Liner Notes 13: Elena Colombi

Elena Colombi shares an extraordinarily curious mix in the Red Light Radio x Sonos Liner Notes series. The musical style of the DJ and NTS radio host taps into a wide array of influences and inspirations. For her, knowing and feeling music doesn’t mean specialising in one particular genre. Not surprising, considering her upbringing. Italian born, London based Elena was raised by a nomadic hippy couple. “I recall often spending Christmas in places like India, Thailand or South America, rather than in my home country. Dub, reggae and world music were the soundtrack to those early years”, she says.

Elena’s ability to conjure up a distinctive mood with her selection is remarkable. ‘Warm and pretty, but they shade the tender melodies and hints of violence and loss’, write Pitchfork on one of the tracks used in her podcast. In a way, this applies to her complete set – a moving excursion in which divergent moods unite. Elena follows this observation. “ I didn’t plan a narrative for this mix, it’s just a series of records I love, because they somehow speak to me”, she adds. “My mood and emotional state deeply influence the way I play. Most of the tracks I picked have a very personal meaning and remind me of someone. So in a way it’s a kind of a serenade dedicated to people who are part of my life.”
It’s warm inside, cold outside. Listening and writing the notes with the view of Amsterdam’s February frost from a warm living room, is just perfect.

  • Track 1Celestial AshAnna Homler And Steve Moshier

    Elena starts with a deep, mystical song by Anna Holmer. In her performances, Homler amalgamates music, spoken word, installation and intermedia into alternative languages that extend the possibilities of meaning and communication. Sounding as well ancient as post-modern, Ms Homler blurs the line between words and music. In “Celestial Ash” she examines the symbolic and tonal qualities of words and objects. The acoustics imply an ecclesiastical setting, but the trancing vocals feel rather pagan than sainted. We hear a whispering as well as a loud voice at almost the same volume, which clutters our feeling of time and space.
    For this song, Homler worked with Steve Moshier - a composer and performer whose work encompasses theatre, dance, the concert stage, and the internet.

  • Track 2ShinsenSusumu Yokota

    Repetetive, acoustic guitar comes into play. This in combination with Homler’s vocals, has a hypnotising effect. Susumu Yokota was a Japanese techno and ambient producer. He died in March 2015, after a long period of medical treatment. His “Shinsen” is a profound piece of work, taken from Yokota’s highly acclaimed “Sakura” album. Pitchfork: “Susumu Yokota is capable of crafting subtle music that's not afraid to be warm and pretty, but they shade the tender melodies and hints of violence and loss.” Yokota’s ambient music is grounded, with a strong sense of time. He made his name in Japan as a house DJ and producer, so this rather functional background could explain why.

  • Track 3Vedersi Passare Le Cose AttornoGianni Gebbia

    Elena leads us to less abstract territories with an avant-garde jazz piece by the Italian saxophonist and composer Gianni Gebbia. On “Vedersi Passare Le Cose Attorno” Gebbia plays in a velvety style, influenced by the late Ornette Coleman and Jim Pepper. He delves deeply into the simple repetitive melodies Coleman is so famous for. The song sounds crystalline, minimalistic, in which Gebbia’s solo saxpohone is rather subservient to the subtle melodies, which are created and deconstructed while it continues through the listener’s mind. “Picking a track from this record was very difficult, I wanted them all to be in”, Elena adds. “I had the album on repeat and couldn't make up my mind. Every single song on t here is a stunning piece of music.”
    Gebbia is part of the solo-saxophone genre. A trend that has a rich, but largely unmapped history in contemporary music, particularly in jazz. Many musicians in the genre use extended techniques, a vocabulary of the saxophone beyond its normal range.
    Originally released in 1987, Utopia Records is planning a reissue of the self-titled album that features this track.

  • Track 4FantasticoDaniela Casa

    From modern times to medieval friendliness; Elena introduces us to Daniela Casa’s fairylike home recorded music. Casa is often named with other Italian female electronic composers such as Giulia De Mutiis-Allessandroni, Doris Norton and Suzanne Ciani. She composed “Fantastico” in the seventies in her private studio as a young mother. The track is taken from “Sovrapposizione Di Immagini”, the album that collects highlights of that period, not long before her untimely death at the age of 42. 
Originally designed for use in radio, film, TV and other industry specific applications, the seldom heard selections on “Sovrapposizione Di Immagini” combine ingenious homemade and hi-tech disciplines, providing scores for Italian thrillers, nature documentaries, educational projects and commercial sound installations.
    The album is made available again by the incredibly imaginative Finders Keepers imprint.

  • Track 5Kaes On AegVelly Joonas

    Velly Joonas is one of the many musicians who covered the incredible “Feel Like Making Love” song by Roberta Flack. This Estonian cover song landed (next to a cover of Frida’s "I See Red") on a 7” in 2015, decades after the recording. Both of the tracks featured on the release are taken from the Estonian Radio archives.
    Roberta Flack’s as well as Velly Joonas’ "Feel Like Makin' Love" instrumental is composed by singer-songwriter Eugene McDaniels. Other artists who covered the iconic song are Bob James, D’Angelo, George Benson, Marlena Shaw, Roy Ayers, Shirley Bassey and Isaac Hayes. Released nine months before Roberta Flack’s album of the same title, the song became one of the greatest musical successes of 1974, as well as of Roberta Flack's recording career.
    Elena prefers Joonas version over the original: “I find Velly Joonas translation of the lyrics very intriguing. When I usually select a cover song the reference to the original is important but in this case the whole focus is on Velly Joonas herself and her beautiful voice, not the original track.”, she explains. “I discovered the record at the time of the release, while producing Trevor Jackson's show on NTS. His taste in music is very broad and has been a real inspiration to me.”

  • Track 6JPX08Atom Cristal & Satellite

    The mix goes into a different realm with Atom Cristal, a French pioneering group in electronic music. “There’s something about the combination of synth music and DIY approach that really works for me…” Elena made hay while the sun shined, digging the bins for great Parisian bands on the spot. “I was on a city trip in Paris with my girlfriend at the time when I bought a copy. All tracks from this album are great.” Atom Cristal’s adventure started out in 1974, in the town of Puteaux, where they attended the birth of La Défense, the archetype of the modern Parisian districts. As a fan of kraut and psych-rock, Jean-Pierre Chatté bought one of the first EMS synthesizers on sale in the city and soon after met sound engineer Michel Goujon. Atom Cristal was basically a bunch of friends keen on jamming in Chatté’s cellar. It took the band almost 10 years to release their first two cassettes and a vinyl maxi, as well as a track on the compilation Paris-Tokyo. “When I found this record I didn’t know anything about the band. Some of my all time favourites have been bought like this.. sometimes the title catches my attention, or the cover, the label or the fact the record is placed in an unexpected section.”

  • Track 7Sheet ShowMinimal Man

    Repetetive, hypnotic vocals reoccur in Elena’s mix. These seem to be her introduction to a new chapter, which leads us into colder territories. “I came across the music of Minimal Man because Jean Young, a dear friend of mine, played a track during a night at The Yard Theatre. It must have been four or five years ago.” Minimal Man was formed in San Francisco, California in 1979 by electro-industrial/post-punk pioneer Patrick Miller, a sound and visual artist who moved to San Francisco in the late 1970s. The band often changed members, even members of bands such as Tuxedomoon, Factrix and others active in the then-thriving San Francisco experimental, post-punk and industrial scenes occasionally jumped on the bandwagon. Following Tuxedomoon’s European tour, Miller relocated to Belgium where he released four more Minimal Man LPs, including "Sex With God", which features the “Sheet Show” track. Elena continues: “Since that night I've been on the hunt for more Minimal Man albums. But they were difficult to find until one particular evening, when I found a seller from Germany who had three I was after for a decent price!”

  • Track 8Still CloseSimona Buja

    This is a Kirlian Camera record under the name of Simona Buja – the group’s singer at the time. Kirlian Camera was an Italian electronic act fronted by Angelo Bergamini, who have encompassed many genres, but became famous for their dark, gothic sound.
    Bergamini founded Kirlian Camera's first incarnation in Spring 1980, with help from some close friends and singer Simona Buja. Their first demo tape immediately led to a record deal, signing to Italian Records, an independent but largely popular label.
    In 1999, Kirlian Camera were drawn into the fuss over Goth culture, current at the time, when they were mentioned by social scientist Alfred Schobert in Der Spiegel. The group was accused of being an example of a "neo-fascist element" in contemporary goth and EBM music. In their next album, the group stated that they were offended by the hunt against them (see their website), that they wanted to keep their political opinion to themselves. However, they were not allowed to respond in der Spiegel (Wikipedia), and as a result show cancellations and protests by Anti-Fascist Action continued through 2002.

  • Track 9SehanineLorenzo Montanà

    If being weightless in space would have a sound, the intergalactic ambient music by the Italian Lorenzo Montanà would be the perfect soundtrack. Elena came across Montanà's music while browsing on Bandcamp, a week before recording this mix. “His series of CD releases with the late Pete Namlook sounded really interesting and not long after I caught myself listening to his vast discography”, she explains. “There's something beautifully cinematic about his ambient compositions, so I instinctively included the track in my selection.” Lorenzo Montanà is an Italian soundtrack composer and electronic producer. Together with Gianluca Lo Presti, he founded Disco Dada Records. Starting in the nineties, he produced & arranged more than 40 albums, working with a variety of artists across the electronic, ambient, IDM, jazz and rock genres.

  • Track 10In Linistea NoptilRodion G.A.

    The deserted atmosphere continues with music by another pioneering artist. In the late ’70s and early ’80s in communist Romania, Rodion Ladislau Roșca and his band Rodion G.A. created a hybrid of electronic music, psychedelia and progressive rock that, decades later, has revealed itself to be remarkably ahead of its time. Rejecting the obedience of the old musical order, his electronic sound was partly the result of the environmental circumstances: he recorded “In Linistea Noptil” during the darkest days of Ceaușescu’s regime. Thanks to a new school of local music makers, archivists and Strut Records effort, the lost tapes of Rodion reached a wider audience. 

  • Track 11IbistixSyrinx

    This wonderful, lyrical track starts with a dramatic saxophone. It quickly becomes a mix of electronics with symphonic orchestration and a number of unidentified sounds. An elegant feast for curious listeners. Meet the trio behind this otherworldly sound palette: John Mills-Cockell, a Toronto-born synth explorer blessed by contact with the electronic avant-garde early in his teens, and his cohorts: the freeform saxophonist Doug Pringle and mystic/percussionist Alan Wells. They formed the group Syrinx in 1970, and were only active for two years. “Ibistix” is taken from Syrinx’ “Long Lost Relatives” album, that was released by the Canadian True North records in 1971. Both their albums, plus a collection of live works have been reissued in 2016 by the RVNG Intl. label.

  • Track 12Tempi CampiTime Is a Mountain

    ‘It all starts with a sound. The sound of a monophonic synth. Then we have the Drums. And what binds it all together: The Bass’, is written on their website.
    Time Is a Mountain is a very imaginative Swedish free-form trio, with bassist Johan Berthling, drummer Andreas Werliin and keyboardist Tomas Hallonsten. Werliin is a skilled and resourceful drummer, who animates the recording with continual imagination and Hallonsten plays with an equal measure of invention. Berthling provides the compositional basis to stabilize the storm evoked by his allies - it's a role he's more than equipped to perform. Elena: "This is a record I'm very proud of. I bought it from Music & Video Exchange, an incredibly underrated second hand record shop in London. And although I love listening to it a lot I haven't found a single person who knows the band to exchange thoughts about it!"

  • Track 13ResurrectorBernard Szajner

    “Tempi Campi” feels a bit like the concluding song in Elena’s mix, but on the contrary, it’s time for a speedy and wonderful new adventure. “Resurrector” is an amazing organic electronic piece by the French Bernard Szajner. A track in which nature and machine blend effortlessly, with beautiful guitar play by Pierre Chereze. The song is taken from Szajner’s first album “Some Deaths Take Forever”.
    Before releasing his music in the late seventies, Bernard Szajner was a successful pioneer in using laser technology for commercial and artistic purposes. He created his laser harp (or Syeringe) in 1980. With this instrument he explored the relationship between music and light.

  • Track 14Roses For The PoetIhor Tsymbrovsky

    “Roses For The Poet” is taken from Tsymbrovsky’s “Прийди Янголе“ (Come, Angel) album, originally a cassette release on the Polish Koka Records, reissued last year by the Dusseldorf based Salon des Amateurs affiliate Vladimir Ivkovic on his Offen Music label. The album was first recorded in Lviv, Ukraine, 1995, and issued on cassette one year after. “Roses For The Poet” is sung in Ukrainian, see below for a translated excerpt. Elena: “I'm very glad Vladimir reissued this, Ihor’s voice is so deep and otherworldly. I shiver every time I listen to it. It really touches something within you. Vladimir is a very special person, I feel like I've known him for years even though we've only met twice. Whatever he decides to release is a must-have in my collection.”

    (Translated Excerpt)
    Come to me, my Angel,
    come soaring down… and have a seat… and faint…
    I'll see which gender You have.
    Will I penetrate a cavity
    Or drink a tallow from a fully ripe fruit…
    If blood on your lips blazes up
    like a sacrificial fire…
    …you'll turn white—an Angel…
    …I'll down a chalice of her—and become a…
    —and you'll faint and return to your fairy tale
    a feathered beast
    to cherish your wings…

    I'll turn into a color of white flesh—
    —a grave-man—
    —a bone in the beak—
    leaving the joy of birds.