How to make beer

My friend Peter has a hop bine (not vine: hop vines are called bines) growing in his backyard in Granville. A couple of months ago, he put out a call on Facebook to any home brewers who wanted to help pick them, so I said yes.

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We had fun picking them, and then had a delicious meal at a restaurant in Auburn, which Peter and Megan don’t want you to know about.

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Hops are only ripe for a couple of weeks a year: almost all beer is made with dried hops. To dry hops properly you need a heater/ventilator arrangement – the old-fashioned ones are called ‘oasts’ – or one of those kitchen dehydrator things. I wanted to use the majority of the hops ‘wet’ (boil them fresh, without drying them) but I dried some on a cake rack in the kitchen to keep them for dry-hopping at the end. Hops are pretty, and when freshly picked they smell a lot like dope, to which they are closely related.

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Later that week I started brewing. I’ve been making beer since August last year and up till now have just used kits, where you get malt syrup which has already been hopped, top it up with water and add yeast. So this was my first go at doing a boil: to get the bitterness out of hops you need to boil them for at least an hour with some malt. I also had to make up my own recipe, which was this:

  • One tin of Coopers Light Malt Extract
  • 1kg of Hop & Grain Light Dry Malt Extract
  • a big bag of fresh hops
  • Mangrove Jacks M44 US West Coast yeast

We didn’t know which variety of hops they were: a friend of Peters had rescued the rhizome from an old farm in the Southern Highlands. Different varieties are good for different things: some for bittering, others for aroma and dry-hopping (at the end of fermentation). Because of the uncertainty, there was no point being scientific about how much hops to put in the boil: I just put as much as I could fit in the hop sock and boiler, and added a couple of handfuls later in the boil in case I could get any complex flavours out of them.

I picked the yeast because I was aiming at a pale ale, and if there was any hop character I wanted to give it a chance to come through.

I added a quarter of the malt syrup to the boil – you need some of it because enzymes in the malt help extract the alpha acids from the hops, but if you boil all the malt, it caramelises and darkens. Boiling the wort with hops made the house smell like weed and Vegemite.

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I put the rest of the hops into the freezer.

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I bottled it after about twelve days in the fermenter, when I’d had a steady gravity reading for three days in a row. Tasting it at this stage, there was a very strong bitterness, which was a good sign that the boil had worked properly.

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For the last couple of days I dunked some of the hops in a bag in the fermenter: if they turned out to be a modern variety like Galaxy this might have given some aroma to the beer.

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Then I bottle conditioned them under the stairs for three weeks. A few of the bottles leaked a little in the last week: I think this is a sign that the fermentation got a bit stuck in the fermenter and restarted after bottling. The extra pressure from CO2 has pushed beer out through tiny cracks in the bottles. Next time I’ll leave it in the fermenter for two weeks.

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The result is a lot crisper and cleaner than I’d expected, and the strong bitterness at bottling has mellowed a lot. It’s extremely drinkable, and much more like an Australian pale ale than an American – like a less yeasty version of Coopers Green. There’s hardly any hop aroma, which is probably because of the variety: it’s only in the last few decades that Australian hop strains like Galaxy, which give a big citrusy nose, have been around. So I didn’t end up with a big hoppy American IPA, but an Australian-style pale ale is much more in keeping with what the original hops would have been used for.

Drinking beer which is made from green flowers which you picked yourself is absurdly satisfying. When I started this I thought that the idea of moving beyond kit brewing was overkill: I’m not going to start malting my own grain, but I’m a lot more confident about making up recipes and boiling now.

(I get my kit and ingredients from The Hop and Grain in Marrickville, who are very friendly and helpful despite the fact that I can’t grow a beard.)

POSTSCRIPT: on drinking a few of these I’ve found that it’s not very alcoholic. This is what the OG/FG calculations predicted – they estimated about 2.5% – at the time, I thought this might have been due to error measuring the OG. I think either fermentation got stuck, or the original wort just didn’t have enough available sugar for some reason. It carbonated properly, so there was still live yeast when I bottled it. Perhaps my assumption that one tin of malt extract + 1Kg DME toppped up to 23L would be roughly equivalent in available sugar to a kit was incorrect? Any experienced home brewers with advice, leave a comment. The OG reading was 1.030 and the final gravity was 1.011.

POST-POSTSCRIPT: after consultation with my brother-in-law and a few web searches, I think my DME theory is correct: it has less available sugar for fermentation than the same weight of dextrose. The only other time I’ve used it, it was in a kit which specifically asked for DME and was I suppose designed with that in mind because the resulting IPA was at least 6% ABV. I’m going to try this recipe again with a mix of DME and dextrose: I haven’t got the same quantity of Peter’s hops left but I’ll use what I’ve got plus some Galaxy or another good aroma variety, and see how I go. Science!

Behoof

An archaic word, if it’s not too absurd,
Gives the air of an all-knowing Mentor.
But no-one approves when you write “it behooves”,
Unless you’re an irl centaur.

Rise of Trump shows that I, some Australian Blogger, am Correct

The seemingly-unstoppable ascendancy of orange-haired real estate mogul, businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump in the contest to decide the next Republican presidential candidate has lead many to ask whether this is the rise of a new form of American fascism. But before we ask whether Trump really is another Hitler, we should consider a more important question. How does this alarming scenario afford me, and other commentators, none of whom are experts and many of whom are on different continents, an opportunity to be correct?

There is no doubt that Trump’s confounding of the GOP establishment is alarming, but I would like to position myself as being far more calm and mature than those who believe this is the birth of a hitherto-unseen and poisonous form of American nationalism. Now, I’m not a professional historian. I have no especial qualifications in the theory of fascism and other related forms of totalitarian dictatorship as these were manifested in the course of the twentieth century, and, statistically speaking, neither do you. But we shouldn’t lose our heads simply because the conservative party of the wealthiest and most powerful nation on Earth appears to be having its collective lunch stolen by a blowhard tycoon who is backed by throngs of shrieking, violent racists and who stands to have a long shot at the leadership of the United States.

Let’s consider the significant differences between Trump and Hitler. Hitler, as any schoolchild knows, drew considerable support from the ranks of restive, unemployed and impoverished Germans whose nation had been wracked by punitive war reparations, hyperinflation and needlessly sarcastic musical satirists. Trump’s supporters, by contrast, although they are restive, underemployed and financially, on a global scale, somewhat inconvenienced, show little or no interest in cabaret, with the exception of Wayne Newton. Moreover, as citizens of the United States of America, they come from a completely different country to Hitler’s followers.

Hitler was a painter manqué and former soldier from an unremarkable family whose amoral ideology and extreme racial intolerance brought about the most brutal war of annihilation and genocide in world history; Trump is the heir to a New York City real estate fortune and has shown no particular inclination toward the visual arts. Trump is a serial divorcée with a decades-long reputation for sleaziness who has made highly inappropriate comments about the desirability of his own daughter; Hitler, although he is widely believed by almost everyone to have had a heinously fucked-up sexuality, was childless.

Even were it not for all these serious distinctions between Hitler and Trump, the most vital difference is one of timing. Hitler happened in the olden days and was ultimately defeated in a series of events which, calamitous though they were, are progressively disappearing from living memory, and which ultimately serve as a reassurance to people like me that our comfortable lives have been safeguarded by a long historical process which we were fortunate enough to end up on the winning side of. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is happening right now, and any suggestion that he is quite a bit like Hitler has to be fought against with every instinct and fibre of our being, lest that reassuring sense of comfort be disturbed.

Besides, Trump, even though he is a notorious career racist who retweets praise from actual Nazis, has been endorsed by America’s most well-known member of the Ku Klux Klan and seems to have a lock on the candidacy, is not a seasoned political operator like Ted Cruz, a wily Republican vampire about whom I first heard three weeks ago. It may be too soon to say for sure, but if I repeat the phrase “the GOP establishment” enough times and with an appropriate sense of measured conviction, signs are that events will show that this armchair observer is right.

A new refutation of the timeline

Once the idealist argument is admitted, I see that it is possible, and perhaps inevitable, to go further. For Hume it is not licit to speak of the form of the moon or of its colour: the form and colour are the moon; neither can one speak of the perceptions of the mind, since the mind is nothing other than a series of perceptions. Once location and presence which are continuities, are negated, once space too has been negated, I do not know what right we have to that continuity which is time. Let us imagine a present moment of any kind. During one of his nights on the Mississippi, Huckleberry Finn recognised the soft indefatigable sound of the water; he negligently reaches for his phone: he sees a vague number of tweets, an indistinct thread about the Clinton campaign; he skips forward to the top of his timeline, checks his mentions, scrolls back a few pages; notes that some Australians are arguing about something impossible to understand; then, he sinks back into his sleep as into the dark waters. Idealist metaphysics declares that to add a material substance (the object) and a spiritual substance (the subject) to those perceptions is venturesome and useless; I maintain that it is no less illogical to think that such perceptions are terms in a series whose beginning is as inconceivable as its end. To add to the words behind the borosilicate glass, Huck perceives the notion of a number of persons widely separated in space who have typed them; for myself, it is no less unjustifiable to add a chronological precision: the fact, for example, that the foregoing event took place on the night of the seventh of February, 2016, between ten or eleven minutes past four. In other words, I deny, with the arguments of idealism, the vast temporal series which idealism admits. Hume denied the existence of an absolute space, in which all things have their place; I deny the existence of one single time, in which all things are linked as in a chain. The denial of coexistence is no less arduous than the denial of succession.

The concept that there is a single timeline, an absolute ticking clock containing all tweets, to which any of our mere individual timelines is at best an approximation, is no less an illusion, or an ideal of the software developer. Just as our perception of Twitter is atomised, a constellation of discrete moments of anger, amusement, impatience, being owned, with no necessary chain of causation linking them other than the ex post facto construction of a Storify or a screencap, so too is the underlying data, striped across who knows how many hard disks, a maelstrom of letters in an infinite and roaring library of server rooms and databases, which may only be composed into a calendar by an act of subsequent rationalisation.

And yet, and yet… denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations. As much as I may desultorily build these feeble attempts at metaphysics, in several hours night will fall over the two Americas, and not long after that, all of the Australians will be noisily waking up, an unfortunate fact of the orientation of the globe which Twitter’s algorithmic timeline is unlikely to overcome.

Ashes to Ashes

I can remember exactly where I was the first time I saw this: a loungeroom in Engadine when it came on Countdown. I was mesmerised. It’s still one of my favourite songs and music videos. One of the first things I thought on hearing the news was to hope that my daughters weren’t too upset about it: it’s amazing that my reactions to one performer can span from when I was ten years old to having teenage kids of my own.

This is my favourite: a joyous, soaring anthem to love and mortality.

 

Black Streamers in the Firmament

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Come, let us march against the powers of heaven,
And set black streamers in the firmament,
To signify the slaughter of the gods.
Marlowe, Tamburlaine

After I saw Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, I wanted to write a follow-up to my original post on space megastructures: the superweapon. (This post contains spoilers.)

Many reviews of the film have commented on the repetition of elements from the 1977 movie, particularly Starkiller Base, which is an even bigger Death Star. It’s worth remembering that this repetition is a process which started in the third film, which ends with the destruction of the incomplete successor to the original moon-sized space station. I’m not here to venture on the picayune task of criticising the Empire’s war economy but to tease out some of the literary antecedents and cultural implications of this compulsive tendency to the Next Big Gun.

The megastructure in general is enigmatic, often abandoned, usually dangerous but in some sense neutral. It inflates architecture to cosmic scales in a way which excites our awe and consoles both our nostalgia for the heroic engineering feats of the past and our terror at just how large the universe is. Superweapons grow out of another aspect of architecture, which has always gone hand-in-hand with fortifications: just as the superhero magnifies the human figure in action so that it can scale up to respond to the violence of technology—faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive—the superweapon takes that very technological violence and brings it to bear on the heavens themselves, albeit in a way which is strangely retrograde.

The history of warfare up to the twentieth century is one of growth: bigger castles, bigger armies, longer supply lines, bigger fronts, and bigger guns. Although the very largest bombards in medieval siege warfare were reckless vanity pieces which fell on the far side of a trade-off between actual military efficacy, cost and safety, the general trend is clear. Two factors changed this: aircraft and modern explosives, which drastically warp the previously linear relationship between the size of a machine and the amount of destruction it could cause.

One of the more uncanny aspects of nuclear weapons is the sheer disproportion between their size and their effects. On the scale of a city, a fission bomb is a speck—it’s as if an ant were to detonate and destroy an entire meadow. The enormity of the forces which nuclear weapons unleash takes an effort to comprehend, which may be why Lucas’ superweapons don’t even bother to try. In a manoeuvre which matches the Star Wars universe’s blend of futuristic technology and ancient or medieval politics and cultural forms, the Death Stars and Starkiller Base don’t unleash the terrifying forces latent within the atom or unwind space-time or dissolve worlds into collapsing nuggets of strange quarks or anything like that. They’re just plain big, the spacegoing descendants of cannons like Mons Meg or Big Bertha rather than Fat Man and Little Boy.

As an aside: the avoidance of technobabble is a great strength of the Star Wars franchise. Literary sf has a flourishing roster of world-killing machines and substances which don’t rely on mere size, but on subtle reconfigurations of matter—Kurt Vonnegut’s Ice-nine, a polymorph of water ice which is stable and solid at room temperature, is my favourite—but the good Star Wars films never slow down enough to require the audience to comprehend anything more complicated than “great big laser beam” or “mystic energy”. The “midichlorians” of the prequels were a violation of this implicit deal with the audience. We find unseen and insidious world-killers a bit hard to get our collective head around in real life as well, as our reaction to the carbon dioxide output of our largest real-life megastructure, the global industrial, transport and energy network, shows.

The renaissance in written sf of wide-screen space adventure in the past few decades has seen a rebirth of superweapons. Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space series features a post-sentient machine species, the Inhibitors, who are practically connoisseurs of the different ways in which a spare gas giant can be reconfigured so as to sterilise whole systems, and the idea of forces hostile to life wielding weapons of galactic destruction also dominates the gaming franchises Halo and Mass Effect. However, the literary ancestors of the superweapons of Star Wars are much older: E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman novels, originally published as serials in the 30s and 40s, which share with the Star Wars universe an Elect wielding quasi-magical psychic powers, a never-ending succession of bad guys who are mere puppets of more shadowy even-worse guys, and an ever-escalating succession of Brobdingnagian weaponry. Although atomic bombs are mentioned in passing, these are squibs on the scale of the vertiginous arms race in the Lensman universe, in which entire planets are shunted between dimensions, rendered “inertialess” and used as faster-than-light wrecking balls.

A crucial distinction between the two legendaria: Smith’s heroes (the antecedents of Green Lantern as well as the Jedi) have few compunctions about using these nightmarish devices, whereas in the Star Wars films, superweapons are strictly for the Sith, and are defeated not by bigger guns but by plucky saboteurs and pilots with help from the Force. Partly this is down to historical background: Smith has a can-do WWII attitude, as opposed to Lucas’ muddle-headed, if sincere, boomer antiauthoritarianism. But it also leads us to an idea which is entirely absent from Smith and only present in a halting or partial form in Lucas: the superweapon as blasphemy.

Combien de fois, sacredieu, n’ai-je pas désiré qu’on pût attaquer le soleil, en priver l’univers, ou s’en server pour embraser le monde? (How many times, by God, have I not wanted to be able to attack the sun, deprive the universe of it, or use it to set the world ablaze?)
—Sade, The 120 Days of Sodom

Since the beginning of time, Man has yearned to destroy the sun.
—Montgomery Burns

Building a weapon to destroy a planet or a star, or both at once—Starkiller Base almost exactly matches the dream of de Sade’s libertine, as a sun is consumed in order to fuel its planet-busting energy beam. This seems like the ultimate act of Promethean defiance, even after we have emerged from a closed pre-Copernican universe to one where the sun is not an unique object but one of a swarm of billions: going far beyond the crime of an individual murder, or even genocide, to the willed act of snuffing out the grounds of living existence itself, or like Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, impiously setting one’s sights on the heavens. However, despite the spacefaring civilisation in Star Wars being dependent on planets—the only permanent space-dwellers we see are the crews of the Death Stars themselves—and although the Jedi’s vague spirituality privileges life forms and some idea of cosmic balance, there’s no suggestion in any of the films that the ambition to destroy a world or its sun is an evil in itself, in addition to the billions of deaths which it can cause.

Near the beginning of The Force Awakens, we see a beautiful image: an enormous spacecraft which has been wrecked on surface of a desert planet, shimmering through the hazy air like a mountain of metal. Ruins are part of the inheritance which science fiction bought over from the Gothic, and they’re part of the “used universe” aesthetic of the original Star Wars trilogy (unlike the prequels, which are distinctly lacking in the picturesque and decrepit—their scenery is glistening and fresh from the CGI render farm). Almost all of the architectural spaces occupied by the good guys are a combination of the old, the futuristic and the natural: caverns in ice or creeper-covered temples, fitted out with shiny battle computers. The ruined Imperial Star Destroyer turns this blend of the natural and the artificial into something transcendent, which might be called the post-Anthropocene sublime. The same progression is also evident on the Dark Side. The Death Stars, large though they were, were still essentially big buildings with interiors like austere yet lush corporate headquarters. Starkiller Base, by contrast, is an entire world, with a rather romantic landscape of mountains, glaciers and pine forests surrounding its equatorial canyon and vast red maw. It’s not clear whether it’s a planet which was transformed into a weapon, or a monstrous machine which accreted a rocky crust, weather system and biosphere, and perhaps in the post-Anthropocene aesthetic this distinction doesn’t really matter. The series’ repetition of the Big Dumb Gun idea can be forgiven for the sake of the object’s sheer insane beauty. Starkiller Base is lovingly rendered with imagery that corresponds to the ISS astronauts’ view of Earth combined with genuinely Cyclopean architecture: an apotheosis of the Teutonic, as if a Caspar David Friedrich landscape were transformed into a killing machine beyond the darkest dreams of Albert Speer and the Organisation Todt.

This blending of the natural and artificial may be what robs the superweapons of Star Wars of any Promethean transgression: if there’s no real difference between the two, then the ambition of Sade’s libertine to transmute mere individual crime into an absolute desecration loses its power. Even though Starkiller Base is inherently excessive—destroying a system’s sun would seem to be quite destructive enough without spewing the stolen fire back on all of its planets—and as much as it might suit the petulant, melodramatic character of Kylo Ren, the new trilogy’s villain, it’s only an instrument of mass murder, not cosmic blasphemy. Revealingly, the true test of his loyalty to the Dark Side is not the destruction of an entire inhabited solar system, but the murder of one man.

But even if Ren has the makings of a Sadean libertine, this would be too individualistic and aristocratic a role for the fascist bureaucracy he’s working within. The Dark Side can’t really defy the Universe or the Deity, because the Light Side it’s rebelling against never actually spells out its precepts, never says what rules it should break, apart from all the moralising about anger, fear and hatred. It would be like planning a Satanic revolt against cognitive-behavioural therapy. So all the Empire has to fall back on is the very un-Sadean concept of Order, and go back to the drawing boards for the next superweapon. Or does this very repetition betray the Sith’s darkest secret? The ennui of the Sadean libertine cannot be assuaged, after all, by taking the battle to the heavens, it’s the same story all over again, one planet is not enough, not even a whole system… Maybe next time, with a bigger gun

Music 2015

For someone who loves music, I’ve never felt like I was good at keeping up with it, and at this time of year peoples’ blog posts about their top ten new albums leave me feeling like a bit of an underachiever. I wonder if music fans fall into two categories, the ones who are always out there searching for the new stuff, and the ones like me who listen to records repeatedly, sometimes for years. One way out of this is to write up all the music which was new to me this year, because there’s always a lot of that. One of my daughters is currently digging through my vinyl with the carefree contempt for currency of the genuine teenage music fan, and I’m going to take a leaf out of her book. Although I’m not going to start buying vinyl again: this Christmas JB Hi-Fi is full of overpriced, 180-gsm gatefold-vinyl-reissues-with-mp3-download-of-your-post-punk-classics which I find simultaneously tempting and appalling: did we laugh at all those bad 90s CD remasters of the Boomer canon for nothing? This is the music I enjoyed the most in the last twelve months or so:

Autechre EPs box set – I was ridiculously late to Autechre, didn’t even own anything of theirs until after I saw them live in 2010, for reasons I still can’t really articulate but are to do with my own mood disorder and how it relates to alienating electronica. I’ve been playing catchup ever since. The only track on this I knew was the bleak/catchy “Gantz Graf” but it’s all really good, including the early, charmingly rave-y tracks. Ae completists should also check out the four-hour mix they did for a Dutch radio station – which not only confirms my theory that they’re still b-boys at heart, but also seems designed, with its onslaught of four-on-the-floor electro, to madden their symmetry-hating fans.

Charles Cohen: Retrospective and Brother I Prove You Wrong – quite a different sort of electronica. Cohen is a virtuoso of the Buchla synth, a strange analogue machine which looks like something Spock might have jammed on in Star Trek. He’s been performing around Philadelphia since the 70s but hardly released any recordings, apparently getting widely known by being sampled on various electronica singles starting in the 90s. One of my workmates tipped me off to his new album and I then got his retrospective collection off iTunes. This stuff is really warm, generous and textured, and quite funky at times, a long way from the panic-attack-inducing airlessness of Autechre. Great walking and programming music.

Tangerine Dream – I only found out that I liked Tangerine Dream thanks to John Coulthart’s post in honour of Edgar Froese,  who passed away in January. I like to rail against rock snobs so I have to confess that it has been the most dishonourable of motives, the desire of a nerdy fifteen-year-old to kick off his old Sky albums and be seen as cool, which has kept me from indulging my taste for prog and the spacier or hippyish aspects of Krautrock, and that I’ve only been able to overcome this in the last four years or so. It’s really terrible and obvious, I even gave a pass to Cluster just because they worked with Eno. Ahem: My name is Michael Lynch, and I love these mystical cosmic jams. (Except for when the singing starts. Prog vocals are still too much for me unless they’re being sung by the lady from Curved Air.)

Holden – From the same work colleague who got me onto Charles Cohen: I really like his 2013 album The Inheritors, a set of vastly enjoyable Stone Age modular synth stompers. Here’s a live performance of the whole album.

Tom Ellard: Rhine – I can’t think of an act besides Severed Heads who have such an advanced case of “I like their old stuff better than their new stuff” antagonism between fanbase and artist, to the extent that old Sevs fans are called “Cliffords” after the early compilation Clifford, Darling, Please Don’t Live In The Past. I’ll admit to having bought more remastered old albums off Tom’s Bandcamp than new ones, but this album of new songs, which I got in the fancy “hardback” edition on a USB stick with bonus material, is brilliant. Severed Heads are usually talked about in terms of their pioneering role in electronic music and video art, but Tom is also a great songwriter – ‘Recall’ is as heartfelt and moving a tune as I’ve heard all year. Also recommended: Better Dead Than Head, a compilation of reworkings of old Sevs tracks from the succession of last-ever-shows they’ve played over the past five years, and Terse Greetings, a free compilation of cut-up and droney electronic pop from labelmates on the revived Terse Tapes.

Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Moment’s Energy – wild and free improv with beautiful strings, insane Cecil-Taylor-esque piano, signal processing and electronics, which alternates between feral squalls of noise and passages of microtonal textures which seem to freeze time: “drones” is an inadequate term. I’ve still got this on high rotation and it’s the kind of music which takes me repeated listens to explore and understand, which as it’s a live recording raises interesting questions about the difference between what it would be like to hear once and once only.

Hiatus Kaiyote: Choose Your Weapon I love this crew of soul-funk-astronauts from Melbourne: this and their first album, Tawk Tomahawk, are some of my favourite Australian albums of the last decade. Blissful, off-the-cuff slices of polyrhythmic wonderland. I think “Atari” is my favourite.

Wire: The Perfect Copy – Got into a big Wire kick, thanks to @timsterne posting a link to this playlist, and finally got around to buying a copy of their 1988 album, which I’d not liked much at the time because I’d just fallen in love with their first three records and tracks like “A Head” seemed a bit too much like a lot of other dance-inflected pop on JJJ by comparison. “A Madman’s Honey” is one of their transfixing, gorgeous lyrical songs, in the vein of “Outdoor Miner”. Googling the lyrics led me to Nemrut Dagi, an astonishing ancient tomb in Turkey:

The western terrace contains a large slab with a lion, showing the arrangement of stars and the planets Jupiter, Mercury and Mars on 7 July 62 BC.

The really good bands can keep teaching you things after twenty-seven years.

Blu Mar Ten: From The Vaults “The 90s are back” has become a Twitter in-joke but this collection of cassette mixtapes of jungle and drum & bass from 93 to 97 has been my productivity soundtrack for the past few weeks. I never thought that dropouts or the dull fuzz of iron oxide not coping with heavy bass would sound so evocative, but thinking about it, a lot of what I like about jungle is the primitive sampling, the way each break seems caught in its own “window” of sonic texture, of which the track is a collage.

Amon Tobin: The Foley Room, Dark Jovian

I picked the first of these up at Repressed Records in Newtown, who seem to be flogging off a lot of Title’s more avant-garde stock (the price stickers were still on some of them) – this is also where I got the Evan Parker record. I’ve only been aware of Tobin from a couple of excellent early tracks on y2k-era compilation albums: this one, from 2008, is the first on which he used recorded sound. There’s a DVD with a featurette documenting him recording radar domes, motorbikes, ants and lions – it’s delightfully like the episode of The Mighty Boosh where the lads record the sound of a crab committing suicide and pump it out through a shoe “for the oaky timbre”. Dark Jovian is an EP from earlier this year, mostly beat-free, inspired by ‘60s and ‘70s space soundscapes – there are echoes of Tangerine Dream here, but also Ligeti, at once vast and delicate.

Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen – New Directions in Music
Anton Webern: Complete Works (Boulez, Sony)
Ute Lemper: Three Classic Albums

Finding a CD copy of this – a 2010 reissue of a late 50s recording of early works, including Stockhausen’s Zeitmasse and Boulez’ Le Marteau sans Maître – spurred me on to finally get into Webern, whose complete works conducted by Boulez are available on iTunes for a pretty decent price. Le Marteau is not what I expected from its reputation: it is intricate, but the light intstrumentation and female vocals make its complexity seem nimble and delicate rather than dense. Stockhausen’s Zeitmasse is an achingly beautiful work for five woodwinds. Webern is a revelation: there are more musical ideas per minute in these three CDs’ worth than just about anything else I own. I wish he had not been so fond of songs for soprano: for some reason I find these peculiarly grating. As decompression from these, I’d revisit the Ute Lemper box set, three albums from the 80s of Weill/Brecht and assorted 30s cabaret numbers which I got with a gift voucher last Christmas.

Madlib – Medicine Show, Beat Konducta vol 5-6, Dil Cosby and Dil Withers Suites
Jackson Conti – Sujinho
Jaylib – Champion Sound
De La Soul / J Dilla – Smell the D.A.I.S.Y.

I spent about two months towards the end of the year listening to nothing but hip-hop, after my brother Tim (who is always my best source of good new music) loaned me a heap of Madlib’s Medicine Show mixtapes and albums, including his collaborations with J Dilla and Brazilian percussionist Ivan Conti. Madlib is a genius and the Medicine Show is like a seed-bank of American genres. Sujinho is a beautiful, delirious cross-fertilisation of Brazilian and LA beats. The Beat Konducta session, a tribute to J Dilla, is a really moving record which feels like a heartfelt response to Dilla’s Donuts, and it’s hard to beat Champion Sound, where the two producers tag-team rapping over one another’s beats. I listened to so much impenetrable and abstract stuff earlier in the year that I needed to come back to earth.

[Addendum: I forgot to mention another great tribute: De La Soul released a mixtape of some of their old flows over J Dilla beats.]