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DVD Review: OHM+

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Ohm… Ohm… Ohm…

Back in 2000, Ellipsis Arts released OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music, a fantastic and essential three-CD set tracing the evolution of “electronica” from Messiaen, Cage, and Xenakis to Schulze, Eno, and Hassell. This set was recently reissued (as OHM+) along with a bonus DVD, which is thankfully now available separately for those of us who already have the CDs.

The OHM+ DVD is jam-packed with over two hours of archival and more recent footage that runs the gamut from engrossing to mildly interesting to unwatchably dull.

If seemingly endless “talking head” interviews with Milton Babbitt and Bebe Barron are your idea of video entertainment, you’ve come to the right place. An interview with John Cage digitally altered beyond all recognition? Check. Swirling psychadelic colored dyes right out of a Saucerful of Secrets-era Pink Floyd concert? No problem.

There are some tastier goodies to be found on this DVD, however…

The segments with Clara Rockmore and Leon Theremin have an appealingly amateurish home movie quality to them. It’s also a real treat to see the 1978 footage of underappreciated minimalist guru David Borden and Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company “on the road” hauling around their truckload of big old analog synthesizer equipment. Laurie Spiegel is fun to watch as she tinkers with a big grey metal box called a “Concerto Generator” with an extremely serious expression on her face. And Alvin Lucier‘s “Music for Solo Performer,” where he hooks up wires to his head and produces sounds using his brainwaves and two tympani, simply must be seen to be believed.

The Pixar-ish computer animation accompanying Paul Lansky’s “The Dust Bunny” is sort of cute, but it goes on for about 10 minutes too long. Surely most of the OHM target audience already has the DVD of Steve Reich’s Three Tales, but it’s nice that they included the best part – the ominous yet goofy “Dolly” segment. Many have also probably seen Hans Fjellestad’s documentary Moog before, but the six-minute excerpt provided here is really about all you need.

It’s too bad there isn’t a more interesting John Cage segment, and regrettable that there aren’t any Stockhausen videos. (Those would certainly be a riot!)

Overall, though, while the OHM+ DVD is not as consistently engaging as the CD set of the same name, it is a worthy companion to it. And if you don’t have either of them yet, the complete OHM+ 3-CD & DVD “special edition” box set is a no-brainer.

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  • http://www.butterflyfiction.com/journal/ Connie Phillips

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