Various - OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music 1948 - 1980 (Excerpts from)

Year of Release: 2000
Label: Ellipsis Arts
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 65:42:00

Either you get it or you don't. By which I mean, either you get what the whole scope of what electronic music is about, or you think that a great deal of it is just someone playing around with their keyboards, their household appliances, or some found object and calling it "music." Often I'm in the latter camp, but sometimes I'm in the former. So, this 3 CD compilation spanning the years 1948 to 1980 (with a 96 page booklet) has something for both camps; under review is a highlight disk featuring 14 tracks that vary from musical in a more commonly understood sense to music in the very abstract. The album artwork was "borrowed" from a very informative site set up by the compilers of this retrospective, Thomas Ziegler and Jason Gross (as the sampler did not have one). The press release that accompanies this disk states: "[This set] charts a course, and encourages the listen to come to his/her own conclusions [about what electronic music is]. It's a challenging pursuit, but one could scarcely ask for a better guide." Contributors to the liner notes include Brian Eno, Bill Laswell, Peter Namlook, and Thurston Moore, among a dozen others.

Some material here seems more like sonic outtakes from a movie soundtrack - not the incidental music, but the stuff the sound effects crew has been working on. Other selections can be called minimalist, even if that musical term isn't the label that's been affixed to these particular pieces.

"Cindy Electronium" is frankly a weird piece of sonics - a high pitched tone plays the scales while a sound that can only be described as a percussive accordion dropping frames, only to become a more digital sound ? not quite like that in Atari's Pong ? but ? Le Caine's "Dripsody" is just that - imagine yourself inside a bottle of freshly opened 7-Up, as a rhapsody of bubbles rise to the top. "Klangstudie II" begins as if it were early Tangerine Dream (though I suspect predates it by quite a bit), only to become the soundtrack to yet another video game?getting darker and darker as you move through the levels. Large, industrial size craft soon appear?alright, I'm seeing War Of The Worlds here - now less because of the air-raid warning sound, or is it the police sirens? Actually, pretty neat stuff.

Track 5, "Williams Mix," is John Cage, a big name in this genre, I know, but I can't tell you much more than that, I'm afraid. He is either flipping through radio stations (likely) or TV stations to create this sound collage - or paying homage to the remote-control jockey. How well can you channel hop and make it sound coherent? This hops about too much for my tastes, as I've a longer attention span. I find I just want him to settle on a channel you know, get into a groove. Or maybe I just don't get it. Audience applause concludes this track, and is the longest sustained part (more than a minute)- he found his groove. Funny how applause sounds a lot like a rainstorm.

If you were to take the clocks chiming at the beginning of Pink Floyd's "Time" (Dark Side Of The Moon) and mix that in with other assorted percussive sounds, including the traditional cymbals, add a splash of the Sandpeople Theme from Star Wars, then you'd have an idea of what "Kontakte" sounds like. At times it's like something out of one of the weirder X-Files episodes. Musical in a way, but very, very angular. Things scritter and scratch like tiny aliens scurrying across a floor?of a cabin in the jungle.

The dodo bird makes its way across your vision - see it walk with a bounce in its step. Or, see your young child try to play the flute or recorder, merely breathing in and out because the nose is fun to play with. Meanwhile the fan in your computer needs to be replaced because it drones on and on in a low hum. I can hear things at a high frequency, so maybe I find this particular piece by Steve Reich (called "Pendulum Music") more annoying than most would, but I have to move on?it was literally doing some weird things to my eardrums - the droning part that is.

"Silver Apples Of The Moon" by Morton Subotnick has sort of a Twilight Zone/X-Files feel about it, learning more towards the Twilight Zone. Not the familiar theme, by the way, but more towards the incidental music. Whispered voices are just out of hearing ? then some industrial like noise sounds, trumpets like an angry elephant, while hoots and whistles (think Artoo Detoo) chatter away. Debatable as music, but kinda interesting overall

Laurie Spiegel's "Appalachian Grove" is next, beginning with a morsecode like tattoo ? simple in construction, I quite like this ? as this is getting closer to the more musical end of electronic music. It's sort of spacey in a way; and interesting use of textures and modulation. You can't dance to it, can't get high to it, but you might be able to test out the quality of your sound system with it. That isn't intended as a knock, just that there subtle harmonics that I'm sure I'm missing.

More videogame type sound effects from Bernard Parmegiani with "En Phase/Hors Phase" - actually, this circular, spindle like sound was also used in a Saga track, though I can't think of which one at the moment ? now this is spacey, as something is making the sonar go really crazy! And I distinctly hear the sound of something being dragged. I suddenly thought of The Thing (the original, not the Kurt Russell remake).

More widely familiar names round out this sampler - Jon Hassell - "Before And After Charm (La Notte)" and Brian Eno - "Unfamiliar Wind (Leeks Hills)". The former is edging toward the electronic territory I'm more familiar with - there's percussion here that sounds like that used in many a Steve Roach composition. Dark keyboard tones undulate rhythmically - like breathing; heavy, but not labored - quiet panic. Higher-toned keyboards ride over the top with long, high, dramatic, sustained notes. Someone is creeping up on the man in the iron lung, getting ever closer and closer.

"Unfamiliar Wind" is a gentle, almost imperceptible, keyboard drone, accented by the occasional sound effect. It's either my imagination, but I swear I hear bird chirps ? or at least keyboard chitterings. Well, this is my favourite piece here. It's another one of those that conveys both movement and stillness simultaneously.

Recommended to those who are into all types of electronic music.

Raymond Scott - 'Cindy Electronium' (1:55) / Hugh Le Caine - 'Dripsody' (1:26) / Herbert Eimert/Robert Beyer - 'Klangstudie II' (4:27) / Louis and Bebe Barron - 'Main Title From The Forbidden Planet' (2:19) / John Cage -'Williams Mix' (5:42) / Karlheinz Stockhausen - 'Kontakte' (6:20 edit) / David Tudor - 'Rainforest Version 1' (5:09 edit) / Steve Reich - 'Pendulum Music' (5:52) / Morton Subotnick - 'Silver Apples Of The Moon Part 1' (4:20 edit) / Laurie Spiegel - 'Appalachian Grove' (5:20) / Bernard Parmegiani - 'En Phase/Hors Phase' (2:29) / Alvin Lucier - 'Music On A Long Thin Wire' (6:43 edit) / Jon Hassell - 'Before And After Charm (La Notte)' (7:59) / Brian Eno - 'Unfamiliar Wind (Leeks Hills)' (5:21)



Genre: Electronic

Origin VA

Added: April 1st 2000
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Hits: 879
Language: english


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