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Janek Schaefer * Erik Griswold

Schaefer - What Light

Schaefer - What Light


The slow crackle in the intro, the vocal drone and the Robert Wyatt sample that gave this album its name… Janek Schaefer manages to set the atmosphere right from the very start.  And once you start the ride, you do not want to get off before it stops… simply enjoying the trip, wondering what surprising turn is in store in the next moments…

What Light There Is Tells Us Nothing,
 the title track of Schaefer‘s new album, is created entirely from elements of Robert Wyatts Cuckooland album (Also on Spotify). The 21 minute piece, created with his custom-made two tone-arm turntable, effect pedals and ‘digital collage’, was originally created as a multi-channel composition for 2014’s Sounds New Festival in Canterbury. With Robert Wyatt’s blessing, of course.
The atmosphere is defined by a steady background drone, over which the different samples and fragment are layered. The collage-like structure and use of different musical fragments have the same mesmerizing effect as KLF’s ‘Chill Out’ (1990) – which over time has become one of the classics of the ‘ambient’ genre. It’s a wonderland ride, ‘transforming the power of half-forgotten memories into otherworldly works, that are ambiguous as they are evocative’.

The B-side on the (transparent gold virgin vinyl) album offers seven shorter tracks. These tracks are not based on Wyatt samples, but they still ‘exist in the same wondrous space’ – radiating the feeling that Alice must have felt while walking in Wonderland.
This is music that ‘inhabits the spaces between sadness and joy, and relish in the unpredictability of emotional gravity’.
A musical wonderland that only Janek Schaefer can create …

BTW –  It’s also available on CD but for unknown reasons this is not offered on the Bandcamp page which only mentions the vinyl and the download version. Try Boomkat if you’re looking for the CD-version.



At first listen I thought that Alone Time (the opening track) was performed by a gamelan orchestra. It sounded like that, but it did not have the specific tuning. From the liner notes I learned what I probably should have heard: this is nothing like a gamelan orchestra, but a collection of works for prepared piano. My first association was not thát strange it seems: one of the tracks is called Wind-Up Gamelan. 

Erik Griswold has perfected playing the prepared piano in such a way that it does sound like a completely new instrument, and not just like a piano with beer caps between the strings.

“Griswold’s compositions remind us that the piano is never truly knowable, or known. Each composition collected here reveals another detail or way of knowing the piano. The preparations release something in excess of the instrument itself.”

At moments the piano sounds like a piano, but more often it sounds like an unknown plucked string instrument, or bells, or something unknown. Or like a gamelan orchestra. But preparing the piano is not the  goal in itself: it is the means to create a playful kind of music that is a pleasure to listen to. Music in which ‘the language of the piano is born and reborn.’

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Janek Schaefer * Island People * Gavin Miller

Island People

Janek Schaefer - Glitter in my Tears


If you need an overview of Janek Schaefer’s musical career, I guess it’s best to head over to Secret Thirteen and check out the Double Decade Dubplate, a mix including a track from each of his 33 albums over 22 years.
An iconic artist, with a CV filled with many projects, installations, compositions ‘between the boundaries of ambient, field recordings, electro-acoustic experimentations and social commentary.”
But, as serious as his work is, he is also one to the joyful things in life: as a musical version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. He also DJ’s as Mr.Manic on weddings and parties (for over ánd under 18) – Lucky Dip Disco fun guaranteed!
As serious as his art projects are, he’s always one to put things in a different perspective too.

Glitter In My Tears, the title of his last full album, released on Room40, somehow represents this way of looking at life and things. It’s a serious enough musical collection, but at the same time the kaleidoscopic atmosphere of these “multiple interludes” is not as heavy and dark as many other ambient projects are.

As Schaefer comments: “The album was composed in moments when most people are asleep in the dark while the lucky ones are still dancing in the lights. “ (some of the beats they’re dancing to even seep  through the cracks: What Comes Around).
“Sparkling lights glisten in the hidden shadows of our feelings, with outpourings of love falling through the depths of despair. It’s based on a true story’.

The 26 tracks are all relatively short (around the 2 minutes, with some exceptions to both sides), and cover a multitude of emotions – from Sad to Joyful via Detached and Melancholic.

“Each piece us a microcosm of haunted memory, that unites to create a record of melancholic vignettes. It’s a record that reflects Schaefer’s obsession with texture, atmosphere and emotive acoustic states. An unfolding compendium of motifs and repetitive fragments, fading from the memories of our emotions.”

Speaking about (haunted) memories: Hells Bells may ring a ‘bell’ with some of you: a different version was included as Bell Ballet in the Ambientblog Anniversary Mix.

Island People


After more than 20 years, the legendary Raster-Noton label is restructured into Raster-Mediarun by Olaf Bender, and Noton, curated by Carsten Nicolai. The latter is dedicated to the projects of Alva Noto, while Raster-Media will continue the catalogue that we know from Raster-Noton.

Island People is one of the first released on the refreshed Raster-Mediaand though it perfectly fits the continued label it also seems to introduce a slightly new direction: somewhat less academical/analytical perhaps.
Island People is a band (yes, a ‘band’) of four: mastering engineer Conor Dalton,  Grammy winning producer David Donaldson, DJ/musician Graeme Reedy and guitarist Ian MacLennan.

Living  in Berlin and Glasgow, the four exchanged ideas and sounds over the last three years. The result is this 80 minute album (14 tracks) full of layered dubby ambient electronics. An album displaying a fresh attitude and a sound that is “as open as a natural phenomenon, developing a certain feeling of euphoria over time.”
Each of the 14 tracks explore different ideas, resulting in an adventurous album without a single weak moment. 

The future looks bright for Raster-Media (and us) if this is any indication of their new direction.  


Gavin Miller Illuminate


The title of this 21 minute 2-track EP can be taken seriously: it’s (or was) available as a USB lightbulb drive that spread a soft blue light while you listen to the tracks called Floodlight and A Brief Flicker.

Gavin Miller (who is one half of Worriedaboutsatan and also the musical supervisor for Adam Curtis’ documentary Hypernormalisation) creates a rather dark atmosphere, so a little extra light comes in handy.
The ominous drones and soundscapes are merged with acoustic (guitar) themes that soften the atmosphere. Two beautiful cinematic pieces that leave you wanting more.

The lightbulb edition got a second “pressing” because the first edition sold out in a few hours. But if you prefer listening in the dark there’s also a download-only version.

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Janek Schaefer – Unfolding Luxury / Inner Space Memorial

Unfolding Luxury

In two separate vinyl album releases (also available as digital downloads), the Dekorder label presents a beautiful overview of the work of Janek Schaeferpresenting new pieces –  in some cases created by collating existing material.

In his work, Janek Schaefer has always focused on the multiple aspects of sound, exploring it using self-built devices he used to manipulate sounds in thought-provoking installations.
The audio recordings are only one-dimensional representation of his muti-media installations, which are often conceptual and visually attractive.

One of his earliest works (1995) recorded the fragmented noises of a sound activated dictaphone while it was travelling overnight through the Post Office. This piece (called ‘Self Storage’) was presented on an exhibition where he shared works with artists like Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson.
Since then, Schaefer’s many performances and exhibitions have earned him many prizes and awards.

Unfolding Luxury

Unfolding Luxury beyond the City of Dreams“, the first album of the pair, contains seven relatively short pieces (ranging from 3 to 8 minutes).
Within the calm atmosphere of these pieces, there are many fascinating sounds to discover. Sounds that come to life even more when Schaefer explains where they came from or what occasion they were created for:

A piece for his brother-in-law composed on the day he passed away (‘He had seen the white lights of heavens gatem but returned, and became fascinated by what he called God’s divine darkness in lifetime.’).

An orchestral drone piece ‘featuring an old French lady singing to her cats with an extra celestial chorus’.

“A Carpenters LP piano loop layered again and again over a high sky recording, which was recorded using a helium balloon floating in the clouds over the city, with raindrops”.

“The City of Dreams” seems to be reaching all the way up to heaven, with its multiple piano motifs “recorded live with my twin-arm turntable, additional overlays recorded with Mark Robinson on his old family piano.”

The closing piece for this album (“Beyond”) features a return of the Carpenter’s sample, this time mixed with recordings made in “Grand Central Station at closing time when the vast hall was deserted, and the full majesty of the acoustic space could be appreciated. Stillettos pass by forming polyrhythm’s, as the last train announces it’s departure…”

Janek Schaefer has the gift to present  well-respected serious sound-art with a deep emotional appeal, while not forgetting his relativistic sense of humor.

Inner Space Memorial

The title of the second album, Inner Space Memorial in Wonderland“, is a combination of the titles of the two pieces included, each taking up a full side of the album with about 20 minutes.

Inner Space Memorial”, created in honour of J.G. Ballard, is a monumental organ drone piece for which -in the original installation- ‘a pair of speaker cones were turned around to play back into the void of their cabinets.’

“Wonderland” is the finale piece of Schaefer’s Asleep at the Wheel…” exhibition soundtrack, with location recordings recorded on the footbridge over the M3 (the six lane motorway that was built right in front of his (J.G. Ballard’s) home while he was writing Crash and Concrete Island.

Compared to (the somewhat intrusive sound of) side A, this piece reflects the calm of a roadtrip at night: “A single majestic daydream that drives you forwards as reality undertakes you. A work that questions where our culture is heading further down the highway ahead. Ideal music for when you need to stay awake on the road.”

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