From 2006: I used to read Melody Maker and New Musical Express a lot. I do not remember how / where I first heard of “Obscure Records”, the custom label from Brian Eno (first via Island Records, later with Eno’s then-new partner, Polydor Records) of ‘slightly difficult’ (i.e. ambient) music that released a mere 10 vinyl albums in a little over 2 years. I believe Eno was “executive producer” of all 10 titles. In most cases, it was the first time I had ever heard of most of the artists. I worked in a hippie record store that stocked all of these titles. At the time, I remember not knowing that the series had ceased – “When’s #11 coming?”. This label never had any singles. I own all 10 LP’s. It’s not ‘rock music’.
OBS 1 BRYARS, GAVIN – SINKING OF THE TITANIC
1975 2 TRKS
He’s famous for having synched “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” sung by a tramp to orchestral music. I believe he’s taken seriously as a modern classical composer – at least by the UK avant-garde classicists.
OBS 2 HOBBS, CHRISTOPHER / JOHN ADAMS / GAVIN BRYARS – ENSEMBLE PIECES
1975 4 TRKS
I don’t remember this one at all, but I’ve kept it for over 30 years. Must listen to it again soon, eh?
OBS 3 ENO, BRIAN – DISCREET MUSIC
1975 4 TRKS
Probably the best selling of this entire series – as many people foolishly bought it thinking it was more pop songs from Mr. Eno…but it isn’t – it’s “process” music made by machines that… (snore) Used to be the sole album in this series that I had on CD.
OBS 4 TOOP, DAVID / MAX EASTLEY – NEW AND REDISCOVERED MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
1975 7 TRKS
I remember liking this one a lot, but…bet I haven’t played it in 30+ years. Mr. Toop writes books on music these days. I think he got quite into hip-hop / beats. AND he was an Ivor Cutler side-man!
OBS 5 CAGE, JOHN / JAN STEELE – VOICES AND INSTRUMENTS
1976 8 TRKS with ROBERT WYATT
Mr. Cage was merely the author – I believe this is a Jan Steele album – with Mr. Robert Wyatt singing on it! (Obviously, a highlight in this series – a recognizable name!)
OBS 6 NYMAN, MICHAEL – DECAY MUSIC
1976 2 TRKS
Now this guy I really like! I think this is his first released album – his ‘debut’ is usually considered to be his self-titled LP on JVC / Sheet about ’81 or ’82. He’s a famous film music composer these days (“The Piano” etc.) – I’d buy this on CD, if it were on CD. Neat stuff. I like it!
OBS 7 PENGUIN CAFÉ ORCHESTRA – MUSIC FROM THE PENGUIN CAFÉ
1976 11 TRKS with SIMON JEFFES
I was sad when I read Simon Jeffes’ obituary on the internet…I remember this music (first album) being used in the film “Malcolm” (an Australian film with Colin Friels). P.C.O. were reasonably popular here for a while, weren’t they? They have lots of LP’s & CD’s (and a video or two). I have their first album on CD, but with a completely different cover.
OBS 8 WHITE, JOHN / GAVIN BRYARS – MACHINE MUSIC
1978 5 TRKS
I don’t remember this one at all, but I’ve kept it for over 30 years. I bet electric machines make the music. I have no idea who John White is. And I only really know who Gavin Bryars is from other LP’s in this series.
OBS 9 PHILLIPS, TOM – IRMA – AN OPERA BY TOM PHILLIPS
1978 2 TRKS
I don’t remember this one at all, but I’ve kept it for over 30 years. I later bought a Tom Phillips CD, “Six of Hearts” – a ’93 recording released in ’97. Years later, I found a 1975 Tom Philips LP on a tiny UK label (Mayer), “Words and Music” (1975). Presumably modern UK 20th century classical music.
OBS 10 BUDD, HAROLD – PAVILLION OF DREAMS
1978 5 TRKS
I wonder how Eno got onto him? My fading memory tells me this one was a tad sleepy-bye. Yet it was years before ‘Ambient’ or ‘New Age’ music…and I’ve enjoyed other albums by Harold Budd, and I even own some of his “Advance” label stuff. He wound up on “Opal Records”, yet another ‘Eno’ label. No surprise there…
I’m not certain how many of these ever ended up being issued as CD’s. As I previously noted, the Penguin Café orchestra debut certainly got re-issued a few times, but always with a new cover design. Certainly part of the appeal of this series was the oblique LP covers that all of them had.
I never noticed any other releases by John White, Jan Steele, Max Eastley or Christopher Hobbs. They’re probably in the avant-garde section near the classical LP’s / CD’s – where one typically finds Gavin Bryars titles. For some reason, the Penguin Café Orchestra titles are usually found in the ‘rock’ section (or certainly “P” misc.)
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I’m taking an extra day or two off – see you in September!