Pauline Anna Strom – Trans-Millenia Music (2017)
A passing comment, recently lodged in the sprawl of social media, proclaimed 2017 as the year of the reissue and archival release. I’m inclined to agree. As we drift toward its end, there’s little question that the year has defied every expectation, with countless records and recordings, the emergence or reemergence of which would have been unthinkable only a short time ago, placed lovingly into our hands. It’s also been saving the best for last, illuminated by the release of Trans-Millenia Music, a sprawling survey of the music of Pauline Anna Strom, by ReRVNG / RVNG.
Over the six years since its launch, the ReRVNG series – a curatorial effort by the New York based imprint RVNG, has become such a staple in the landscape of recorded music, that it’s hard to grasp the power of the impact it has yielded. We take its catalog, and the presence of the artist housed within it, for granted – as though they were always there, rather than lost and overlooked. It was ReRVNG / RVNG which first pushed names like Harald Grosskopf, Craig Leon, K. Leimer, Ariel Kalma, and Anna Homler from the shadows, helping them transcend long held obscurity, and allowed them to become what they have – giants within the histories of their respective fields. After a year long hiatus, much of which has been spent carefully assembling Trans-Millenia Music – the release in our hands, the series returns with one of their most remarkable and important entries to date.
For a small number of listeners within the communities surrounding ambient, electronic, and synthesis based music, Pauline Anna Strom holds a legendary status. Tragically, she remains almost completely unknown within the broad histories of music, as well as those attending to her specific fields. A fascinating outlier of the electronic counterculture and New Age movement, her music passes beyond the simple categorizations favored by most historians and critics – too tricky to tackle and do the justice it deserves, while remaining trapped within tiny editions of privately released recordings – virtually unobtainable, or commanding astounding prices on the secondary market in the rare instances that they surface – factors which have sustained the unfortunate obscurity of her work.
For those of us who have spent years hunting for Strom’s releases – identifying as members of the counterculture, its hard to avoid the resonance of her narrative. Raised in rural cloisters of Louisiana and Kentucky, even as a child, and despite having lost her sight due to complications resulting from a premature birth, she was rebellious and never fit in. Against the levied odds, she found a way to transcend, yielding a remarkable body of work in her wake.
During the early 1970s Strom move to San Fransisco. Within an era and geography defined by a tectonic shift in cultural thinking which resonated with her own, and at the dawn of the New Age movement, following encounters with a number of early gestures in ambient electronic music, she set forth on an illuminated path. Activated by an acute sensitivity to sound, working and recording at home on a Tascam 4-track recorder and a small array of synths – the Yamaha DX7, TX816, and CS-10, she began composing meticulously crafted works, subsequently emerging across seven privately produced releases, issued between 1982 and 1988.
There are two intertwined sides of Strom’s work – the sounds, which can be addressed any number of ways, and the ideas and belief system which brought them into the world – a unique form of sonic spirituality. The composer sees herself as a musical consort to time and the living incarnation of an all-embracing entity of music – inviting the listener to travel into the profound realm of the psyche, where time dissolves and people of the past and future may be found and communed with. While connected to the broad concerns of the New Age movement, few bodies of work have sprung from such a singular philosophical ambition.
While its unlikely that any of us will find a way to commune with people of the past and future within the four sides of Trans-Millenia Music, Strom’s belief in this potential has yielded a body of music unlike anything else. It is the seed from which it springs, thus is crucial, and, like any form of spiritual thought, should be respected and attempted to be heard. Even when addressed for their sounds alone, Strom’s efforts far exceed the expected bounds – entirely singular and unique, threaded with tension, drama, and as much darkness as light – anticipating subsequent movements, while sending a breath of air into a territory of sound and composition which can all too easily lose its humanity.
Across Trans-Millenia Music, which represent the first authorized overview overview of Strom’s work – drawing its material from her seven impossibly rare releases from the 80’s, the composer’s inner world emerges as a mysterious, interlaced realm of synthesized tone – an alternate realization of the potential held by electronic music. Her creative brilliance is stunning, her music beautiful and too important to be ignored. Like everything in ReRVNG series, the collection is the product of a devoted labor of love, in this case seven years of discussion, deliberation, and patience on the part of the wonderful folks at RVNG. We owe them a debt of gratitude. Unquestionably one of the most important archival releases of the year. This is ambient music and synthesis on a passage to unprecedented realms. Check out some samples below, and pick it up from RVNG, SoundOhm, or a record store near you.
Pauline Anna Strom – Energies
Pauline Anna Strom – The Unveiling
Pauline Anna Strom – Morning Splendor
Pauline Anna Strom – Warriors of the Sun