Saturday, 23 February 2013

Review: Pete Namlook - Air (1993) PK08/54

If we put the superb Silence, a collaborative album with Dr. Atmo, to one side Air marks Pete Namlook’s first fully-fledged solo excursion in to the world of ambient or environmental music. In some senses Air could be described as a concept album. Whilst few words are spoken the central theme is of two people searching for love and finding one another. Where Air becomes particularly poetic is when much of this search is described in elemental terms with breezes, wind and storms used as a metaphor for the unfolding events.

Interestingly every track is prefixed by the word ‘You’, thus putting the listener at the centre of events. The album begins with Wind, presenting an ominous drone that advances and recedes, as if the darkest and most threatening of storm clouds are gathering. Much of the music on Air is fairly seamlessly glued together by drones, a musical evocation, perhaps unsurprisingly of...the air: wind, breezes and approaching clouds. A guitar chimes away on the same note repeatedly, wind chimes very gently jangle and a howling wolf does nothing to dispel a rather intense sense of drama. 1st Impression delivers a snaking synthesiser line and a subtle Latin cha-cha rhythm but the mood is still rather tense, as a drone alone is briefly reintroduced with Breeze.
Je suis triste et seul ici (I am sad and lonely here) introduces a spooky, ethereal and almost operatic female vocal. Masterfully manipulated, using a synth, this seems to wobble, adding considerably to the already strange atmosphere. Set against all of this Namlook’s musical background is brought to the fore with the use of a light jazz rhythm. This is an unusual mix of textures and styles but to Namlook’s credit it all meshes together perfectly.

Spiritual Invocation arrives with a warm and welcoming sweep of wordless female vocals. It is as if angels have appeared with a message from the ether. If the story of Air centres around the crucible in which love is forged then Arc is the moment at which this alchemical process actually occurs. Translated from French in to English (several of the albums other tracks are, of course, provided in French) arc means gateway, bow or longbow. Is this the point at which the cupid shoots his arrow, ushering the lovers through a gateway to another state of being? If love is born on raging storms then Arc is that state of fierce turbulence. What has been a breeze or a gentle wind now surges forth at force 10. The spirit of (so-called) Krautrock is writ large here, as the tense atmosphere spills into a bubbling, percolating, driving sequencer pattern and what sounds like a manipulated Mellotron male choir. A 4/4 beat, introduced as the piece progresses only adds to the relentless, elemental momentum. In many ways Arc is the centrepiece of the album and with its monolithic chords the title of the subsequent drone, Mystical Appearance seems to confirm that love has indeed arrived.
Chaque ligne de ta peau fut aimée (each line of your skin was loved) reintroduces gentle jazzy rhythms and more snaky synths and an insistent throbbing electronic bass line gives the music some momentum and weight. Dazzling, pitch bent keyboard work echoes the strange, lopsided female vocals heard earlier and an ethereal choir sound is re-introduced. Air concludes with Lost in Passion. The buzzing drone that has knitted much of the album together is back and a middle-eastern keyboard line hints at the ground that the next album in the Air series will traverse. Towards the end of the album many of the musical themes converge, as with Jean Michel Jarre’s Fifth Rendez-Vous. Finally, as the line: “Chaque ligne de ta peau fut aimée” is uttered several times by a female voice the album draws to a close.

To this listener’s ears Air is one of the great masterpieces of the ambient genre, managing to sustain a unique atmosphere throughout its 60-minute duration. This album cemented Namlook’s reputation as a force of nature in the world of electronic music and he arguably managed to match this record’s achievements with Air II, the following year.

Chris W.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Autumn of Communion interviewed - Part 2: Lee Anthony Norris

Last week NMLK interviewed Michael Gainford (a.k.a. Mick Chillage) and this week the other half of the acclaimed duo Autumn of Communion, Lee Anthony Norris also kindly took the time to chat about Pete Namlook, Fax and his projects past present and future.
Q: Can you remember when and where you were when you were first introduced to Fax music?
A: I was in Totnes, Devon in 1993 and was at my friend Peter Cox's house. He had just bought a nice selection of Fax CDs from Sister Ray in Soho, London. We both used to phone our orders in from the little advert they had at the back of NME. I didn't buy any Fax CDs, as Pete bought them all. I was too busy ordering Warp and Rephlex stuff. The first Fax CD I bought was Dreamfish when it was released.

Q: Do you have a favourite Fax album (or a few favourite albums)? If so why do you like it/them?
A: There are loads of Fax albums I love and play. My faves are:
The Silence series, Dreamfish, 2350 Broadway, Sad World, Electro Harmonix, The Putney, Dawning of a New Decade, Gate/Sol and Labyrinth 3.

Q: Can you tell me about your musical projects before Autumn of Communion?
A: I record as Metamatics, Norken, Nacht Plank, Moss Garden (with Dimitar Dodovski), The Ashes of Piemonte (with Wil Bolton), The Angling Loser, Ishqamatics (with Ishq) and Norken & Deer (with Martin Hirsch). I also ran the label Neo Ouija and now I run the label ...txt.

Q: How did you first make contact with Mick?
A: I came into contact with Mick through the radio show he does with his mate Paul: The Chillage Idiots.

Q: What are your memories of working in a (sort of) collaboration with Pete Namlook? Did you have any personal communication with him?

A: Pete was e-mailing me quite a lot before he passed away, as he was interested in Moss Garden and the Nacht Plank albums I had just recorded. He asked me to give him until Monday to decide and I agreed (this was on the Thursday he died). Anyway, Monday came and no e-mail. A few more days passed and I had a feeling something was wrong, as he always was on the ball. Then Mick told me he had died. Really sad and upsetting few days that was.

Q: Did you discuss any concept for Autumn of Communion before you began or was the creative process completely spontaneous?
A: We both wanted to make an ambient album that had that '90s vibe to it. We never really discussed Fax as a label to release it on. The process was quite easy really. It all came very naturally and it was not until we have finished it that we decided to send it to Fax. Pete loved it straight away so me and Mick were very pleased with the outcome of that.

Q: Can you give any insight into the inspirations behind the Autumn of Communion album? Does the album title (or do the track titles) have any significance at all?
A: The name Autumn of Communion comes from my time here in Italy. Recording the album in autumn and also being surrounded by religion pretty much nailed the title. Sunrise for Claudio is dedicated to my girlfriend's brother who died in September. On the Way to Sesterie is me and Dana driving up into the mountains just outside Turin. Happy days.
Q: Autumn of Communion was incredibly well received by Fax fans and yet it may end up being the last ever release on the label. I guess this is kind of bittersweet in a way?

A: I met some nice people through Fax and it would be a sad state of affairs if it was the last Fax release but I reckon Autumn of Communion will be a fitting end to a fantastic label.

Q: What can we expect from Autumn of Communion II?
A: The same kind of trip but a bit more upbeat. I think if you liked the first album then this won't be too far from your taste buds.

Q: Your Moss Garden project, Understanding Holy Ghosts is a superb record. Very gentle, relaxing stuff. I believe there is a second collaboration with Dimitar Dodovski in the pipeline? Do you have any other future musical plans that we can look forward to?
A: My album The Ashes of Piemonte (with Wil Bolton) is released on Time Released Sound in March.
My new Nacht Plank album is released on Alio Die's Hunt Sic Leones label in April. I'm working on Moss Garden II at the moment and plan to start the Ashes of Piemonte II in March. I'm still working on an album with Ishq, which is like 40% complete. I have just finished an album called The Angling Loser (having had a sneak preview of this album it is excellent: a gentle, reflective trip, taking us through a day from dawn to night and back again  - ed.) 
...and there will be remixes from that album by Stormloop, Solipsism, Logerybeam and others. Autumn of Communion II is also ready to go. At some point I will get round to a new Norken album with Deer and start a new Nacht Plank album. I think Mick wants to start AOC III towards the end of the year.
Sorry this is not as long and detailed as Mick's chat but I have never been good at interviews, really. I guess I just let the music speak for me.
Extra large amounts of gratitude to Lee for taking the time to answer these questions for NMLK. Check out his musical projects by following these links:
Lee has also launched a brand new blog, encompassing all of his music and art projects. See here:
Coming soon: another exciting and exclusive Fax related interview. Watch this space!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Autumn of Communion interviewed - Part 1: Mick Chillage

Autumn of Communion may well end up being the last ever release on Fax and it rightly met with enormous acclaim from fans of the label.  Here we talk to one half of the duo behind a latter day classic. Mick Chillage discusses the past, the present and the future...

Q: Can you remember when and where you were when you were first introduced to Fax music?
A: I was first introduced to Fax through the Rising High edition of Dreamfish back in 1993. It was the freaky digital fish that attracted me to the cover in Tower Records, Dublin and then when I flipped the cover over I saw that Mixmaster Morris whom I already knew as the Irresistible Force was involved and some new guy on the scene called Pete Namlook. I made a purchase and was blown away!! Shortly after this I discovered that those mysterious minimalist circular covered CDs that were in my other local indie store were also the work of Pete Namlook and then the obsession began.
Q: Do you have a favourite Fax album (or a few favourite albums)? If so why do you like it/them?  

A: Naming my favourite Fax CD or CDs is a very difficult thing, Having acquired them all over the years my taste for fax changes with the mood I’m in. With such a huge catalogue there’s always something you can find to suit the mood but I can say these would be high on my list:

Dreamfish, Air 1&2, Silence, Fires Of Ork 1&2, Solitaire, From Within, Waiting For Snow, and so many more but S.H.A.D.O in particular is one of those albums which holds a very special memory for me. In 1998 I was on a trip to California with a group of friends. We hired a Winnebago and spent one night in Death Valley. That night I listened  to S.H.A.D.O for the first time on headphones with my portable CD player. While I lay on my air bed looking into the stars, with zero light pollution and the clearest of skies my eyes began to adjust and I could clearly see the Milky Way as the music progressed.

The environment which was clearly alien to me made feel like I was lying on some distant planet out in deep space. Then it occurred to me that I actually was in deep space and the awesome sound waves which were entering my brain created the most incredible shiver through my body as the hairs on my arms, legs and head seemed to be standing. There was certainly some magical connection between the sounds emanating from the headphones and what I was experiencing on a visual if I was close to unravelling the mysteries and wonders of the cosmos.
Q: Can you tell me about your musical projects before Autumn of Communion?

A: Autumn Of Communion was my very first collaboration so up to that point everything apart from various remixes had just been myself really. I started producing electronic music back in 1996 but it wasn’t until 2007 that I released anything official. I guess the birth of Myspace etc. gave me the confidence to put my music out on the web. It wasn’t long before I made some record label contacts who seemed keen on my work.
The first EP was released on the Greek net label This Side, which was a mixture of dubby techno, house and experimental electronica with a cinematic theme, as on the the title track Eye on the City. Shortly after that my second EP was Soundescapes on the Scottish-based Herb Recordings. Again, a rather diverse collection of experimental electronic and down tempo/chill out material, all recorded between 2000 and 2006. 2009 saw the release of my Departure EP series for Irish based Nice & Nasty and my debut ambient/electronica CD album Tales From The Igloo for Ireland's Psychonavigation (which clearly gets its name from the influence of Fax records). The igloo in the title refers to my studio.

Q: What are your memories of working in a (sort of) collaboration with Pete Namlook? How did you end up releasing your solo work FAXology on the Fax label? The album almost seems conceptual in a way. Did you set out with any grand ideas or definite directions to pursue in mind?

A: Any connection I had with Pete was always a joy, from purchasing his music via e-mail to interviewing him via a live phone back in 2000 (still searching for the VHS recording of this interview) and certainly sending him music demos. It would have back in 2006 that I first sent Pete a CD to listen to. At the time I mailed him saying I was considering releasing some material myself and I would love to have his expert and highly valued opinion. He replied rather quickly saying that he really enjoyed the music and felt it had a nice balance of analogue style sounds, mixed with some modern elements. He said it had an emotive feel and was certainly releasable. This gave me greater confidence in my productions. It wasn’t until 2011 after many years of  thinking about sending Pete a demo that I finally got the courage to send Pete some material which  I felt may suit the aesthetic of the label. The music I sent at this time turned out to be pretty much what ended up on FAXology.
As far as a concept I never really set out to create an album with the classic Fax elements in mind. They were just a collection of random moments on my hard drive. Even setting out to create these tracks initially I was never consciously thinking: I’m going to emulate the Fax sound. I guess from years of soaking in the label's output it just somehow floated through into the creative process.

Looking back though, the timing of FAXology was just right. Pete said to me that normally he wouldn’t really release material that tried to emulate what had already been done on the label but this felt different - like it was a look at the past of Fax but totally unique at the same time and with the 20th anniversary of the label just around the corner he felt it was absolutely worthy of a release. The only problem with the album was coming up with a fitting title. We discussed various ideas and I firstly suggested  the rather cheesy 2011 - A Fax Odyssey as a joke. Pete then returned with FAXology and it all fell into place.

Q: How did you first make contact with Lee (Lee Anthony Norris - the other half of Autumn of Communion)?

A: Meeting up with Lee happened  through social networking. I was a fan of Lee’s work in the mid '90s as Metamatics and continued to follow his releases as Norken etc. right up to the present day. His work was featured quite a lot on my radio show The Chillage Idiots. I guess when  I connected with Lee he started checking out the radio show on a regular basis via Soundcloud  and then I sent Lee a copy of my Tales From The Igloo CD, which Lee said was a perfect soundtrack while consuming a good curry.
Q: Did the two of you discuss any concept for Autumn of Communion before you began or was the creative process completely spontaneous?

A: Eventually, after many discussions on the web about our musical influences and films etc., we both realised there was a strong common ground and maybe a collaboration of some sort could happen. So the discussion or brief for the album was the we would try to mix up all our own individual production styles  that kind of looked back to the classic period of early to mid '90s ambient with elements of 21st century production like digital glitches environmental recordings, electronc grooves of all styles to movie soundbites, while using a mixture of hardware and software synths and tools. I suppose the concept was pretty  open to anything. Overall we wanted it to have  plenty of  atmosphere and emotion rather than just high tech trickery. Actually many of the tracks happened in a short period of time so there was a certain spontaneity to it also. 

Q: Can you briefly describe the creative process when yourself and Lee work together, please?

A: The creative process was initially going to be Lee starting off with some foundation elements, which he would send to me as an Ableton file (that’s the program we both currently use) but there was a slight issue with the versions we were using and the platforms. I was on Mac and using an earlier edition - V5 and Lee was on PC with a more current version of Ableton.  So we then decided that Lee would just supply me with the foundation wavs, various synth parts/field recordings/beats or whatever. Then I would go and prepare and  work on these adding further elements, more synths or melodies or manipulations and I would then send a rough draft to Lee. He might then make suggestions or send more elements. This process could go on  for a while until we were more or less both happy with our progress. The mixing and arrangements are mainly done at my studio but with further advice or suggestions from Lee if needed, I guess it was better to mix and arrange all the tracks from one source as it gives the album a more cohesive feel.

Some tracks were actually finished within a few days and others took a little longer to get right. And any that didn’t quite work were omitted for possibly other projects.

Q: Can you give any insight into the inspirations behind the Autumn of Communion album? Does the album title (or do the track titles) have any significance at all?

A: I suppose the inspirations for Autumn Of Communion came from, as I said earlier, a sort of homage to the classic ambient of the early to mid '90s. Those kind of production levels and depth are hard to find these days: plenty of lush synths and emotive melody. Layers of environmental recordings and other soundbites mixed with beats of all sorts.

Today the electronic music scene seems to be broken up into specific sub-genres. Minimal ambient tends to be just extreme drone, which I like myself but some people only like this particular style. Another example would be the dub techno movement this tends to be really strict on the conformity of uniform sounds and structures so we wanted to really just try and mix it up but be careful not to over cook it either. Finding the right balance of when to stop was just as important.
The title Autumn Of Communion was Lee’s brainstorm. He had just moved to a part of northern Italy and it was an area that was rather religious and was full beautiful of old churches and the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn gold, so again everything just fell into place.

Some of the titles were changed here and there. On track eight, Something We Can't Explain, the original title was The Railway Sleepers, as Lee had sent me a folder of some recorded spoken word material, along with a drone section. Initially the brief was to use the spoken word of this Scottish guy who was reciting a rather abstract piece of prose about railway sleepers but in the folder I found another section from another recording and when I dropped  it over the music it just seemed to fit better. I really liked the line within Something We Can't Explain as the title, which then inspired me with the rather large synth string swells that come and go through the track. Other tracks and titles had some personal meaning to us, like End (Sunrise For Claudio). Lee’s partner sadly lost her brother, Claudio, in 2012, so as a moving tribute that was a lovely touch for the album. Track three, the title track, was originally called something else but its ethereal repetitions and what sounds like a church bell ringing in the background (actually another sound with some treatment) meant that the title Autumn Of Communion just gelled.

Q: Autumn of Communion was incredibly well received by Fax fans and yet it may end up being the last ever release on the label. I guess this is kind of bittersweet in a way?

A: AOC has been very well received so far. I think there is a hunger by some electronic music fans of the classic '90s sound/production plus there is also a new generation of electronic music lovers who are now discovering this period for the first time and AOC may have arrived just at the right time? Hopefully there will be a bit of a resurgence in the scene for lush and emotive music again as the ease of access to DAWs (digital audio workstations - ed.) like Ableton etc. are great but at the same time there tends to be a lot of extremely lazy and unimaginative music made with the sound packs these programs offer immediately to a new user.

On the other side with this being the final release on Fax there is an immense sadness when I think that it all stops with AOC. I really believe that Pete alone had at least another 20 years of music to release and to think of what other artists he could have discovered but I’m hoping that time will tell with Autumn Of Communion and that it will be a fitting swan song for Pete and his amazing label. 
Q: What can we expect from Autumn of Communion II?

A: Autumn Of Communion II will continue with more themes of deep space ambient and environmental recordings, plenty of haunting soundscapes and emotive melodic refrains along with deep bass frequencies so it should delight fans of the first one, yet it brings new sonic terrain to the world of AOC.
Q: I’ve really enjoyed listening to your FAXology and Night Works albums. Do you have any other future musical plans that we can look forward to?

A: It's great to hear you have enjoyed FAXology and Night Works!!  I currently have the bones of three new albums. One is very much within purely ambient territory, there's one that could be classed as ambient electro and another with strong dub influences. As yet I have not really attempted to find a home for any of them and I'm sure it will be a pretty daunting task, as more and more labels are just not listening to demos anymore. Many are struggling to keep going with their current roster of artists. I could simply go down the digital route with these but I fear they will just get lost in the ocean of digital mediocrity. Hopefully If I take my time I will find a suitable label for these projects.

But 2013 will see the release of Tales From The Igloo Retold, a CD album of remixes featuring some of my other influential artists etc on Psychonavigation records.

Big, big thanks to Mick Chillage for patiently and kindly taking the time to answer my questions.
Check out Autumn of Communion and many of Mick's solo projects here:

Watch this space for Autumn of Communion interviewed - part 2 with Lee Anthony Norris...

Saturday, 9 February 2013

NMLK: An introduction

On November 8th 2012 'ambient'/electronic musician and Fax Records owner Pete Namlook passed away at just 51 years of age. Whilst his tragic, untimely passing left legions of Fax followers feeling broken hearted, it is fortunate that he also left us with literally hundreds of albums to collect and to continue to enjoy. It could be said that Namlook was driven to produce several lifetimes worth of music in less than one. Some of the releases on the Fax label feature Pete working alone, many were collaborative efforts between the man himself and a plethora of diverse artists and Fax also served as a platform for other talented electronic musicians.

A little background

In the early '90s, whilst working and living in Frankfurt, his place of birth, Pete Namlook (born Kuhlmann - Namlook is simply Kuhlmann backwards) absorbed the sounds of dance music and began to produce 12" singles with beat-driven tracks on one side and atmospheric, beatless music on the flipside. When this format failed to jell with many existing music labels Fax Records, or more accurately Fax +49-69/450464 (named after Namlook's fax number) was born. What followed over the next couple of decades was an extremely prolific schedule of releases and a label discography as colourful, diverse and exciting as any in the history of electronic music.
While I have used the word ambient to describe Pete Namlook's music, the output on the label is actually far too diverse to sit comfortably with that genre tag alone. Namlook himself preferred the term 'environmental' for much of his own material. If the Fax label had a subtitle it could have been music for dreamers. Many of the recordings seemed to be inspired by both the elemental and the cosmic: rolling clouds, flowing streams, the wind, the waves and the ocean, the sun, the moon, the stars in the inky black firmament and everything beyond. The label was also a global affair, presenting releases by artists living in every corner of the planet.
Namlook's lifestyle was well and truly aligned with the sounds emerging from his well-equipped musical laboratory, a resource that boasted a mixture of classic analog and state of the art digital technology and moving from Frankfurt to Traben-Trarbach allowed him to be a little closer to the nature that provided much of his muse.
The Fax man chose to grow his own fruit and vegetables on an allotment and ran the label almost like a cottage industry. In many respects Pete Namlook lived the dream, releasing music without compromise but living the dream wasn't entirely without a price. Many of the early compact disc releases on the label were pressed in limited editions of 1000 or 2000 copies but as the first decade of a new century progressed and illegal downloading took its toll eventually most Fax releases were limited to just 300 copies. This decrease mirrored sales figures in the record industry as a whole but thanks to Pete Namlook's hard work and determination Fax was managing to weather the storm. As the 20th anniversary of the label approached and a core of fans waited for every new release Fax was arguably as much of a hothouse for creativity as it had ever been.
My Fax experiences

The last e-mail I received from Pete was on 31st October 2012. This was a circular, as sent from time-to-time to anyone who had bought music from him in the past. It advertised what may well turn out to be the last release on the Fax label, Autumn of Communion, and also a reissue on his spin-off Ambient World label. Nine days later Pete Namlook was gone and 15 days after that e-mail a friend sent me a message informing me of the sad news of his passing.

My personal experiences with Fax started as late as 2010. Having collected most of the (so-called) Krautrock records I could probably ever want I was looking for new musical areas to explore. Ambient music had been on my list for some time and I wanted to see what was out there beyond the works of Brian Eno and The Orb. In addition to discovering Biosphere, Gas (a.k.a. Wolfgang Voigt), Woob, Aglaia, Stars of the Lid and Monolake I also bought a copy of Air. This proved to be a strange and engrossing record and like nothing else I had ever heard before. It offered an ethereal and at times spooky mixture of environmental music, mixed with smatterings of jazz and seemingly dissembodied fragments of French, seductively spoken by as mysterious woman. This was where the sounds of classic West German electronic music collided with something more contemporary and it fascinated me. I felt compelled to explore further and began to order a number of Fax CDs each month, some directly from Pete. One evening, after walking along the promenade by the sea in the coastal town where I live, the track Arc seemed to be in sync with the splashing, crashing waves. I contacted Pete to say he should have been there to experience what I saw and heard and was very pleased when he got back to me, saying that he could see how the two elements would work well together.
Later my copy of the Namlook and Move D collaboration Wagon Lits arrived accompanied by a packet of marigold seeds with instructions on when to plant them and information about their health benefits. My order of Anthony Rother's 62 Minutes on Mars also arrived with a free CD, titled Music for Babies. This was a collage of sounds designed to send babies off to sleep. A touching gesture from a kind man who would always try to find a little time between making music to talk to his fans. 
What is the purpose of this blog?

My idea is that this will serve as a place to review albums from the Fax back catalogue. In addition to my own reviews I would like yours as well, so please send them my way and I will post them, giving you credit. With a bit of luck a few guests will be popping by from time-to-time to help me celebrate Namlook's life and work and I also hope this resource can keep track of the work of those signed to the Fax label and their future projects. If we assume that the label is sadly no more (and time will tell) I would also like to try to provide a platform for artists who may have been releasing material on the label if it had continued. If, on the other hand, Fax does continue we will have the pleasure of reviewing its future releases. It will take time to build but I would be very grateful if you would help me in celebrating the life and legacy of the great Mr. Pete Namlook.