It’s Downtime, our regular series asking artists to share their cultural recommendations.
The Avalanches’ Since I Left You remains, 20 years on, a masterwork of cut and paste. And yet, the Melbourne collective’s sample-heavy debut was more than the sum of its varied, diffuse and ingenious parts, hailed by many as one of the great millennial albums. So great, indeed, that it took The Avalanches – by then a duo, Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi – 16 years to perfect the follow-up, Wildflower. They’ve hit their stride now, and this month they release their third album We Will Always Love You. Influenced in part by the relationship between science writers Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan (who was also in charge of curating the Voyager’s Golden Record), Wildflower also grapples with similarly lofty topics circling wisdom, spirituality and existence. Judging by their cultural diversions chosen here, they’re still pondering those themes.
The Recording AngelBy Evan Eisenberg
Robbie: I found this book a long time ago, tattered and torn in a junk store while searching for records.
I picked it up on and off for years, but something beautiful happened when we started making this album: it suddenly became integral to the new music and process. The fact that the book is falling apart and, if I dare open it, pages fly everywhere makes me love it even more! Eisenberg captures something so beautiful with his descriptions of Clarence, the Long Island record obsessive and hoarder, especially when he begins to explore the relationship between the human psyche, spirit and the history of recorded sound. The ‘solitary ceremonies’ we perform alone, when listening to recorded music, are so wonderfully described:
“We make magic when we work the phonograph, causing spirits to make music. It can make us disappear. It can bring us serenity or make us dance like David before the ark. It can cure us of madness, or insomnia, or make insomnia a state of grace.” – Evan Eisenberg
A Revolution in Consciousness: Interview with Peter RussellDirected by Anthony Chene
Robbie: A lovely chilled chat with Peter Russell on the nature of consciousness, and the energy and information that surrounds us. I love his take on this and the way he points out that it’s all just ‘information’ floating around out there. What do we see when we ‘see’ the world? We are consciousness experiencing this information, which forms a representation of reality, but he reminds us that we can not be sure that this is reality itself. Sound is part of this information, I guess, vibration, and it helped with my thinking on the vibrational relationship between energy (light), sound and spirit.
Russell goes further and talks about consciousness as being primary, which intuitively makes sense to me, and the relationship between the nature of light and the nature of consciousness, and how both are perhaps fundamental, existing outside of space and time.
Series of flowers photographed under ultraviolet lightBy Craig Burrows
Robbie: I really loved this series by Craig Burrows for National Geographic, he uses ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence photography to create these ghostly, alien-like images of flowers and plants. It’s like an invisible secret world that’s all around us, only vibrating on a different frequency.
X-Ray Audio: The DocumentaryProduced by The Vinyl Factory and Antique Beat
Tony: During Soviet times, American music was banned. All the people had to listen to was Russian and Georgian folk music. Rebels against the system then came up with an ingenious way to bootleg and make loads of copies of Western music, to go out for sale in the streets of Russia.
They worked out that, using a lathe, you could cut music onto X-ray film. X-ray film was easy to obtain as it’s flammable and needed to be destroyed by the hospitals, so for a bottle of vodka and a few rubles you could obtain as many X-rays as you needed. They were referred to as ‘“bone records”, or “ribs” on the streets.
Another benefit of the X-ray film was that it was extremely flexible, so the dealers on the street corners would be able to fit up to 50 in each sleeve of their long overcoats. Just walk up to them, say “rock’n’roll’ or “jazz” and they’ll take you down a dark alley, and pull out the latest ribs of Little Richard, Buddy Holly or Elvis Presley! Elvis might have cost a month’s wage, but it was worth it.
The years in jail for the bootleggers and dealers were worth it to them as well – they’d get out of jail and go right back to cutting bone music. True heroes of the underground. The sound quality on some was terrible, but they got a feel for the music and that’s all they needed. I love that.
In the spirit of these pioneers, I dug out some X-rays of my shoulder and back, and we had our song Reflecting Light cut on the film. We also had a one-off X-ray of Tony Hawk’s busted fingers pressed in between vinyl. It looked and sounded pretty spectacular.
We Will Always Love You is out now via Universal Music Australia