First, the music. Would you believe the term “excellent” falls short? Neither would I if I hadn’t heard it with these two ears. It’s even a type of music that I’ve never really been excited about; pre-synthesizer “electronic” music made by splicing together pieces of tape containing various musical/non-musical sounds into some type of coherent composition. All too often this type of stuff ended up as a formless, self-serving noise collage, seldom able to make a real musical statement. Not so with Dockstader. The man’s logic/aesthetic is unerring. For the first time in my experience with “musique concrete” I’m getting that emotional response I always feel when hearing a really very truly grand piece of music (hot damn!). A must for anyone who really cares about what they listen to (or at least would like to be able to terrorize their houseplants into submission once in a while).
The pieces assembled here date from 1960-61; the record still gives every indication of being made in 1966. I can’t say that the mystery of Owl Records’ return from oblivion is solved at this writing. Let’s just say that I’ve started the right people asking the right questions. All that matters to the reader is that these recordings are available. I’ve already said some good things about Dockstader in my last review and, after hearing this batch of pieces, I run the risk of becoming an eternal raver. I think this guy is the finest composer who ever worked in the medium of sounds assembled on tape. The dramatic scope, careful attention to detail, and the sheer sonic artistry in creating a truly amazing aural world place these recordings with some of the all-time classics of music.
So what’s on here? Well… the oldest work represented here, “Travelling Music,” was Dockstader’s first venture into stereo. This is pretty important; as you listen to these pieces you soon realize that where the sound is coming from takes on enormous significance in both the micro and macro aural structure. This is one of the major elements working to create that “animate” feeling that comes in the best musics; the shift in caring from who the composer is and what he’s doing, to what the sounds are doing, almost as if they’re doing it on their own. And under headphones the effect is twice as intense. With the next piece, “Luna Park,” we hear Dockstader in full control of his concept and the means to execute it. Using basically only a couple of oscillators, some small bits of piano, and a lot of manipulated recordings of laughter, he manages to create a very fluid, yet classically-structured work (something missing in a lot of tape music of the period). Once again we hear just how good Dockstader is at the art of inevitability; the intuiting of the most precisely perfect sound, or perhaps “quality,” at any given moment. The final piece, “Apocalypse,” occupies all of side two. The structure is not quite so formal (apparent) as “Luna Park,” yet everything is still very tightly constructed. The sounds used are pretty varied but never unmanageable. Very reminiscent of the more doom-laden Art Bears stuff, or maybe a lyrical (?) SPK. Always restless and searching for the next step, the piece builds to a great hollow climax towards the end, taking leave with some of the loneliest feelings I’ve ever gotten off a record. Of course, I’m describing active listening here.
Don’t buy this to dance or do the dishes to. Listening to these works is a serious proposition, and one I encourage everyone to try.