PRINT December 2012

Music: Best of 2012

Rob Young

Carl Kleiner, Instrument 1, 2011, digital print, 15 3/8 x 19 1/8". From Goran Kajfeš’s X/Y (Headspin, 2011).

Can, ca. 1972. From left: Damo Suzuki, Jaki Liebezeit, Irmin Schmidt, Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli. Photo: Hildegarde Schmidt.

1 Scott Walker, Bish Bosch (4AD) A new Scott Walker album is always an event, but with Bish Bosch the American expat extends his dark and exploratory late style, delivering a breathtakingly adventurous record well worth the six-year wait. With harsh couplings of digitized guitars, rams’ horns, swishing machetes, and an orchestra supplying “pillars of sound,” each song is like a Pynchon short story or a Flemish painting of heaven and hell, with subject matter ranging from brown dwarves and vivisection to flagpole-sitters and the execution of Romanian president Nicolae Ceauşescu.

2 Diamanda Galás with KORK (Kanonhallen, Oslo, September 13) Like Walker, this American composer/singer is one of those rare musicians whose work shoulders both historical songwriting conventions and geopolitical horrors. Galás’s one-off performance at Oslo’s Ultima Festival—in a former Nazi weapons store—found her in a fruitful partnership with composer Jon Øivind Ness. The amplified and electronically treated KORK orchestra provided an atmospheric foil to her scorching piano accompaniment and three-octave vocal stretch in a babel of languages. You don’t need a V-2 missile to blow the roof off.

3 Can, The Lost Tapes (Spoon) Cynics expected little more than floor sweepings from the Inner Space Studio, but this lovingly presented set of unheard tapes from Cologne’s Krautrock kaisers proved to be a bonanza of motorik rhythms, discombobulated free rock, and concentrated experimentation. Not a whimper, but a bang.

4 Cage Centenary Celebration (Royal Albert Hall, London, August 17) The past year proved to be a very Cagean one, with celebrations across the world marking his centennial and commemorating the twentieth anniversary of his death. More audiences than ever before got the chance to experience Cage’s utopian compositions and noncompositions. This tribute concert in London supplied an anarchic intervention in an otherwise mainstream classical festival. Event curator Ilan Volkov invited a host of players from the leading edge of experimental music and improvisation, from Keith Rowe, Takehisa Kosugi, and John Tilbury to Joan La Barbara and Christian Marclay, whose Baggage featured an orchestra playing their own instrument cases. The evening ended with amplified cacti and an eye-boggling light display.

5 Carter Tutti Void, Transverse (Mute) It was a busy year for Throbbing Gristle cofounder Cosey Fanni Tutti, who was the subject of an art book tribute (Cosey Complex, 2012) and seemed to pop up everywhere. Her sharp-edged techno music with partner Chris Carter attained new heights on this hypnotic, machine-tooled three-way collaboration with the sculptor and sound artist Nik Colk Void.

6 Radio 3, “Hear and Now Fifty” ( BBC Radio 3’s Hear and Now show came up with the excellent idea of a series with celebrated musicians and critics championing key works from the modern music canon. The podcast format makes for easy consumption (though it is also available in perpetuity online, in the UK) and is full of inspiring insights, including Tacita Dean on man of the year John Cage, David Toop on Toru Takemitsu, Nico Muhly on Philip Glass, and Mark Haddon on Elliott Carter.

7 Goran Kajfeš, X/Y (Headspin) Little-known outside his home country, this Croatian-born young Swedish trumpeter unveiled an invigorating double CD of loose-limbed, multiculti progressive jazz (picking up where the likes of Miles Davis, Don Cherry, and Jon Hassell left off) and steamy fourth-world ambience. This self-produced, self-released effort (in Sweden in 2010 and the UK in 2011), packaged in a hardcover book of photos, deservedly scooped the 2011 Nordic Music Prize (announced in February of this year).

8 Pierre Schaeffer, In Search of a Concrete Music (University of California Press; translated by John Dack & Christine North) A yawning gap in contemporary music discourse has been the inexplicable lack of an English translation of this key modernist text. Published in France in 1952, Schaeffer’s diaristic account of his singlehanded invention of musique concrète—music composed using tape, nonmusical sources, and manipulated and found sounds—is not only a scintillating account of a new practice unfolding, but also a foundational document of postwar music: brain food for sound artists and hip-hoppers alike.

9 Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras meet The Congos, Icon Give Thank (RVNG INTL) Two young American bucks on a psychedelic summer recess visited veteran Jamaican dub heroes the Congos at their studio compound. The residency produced an inspired kind of controlled delirium, with Cameron Stallones (aka Sun Araw) and Gengras rubbing spangly guitars and synth textures against the grain of the Jamaicans’ pattering, percussive mazes. Like the very best dub of ages, the deliciously stoned sonics masked a nub of righteousness.

10 Roy Harper (Royal Festival Hall, London, November 5, 2011) This seventieth birthday concert was one of the most emotional gigs I’ve ever witnessed. A surviving square peg in the English folk-rock world, Harper produced material that still possesses a visionary vitality and a counter- cultural undertow that resonated particularly with 2011’s anticapitalist swell. In addition to performing selections from a songbook stretching back almost half a century, he managed to drag both Joanna Newsom and Jimmy Page on stage for duets.

Rob Young is a contributing editor of The Wire magazine and the author of Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music (Faber and Faber, 2010). He edited No Regrets: Writings On Scott Walker (Orion Books, 2012) and is currently penning an occult history of British film and television.