By Neil S Kvern
Almost everyone in the music industry has some knowledge of the technical aspects of getting sounds onto tape. Most musicians are content if they can go into the studio and get something that sounds like a live performance. It seems almost backwards that the people who use tape as a compositional medium distinct and separate from live performance are the ones who are considered eccentric.
In 1980, K. Leimer said his music “deliberately sits on the border between ‘ambient’ music and ‘event’ music.” His new work, Imposed Order, continues in this direction. It is a brilliant combination of events and ambient sounds. These nine pieces are more than simply sound textures – they move from one place to another, have definite (though not expected) beginnings and endings, and are all around five minutes long. Wajang kulit, The Human Condition, and Life of the Poet have bouncy rhythms similar to Leimer’s work with Savant (The Neo-Realist), and Three Forms of Decay and Simple Hierarchies continue with the interesting process work and atmospherics of Closed System Potentials. Wajang kulit seems to be based partly on Balinese music; there are Chinese or Japanese influences in Water Music.
This music isn’t the kind that aggressively pulls you in. It requires a certain amount of listening, but it is not hidden in the intentional obscurity or obliqueness that shadows some contemporary intellectual work. Because Leimer hasn’t compromised to keep in step with whatever’s currently popular, Imposed Order may not have immediate commercial success, but it will probably prove to be quite successful over a long period of time. Anyway, these sounds are better than money and fame!
Like Brian Eno, K. Leimer comes from a visual art background. He says that he got into music several years ago because it was something he knew nothing about – the technical aspects, at least. Perhaps having music as a second artistic language made it easier for him to stick to his ideals and theories, rather than turning it into a job; or maybe it gave him the perspective to be able to look at the tools rather than merely using them as a means to a predetermined end. While a lot of people use synthesizers, drum machines and advanced studio technology to create pop songs about love, cars, or even politics (1984 being an excellent jumping-off point), Leimer continues his subtle persistence of sound and vision. It’s as if he’s saying that one way we might be able to keep from destroying ourselves and the world is to slow down and think about it.
© Neil S. Kvern
by John Diliberto
Electronic music is exceptionally popular these days. A glance at the record charts reveals the rhythm machines and synthesizers for the likes of Duran Duran, Eurythmics, and Herbie Hancock dominating sales and the airwaves. But in America, “bubbling” far under the Hot 100 is a synthesized subculture with a different attitude. They aren’t concerned with mass popularity, but instead are exploring a personal aesthetic, using synthesizers and tape machines to create a private world of sound.
As synthesizers and audio components become less expensive, more people are making music in their basements or private studios, and releasing the results on cassettes and small independent labels. There is no formal organization and many sub-groups, but there’s a sense of shared sensibility of exploration and the creation of a unique audio environment. These are the artists of the new electronic underground.
One fascinating aspect of this new underground has been the resurrection of the earliest techniques of electronic music. Tape manipulating, or musique concrete, has gained fresh currency in the midst of now-familiar synthesizer sounds. Recording natural acoustic sounds, instrumental or environmental, these artists edit, loop, reverse, and otherwise shape the fabric of sound. It’s a hands-on approach that brings the composer into intimate contact with his/her sonic material.
Utilizing these techniques, Carl Stone’s Woo Lae Oak is an epic work in miniature. It is extraordinarily sophisticated in thought, yet archaic in execution. His instruments are a string and a bottle that he rubs and blows respectively. These simple sounds are then modified by tape-loops, layering, and speed (pitch) changes into a haunting work that reveals a microscopic world of texture and distended melody. The rubbed string becomes a rapidly bowing violin section moving almost imperceptibly in pitch. The blown bottle becomes an ethereal woodwind section, sometimes with almost endless bass flute tones and at other times, shorter recorder-like fragments. Stone is so attuned that even the imperfect edits in his loops become part of the texture and rhythm of his piece. Woo Lae Oak’s 55 minutes are an exquisite exercise in meditative listening.
K. Leimer creates similar sound mosaics, albeit with a greater dynamic range and rhythmic drive. He’s been putting out records since 1979 on his Palace of Lights label, sort of a Windham Hill of electronic music. As a Brian Eno disciple, Leimer is also concerned with shaping sound via tape, but he also uses the synthesizer. Imposed Order alternates between a tropical hi-tech sound of pounding percussion-loop rhythms and zooming Doppler effects within atmospheric tone poems. A lone guitar chord, a whispering flue tone, a chorus of train whistles crying down an infinite tunnel – these are the fragments from which Leimer constructs his music. Leimer details each sonic adventure as carefully as Tolkien detailed his Middle Earth. There’s an organic feel to Leimer’s music, and a sense that living beings exist here, however alien.
© John Diliberto