TOD DOCKSTADER: Apocalypse
The Washington Post :
"One of the giants in the field."
"Tod Dockstader belongs in the select company of Varèse, Stockhausen,
Luening, Schaeffer, Subotnick, and the other pioneers of electronic music or musique
concrète. His achievement is on a par with the best in his field."
"The obsessive care with which Starkland have compiled these extraordinary
recordings should ensure that Dockstader will be remembered as the
innovative, visionary figure he undoubtedly was."
"Among the most impressive of electronic-music CDs anywhere... Highly
Dockstader's second Starkland CD begins with the composer's
pulsing, spatially-shifting Traveling Music. He explains some background:
Music was originally composed
as a monaural piece (Electronic Piece No. 8). It was, in effect,
my Poeme Electronique, after Varese,
and my first piece to be strictly organized with a few
of throwing everything in and stirring briskly, as I'd done
prior to this). When I got the use of a two-track recorder,
I used this piece, instead of doing a new work, so
I could concentrate on teaching myself the techniques of
placing sound in space (between speakers) and moving it
through space – hence the title. (Jackie Gleason,
in his black-and-white TV days, used always to ask the pit-band conductor
for 'a little traveling
music' to help him move across the stage.)"
"Essential for anyone interested in electronic music."
The eerie, otherworldly Luna Park has
been described by one critic as "one of the finest works of electronic
music I've ever heard" (Fanfare).
"Luna Park was my first
in stereo. I used some of the techniques I'd learned doing Traveling
tape-echo antiphony, delay between channels, placement, and 'panning.'
By now, the organization of the sounds was very important to me: Luna is
a very simple piece: three movements – fast/slow/fast – using
few sound-materials. (People remember the laughter; one station broadcast
it as 'Dockstader's Laughing Music' – but there actually
isn't that much laughter in it.) I wanted it to be silly and sad and
simple. The title comes from the old Luna Park at Coney Island, named
for Miss Luna Dundy of Des Moines, sister of one of the park's founders.
The park burned down in the 1940s, and, by the time I saw it, all that
remained was a vast, rutted parking lot."
Revue & Corrigée (France):
"Veritable references, notably for his work with space, most astonishing
for the time... Two CDs you should urgently get to discover an unrecognized,
The CD's major work is the brooding, ominous Apocalypse.
The composer details the disparate elements of this four-part masterpiece:
"Apocalypse followed Luna:
I wanted to do something heavier, thicker in texture, more unruly and
alarming – a
concrete Dies Irae.
The slowed (creaking) doors and the cat-cry toy are central to it: they
provided the threat and despair I wanted. (The cat-cry toy was a little
round box with a picture of a cat on it which, when you turned it upside-down,
emitted a thin, pathetic little cry – slowed [on tape], it became,
I thought, heart-wrenching.) The passage of Gregorian chant, in Part
Two, was used as a vocalization of the door sounds – I'm always looking
for sounds of different timbres that express the same emotion. The inclusion
of Hitler (tape-echoed into gibberish) in the last part is from my Radio
childhood, when I heard his broadcasts in the late thirties: I didn't
understand a word, but the terrifying sound of it (made stranger by the
shortwave phasing) stayed with me. The sonic boom(s) were almost the
only sound I had that had been originally recorded in stereo: the sound-materials
in all my work were, originally, almost all monaural, recorded all over
the place in a time before portable stereo tape recorders. (The 'live'
cat in Part Four sang one night outside our apartment window in the Village:
I hung a mic out the window for most of the night, recording his arias.)"
"A must for electronic music lovers, since this is one of the backbones
of modern experimental music."
Dockstader's extensive work creating Apocalypse generated
additional worthwhile material that premiered on this Starkland CD. He
"Two Fragments from Apocalypse like
Moons of Quatermass,were 'thrown out' from
the main work as it cooled and contracted (over aperiod
of months of editing the mixes). Most 'outs' end up on the floor,
inankle-deep snarls of tape, and, at the end of the day,
are gathered to TheLord (in a wastebasket). But, sometimes,
whole blocks have to come out, because, though they're
good, they're hurting the forward motion of the piece: they're Digressions
(I digress a lot, because I push in a lot of directionswhen
I'm making a piece – of music or of writing). But, in these cases,
I save them, and after the main work is complete, go back and see if
they can stand alone as pieces, themselves. So I hack away at them, and
sometimes they just vanish: the razor blade reduces them into nothing – which
tells me they weren't Pieces in the first place. These two held up under
The divergently moody Drone has this history:
"Drone started one way and went
another way (like the Telemetry Tapes did, three years later).
I had collected recordings of racing cars in motion, because I liked
the droning sound they made, the Doppler-effect of pitch-change (without
timbral change) as they passed the microphone. To find an equivalent
sound that would be 'playable' – more
controllable – I recorded a lot of sustained tones on an acoustic
guitar, 'Dopplering' them
with tape-speed changes. But, in use, it all became, for me, boring.
It was the sort of sound that later became the material for minimalist
music, and I wanted maximist music. So, in the process of working on
it, the cars just drove away, though some of the guitar survived, along
with the title. The musicalimpetus
for the piece was Japanese court music, Gagaku, which I'd heard a lot
of, and liked. I tried to combine that kind of sound with some violence – the
violence I felt that was lurking, almost unheard, under the restraints
of Gagaku. So the piece goes back and forth between drone and demolition,
a kind of desert demolition-derby."
"[The CDs are] an excellent document of the work of an unjustifiably
neglected sound artist... [The works], in addition to being brilliant examples
of tape music, are compelling listening experiences... vital and fascinating...
inventive and powerful."
The CD concludes with the premiere recordings
of Dockstader's last "organized
sound" music. He writes:
"Four Telemetry Tapes are
the last pieces of true organized sound I did – though they're almost
three rewired audio test generators, played by twisting dials and knobs.
The original idea came from recordings of early satellites, starting
with Sputnik: the messages they sent back to earth, 'telemetry,' were,
to my ears, in the form of loops, slowly and subtly changing over transmission
times. I constructed a lot of these loops, and started to mix them – and
managed to create an early form of what became New Age music: restful,
but, to me, dull. So, as I had with Drone, I threw out the score
(but kept the title) and began to improvise, trying to find out how far
I could push those three generators. The loops would have been much easier,
as it turned out: almost every note had to be cut into shape, on tape:
attacks, sustains, decays – my 'envelopes' were
handmade with a razor blade and a steel straight-edge, and so much splicing
tape that the original tape is often entirely white. The tapes were finished
just about the time that the first 'personal' synthesizers became
available, along with sequencers – and all that work was instantly
made obsolete. But it was fun to do, fun to push those primitive means
so far into what became the immediate future.
Tod Dockstader's musique concrete turns out to have a surprising relevance to music created decades later;
he's been described as "one of the godfathers
of Nurse With Wound, and a distant cousin of rap and techno" (Option).
Craig Anderton writes that Dockstader was one of the few to master "the
art of assembling tape-recorded sounds and painstakingly splicing, cutting,
dubbing, manipulating and mixing to create final compositions," then
adds: "If you think that sounds similar to the procedures used to create
today's cutting-edge pop music, you're right."
Visit a fine unofficial Dockstader website.
Four Telemetry Tapes
Introduction: Craig Anderton
Total Time 73:47