Music » In Rotation

Eternals drummer Areif Sless-Kitain on Hieroglyphic Being’s futuristic house

Plus: I Kong Kult bassist Fred Wells on the song of Jupiter’s auroras, Reader critic Peter Margasak on a rare recording of music by neglected genius Julius Eastman, and more


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A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.

Composer, pianist, and singer Julius Eastman - VIA WIKI COMMONS
  • Via Wiki commons
  • Composer, pianist, and singer Julius Eastman

Peter Margasak, Reader music critic

Julius Eastman, Femenine Julius Eastman, a proudly black and gay composer, pianist, and singer, died penniless in a Buffalo hospital in 1990 at age 49, and apart from a three-CD set of his compositions called Unjust Malaise released in 2005, virtually none of his music has reached a general audience. Finnish label Frozen Reeds recently dropped this recording of a thrilling 1974 performance of Eastman's Femenine, shedding light on his peculiar genius. Performed by S.E.M. Ensemble, of which he was a member, it pulses relentlessly for 72 minutes, leavening its overlapping minimalist motifs with bits of improvisation—including the composer's piano elaborations.

Game Theory, The Big Shot Chronicles This new edition of my favorite Game Theory record includes bonus tracks and terrific liner notes by WNUR alum Jason Cohen, but the original 12 songs still stand on their own—they're pop perfection, albeit larded with dizzy­ing wordplay, convoluted structures, and Mitch Easter's weird production. Game Theory auteur Scott Miller died at 53 in 2013, but with this 1986 album he created the kind of masterpiece most artists spend a lifetime chasing.

Negro Leo, Água Batizada The underground sound of Rio de Janeiro reaches a new apotheosis with this album from the prolific Negro Leo (aka Leonardo Campelo Gonçalves), which collides the idiosyncratic psych of Syd Barrett with noisy art-rock and the gnarled Brazilian roots of tropicalia. I haven't been paying close attention to Brazilian music of late—it's time for me to wake up.

Peter is curious what's in the rotation of . . .


Areif Sless-Kitain, drummer for Brokeback, the Eternals, and I Kong Kult

Various artists, Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959 A decade after publishing The Sheltering Sky, Bowles lugged an Ampex 601 reel-to-reel across his adopted homeland, braving sandstorms and sun to document the regional musical culture. The variety of sounds he captured is entrancing and exhaustive. First issued as a double LP by the Library of Congress in 1972, Music of Morocco was recently expanded by Dust-to-­Digital into a 30-track, four-CD set. After several listens, I've barely wrapped my head around it, though I suspect some good hash might help.

Hieroglyphic Being I was jogging in Brooklyn recently when an otherworldly pulse poured from my earbuds, transporting me to what felt like another galaxy. The sounds, though, were straight out of Chicago. Jamal Moss keeps a low profile in town, but he's moving plenty of bodies abroad with the Afrofuturistic post-house music he pumps out as Hieroglyphic Being. On The Disco's of Imhotep and K.M.T. (with side project Africans With Mainframes), Moss uses vintage drum machines and analog synths to push house into the next millennium.

Ben Ratliff I met this music critic in the New York Times cafeteria before his August departure from the paper, and he was as thoughtful and incisive as his coverage has been over the past two decades. (See his new book, Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty, for a wide-view guide to music appreciation.) Ratliff's final NYT Popcast and recent appearance on Marc Maron's WTF are essential for anyone missing his byline.

Areif is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

Jupiter’s auroras, whose radio signals NASA has converted into a kind of “music” - NASA/ESA/HUBBLE
  • NASA/ESA/Hubble
  • Jupiter’s auroras, whose radio signals NASA has converted into a kind of “music”

Fred Wells, bassist for I Kong Kult

Equiknoxx, Bird Sound Power I've been obsessed with Demdike Stare for a while now and pretty much blindly pick up anything they release. So when their DDS label put out Equiknoxx's Bird Sound Power earlier this summer, it was a no-brainer that I would get a copy. It's such a great thrill to listen to—dancehall via wormhole transmissions. The members of this Jamaican production crew combine dancehall rhythms with cinematic orchestra blasts, warm synth beds, and of course their signature birdcalls.

Juno listens to Jupiter's auroras These aren't actual wormhole transmissions, but they're something even better: kilometer-wavelength radio signals from Jupiter's intense auroras picked up by the Juno spacecraft on its first orbit around the planet. I guess this isn't music in the strict sense, but I'm still obsessed with listening to it. It's 13 hours of data shifted into audible frequencies and compressed into 24 seconds of outer-space bliss.

Soundscaper Soundscaper is a sample-based sound generation app for the iPad. You can load a different sample into each oscillator, add filters and effects, and then combine them in the spatial mixer. I don't understand how everything works, but that's part of the fun—turning things on and off and coming up with strange textures and sounds. So of course I zone out to weird ambient noises I made with this app using the Juno transmissions.


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