March 25, 2014

Unheard-Of: Ed Herrmann – Still Life in Concrete

The Globule is pleased to present another landmark recording in the canon of unknown US synth masters. An unassuming album of inspired modular improvisations that inhabits a world all its own.

Judging this LP by its cover, the odds are stacked against it. The pseudo-naive/tribal pastiche of its artwork makes it look like some third-rate Narada cutout (Pan flutes and DX7 come to mind), but a quick glance at the liner notes on the flip tells a different tale. Herrmann’s “Imaginary Electroacoustics” comprise a raw and lively approach to analog electronic sound-making; a surprising anachronism at the time of their 1987 recording.

Ed Herrmann is (was?) an audio engineer, composer, and modular synth enthusiast from Columbia, Missouri, who worked behind the scenes throughout the 80s and 90s on albums by the likes of Diamanda Galas, Peter Brotzmann, and Monte Cazazza. While those acts all revel in extreme performative excess, Herrmann’s approach on this LP is decidedly more playful, though at times equally intense. An obvious touchstone would be the post-concrete “systems music” of 60s pioneers like Gordon Mumma or the Columbia-Princeton axis, but with a lighter touch and more than a little bit of “outsider” charm. Herrmann’s extensive liner notes hint at this “academic” lineage, outlining each piece’s conceptual thrust. From the man himself:

“Whereas the virtues of digital instruments could be described as the ease with which programming, editing, and repetition are accomplished; the virtues of the analog instruments are those of an open system: flexible, interactive, non-repeatable. This record may be heard as a celebration of the spontaneous and unpredictable nature of analog electronics”

The album’s 5 tracks are a showcase of Herrmann’s unique brand of patch-cable wizardry, realized on an arsenal of Serge and E-mu modular systems. Several shorter pieces follow “early academic” tropes, composed of pointillist filligrees and lingering tone-clouds. Elsewhere, oscillations build to walls of hard sci-fi blasting, before crumbling into resonant clank and burble. Many of the tracks were recorded live, including one clarinet-triggered duet performance that’s especially dynamic.

Overall, a playful sense of rhythm and a varied palette of alien sounds keeps the album engaging from beginning to end. The album never falls prey to the hollow droning or nonsensical bleep-outs that tend to drag down similar “pure synth” efforts.

How this album has managed to duck the radar of the ever-expanding reissue sphere is beyond me. It dovetails perfectly with newly rediscovered synth-classics by the likes of Maggi Payne or Charles Cohen, but shares none of the acclaim. Listen to one of the album’s woolier tracks below, and snag the whole thing HERE while you can.

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  • Ed Herrmann - When Myth Shreds Rise