Closed System Potentials
Kerry Leimer set up Palace of Lights in 1979 recording a single Fiction which had a very limited press of 300 and was swallowed up by the locals. PoL became a joint venture after that for Leimer, Marc Barreca and Stephen Peters to pool ideas and equipment into. Leimer uses piano tape loops, moog synths, guitars and other things to weave his spells of tranquility. It’s easy to compare him to Eno but it would be unfair to say that “CSP” is Enoesque because he gives it a quality that is entirely his own founding.
Unhurried portals of music linger awhile...then drift away. If ever there was music for the cosmos, this is it. Serene machines indeed. Never boring like so much of the Fripp-Eno loop sequences here is a cycle of infinitely moving parts, an album where every track is interesting to hear without resorting to any electronic trickery which must be really tempting at times. Overall a graceful album of rare beauty.
© Contemporary Keyboard
The Organization of Information
by Robert Carlberg
Closed System Potentials
When information flow increases beyond the capacity for direct assimilation, a formalized approach to the prioritization of incoming information rapidly becomes necessary. Raw data, in and of itself, provides no fundamental benefit – it is only in relation to existing information that meanings are derived. The “assimilation” of information, then, involves more than a simple review of the facts; they must be understood – and this requires a process considerably more complex and time consuming. As the accumulation of assimilated information grows, new inputs take longer and longer to fit into the puzzle, as more and more relations need to be considered. Eventually the approach to data becomes more important than the data itself. This is the situation in which we find ourselves today. The technological advances of the last century have given each of us access to 24-hour nonstop twelve-network television programming, fifty nonstop AM and FM radio broadcasts, continuous citizen’s band and shortwave reception, several daily or twice-daily local newspapers, hundreds of new books published each day, hundreds of thousands of monthly magazines, and tens of thousands of record releases per year. Each of us has had to develop or own set of preselection priorities to relieve ourselves of the individual conscious decisions, in order to have time to enjoy (“assimilate”) the narrow band we do admit.
Exploration of this process of the organization of information is the ambition of these three “concept” lps. Spread across two years (1979 & 1980) and many miles (London, Seattle, and Fort Collins respectively), each takes a markedly different approach to what is essentially the same territory – discovering how a musical system will function within a self-limited set of variables.
The Ultravox takes as its premise certain long-standing traditions of rock and roll – a steady 4-beat drum, “two slightly distorted guitars”, a strictly supportive bassline, and vocals of the verse and chorus design. It is an old arrangement, arguably qualifying as the “romantic” tradition of the title. Were it not for the apparent intentional confines of their zeal little would separate this disc from the current crop of 4/4 tri-chord pop commanding the airwaves. However, with bands like the Squeeze, The Pretenders, the Clash, the B-52s, Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, I get the feeling the restrictions are not so much fabricated as felt. It is as if the ’70s never happened; the straight line development of rock from its delta-blues roots through R&B to “Love Me Do” has been arrested at this point. These evolutionary throwbacks would endeavor to disaffirm all tonal, harmonic, rhythmic and lyrical diversification since then. Rock ’N Roll may indeed live forever – by never growing up. But I digress.
In Ultravox’s case, the course is evidently intentional: their carefully chosen lyrics dwell on themes which are decidely not teenage love. Their instrumentation, unlike their pop counterparts, accepts the advantage of electronic instruments, although they are strategically programmed and utilized to enhance the ’60s rock sound – there is a bass guitar synthesizer, a fuzz guitar synthesizer, and an occasional 4/4 electronic drum. There are even some mixing tricks thrown in – vocal echo, filtering, flashy panning – another retrograde rock no-no. Systems of Romance is an attempt to instill the vigor of ’60s rock structures in a package of stripped-down 1979 technology – an attempt to fit the old in with the new.
Quite a different approach is represented in K. Leimer’s Closed System Potentials. The self-imposed limitations are again in instrumentation and structure, although the packaging is securely not rock and roll. Whereas Systems of Romance reached back to 1965 for insight, Closed System Potentials reaches back only as far as 1975 for a basis of comparison, to the pioneering work of Robert Fripp and Brian Eno. Aside from Daryl Hall’s Sacred Songs and Michael Rother’s Katzenmusik, not much has been done in five years to meld the self-centered open loop format into outside pre-existing structures.
Leimer’s express intention is to unite looped with unlooped material, timed with untimed events, related and unrelated components; toward a new understanding of the potential of looped formats. He also addresses Eno’s “ambient music” question; maintaining low-key energy levels and multiple layers of activity. In fact it is precisely because of its “layers of the onion” construction that this album sustains interest over a long span of time, being heard in a variety of situations. This is a demure effort, which only reveals itself slowly after a diligent courtship.
Leimer uses piano, guitar, and synthesizers in short, outwardly-similar looped/live tracks. On closer examination, however, it becomes perceptible that each track embodies a different association of the ingredients – as if balancing a centrifugal weight by trial and error. Nowhere is the nature of the process of integration of diverse elements more apparent than on this disc. It seems ideally suited to explain this process in its route to completion.
Both of these discs address primarily the function of previously-established modes in more current and complex terminology. Some Attributes of a Living System by Mnemonists, however takes a different starting point.
With the introduction of atonal music in the 1900’s, and non-pitched sounds in the 1920’s, and aleatory non-structures in the 1950’s, music itself has taken an inexorable leap into a broader spectrum, and the ripples on the surface have not yet settled. In the 30-odd years since that shake-up, integration has come but slowly and in fits. Much of the music in the interim has in fact been concerned with returning to the Garden – although the snake remains at the gate now open.
A few pioneers; and even after thirty years the term is appropriate because the frontier remains largely untapped; have attempted integration/exploration. Electronic music (of the old school) is probably a fallout of this tension, and suffers no less inattention than its contemporary classical “father”.
The Mnemonists bridge a delicate beginning of traditions in this post-serialist world. They feature the ‘song-speech’ of Schoenberg, the aleatory nature of John Cage, the ‘found events’ of Edgard Varese. Yet they also feature the free-form improvisations of jazz pioneers such as John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, and Ornette Coleman. The combination is a difficult, ambitious, and surprisingly successful one. By evading the diverting smokescreens that have been thrown up in the backlash years, the Mnemonists have arrived at a challenging synthesis of two related, but generally unassociated schools of “new music”. Their response to the profusion of possibilities has been the removal of the old traditional core, leaving only the fringe distillate.
Three albums; three separate approaches to the sensory overload of the ‘80s. Which set of solutions will prevail is actually a subservient question – the real point here is that the difficult paradoxes of music today are finally being addressed. It is a trend that must be foreseen.
© Robert Carlberg