Bowie Blackstar album cover

Review: Blackstar – David Bowie

January 2016 will be remembered as the month when the initial euphoria about a new David Bowie album, titled Blackstar, suddenly changed into the mourning of one of the most significant artists of pop music from the past 50 years. The revelations about his medical condition after his 2004 heart attack does not only put his last album Blackstar in a different light, but also his 2013 album ‘The Next Day’ in retrospect comes across as an album of an artist who realized that his earthly existence was coming to an end.

One can not help to listen back to his final two albums from that perspective: here was not a man at work that wanted to breathe new life into his carreer, but rather an artist who was in a hurry to make his final artistic statements. Maybe not coincidental, the title of Blackstar may refer to a song of one of Bowie’s own big influences, Elvis Presley:

Every man has a black star
A black star over his shoulder
And when a man sees his black star
He knows his time, his time has come

The song Blackstar and the accompanying video are full of references to the subject of death. The video seems to be situated on a different planet, where a group of women put on a burial ritual for a deceased and stranded astronaut (Major Tom from Space Oddity?). This scene is varied with Bowie performing with some dancers a zombie like ritual, with Bowie’s head wrapped in a bandage. Actually Blackstar is a multi themed song: after the initial dark jazzy atmosphere the songs changes into a more ballad like intermezzo.

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried:
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)

​And towards the end of the song the initial opening theme returns. The Blackstar album is characterized as a ‘jazz’ album. It is true that jazz musicians formed Bowie’s backing band for this albumand therefor naturally contributed to a jazzy atmosphere of the album. Especially the saxophone has a big role in all the songs, but the music is still strongly vehement within the pop and rock idiom.

Unconsciously one is also inclined to search for other lyrical clues in retrospect about Bowie’s phase of life. The beautiful song Dollar Days is probably the most outspoken in that respect, with Bowie proclaiming I’m dying to(o). Towards the end of the song his voice seems to dissolve in atmosphere, as the intro of the more conventional song I Can’t Give Everything Away starts.

The other songs of the 42 minute album are also a truly wonderful final contribution to Bowie’s music legacy as an artist. ‘Tis Is A Pity She Was a Whore‘  (referencing by the way a 17th century play) is a rather chaotic song that will grow on the listener with every listening. This is probably the song with the most prominent jazz influences. It somehow reminded me of John Lennon’s 1972 album Sometime in New York that also contains a lot of these free format songs where the saxophone plays a prominent part. The single Lazarus was the other song from the album to be accompanied by a video and shows Bowie with the same bandage around his head on what appears to his death bed in a hospital. The lyrics are about a man speaking from heaven and reflects back on his earthly existence.

AFter the initial release of the album I wrote on Twitter: From Space Oddity to Blackstar…what an amazing journey! Little did I know by then that Blackstar would be the ultimate and final chapter of Bowie’s legacy as an artist. Blackstar is a worthful and beautiful statement for an artist that experienced the final phase of his earthly existence that may serve as an introduction for a newer generation to his outstanding oeuvre he created over the past 5 decades.

== Den Haag, 31th January 2016==

 

images

David Bowie (1947 – 2016)

This morning I suddenly noticed on my Twitter timeline that a lot of messages about David Bowie appeared. After a first impression that this might have something to do with the release of his new album Blackstar a few days ago, it soon turned out that the outburst of tweets had a  devastating and sinister character: David Bowie passed away, a few days after his 69th birthday.

It was only this past weekend that intensively listened to Blackstar and started to recognize that Bowie delivered a new masterpiece. I even posted a tweet, after realizing what an amazing music journey I witnessed with David Bowie. I remember clearly when I heard the first song by David Bowie that impressed me as a 9-year old even so far to make my first efforts in music composition myself. That song was ‘Jean Genie’ with its remarkable riff and dark atmosphere. Maybe in that time I considered David Bowie to be among the likes of other glam rock acts in that period like Sweet and Gary Glitter. But where those artist soon faded into oblivion, David Bowi’s star was on the rise and accompanied me through adolescence with songs like ‘Fame’, ‘Golden Years’, ‘Station to Station’, ‘Sound and Vision’, ‘Heroes’, ‘Fashion’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ meanwhile triumphing or incorporating 70s music trends like punk, new wave and funk. Meanwhile I had a lot of catching up to do by intensively going through Bowie’s previous releases like the phantastic early song, ‘The Laughing Gnome’ or the phenomenal albums like ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ and ‘Ziggy Stardust’.

David Bowie’s break through to worldwide stardom undoubtedly took place in the 1980s. Successful collaborations with Queen, Tina Turner, Mick Jagger and most of all with Chic producer Nile Rodgers on ‘Let’s Dance’ made Bowie easily one of the biggest stars during that era. Yet the 1990s though saw a steady decline of his popularity that for me personally started with his Tin Machine band, that produced ruthless metal music. But that was David Bowie, a chameleon like character that was both reflected in his stage presence as well as his music endeavours, not shy of any risk taking.

Bowie mainly disappeared in 1990s and 2000s from my radar, although every now and then he would be there again, for example when he made ‘Space Boy’ with the Pet Shop Boys. His heart attack in 2004 seemed to crush any serious music ambitions and after that life changing event  Bowie seemed to be only in the news with speculations about his fragile medical condition. Yet there was one cheerful moment in 2007 when Bowie made a surprising appearance in Ricky Gervais’ Extras series.

In March 2013 everything changed when there was suddenly an immense outburst of new creativity with a new album: ‘The Next Day’ that I reviewed on my blog. Bowie sounded fresh and reborn, although speculations at that time about him touring again never became a reality. ‘The Next Day’ was followed last week by ‘Blackstar’ another impressive album that with the news of today concerning his life threatening disease from the last one and half year, suddenly brings a whole new perspective to the album: here was an artist at work who wanted to make one last important statement and addition to his already impressive music legacy, in the same vein like Freddy Mercury produced ‘Innuendo’ in 1991.

Because of these recent releases that show such a vibrant and inventive artist it is very hard to come to grips with that Bowie’s music legacy is now fulfilled and ‘Blackstar’ is to be considered as his swan song. Although it is likely we probably will see future additional releases with outtakes and unreleased material.

I want to finish by pointing you to, “Space Oddity”, one of the most important popular songs of the 20th century and probably the song David Bowie will be remembered by for a long time to come.

= The Hague, January 11th 2016 =

A new, free EP: ‘1986’

As a spin off of a forthcoming project a new, free EP is now available for listening on Soundcloud or by downloading a ZIP file.

‘1986’ contains 5 songs that Ewald has recorded in spring/summer of 1986 and never had been released before. These songs were the first ones recorded on a Tascam 246, a 4 track recording device that utilized cassette as the recording medium. In December 2015 – January 2016 these tracks were intensively re-edited and remastered, giving the material a very fresh and rather astonishing sound quality.

Here is some information on the individual tracks:

(Say Goodbye To) Mr. Rock ‘n Roll

‘I remember this song to be the first one I recorded on the Tascam 246, it must have been somewhere in Spring 1986. The theme of the song deals with the subject of rock artists who later in life try to act as if they are still in their prime time. But there is also the element of mysticism of these old times versus the modern ways of music making’.

I Wanna Be Where You Are

‘The song was directly connected to the song ‘Pretty Nurse’ as they represent a kind of ying versus yang type of relation. Where ‘I Wanna Be’ represents the optimism of love, ‘Pretty Nurse’ represents the confusion at the end of a relationship. From a music perspective the music sounds to me still fresh and open after so many years. First I thought I wanted to edit the music to make it into a 3 minute song. But every attempt seemed to be doomed, so I left it uncut and still has the original 7 minute length.’

Pretty Nurse

‘This is probably one of the most psychedelic tracks that I recorded. The Yamaha DX7 was relatively still new in the studio and although it is mostly remembered for its slick electric pianos, I think this track shows that it could produce a completely different kind of sound. I remember I started this track on a Sunday morning and a few hours later it was all done, i recorded this song pretty quickly.’

Hey Girl

‘This is a very pop, Beatles like tune, I already composed the song around 1981, so what you hear here is a sort of re-recording from an original demo. The Beatles-like influences can be heard in the song arrangement: going from a 4/4 tempo, to a 3/4 tempo in the break and then returning to 4/4 for the ending of the song. The drums rely on the Simmons SDS-200, In all its simplicity I still think of this song as one of my better and best beloved compositions.’

= The Hague, January 4th 2016 =

connect_apple_music2

A nightmare named “Apple’s Music Connect”

Yes, let’s start the year with a ‘good’ rant…

Over the past days I had a look -again- at Apple’s Music Connect. As displayed in short as  ‘Connect’ in your iTunes menubar, Music Connect is a way in which artists can connect with listeners on Apple Music, Apple’s service for audio streaming. Artists can use Connect by uploading their music, pictures and videos. In theory this should be nice addition to the standard streaming service for more insight into the creative process and development of the artist, it might even have the potential to become a competitor of SoundCloud, that for many years offers similar possibilities to artists to upload their music for the interested listener to hear.

Unluckily I found out Connection is among the worst designed and executed ideas I  encountered. Around July soon after the start of Apple Music I claimed my artist profile and had some initial uploads, that I remember from that period were very troublesome, I remember I had to get my music from my Dropbox account in order to upload it to Connect. A few months down the road I decided to give Connect another chance, thinking that most issues would be worked out and solved by now. How wrong could I be.

Although Apple promised somewhere down the road that you should be able to upload content from your Mac instead of only your iPhone, I could not find anything to substantiate that claim.  The most obvious place would of course be iTunes on your Mac. Maybe it is somewhere deeply hidden, but haven’t been able to find it until this day (which reminds me that I could another rant blog about the cluttered mess they call iTunes, the most serious crippled application Apple ever dared to release to its customers).

OK, back to the iPhone then, assuming by now it would be possible to choose a song from the most logical place, your iTunes library. Wrong again. Maybe it was a sign of things to come but I already noticed that if you press the ‘+’ button to upload content that the first choices are to choose from your Photo library or take a picture (wasn’t this supposed to be all about MUSIC?). So as option three (upload music) Apple wants you to pick your audio from…your Voice Memos. Yes, you read that well. So obviously Apple wants me to hold my iPhone in front of my speaker to upload some audio… Kindly Apple also provided another option: ‘Record Soundbite’, so it is back to the speaker procedure here also I guess. As far as I could tell there is no way to work your way around this limitation. iTunes does not allow you to drag regular audio files into your Voice Memos playlist for example.

The only reason I can imagine that Apple build this ridiculous  limitation is because of fear that people upload content illegally, creating some sort of ‘alternative free service. But SoundCloud should be facing similar issues and it never stopped them from offering their services.

But I found out that things could get even  worse… After some googling I found that Logic Pro X offers a ‘Share’ functionality from within the Logic Pro X application, so that potentially and finally looked like an easy way to get your stuff onto Connect. Because I still use Logic 9 for most of my work I had overlooked the option so far in Logic Pro X. This looked promising: Logic bounces your audio, add some picture add some notes and you should be done. It only turned out to be a step into another nightmare. During the export process iTunes would crash. iTunes? Yes, for some reason iTune seemed to be used as a bridge between Logic Pro X and Connect. Googling again learned that this ‘behaviour’ was not too uncommon, although I could not specifically could find anything about the combo Logic Pro X > Connect, exporting from Logic Pro X to iTunes is a well known crash party. Something really went wrong with iTunes, because it will now even crash on a regular launch of the application (so without any export/ share action). So I hope a re-install of iTunes will fix this.

All these experiences go to show that Apple Music Connect is pretty much useless in its current state and makes you wonder how seriously Apple is about providing a platform for artists to connect with people who want to be updated about artists.

= The Hague, January 2nd 2016 =

2015: The Year in Music

2015 saw the launch of 2 compilation albums: “2” and “88 In the Shade”. “2” was the extended version of the 1987 cassette EP release and “88 in the Shade” was an impressive compilation of an album that Ewald had written and recorded in 1988 but  had not been published yet. There were  positive responses on the album for songs like “Irene”, “Dandelion” and “In My Place”.

In the last 2 months of 2015 Ewald worked intensively on a new compilation of material that has not seen any release before. This time the focus will be on songs that were recorded before and after the 1986 mini album “The Right Way”. But there will be some extra surprises for the album, which is now in the mastering process in New York with Sterling Sound. The release of the album is expected to take place in January 2016.

The music industry saw in 2015 the start of Apple Music, the new music streaming service by Apple that will fuel the competition in that field with already existing services like Pandora and Spotify. All of Ewald’s major releases are now available on Apple Music as well as the other streaming services. Apple Music also offers a way of the artists to connect to the listeners and through this service the track ‘Forever’ had been made available.

Through Soundcloud Ewald delivers sketches and demos for the interested listener. Have a listen to recently uploaded tracks like Au Revoir and Syntheblues two interesting and recently published tracks. Also some tracks from the “88 in the Shade” album are available for listening.

2015 saw the introduction of interesting new music products that Ewald has  incorporated in his studio set up. The following software has been integrated in the studio set up: Klanghelm MJUC, the compressor that fastly became the go-to compressor, Kazorg KClip and Isotope Ozone 7, the amazing new audio mastering software bundle. One of the most remarkable (and highly anticipated) hardware synthesizer launches in 2015 was the release of the Roland Boutique series. The JU-06, the emulation of the 1984 Juno 106 was added to the synthesizer arsenal. Furthermore the TC Electronics  Flashback X4 the remarkable delay and echo unit was introduced.

To round up the year Ewald publishes a new tune on his Soundcloud account, Festival of Light. All instruments on this track were provided by the already mentioned Roland JU-06.

Have fun and stand by for 2016 which promises to be another exciting year in music!

= The Hague, December 31st 2015 =

Steve Jobs 2015 Movie

Review: Movie ‘Steve Jobs’ (2015)

Admitted, Steve Jobs has been an inspiration for me during a larger part of my life. I remember still vividly all the excitement before the Apple presentations after the man’s return to Apple in 1997 as ‘iCEO’. A wiser man, knowing how to avoid the mistakes during his first time at Apple but still driven in every aspect to make ‘a dent in the universe’ as he would like to say himself.

In 2010 it became obvious that Steve Jobs was starting to lose his battle with his life threatening disease, but his passing in October 2011 was still shocking and one deeply felt around the world of technology. Steve Jobs was not only the most successful entrepreneur in the world of IT technology, in the years before his passing he was at the top of his game with revolutionary  products like the iPhone and iPad and inventive new ways of distribution and sales of software (iTunes and AppStore).

Because of these circumstances it is understandable that the world saw after October 2011 a stream of products, most noticeable books, documentaries and movies to understand and memorise this remarkable person. One of the high lights of these events was supposed to be the movie ‘Steve Jobs‘ directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) and distributed by Sony Universalis.

As I entered the movie theatre (Pathe Buitenhof, Den Haag) I was surprised by the amount of visitors. From what I read in the news the movie was not really popular in The United States and left cinemas soon. This is usually a sign that such a movie is doing even worse in the Netherlands, but to my surprise the theatre was sold out at a rather irregular time (17.00 at the evening of Sinterklaas, one of the most popular times for families to gather).

The movie evolves around 3 decisive moments in the career of Steve Jobs: the 1984 launch of the original Macintosh, the 1988 launch of the Next computer and finally the launch of the iMac in 1998. This means that a visitor who is not really that much acquainted with the life and works of Steve Jobs certainly will not get a clear picture of a timeline about Job’s career: the hisotircal events literally come flashing by in seconds. Instead the movie focuses on the emotional clashes with a few important people in his life. First there is his former girlfriend that had a child from Steve Jobs, Christa Brennan and daughter Lisa. Christa is being portrayed as the cranky type , always in pursue of Job’s money. The evolving relationship between Jobs and Lisa herself is clearly one of the more interesting aspects of the movie, especially when Jobs in one of the final scenes admits that the LiSA computer was named after her and was not an acronym for ‘Local Integrated System Architecture’.

Then there is Steve Wozniak, ‘The Woz’ Job’s partner he started Apple with . Wozniak is recognised for his genius and participation for the development of the first Apple I and Apple II computer. Yet already in 1984 (!) he also is irritating Jobs as he want the Apple II team to be mentioned in the 1984 Macintosh presentation, where the Macintosh represents the future of the company and the Apple II the past, although still Apple’s moneymaker at the time . But it even gets worse, because Wozniak is still around in 1998 with the same request for Jobs (to mention some of the original team Apple II members in his keynote). This is not only completely unbelievable, but also becomes a somewhat boring aspect of the movie.

The interaction with John Sculley (performed by Jeff Daniels), the CEO from Pepsi who Jobs  invited to come and work for Apple is the most interesting of these encounters, although has very little to do with actual events that happened. It can also be confusing for the visitor who is less informed about the relationship between the two, especially when the are discussion about whether Jobs was actually fired or stepped down on his own initiative. Also is Sculley repeatedly nagging about the ‘skinheads’  that were in the famous Macintosh Superbowl ad from 1984 and there are some confusing discussions if Apple’s board wanted to cancel the airing of the  advertisement.

This brings me to the main mood and weak point of the movie. By the time we are in 1998 there are still the same people showing up with their same -often rather boring- arguments, there are only few twists to keep the story interesting and going. And remember all these events take place minutes before Job’s presentations. Knowing the perfectionist Steve Jobs it is impossible that he would even have these events happen right before a presentation. So if you can set aside all these non-historical events and are more interested in the emotional aspects and developments of Job’s character this movie might be for you. On the other hand if you want to get a picture of how Apple became the largest and most successful company in the world and how Steve Jobs contributed to that , I recommend that you go and see the 2013 movie with Aston Kutcher (‘Jobs‘), a better choice in my opinion.

‘New’ album: 88 in the Shade

cover88-small

88 in the Shade‘ is the reconstruction of an imaginary album that might have been released in 1988, the year in which all of the songs on the album were recorded. After so many years it is difficult to analyse why none of these songs saw the light of day as they were recorded or earlier in time. But fact is, none of these songs, except for the short instrumental “Drive” were ever released before. “Drive” was included on the 2004 compilation album “Almost Lost“.

So now, almost 3 decades later and after a process of carefully digitzing, mixing and mastering  “88 In The Shade” was recreated, a full length album with songs the world did not hear before.

Looking back it is to be noticed that after the recordings for the “2” album in the second half of 1987 there were a dazzling amount of ideas floating around, contributing to a strange and broad range in styles, moods and variety of the songs on this album. In some ways maybe even reminiscent  of the Beatles’ “White Album”  that was released 20 years earlier. “88 In The Shade” only represents a small segment of the recorded material during that period. Ewald’s attention and focus of composing and recording music had already turned to instrumental music for audiovisual productions. The ‘regular’ songs became less important, maybe contributing to the fact that none of these songs were released before.

The album opens with “As Years pass By” an introspective, dreamy song with semi-intellectual lyrics before the listener is abruptly pushed into  a completely different atmosphere, a raunchy rock ’n roll song with the introduction of the “Johnny Struggle” character, someone operating on the self side of society and according to the vocalist in dire need of a relationship.
Then after the rather abrupt ending, there is another mood with the very Lennon-esque track, “Dandelion” fading into sound effects before the funky “Kiss Me” starts, with some of Ewald’s most explicit lyrics.
Drive” is a short instrumental with a plethora of styles and mood swings.
Stay” is beautifully melodic and pleasing, another songs with Beatlesque influences, while the following track “Irene” is certainly one of the album’s highlights and delights, with its historical setting telling the story of a local witch hunting crowd obstructing the relationship between a man and woman.
Another song clearly inspired by British 60s and 70s pop is “Of All The Things”. The next song introduces yet another style, reggae, with the track “In My Place”. The relaxed mood and low timbre vocals result in a pleasant effect.
In My Place” is followed by one of the few tracks that clearly show contemporary 1988 influences: “Bizarre”. The hard and prominent beat might give the listener in the mid 2010’s a somewhat uneasy feel, yet the sampled and a heavy electronic drum sound give the song its defining edge and the melodic character is still there.
After ‘Bizarre’ the listener is lured into the album’s final, the 9 minutes running epic piece: “A Miracle”, closing the album. The song starts out as a catchy pop tune dealing with the “mystery of life” passing all kind of different styles until the songs ends in a long fade out where the music gradually disappear into nature, symbolising life and nature are indispensably connected: old life fades into nature to make way for new life.

Compared to its predecessor “2” this album contains a lot of technical novelties. Except for “A Miracle’  all tracks were still recorded onto 4 tracks, but ‘bouncing’ had practically disappeared as a broad range of musical instruments allowed for the music to directly be recorded to a stereo track tape and the other tracks on tape could be used for vocals, sound effects and guitar. Originally the tracks wete recorded to a Tascam 246 recorder. The exception being “A Miracle” that was recorded to 8 tracks (using the Tascam 238). The instruments on this recording were: Yamaha DX7, TX7, TX802, Roland MKS-100 and the Alesis HR-16 that had replaced the Roland TR-707.

Listen to the album on Spotify.

or buy the album on iTunes.

Original EP cassette versus 2015 album cover

New release: “2” the 1987 EP extended, remixed and remastered

In 1987 an EP  with 4 songs was released, “Ewald Kegel 2”. It was released on cassette and the EP was the follow up to the initial 1986 mini album “The Right Way”.

The original “2” EP contained 4 songs “When Words Get in The Way”, “Wild Girl”, “1974”  and the cover of Tim Hardin’s classic “Red Balloon”. Releasing the 4-track EP meant a departure from an earlier idea to release a full fledged album with songs that were recorded during autumn/ winter of 1987.

Some 28 years later the original idea for an album comes alive again. “2” is now a 30 minute sound experience that contains a broad range of styles. There are ballads (“When Words Get in The Way”), Beatles oriented psychedelic pop (“Good Day Friends”) and 1987 contemporary influences like Prince (“Pretty Little One” and “Don’t Wave Goodbye”). The central song of the original EP and the 2015 album remains without any doubt “Wild Girl”. The track is disco oriented and uses extensively new recording technology that arrived in the mid-80s. It was composed and recorded with an Atari 1024STf computer running Steinberg Pro-24 software. The sampled voices on the song come from another technology that arrived by the mid-80s, sampling. In this particular example the Roland MKS-100 sampler was used.

The songs on the album represent the original music and tracks as recorded in 1987: no additional instruments were recorded or added. The songs were digitally transfered from their original 4-track recordings (Tascam 246) to a 2015 digital DAW and from there remixed and remastered using software like Klangheim MJUC Compressor, Waves V-Compressor, Q equalizer, L2, S1, H-Delay, Kazrog KClip and Native Instruments Passiv EQ.

The track listing of the album is as follows:

Introduction
Good Day Friends
When Words Get in The Way
Wild Girl
1974
Red Balloon
Don’t Wave Goodbye
Dynamic & Velocity
Home with You by Christmas

You can listen to it on SoundCloud:

or listen to it through YouTube:

The total running time of the album is around 30 minutes. The album marks a shift in sound and recording with the introduction of the computer as a DAW (digital audio workstation) and the use of sampling.

“2” will be available soon on YouTube and Soundcloud as an album stream and the individual tracks will be made available for regular download or streaming through regular online music channels like Apple Music and Amazon.