Perfect Sound Forever


by Jason Gross
(April 2000)

"We have also sound-houses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds and their generation. We have harmony which you have not, of quarter-sounds and lesser slides of sounds. Divers instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have; with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet. We represent small sounds as great and deep, likewise great sounds extenuate and sharp; we make divers tremblings and warblings of sounds, which in their originalare entire. We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters, and the voices and notes of beasts and birds. We have certain helps which, set to the ear, do further the hearing greatly; we have also divers strange and artificial echoes, reflecting the voice many times, and, as it were,tossing it; and some that give back the voice louder than it came, some shriller and some deeper; yea, some rendering the voice, differing in the letters or articulate sound from that they receive. We have all means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances."

Sir Francis Bacon, THE NEW ATLANTIS (1624)

It's a story that keeps rearing its head throughout history.  Around the end of the last millennium, groups of marauders were at first the most troublesome people in Europe but would later settle and assimilate and became an important part of the development of civilization.  Is it such a stretch to think of some of the boldest composers of this century in the same light?  And just as any new technology is ridiculed, so are innovators in art.  Time is a great equalizer that reveals charlatans for who they are and the true revolutionaries and visionaries as harbingers of our present and future.  Electronic music began in this century as a strange curio and developed into an inseparable part of the musical landscape, spanning many styles and boundaries andmaking itself felt outside the arts.

Of course, even the most radical movements always find some kind of basis in the time when they develop.  It's no coincidence that it was the industrial age when electronic music was spawned and grew.  While machines were seen for a long time as soulless enemies threatening our well-being, not even the most hardened luddite would deny that they are an integral part of our lives today.

It was also a change in philosophy that helped usher in an acceptance of electronic music.  Nietsche and post-modern critique allowed for previously undreamed of vistas of imagination concerning the world around us.  Suddenly, everything was subjective.  Alfred Jarry, Jackson Pollock, the Dadaists, Arnold Schoenberg and Little Richard dismantled and reassembled their art and flung the doors open for anyone else bold and crazy enough to take up the mantle.  Possibilities were ripe and ready to be exploited.  Music was no longer a singularly organized collection of audio signals.  Seemingly chaotic, random bursts of sound were not necessarily 'noise.'  The stunning and disturbing would become the norm.

If we want to think about this (r)evolution in music, we can start at the beginning but where exactly is it?  Music is like matter- it cannot be created or destroyed.  In other words, everything comes from somewhere and it does not die out or disappear, it evolves.  What we hear today came into being thanks to what preceded it.  Even if some snobs may turn their nose up at the notion that electronica is the classical music of today, there is at least some basis in this idea as you imagine its origin.

A way to see this connection is the most obvious one- the collaborations between composers and electronica artists. Steve Reich, Brian Eno, Holger Czukay, Jon Hassell, Pierre Henry, Iannis Xenakis have all worked in this vibrant new music in one way or another.

Even if none of these partnerships or mutual admiration societies existed, the best proof of all is in the music itself. Strip away the rhythmic flutter and you have many of the same elements: extended, meditative, electronic examinations of notes and tones. If this is marketed today as pop music, that's just another sign that the crusty, obsolete walls that separate musical styles are coming down again.

As they say, you really don't know where you are now unless you know you've been.  With this is mind, Ellipsis proud to present this extraordinary collection which features some of the most influential composers of this century, who in turn have been the spawning ground of electronica as we know it (which itself will be the fertile spring from which many other musics will be born).

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