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V.A.: Source Records 1-6

img  Tobias Fischer

We take so much for granted in music these days. Producing a piece of electronic composition, for example, hardly registers as an ambitious act anymore. The recordings captured on this triple-CD set - carefully mastered from the original vinyl and easily among the most important re-issues of the past decade - take listeners back to a time when it was.

In its mere five years of existence, Source Magazine accompanied the development of the American avant-garde when it was perhaps at its most inventive, reporting on the emergence of sound art as a genre, minimalism as a potent current and indeterminacy as a compositional tool. A series of six LPs, issued alongside the print publication, made these tendencies audible, collecting then-recent work by Robert Ashley, Alvin Lucier  (a version of "I am sitting in a room" recorded only a year after his initial realisation), as well as the magazine's editors Larry Austin and Stanley Lunetta.

The origins of electro-acoustics have been documented in various retrospectives and compilations before, so one should not expect revelations here – if anything, it is remarkable how raw, noisy and turbulent a lot of these pieces are, defying the common misconception of them as 'analytical', 'academic' or 'anaemic'. What the Source recordings, contrary to archival releases with their historical, retrospective meta-angle, do have to offer is a unique insight into the birth of many contemporary directions as they happened, which makes listening to these thirteen tracks untypically exciting. Even more so, since the diversity of approaches on display is astounding: Two pieces demonstrate the impact of huge mainframe computers like the PDP-10 on the creative process, resulting in music of shimmering, robotic complexity. In his conversely extremely focused and scientifically-tinged contribution "english phonemes", Arigo Lora-Totino uses splicing to research properties of language, while Annea Lockwood's "Tiger Balm", a tape composition juxtaposing feline purring with frantic breathing and otherworldly marimba, embraces the mystical.

Clearly, the notion that electronic music started out as a homogeneous genre and then gradually splintered into myriads of niches, is wrong. It was always in delta at the moment of birth. That's what made it so powerful. That's why it changed the world.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Pogus Records

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