First published May 7, 2017 on arcanecandy.com.
Tod Dockstader (1932-2015) was a sound engineer and effects specialist at Gotham Recording studios in New York City from the late 1950s to the mid-’60s who, with no formal musical training, secretly composed some of the best electro-acoustic music of all time on company equipment after hours. [Insert evil laughter here.] My ears now thank him. Tod’s vintage material ranks right up there with the best of the late-night drive accompaniment wafted out by major mid-century composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Henry and Iannis Xenakis.
As its title implies, the From the Archives CD, released by the Starkland label in celebration of their 25th anniversary, compiles 15 sound files that were discovered amongst an archive of 4,200(!) others on Dockstader’s hard drive after he passed away in 2015. Consisting mostly of short pieces in the three to six-minute range, the bulk of this posthumous sandwich is made up of quite subtle, meditative material punctuated by three or four exciting, stand out pieces–tracks 1, 5 and 15 in particular, which alone are worth the price of admission. (If I were in charge, I probably would have replaced several of the many subdued tracks with some livelier ones.) The sound is definitely crisp digital–no analog tape hiss to be heard here, folks. Please move along.
Kicking off the CD in a most pleasing way, “Super Choral” boasts a bunch of transformed singing combined with a hammering, shimmering pulse. Second in line, pinging metal treated with massive reverb makes up “Chinese Morf” while “Basement Passage” layers up synth washes with low end rumbles. In “Todt I,” an ambient drone unexpectedly shifts gears into an area chock-full of dry clatter and heavily flanged drum punches, while “Anat Loop” starts an aural war in the form of a distorted nail gun with nursery chime stabs all thrown together in a really playful manner. This piece always puts a smile on my face.
“First Target” targets an array of subdued rumbles with a few quiet sax melodies, while “Whisper Smooth” proffers quiet, pulsating drones and “Mystery Creak” offers up some effects-tinged clatter. The transformed bells of “Creek Bells” and “Creak Creek” cover you up with some subtle aluminum blankets, while “Odd Bells” scratches your itchy ears with watery knickers, I mean knockers and pinging wind chimes.
“Todt II” forms a Jiffy Pop popcorn storm as fed through a toxic typewriter complete with kick drum punches inside a wind tunnel, while the inaccurately titled “Piano Morf” features no obvious piano, more like underwater sub shenanigans. “Choral Mix” mixes up quiet drones that resemble distorted traffic in a distant city, making way for the ender, “Big Jig,” a heaving, pulsating, punching, whipping, aggressive piece that sounds like a ray gun fight between gargoyles as Godzilla stomps around Tokyo and lays waste to the whole city. All in all, From the Archives is a swell goodbye to a sound artist who tickled and challenged our ears and minds for over five decades.