Aerial #2 by John Kealy
Dockstader has selected far more active pieces for Aerial #2 than he did for Aerial #1, the pieces here range from rhythmic and pulsing currents of sound to disorientating storms of tones. The music is very evocative: many of the tracks stimulated very detailed daydreams and imaginings in me. “Wail” elicits the feeling of freefalling down a deep, dark chasm where everything is a charcoal grey; I could hear the updrafts of warm air and noises of passing by the ledges at great speed. “Orgal” and “Babbel” were the sound of hitting the bottom of that chasm, belly flopping full force into magma and bathing in the molten rock. It is incredible that each track throbs with so much life; there is no piece that sounds contrived or strained. Every piece flows smoothly and naturally into the next.
Of course I’d be worried if there was even one below par track, Dockstader made nearly 600 mixes over the course of this project, whittling them down to the best 59 for release as this series. The middle of the album calms down but it never rests easy. “Spindrift” is a looming piece that sounds the sky will crack at any moment. The mood continues and the feeling of impending doom escalates in the following track “Surfer.” As the album draws to a close, the power starts to build again. Perhaps this is an indication of what is in store in the final part of the trilogy.
By limiting himself to a somewhat limited area of tones (radio waves), Dockstader has proven again to be the master of manipulating normally ignored or intangible sound into flowing, lucid and beautiful landscapes. He has crafted each piece to a fine layer of detail without pushing the music at all into difficult like many musique concrète composers can’t help doing. Aerial #2 is intellectually stimulating but Dockstader doesn’t let that force him to sacrifice accessibility and abstraction from enjoyable music. A lot of music I like can be classified as that which I find enjoyable to listen to and that which I find interesting from a more beard stroking perspective. Aerial #2 joins that special club found at the intersection of these two classifications. It is an absolutely fascinating and infinitely pleasing album.
An Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music, Second a-chronology 1936-2003 by Jonathan Dean
For the second volume of these doctrinaire anthologies, Sub Rosa has widened its already absurdly large scope even further, now also attempting to encompass movements in early 90’s techno, 60’s free jazz and early 80’s industrial in addition to the already expansive universe of classic and modern avant-garde and minimalist composers that dominated the first compilation. While I admire the tracks chosen — many of them are indeed rare and unreleased — curator Guy Marc Hinant’s thesis is getting ever more tenuous. The compilation opens with “Incantation for Tape” (1953), a brief tape composition by concrete music innovators Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening, which segues into a longer tape collage by Luc Ferrari, certainly a master of the form.
Listening to “Visage V” (1958-9), you may notice intense similarities to Jim O’Rourke’s recent laptop-based work. This is not a coincidence, as parts of O’Rourke’s I’m Happy, And I’m Singing, And a 1, 2, 3, 4 seem to have been a direct, unacknowledged “homage” to Ferrari’s work. Tod Dockstader’s epic “Aerial>Song” (2002) is a glorious continuation of the groundbreaking work he composed in the 1960’s — amazingly elaborate soundscapes like “Apocalypse” and “Water Music”. Morton Subotnick’s pre-Silver Apples of the Moon “Mandolin” (1962) is a lovely, subtle piece combining bells, windchimes and warmly complex electronic oscillations. My favorite track by far on this collection is “Space travel w/changing choral textures” (1983), a brief soundpiece by the incomparable Alan R. Splet. Splet famously designed the sound for many of filmmaker David Lynch’s best works, including Eraserhead. Anyone familiar with Lynch’s films understands the indispensable impact of the densely surreal, dark and spacious soundtracks created by the nearly-blind Splet.
The second disc opens with “Bronchus One.1” (1991), an early sketch of an Autechre track destined for their classic first album Incunabula. It’s enjoyable to hear Sean Booth and Rob Brown flash back to the days when their music was still fresh, relevant and listenable. The disc also includes relatively rare contributions from the early days of experimental techno, with Choose’s “Purzuit ov Noize” (1994) and Woody McBride’s “Pulp” (1993) — both darkly pulsating slabs of analog minimalism. The compilation takes a nose dive into the gutters of early industrial with rare tracks from Laibach and SPK. Laibach’s “Industrial Ambients” (1980-82) is a collage of field recordings of actual factory machinery, complete with the murky klingklang and coldly rhythmic atmosphere of Deutschland’s industrial world leadership. After the brief, inscrutable tangent to a theremin piece from 1936, the collection ends with a couple of off-topic contributions by Sun Ra and Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart. It’s truly difficult to understand how Sun Ra’s cosmic free jazz or Beefheart’s primitivist blues fit into the scheme, as neither of these tracks contain significant electronic instrumentation.
The disc also contains a Quicktime video clip of Beefheart performing the track circa 1969, which is interesting, but ultimately irrelevant. I wholeheartedly recommend volume two of Sub Rosa’s Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music not for its thematic coherence, which is nonexistent, but for the rare and unreleased tracks, which make the compilation worth the price of admission.