Black Tape For A Blue Girl

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Rope (1986), 6.5/10
Sam Rosenthal: Before The Buildings Fell (1986) , 5/10
Mesmerized By The Sirens (1987), 6/10
Ashes In The Brittle Air (1989), 6/10
A Chaos Of Desire, 7.5/10
Terrace Of Memories , 6/10
This Lush Garden Within, 6.5/10
The First Pain To Linger, 6/10 (mini)
Remnants Of A Deeper Purity, 8.5/10
As One Aflame Laid Bare By Desire, 7.5/10
The Scavenger Bride, 7/10
Halo Star (2004), 4/10
10 Neurotics (2009), 5/10
Pod (2007), 4.5/10
These Fleeting Moments (2016), 6/10
To Touch The Milky Way (2018), 5.5/10
The Cleft Serpent (2021), 4/10

Gothic music was virtually reinvented by Black Tape For A Blue Girl, the brainchild of Projekt's founder Sam Rosenthal. Mesmerized By The Sirens (1987) was the manifesto of his electronic chamber music, while Ashes In The Brittle Air (1989) signaled Rosenthal's increasing reliance on electronic keyboards. A Chaos Of Desire (1991) was the first full realization of his vision, a magical balance of orchestration and voices, of pathos and contemplation, a cycle of baroque ballads for chamber ensemble and atmospheric electronics that was appropriate for both Freudian nightmares and Greek tragedies. As the music became more ethereal and displayed a stronger neoclassical quality on This Lush Garden Within (1993), Rosenthal coined an art of mental paintings with the imposing Remnants Of A Deeper Purity (1996). Its melancholy madrigals, set in bleak and desolate landscapes, and performed with the austere aplomb of sacred music, downplayed the litanies and emphasized the drones replacing the sense of eternal damnation with a sense of eternal mystery. The experiment begun with this album's five-movement concerto For You Will Burn Your Wings Upon The Sun was pursued on As One Aflame Laid Bare By Desire (1998), which reached even deeper into the human psyche. The sumptuous beauty of The Scavenger Bride (2002) marked a culmination of this program of progressive emancipation from musical conventions.
Full bio.
Sam Rosenthal, founder of Projekt Records, started his career of musical provocateur in 1983 in Fort Lauderdale (Florida), but in 1986 he relocated to California.

Rosenthal is the brain behind Black Tape For A Blue Girl and their challenging theme-based albums: Rosenthal writes the lyrics, crafts electronic and acoustic arrangements, and usually directs the voices of singers such as Oscar Herrera.

The evil influence of British goth-rock is still pervasive on BTFABG's first album, The Rope (Projekt, 1986). The album is divided in two parts, one sung and one instrumental, as if, at this point in time, the composer had not quite decided which way to go. The "songs" sound rather amateurish (the best possibly being Within These Walls). On the other hand, the ambient pieces (the dense, symphonic texture and soaring melody of The Few Remaining Threads, the pastoral Pachelbel-inspired The Lingering Flicker, the cosmic lull of Slow Blur) were laying the foundations for Rosenthal's musical future.

Sam Rosenthal also recorded an album under his own name, Before The Buildings Fell (1986 - Projekt, 2000). The pulsating, minimalistic 9-minute Kathryn and the 15-minute Fragments of Benediction hark back to Klaus Schulze's cosmic impressionism and to Steve Roach's early "poemes electroniques". The 10-minute The Amber Girl has the spiritual quality of Constance Demby's Bach-inspired new age music. While mostly a beginner's work, this album shows Rosenthal exploring psychological textures and painting distant soundscapes. The turning point will be when those distant soundscapes will be transformed into interior mindscapes. That evolution started the following year with Mesmerized By The Sirens.

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Mesmerized By The Sirens (Projekt, 1987), registrata l'anno dopo e in seguito parzialmente remixata per la riedizione su CD, segnala un'escalation di effettismi. Rosenthal non e` soltanto un monaco sinistramente avvinghiato al suo organo. E` anche un compositore d'avanguardia, che in A Teardrop Left Behind imbastisce ballad superbe per ensemble da camera ed elettronica atmosferica e in With A Million Tears sviscera le armoniche della musica ambientale di Harold Budd. La voce femminile che intona gli inni di apertura e di chiusura, Jamais Pars e Seireenien Lumoama, sancisce il passaggio da toni soavemente folk e rinascimentali a toni lugubramente religiosi. Troppo intellettuale, forse, per essere vera arte, ma abbastanza interiore da essere vera emozione.

Rosenthal compie il passaggio a una musica molto piu` professionale con Ashes In The Brittle Air (Projekt, 1989). Rosenthal compone le sue musiche alle tastiere, poi scrive le parti cantate per due voci (uno maschile e una femminile) e infine sovrappone strumenti suonati da collaboratori occasionali. Il gotico di Rosenthal trascende gia` il genere: la title-track e` un'eterea ballata folk immersa in un'atmosfera onirica, Across A Thousand Blades e` parente del piu` pomposo dark-punk di Siouxsee Sioux, The Touch And The Darkness cade in una trance catatonica che e` parente della dilatazione psichedelica. L'horror piu` atroce e` quello di The Scar Of A Poet, sette minuti di rumori dell'aldila`, di stacchetti sinfonici, di carillon macabri, di processioni esotiche. La seconda parte del disco e` il suo laboratorio di esperimenti. From The Tightrope lascia fluttuare le timbriche degli strumenti, i vocalizzi sono liberi, l'elettronica procede per lunghe frasi "ambientali". Am I So Deceived sposa una minacciosa grinta sinfonica al minimalismo delle vignette strumentali di Eno. I Ran To You assomiglia a uno di quei respiri vocali-elettronici di Enya. Anche Ashes e` un album di transizione, ancora frenato dalle ballate, ma si intravede sempre piu` chiaramente la statura del compositore.

A Chaos Of Desire (Projekt, 1991) e` la vera continuazione del progetto da camera di Mesmerized. Fra i collaboratori si contano Padraic Ogl (dei Thanatos), Oscar Herrera e diverse cantanti, fra cui Julianna Towns (degli Skinner Box). L'opera si apre sui gorgheggi eterei di These Fleeting Moments, che fluttuano in un'elettronica soavemente ciclica, come nell'ambientale di Eno. Il fantasma di Nico si aggira sul funereo requiem per organo della title-track e sullo spettrale madrigale di Tear Love From My Mind, cantato con soave disperazione da un'altra soprano. Sono questi "misteri" intensi e allucinati a costituire i momenti di maggior pathos del disco. Si avverte una qualita` quasi pittorica, come se si trattasse di affreschi rinascimentali, in brani come We Watch Our Sad-Eyed Angel Fall, intrisi di infinita mestizia. Rosenthal e` altrettanto abile nel sondare gli abissi piu` oscuri dell'animo umano. Un sinfonismo nervoso e minaccioso contrappunta il declamato alto, fra incubo psicanalitico e tragedia greca, di The Hypocrite Is Me, suite in piu` movimenti degni della musica d'avanguardia che si chiude con uno struggente tema di violino. Le partiture strumentali sono limitate dagli assunti mistico/gotici, ma Rosenthal ha modo di sfogarsi in Beneath The Icy Floe, musica cosmica per violino ed elettronica che si riallaccia al primo Klaus Schulze, ai Popol Vuh dell'Hosianna Mantra, e cosi` via. Ancor piu` angelica e` Of These Reminders, a due passi dalla new age. Con questo lavoro Rosenthal approda alla piena maturita`, sia come compositore sia come arrangiatore sia come direttore d'orchestra. Il gotico e` diventato un'arte di suggestione a distanza, di pittura mentale.

Terrace Of Memories (Projekt, 1992) e` una collaborazione di Rosenthal con il Belga Vidna Obmana.

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This Lush Garden Within (1993) is an ethereal work that (on the negative side) recycles stereotypes of the previous albums and (on the positive side) shows a stronger neoclassical quality. After Left Unsaid sets the ghostly ambience of the album with an otherwordly whisper and melancholy piano notes, the baroque lament of The Broken Glass and the middle-eastern cakewalk We Exist Entwined (which basically define the territory for the rest of the selection), the album reaches an early emotional peak with the celestial moaning a` la Morricone of Overwhelmed Beneath Me. The instrumental The Christ in the Desert is Rosenthal at his best, atmospheric, cryptic, metaphysical, letting noises tell a story that noone can understand. The album indulges in gentle madrigals such as The Flow of Our Spirit and the elegant, mournful Our Future Imagined, that stick to a more conventional song format and merely repeat the idea of The Broken Glass. The most original of the female vocals is the brief Gravity's Angel, in which the singer mumbles childish verses and the music is only bells and ominous echoes. In The Turbulence and the Torment, the female voice utters undecipherable words that are refracted against a wall of wavering electronics, as if wandering in a maze.
These feminine songs alternate with numbers that, following the example of We Exist Entwined, wed exotic, dance and macabre tones, such as the choir of dead souls of Into The Garden.
This is a transitional album, whose drawback are a few very weak and predictable tracks and a generally dejavu concept.

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Remnants Of A Deeper Purity (Projekt, 1996), sesto album, ma il primo in tre anni, fa seguito a The First Pain To Linger (Projekt, 1996), confezione per collezionisti comprendente un libro (85 pagine di brevi frammenti di prosa lirica) e un mini-CD con sei canzoni (quattro gia` note e due inediti di musica ambientale).
Rosenthal torna con un'opera di grande respiro e suggestione. I suoi madrigali malinconici, ambientati in paesaggi cupi e desolati, eseguiti con la compostezza e l'austerita` della musica classica sacra, riportano agli esperimenti della piu` grande sacerdotessa rock di sempre, Nico. Gli arrangiamenti di violoncello e violino (spesso soltanto frasi minimaliste ripetute a intervalli regolari) accentuano le arie sconsolate dell'elettronica. Al centro della musica non sono in effetti le litanie da eterno dannato (cantate da Oscar Herrera e Lucian Casselman), bensi` i droni lunghi, bassi e sfumati delle tastiere di Rosenthal. Le armonie celestiali che si inseguono ciclicamente in Redefine Pure Faith, l'aria decadente e dolcissima di Fin De Siecle, la recita per muezzin e quartetto d'archi di With My Sorrows fanno della (spoglia) scenografia il nucleo drammatico, e viceversa. La cerimonia piu` drammatica si svolge nei ventiquattro minuti di For You Will Burn Your Wings Upon The Sun, una specie di concerto in cinque movimenti: un tema magniloquente dei due cantanti su un ritmo marziale di tamburi medievali, un sommesso adagio per archi, un pezzo per droni di elettronica e archi, un'apoteosi sinfonica alla Strauss, e un bisbiglio mantra per archi. Altro momento di supremo raccoglimento e` I Have No More Answers, dieci minuti di Enja in trance in un mare di rintocchi minimalisti. Dal gotico si passa al terreno della trance gia` tastato nel precedente CD con la soave e tetra musica ambientale di Wings Tattered ("requiem" ambientale?) e le eteree volute di Fitful, o addirittura con la sonata pianistica new age di Again To Drift, con la melodia piu` facile.
In mezzo a tanta musica magica risplende sinistramente la filosofia lucidamente negativa di Rosenthal, la consapevolezza di una rete di codici genetici che legano l'uomo al suo ambiente e al suo destino, la fede nella prigionia della mente e il rammarico per la caducita` dell'universo. Piu` che mai risalta il miracolo di come un lessico cosi` povero possa generare un apparato iconografico cosi` vasto.

With My Sorrows (Amplexus, 1997) e` una breve (venti minuti) introduzione alla sua arte per coloro che si fossero persi le opere maggiori.

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Remnants Of A Deeper Purity was the masterpiece of Black Tape For A Blue Girl, and possibly the masterpiece of all of gothic music. The 2006 double-disc re-issue includes the neoclassical 10" mini-album With My Sorrows (Amplexus, 1997). The 13-minute second movement (following a brief medieval-style hymn) is a concentrate of weeping strings leading to the soaring Bach-ian aria of the third movement.

As One Aflame Laid Bare By Desire (Projekt, 1998) is another 70-minute ritual that reaches deep into the human psyche. The title-track is divided in two parts: the first part is a monastery-style canon for two male voices on a somber Japanese-style score for string instruments; the second part is a classically cadenced madrigal for female voice, counterpointed by other female voices. The duet is a metaphysical ouverture for Rosenthal's new concept album, richly embellished with flutes, violin, cello, clarinet, harpsichord and electronics.
Violin, flute and a guitar strummed like a hardpsichord grace the solemn melody of Given, which soars slowly in its elegant setting. Violin, hardpsichord and harmonium build up tremendous tension in Denouement/ Denouncement. And the harmony only gets more and more complex, more and more abstract.
The "borders" of Rosenthal's style are no less intriguing. When the tragic overtones prevail, as in Tell Me You've Taken Another, the music stradles a territory between King Crimson's early romantic rock and the Pet Shop Boys' freudian synth-pop. The Apotheosis is an instrumental piece that mixes samples of natural sounds, melodic waves and a dramatic crescendo in the new agey style of Kitaro. The delicate, tender melody of Dulcimea flows in the spirit of Enya's celtic lullabys. Russia begins like a piano sonata and ends like one of those archaic and icey, harmonium-paced Nico songs (although here it's a duet).
Notwithstanding a 15-minute nightmare instrumental meditation, The Passage, which is barely "whispered" by the keyboards like a sub-ambient soundtrack, and could well represent a new direction for Rosenthal's art, nothing here even approaches the intensity of For You Will Burn Your Wings Upon The Sun. It is the very experimental overall sound of the album that makes it as haunting and as challening as any of his previous endeavours. Several short instrumental "intermezzos" (culminating in the longer The Green Box, a dark symphonic piece) as well as an ethereal Dream for free-form female harmonizing and dissonant string section actually testify to Rosenthal's compositional maturity like nothing had before.

The Scavenger Bride (Projekt, 2002), ostensibly dedicated to Kafka, is another exercise in sumptuous beauty. The ouverture is a thick slab of electronic drones and cello melodies, akin to Constance Demby's "sacred space music". Then Elysabeth Grant intones Kinski, a sparse hymn rendered in a mix of renaissance-style cantillating and Brecht-ian ostentation. The theatrical tone returns in the sensual, piano-based lullaby Shadow Of A Doubt (a Sonic Youth number), that grows into a climatic, nightmarish crescendo, and the recurrent theme of insanity reaches an apex with The Scavenger's Daughter, a mournful psalm set to the ticking of a piano and to a thick symphonic drone (and possibly the standout of the album).
The lively All My Lovers rides the tempo of a medieval saltarello and displays impeccable group counterpoint. Similar classical-sounding, chamber accompaniment highlights several of the compositions. Vicki Richards' violin, Lisa Feuer's flute, Julia Kent's cello, dulcimer, mandolin and piano contribute in no small amount to the appeal of the music.
Rosenthal employs a male singer to drench A Livery Of Bachelors in a dark, decadent, "mitteleuropean" ambience, falling halfway between Roxy Music and Pet Shop Boys. Another male singer delivers The Lie Which Refuses To Die in a calmer, slightly neurotic tone.
Like A Dog is the tour de force of the album. It opens with ominous nebulae of drones and a raga-like lament by the electric violin. Electronic master Steve Roach spreads rattling noises around, while Rosenthal builds up a majestic wall of electronics. Martin Bowes' recital dusts off the stigmata of ceremonial gothic music, aptly accompanied by martial and gloomy sounds.
The album ends with the solemn requiem of Bastille Day 1961. It is sung against the backdrop of a piano humming a tender melody, worthy of a Beethoven sonata, that dissolves in aquatic reverbs.
Some of the brief interludes (The Doorkeeper, Das Liselottenbett) are worth the price alone.
While on a smaller scale than Laid Bare By Desire, Sam Rosenthal has composed another austere and suave collection of lieder, each finely textured and magically vibrant.

Black Tape For A Blue Girl continued their gothic saga on mediocre collections like Halo Star (2004) and 10 Neurotics (2009), featuring Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls and guest vocalists such as Athan Maroulis (Spahn Ranch), Laurie Reade (Attrition) & Nicki Jaine. The latter flirts with cabaret-tish tones in songs like Sailor Boy, Curious Yet Ashamed and Inch Worm, save resuming the funereal tone in In Dystopia and Marmalade Cat. There are certainly an impressive number of elegant melodies in Rosenthal's catalogue.

Pod (2007) is a side-project of ambient music by Sam Rosenthal.

Black Tape For a Blue Girl returned with These Fleeting Moments (2016), another tribute to gothic rock and dark wave of the 1990s especially since it features again original vocalist Oscar Herrera next to viola player Nick Shadow and drummer Brian Viglione. The 17-minute The Vastness of Life opens with a tedious litany but then becomes a melancholy neoclassical sonata. The theatrical singing at the beginning and at the end of the piece evokes an expressionist cabaret of the 1920s. The ten-minute Meditation on the Skeleton feels more like a Buddhist invocation. The other (shorter) eleven songs include pagan folk (One Promised Love), ambient instrumentals, medieval dances (Zug Koln), symphonic psychedelia (She Ran so Far Away that she no Longer can be Found)

Eating Rose Petals (2020) was a collaboration with Aarktica and contains three lengthy pieces: Fleeting Rose Petals (18:59), Eating Rose Petals (10:52) and Valley of the Roses (8:06).

To Touch The Milky Way (2018) is an album of organ-driven gothic psalms. The slow pace, majestic drones and soothing melodies I Close My Eyes and Watch the Galaxy Turning (9:00) seamlessly segue into Does Anything Remain? (9:59) and it waves of organ drones for a gran total of 19 minutes. The weak element is the singing that detracts from the otherworldly atmosphere. The other ambitious composition, To Touch the Milky Way (8:12), is vastly inferior, as are the shorter songs. A recurring problem of the project is that the significant compositions are released on albums full of insignificant ones.

The Cleft Serpent (2021) is instead a collection of neoclassical lieder (Jon DeRosa on vocals and Henrik Meierkord on cello besides Rosenthal's keyboards), unfortunately rather uneventful.

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