Ringo 036: Recommendation Engine
or, advancing the revolution
Ahoy! Your pal Michael here, delivering a quick episode of Ringo Dreams of Lawn Care, an interim broadside perhaps, as I prepare for this newsletter's relaunch on a self-hosted platform. The party just won't stop.
This weekend I'm offering recommendations, mainly of the musical kind. But first, in lieu of some meaty essay taking up space in this email, I'd like to enthusiastically point you to a pair of instructional and inspirational reads. These two pieces are interconnected and fall in line with the pseudo-philosophy that I've unhelpfully named 'The Punk Rock Dream.'
Bas Grasmayer, who publishes the excellent music industry commentary newsletter MUSIC x, wrote one of the better instruction manuals for ridding oneself from the clutches of Facebook, Inc. "Start deplatforming yourself," Bas says. "Build value elsewhere. Free yourself and others."
The article details the steps to take for gradually leaving the online panopticon of Facebook, Inc. Bas addresses why one should do this and the common excuses not to — such as "all of my friends are there," or "I need it for work." Even if you've never considered cutting the Facebook cord, I still think you'll get something out of Bas's article. Please read it here.
Starting a blog is a powerful form of resistance against the mighty corporations dominating and shaping the modern internet. Posting in your space, a space that you own and maintain, rather than some company's data-sucking profit machine shows solidarity with the original spirit of the free internet. Blogs are also fun, lest you think I'm solely into this to advance some egalitarian digital revolution.
Marc Weidenbaum plays up to the 'fun' aspect alongside many other good reasons to blog in a recent Twitter-stream-turned-blog-post. Marc's written about blogging before, and he makes a convincing argument — in case you need convincing. It's a fantastic piece. Here's my favorite paragraph:
I'm reading Kay Larson's superb biography of John Cage. There are many Buddhist stories in it, most of which come down to doing the same thing forever with no response and then suddenly all is well. That is blogging.
That's perfect. Read Marc's whole piece on blogging here. Marc's an engaging writer, so you'll enjoy his short article even if you don't think you could ever start a blog.
(And here's some more advice on starting a blog from yours truly, written a couple of years ago.)
If Marc and I have piqued your interest and you're thinking of blogging, then I'll tell you what — reach out any time, and I'll help out however I can. I'm happy to give guidance on getting started, platform options, what to write about, and so on. Just drop me a line with your blogging questions, and I'll reply with advice and encouragement.
One quick piece of advice if things like WordPress and getting set up seem daunting: give micro.blog a spin. It's a great place to start, you'll get a simple hosted blog site for $5/month (you can use your own URL, too), and the community there is wonderful. And I'm a part of that community. (I get nothing for plugging micro.blog. I just think it's a worthy — and fiercely independent — project.)
OK! On my blog, I started a series called 3+1. The idea is this: I send interesting people a slew of questions, and they pick three to answer. And then, for the '+1,' they tell me about something they love that more people should know about.
As this is a newsletter episode with recommendations, I'll give you the +1s from my last two participants (you should also click on the links on their names to read their full 3+1 sessions):
Russel Hensley (Airships on the Water):
On a recent music deep dive on YouTube, I came across a song called “Light” by a group/project called FEM. As far as I can tell, FEM is the side project of the singer/multi-instrumentalist Cuushe, who makes catchy electronic dream-pop type songs. FEM has more of a full band sound, combining her vocals with guitars, bass, keys, and jazzy drums. So far, I’ve only found that one track by them, so I’m not sure if it was just a one-off thing or there are plans for more. It’s a beautiful song with a fascinating mix of sounds, so I’m hoping they keep it going. Maybe if more people check out “Light” by FEM, they’ll be motivated to release some more music!
James A. Reeves:
Two answers came to mind at the same time, and they’re connected. The first is the music of Bohren and Der Club of Gore. Their music is essential to my writing life. Particularly Midnight Radio, which is slow-motion doom jazz with a light-night neon aesthetic that points to the second thing: staying up late with the radio when I was a teenager in metro Detroit, listening to the Electrifying Mojo at the top of the dial. This was the early 1990s, after Mojo had been on the air for ages, quietly influencing the shape of music by playing everything from Funkadelic to Kraftwerk to Devo to Model 500 to some thirty-minute version of “Planet Rock” or “Flashlight” that only he seemed to have. Some say he laid the foundation for techno. The man lived as a myth, a ghost in the ether who would tell everyone listening to flash their headlights, and I remember driving down Woodward Avenue flashing my lights while passing cars did the same. It was beautiful, all these strangers drawn together by a voice in the dark.
Now here are three things I love that you should know about:
Rachika Nayar – Our Hands Against The Dusk → I’ve been delightfully obsessed with Rachika Nayar‘s debut album over the past couple of weeks. The Brooklyn-based artist (in both visuals and sound) has accomplished some heavy-lifting with Our Hands Against The Dusk — the album is unabashedly experimental and uncompromising but somehow remains accessible and, yes, beautiful. Guitar is the main instrument throughout, but it’s looped, processed, and sometimes ‘glitched’ into unfamiliarity. The opening track, “The Trembling of Glass,” is an introductory window to Nayar’s technique, with layers of texture and manipulation swept away in the last half to reveal a bare acoustic motif. It hooked me in straight away.
Interviewed in Magnetic, Nayar explains her method:
I see one aspect of my process on this album as tearing up an instrumental sample into a million pieces and then putting those fragments through cycles of recombination … these processes feel to me like exploring a single idea through multiple and multiplying perspectives — seeing one thing in all its different realities and selves.
When one listens closely, there are many opportunities to identify what Nayar is up to, but her execution is nuanced and organic, despite the music’s inherent digitalness. One hears these ‘million pieces’ as a whole, as guitars ring with hopeful tones on “New Strands” and pianos and cellos combine and intertwine on “No Future.” The effect is mesmerizing — dancing somewhere between music that’s ambient, experimental, and influenced by modern classical — but, most of all, it’s affecting. The emotion that went into creating this album is anything but disguised.
Moderator – Midnight Madness → Electronic music producers from Greece have a fondness for jazzy beat constructions. A few prominent small labels are carrying the torch, such as the long-lasting Timewarp outfit. Then there’s Melting Records, an Athens-based imprint specializing in instrumental hip-hop and trip-hop reminiscence. But Melting’s discography has recently branched the label’s sound into uncanny territories. Melting Records releases are still sample-heavy, crate-dug assemblages accompanied by rhythms that err on the phat side. But the sources have gotten more global, drawn from a world of foreign locales, and snatched from genres and eras that extend beyond the usual jazz/funk spectrum.
Case in point: Midnight Madness, the latest album from Greek DJ and producer Moderator. As noted in the release’s promo text — which, full disclosure, the label hired me to write — Midnight Madness has a midnight movie feel, like we’re witnessing something sordid and exotic from the safe distance of a cinema’s chair. The consistent Morricone-meets-RZA vibe amplifies the grainy film quality of the album’s 14 tracks, helped along by crackly spoken snippets captured from who-knows-where. It’s hard to know what is sampled and what originates from Moderator himself — the vocals are obviously ripped from parts unknown, but there are also lovely instrument textures throughout, threading the tunes together.
“Walking Slow” summarizes the album’s modus operandi — spaghetti whistles, Agent Cooper on guitars and saxophone, forlorn vocals, and those beats those beats those beats. Some songs have speedier moments verging on big beat (remember that?), but Moderator is best when the pace is leisurely, and the layers are thick and dreamy. “Crystal Gaze” and “Once Upon a Time” are fine examples of this, two songs that lope like a sleepwalking b-boy unable to escape slumberland.
Michael Bratt - The Darkroom → Michael Bratt, a D.C.-based composer and conductor, sent his new album __The Darkroom__, a set containing one solo song and four collaborations. It’s “a collection of ambient electroacoustic works,” he tells me. “Many of the tracks are extremely personal in nature, and some of these collaborations have been three or four years in development.” The solo track opening The Darkroom, “Visions,” planted the seed for the project six years ago.
This patience is refreshing in an age when we’re told to release nonstop music. It also results in an attention to detail, as heard throughout The Darkroom. Take the title cut as an example, where strings and flutes play off each other elegantly while a more abrasive electronic section sneakily rises from silence to dominance. Or the plucked piano notes of “As the Earth Grew Still,” spaced together with implied distance before gradually coalescing in harmonic layers. In other words, nothing here sounds hashed out.
Based on the weight of talent and intellect on The Darkroom, you might expect an album that’s heavy and impenetrable. But it’s a soulful listen, very human and reflective, with many moments that are gently disarming. “You Belong Here” comes to mind, with processed guitars and subtly droning electronics conveying a comfortable loneliness.
The approach is academic — a lot of thought goes into his music, as you’ll discover if you check out Michael's song notes on my blog — but doesn’t ignore the visceral pleasure of this beautiful, meaningful recording.
I didn’t think I’d get one of these out this week but here we are. It will be at least a couple of weeks until you hear from me again — lots going on here in Ringo-land. And, if all goes well, my next intrusion will be the announcement that the newsletter is re-launched, emailed to you directly from 8sided.blog rather than the ‘Stack. Hang on to your hats.
Thanks once again for reading. I appreciate it and I appreciate you. See you again soon! 🚀
P.S. — Last episode I mentioned the duck box and the potential for ducklings. Well …
btw — I'm Michael Donaldson and you can read more about who I am and what I do here.
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