June 5, 2014

Unheard-Of: Soundviews Volume One

The Globule is proud to present “Soundviews Volume One: Sources”, a lost nugget in the history of the American avant-garde. Spearheaded and assembled by alumni and friends of Olympia, Washington’s KAOS-FM, and a mysterious non-profit called “What Next?”, this 90-minute tape is a charming collection of recordings, interviews, and performances from the Pacific Northwest and beyond, circa 1990.

Several high-profile contributions dot the sonic landscape here, including avant-sound heavyweights like Charlemagne Palestine, Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Curran, and David Behrman. But the total unknowns are the real main attraction, embracing all manner of lowercase experimentalism, in perhaps the most engrossing/successful execution of the “cassette magazine” format I’ve ever come across.

Across the 43(!) tracks, sublime choruses of birdsong and cicada histrionics nestle cozily alongside fearsome metallic drones and empty extraterrestrial howling. Elsewhere, home-recorded interviews give way to spoken word experiments and concrete collage. On the whole, the collection has an organic, contemplative vibe, that taps a vein of uniquely American nostalgia throughout.

Many of these brief outings serve as proofs-of-concept for unique sonic scenarios, like David Behrman’s collaborative electronic performance environments, or the archival recording of Harry Bertoia’s recital on one of his legendary “Sonambient” metal sculptures. Other intrepid performers conjure bizarre aural landscapes from homebrew instruments like an arsenal of prepared music boxes (Jim Pomery – “Mozart’s Moog”) or an array of 50- to 90-foot metal strings played by hand (Ellen Fullman – “Immigration”).

Elsewhere, composition and performance are eschewed entirely, in favor of pure atmosphere. The collection is uniquely bold in its willingness to present sounds unadorned. For every bit of obscure instrumentation or cybernetic performance structure, there are plaintive, haunting field recordings of idyllic locales like Albion, Michigan and rural Alaska, which are mellow yet disarming.

The most successful tracks here merge the worlds of composition and chance like Carl Stone’s “Kuk Il Kwan”, where a passing plane’s drone melts into crunching dirt-road footsteps, before being subsumed by a riot of metallic, phase-shifted raindrops. His strikingly intimate appropriation of the domestic landscape recalls contemporary found-sound masters like Jason Lescalleet or Joe Colley.

The individual aesthetics on display during the tape’s 90 minute running time are too numerous to outline here. Luckily, every single track is lovingly annotated in an included 40+ page booklet with chipboard covers, printed black and white with abstract green and red overlays. The multilayered designs recall the work of an earth-toned Neville Brody or early entries in the Touch catalog. A tasteful artifact from an era notorious for its proliferation of tone-deaf art direction.

My only critique is that the whole thing is so earnest it verges on being downright folksy. But in the ever-expanding tableau of high-concept “experimental” music, being sincere and humble is a pretty revolutionary act.

Grab the whole thing w/booklet HERE