There is something wonderfully evocative about the idea of an unseen world. And it’s clear that music is one very real key to unlocking these new realms. In this newly re-issued album by Laurie Spiegel – she explains in the sleeve notes:
The title “Unseen Worlds” was suggested to me by I Ching Hexagram #16, “Enthusiasm”, which says “It fell to music … to construct a bridge to the world of the unseen” (Bollingen Edition, p. 72). After not having used the I Ching for some years, I thought it might help me put this recording together, and so it did.
And of course, if only to add another layer to this precious new experience, it also happens to have inspired the name of the label – Unseen Worlds which appropriately invites us into another pivotal episode of electronic experimentation with this re-issue.
Spiegel’s previous album was the landmark The Expanded Universe (which is also being re-issued on x3 lp that now includes all the tracks featured on the previous CD and digital editions), literally a small moon of welcoming pulses and textures. It was originally her first release in 1980 and is beyond recommendation. Unseen Worlds, the album, was originally released in 1991 and highlights the ongoing problems and beauty artists have in working and innovating with state-of-the-art equipment of the time it’s produced.
For me somehow, there is a quality of digital sound generators particularly between the mid 80s to early 90s that give music a huge surface sheen which I’ve always found a tiny bit distracting or cold. Of course, this is a highly personal preference, but the world Spiegel’s Unseen World describes grows out of this newly discovered limitations and creative joining of dots –
I created the first nine pieces during 1988-90 roughly in the order they appear here using a C language computer program I wrote called Music Mouse – An Intelligent Instrument on an Apple Macintosh 512ke computer with a trackball. I used Music Mouse to control, via MIDI, a Yamaha TX816 FM synthesizer, and Eventide SP-2016 and H3000 digital signal processors. I recorded each piece directly to DAT (digital audio tape) as I played them in real time. In some cases, I later passed this recorded material back and forth through the SP-2016 or H3000 between two DAT recorders for additional signal processing.
This process was walking blindfold into the unknown, an experiment that first and foremost, might actually not work at all. Or result in something un-manageable or horrible. But Spiegel builds a community of sound generation in a way that was creating a new world sound byte by sound byte. Then she adds the human part by sprinkling the process with improvisational spontaneity. And my sonic hang ups of music from this time frame were unfounded…
So in a way, these strange digital constructions are in constant tension with the human sensibilities they are instructed to map out. The Three Sonic Spaces that start the disc, highlight the very illusionary nature of this new world. How resonance and echoes sculpt huge cavernous voids of nothing more than imagination. Massive voids, monumental architectural chasms built out of nothing more than the science of sound and the power of the human playfulness.
Finding Voices and The Hollows both draw out a misty woodland, the place where fairytales may well grow out of, in the future. Huge long tunnels of sound whittled from digital jets flying overhead. Of course, it’s easy to see something in Spiegel’s love of folk music and in her early years playing mandolin, banjo and guitar then later as an academic, the lute.
So the definitives outlined in Two Archetypes – Hall of Mirrors l and Two Archetypes – Hurricanes Eye ll are again like impossible plotting of pure forms… It’s easy to almost see this as some weirdly prog analysis of the music here but there is something both completely plastic and hugely emotive about the experience.
At points, the music almost forms a fractal bridge between Wolfgang Voigt’s thumping ambient drift of GAS and Paul Dolden’s digital landslips over a Renaissance harpsichord. As you settle into Unseen Worlds, it really starts to go spectacularly widescreen. Sound Zones almost breathtakingly forms into a fly through a pixelated galaxy.
Then eventually, clearly defined rhythm visits fleetingly in Strand of Life (“Viroid”) and From A Harmonic Algorithm as a farewell to the world the listener has inhabited. Straight edges, right angles and building blocks are finally formed.
Passages, the discs closer, at just over 14 minutes, initially starts out with synthetic interwoven bells before slowly becoming engulfed in a buzzing mass. The drone becomes a choir of voices before waves of pulsing aggressive fragments rain down in waves. Taking the album as a whole, this final statement appears as the journey back here from wherever your brain settled in the previous 40 odd minutes. A brutal re-introduction into sounds from Earth reimagined from this new world – now seen…
As a sonic experience Unseen Worlds locks into a seemingly fixed electronic vocabulary. However, with a bit of time, immersion and opening up to Spiegel’s creative brief and conceptual rigour, this is another singular and hugely rich listen.