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Nights Off Week Two: Drone, Eastern Mysticism, and Modern No Wave

A weekly guide to records you should buy. This week Steve breaks down a drone must have, Robbie Basho's last album, Pakistani chanting, and MV Carbon's solo debut.
July 22, 2012, 2:00pm

“Drone” is a term to describe sounds made using sustained tones. This can mean a whisper or a tidal wave, depending on who is at the helm. Tony Conrad once said of his work with the Theater of Eternal Music that they were not seeking peace but rather conjuring rivers of blood to wash through the filthy New York streets. This ideology speaks little to the synthesizer-preset kids of today but still demands its place to those who seek a far more intense vision of minimalism. Cold/Burn is a collaborative album between violinist/vocalist C. Spencer Yeh, cellist Okkyung Lee, guitarist/electronics improviser Anla Courtis, and harmonium player Jon Wesseltoft.  Recorded in Oslo a few years back, the session has now been released by the flourishing Feeding Tube label out of western Massachusetts. The four musicians lock right in with two side-long improvisations of movement, depth, and focus. Yeh, always a dynamic vocalist, adds that extra element of the unexpected with his unique cadence and tone. At times Lee gets deep on the low end of the register, creating a chilling effect. Cold/Burn contains a dark urgency that recalls the best of the freakish loft nights of past happenings.

Mississippi Records are a godsend. Anyone who can bootleg an affordable edition of Pandit Pran Nath’s Ragas of Morning & Night is doing the dharma’s work. Nath is a Hindu classical singer that connects to the universe with a deity-like ability to channel the depths of the spiritual condition through his voice. Born in Pakistan in 1918 to a wealthy family, he left to become a musician against their wishes at the tender age of 13. He soon discovered a world of internal revelation through chanting. After decades of study, he developed a precise, slow, tonal vocal technique that emphasized a gradual evocation. He barely recorded, and his work is therefore largely unavailable. Any chance to experience the transcendence of this master comes eagerly anticipated. The album features two side-long ragas of Nath’s vocals as accompanied by sarangi and tambura, and the hypnotic results are immediate and long lasting. Ragas of Morning & Night is music to light up the Nag Champa and soundtrack The Thief of Bagdad to. Really, what’s more perfect than that?

Robbie Basho was another musician enthralled by Eastern mysticism. Born in Maryland, he played folk guitar in the early 60s only to have his life changed by Ravi Shankar. Basho soon rose to mid-level success in the acoustic guitar pantheon that included Fahey, Sandy Bull, Leo Kottke, and others. Basho’s angle was trying to arrange symphonic raga for acoustic guitar. He was largely successful in his attempts, but commercial appeal eluded him. By 1986 he was mostly forgotten and unemployed, making cassette tapes for New Age relaxation series. Unlike today, that was a bad thing. Later that year a chiropractor broke his back and killed him. His final album, Twilight Peaks, many years later, now finds its actual release. Those who fear his intense vocals can breathe a sigh of relief, as his guitar playing and composition are on sole display here. At a mere 500 copies pressed, one would be wise to grab this quickly, as it’s a fine place to start for beginners and a must for any fan.

Released a few months ago on the Ecstatic Peace label, the debut solo LP from MV Carbon remains a sleeper burner that lights up like neon embers in a colorless world. Dislodged Perihelion features tracks worked on over years of performance in basements and galleries all over the world. Known for minimal Suicide-like electronics, warped reel-to-reel manipulations, cello improvisations, and icy vocals that can freeze a listener in their tracks, MV Carbon sounds like a baby ghost. Her hallucinatory universe conjures a no wave aesthetic filtered through a modern process. The synthesizer haze creates a cocoon of embryonic dark ooze. When it all comes together its experience can’t possibly be replicated elsewhere. Like an interplanetary scientist, she balances her proportions to stellar frequencies, creating a world unto her own. Cosmic.