Musical Meandering

Finding new music is often quite interesting, like picking fruits from trees that line a meandering path through an orchard, with many little side-trails branching out left and right that lead to different trees with different fruits. I guess it’s similar to getting a little bit lost while browsing maps, dictionaries or encyclopedias (all activities that stimulate the introvert mind, I’d say;-).

I’m eternally grateful for that one episode of KEXP’s “Music That Matters” podcast which featured LOMA’s “Black Willow” because that in turn helped me find Shearwater, for example (described here: The Road to Shearwater). Here’s another one of those meanderings, finding “I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age Music in America, 1950-1990” – and it begins with Blade Runner.

A friend recently shared a curious sound bit from the original “Blade Runner” movie – someone had looped an only eight or so seconds long ambiance from Deckard’s apartment into an almost 20 minute long “piece”. It was quite forgettable (judge yourself whether you like it) but the approach did remind me of the tape loops by William Basinski – not orchestral of course, and minus the disintegration of the tape (if you know the story, it makes The Disintegration Loops much more fascinating, by the way – it is explained in the “Recording” paragraph for the Disintegration Loops article on Wikipedia).

This made me look up Basinski again, after quite a long time – and it looks like he has most of his discography available on Bandcamp now. There, I found “On Time Out of Time“, his most recent release, from March this year – and the first part of the 40-minute long piece reminded me of the opening sounds from Blade Runner.

Anyway – my friend was extremely fond of the ambient sounds of the original Blade Runner movie. The original soundtrack is lacking those almost entirely, so a conversation began about the various bootlegs that contain more of those sounds.

Yes, bootlegs of the Blade Runner music and sounds exist. The story of the Blade Runner soundtrack itself is quite interesting: apparently there were misunderstandings between Vangelis, who wrote most of it, and Ridley Scott (director of the original Blade Runner movie). Vangelis refused to formally release his music from the soundtrack apparently – even though the music was very well received and fans were eager to get ahold of it. This led to a) an orchestral version of the music as an early version of the soundtrack (who the hell thought that was a good idea to please fans?), and b) a couple of different bootlegs that tried to fill this gap. šŸ™‚

In 1994, at last (the movie is from 1982!), the original soundtrack with Vangelis’ music was released as an album – but fans complained rightly so that quite some of the actual music was still missing from it.

I’m not up to speed with the various bootlegs anymore, it’s been too long. But if you’re curious, some of them are listed on discogs.com, like the various iterations from Esper Productions – some or all of which you can listen to in their entirety on YouTube. The Wikipedia article for the Blade Runner soundtrack describes them too. What the different bootlegs do have in common is that they provide a more complete set of all the music in the movie.

There’s even a bootleg called “Los Angeles, 2019” which contains only the ambiances from the movie, with the music, if at all, mostly staying in the background. That’s where the short sequence from Deckart’s apartment was taken from.

Unsurprisingly, the conversation with my friend had me explore the Blade Runner music once more. A few pieces that were not written by Vangelis can only be found on the bootlegs – one of them being Gail Laughton’s lovely piece “Pompeii 76 A.D.”, from his album “Harps of the Ancient Temples“. In the Blade Runner soundtracks, the track is often wrongly credited as “The Bicycle Riders” (because it was used as the music to a short artistic video clip by that title).

I always found “Pompeii 76 A.D.” particularly appealing (perhaps only because it stands out so much from Vangelis’ synthesizer score) and as I was browsing, I saw that the track appears on a fairly recent compilation: “I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age Music in America, 1950-1990” published by Light in the Attic Records, in 2013. The date range piqued my interest, as did the release notes:

Forget everything you know, or think you know, about new age, a genre that has become one of the defining musical-archaeological explorations of the past decade.

I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age In America, 1950-1990 is the first major anthology to survey the golden age of new age and reveal the unbelievable truth about the genre.

For new age, at its best, is a reverberation of psychedelic music, and great by any standard. This is analog, handmade music communicating soul and spirit, often done on limited means and without commercial potential, self-published and self-distributed. Before it became big business and devolved into the spaced out elevator music we know and loathe today, this was the real thing.

I always found music labelled “New Age” a bit too cheesy compared to the ambient I was listening to, but from 1950 through 1990? That sounded interesting, and the track listing provided quite a number of new artist names for further exploration – and a new record label with a catalog to dive into as well. šŸ™‚

I’ve listened to the compilation a number of times now. Not every track pleases me on every listen (as expected) and some do have a very typical new age sound and feel (track 8, Om Mani Padme Hum – well, I guess the title alone pretty much gives it away but it’s still a nice and quite immersive track). Despite their age, none of the tracks sounds “dated” to me, and the compilation has a nice flow and variation. I quite like it. My favorite tracks are, besides “Pompeii 76 A.D.”, “As the Earth Kissed the Moon” and “Two Souls Dance”.

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