Saturday, May 31, 2008

Shortz Shorts

Last July, killing time during a lengthy layover in the Newark airport, we made excellent use of a Borders gift certificate, buying a couple novels and a beefy book of New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles. To date, we've labored through 55 of these puzzles. Admittedly, there comes a point with some of them where we have to go to the answers in the back of the book to fill in a few gaps. One or two we felt compelled to give up on altogether. Most of the time, though, we see them through to completion.

We were filling in a couple this weekend and, as always, there were a few clues in each that stood out as especially clever. So if you're into it, you can have a go at those clues yourself. Sure, it's not quite the same, but maybe you'll enjoy them too. We'll give you all the info we had as we filled them in, for your puzzling pleasure. When you want to see the answers, highlight each answer box to reveal the "invisible" text. Have fun!

Put before Descartes


Head material, perhaps

Weeks per annum?

Jr.'s Jr.

Waterproof: England :: _____: U.S.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Recently Played: Model 500 - Deep Space

Continuing from my earlier discussion of Basic Channel, I now move on to the topic of Model 500. One the anointed Detroit originals, Atkins was a co-founder of the proto-techno Cybotron, whose recordings ("Clear," for example) arguably invented what we now call techno. Perhaps besting the classic Cybotron material, Atkins has recorded from the mid-80s up to the present under such names as Model 500 and Infiniti. His sound is one of several blueprints for the Detroit sound, taking jazz, soul, and funk sounds, and reconfiguring them for a Kraftwerk's “computer world.” Whether it's best experienced through his Infiniti project or his Model 500 project is, I suppose, mostly a question of taste, but certainly a great deal of his best work's come out under the Model 500 banner, most of it through Atkins' own Metroplex Records. In this music you'll find no shortage of squelching synths, aggressive beat patterns, hypnotic repetition, and twilight haze. Of course, Atkins isn't German, like Basic Channel, but in the early 90s he teamed up with Thomas Fehlmann and Moritz von Oswald (as discussed in the earlier post) in a group called 3MB. And in 1995, Atkins returned to Berlin and - with a little help from von Oswald, François Kevorkian, and Kevin Saunderson - recorded his long-play masterpiece, Deep Space. This record, along with a retrospective collection of Model 500's singles, Classics, were both issued by Belgium's R&S Records, but have been out of print for quite a long time now. Luckily, I picked up the singles collection way back when it was still pressed, but Deep Space has eluded me for something like a decade. Mere days after finding, purely by chance, the previously discussed Basic Channel mp3s, I learned that eMusic, Beatport, and perhaps a few other mp3 vendors have made these R&S Model 500 essentials available on mp3 for the first time. Along with these, they also now carry R&S releases from Derrick May, Aphex Twin, Ken Ishii, Joey Beltram, and others. And if that isn't satisfactory enough, CD reissues are scheduled to hit stores in early June.

So this has actually been my first opportunity to hear Deep Space, and it definitely lives up to the hype that haunted me all those years, conjuring that aforementioned twilight haze perhaps better than ever. Sure, Deep Space sounds very much like a record recorded in '95, but gloriously so. Check the future soul of “The Flow” to see what I mean. And, if you need something a little more “now,” there's the very Berlin-sounding “Starlight,” a late-night ride past quasars and supernovas that would ably complete for headphones single of the year, were it first released in any of the last four years. Here are those two tracks, plus a non-album bonus, since I'm such a nice guy.

Model 500 – Starlight (1995)
Model 500 – The Flow (2995)
Model 500 – Starlight (Moritz von Oswald Mix) (1995)

In the next post, my focus will be a little more local, covering Wolfgang Voigt's recordings as Gas.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cannes Film Festival Awards Announced

If you're into it, the awards have all been doled out for the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. French auteur Laurent Cantet's classroom docudrama Entre les murs took the Palm d'Or. Further announcements can be reviewed here. Un Certain Regard category winners can be reviewed here. Bellyaching about how Arnaud Desplechin didn't take home the award can be reviewed here. And trenchant claims that Kiyoshi Kurosawa so isn't drastically overrated can be found all over the stinking internet.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Recently Played: Basic Channel

Calling this spring a big season for fans of 90s German techno is a bit like saying that October is a big month for baseball fans, or that Will Shortz has done a lot for crossword puzzles, or that Max Brod was some help to Kafka scholars. Three crucial reissue events spanning the last couple months make this one the best times for this music since the days when it was brand new. It isn't a totally homogeneous batch of recordings, but if you're excited about one of them, you'll likely find the others interesting as well. Since I don't want to keep you from your Sally Shapiro remixes CD for too long, I'll break this up into three separate posts. For the first, let's talk about Basic Channel.

The reputation of Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald's Basic Channel project as the monolithic name in dub techno isn't something you'll often find in dispute. The fierce revival of that subgenre over the last couple years has had an incredible yield, both in quantity and quality, but it must be said that even the best of it seems to be in direct dialogue with Basic Channel or, at least, with Ernestus and von Oswald's equally great post-BC group Rhythm & Sound. Not to mention the fact that one of 2008's most lauded dubby electronic singles (and a personal favorite of mine) is a broad rework of Sebbo's sun-kissed, tribal “Watamu Beach,” by none other than von Oswald himself. Suffice it to say, the duo have cast a very long shadow.

For over a decade, the BC catalog has swayed in and out of print and, more daunting, has been obscured by the group's deliberately confusing naming schemes (“Cyrus”? “Phylyps”? “Quadrant”? “Basic Channel”? are these artist names? track titles? the name of a record label?). Still, if you knew what you were doing, it's never been too tough to find most of the group's recordings on vinyl, thanks to the duo's reverential devotion to the 12” format. Although an absolutely essential CD collection does exist (carrying the to-the-point title BCD), it's rather limited to a snapshot of but a few shades of the duo's broad palette, a palette that ranges from aggressive, dancefloor-mindful Detroit homages to blissed-out, looping narcotic drones – all of it finding an unlikely but perfect point of intersection for shimmering guitar (Manuel Göttsching's 1981 album, E2-E4, is a clear touchstone) and murky, pulsing, low-frequency percussion. BC purists, and of course the group themselves, have long held the vinyl-only 12” recordings as the genuine article, all but dismissing the edited-down music of the digital (eeeeewwwww!) CD as an indifferent concession to casual listeners. For those of us who sometimes find themselves in a galaxy far, far away from their sorely-missed turntables, this has been a situation of much frustration. Even overlooking the problem of the CD's tendency to shortened versions of the original tracks, BCD only covers something like a third of the group's catalog. In the mp3 marketplace, BCD has long been the only release legitimately available. Dubious character that I am, I'd spent the better part of a year scouring file-sharing communities for decent but hardly ideal rips from wax when, mercifully, BC abruptly and discreetly unleashed practically their whole catalog on high-quality mp3! 320kbps tracks can be had at reasonable prices from Beatport, Bleep and even Amazon, and iTunes also carries the tracks at somewhat lesser quality. It's been a full-on bonanza over here. And now that I'm typing this, I find an announcement that a 2nd CD collection, BCD2 is on the way. Even for the less devout listener, this is perfect opportunity to give a listen to this key catalyst in the evolution of today's dance music and, also, today's ambient music.

Below are two tracks for your listening pleasure, both in their original lengths. I picked two that are a little more on the blissed end of the spectrum, and less on the tense, sweaty side.

Lyot rmx (1993)
Radiance III (1994)

Notice that on "Radiance III," the pulsing bass dance beat doesn't even arrive until 8 minutes into the track! In a couple days I'll continue on with Model 500...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pfingstmontag in the Rheinsteig

If we are learning anything here in Germany, it is about Catholic holidays. Sunday was Pfingsten, or Pentacost, a church event that we were both familiar with. But little did we know that there also is Pfingstmontag, Pentacost Monday. A Catholic holiday in Cologne means a banking holiday, which translates into no shops, including grocery stores, are open. So we made the best of the beautiful weather (almost 80 degrees) and headed to the Rheinsteig for a hike. Similiar to our Rheinsteig adventures last summer, we didn't exactly travel on the path we had set out to do, but we did find our way out of the park and to the train station after 4 hours.
Next holiday, Corpus Christi, is in a few weeks. It however lands on a Thursday, which is always a bit odd to work around. The "Observed Holiday" (conveniently scheduled on a Monday or Friday) hasn't quite caught on.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Visit from Christina & Eric

The last of our wave of visitors (though the first to purchase airline tickets) were Christina and Eric. They arrived the day after Meg & Brett left, and spent a week and a half visiting us and touring Belgium.
The weather started to get warm the day they arrived; which made kölsch tasting that much more enjoyable. We did our best to steer them in the direction of the "best" kölsch, as they were by far the most beer enthusiastic of our guests. They came to same conclusion as we have, ranking Mühlen Kölsch at the top.
We were sad to miss the trip to Belgium with them, but had fun showing them around to all our favorite places in Köln. We enjoyed some great dinners and the good old American imports they brought over; after a year of no MTV or KUBE radio, we had to be informed of all the new awfully good music - and four months later we just can't get enough of Flo Rida's Get Low. More pictures (thanks to C&E) are here.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Visit from Meg & Brett

We've been slow on the posts, but that is because we have been busy showing off our city to lots and lots of visitors. The most recent wave began with Meg & Brett coming from Brooklyn for a week. Meg had lived in Köln for a while in high school, and impressed us all with her still fliessende deutsch sprechen. Chris could probably start giving tours of parts of Köln at this point, and took them to all our favorite places. But it was Meg & Brett that helped us find all sorts of new delicious restaurants around town. A wonderfully relaxing time was had by all, the days spaced out with good coffee and lots of delicious ice cream (aided by the fact that the weather was just starting to get nice). We even fit in a couple board games.
In the above picture, we're pairing some ridiculously expensive nectarines with a bottle of riesling that we'd bought during Aaron and Megan's visit. The below shot finds us breakfasting at Kaffeepause, a neighborhood cafe situated at the center of controversy at the beginning of M&B's visit, but which eventually became the preferred spot to begin the day.
On the right here is the aftermath of what must have been some kind of massive tic-tac-toe tournament, which we happened upon somewhere between Rathenauplatz and the Süd train station. By the time we'd arrived on the scene, both winners and losers had vacated the premises.

Following the visit to Köln, M&B spent a weekend in Berlin, which I can only imagine was very good times, but we missed them already.