Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties by Carl Stone

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Carl Stone
Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties (Unseen Worlds; 2xLP/DL)

It’s a true pleasure to dig back through the annals of work by bi-national (US/Japan) actively touring composer Carl Stone who has been recording since the 70’s. His work is often seductively minimal with a side of mathematics, and a twist of playfulness. On this look back, Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties, these four lengthy works do not disappoint. These works have never been released on vinyl, and Mae Yao is heard here for the very first time.

Right from the top of Banteay Srey I’m transported to a muted space where marine life communicate in subharmonic tones. The electronics are well rounded, literally, and the mood is sparse and wide. With each bawl, a wave reverberates, repeats and regenerates, until a cycle is formed. It’s simultaneously soothing and semi-conscious. Named after an ancient Cambodian temple, the timbre is pleasingly below mid range, while the gait of the piece remains gradually slumberous.

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Sonali is a toylike piece. By using masked squawk box style voices and a mischievous organ, the layers mount, becoming a wry concoction of animation meets hip-hop meets 80’s Japanese electronica. To simply call it quirky would be a disservice as there are references to any number of classical composers, but I’m hearing Delibes and Brahms in the crevices here. The ‘golden’ sis-boom-bah je ne sais quoi is infectious. It’s an active work that could do battle with like works by Philip Glass of the same era. But lay down your arms as this is no fight, just delight. Amidst the vivid jangle are like a mash-up of traditional Czech dance themes and tribal Gamelan musics. It’s a luscious and inventive blend. Woo Lae Oak (meaning “house of return”) is ostensibly tentative with its vibrating strings and open backing, until a naked flute is added, extended and draws circles on repeat. It’s a generous space in which these two layers play on and with each other, suspenseful yet loose and minimally expressionist. Slowly the composition is shaped into something without ends and it just floats, or perhaps I’m slowly being hypnotized by its gentle harmony.

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And finally, introducing the twenty-three minute work Mae Yao, with obvious Asian influences, actually somewhat Cambodian to be specific, in terms of tone, but this native sound is broken and bold. The blips break-up what sounds like a small village ceremony, in cuts and clicks Stone reveals himself as a visitor to a strange land where his senses are on overload. The timing of strings and pings seems so deliberate at first, but the cracks reveal some sort of linguistic barrier, a deciphering translation in progress. Cultural differences (and similarities) aside, the piece works as a distorted post-Fluxus style work that treads on appropriation, it’s stylish vestiges and taboos. The title comes from Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province. Towards the center of the work the staccato cuts swerve on to separate tracks and are elongated, making attempts to catch up with each other on varied channels. The highs and lows are spectacularly striated by the slow-to-quick shifting pace, and rather high-end drone that stays mostly at peak throughout. The layers fuse in the final three minutes and you are left with a velvety synth work that cascades away with anonymous vocal treatments as if dawn were breaking.

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