“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. As someone who has to write for a living away from the zine it’s often hard to find the right music that gives me a taut creative drive without driving me to distraction, and it’s usually something that locks into a focused groove that does it for me, occasionally building but never climaxing, metronomic yet palpably human. This year there’s been two albums that have totally done the trick, “Ghosted” and “Shebang”, both on Drag City and both by Oren Ambarchi, who has been described aptly as an “extended guitar hero”. I’ve been playing songs (or rather movements) from both on my show on Repeater Radio but i’m not the only DJ on there to extol Ambarchi’s virtuoso virtues. Recently I swapped notes with Repeater’s Stagger Lee who told me he saw Oren do a set at Tusk a few years back with Neil Campbell and Mick Flower and that it was in his “top 10 gigs of all time. Pure joy. It seemed to start where most sets would crescendo and then power on”. It’s all about tantric multi-textured control on “Shebang”, as delectable as the slice of unicorn birthday cake depicted on the cover.
I first became aware of his work with Sun O))) and Oren’s excellent collaboration with Stephen O’Malley and Randall Dunn while working on the Quietus. He’s obviously been busy since then but the two imperious albums this year – “Ghosted”: a named collaboration with Andreas Werliin, Johan Berthling, and Oren Ambarchi and “Shebang” (under his own name but also featuring top notch contributors including long-term accomplice Jim O’Rourke and the British lap-steel go-to guy BJ Cole) are sure to be among many critics records of the year list. They’re definitely in mine. Which is why it’s fantastic to welcome to these pages, Oren Ambarchi!
Here’s “II” from “Shebang” to whet your whistle.
Oren Ambarchi has come a long way from being inspired by an Alan Licht record into recording and overdubbing his own guitar work onto cassette and then pressing onto vinyl which then swamped his floor space. Now he’s filling live performance spaces with his sound, and with his uniquely building guitar and percussive soundscapes.
“Shebang” follows on in a sequence and methodology of work begun with the albums “Quixotism” (2014), “Hubris” (2016) (about which more later in Oren’s song pick) and “Simian Angel” (2019) where Oren has selected a global who’s who of sonic architecture to “dialogue” with his “guitar + triggers” inventions. Although they weren’t in the same room at the same time in this instance (some in Sweden, some in Japan for example) the likes of the aforementioned Cole, O’Rourke plus Sam Dunscomb, Chris Abrahams and Julia Reidy recorded music that feels in symbiotic conversation. Their pieces are brought in and out at will by the impresario conducting of Ambarchi triggering the sounds through his guitar, be it the piano top line shimmer, the staccato percussion or the driving bassline, for what is undeniably mystical effect. Like a mirage out of the dessert, it shimmers in and out of view but always invokes you to keep heading towards it, to embrace it before it disappears like sand in your grasping hands.
It’s not so much music as the ebb & flow of a conversation, the merging of parts to form a shadowy whole.
And I might have mentioned that I love it.
I was keen to find out what Oren, a musician who is equally academic and instinctual would choose as his tune for our long running feature. It’s always surprising to get the same artiste featured even though this is the 540th pick in the series let alone something from the same album, but it’s another go-around for Annette Peacock and “X-Dreams” (also dibs-ed by Alex Edkins of METZ/Weird Nightmare). So without further ado, it’s over to Oren Ambarchi for his “song for ewe”…
Song For Ewe – Oren Ambarchi
Artist: Annette Peacock
Song: Real and Defined Androgens
Album: X Dreams
“I first discovered Annette Peacock as a teen. I was super obsessed with guitar genius Allan Holdsworth and I had a bootleg video of Bill Bruford’s “Rock Goes To College” from 1979 which featured Holdsworth. I remember at some point in the show, this mysterious vocalist appeared.
This was my first introduction to Annette’s work and I was definitely intrigued. I didn’t realise that I had a bunch of Paul Bley records where many of her compositions were featured. It took a while for me to connect the dots.
Years later I became infatuated and tried to find any release of hers or information on her work. The album that really clicked with me was “X Dreams” from 1978, which featured the incredible “Real and Defined Androgens”. I just love how repetitive and relentless it is, there’s so much tension in the playing – the band slowly builds and builds and builds, getting more and more insane as it progresses. In the midst of all this chaos Annette retains this amazing ice queen vibe.
(I think the RZA sampled her piano motif at the end..).
“Real and Defined Androgens” was a huge inspiration for my piece “Hubris Part 3”. I think it’s pretty obvious but most people don’t hear it.
2 chords, back and forth, with more and more intensity, over and over and over until oblivion.
Before we played Hubris live in London I asked sax player Mats Gustafsson to listen to the sax playing on the Annette track. The sax playing is so bonkers, I wanted Mats to emulate it. I thought he did a pretty good job but I was worried he’d have a heart attack before we were done haha.”
I was fortunate to meet Annette Peacock a few times and I mentioned how much I loved “Real and Defined Androgens”.
She replied, “Yeah, two chords, simple yet very effective. That one was really big in the gay s&m clubs!”.”
THANKS VERY MUCH TO OREN AND SIMON RUSSELL (DRAG CITY)
PHOTO OF OREN AMBARCHI BY TRIANOS PAKIOUFAKIS
“Shebang” is out on Drag City this Friday 30th September.
Here’s Oren’s artist page on the Drag City website
and you should definitely invest in “Ghosted” while you’re about it.