Brooklyn-based composer and filmmaker Elori Saxl named her 2021 LP after the phenomenon when mountains appear blue from afar (due to diminishing light particles). The Blue of Distance reflects on memory, the distortion of recollections and emotions across time and technology. Saxl wrote the record’s first half in the summer, surrounded by the lakes and rivers of the Adirondack mountains, and assembled its second half in the winter on a frozen Lake Superior island. To mimic the intrinsic frameworks of electronic music, she extracted the natural pulses of flowing water and wind, bending and pitching their movements in concert with various string and woodwind instruments and analog synthesizers. The music is vast, wondrous, and sensorial, some of the year’s finest.
Elori Saxl took our open-ended mix invitation as a chance to frame a study that leans further into this shared realm, where orchestral arrangements meet dance-minded sensibilities. Here she’s identified and fused a series of classical performances that elicit a similar response to her experience with club music. In her words:
“Fast interlocking woodwinds, vocals that sound chopped and screwed, slow beats that evoke 808 kicks and snares, spazzy strings, ping pong violin plucks, polyrhythmic octave strings, arpeggiator-like melodies, strings that ascend into huge key change drops, quarter note delayed vocals, slow syrupy beats, harmonics that sound like filter sweeps, and stuttering syncopated late night grooves–these pieces just have that club feel.”
Marcos Balter – Bladed Stance – yMusic
David Lang – Just (After Song of Songs) – Trio Mediæval, Agnès Vesterman, Garth Knox & Sylvain Lemêtre
John Adams – Road Movies: I. Relaxed Groove – John Novacek & Leila Josefowicz
Maurice Ravel – String Quartet in F Major (1903): II. Assez vif. Très rythmé (Club Edit) – Emerson String Quartet
Jessie Montgomery – Break Away: III. Smoke – PUBLIQuartet
David Lang – Light Moving – Hilary Hahn & Cory Smythe
Donnacha Dennehy – Pushpulling – Jasper String Quartet
Caroline Shaw – Its Motion Keeps – Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Caroline Shaw & Dianne Berkun Menaker
Nico Muhly – Etude No. 3: Etude 3 – Paul Evans, Valgeir Sigurðsson, James McVinnie & Nadia Sirota
Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – Won’t Be a Thing to Become
big dog little dog – Panorama
Caleb Burhans – Contritus – JACK Quartet
Episode eighty is dedicated to the late Eric Littmann. A dear friend and a dreamer, Eric’s unbound enthusiasm and prolific nature impacted the music community in ways we’re still processing; reading all the tributes is proof his gifts were vast and understated, wrapped in modesty and a truly singular sense of humor. Ten years ago I met Eric through a mixtape and from there we’d put together backyard and basement shows (he performed and often doubled as a very kind sound person). In 2016, following one of his night walks around Manhattan, he signed off our thread with “it’s ok to be underground, forever even.” That’s the message Eric kept at the heart of Phantom Posse and his various aliases (heard in E80 as Steve Sobs and Eric Reuss). His work as a collaborator, co-producer, and engineer (including albums with Emily Yacina, Foxes in Fiction, GABI, Julie Byrne, Nadine’s Nadia Hulett, Tasha, Vagabon, and Yohuna) speaks to the trust others had for his instincts — his ability to encourage, lift up, and surface the best out of us — and also casts an immense what-if for what was still to come. In recent weeks, friends have collected Eric’s far-reaching output at this Tumblr, playlist, and Bandcamp.
This set also spans the temporal impressions of LA-based electro-acoustic composer Celia Hollander, the ‘heaven metal’ of Denver’s Madeline Johnston aka Midwife (who once took over E58), a ‘small outer space’ envisioned by Japanese ambient folk artist Satomimagae, Nighttime’s ode to longer, sunnier days in upstate New York, and much more.
(Bowie and a bunch of the rocks)
Eric Reuss – meeting in a dream in the mall food court
Joseph Shabason – Gymnopedie No. 1
Elori Saxl – The Blue Of Distance
Weekend – Nostalgia
Celia Hollander – 5:59 PM
Steve Sobs – Empty Streets
Perila – Fallin Into Space
Green-House – Soft Coral
Lucy Gooch – It Brings Me Back To You
Cheval Sombre – It’s Not Time
Midwife – Enemy
Nailah Hunter – Bassin Bleu
Yu Su – Dusty
Dougie Stu – Free Their Ghosts
Lucinda Chua – Until I Fall
Rachika Nayar – No Future
L’Rain – Take Two
Satomimagae – Kouji
Phantom Posse – [RISE4 outta here]
Nighttime – Toward the Light
Between classroom Zooms and ambient music memes, Matthew Sage has cultivated multiple solo and collaborative projects since his last dispatch with us. First to surface was cached, an intermedia platform based in Chicago, home to limited-edition sound/print/art objects and semi-regular performance streams — guests so far include Dustin Wong, Forest Management, Lee Noble, and Claire Rousay.
Next came the quartet comprised of Chris Jusell (violin), Chaz Prymek (guitars, field recordings, voice), Patrick Shiroishi (alto saxophone, clarinet, flute, glockenspiel, samples, whistling, voice), and Sage (keyboards, percussion, voice, field recording). Their remote, cross-continental sessions led to Fuubutsushi (風物詩), a collection of hospitable, autumnal ambient jazz songs released last September to an unexpected swell of support. They followed it up earlier this month with Setsubun (節分), a crisp air offering “fresh with possibilities” as they put it, hinting at future editions for spring and summer.
During all this Sage dusted off an older alias, Free Dust, once a depository for daily recordings, now reinvigorated with new material. Released in January on Past Inside the Present, Woo’d Early follows the same constraints of those initial rituals — electric guitar and a few pedals — enacted as gentle morning reflections.
With more slated, Sage pauses for an aqueous turntable set, his seventh of the seventy-nine episodes. He sets it up:
“Just over a year ago I made a mix for S&S called ‘Fireside Reverie’ that was meant to transport listeners out of their stuffy 5k fireside winterized dens, then in the throes of what was an especially cold and sunless spell in midwinter of 2020, into a wooded fairytale dreamland. Escapism was the modus operandi, with the idea that interesting speaker sounds could transport folks out of their cabin fever and into the worlds they missed due to inhospitable weather. Now, looking back, that mix was eerily premature before for a too-long spell spent mostly indoors, mostly isolated, mostly needing escapism. Pre-covid …
In honor of the all-too-marooned sensibilities that we are beyond familiar with now, I am glad to present what may be a sequel to last year’s mix. This one is called ‘Lost at Sea.’ Here is over an hour of ambient washes, jazz dub freak outs, electronic splashes, and high tide lullabies. I am persistently obsessed with Tomita’s Bermuda Triangle and couldn’t help but put another one from that album on here. Also included is a track from the recently deceased Harold Budd. I am very thankful for Budd’s work and his impression on ambient music is indelible.
I think, if there is a message in this bottle as it washes onto your shore, it is that being marooned affords an opportunity to be yourself in a way that being “in the world” does not. This isn’t a ‘self-centered’ idea, but instead more a ‘being centered inside yourself.’ We, of course, need friends, communities, cultures… but I am begrudgingly grateful for this year I have gotten to spend becoming more familiar with myself than I would normally be.”
Released just as the leaves started to turn, Spencer Zahn’s Sunday Painter record has become a reliably bright drifter for a long winter. Gentle, captivating, the collaborative work seeps and sprawls in the kindest of ways, suggesting a certain level of listening leisure; early mornings before the day catches up, that afternoon glow that hits different on a weekend. Zahn is an accomplished artist — a professional touring musician and multi-instrumentalist session player (on the upright bass here) — whose warmth, modesty, and communal spirit facilitates these intuition-driven sessions with friends: Spencer Ludwig (trumpet), Mauro Refosco (percussion), Kenny Wollesen (drums), Andy Highmore (piano/Rhodes/organ), Jacob Bergson (piano/Rhodes), Mike McGarril (soprano saxophone), and Dave Harrington (guitar/electronics). The set feels alive, brimming with a mix of jazzy interplay, ambient softness, and an understated neo-classical command.
Knowing Spencer as the tasteful world-builder that he is, we tapped him for a takeover. His episode links the likes of Chet Baker, Kate Bush, The Durutti Column, and Yasuaki Shimizu’s cult-favorite Mariah group under the study of spatial recording dynamics (with the title nodding to Sun Ra). He explains:
“I have always been fascinated with the way that people record their music. How each song becomes a unique documentation of the artist, their musicality, and the space in which they record. When I was growing up, things like reverb and hearing a room in a recording amazed me; it still does. From the opening track by Hiroshi Yoshimura who creates air around each synthesized note to the live club atmosphere of the Ahmad Jamal Trio playing in a lounge in 1958 while microphones simultaneously record the band and audience casually having a night out, each song on this playlist has an immediate feeling of space.”