The live session that inspired the album, in turn inspired by some whales. Photo by Ryan Muir, courtesy Motormouth.

Digital music is of course created the moment you commit a recording to a file, so it’s fitting to me that we can take musical inspiration from acoustic sources as well as electronic. And one of the album releases I’m most thrilled by this summer is the collaboration between Björk and the eclectic band Dirty Projectors, whose African rhythm-influenced “Bitte Orca” was to me one of the fresher sounds in recent years.

For the digital-only release “Mount Wittenberg Orca,” the coupling return to bare, stripped-down vocals, with harmonies at once folk-influenced and mysterious. Buzz about this new direction started just as the grouping performed live at the diminutive Housing Works Cafe here in Manhattan. (I unfortunately was out of town; see the video after the break below.) There was just something viscerally wonderful about what the ensemble made, something very different from either Dirty Projectors or Björk; those familiar personalities melted away into something new.

The inspiration from the track comes from Dirty Projectors’ Amber watching a school of whales from Mount Wittenberg, outside San Francisco. Accordingly, proceeds benefit the planet, by way of the National Geographic Society. Donations of US$7 and up gets you 320kbps or Apple Lossless downloads and full liner notes.

Here’s the mountain geographic area in question, as a visual aid:

My only regret is that the mountain-inspired work is fit into a hill-sized EP; I hope they release more tracks.

You can have a free taste as a stream below via Soundcloud.

Mount Wittenberg Orca [Official site, download]

I’ve been meaning to point to the release for a couple of weeks, but this comes as I read some reflections by my friend (and very electronic artist) Ezekiel Honig.

At a time when half my friends talk about the demise of the conventional record release (including some with actual resumes in the record business, as opposed to my never-ending study of the arcane), there are reasons to see something else rising from the ashes. A lot of what Zeke is describing fits the mountain EP here, from his ideas about the non-narrative “accumulation of moments” to the meaning of the album. (“A container is needed to define the extent of one’s work, to give it both breathing room and a place for that air to stop,” Zeke muses.) A lot of wisdom about everything from recording fidelity to the album as a business model are becoming the victims of violent change in the music world. But on the other hand, in their place is a new sense of freedom, recording impromptu vocals with an enthusiasm that goes back in this country to much earlier American music, or making records about – and to benefit – whales. At the risk of being overly crunchy, there’s something nice about that new ocean of possibility, even if, like the ecological reality, it’s a fragile one.

“When was the last time you listened to a whole album? Do you do that any more? Do you still go buy albums and EPs?”


Dirty Projectors + Björk- All We Are by DominoRecordCo

  • Actually, the mountain in the photo is Elephant Mountain, also known as Black Mountain. (My parents used to live in a house with almost that exact same view.) Mount Wittenberg is nearby.

    Incidentally, the Youngbloods used an illustration of that same mountain for an album cover in 1969:

  • @Jesse: Got it! So, is that the view of Elephant from Wittenberg, or is it just a view of the general area?

    Mountain spotting on CDM is the new gear spotting on CDM.

  • That's a view of Elephant Mountain from Inverness, on the other side of Tomales Bay. Wittenberg is about 8 or 10 miles to your right if you're seeing that view.

  • Was tripping on this song since it showed up on soundcloud, now the video. thanks a lot Peter.

  • Blob

    Beautiful song, thanks for posting this Peter – must check out the rest of Dirty Projectors' work.
    Using wildlife as an inspiration always produces interesting results (it certainly worked for Messiaen a few decades ago).

    PS – it's fun watching Bjork in such a stripped down setting, away from her usual extraterrestrial stage performances.

  • dyscode

    Can do Björk do anything do wrong? I guess not!

    If you like this check out the Karin Dreyer Anderson (The Knife) Mt.Sims and Planning to Rock
    "Tomorrow In A Year" release.

  • dyscode

    AND they have Lossless formats!!!! Finally
    someone who thinks!

  • Yep! And it appears if you want to convert those Apple Lossless to something else (like FLAC), you can use this:

  • TechLo

    Right on, I didn't know you were friends with 'Zeke. I've picked up a couple of his albums off of Amie St. that I've enjoyed.

  • @TechLo: Absolutely; he's terrific live, as well. Hope he's cool with me introducing him thusly. 😉