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Tod Dockstader and David Lee Myers are two pioneers of electronic music, but from very different epochs. Dockstader started working with optical sound in the 1950s, later working with vast Telefunken tape recorders that became so hot they had to be left overnight to cool down. His electronic soundscapes (‘Lunar Park’ and ‘Apocalypse’ among them) are now being re-discovered and given the respect they deserve. Pond is his first new album-length piece since 1967. David Lee Myers, on the other hand, made his name in the 1980s under the name Arcane Device, and the music was derived from almost uncontrollable feedback systems. A collaboration between these two legendary figures - the painstaking, highly organised researcher Dockstader with the younger, more go-with-the-flow Myers, is an intriguing proposition. The first problem to overcome was computers; Dockstader had never used them, having perfected methods of working with optical and tape formats. It was only with much coaxing from Myers that it became possible. Dockstader recently remarked that when he began working with computers he ‘realised that many of the old principles - slowing, speeding, pitch-change, reversal - were the same, but with much more control and better sound. And no tape hiss. Because it was faster and I could keep my belief in what I was doing, more fun.’ Most of the sounds here derive from frog and toad calls, garnered by hanging around ponds with recorded equipment late into the night. The results are extraordinary – the cries are transformed into an electronic melee that does not so much resemble a pond, as fragments of a road-movie soundtrack left over by Kraftwerk or Eno.
With a CV as long as your arm, 73 year old Tod Dockster has done everything from writing and editing films at UPA Studios in the 1950’s, leading the design contingent at Montreal’s Expo ‘67 through to producing American TV films throughout the 1980’s. You might therefore think that he’d view his 1990 retirement as an opportunity to put his feet up and spend some time with the grandkids. If so you’d be woefully wrong. Taking his new found wealth of time as a cue to build a home studio, he then started work on this 15 years in the making Aerial series. Entirely built around his passion for shortwave radio, Dockstader collected in excess of 90 hours of recordings all taken at night and comprised of jumbled cross signals and odd auditory fragments plucked from the ether. Opening with the drone of dissonant airwave prolix ‘Song’, Dockstader gradually allows elements to skim into sight and in doing so summons up a stiflingly crepuscular atmosphere that’ll have you glancing over your shoulder all night. This kind of malignant placidity continues throughout and conjures up the impression of stumbling upon late night activity being broadcast for ears other than yours. Whilst you may believe this would shun you as a listener, it instead has the converse effect, pulling you down further into the mix as you seek to decipher the barrage of sounds on show. Is that a backward voice on ‘Dada’ or the sound of the sea on ‘Harbor’ and if so, who was broadcasting it in the first place? Prolific and uncompromising definitely, Tod Dockstader is so enthralled with his subject matter that he’ll soon have you utterly submerged in his world.
Long awaited second volume, story continuation, of Tod Dockstaders epic length ‘Aerial’ piece. An expert exercise in developing sounds, shapes, directions and emotions from shortwave radio signals - an area that William Basinski has made his own. The complete work in three volumes lasts over three hours, the continous piece is actually a patchwork of many parts subsequently kept in digital form for later computer finalizing. It’s with complete wonder and amazement that you’ll grasp the fact that these genius drone pieces were formed from simple shortwave static. Each sequence evokes a certain emotion that may or may not have led to the titles of these parts, for instance ‘Pipes’, ‘Orgal’, ‘Wail’, ‘Spindrift’ and ‘Wire’, from spacial soundrift to an almost industrial blast on ‘Surfer’. Completely essential music from an electronic music master.
As before this is a multi emotion stirring exercise in shortwave music that makes it sound like transmissions from space during the 1960’s. Having made his mark very early on with light-years-ahead works like ‘Apocalypse’ and ‘Luna Park’ it’s no surprise that Mr Dockstader’s music even now sounds timeless (within the world of ‘bolts and wires’ early electronics). With a running time of over an hour, split into 23 segments, you’ll be hard pushed to pick a single track to buzz out to - just immerse yourself in it’s entirity (try sequencing all three parts togehter for the ultimate trip). One of the finest ever electronic musicians, no doubt.
Tod Dockstader may not have had the musical training of some of his more distinguished peers but what he lacked in study, he made up for in virtuoso skill. His aptitude for tape music was almost unmatched, and this collection of pieces from the early 60s is a stunning example of why people still mention his name in hushed tones. Synthesis is only a part of the process, and Dockstader chopped and edited his synthetically produced tones to create buzzing clouds, clicks, rhythms and throbbing basses. ‘Water Music’ (included on this disc in full) is made almost exclusively from the source sound of water, which was processed to create all manner of reverberating, shimmering harmony. ‘Quatermass’ was perceived by Dockstader as an antidote to ‘Water Music’, adding a certain playfulness to the rhythms, tones and textures on show. Together the pieces work together blissfully and give proof of Dockstader’s rightful place as one of key composers of his era. Hugely recommended.
Organised Sound: Reissue of ORLP-6
Invaluable vinyl reissue of a sought-after early suite by “Organised Sound” innovator and electronic music autodidact, Tod Dockstader. ‘Luna Park; Traveling Music; Apocalypse’ were written between 1960-1961, around the same time as his debut release ‘Eight Electronic Pieces’ for Folkways, but not released until 1966 on Owl Records. It’s connected directly to that LP through ‘Traveling Music’, which started life as ‘Piece #8’ before Dockstader decided to use its minimal, monaural construction as basis for new explorations in spatialising techniques - remember, Dockstader was schooled as a film and cartoon editor, not as an avant-garde musician - resulting a brilliantly dynamic sonic sculpture building on the lessons of Edgar Varese’s seminal ‘Poeme Electronique’. Here, it’s prefaced by the unsettling, arcade-like soundfield of ‘Luna Park’ - named after a derelict funfair at Coney Island - a hall of mirrors full of demented laughter, low end bass drones and ghostly creaks sounding like the score to Mickey Mouse’s baaad trip. Flipside, meanwhile renders ‘Apocalypse’, a four-part, 19-minute tape masterpiece made after ‘Luna Park’ and full of remarkable right turns, unpredictable klangs and stereo dynamics arranged with a far more playful and visual appeal than the more staid, academic experiments of that era. Rightfully available again, this LP and the accompanying ‘Drone; Two Fragments From Apocalypse; Water Music’ should go some way to establishing the importance of Dockstader’s work in the electronic canon.
Organized Sound: Reissue of ORLP-7
Another crucial, revelatory piece of history from the brink of early concrète/electronic music, organised by the legendary autodidact composer, Tod Dockstader. First realised between 1961-1963, later released in ‘66 on Owl Records, ‘Drone; Two Fragments From Apocalypse; Water Music’ is another remarkable early iteration of Dockstader’s un-blinkered perspective on the then-emergent world of electronic music composition. Applying practical skills from his background as a film and cartoon editor, Dockstader created incredible, unique scapes of “organised sound” - a term coined by Edgar Varese which Dockstader thought appropriate for his pieces which were distinguished from “proper” composition or being termed either purely concrète or electronic music. Much of the A-side is occupied with his ‘Drone’ (1962), 12 minutes of plonging bass tones, shuddering metallic resonance and incredibly detailed spatial dynamics - all the more impressive considering it was made by splicing tapes - beside ‘Two Fragments From Apocalypse’ (1961). Perhaps most impressive however, to these ears at least, are the scarily prescient techno pulsations of ‘Water Music’, a six-part, 18 minute suite primed to leave a lot of electronic music fiends picking jaws up from the floor. A huge recommendation!
Eight Electronic Pieces (Locust reissue)
Fantastic re-issue of these early works from seminal electronic / musique concrete vanguardian & Brooklyn resident Tod Dockstader. Fourth major CD to be made available after the ace Starkland issues including the awesome ‘Quatermass’, of which Autechre perversly played on the ‘Breezeblock’ Radio 1 during the FM blitz surrounding the launch of ‘Draft 7.30’. Originally issued on Folkways in 1961, since which it has remained dormant and nearly forgotten for some 40 years. Thankfully the spot on Locust imprint bring this gem back into print. Dockstader has been characterized by many as a true antecedent to the techno and ambient electro scenes popularized by the likes of Aphex Twin et al. This brand new re-edition features original notes, newly remastered sound and new liner notes by Jason Ankeny with present-day reflections by Dockstader himself. Highly recommended for those interested in the birth of electronic music and it’s subsequent evolution.