Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bill Laswell and Pete Namlook: Psychonavigation

The German ambient electronica wizard, Pete Namlook (Kuhlmann), died unexpectedly last month at the very young age of 51.  A prolific creator of space-imbued music and proprietor of the notable FAX label, Namlook also had a number of collaborative projects over the years.  This blogger's exposure to Namlook's music came through his extensive work with the polymath Bill Laswell in two five-part series, Outland and Psychonavigation, with one appearing to refer to the external (space) and other internal (psychology)?

Both projects commenced about the same time in the mid-1990s when the ambient scene, perhaps, had peaked and continued well into the 2000s and YHB has three volumes of Outland and all five of Psychonavigation, with any of the ten albums being somewhat difficult to find.

In any case, they are fascinating excursions into the far reaches of ambient electronica and the first introduction of this listener came with the initial offering in the Psychonavigation series, released in 1995 on the Subharmonic label, which issued a great deal of Laswell's music at the time. 

This edition, unfortunately, came out on a special interactive disc that was probably a forward-thinking idea at the time (the front cover has "IBM" on it!) featuring interactive computer data generated by the Interactive Multimedia Corporation which consisted of "fractints" or visuals which took Laswell's bass lines and created onscreen visual patterns.  Because the technology has long been outdated, those visuals are not able to be opened, at least not on any format this blogger has had since acquiring the disc several years ago.  Of course, with Windows Media Player you could get different accompanying visuals anyway, if anyone decided those would be of interest.

There are three long tracks that span from ten to just under forty minutes that are true evocations of space-minded and experimental ambient electronic music with washes of sound, rumbling bass tones (these best appreciated with speakers that have a good bottom end delivery), trippy samples and so on.  Laswell also has worked on a number of collaborative ambient projects, as well, with Mick Harris, Tetsu Inoue, his multi-volume Divination project, and a two-volume ambient compendium through the fantastic Axiom label he ran through Island Records, but his work with Namlook is very impressive because of the great contributions of his late co-creator.

The longest track is the more enjoyable and diverse, this being the aptly-titled "Psychic and UFO Revelations in the Last Days," and it is probably safe to assume that there is plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor in these bizarre, but fascinating, excursions into the outer limits of sound and music.  This extended 38:47 piece really does call out for a mindset of traveling.

The other two pieces "Angel Tech" and "Black Dawn" are also interesting pieces and also filled with trademark Namlook touches, as well as the kind of contributions expected from Laswell's many ambient projects in the Nineties. 

The last of the released collaborations between these two amazing artists came out in the mid-2000s and all are worth exploring if this is the kind of explorations of sound that are of interest.  Psychonavigation is a great place to start for those looking to dabble into the music, though Outland 2 is also highly recommended and will be featured here in the future.

Bill Laswell/Pete Namlook: Psychonavigation (Subharmonic, 1995)

1.  Psychic and UFO Revelations in the Last Days  38:47
2.  Angel Tech  10:18
3.  Black Dawn  21:18

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