Electronic composition, including computer-generated sounds as well as “musique concrète,” which uses and manipulates recorded natural noises, should be a composer’s ultimate liberation. We have reached the stage, at least theoretically, where virtually any sound that can be imagined can be recorded. In practical terms, this makes the composer’s imagination the only limiting factor in creating works of art. Unfortunately, in the 40-odd years since electronic music was invented, most composers in this field have shown very limited imagination. After the n-dozenth exposure to essentially the same set of bleeps, whooshes and splats under a new, pseudo-technological title, one grows weary and goes back to Bach and Beethoven.
But there are exceptions to this depressing rule, and Thomas Steenland, proprietor of the small but imaginative Owl record company, is taking up their cause. He has started a new label, Starkland, which will be dedicated entirely to electronic music, and he has begun well with one of the giants in the field, Tod Dockstader, whose imagination nearly matches the unlimited resources of “musique concrète” (which he prefers to call “organized sound”). On the first two Starkland discs, “Quatermass” (ST-201) and “Apocalypse” (ST-202), are contained all of Dockstader’s compositions from the 1960s - a period of intense creativity for him. The style and texture vary tremendously, from the ebullient “Water Music” to the surreal “Quatermass” and on CD this music has more impact than ever; recording technology for home playback, at last, is equal to the remarkable sounds Dockstader has produced.