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Winter came back, and with it that old idea of mine to put together a personal anthology (or, as they call it, a “conceptual mixtape”) working as a soundtrack for a walk in the snow. My kind of walk; meaning lonely, meditative, possibly relaxing if the mind allows it. And in natural spaces, parks, gardens, even streets if they’re empty and deserted enough.
Having this blog and the opportunity of sharing the tape with you, my four readers, finally pushed me into completing the endeavour.
This is not a winter themed collection but a selection of tracks evoking the feel of a snowy scene, or some way matching it. In a sort of a synesthetic way. We may expand the concept a little, and considering the snowy fields (or feels?) belonging both to the outer and to the inner ones.
Nerdy, completely subjective, and possibly totally useless. Exactly the kind of stuff I like to spend some time on.

Here we go.

music-walk-snow

Being the kind of hipster-ish punctilious guy that I am, I decided to take the term “tape” literally, and to compile the sequence as if it was destined to a good ole days’ 90 minutes audio cassette. Meaning two arcs, 45 minutes each.
A very long walk. Yay.

An incomplete playlist on Spotify:

https://open.spotify.com/user/1185926873/playlist/0q798YY82l3gH3aaFTBf7y

Long version: the tracks, the whos, the whys

SIDE A

  1. J. S. Bach: Contrapunctus I from The Art Of The Fugue (1751)
    The Track – The Art Of The Fugue is considered to be the highest peak of counterpointal music and one of Bach’s greatest masterpieces. Also a kind of mysterious work, with its lack of any indication whatsoever about instruments, tempo, performance, and written on separate staves, like vocal music. Some say this is a pure theoretical work, sort of a “manual” for students (with the last piece left unfinished on purpose).
    Why I chose it – Counterpoint I is the opening piece and introduces the theme employed throughout the entire work, as well as its unique, meditative, almost abstract quality. Moderate in pacing, with the never-ending feel of the fugue style, is a perfect match for the sight of snowy field or garden. My favourite version is the one performed by The Keller Quartet (pure strings without vibrato) but for this mixtape I chose the fascinating New Century Saxophone Quartet version.
    (Note: both versions unavailable in Grooveshark. Replaced with a brass version).
  1. Claudio Monteverdi: Deposuit Potentes De Sede (from Magnificat I). (1610)
    The Track – Seventh section of the Magnificat I (and part of the Vespro Della Beata Vergine 1610, the largest work of religious music before Bach), it should not be listened abridged from its contest, in theory. But this little piece is one of the purest music’s gems I’ve ever listened to, and truly transcends the purpose it was composed for (the Magnificat was a composition that put in music, in separate sections, the verses of the homonym prayer. In this case, the verse is: “He has put down the mighty from their seats; and has exalted the humble”).
    Why I chose it – Again, it’s the transcendent, almost ethereal quality of the music that called for its inclusion; slow, meditative but emotional as well, it reminds me of the metaphorical stillness and silence of nature asleep under a blanket of snow. This quality is perhaps achieved through a peculiar use of the male voice: long, sustained notes, melody almost without rhythm, against a more structured and lively counterpointal “accompaniment”, resulting in this piece sounding more like an instrumental than a vocal one.
  1. Tangerine Dream: Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares from Phaedra (1974)
    The Track – Tangerine Dream were part of that pioneering German movement called Krautrock and its sub-genre identified as kosmische musik but Phaedra marked a turn in their musical direction. Emerging like a bridge to the cosmic past inside of an album more oriented towards a future of psychedelic, sequencer driven music, this track is without contest one of the most fascinating, hypnotic and unique among the ones employing the Mellotron.
    Why I chose it – It’s once again a meditative (some would say “stoned”) piece, this time due to its relatively simple and loose structure; a basic chord sequence is repeated over and over, mantra-like, but with changes here and there due of the (almost certain) improvised nature of the work. The playing style is loose and imprecise, contributing to destroy any solid sense of beat and “measure”, resulting in a waving feel, like in a cosmic sea. A little pulsating middle section, synthesized wind sound and heavy, expressive use of effects contribute some variety, making this relatively long piece an ever changing journey.
    NOTE: due to constraints of our “real life” tape’s sides, an early fade out is necessary to cut out one minute of the ending bubbling sounds.
  1. Vangelis: 12 O’ Clock (part 2) from Heaven and Hell (1975)
    The Track – Part of the second side of the first, full electronic orchestral album by Vangelis, 12 O’ Clock is one of its most lyrical moments. Organized in two sections, both starting with the same melody for male choir, has the first briefly developing into a bubbling mix of vocal noises and tribal percussions, and the second being basically a song without words for female voice and choir, when the original theme is expanded with a beautiful and heartfelt “chorus”.
    Why I chose it – Because it was the first thing that came to my mind, one day, while walking in a park fully covered in fresh snow. While the romantic melody in itself is evocative and a little transcendent, the arrangement, especially the use of strings and choir, creates a very spatial, wide musical landscape that can pretty well overlap and melt with a snowy one you may walk through while listening to it.
    NOTE: to fit the tape’s limits, only part 2 will be included.
  1. Kraftwerk: Radioactivity from Radio-Activity (1975)
    The Track – Another offspring of the Krautrock season, Kraftwerk evolved from those free experiment into a controlled minimalist electronic formula, eventually paving the ways for techno-pop and whatever musical genre has a “techno” in it. While pulsating and rhythm tracks like The Robots can be examples of their “mature” style, Radioactivity is in fact one of the most atmospheric pieces they ever made; the simple, crafted melody, the conceptual and essential lyrics and the rhythmic pulsating bass are already there, but here the spaces are still filled with icy synth choirs that make the song a little less mechanical than later trademarked pieces.
    Why I chose it – Because its sound always had a snowy blue “colour” to me, but not lifeless: it’s like a feeling of movement though the cold. A good match for a walk when snow is around.
    NOTE: again, some trimming (about 1 or 1,1/2 minute) is necessary, easily achieved with some fade in and out. It doesn’t do much damage, anyway, cause the “core” of the song is practically over after 4 minutes or so.
  1. Arvo Part: Spiegel Im Spiegel (1978)
    The Track – One of Part’s most famous works, composed in his typical minimalist style made of simple harmonies, steady tempo e essential writing. Used and abused many times in movies and the like.
    Why I chose it – With its uniformity in tempo and rhythm, granted by a never-ending piano arpeggio, together with the calm, contemplative and slow melody played on violin, this gentle piece has an almost prayer-like feel. It’s the perfect soundtrack for every empty scenery, both natural and architectural, and possibly the act of walking, at a compatible pace, could add add a little nuance to the listening.
    The version I listen to (and ideally include here) is from a 1994 EMI classics album called Fratres.
  1. Brian Eno / David Bowie: Warszawa from Bowie’s album Low (1977)
    The Track – Possibly one of the best and more impressionistic pieces Eno ever (co)wrote (it’s a collaborative writing even if Eno’s compositional techniques were fundamental in the piece’s genesis).
    It’s one of the most striking and fascinating passages of the Low album, part of the so-called Berlin Trilogy born out of the need of reinvention that lead Bowie to immerse himself in the then innovative German scene.
    Why I chose it – The piece sounds like winter, plain and simple. It has a kind of European, almost Russian feel (including some folk Polish element in the middle section), enhanced by the carefully crafted synth sounds that make most of the track.
  1. Steve Hackett: The Steppes from Defector (1980)
    The Track – One of Hackett’s classics from the first years of his solo career.
    The trademark leading guitar is beautifully blended into an arrangement that includes flute and synthesizers, while the structure kind of “proceeds by accumulation”, adding a little bit at the end of every repetition, till the beautiful, “opening” coda wraps everything up with pathos.
    Why I chose it – The aforementioned structure, together with the insistent and monotonous rhythm, surely evokes open spaces, possibly caravans passing through them. Maybe calling it “descriptive music” is a little too much, but you have that feeling. It is not necessarily a winter’s feel, but I find it matches well with snow scenery and it’s constant, steady slow pacing can possibly be a good companion for a calming and reflective snow walk.

SIDE B

  1. Pink Floyd: A New Machine (pt. 1) – Terminal Frost – A New Machine (pt. 2) from A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
    The Track – The first half of the album’s B side is a mini-suite composed of a main instrumental piece called Terminal Frost and a sci-fi themed a cappella song (heavily processed) called A New Machine, split in two and encapsulating it.
    The instrumental has a slightly loose ternary structure, with a spacey but steady paced opening section and a more melodic, dramatic and almost cathartic central section, built upon sax solo, female choir and more aggressive drums.
    Why I chose it – Could I resist using a track titled “Terminal Frost” on a snow walk playlist? Maybe. But the title is not casual (suite’s concept aside): while there’s definitely a progressive structure, rich in dynamic and timbral contrast, the piece sounds some-way winter-ish, feeling quite reinforced by the glacial, rhythm-less and echoey feel of the vocal intro/coda. I’d say that it leaves room for the sound of cracking snow under your feet to fill in.
  1. Dead Can Dance: The Host of Seraphim from The Serpent’s Egg (1988)
    The Track – Uberly popular and greatly abused classic DCD piece from the late Eighties, that shows the multicultural music blend that made this band unique.
    Why I chose it – An echoey, oriental sounding female voice, whose chant is something in between a prayer and a cry, a background made of organ, choir, rare timpani pounding and long-held strings chords. This is not difficult to associate with misty, corpuscular or snowy sceneries, especially if totally empty of human presence and wide open. This is music that makes you look far, equally in the outer and the inner space.
  1. Goblin: La Chiesa from the homonym movie soundtrack (1989)
    The Track – a surely underrated electronic classics from the original soundtrack of an imperfect but highly atmospheric Italian horror movie (but not used in its entirety if I remember correctly).
    It admirably shifts between a procession-like intro to a full dramatic and rhythmic burst, ending with a final round of glacial synth choir chords.
    It’s performed by Goblin (and written by founding member F. Pignatelli), the same progressive rock band famous for their soundtrack work in Dario Argento’s movies.
    Why I chose it – The echoey electronic percussions and the cold synth sounds are a just a good match for our walk in the snow. While the musical progression and the emotional changes will make us switch to a little faster pace, without ever losing the mood.
  1. Tom Petty: It’s Good To Be King from Wildflowers (1994)
    The Track – One of the few songs that made it through the selection. Possibly my favourite of Petty’s, it’s basically a natural born classic about daydreaming and the freedom/right of going to “some place in your mind” every now and then.
    Why I chose it – Basically because I found myself singing it in my mind many times, while actually walking in snowy streets. In itself it’s not particularly winter-ish, apart from a slightly melancholic feel, but it has a beautiful coda with a strings section and the kind of smooth, sustained chords we have already associated to our snowy feel. Pretty moody.
  1. Yoko Kanno: Reunion from Song To Fly (1998)
    The Track – Song To Fly is a rare solo album from Kanno, mostly known for her soundtrack work; it’s made of an odd collection of diverse and sometimes bizarre pieces, written in total freedom from constraints score music can come with.
    Reunion is a jazz-ish acoustic ballad with piano and strings, that sounds like a outtake of her celebrated Cowboy Bebop OST. It’s about separation and devoted love, possibly for someone passed away.
    Why I chose it – While essentially built upon “warm” sounds as piano, female voice, strings and saxophone, it’s jazz chords and Kanno’s typical melodic phrasing bring a lot of mood to it, with a melancholic after-taste that well marries the low light and cold of a winter’s day.
    NOTE: missing from the playlist above. You can find some unofficial upload on Youtube.
  1. Kenji Kawai: Voyage to Avalon from Avalon OST (2001)
    The Track – From the homonym Japanese sci-fi movie directed by Mamoru Oshii, the soundtrack revealed some (then) new facets of Kawai’s style, relying more heavily than before on a full symphonic orchestra. The lyrics are in polish and refer to the island of the dead in Arthurian legends.
    Why I chose it – This is a lyrical, moody, sombre and moving piece. The balance between theme repetition and progressively rich arrangement, with string orchestra, choir and all that jazz is well crafted, and the track is just progressively capturing. Again, there’s the feel of opening space and transcendence (both themes of the movie, btw). And the choir sounds like winter.
  1. The Dead Texan: Beatrice Pt.2 from The Dead Texan (2004)
    The Track – Part of the audio-visual project with the same name, basically an ambient work made with rock instruments (and no synthesizers, mostly).
    Why I chose it – Ambient music fits well our snow walk playlist’s purposes, thanks to its nature of “spaces filler”, real or imaginary; it’s generally calm, slow-paced or rhythm-less, and the abundant use of reverberation and other tricks gives it a “spacey” feel that blends well with a lonely, open snowy scenery.
    I chose this track from an album I discovered some years ago and always considered pretty peculiar. But a lot of ambient track will probably do.
  1. Bear McCreary: The Shape of Things To Come from Battlestar Galactica OST (vol. 1) (2005)
    The Track – One of the emblematic strings pieces that every BSG fan will remember for sure, taken from Season One. Those pieces had a strong functional and emotional purpose in the score, that was initially intended to use only synthesizers, acoustic percussions, and other instruments but not strings.
    Why I chose it – Another one tested on the field. Years ago I was on vacation in another town, it was winter, it was snowing and I had with me my personal selection of BSG music to walk with. It worked beautifully.
    Of all the aforementioned string pieces basically using the same theme, I chose one of the earliest, that are simpler than the progressively elaborated ones that followed and better fitting the tape’s anthological purposes.

Short version: tracklist and STFU

SIDE A

  1. J. S. Bach: Contrapunctus I from The Art Of The Fugue (1751)
  2. Claudio Monteverdi: Deposuit Potentes De Sede (Magnificat I, part VII). (1610)
  3. Tangerine Dream: Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares from Phaedra (1974)
  4. Vangelis: 12 O’ Clock (part 2) from Heaven and Hell (1975)
  5. Kraftwerk: Radioactivity from Radio-Activity (1975)
  6. Arvo Part: Spiegel Im Spiegel (1978)
  7. Brian Eno: Warszawa from David Bowie’s album Low (1977)
  8. Steve Hackett: The Steppes from Defector (1980)

SIDE B

  1. Pink Floyd: A New Machine (pt. 1) – Terminal Frost – A New Machine (pt. 2) from A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
  2. Dead Can Dance: The Host of Seraphim from The Serpent’s Egg (1988)
  3. Goblin: La Chiesa from La Chiesa OST (1989)
  4. Tom Petty: It’s Good To Be King from Wildflowers (1994)
  5. Yoko Kanno: Reunion from Song To Fly (1998)
  6. Kenji Kawai: Voyage to Avalon from Avalon OST (2001)
  7. The Dead Texan: Beatrice Pt.2 from The Dead Texan (2004)
  8. Bear McCreary: The Shape of Things To Come from Battlestar Galactica OST (vol. 1) (2005)
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