AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: A Cage Went in Search of a Bird [Auricle Music]; WOMR Concert 1988 [Anvil Creations]

Before the Internet, before the widespread use of digital music production and recording technologies, there was a thriving underground of electronic and experimental musicians working with analogue tools and connected largely by a network of tape trading and DIY publications. Two new releases of music from this period—a compilation of various forms of electronic and experimental music from the mid-1980s, and a recording of a 1988 electronic music concert—give a sense of the work being done by these largely homegrown artists.

A Cage Went in Search of a Bird is a generous collection of twenty-three tracks of various types of electronic music originally assembled by Alan Freeman, publisher of Audion Magazine, in 1984 and 1985 and issued on two cassettes. The music was divided into four loose categories that covered a wide range of the work being done then: melodic/cosmic synthesizer music; experimental electronics; underground and new wave rock; and avant-garde and industrial sounds. The artists included were from various countries and working at different levels within the music world; some, such as Conrad Schnitzler and Günter Schickert, had had recordings released on prestigious labels, while others operated within a more DIY milieu. What’s striking is how high the quality of experimentation generally is, no matter where in the then-label-dominated hierarchy the artists happened to be. To be sure, nearly forty years on some of the pieces may feel more directly relevant to current sounds than others, but it’s interesting nevertheless to reach back to hear what the state of the art was when the art was still new. For that, A Cage Went in Search of a Bird provides a fascinating, panoramic snapshot of a unique historical moment.

The 1988 WOMR concert presented performances by three members of the International Electronic Music Association (IEMA), a network of electronic musicians active in the 1980s. The concert, held in the Universalist Meeting House of Provincetown in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, was for the benefit of local radio station WOMR and featured a duo set with Ben Kettlewell and Dave Prescott, preceded by an opening solo set from Lauri Paisley. Paisley, who abandoned music in the early 1990s, has since her 2012 death from cancer become something of a cult figure; her set here consists of three structured, relatively brief pieces centered on arpeggiated chord progressions akin to symphonic prog rock. The set by Kettlewell and Prescott, both of whom were based in Massachusetts and hosts of electronic music shows on local radio stations—WOMR among them–displays the strong influence of classic Berlin-school synth music. Kettlewell and Prescott assimilated the style and made it their own; their playing is confident and the music properly propulsive and atmospheric. All things considered the concert’s sound quality is good for the time, and the music still enjoyable to listen to; like A Cage Went in Search of a Bird, the recording is also valuable as an historical document.

The WOMR concert recording was released by Anvil Creations, the label curated by Ken Moore; it features not only historic work by IEMA artists but includes a range of Moore’s work over the years, and is definitely worth checking out. (Full disclosure: I’ve appeared on a handful of collaborations with Ken, some of which are available through Anvil Creations.)

Performances Reviews

Meredith Monk – Bending Melodies in ‘Songs of Ascension’

A review from

The wonder of Meredith Monk is that having created a musical language and theatrical style, she has been able to stretch and refine them with just about every work. Her recent music, including “Songs of Ascension,” a collaboration with the video artist Ann Hamilton, which opened at the BAM Harvey Theater on Wednesday, sounds nothing like the assertive pieces she wrote and sang in the 1980s. Yet enough musical DNA remains, in the form of idiosyncratic warbling and interlocking rhythms, that you would not mistake it for anyone else’s work.

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AMN Podcast: Univers Zero – Relaps

L’etrange Mixture du Docteur Schwartz

Founding members of the Rock In Opposition movement, Univers Zero have continued to change and grow and develop over their entire career, while still keeping a ensemble sound and spirit that is easily recognizable. Relaps presents something that Univers Zero’s fans have been hoping for for decades; a peek into the recorded archives of one of the greatest avant-rock ensembles since mid 1970s! This CD documents the final 1980s line-ups of Univers Zéro before the band’s long sabbatical from recording and touring. The live sound is excellent throughout and the CD features a 16 page booklet with a informative history of the band during this time period as well as rare, never-seen photos. The line-ups featured on Relaps are the quintet who recorded UZED and the septet who recorded Heatwave. The material is drawn from those two albums, with the live setting providing some different arrangements and even greater fire to the pieces; I found the pieces taken from Heatwave to be particularly inspiring and outrageous. There is also a short, otherwise unheard composition included here. While UZ continue to play truely awesome gigs and develop the material that will be found on their next studio album, Relaps provides a chance for the listener to catch up with some never-released and exciting recordings from a truly classic band!

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