At the end of last year we highlighted David First's Electronic Works 1976-1977 as one of our favorite reissues and compilations of 2014, mentioning that the modular synth works contained within sounded "shockingly contemporary." Now we have a chance to see what Mr. First is actually doing these days with similiar equipment in the form of a cassette titled The AM Radio Band, recorded earlier this year by means of "audio oscillators modulating signal generators broadcasting to AM radios." Listen to the 13-minute "Ensemble Study #2" from side B, a wonderfully noisy undertaking created with no less than 2 tube oscillators, 3 tube signal generators, 4 transistor radios, and a tube table model radio. It sounds exactly like what would happen if you released Texas Chain Saw Massacre's Leatherface onto the spaceship of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with HAL eventually breaking down saying "Stop Dave, my mind is going." Forty years into his music career, well past the dawn of the digital age, David First shows himself to remain a true master of analog.
Below are our favorite reissues and compilations from the past year. You can pre-order our year-end zine (Issue #3) here.
Ariel Kalma: An Evolutionary Music (Original Recordings: 1972-1979) [RVNG Intl.]
First off, good on RVNG Intl. for ushering Ariel Kalma into the contemporary public eye. Out of all the labels partaking in the trend of reissuing obscure records by lost/forgotten/recluse geniuses (a trend rigorously outlined in Michael Blair’s and Joe Bucciero’s piece on Mike Cooper), RVNG has presented some of the richest texts this year, and An Evolutionary Music is a peacock’s feather in the label’s proverbial cap. But how the hell did Ariel Kalma fall into obscurity anyway? With his connections to the famous French GRM workshop and a psychically seductive approach to blending minimalism and jazz form, you would think that Kalma would have been able to tap into the avant-garde’s hunger, at the time, for intricate spiritual music. Well, better late than never. As if birthed from the dialectic of Terry Riley and Don Cherry during their collaborative concert in Köln, Germany in 1975, Kalma’s choice of instrumentation-- saxophone, keyboard, tape delay-- beats Bitchin’ Bajas at their own game, four decades in advance, with proto-New Age, proto-Drone music that radiates chilling warmth like the early Spring sunshine. It makes you wonder what lost works of today the RVNG Intl. of four decades from now will unearth. --Mike Sugarman
David First: Electronic Works 1976-1977 [Dais]
1958-59: Vladimir Ussachevsky, Otto Luening, Milton Babbitt, and Roger Sessions found the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, obtaining the custom-built RCA Mark II as their flagship piece of equipment. 1963: Don Buchla and Robert Moog individually invent the first commercial modular synthesizers. 1964-66: The CPEMC obtains a large collection of synths, including a Buchla 100, and becomes a mecca for the world’s greatest minds in electronic music. 1967: Morton Subotnik’s Silver Apples of the Moon, created using a Buchla, becomes the first all-electronic LP commissioned by a record company (Nonesuch). 1970s: Innovations are made in digital computer music, leaving analog synths by the wayside in academic research and composition. Unlike the Moog synth, which became huge among psychedelic pop and rock bands in the late ‘60s and ‘70s because of its keyboard function, the Buchla was destined to be remembered only by those particularly interested in its unique functions and sound possibilities.
1976-1977: David First enrolls in an electronic music class at Princeton, gains unlimited access to their analog equipment, finds the dusty Buchla 100, records several highly original compositions exploring its timbres to reel-to-reel tapes, puts them in a closet somewhere. 1977-present: First has a successful and influential career as a member of No Wave band The Notekillers and as a solo composer of electronic drone music [see album Privacy Issues (droneworks 1996-2009)]. 2014: David First starts the year off with a bang, releasing those previously unreleased (and probably unheard) recordings from his year at Princeton. There’s a wide range of styles here, from the proto-Merzbow sounding “Pulse Piece” to the jazz guitar-inflected “Moody,” all of them worth the 37-year wait. Electronic Works 1976-1977 is a piece of history, and one that sounds shockingly contemporary. --Isaiah David
DJ Moondawg: We Invented the Bop [Not on label]
In the opening seconds of We Invented the Bop, DJ Moondawg sums it up best: “All last year, I gave you a lot of that quality drill music. But that’s not all we do in Chicago, so lemme introduce you to the next shit. We invented the bop!” Bop didn’t start as a “response” to drill or something-- its origins were just a way of dancing, birthing a new style of original trax to go with it, one built for turnup. This is the first proper survey of the style, and the selection includes many of the key tracks from the scene (Sicko Mobb’s “Fiesta,” S.B.E.’s “Killin It,” Lil Chris’ “Bop Like Me”), giving it the nod over Volume 2. --Matt Sullivan