With An Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music, Volume Seven, curator Guy Marc Hinant has completed the most exhaustive, intriguing, and brilliant historical record of the music ever. Taken together, the undertaking is immense: A total of 176 tracks, spanning the years 1921 to 2012, are contained on 15 CDs, for a total of nearly 18 hours of music. This, the seventh volume, features 39 “rare and unpublished works of concrete, destructured, and electronic music,” as the Sub Rosa record label’s press release states. The period covered is 1930 to 2012, and it is the only triple-disc set of the bunch. While I would recommend all seven volumes of the Anthology without hesitation, if I were forced to choose just one, this would have to be it.
To describe the contents of this remarkable collection, one is tempted to just follow Hinant’s example and discuss everything. In the accompanying booklet, he explains each composer and composition in enough depth to fill 84 pages. He clearly knows his stuff, and the notes are an indispensable aid. Unfortunately, that would not really be practical in the context of a review, so we shall instead focus on a few highlights.
From a historical standpoint, there is nothing that can surpass the 16-second “Au clair de la lune” (1860) by Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville. Look at that date again, for it is no misprint. This is the oldest audible recording of a human voice known to mankind, made 17 years before Thomas Alva Edison’s phonograph recital of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The story behind this achievement is fascinating. Scott de Martinville knew that his paper-cylinder device had recorded his voice, but he had no method of playing back. Proof that his invention actually worked would come 150 years later, when a scientist by the name of David Giovannoni managed to digitize the “soot-etched soundwaves,” in 2008.
When “chill out” rooms were all the rage in the early ’90s, ambient music enjoyed a brief period in the spotlight. And as the word “noise” in the title of the collection indicates, Hinant has an affinity for the more brutal and abrasive sides of the genre as well. On “The Insolence of a Poppy“ (2011) Hinant gets it both ways. This 13:23 piece by Thanasis Kaproulias (as “Novi_sad”) goes along in a blissful state of ambiance for the first 12 minutes, then when you are convinced that it is over, the speakers explode in a cacophony of wildly deranged sounds.
Even with the presence of some relatively well-known artists, we get something unique thanks to the mandate of using rare and unpublished material. In the case of Cabaret Voltaire it is a rare and raw B-side from 1979 titled “Chance versus Causality.” Former Mothers of Invention member Don Preston checks in with “Analog Heaven #6,” from his seven-part Analog Heaven suite composed in 1975. The entire suite has just been released by Sub Rosa as part of a collection of his previously unreleased material titled Filters, Oscillators, & Envelopes 1967-75, all composed while he was with Frank Zappa.
Henry Cow was formed at Cambridge in 1968. Their time together was marked by so many events that Hinant tells the reader just to check the Internet, as it would be impossible to explain everything in a paragraph or two. The music speaks for itself if you ask me, and there is no better example of what this group was capable of than “From Trondheim.” This is a 13:06 improvisation, literally from Trondheim, recorded there during a 1976 concert. The interplay of Fred Frith and Chris Cutler on display here is truly impressive, as are the contributions from their fellow musicians (for this tour at least), Lindsay Cooper and Tim Hodgkinson.
Composer John Oswald was inspired by the “cut-up” techniques of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin to devise a form of music he termed “Plunderphonics.” His 1988 EP Plunderphonics was made up of unlicensed samples, and was quickly banned. Oswald’s “Vertical Time” was composed in 1973, but “restored and revised in 2012.” It is another lengthy track, just under 10 minutes, and presents sort of a Doctor Who vision of time. This description is meant in reference to the Time Lord, not the pioneering BBC Radiophonic Workshop, by the way.
Those are just a few of the highlights, and there are many, many more. The opening track, “Sonata for Loudspeakers,” (1953-54) by Henry Jacobs (9:20) is amazing, for one. Then there are the more recent tracks. The newest are from 2012, of which there are two. The 56-second bit of sonic blitzkrieg appropriately titled “Shambles,” by Warong Rachapreecha is very impressive, as well as “Lava Samples” (2:03) from Slawek Kwi + Siobahn McDonald. Somehow “Lava Samples” also feels appropriately titled.
The biggest year represented is 2011, with seven different entries. All are intriguing, but as I think is becoming obvious, the temptation to list everything that I found worthy of mention is too much for a basic review. All 39 tracks merit discussion for one reason or another.
There is no real way to quantify this kind of material, at least not that I can think of. Music is subjective, but experimental electronic music is ridiculously so. The old phrase of either loving it or hating it most definitely applies. When we hear the term “electronic music” today, it is usually associated with the electronic dance music of such happy pop stars such as Daft Punk or LMFAO. That is not what you will find on An Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music, Volume Seven.
What you will find is an exploration of the very foundations of music in just about every form imaginable. When Luigi Russolo published The Art of Noises in 1915, he argued that the sounds of factories, vehicles, and everything else in a modern city could be “tuned” to create a new form of orchestra. There is no question that an idea like this makes for (at minimum) a fascinating intellectual exercise. What all of the musicians on these Anthologies have in common is their unique approaches to music. The reason that it is “electronic” is that with electricity came the opportunity to create sounds that the human ear had never heard before.
The best comparison I can come up with for the Noise & Electronic Music Anthology is the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music (1952). Like Hinant’s, Smith’s collection could never hope to be absolute; that is an impossibility. It could present the curator’s best vision of the music though, in a very personal, and in its own way, perfect manner. Volume Seven is the crown jewel of the set for me, but the whole thing is a masterpiece. I cannot recommend it higher for those with any sort of an interest in the history of this music.