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V/A - An Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music—Second A-Chronology 1936-2003

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Artist: V/A

Album: An Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music—Second A-Chronology 1936-2003

Label: Sub Rosa

Review date: Oct. 13, 2003

With Second A-Chronology, Guy Marc Hinant’s Sub Rosa label has continued its daunting attempt to anthologize the noise and electronic musics of a 70-year period. For the seasoned listener of these genres, it is hard not to approach this compilation with a bit of trepidation. No matter the lineup, many will feel that their artist of choice has been either misrepresented/unrepresented or flat out disagree with particular aspects of the final product. Hinant’s liner notes humbly point out this dilemma, “I will always overlook a composer who is the important one for you.”

When considering labels with the ability to produce such an anthology, the Sub Rosa label is more enlightened than most, with nearly two decades of covering the phenomenon of noise and electronic musics to their credit. In addition to maintaining a roster that includes both newcomers and some of the premier artists of any time, Sub Rosa has garnered an excellent reputation for releasing many of the most far-reaching and distinctive compilations around; their Myths and Utopian Diaries series immediately spring to mind as prime examples. As such, one would expect a certain amount of overlap between the label’s catalogue and the represented artists chosen for this anthology. Several of the artists within this second volume seem to be odd choices, even a few strike one as being completely without merit, until one recognizes that these artists are part of the Sub Rosa family. It is truly disheartening that Hinant has turned much of what should be an amiable chronicle of the history of noise and electronic musics into a label sampler.

The first disc is the only redeeming factor of this compilation, as the bulk of its artists are pioneers of early electronic music (with the exception of an unimpressive Scanner piece and the pink noise/insect chatter of Cascone). Within the past five years, there has been an amazing amount of reissue activity centered around these pioneers. Thanks to compilations such as this, these artists and their works are being rescued from obscurity and given the opportunity to be properly reassessed. The opening tape music of Wladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening presents the aural equivalent of a spinning room, leaving one gripping the surrounding furniture for support; a surrealist take on baroque music. Luc Ferrari rises above his French concrete cohorts with a ten-minute collage from the late ‘50s “Visage V,” juggling both the grandiose and nonsensical whilst refusing to let up for the duration. Johanna Beyer’s 1938 recording “Music Of The Spheres” probes the deeper recesses of one’s mind with accumulative sine waves and grinding bell tones, mysterious yet strangely comforting. Subotninick’s snail paced wall of buzzing sound, “Mandolin” offers a heretofore unseen colour from his sonic palette, five years prior to Silver Apples of the Moon. A recent piece by Tod Dockstader and notable works from the past by Daphne Oram, Hugh Davies, and Alan Splet round off the disc admirably.

Seeing as the first disc covered the “electronic,” disc two could be perceived as the “noise” portion of the compilation, though the mixture of artists and tracks represented is quite scattershot- lacking any consistency whatsoever in its approach. Take the inclusion of two Bass Drop Network hardcore techno tracks; which the notes attempt to label as “hatred techno” (happy hardcore anyone?); particularly forcefed material in any case. Is it too presumptuous to assume the BDN/Sub Rosa compilation is just around the corner? SPK and Laibach are chosen to spotlight the industrial movement and in the case of SPK, triumph ensues. A fine document of their early career, “Slogan” is a metal machine music/punk hybrid that falls into disarray due to massive energy overload. The Laibach piece amounts to ten minutes of horribly garbled tenth generation tape noise, nothing more-nothing less. The inclusion of a Sun Ra excerpt and Captain Beefheart live track provoke curiosity as they both appear outlandish amongst their neighbors. These artists would have been much better suited to a future volume that would concentrate on musicians of a similar caliber and the dichotomy between electronic and noise.

The liner notes promise of an appearance by Cologne’s WDR electronic studio pioneers whets the appetite for Volume 3, hopefully Sub Rosa will approach future volumes of this admirable project with more honesty and less self promotion.

By Everett Jang Perdue

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