Since its quiet beginnings in 2011, the San Fransisco based imprint, Superior Viaduct, has come to hold a dominant place in the cultural landscape, stitching an intertwined narrative, crossing multiple genres, spanning numerous forms and periods of counter-cultural music, from punk and folk, to jazz, electronic music, the efforts of the avant-garde, and beyond. Perhaps because of breadth and diversity of the material it has issued, understanding the label’s intentions – what is sets out to present and conversations it hopes to provoke, has taken years to emerge – each LP bringing the importance of their contribution a step further into focus – the often overlooked connections between musics which germinate beyond the realms of mainstream interest. While the imprint has always offered a remarkable focus to the historic artifacts of experimental music, releasing seminal LPs by Ellen Fullman, Jon Gibson, Gruppo D’improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, Steve Reich, Arnold Dreyblatt, Henry Flynt, Phill Niblock, and Tony Conrad over their years of operation, in 2017 they took this step further, delving further underground with the launch one of their most interesting and ambitious projects to date, the new sub-label Etats Unis.
Looking back over Superior Viaduct’s efforts, an unmistakable quality emerges across the body of work which they have sculpted. Their reissues and archival releases represent some of the best of the best in 20th century music, but, importantly, in being such, they are also LPs which tend to top record collector’s want-lists. Thus, due to no fault of their own, their output tends to default toward satiating a standing desire, rather than leading or instigating one – filling a known void in the history of music, rather than expanding the understanding of that history. The first edition of Etats Unis, five LPs – the Highlights Of Vortex compilation, Tod Dockstader’s Eight Electronic Pieces, Die Tödliche Doris’ ” “, Le Forte Four’s Bikini Tennis Shoes, and Joe Jones’ In Performance, took great steps toward shifting this tide. Each of these recordings represents an incredibly important contribution to its respective field of practice, but, until the respective reissue, remained grossly overlooked. As a totality, the first installment of this series offered clarity to the focus bubbling below everything Superior Viaduct does – cross-genre discourse, while radically expanding our understanding of what history contains, presenting an open challenge to how connections in sound are formed. This series now returns with its second batch, five further LPs – Jean Dubuffet’s Musical Experiences, Warner Jepson’s Totentanz, Remko Scha’s Machine Guitars, John Duncan’s Organic, and Annea Lockwood’s Glass World, each, in their own way, offering a fleeting image of the ambitious connections once forged between sonic expression and divergent creative approaches, particularly, in this iteration of the series, to the world of fine-art. Together they present a layering of diverse ideas, which, even decades after first appearing, continue to unfold, offering alternate conceptions of the avant-garde – schisms with history, joined with startling effect. It’s an absolutely stunning display, so mesmerizing that I couldn’t possible recommend a single one. It’s best to pick up them all.
Jean Dubuffet – Musical Experiences (1973 /2018)
Jean Dubuffet was one of the most fascinating artists to have emerged in France, during the years following the second world war – a link between his country’s historic avant-garde concerns, the future, and a contemporary zeitgeist, grappling with the psychological truths and horrors of war. A painter and sculptor, he founded Art Brut, a movement which searched for an authentic and humanistic approach to image-making, drawing inspiration from so call “low art” – the drawings of children and folk traditions from across the globe. The results most often took form as a raw brutality, drenched in delicate emotion and touch.
During the 1960’s, Dubuffet began making music with fellow painter Asger Jorn, part of larger movement of visual artists which included members of Fluxus, Dieter Roth, Joseph Beuys, the Vienna Actionists, beginning to look toward sound in their quest for authentic creative meaning. In 1961 he released his first solo effort, Expériences Musicales, a six 10-inch record set produced in an edition of fifty with original artwork and lithographed sleeves. Since its releases, it has remained one of the rarest and most sought albums in the field of recordings made by fine-artists. Answering the call, in 1973 the composer Ilhan Mimaroglu compiled and released eight of it twenty pieces on his Finnadar imprint, issuing it under the same name. As with before, it has been chased by collectors for decades.
Superior Viaduct’s reissue of Mimaroglu’s edition of Expériences Musicales is as welcome and long overdue as they come. It is a playful, wondrous assembly of sound, made and edited on two tape-recorders at home by Dubuffet, using a range on instruments and non-instrumental sources. Like the series in which it now finds itself, it displays a remarkable and unexpected series of connects. While Dubuffet was untrained, his quest for authenticity, with his delicately tuned creative mind, yield surprising results – the raw untempered intuition of a child, underscored by allusions to contemporary avant-garde classical music, free jazz, and sound’s natural occurrence in the world.
Expériences Musicales is absolutely essential on every possible count – crucial link between the worlds of avant-garde music and post-ward visual art. Superior Viaduct’s edition represents the first time it has been issued on vinyl since 1973. Limited to an edition of 500 numbered copies on clear vinyl.
Jean Dubuffet – Pleure et Applaudi, from Musical Experiences (1973 /2018)
Warner Jepson – Totentanz (1972 / 2018)
Warner Jepson was an American composer, sculptor and photographer who spent most of his career working in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he was recognized as a pioneer in that city’s electronic music scene. He was a member of the circle of Bay Area artists which included Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Morton Subotnick, and Steve Reich, was a fixture of the legendary San Francisco Tape Music Center, and was among the performers who realized the world-premiere of Riley’s In C. He retains a crucial place in a seminal period of American creative music, but has never received the attention he deserves, most often overshadowed by his more famous friends and peers. With luck, Superior Viaduct’s reissue of his first album, Totentanz, originally self-released in 1972, will begin to rectify that unjust neglect.
Perhaps Warner Jepson’s lingering obscurity is a consequence of the fact that his was an artist drawn toward the spirit of collaboration, over the totemic status of a composer. One the course of his life, he worked extensively for film, theatre, and dance, issuing only a small handful of recordings, most of which have only emerged in recent years. Totentanz, his first recorded release, is widely recognized as the first piece of electronic music composed to accompany a ballet, Carlos Carvajal’s work of the same name, drawing its inspiration from the practice of Dance Macabre during the time of the Black Plague.
Totentanz is the outcome of Jepson’s concrete tape experiments and work on Don Buchla’s groundbreaking synthesizer, the Buchla 100. A brilliantly abstract and expressive assembly of organized sound, it shutters, pulses, shifts, and writhes, anticipating the movements of the dance for which it was conceived. One of the great lost works of 1970’s electronic music, and a shining emblem of the wonders which come from collaboration between the arts, Totentanz has remained out of print and virtually unobtainable for decades. Superior Viaduct’s edition is limited to an edition of 500 numbered copies on clear vinyl. Essential for fans of the historic avant-garde, San Francisco Tape Music Center, and electronic music.
Warner Jepson – Totentanz, from Totentanz (1972 / 2018)
Remko Scha – Machine Guitars (1982 / 2018)
Remko Scha’s legendary album Machine Guitars is a boundary breaking effort, as seminal in the world of avant-garde guitar, as it is in those of the artist record, and machine music. Scha, who passed away in 2015, lived a kind of double life. He was an artist and musician loosely affiliated with Fluxus, who spend most of his time and energy dedicated to teaching and researching computational linguistics at the University of Amsterdam. Despite the apparent differences, the extremes of his world were bound as a single force – his art and his academic pursuits feeding one and other.
As a linguist, Scha was fascinated by a computer’s capacity for algorithmic, generative creativity. Machine Guitars, his definitive recorded work, extends from this line of investigation. In the explicit sense, he didn’t create the album, rather set its circumstances in play. It is a generative work by automata – machines – motorized, rotating wire brushes and saber saws, paced in front of suspended electric guitars, which Scha arranged and set into play. The result is a stunning marvel – a grinding, spinning, metallic world of microtonal sound which has few equivalents, yet unleashed an entirely new approach to its central instrument, continuing to yield influence and inspiration today.
Original issued by the tiny dutch imprint Kremlin in 1982, Machine Guitars has remained out of print, sought after, and rare for three an a half decades. Superior Viaduct’s edition represents the first time it has been issued on vinyl since 1972. Limited to an edition of 500 numbered copies on clear vinyl, the album is a seminal effort in the world of experimental guitar – a strange parallel to contemporary works by Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham, while anticipating sonic artworks by artists like Christian Marclay. A hazy totem between the worlds of conceptual art and avant-garde music, it stands out there on its own. Beautiful, wonderful, and absolutely essential.
Remko Scha – Sweep, from Machine Guitars (1982 / 2018)
John Duncan – Organic (1979 / 2018)
For decades, John Duncan, an artist working across a vast expanse of fields – performance art, installations, music, and experimental video and film, has been adrift in the world. Beginning in his career in Los Angeles during the 1970s, over the ensuing decades he has skirted from there to Tokyo, Amsterdam, and a number of locations in Italy, where he currently resides.
Duncan first came to note through his work in performance art, and through his connection to the legendary experimental-music collective Los Angeles Free Music Society, but his links to the world of sound art are even deeper – first appearing as a member of BDR Ensemble, which also included the performance artist Paul McCarthy, and on the legendary Sound compilation, issued by the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, with Joan La Barbara, Yoshi Wada, Christina Kubisch, Terry Fox, and numerous other.
Duncan’s debut album, Organic, the long awaited reissue of which sits before us now, was originally released in a tiny edition on the artist’s own AQM imprint in 1979 and distributed by the Los Angeles Free Music Society. It collects some of his earliest and most absorbing noise experiments. Recorded live, the album is composed of two sidelong pieces – Broken Promise, a droning, dissonant work which encounters Duncan on tape and percussion, augmented by Michael Le Donne-Bhennet on bassoon; and Gala, a clattering, repetitive, durational percussion work featuring. Brilliant, engaging and filled with the energy of chance, Organic is a wild meditation in sound, anticipating an entire realm of experimental practice which would take decades to form.
John Duncan – Gala, from Organic (1979 / 2018)
Annea Lockwood – Glass World (1970 / 2018)
The sound artist and composer Annea Lockwood needs little introduction. She has held a prominent place in the world of experimental sound since the 1960’s – one only a tiny number of women, with Pauline Oliveros and Jocy de Oliveira, to have graced the pages of the seminal music journal Source: Music of the Avant-Garde. Tiger Balm / Amazonia Dreaming / Immersion, issued by in 2107 by Oren Ambarchi’s Black Truffle imprint, topped numerous year end lists. Superior Viaduct’s reissue of her seminal debut album, Glass World, is nothing short of a momentous event.
Lockwood was born in New Zealand, first coming to prominence during the mid-1960’s, having moved to London, for her works and performances exploring the sonorous potential of glass, drawing a remarkable and startling range of texture and tone from the material. It was a score for these works which led to her being included in the legendary Source, and it was that inclusion which attracted the attention of Michael Steyn, who encouraged her to record for his label Tangent. The product of two years of extensive work in a small, resonant church in London, documenting the tone and timbre of a remarkable range of glass objects, the subsequent album – Glass Works, issued in 1970, is the result of Lockwood’s attempt to present each sound as a piece of music, and her hope to offer listener an immersive depth of experience through the process of listening – to expand the act itself. It is a towering, accomplished piece of work, standing alone in the history of experimental composition.
Glass Works is its own internal world – a series of intertwining resonant fields of texture and tone, at times flirting with the resemblance of modular synthesis, and at others with unplaceable folk traditions and Tibetan bells, while never loosing the sense of its own unique materiality and source. It does everything that the composer set out to and more. Intensely beautiful, sensitive, and engaging, it’s one of those albums which offers a never ending rewards. Unquestionably one of the great efforts in 20th Century experiential and avant-garde sound, laying the foundation for a lifetime of remarkable work by one of our most important composers. You’re going to kick yourself if you miss it, so don’t sleep.
It seems, only days after the official release, these are already sold out at source. Maybe Superior Viaduct with press another run, so watch their site, otherwise SoundOhm still has copies, or track them down at your local record shop.
Anna Lockwood – Two Ribbed Discs, from Glass World (1970 / 2018)