The Orb – Montagne D’Or
To be honest I’ve never seen the appeal of live music. As someone who doesn’t go to concerts all they mean to me is degraded sound quality. There are some instances in certain mixes I own where the crowd sound is allowed to bleed through and you hear hundreds of people going crazy as the DJ drops a bomb on the dance floor. I suppose that’s pretty cool.I heard The Orb perform this song live at the only concert I’ve ever attended. It was a hectic affair, full of hippies passing around an inflatable dolls like beach balls bobbing in a sea of fans. This was shortly before The Orb released their album Orbus Terarrum; from outside I’d heard their sound check (which in my time-addled memory sounded a lot like out-takes from The KLF’s Chill Out) and seen a stall selling Orbus Terrarumt-shirts and posters in the foyer, and even before I’d entered Exeter University’s auditorium I was excited I’d get to hear their new material.Part of the way through the set they played Montagne D’Or, and though I’d started dancing earlier in the gig – to date, the only time I’ve ever danced in public – at this point I shuffled to a stop. They had a drummer live on stage, only his drums were hooked up to a sampler or synthesizer, and when he hit the snare it sparked in an iron foundry groove: a hammer hitting white-hot metal. The whole place throbbed to the beat and the attendees – many who’d never heard the track before – stood still around me staring in amazement.Sadly this YouTube version doesn’t do the song justice, but I’ll you now: I didn’t get my hearing back for an hour, but for many years this was my favourite song.Day 12: A Favorite Cover Song
SchneiderTM + Kptmichigan – The Light 3000
Apparently this has a proud history of being a very bad song to put on a mixtape for your beloved. With lyrics concerning running into a double-decker bus with your girl by your side – “such a beautiful way to die” – it’s easy to see why it’s best not to give it to someone you’re trying to impress. Still, there must be some girls who’d like all this death and depression, although I can’t help thinking talking about dying by someone’s side as if it’s a privilege is the kind of thing best kept to Napoleonic war stories.While I’ve never heard the original, I’m a big fan of this cover which coats idiot miseryguts Morrissey with a subtle IDM sparkle. If ever there was an gateway track to bring someone from more traditional songs into the world of bleeps and clicks this is probably it.
Actually there aren’t any songs I wish a band would cover. Most covers are rather ridiculous, being unnecessary revamps of classics that are sullied in the process.
Instead, I present La Serenissima, a song I’d always been fan of, of which I’d always wished more remixes existed. Rondo Veneziano’s original is a classic; this fantastic mix I first heard on Luke Fair’s Bedrock: Original Series CD, and was to all intents and purposes the remix I’d always wanted. There have been a few remixes released since then but none of them have quite captured the melancholic feel of the original and brought it bang up to date in the same way this one does.
Blue Room, the song that was once the Guinness world record holder for ‘longest single to chart in the UK top 40’.
This was my introduction to ambient music. It was summer; I was on holiday and I bought a Now That’s What I Call Music! double cassette compilation. I listened to it for the first time at night; I’d already listened to the dance tracks I’d bought it for, and as I stuck on the B side I entered into unfamiliar territory. As the side came to a close Blue Room came on and instantly made every other track on the album sound desperately backward.
It’s a masterpiece of production: a sonic space inhabited by zipping UFOs, disembodied voices, dub basslines and an insistent beat that propels the listener out beyond the solar system’s confines. Radio signals flutter in the darkness like moths; at the time this was the definitive ambient trip, a collage of samples and synths that sounded like a soundtrack ripped from science fiction.
As with many other ambient house tunes from the same era it doesn’t sound like its been made: it’s not something you could play on a piano, neither is it so simply repetitive it sounds like loops layered over one another and nothing more. Elements drowse in and out; the whole thing fades like a dream on waking, then starts dreaming again. The record-breaking full forty minute mix of this was another of my favourite tracks from my youth; I’d lay in the dark and listen to it, and as it whispered and sighed I was transported from mundane reality to a dimension more magical tinted silver and black and deep, starry-eyed blue.
Holiday? I assume I’m supposed to put a Christmas song here but being British – pip pip – I’m going with a song from my summer holidays instead – suck it, America.
As soon as I hit my teens and started listening to music seriously, as I suspect everyone else did I took albums with me on family holidays. I’d listen to them at night on my Walkman, during the day, whenever I could for as long as I could, until the batteries failed. I was desperately worried the cassettes would be chewed by the car stereo so I kept them with me, headphones clamped tight, volume turned high.
When I went to Spain I risked using the tape player in the villa and ended up listening to The Shamen’s album En-Tact more times than I care to remember. Hyperreal was my favourite track: it’s the usual Shamen blend of cynicism and new age codswallop but I listened to it over and over, flipping the tape and playing it ad nauseum.
Of all the music I’ve liked back then I’m sad to say The Shamen’s songs haven’t stood the test of time. Though some of their bigger hits are still quite listenable – many of these were remixes produced by the Beatmasters – most of their songs are pared down and under-produced, reflecting The Shamen’s origins as an indie band. Listening to Boss Drum recently – another holiday mainstay – was a painful experience. Some wags would say The Shamen were never any good; I believe the way their sound had dates is more down to the way they straddled baggie indie and dance cultures, two movements that fought to move away from each other and swiftly evolved into newer, more exciting configurations. As the Shamen’s music embraced both genres so they were torn apart by the genre shift.
Everyone knows The Neverending Story’s theme tune, but Happy Flight is the motif that makes the soundtrack – and the film – such a joyous, uplifting experience. It’s inclusion at the end of the cue ‘Ivory Tower’ is my favourite moment in the score – the way this sombre track moves through choral wonder up and into a slow, majestic version of Happy Flight is glorious – but it’s best represented in Bastion’s Happy Flight, the cue that scores the film’s final scenes. It’s a soaring, flurrying, triumphant flight through the string section that somehow manages to push minor keys through their typical sadness and into pure joy. It’s a wonderful melange of classical strings and disco that never fails to raise a smile.
“Bright eyes, burning like fire. Bright eyes, how can you close and fail? How can the light that burned so brightly suddenly burn so pale?”
After all these years it still gets to me. It’s the song I learned to play on the keyboard many moons ago; even then it took all my composure to stop the lump in my throat from bobbing up and sobbing all over the music shop.
It’s a song about rabbits. It’s a song about death. And that was all I knew about the song back then and all I knew about Watership Down: rabbits on roads, transfixed by headlamps, suddenly ceasing. That was quite enough to send me blubbering for a handkerchief every time I heard it.
Today – horribly – it’s still as accurate a description of death as I think anyone’s ever given. Think about the eyes of those you love, and the light flickering behind them. Think of how fragile that light is and how one day it will fade.
Yeah. There you are. Now you’re blubbing away, just like me.
Day 18: A Song That Gives You The Creeps
Coph Nia – Doppelganger
I used to be a big fan of MP3.com, back in the day. ‘The Day’ was about ten years ago, at the end of a long period in which I’d become disillusioned with music, and at a time before MP3 sales had taken off, when the likes of Napster and Audiogalaxy were ruled the digital planet.
MP3.com allowed anyone to upload and sell music they’d made themselves, and most acts had copious free material available for leeches like myself to download. And – although it took ten minutes to download one minute of music – I downloaded a crap-load.
This song was constantly near the top of MP3.com’s. Dark/Isolationist Ambient chart. It’s a nightmarish track, funereal and frightening – and not something you want to listen to after dark. Just when you think it can’t get any more moribund it reaches its apex with screams sampled from the finale of Twin Peaks. I think I found it October through a list of seasonal songs; if you ask me, Doppelganger is far too scary for Hallowe’en.
Day 19: A Song That Reminds You Of Someone
Muse – Starlight
Music collections are funny things. When we find a partner in this life – as I hope we all have or will – we’re supposed to merge our collections together into some wobbly hybrid.
I’m not a Muse fan. If it hadn’t been for my wife and her music collection I probably never would have heard this song. Which wouldn’t have been such a great loss, except now when I listen to it I think of her – and that’s something I don’t ever want to stop doing.
The irony is, Muse come from Devon – from Teignmouth, just up the road. It took a girl from three-and-a-half thousand miles away to play me a song I probably would have heard the band practicing if I’d just cracked open my windows.
Day 20: A Song That Reminds You Of Somewhere
Jeremy Soule – Wings of Kynareth
Damn it, this is where I should have put that Shamen track!
I’m not the most well-travelled person in the world, so why don’t I just use a beautiful piece of music that reminds me of a place that doesn’t actually exist?
You can’t deny me that. Mainly because I’m not listening to anything you say, because I’m on the other side of this computer connection and can’t hear anything you say.
Wings of Kynareth is, for me, the defining track from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion score. It’s so melancholy, so hopeful; it speaks of a world reduced to ruins that’s been built upon by generation after generation. It speaks of secret glades where magic still dwells; it’s the music that always made me stop when climbing a hill or treading a path to take stock of my surroundings. In every weather, at every hour of the day it has new purpose. It’s a reminder of an electrical storm’s power; it’s equally appropriate during the final rays of the day’s dying sun, with the moon overhead and at fresh, new dawn.
Video games are notoriously difficult to score. Unlike films and TV shows there’s often no set script or action to accentuate, and so game music is often amorphous, attuned to no particular situation. Wings of Kynareth feels attuned to all situations. The place it reminds me of might not exist, but this is travelling music at its absolute best.