Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Tod Dockstader - Quatermass / Water Music (1992 compi of works from 1963-64)

Great introduction to Minnesota-born Tod Dockstader (1932-2015), who called his early electronic music 'organised sound' in homage to Edgard Varèse and his inspirational Poème Électronique.  No synthesisers here (or available!) in Dockstader's early-mid 1960s works - everything the erstwhile sound engineer put on to hours and hours of tape to distill down to his finished pieces came from sine wave generators, plus mutated recordings of gongs, children's toys, radio static, running water, air escaping from balloons, and so on.

Shunned by the avant-garde establishment of the day, Dockstader was completely self-taught, and recognised that at its most basic, all music, whatever the source, was just tension and release - and these works certainly have that in spades.  The 18-minute Water Music (1963) is up first on this compilation, with Dockstader using water ('in a metal garbage can', according to the wonderfully detailed liner notes) to create music that he felt reflected the various qualities of water.  It's a great work, and highly listenable, but by the following year his craft had taken a noticeable leap in complexity (helped in part by now using three-track recording and more sophisticated mixing) to produce the epic 46-minute Quatermass suite.

Quatermass, its name chosen just because Dockstader thought it suitably evocative (he hadn't seen the famously creepy British TV serials/movies from the 50s) is simply a masterpiece of early electronics.  Dockstader had intended Quatermass from its inception to be a complete contrast to Water Music, that it would be 'a very dense, massive, even threatening, work of high levels and high energy'.  This certainly comes through in the work's semi-classical five movements, with recurring themes and primitive sine-wave rhythms leading the way through the many electronic sounds, creating a dark, foreboding atmosphere throughout.  The disc is rounded out by two out-takes from the Quatermass sessions (which precede the main work in the tracklist).  Don't miss this one - simply stunning, pioneering and accessible tape 'n' scissors mastercrafting.
Original LP cover for 'Quatermass', 1966
mega / zippy

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