Reviews » Review of Starkland releases in Stereophile 1993, by Scott Lewis

Tod Dockstader belongs in the select company of Varèse, Stockhausen, Luening, Schaeffer, Subotnick, and the other pioneers of electronic music or musique concrete. His achievement is on a par with the best in his field. The fact that he’s not as well-known has more to do with the circumstances of his work than the work itself. Not being associated with academe, Dockstader worked alone in his own studio. The results of his painstaking creations are, for the most part, contained on these two CDs. It’s quite an achievement. Some of this music is being released for the first time, but all of it is over 28 years old. The sound of these analog tapes becomes all the more impressive when one realizes that Dockstader used no noise reduction whatsoever. Using simple sound sources such as dripping water, toys, and test-tone generators, Dockstader fashioned music with a surprising amount of familiar qualities - there’s a wealth of rhythm, dynamics, and subtlety here. Absent conventional melody and harmony, this music is anything but random sound effects.

Water Music is a lively, elastic pulse of ever-shifting sonority and momentum. The bass response on this, and many of the other pieces, is downright phenomenal. These tapes clearly needed the CD format to fully convey their extended dynamic range. Two Moons of Quatermass consists of outtakes from the longer piece and is brooding and intense. The long Quatermass has more variety than most electronic music. In particular, the “Tango” section is a reference recording for bass. If your woofers can handle this without bottoming-out, they’re doing their job (GL was astonished when he heard this track. That avowed LP junkie immediately set about obtaining a copy of the CD.) Travelling Music represents Dockstader’s art in its most basic form. This composition was made for two-track tape from only a few sound sources. Dockstader’s imaginative use of pace and channel-to-channel “travelling” is polished and intuitive. Luna Park uses the sounds of laughter to create a rich sonic landscape of mood that the composer describes as “silly, sad, and simple.” Apocalypse and the shorter Two Fragments from Apocalypse are something entirely different. Here Dockstader conjures a darker, less optimistic sound world. Apocalypse, Part Three, with its cries and tolling intensity, is especially disturbing. Drone is a more conventional study in long tones, and the final Four Telemetry Tapes uses almost entirely electronically generated sound sources.

This music certainly won’t appeal to every listener, but the sympathetic appreciator with an awareness of the genre is apt to be bowled over. The audiophile, regardless of aesthetic preference, will also likely be amazed at the technical properties of the recordings. Herein lies material to test both systems to their limits; this stuff engages the hardware and the brain.