Music » In Rotation

Sonnenzimmer cofounder Nick Butcher on one of the TR-808’s earliest star turns

Plus: Artist Alex Valentine on the score that should’ve won this year’s Oscar, Reader critic Peter Margasak on a solo violin record that contains multitudes, and more

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

Estonian violinist and singer Maarja Nuut - RENEE ALTROVÖ
  • Renee Altrovö
  • Estonian violinist and singer Maarja Nuut

Peter Margasak, Reader music critic

Maarja Nuut, Une Meeles The second album from remarkable Estonian violinist and singer Maarja Nuut is a thrilling journey in sound, moving effortlessly between striated string etudes, folk-derived dance pieces, and minimalist marvels. Nuut's music draws upon folk, classical, and pop, and though she uses nothing but overdubbed violin and voice, it isn't merely a glib loop-station confection—her commanding grasp of the violin's possibilities ensures that her pedals remain accessories.

Jürg Frey, String Quartet No. 3/Unhörbare Zeit In his liner notes to this beautiful recording by Montreal's Quatuor Bozzini, Swiss composer Jürg Frey writes, "The music is silent architecture." String Quartet No. 3 isn't literally silent, but its glacially drifting, luminescent harmonies are exquisitely quiet; long tones seesaw in pitch, seeming to extend to the horizon. On Unhörbare Zeit, where two percussionists augment the quartet, the melodies are broken by silences, percussive rumbles, and passages of static discord.

Neuköllner Modelle, Sektion 1-2 This multigenerational free-jazz unit takes a familiar approach—an ad hoc sax trio improvises with no preset material. Drummer Sven-Åke Johansson has called its music "constructive free jazz," a fair way to describe the limber, obliquely melodic, pulse-driven sound he creates with bassist Joel Grip and saxophonist Bertrand Denzler. The group explores within a comforting form, especially Johansson—his drumming clenches and loosens in a contemporary take on the free jazz of the past.

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

Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Technodelic
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Technodelic

Nick Butcher, artist and musician

Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa, Absolutely on Music I'm a huge fan of Haruki Murakami, even though all the fiction I've read of his feels basically the same. This book is totally different, though. It's a series of interviews between Murakami and Seiji Ozawa, a famous Japanese conductor with whom I'm not familiar at all. I know very little about classical music, but their exchanges are totally fun to read. It's enthralling to hear two masters of their disciplines discuss a mutual passion with lighthearted precision. I often find classical music impenetrable or even dull, but their words make it sound accessible and rich.

Lvnch Lvnch is the solo electronic-music project of Chicago-based sculptor Scott Carter. Scott is a super humble artist with a huge skill set. He's extremely active with his fine art work but keeps pretty quiet about his music. I love the attention to detail, and his sense of melody is fantastic. His sculpture background comes through in the shapes of his songs.

Yellow Magic Orchestra, Technodelic I only recently learned about Yellow Magic Orchestra. I was peripherally familiar with cofounder Ryuichi Sakamoto, but not with this seminal group. They have a huge discography, and this 1981 album is my favorite that I've heard by far. It reminds me of a streamlined This Heat, though YMO is usually compared to Kraftwerk. I dig the surprising harmonies and melodies atop the tight electronic rhythms. This album was also one of the very first to use the legendary Roland TR-808 drum machine.

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

Mica Levi at the Oscars in February 2017 - FRAZER HARRISON/GETTY
  • Frazer Harrison/Getty
  • Mica Levi at the Oscars in February 2017

Alex Valentine, visual artist, always listening

The Knobs YouTube channel I was originally going to suggest the amazing Organelle by Critter & Guitari, an inexhaustibly useful fusion of miniature piano and computer, but I thought it'd be better to mention where I first heard it. The Knobs YouTube channel is the future of online demo videos (which might not sound like much, but it is!), and it posts some of the best music I've heard in a while. The golden age of effect pedals and sonic manipulation is now.

The 90 Day Men's Peel session Brian Case's newest band, FACS, is just starting out, and Cayce Key and Robert A.A. Lowe have continued to release great music with Bloodiest and Lichens, respectively, but it's never a bad idea to revisit the band where all this goodness started. The 90 Day Men's Peel session, from 2001, is a great example of how complementary and dynamic these musicians were together. This needs a proper release.

Mica Levi's film music If you know Mica Levi only from her band Micachu & the Shapes, you should definitely check out her work for film. I was sure her music for Jackie would win the Oscar for best original score. I never get these things right.

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