Artists On Albums: AOA#48 (Listening Center’s David Mason on Luna Africana)

Listening Center’s David Mason on…

Clara Mondshine’s Luna Africana (Innovative Communication, 1981)

Clara Mondshine - Luna Africana

Clara Mondshine – Luna Africana

Luna Africana was released on Klaus Schulze’s Innovative Communication record label in 1981 as a 45rpm LP. Clara Mondshine was actually the alias of Walter Bachauer, a Berlin-based journalist and composer, who passed away in 1989. In addition to Luna Africana he recorded the albums Memorymetropolis and Visions of Audio, under the same moniker.

I heard it first around the time of the hesitant beginnings of Listening Center. I was attracted to the nomenclature, cover art, and the unusual texture of the instrumentation and compositions. On first listen, I immediately got lost in the endless cyclic African-influenced rhythms and minor key pentatonic harmonies, and was intrigued by the flanged synth percussion. I knew that it would take a while to see underneath the myriad layers of this album.

“Die Drachentrommler” (“Dragon Drummers”) opens with an electronic percussion figure – sounding as if it could have been played by hand – which gradually is augmented with another layer of metallic percussion, eventually introducing a minor key motif which forms the harmonic center.  This weaves in and out during the course of the piece, the layers of percussion maintaining a hypnotic effect. Of particular note is a flock of what sounds like synth seagulls (possibly referred in the liner notes as ‘dragon voices’), which fly overhead at certain points in the track. It’s a beautiful and sad sound which brings to mind flocks of winged creatures hovering over atmosphere-less, waterless oceans.

“Lange Melodie für den Countdown” (“Long Melody Towards Countdown”) could very well have been the music to the opening and closing sequences of Luigi Bazzoni’s masterpiece, Le Orme (Footprints On The Moon); bookends of a film which probes the theme of psychic disorientation, and a dubious space project involving murder and abduction. A funereal bass drum ostinato anchors a sombre melody which hovers, never knowing where it begins or ends, accompanied by resonant swishes. Not to overlook Bruno Nicolai’s brilliant score for Le Orme, it comes to mind as a possible alternative soundtrack to those sequences.

“Fischer des Meeres der Stille” (“Fishermen of the Silent Sea”) starts out with a now familiar slight rhythmic ambiguity, moving into a baroque, polyrhythmic, joyful theme but still retaining the air of Kosmische African mystery which builds from the beginning of the album. The arrangement settles after a while into a stringy ostinato with a gently rippling drippy little fragment of the theme before restating, which is quite straightforward on top of the shifting viscous rhythms. Indeed some of the percussive sounds have the timbre of wood oars clunking around in a boat, and bring to mind an imagined memory of a gentle trip on still waters.

“Landung Bei Vollmond” (“Landing At Full Moon”) has an upbeat, hopeful feel, and a staccato, xylophone-like percussive melody cascading through the middle. The rhythms and bass lines interlock and shift over each other in a very pleasing way, which gives the feeling of constant variation with simple elements. This one is very much in the vein of library music which brings a feeling of pragmatism, progression and technological motivation, with Afro-futuristic feeling.

The tanpura-like intro to “Rage des Aufgehenden Planeten” (“Raga of the Rising Planet”) reminds me a bit of Delia Derbyshire’s masterpiece “Blue Veils And Golden Sands”, with a minor key theme coming in the middle which wanders gently into Arabic-key territory. The mood on this one is a bit more ominous than the others, evoking a sense of awe of cosmic nature, and the mystery of planetary movement and existence.

“Amazonenharfe” (“Harp of the Amazons”) is a lovely 6/8 piece which brings to mind again the same kind of African Radiophonic-like melodic and timbral virtuosity. Lilting motifs come and go and melodies cascade over each other with ease. In this final track, there is an uplifting sense of future, evolving out of the seed of an ever changing present.

It is difficult to articulate exactly what makes this album quite so special – perhaps because everything has such a distinctive timbre and imaginary reach. As a distillation of the sensibilities of the preceding Kosmische decade, it is a masterpiece. The songs are as movements of one piece and its ever-shifting patterns and layers give a sense of infinity. Folk music, electronic music, and the cosmos intersect here, mesmerising as a stream of sound and time.

Notes On The Artist:

David Mason

David Mason

Since 2011 the Dublin-born but Brooklyn-based David Mason has operated under the alias of the Listening Center. Self-described as being birthed from “a sense of personal musical exploration, which included a non-personal imaginary entity having freedom to compose for alternative realities,” his work with Listening Center has generated a gamut of niche yet inviting analogue-baked electronic pocket-essays, which revel in the warmth, mystery and utopianism of the futures imagined by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, vintage synth-led film scores, library music and classic Kosmische pioneers.

After opening-up his Listening Center discography properly in 2012 with the cassette/download-only album Example One, via the music/design enterprise This Is Care Of, a limited-edition wave of wares has appeared courtesy of Deep Distance and its sibling-label Polytechnic Youth (namely the sublime Cycles/Other Phenomena and Aural Assignments LPs and the you-blinked-and-missed-it Then It Was Now lathe-cut 7”) as well as through Ghost Box (in the shape of the sought-after Projections and Other Voices 02 seven-inchers).

Aside from his own self-contained Listening Center endeavours, Mason has deployed his remixing skills for the likes of Akaska and Wonder Room and collaborated with Pye Corner Audio. He has also lent his live and electronic drumming skills to Denmark’s Hess Is More collective, The James Hunter Six and several jazz combos.

Not content to sit still and count-up existing well-deserved plaudits, David Mason is currently working on plans to reissue Example One in tandem with bringing at least two new Listening Center albums into fruition.  Furthermore, a limited cassette/book collaboration with New York poet laureate Paolo Javier (under the Fel Santos pseudonym) is scheduled for release this summer.