemble into a series of unified sculpural sound gestures. The focus is almost entirely on timbre; he clearly pays attention to the spaces between gestures. He achieves remarkable delicacy in his use of extended techniques, particularly with the wind instruments. The music sounds spontaneous, improvised despite the fact that it is all precisely scored.

4. Jani Christou - LP on Edition RZ
WOW. It is so hard to find recordings of inspiring orchestral music. I sometimes find soundmass works to be overly moody, but these works are more purely energetic and colorful to my ears. They have a raw quality which is rare in orchestral music, particularly in the grunting, groaning of the chorus.

5. Marcus Schmickler - Param
I love the way Schmickler uses recordings of a chamber ensemble with electronics on this record. The transitions in and out of the "musical" moments are particularly effective. I donít get the feeling that Schmickler is part of a "new music" culture, which might be the reason behind his refreshing approaches to chamber instruments. Each track maintains a high level of focus and intensity.

6. Agencement - Viosphere
To me this is Japanese noise unplugged. It is an entire record of frantic violin and analog tape which has a vintage quality to it, like an early experiment in tape cut-up music. There is no obvious development in either track and the energy never subsides, giving it a relentlessness that I like.

7. AMM - Inexhaustible Document
The timing on this record is remarkable, lending itself to a structure which is more atmospheric than narrative. My impression is that the musicians refuse to rush any given musical moment, allowing a beautiful slowness to happen. This was one of the first electroacoustic improvisation recordings I heard when I was still living in Austin and I still consider it to be one of the best. Before I heard AMM I had written off any possibilities for the tasteful and innovative use of piano in contemporary music.

8. Fela Kuti - Expensive Shit
I could easily substitute another Kuti record for this title because so many of his releases are excellent and they all have similar structures, however I chose this one because Tony Allen sounds so good. Kuti doesnít start singing until around 7 minutes in on the first track, if memory serves, allowing Allenís grooves to lead the music for a satisfying amount of time before the vocal narrative takes over. There was a period of time around 2003 where pretty much all I listened to was Fela Kuti for a year or so.

9. E.T. Mensah - All For You
These are wonderful vintage highlife tunes. The melodies have a lovely universal quality because of their simplicity and I am a sucker for nice horn arrangements. Itís very happy, cheerful music and would probably be fun for dancing (which I donít really do much).

10. V/A - Frozen Brass: Africa & Latin America
This CD was a big influence on my around the time I was working on Mobius Fuse. It has all of these traditional hymns on it which have been arranged by small African brass bands. This is not a studio recording, it is a collection of field recordings including casual background sounds from each environment, creating touching, intimate music. There are wonderful saxophone arrangements in some of the hymns, just little processionals...

The Horseís Ha

The Horseís Ha, a long-simmering project from Chicago mainstays Janet Bean (Eleventh Dream Day, Freakwater) and Jim Elkington (Zincs), started in 2002 as a covers band, with the two principals layering downtempo bossa nova rhythms and folk flourishes over well-known standards. Lately, Elkington has been writing sardonic, sophisticated originals for an expanded band including cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, bass player Nick Macri and drummer Charles Rumback. His ďPiss ChoirĒ balances breezy 1960s British folk choruses with Stereolab-ish drone and wild improvisatory forays of string and percussion. That song, and nine others, are on the debut album Of the Cathrmawr Yards which is named, like the band, with Dylan Thomas in mind. Itís out June 9 on Hidden Agenda and soon to be reviewed here.

1. Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Penguin Cafe Orchestra
The Penguin Cafe Orchestra were an English instrumental group whose first album was a collection of singles released on Enoís Obscure record label. Unfortunately, their repetitive, minimal and unabashedly happy music was mostly ruined for English people by advertising agencies in the UK who found that it could help sell any product or service in a cheery way without getting in the way of the voice over. Iíve always loved that first album but didnít hear any of the others until recently; this one (their second) has been helping me get through the drive to work most days for about six months now that Iíve mentally divorced it from British Telecom.

2. Davy Graham - Midnight Man
Davy died earlier this year and, for the uninitiated, was an early inspiration to many of the guitar players during the English folk boom of the 1960ís. His main interest was jazz, but he was such an unusual musical polyglot that he absorbed and interpreted almost any other music he came into contact with, from show tunes to Moroccan music to folk to the pop hits of the day, with a strength and energy thatís just astounding.

3. Bonnie Prince Billy - Live at The Vic
This is not an album but a show that I went to earlier this year. The room was full and the crowd was ready to see an amazing show that was superbly delivered. Iíve enjoyed his records in the past, but I hadnít checked in with him for a couple of years and was unprepared for how good a show he can put on and what a wealth of great songs he has at his command. Hearing Josh Abrams do his low "Mister Bass Man" voice in one song may end up being my highlight of the year.

4. Durutti Column - LC
As part of my investigation into re-listening to all of my favourite records as a teenager, I started acquiring unheard Durutti Column which are all available, like everything else, in flashy remastered versions with bonus tracks and whatnot. This second album of Vini Reillyís (I might be a "second album" type of person, is that a type of person?) benefits from having wider aspirations than the first and Bruce Mitchellís drumming compliments Reillyís fluid guitar playing beautifully. When we were making The Horseís Ha album, I listened to this every night on the drive back from the studio which snakes round Lake Michigan.

5. Colorlist - Live At Somewhere That Was Under The Western Avenue Overpass At Belmont
Colorlist is a duo consisting of Horseís Ha drummer Charles Rumback and saxophonist Charles Gorczynski, who use electronics to treat and repeat themselves in amazingly inventive ways; both times Iíve seen them I thought they had been playing for 15 minutes but it was actually 45, which implies that theyíre bending time somehow, and they sound to me how Miles Davis would sound if he had halted work on "In A Silent Way" to score Bladerunner with Vangelis. Of course, that would never normally happen but remember...they can bend time.

6. Areski and Brigitte Fontaine - le Bonheur
Recorded in 1975, this collaboration between Ms. Fontaine and Areski still sounds fresh and compelling. These tunes create an otherworldly space for the duration of the disc. It sounds like musical musings of wood nymphets upon finding the pool of sun in the dark forest. While Ms. Fontaine chirps and squeaks and whispers seductively Areski keeps us in this world in just the right doses. What makes me very happy is, at the age of 70, Ms. Fontaine is still producing seductive and challenging work.

7. Leonard Cohen - The Chicago Theater, May 5, 2009
This show, the first night of two, had me in tears for the first four tunes. The joy Mr. Cohen exuded on stage was both inspiring and contagious. His voice is in great form and all of his tunes stand the test of time. I have heard some say the arrangements he is currently using are too smaltzy, but to me this is the nexus of his musical intention. The mix of high and low makes his tunes as universal as the themes of his lyrics. Here is another artist keeping their artistic flame lit while in their 70s. I think someone should talk to Ms. Fontaine and Mr Cohen about a duet record!

8. Charlotte Hug - Live performance Corbett vs Dempsey Gallery, Chicago, June 1, 2009
Fred Lonberg-Holm, our cellist extraordinaire on "Of The Cathmawr Yards," suggested I walk over with him to catch an early evening performance of a Swiss violist he has played with in the past. Since the performance/art gallery space is less than 100 steps from my front door and just hung was an exhibition I wanted to see, we headed over. Both the performance and the exhibition, recent works by Albert Oehlen, were stellar and complimented each other in a sublime fashion of chaos and beauty. Ms. Hug, as thin as her viola and with a wild long shock of blond hair, can make a single viola sound like a full string section. The sounds she pulls from the instrument are entirely organic, complete with exchanges between Ms. Hugís heavy breathing and her violaís airy inhalation/exhalations she employed I think by playing the side of the instrument. At times she vocalized in response to the sounds of her viola like Tuvan throat singers and at others like a chorale of ululating sisters. The whole performance was transcendent and while not overall mournful in tone I was compelled by it to re-watch all of Krzysztof Kieślowskiís most depressing Decalogue. I purchased one of her discs, "Nueland for Viola Solo" on the Emanem label, and it is not far removed in sounds from the performance she gave, but what it lacks is the sunlight through the windows at 6:30 on a Chicago late spring day.

9. Van Morrison - Astral Weeks
I canít say anything about this record that hasnít been said other than it continues to influence me immensely and every time I put it one I am happy to have done so.

10. Baloji - Hotel Impala (EMI Music Belgium)
I came across Baloji while surfing YouTube for all things Congolese. Baloji is a Congolese-born, Belgian-raised hip hop artist. This is his first solo disc after leaving the Belgian hip-hop group Starflam, of which I know nothing about. Baloji , who calls himself neither Belgian or Congolese, but rather Afropean, left DRCongo at the age of 4. Taken to Belgium and raised by his father and adoptive mother, all contact was severed with his biological mother. As the story goes, when Balojiís biological mother saw a young man performing on TV, she knew she had found her long lost son. She then sends him a letter asking how he had been the many years since his departure and "Hotel Impala" is the answer to that question. It is smart, with great grooves, the right touches of Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield and other classic soul references - the last tune is a cover of Marvin Gayeís Iím Going Home (to my mother), a particularly poignant message given his long absence from his real mother - and political awareness. The first track, "Tout Ceci Ne Vous Rendra Pas Le Congo" (This will not return Congo to You), to the last, "Iím Going Home," is a personal narrative of great insight.

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