Like the music of his more illustrious predecessors Varèse and Stockhausen, Tod Dockstader’s sonic explorations were filed under ‘crank sci-fi’ when they first emerged in the early 60s. Today, in the wake of dub’s aural cut-ups and ‘Ardkore Techno’s relentless info blitzes, Dockstader’s use of musique concrète’s cut’n’splice editing and disorientating tape manipulations should sound less daunting than when they first appeared. But his micro-amplifications of balloon exhalations, water drops and adhesive tape, although seemingly innocuous propositions, still insinuate nightmarish stories. His aural chaos theories were made real by painstakingly overdubbing the screams, scrapes and swells detected by close miking. Rejecting the shock treatments characteristic of electroacoustic music, and drawing on his studies of psychology and cartoon soundtracks, Dockstader demonstrated a commitment to tension as a means of creating sonic suspense. His work was aimed at the mind as opposed to today’s musical fascination with the body.
Apocalypse contains his exemplary memorial to a Coney Island theme lot; Luna Park, and sounds a lot like Lee Perry’s alien productions. But most disturbing of this pair of reissues is Quatermass, where a mood of total malevolence prevails throughout. This stirring of subconscious horrors is as startling as it is oppressive; an insular voyage impossible to forget. The obsessive care with which Starkland have compiled and presented these extraordinary recordings should ensure that Dockstader will be remembered as the innovative, visionary figure he undoubtedly was.