Category: Electronica


 Visit Fauna at their Homepage

There is a sound out there, a musical form which I crave. The nature of this compositional style is one of ominous tranquility, a pleasantly ambient music that nevertheless promotes a dark undertonetone, not unhappy or evil, but carrying a subtle subtext of danger and energy, like a thunderstorm. The element is part noir, part cyberpunk, enjoying a healthy combination of major and minor chords and a sweet and sour mix of calm yet stressed emotional cues. The Supreme Beings of Leisure have this sound, although in a lounge/trip hop kind of way. Portishead came so close, but never quite pinpointed the noise. There was a group, The Infinite Posse, one of my very favorites (although I seem to be about the only person on earth who ever listened to them,) that was this sound, through and through.

Then one fine day, I put on a Los Angeles City station, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing at all. There it was! This lilting, coercive lushness, that sultry female vocalist. The band was called Fauna, and I was especially delighted to discover subsequently that one of their albums, Have U Ever Talked To Angels, was freely licensed under Creative Commons! It was two firsts, discovering a good Creative Commons artist through more maintstream avenues, and discovering one with a mix of releases both commercial and free (note, this second first has now become commonplace, but it was still novel at the time.)

The Fauna Project is staged from Kolomna, Russia. Its history is one of fickle collaboration and exploration, stretching out over a period of time closing slowly on two decades and what appears to have been a half dozen prior incarnations, but the music on their latest album reflects people who have had time to toy around with electronic sound for a few years.  The music reflects the experience. Though they claim to draw from many sources, the most recently listed influence of Future Sound of London seems to have had, to my ears, the most profound effect upon this album.

The music has a definite downtempo, triphop feel behind it, but remains seductive throughout. The melodies are classically electronic, repetitive but in an enjoyable, relaxing way, great for lounging or mixing. It suffers a bit of an indie feel, and by indie I mean like indie films, not the indie/alternative movement in music. A lot of the beats are severely constrained, turning otherwise organic atmosphere into almost a marching tune, but again I can’t help but feel that some of this music might have been designed specifically to be mixed, which would forgive, even promote this decision (Sasha wants some Fauna LPs.) Regardless of this element, the instrumentation and actual composition are both smooth as silk, and deserve appreciation.

For me, though, Fauna’s highlight has to be their vocals. In the past couple of months of pursuing free music, I have come to appreciate vocalists like never before. The number of times otherwise acceptable music has been suddenly and horribly turned on its head by the appearance of cruel, unrelenting vocals was starting to get downright depressing, frankly. It is a trend that Fauna has reversed with gusto. The lead female vocalist especially is a delight to encounter, and rather like Portishead,  Supreme Beings of Leisure and Infinite Posse, her talent takes what is already enjoyable music and really pushes it over the edge to exceptional.

Alas, ferreting out who is who on their bio page, which could use a copy editor like I could use a backup liver, proved too big a job for me, but if you want to take a swing at it, then by all means. In the meantime, if you’re looking for some relaxing downtempo sound, or something new and fun to mix or remix with, then definitely check out Have U Ever Talked To Angels.

Visit The Tunguska Electronic Music Society at their homepage

103 years ago today, June 30th, 1908 at about 7:14 in the am, in the Russian province of  Krasnoyarsk Krai, a tremendous explosion occurred. The blast, which scientists estimate would have registered at about 5.0 on the rictor scale obliterated everything around it. Trees in an area over 800 square miles in size were flattened, The shock wave broke windows hundreds of miles away.

In 2007 a collective of electronic artists gathered together to create music reflecting on and intended to draw attention to the Tunguska Phenomenon on the centenary of its occurrence, releasing the Society’s first release, Tunguska Chillout Grooves Vol. 1. From those roots the collective has grown considerably, and now sports over 100 members and 24 complete albums.

The modern Society describes themselves in their own words as, “a free creative group of free persons who compose free music for free people.” Their focus is the act of artistic creation for creation’s sake, and have an open invitation for new members to join, provided they share these ideals. The focus is, per the name, electronic music, although the society emphasises an interest in alternative exploration. Their albums are thematic, but the sheer number of various contributing artists can still lend something of a grab bag feel to many of them. Overall the quality of their music is very good, but the differences in method and attitudes regarding post-production sometimes stand out.

Tunguska Chillout Grooves Vol. 7 is the latest in the original series of work, a pleasant collection of chillout and ambient. Some of it wanders dangerously into the realm of “space” music, but it does so well, and politely, and given their original mission statement, this is perhaps not altogether unreasonable. A loose silk weave of sound, the music is less directly inspiring than almost subconsciously uplifting. It’s finest qualities almost seem to happen offstage, relaxing you from the background of your attentions. The music, even the stuff with a beat over 120 bpm comes off extremely downtempo. It generates a wind down feel, encouraging listenerrs to sit back, put their feet up, pour a glass of wine and just let go for awhile.

The general musical theme and genre hold, but as an album with over 20 different contributing artists, the collective concept cannot be overshadowed. Listening to the album is a lot like reading a magazine, or a collection of short stories. The common genre and genuine interest of the participants is obvious, but each story still sets its own pace and meter, and so too do the songs on the album. The effect is not jarring; the collaboration succeeds at the abstract level, and the participants work with a common vision, but listening closely you’ll notice the changes from one song to the next; true uniformity of purpose is never entirely achieved.

While I selected a particular album to review, one that I felt respresent an exceptional period in their work, one of the real selling points of the Tunguska Electronic Music Society is the sheer amount of work they generate. Albums literally flood out of them, and they never lack for enthusiasm or quality. If you find music on Chillout Grooves Vol. 7 then it’s time you began the reluctant perpetration for mass download. With six more Chillout sets to go before you even touch their Jungle or Drum and Base collections, the TEMS is one of the rare instances where sheer quantity becomes a selling point.

The TEMS, more than just making good and prolific music, is also another grand example of a concept whose core is in the Creative Commons message. Like other artists I’ve reviewed, there’s more to the TEMS than just a group of artists who decided to make some music. The collective, the concept, the scope of their work, all wouldn’t be possible in the form they’ve appeared without Creative Commons and the appreciation of free and fair use. Without it, over 100 fewer artists and 24 fewer albums of compelling electronica probably would never have a chance to grace your ears, for free or otherwise. The TEMS doesn’t merely represent more good music you can happen to download for free, it represents art that can only flourish in environments like those fostered by Creative Commons licensing.

Cool Aberrations

General Fuzz Homepage

Growing up in rural Arkansas left me with little exposure to quality progressive music. Early in life, my only three avenues for fashioning my musical identity were commercial radio, my parents’ dusty old LP collection, and the very real Beavis-and-Butthead style environment of young heavy metal hicks. So after getting my feat wet with some old Vivaldi, butting heads with Van Halen and abandoning the wasteland that was popular eighties rock, I was left to scour the fringes of musical culture, such as they were in the early eighties, for succor. The sad result of this was a long and fairly embarrassing relationship with New Age.

Its not that I regret my time spent zoning out to Jean Michelle Jarre. Ray Lynch was all kinds of fun when I was twelve, and arguably provided a few rungs in the ladder of modern pop and electronica. And you can actually get away with name dropping Tangerine Dream, everyone will nod and smile like you just told the story of your first clumsy, nervous expedition through “second base.” But while I may, at the peak (or pit,) of my new age exploration, have owned every Fresh Aire album ever produced, I keep those cassettes under lock and key, safe from the prying eyes of guests or potential romantic partners.

Gradually my tastes expanded, and even my lingering fondness for that new age sound translated into more exciting and socially acceptable realms like Brian Eno or Devo. And yet, a part of me always wondered, “Where could it have gone?” Had new age somehow kept pace with the stride set by alternative and indy music, what might we be hearing on our local college radio stations today?Some possible examples exist, bands like Low, Orbital, or The Postal Service especially, can be seen to have drawn a note or two from that ancient grab bag of bleeps and bloops.
General Fuzz marks, for me, the pinnacle of this exploration. The crystalline harmonics and complex yet precise orchestration that saturate Smooth Aberrations on once hearken clearly back to the innocent days of Mannheim Steamroller or Tangerine Dream, and yet so clearly brings their sound into the modern age. For me, General Fuzz took that next great step in both mood and arrangement, maturing New Age into a sound to be equivocally proud of.

I’ve always been fond of cool precision in music. When a song encourages you to sample and taste the fine staccatos and presto picking of every guitar string or synth hit, it invigorates the mind, like rolling the flavors of a good sushi roll around over your tongue. That is definitely part of the appeal of Cool Aberrations. Despite being individually produced electronica, you never get the sense that any instrument, or even any note, is simply placed to be mortar for the melody. Fuzz ushers this atmosphere along by including a variety of actual instrumental tracks throughout the album.
Fuzz himself labels the music as, “lush melodic instrumental electronica,” which I think is a fair assessment of the style. Though tranquil, it would be a mistake I think to refer to it as mellow or relaxed. Instead, it wanders somewhere closer to intelligent, almost inquisitive, encouraging the listener to wander into each track consciously, exploring every detail. As a result, it really is good for virtually any environment, from leisurely quiet afternoons to freeway driving. The music enjoys such an accessible detail to it that your conscious mind can’t help but attend it. Thus, while you might still throw a little Kitaro on in your private life, General Fuzz is someone that might actually end up on a party mix. At the very least, you wouldn’t turn red with embarrassment if it cued up while friends or important business clients happened to be about.

So if you, like me, went through an awful new age phase in your musical growth, and are looking for some kind of refined progression to enjoy, then Cool Aberrations is definitely an album for you. Frankly, unless you simply require that your music be, “this brutal,” I’d say that this album is worth anyone’s time. And don’t stop there. While I feel that Cool Aberrations is the peak of General Fuzz’s craft, he has several other albums to enjoy, and they paint, I think, a clear and wonderful picture of his growth as a musician. That’s part of the joy and ease of free music via Creative Commons licensed albums, one well worth taking advantage of as regards General Fuzz’s excellent collection of works.