Unseen Worlds, the label that released the stunning first overview of Carl Stone’s output Electronic Music from the Seventies and Eighties has now collated this second set – Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties.
The ‘about’ section on their website states “…Unseen Worlds is a record label releasing quality editions of unheralded and revolutionary, yet accessible, avant-garde music”. Of course, for many, the avant-garde and the wildly experimental can act as a warning sign. Stand by for impossibly abrasive and confrontational sounds at the very edge of what many would consider ‘music’. Collected sounds that you may enjoy but something you might not play that often.
True to Unseen Worlds’ mission statement, this new collection of Stone’s kaleidoscopic looping presents itself as a head spinning but thoroughly beautiful experience. Stone has long mastered a form of aural zipping, where compatible and non-compatible sounds coexist in wonderful side-long constructions. Shing Kee from his earlier collection had a profound impact on me. A new form of beauty; a soulful, human, clever manipulation of recorded sound. An incremental and weirdly stuttering psychedelic journey through a sample of The Linden Tree by Schubert. Over time, the rest of that vast album opened up a whole new world.
Within the opening seconds of the first track on Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties, I knew the 14 minutes of Banteay Srey (1993 ) would be every bit as wonderful. A Burundi child’s song is looped; trapped in an intoxicating heat haze, slowly interlocking with rounded organ-like tones. As always, this is no simple repetition but a subtle, gradual morphing; bringing new details and textures into focus. The extended descent towards silence only furthers the illusion of unfathomable depth.
By contrast, the crisp bouncing ball of Sonali (1989) feels way more frenetic. Based on a sample of another piece by Stone which is much more rhythmically focussed. Imagine Nobukazu Takemura jamming with Conlon Nancarrow. You wait for the conceptual twist to come. And it eventually does, in infinite little swatches of a Mozart opera.
Stretching out to just over 23 minutes, Woo Lae Oak (1983) combines two ribbons of sound that complete each other. Taped samples of strings and air blown over a bottle form into a huge swarm of vibrations. It becomes completely disorienting as the sounds ebb and flow creating a standing wave of beauty. Although this piece is edited down from the 54 minute original, it still projects at enormous haunting beauty.
The album ends with Mae Yao (1984) which evolves along a hectic trajectory. The gamelan is pushed through the meat grinder, working itself into a heaving mass of Morse Code splinters and jumps. Backwards, forwards, upside down and the right way around, in a hall of mirrors… At the point it seems almost unbearable, it blossoms into a huge nebulous drift. A vast window into deep, active space. An immensely beautiful and soaring finale.
Throughout Stone’s entire career, he’s consistently worked, manipulated and exploited electronics. Every piece employs a charming mixture of basic and readily available sounds manipulated via electronics. However, what makes his music so utterly beautiful is that it negates the airless pitfalls that working in this area can sometimes bring. Stone treats his sound sources in an almost brutal glitch riddled way, but the results are regularly nothing short of a highly playful, spine-tingling joy. The work is never overly dominated by the strategy at play. There is always a perfect balance within his music; the chaos required to make the calm. With a startling degree of consistency over the decades, this new collection proves yet again his spectacular ability for creating life and warmth from things he has so deliberately cut into millions of tiny pieces.
Like the previous overview lovingly spot lit by Unseen Worlds, Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties is an amazing point of entry into Stone’s beautifully exhilarating sonic world.