on carl stone’s electronic music from the eighties and nineties, issued by unseen worlds

Carl Stone – Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties (2018)

Writers like myself, dedicating the majority of their thoughts to the work of others, are occasionally forced to face an irreconcilable conundrum. At its best, great art leaves you speechless. There are objects for which words can not do justice – which speak for themselves in their own language so well, that any attempt to describe them in another risks being a weight which ties them down. This is the stream of conflict running beneath so many of my words – that gleeful child excitedly wanting others to encounter and hear what he does, placed against a consciousness of inevitable failure – that persistent fear of letting these objects and their artists down. This was, unsurprisingly, the feeling in my gut upon hearing Unseen Worlds’ latest collection of archival works by Carl Stone, a double LP of four singled sided works, entitled Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties – so beautiful and accomplished, that words can only fail.

I’ve been a fan of Stone’s work for a long time. Long enough to be able to marvel at what a few short years can do. He is an artist who began making significant contributions to the history of music at a young age, yet for the majority of whose career, beyond a small circle of dedicated electronica and experimental music fans, remained largely unknown. 2008 planted a seed for slow change, witnessing Unseen Worlds’ reissue of his debut LP, Woo Lae Oak, initially released by Joan La Barbara’s Wizard Records in 1983. It would still take another eight years for him to start to receive his proper due, something which began to occur following the critical acclaim surrounding the label’s issue of the sprawling, revelatory three LP survey, Electronic Music From The Seventies And Eighties, in 2016.

At the time Electronic Music From The Seventies And Eighties was issued, I was overjoyed to watch the critics clamor and fans grow, justifiably topping a great many year end lists. Finally Stone was getting the credit and appreciation he’s always deserved. Even more importantly, a great many more people were getting a chance to hear these incredible sounds. That said, a high proportion of the work featured within Electronic Music From The Seventies And Eighties had been out in the world for a long time. It was there to seek out and hear, thus credit is due to Tommy of Unseen Worlds. His love for this music is a true testament to the incredible importance of small independent labels run by fans. They are single highhandedly changing the musical landscape, and with it our understanding and vision of history. Great change rarely rests in the hands of the artists alone. We should all tip our hats to Tommy. He’s doing amazing work.

As luck would have it, Unseen Worlds now return with another astounding collection of archival work from Stone – Electronic Music From the Eighties and Nineties – another piece in the puzzle, offering as many revelations as the first, radically expanding the understanding of how important and influential Stone has been over the decades. Words fail. As a body of music, it’s about as intoxicating as they come.

Carl Stone studied composition with Morton Subotnick and James Tenney at CalArts during the early 1970s, but, while still a student, quickly shifted his practice toward electroacoustic research, first through pure electronic sound, generated by modular synthesizers, then embarking upon a body of complex sound collages, widely credited as laying the groundwork for the entire sampling movement, defining the arc of his singular practice over the decades since.

The four single sided pieces which appears on Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties –  Banteay Srey, Sonali, Woo Lae Oak, and Mae Yao, drawn together from rare or unreleased sources (this version of Woo Lae Oak is a new, special single sided edit), encounter Stone at his visionary best – entirely redefining the approach and understanding of experimental sound practice. Like so many of his efforts over the decades, they dissolve the boundaries source, sound, and proximity. It’s nearly impossible to even say where this music belongs – electronic, experimental, ambient, musique concrète? Nothing feels like a good fit. It’s a music which stands way out on its own – a kind of baroque Minimalism, weaving its tapestry out of the diverse of the world.

Perhaps more than anything else, Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties transmits a profound sense of adventure, curiosity, warmth, and invitation. It is a world of music and sound intended to be occupied, entered, and explored – which takes the listener into its arms and spins them around. Its challenges are open windows, rather than, like a great deal of experimental music, positioned as a hard slap. Every moment and choice, in the hands of Stone, unfolds as  immersive, balanced, and natural – as though they were there all along, just waiting to occur. It is an image of electronic music defined by humanity and touch, but where the presence of the artist has seemingly disappeared.

Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties is one of those rare encounters which balances a profound love of sound with incredible ambition and artistry – so beautiful at every turn that it disarms the ear, laying incredible change in its wake – an unquestionably experimental music, which is almost never what we all too often presume that thing to be. Across the album’s four sides, an alternate vision of Minimalism takes form – so ahead of its time that few have caught up. It is a music entirely Stone’s own, forever pushing and on the move. Unquestionably one of the most important releases of 2018. Absolutely essential. Stunning on every count. I can’t recommend it enough. Rather risking any further failure of words, I recommend you check it out below. You can pick it up from Unseen Worlds, SoundOhm, or a record store near you.

-Bradford Bailey


Carl Stone – Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties (2018)













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