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None may ride the stallion.

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What’s the line from the Nineties college-rock song? Something about a little souvenir / of a terrible year“?

I’ve spent most of the past year living by myself in an apartment following a job change. It hasn’t all been terrible, but it hasn’t been the best year I’ve ever had, either.

Early on I decided to try to make “music” (“music” always being a flexible term in my hands) while living in what my younger son alternately called the Dad Cave and the Sad Dad Pad.

It seemed like one way to keep sane (that’s also kind of a flexible word around me) and challenge myself in my free hours.

Guitars would have been too loud for an apartment, and never mind the diddley bow. The best tool I could identify for this pursuit was the old Casio CA-100 keyboard that once belonged to my grandfather — one of those Eighties jobbies with 99 different pre-programmed beats.

I resolved to play around with the beats. Speed them up, slow them down, soak them in reverb, layer them atop one another, play them backward, cut them, paste them, abuse them, call them mother, call them beloved, call them Abraxas.

And that’s what you’ll hear (with occasional vocal outbursts) on the latest Kurt Blumenau release, Canis Susurrus Resurrection, available as a free Bandcamp download as of about 10 minutes ago.

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Cover art. As for the name: Canis means dog, susurrus is a whispering or rustling, so Canis Susurrus Resurrection must mean a return to dog-rustling. Seemed to sum things up pretty well.

I don’t really like this one very much. But having made the music, I felt obliged to do something with it. I knew I didn’t have to make it public, but there seemed no real harm in it. No one is required to pay or listen.

And making something just to file and forget it felt like writing off the almost-year of the apartment — as if to say, “Yeah, that period wasn’t great, and even somebody of your low musical standards couldn’t get anything worth releasing out of it.”

So, out it goes.

In the past I’ve offered some sort of prize to anyone who sent me a snapshot of a digital device playing one of the songs from my new “record.” I’m gonna skip that this time around, ’cause you’ll probably want to sit this one out. Maybe the next one will be more rewarding.

The bright side is I’ve escaped the apartment, and in the near future, I’ll be reunited with my family. I’m wicked looking forward to that.

I might have to get out the diddley bow to celebrate…

St. Marmalade’s preview.

Every time I post something new on my Bandcamp page, I mention it here, so I guess I’ll keep the tradition going.

As of maybe a half-hour ago, my latest “release,” To St. Marmalade in Heaven, has been unleashed on an indifferent public.

This one brings me back to the realm of what I would call musique concrete if I were really serious about it. I’m not, so I’ll just call it atonal screwing around.

Lest that seem unduly dismissive, I will say once again that I enjoy the things I post on Bandcamp; I occasionally listen to them for pleasure; and the only reason I don’t listen to them more often is that the world is full of other stuff I haven’t heard yet.

Still, I can’t honestly say it’s going to appeal to a lot of other people. There’s some noisy diddley bow stuff, and some weird heavily processed sound, and some looping-and-layering experiments of the kind that other people did more interestingly years ago.

I guess I keep chucking this stuff out there (a) to scratch an itch; (b) to get it out of my head; and (c) in case there’s somebody else out there who might enjoy it. I haven’t encountered too many people from category (c) yet. But, the night is young.

New musical possibilities are already looming for 2019. I’ll be sure to let you know as they develop further.

For now, feel free to introduce yourself to the world of St. Marmalade. Miracles are not guaranteed but always possible.

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A flat fifth.

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Brace yourself for the least interesting ends-in-zero-or-five anniversary post you’ll read this year … or at least until September, when Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert reaches the big four-five.

The Great Kurt Blumenau Musical Experiment has reached its fifth birthday, and I think that calls for a formal accounting and report to the public.

Five years ago I reserved a Bandcamp page, as a means to put out the “solo album” I’d a1174372079_16long joked and daydreamed about but never acted on. There were noises in my head, and I wanted to get them out.

(The album — more of an EP — followed about two weeks later; that’s the cover at right. If you’re new here and missed the full explanation the first time around, it may be worth reading.)

We’re now up to nine releases, and more will be coming. They tend to alternate between unlistenable noise and equally unlistenable conventional songs. The former is supposed to come next, but I might mix things up. We’ll see.

Anyway, I decided to lift the hood and give the world a five-year progress report on My Life as a Basement Rock Star.

How many hits does one get when one tries something like this? How many plays? How many downloads? Any response at all?

Well, if you do it like I do it, things go like this:

Plays: The songs of Kurt Blumenau have been played 1,047 times in five years. That’s about one play every other day, or about four per week. Of course, they’re not evenly spaced; the plays tend to be tightly clustered around release dates, with periods of silence in the middle.

About 23 percent of the plays were “complete” plays (at least 90 percent of the song played) while another 23 percent were “skips,” or stopped before the 10 percent mark.

The remaining 50-odd percent were stopped somewhere between 10 and 90 percent, which is a pretty broad range — imagine the difference between listening to 10 percent of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and listening to 90 percent of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” But, there you go.

Page visits: Officially I have 3,205 site visits in five years — about one-and-three-quarters per day, or a little more than 12 per week.

The difference between the number of visits and the number of plays makes me think most of my “visits” come from bots. If a real person bothered to find my page, one would imagine they’d play at least one song while there. But, many are the stretches of time when I get page visits without plays.

Sales and downloads: A little back-of-the-envelope math suggests that I’ve moved as many copies in five years as Taylor Swift moves in 20 seconds.

The grand total thus far: 34 downloads, in 19 of which money changed hands. (I’ve made almost all my recordings available for free, on the grounds that that’s really what they’re worth. Bandcamp says you move more if you charge people for them, but I can’t bring myself.)

My dad, my brother and the old friend/drummer who sometimes works with me account for the largest percentage of the downloads and sales.

There are still at least a couple downloads I’ve never been able to account for, which is MidnightLoneliness4probably the coolest part of the whole endeavor — the knowledge that there’s someone a step or two removed from me, or maybe even a total stranger, who decided they wanted a copy of Night Train to Sideways or The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower.

(The “commercial” high point of the whole trip came a couple of releases ago, when some guy in Britain with an Internet radio show devoted to experimental music came across one of my recordings and included a song in his show. It didn’t bring people flocking, but it was cool enough.)

My inability to get my crap into people’s hands on a permanent basis does not especially bother me, as I like it on the down-low.

I don’t promote my music very actively; I acknowledge it’s not very good; and I know there’s a wide gap between “hmm, I’ll go check this out” and “I must possess my own copy of this.”

And maybe, like Duke Ellington, fate doesn’t want me to be too famous too young.

The greatest hits: So, which albums and songs have been favored with the most public attention? (We all know the biggest hits aren’t always the best ones, of course.)

Among the albums, Hope’s Treat – the official soundtrack of my other blog – leads with eight downloads, followed by the diddley-bow showcases Night Train to Sideways and In The City of Churches and Cannons with six apiece. I really ought to get back to the diddley bow sometime.

The least popular, meanwhile, is We Have Succeeded in Nothing Anywhere, whose combination of theremin solos with the speeches of Gerald Ford drew exactly one download. (My dad, bless him, will download anything I put out.)

In terms of purchases, the particularly difficult-to-love Films About Airplanes is the current clubhouse leader: It’s one of three releases that’s been bought three times, and the $32 it’s brought in is more than any other release. I am powerless to explain this.

Among the individual songs, the most-played tunes tend to be the featured songs for each album — the songs that are cued up to play when you go to each album’s home page. (These are not necessarily the first song from the album – you can set any track as the featured song.)

The current Kurt Blumenau Top Five at Five is as follows:

  1. “Part I: Fingers Grow Back,” the featured track from Things We Burned, 69 plays.
  2. “Art Thief,” the lead track from Summer Games, 52 plays.
  3. La Valse du Auto-Stoppeur (The Hitchhiker’s Waltz),” featured track from The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower, 48 plays.
  4. “April 23, 1975: New Orleans,” the featured track from We Have Succeeded in Nothing Anywhere, 48 plays.
  5. “Search for the Tropical Puddingbeak,” the lead track from Night Train to Sideways, 46 plays.

My favorite: Of the nine releases so far, which do I like the best?

It’s a tough choice, but thingsweburned1if I had to listen to one, it would probably be Things We Burned, a chopped-and-sliced fever dream based on a locally pressed high school concert band album from the Seventies. My dad, without nudge or provocation, said parts of it reminded him of Charles Ives; I’ve rarely been so thrilled in my life.

That said, I happen to like all of them; there’s nothing I’ve put out that I wouldn’t listen to for my own pleasure. When (if) I get to that point, it’s probably time to stop.

For better or worse, I’m not there yet.

 

 

 

 

 

Killer Queen.

For all those people yearning to hear me sing again … all those people who think there just aren’t enough albums on Bandcamp … and all those people longing to hear John “T-Bone” Shelby immortalized in song:

Your moment has come.

OntarioDarkLakeWText

Today marks the release of Ontario Queen of the Lakes, the latest Kurt Blumenau Bandcamp album.

It’s a collection of 14 songs, some songier than others, more or less inspired by the Rochester, N.Y., I grew up in. (Some of it may leave you wondering if, indeed, I grew up at all.)

Mark Knapp, the drummer from my high school garage band Fried Pig (you’ve read about him at least once here), lends his presence to a bunch of the songs. It’s not quite Planet Waves, as reunions go, but I’m happy it happened anyway, and I hope to do more with him.

For now we’ll content ourselves with this: Ontario Queen of the Lakes, featuring pick hits such as “In Canada They Do Remark’ble Things,” “Winter Track,” and “I Found Love (at the McQuaid Invitational),” this last being surely the finest song ever written about growing up in western New York.

It’s a free download, which means you don’t have to pay anything to possess your very own copy, or even five of your very own copies.

And, as always, I will extend great personal goodwill and bonhomie to anyone who sends me a photo or screenshot of a Queen of the Lakes song being played on their iTunes, phone, or other media device. (I keep making this offer and no one ever sends me any; I guess I’m gonna have to put up cash, one of these years.)

Go. Listen. Enjoy. Walk in peace.

“Nothing good happens in films about airplanes.”

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If you’re spending the summer in a full-body cast in a faraway state, these are the jams you need.

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The (Oh, Lord, can it truly be?) eighth Kurt Blumenau “solo album,” released on Bandcamp precisely four years to the day after the first.

The biggest influences this time around are probably Captain Beefheart and Jandek, if that gives you any sense of what kind of toe-tappin’ good time awaits.

There’s a song called “I Wiped My Hands on a Pigeon” … and an 18-minute guitar solo … and a song that sounds like you’re being dragged underwater in a cold sea behind a slow-moving trawler … and a song that starts with  a weird murky voice-mail I once got that sounds like the people didn’t know they were being recorded.

(I think there is at least one more “conventional” release in my pipeline, but it turned out not to be this one. You won’t want to miss that one either, I’m sure, when it comes along.)

Anyway: Go check it out. You certainly don’t have to buy it. Just by clicking the link and visiting the site, you’ll give me the happy illusion that somebody’s interested.

If you don’t even want to do that, here’s a taste you can enjoy without having to go anywhere at all:

Truth is the glue.

A brief break from Art for Art’s Sake to bring you an important announcement:

The speeches of Gerald Ford set to a backdrop of theremin is something you can now enjoy in your rec room, pup tent, Quonset hut, or wherever people gather and the beer is cold.

Portrait

Unlike some of my earlier Bandcamp releases, We Have Succeeded In Nothing Anywhere has no deep origin story.

I found audio recordings of the speeches of Gerald Ford online. I found an electronc theremin simulator online. And at some point, my mind put the two together.

The speeches of Gerald Ford … accompanied by theremin. Yeah, the time has come.

It’s probably better in concept than execution. But, having executed it, I decided to loose it on the world anyway and let you, the listener, be the judge.

(Edit: I should probably mention that no social or political comment is intended here, nor do I have anything against Gerald Ford. His speeches just happen to be publicly available, in decent fidelity, begging to be set against vaguely psychedelic aural backgrounds.)

Like everything else I do, We Have Succeeded In Nothing Anywhere (it’s a phrase Jerry uses at one point; see if you can find it) is available as a free Bandcamp download. You need pay nothing for its myriad pleasures. In a world stacked against the common man, that’s a remarkable thing, Bunky.

As with previous releases, I will react with doglike gratitude (though no swag) to anyone sending me a photo of a WHSINA track playing in their iTunes, on their computer screen, on their phone, etc. I know, my comments are turned off, but anyone who reads this knows where to find me anyway.

Be of good cheer.

What’s playing now.

I bought a couple of CDs as part of an Amazon orgy a little while ago … and while I like ’em fine, right now I’ve set them aside and am listening instead to a bunch of stuff I downloaded off Bandcamp.

(Have no fear, Charles Mingus. I’ll get back to you.)

Just in case you’re looking for cheap thrills too, here’s what’s playing.

Squinch Owl, On The Goddamn Radio: Squinch Owl is pretty much one person — a singer and multi-instrumentalist named Sofia Pocket — and this marvelously titled release features her walloping the banjo and performing solo on WTBU-FM in York, Maine.

Pocket’s voice is a big, bruised, moonshiney yowl that suits her material well.

However, somebody seems to have told the engineer at WTBU that Blossom Dearie was coming instead, because they set the levels for someone much quieter. Every time Pocket even remotely opens up, her voice distorts into something thick, molten and mostly unintelligible. (When she really gets going, both her voice and her banjo go thick and fuzzy around the edges.)

I actually think it works nicely. The effect is akin to routing the Mississippi River into a channel too small by half to hold it. The pain and devastation is redoubled as a result.

It also hearkens back to the great old days when blues and folk singers made records with one ropey microphone, in whatever room they could use for an hour, and acoustic finery was the most distant of considerations.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=894006763/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=2212974734/transparent=true/

bobbito pickles, old ones: I clicked on this mainly because I liked the primitive cover art. Then I found it was lo-fi beats and loops from Edmonton (!) and I figured I’d never heard those before, and life is short.

These tracks are probably inspired by some beatmaster (J Dilla?) I’m not hip enough to be familiar with. Basically, they sound like chopped and channeled bits of mellow-gold love jams, driven sideways by loopy production techniques.

Senor Pickles provides us with 20 tracks totaling 29 minutes, which is pretty much the point at which his skips, scrapes and spasms start to get old … so everyone leaves happy, except maybe a bunch of copyright lawyers.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1898454920/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=3795920171/transparent=true/

Duluth Homegrown Music Festival, Mayor’s Mix:  I admit I’m just starting to listen to this one, and it might suck; but I include it because I enjoy the concept.

Under the label of the Homegrown Music Festival, you’ll find a whole bunch of Bandcamp releases created by the hipsters — DJs, musicians, indie label owners — who populate the Duluth scene, all offering a mix of their own favorite bands and tunes.

And then there’s this collection, compiled by Duluth mayor Don Ness (he’s no longer mayor; the collection dates to 2011.)

I love the idea of the mayor of a city acting as your guide to its music scene, and Ness was/is youthful enough that I believe he actually did listen to these bands.

Hizzoner apparently digs a “low-fi, folky vibe,” though that doesn’t stop him from including a Sly Stone cover that’s played nicely straight — not thrashed up or Chili Peppered out or anything stupid like that.

We’ll see if the rest is as tolerable.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=3362082434/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=1941900196/transparent=true/

Fingers grow back.

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My latest recording is available at Bandcamp as of a few minutes ago. This time around I had help, from dozens of shaggy-haired, bell-bottomed, short-skirted teenagers who had no idea what I was doing.

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The new one is called Things We Burned. It was created by extensively editing the music from a locally released 1970 album featuring various student performing ensembles from Penfield, N.Y., High School.

You’ve probably seen this kind of record in the crates. Maybe you even own one. The local high school concert band or marching band cuts some songs in a studio on the cheap, presses up some records, and sells ’em to parents and grandparents. Some end up sitting in a box years later in the bandroom storage area. That’s how this one landed in my hands.

The record — being bare-bones, as these things often seem to be — doesn’t have any performer credits beyond the names of the ensembles, so I can’t thank Johnny and Jane from the Class of ’71 for their groundbreaking work on tympani or flute. If you’re out there, and you read this, thanks. You played great. Knocked ’em dead.

The record also doesn’t have any copyright claim anywhere on its label or jacket. So far as I can tell, that places it in the public domain, and thus fair game for my kind of vandalistic re-creation.

What’s it sound like? As chaotic as all the other stuff I do, only this time there’s a concert band playing. Maybe that’s more palatable; maybe it isn’t.

It’s out there, anyway — and it’s name-your-own-price, which means free. So take two, tell your friends, and cover your ears.

Are you ready for the night train?

Dear music writers of America:

I hope you haven’t submitted your Album Of The Year ballots yet … because, as 2015 approaches its twilight, the voice of the diddley bow is once again heard in the land.

NIGHTTRAIN

Yup. Proud to announce the arrival of Night Train To Sideways as a name-your-own-price download on Bandcamp.

It’s the fifth Kurt Blumenau recording (I hesitate to call them “albums”), and the second to feature the unaccompanied growl of the diddley bow.

Why do I do this? Mainly because I like the noises I make, and think somebody somewhere else might like ’em too.

So, I raise a one-stringed (though not one-fingered) toast to somebody somewhere else.

PS: Screeds-and-links for my previous recordings are here, here, here and here.

PPS: Anyone sending me a screenshot of a Night Train To Sideways track playing in their iTunes, phone or other digital music outlet wins lunch and a beer if we’re ever in the same place at the same time, as well as my undying gratitude.

The morning noise.

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A brief break from writing about 40-year-old records, then, to tell you what else is in my ears these days.

I do most of my music listening during the trip to and from work, and the music I play in my car plays an important role in my life. In the morning, it keeps me from fixating on all the stuff waiting undone at work. And in the afternoon it helps wash it all away, unless I am too frustrated or furious to find any escape.

Here’s what’s on my passenger seat right now …

The Sunday League: At my last newspaper job, I worked with a guy who covered Pennsylvania state government in Harrisburg. He was (and is) smart, canny, well-spoken, irreverent, a snappy dresser, an Anglophile, and not cowed by the poses and absurdities of the Keystone State’s elected representatives.

If that weren’t enough to have on his CV, he’s also a veteran power-pop musician who’s put out a couple of professional-quality releases. (He plays ska sometimes too; you knew there had to be a chink in his armor someplace.)

Anyway, on this EP, he enlists several like-minded central Pennsylvania musicians, cranks up his Rickenbacker and pours out the hooks, singing along in a distinctive McGuinnish/Pettyish voice.

I haven’t had this one long, but results from the early precincts say it’s a winner.

Moncton Isn’t So Bad: Jumping wildly from the shores of the Susquehanna River to the Canadian Maritimes, we come across this compilation of local New Brunswick musicians. The songs range wildly from minimalist acoustic to raging punk, and from bedroom lo-fi “productions” to thumping professional mixes.

Unfortunately, it really isn’t all that good. I really wish I could say I liked it, and that it was a jewel waiting to be discovered (like this Moncton band I stumbled across — and stumbled is the right word — a while ago). But, no.

Truth be told, I’ll probably chuck the home-burned CD after another spin or two. But who knows? Maybe some night, as I drive home from the nine-to-five, something here will reach out and speak to me.

The Jean Jackets, Jean Jacques; also, Bay Kee, The Man With Red Eyes, and Grey Visions, The Grey Tape: An old college buddy of mine plays in a band over in New Jersey. A while ago, I was reading about them on some Jersey indie-rock website when I read about the Jean Jackets, four youngsters from Old Tappan who play in a band when they’re not off at college.

I downloaded their first album, Jean Jacques, and for about two weeks I hated it.

The chiming indie-pop music didn’t grab me; I didn’t like their lyrics, those I could understand; and most of all, I hated their predilection for wordless scat-sung vocal hooks. (I think every song on this record has a la-la-la section in it somewhere, and some have more than one. It gets to feeling gimmicky.)

Slowly they grew on me. The songs of Christine Spilka, who shares singing and guitar duties with Jackson Phinney, won me over first. Then Spilka and Phinney’s otherworldly duet on the record’s one cover version, Elliot Smith’s “Angel In The Snow,” grabbed me. Then Phinney’s songs started seeming catchier, less obnoxious, more relatable.

And just last night, I had to drive 70 minutes to Wilkes-Barre and back again, and Jean Jacques was the only music I listened to, the entire time, through the whole record and back to the start again.

Goddamned if I know how, but they’ve won me over. So much so that I’ve gone and downloaded the first EP by Bay Kee (Spilka’s solo project) and an album of material by Grey Visions (Phinney’s nom de guerre.)

The Bay Kee record is enjoyable, stylistically in line with Spilka’s contributions to the full band. I’ve only just started The Grey Tape, but the first song holds together pretty solidly, given the downplayed description Phinney gives the material. (If I understand him right, he characterizes several of his Grey Visions releases as demos-and-experiments-that-are-just-finished-enough-to-share-with-other-people.)

Mint 400 Records Presents 1967: Remember my college buddy from a few grafs ago? His band is one of 11 artists appearing on this Jersey indie-rock compilation, featuring 14 covers of songs originally released in 1967 — everything from “I’ll Be Your Mirror” to “Let’s Spend The Night Together.”

I’m still getting to know this comp. Most of the covers I’ve heard don’t take me anywhere the originals didn’t … and a few covers don’t take me anywhere at all, which is worse. But I haven’t spun it enough times to really make up my mind, so there’s still potential here.

(The cuts all seem to be professionally recorded, which puts 1967 head and shoulders above Moncton Isn’t So Bad. I’m not against rank homemade amateurism — hell, I engage in it regularly — but when it rubs shoulders with studio mixes, everything suffers.)

The pick hit for me so far is a version of “To Love Somebody” by a band called Fairmont, which owes its success in part to its humid, compressed, crunchy vibe, and in part to the fact that it’s “To Love Somebody.”

And one more bonus from the time I spend on the computer nights:

Tom Moulton: The Sandpiper, Fire Island, New York, USA 1974Ostensibly this is a mix of dance tunes assembled by disco super-mixer Tom Moulton for a gay hangout on Fire Island way back when. If it isn’t, it should have been, because it has the Seventies pop-soul hooks-and-groove thang going on in spades.

This is not downloadable as far as I know, and Soundcloud stuff doesn’t hang around forever, so I’ll enjoy this until it disappears. If you appreciate the work of Moulton, Gamble and Huff, Barry White and other such luminaries, I suggest you do the same.

Now, if only I could play it in the car…