Weekend listening: Space and the seasons

I’m back to posting weekend recommendations, but this time it’s for listening instead of reading. One nice benefit of Spotify and similar services is that you can go back and listen to all those albums you never got around to buying, or sample new music you don‘t yet want to buy—or, if you’re truly a child of the Internet, you may never buy at all but simply listen via audio streams or YouTube.1

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve been listening to lately; unless otherwise indicated album links are to Spotify, track links are to YouTube:

  • Blows Against the Empire (Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship). This is a relic of that just-past-the-60’s time when NASA was still landing men on the moon and techies and hippies alike thought we would soon be living in space colonies at the L5 points or (in the case of this concept album) would “hijack the starship” and flee both the solar system and the Man. The players include members of Jefferson Airplane (caught halfway between “White Rabbit” and “We Built This City”), the Grateful Dead, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and musically it’s about what you’d expect from that combination.
  • Einstein on the Beach (Philip Glass). Written half a decade later, this opera (really a combined dance/theater piece) is more revolutionary, at least in musical terms, than Jefferson Airplane/Starship ever were. (In fact, if you’re a teenager who wants to really annoy your parents with your musical tastes, skip the gangsta rap and play this for a while.) For the full experience check out YouTube for excerpts from live performances.
  • The Campfire Headphase (Boards of Canada) (not on Spotify). The influence of minimalist music like that of Glass and others spread throughout popular culture in the 1980s and beyond, in particular influencing electronic dance music (EDM) and so-called intelligent dance music (IDM). Boards of Canada is an interesting example of homage to 1970s minimalism: They favor the sound of that era’s analog synthesizers and even occasionally incorporate counting numbers into their tracks (see for example “Aquarius” on Music Has the Right to Children), echoing the opening of Einstein on the Beach. Continuing today’s theme, in an interesting footnote to Felix Baumgartner’s recent parachute jump from near space several people paid homage to the official video for “Dayvan Cowboy” (which features an earlier record-setting jump) by resetting the track to footage of Baumgartner.
  • The Hawk Is Howling (Mogwai). Minimalism of a sort came to rock in the form of “post-rock”. The basic recipe: keep the guitars and drum, ditch the vocals and the verse-chorus-verse song structure, stretch the song out to two or three times the normal length, and give it a nonsensical and/or pretentious title. Mogwai is one of the best-known post-rock bands, and this is a representative album; for a taste of the musical results performed live check out “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” or (continuing my chosen theme) “Thank You Space Expert”.
  • Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons (Max Richter). Taking a break from space, I conclude with Max Richter’s “remix” of one of the most over-played classical pieces of all time. The opening “Spring” tracks illustrate the method: Richter ditches the famous opening melody and focuses on just one of the phrases that occurs halfway through the original, repeating, modifying, and amplifying it.

1. Basic Spotify is free and ad-supported, while Spotify Unlimited for your PC costs $5 a month; I consider it one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. (Spotify Premium for your mobile device is even more fun, but I don’t recommend it unless you can tolerate the excessive cellular data charges you’re likely to run up.)