[sic] Magazine

Carl Stone – Electronic Music From the 70s and 80s.

Reviewed by Eric Benac

When I heard that a huge box set of Carl Stone‘s unreleased electronic music from the 70s and 80s was being released, I immediately had a heart attack, died, and came back as a zombie to purchase and listen to it as much as possible. Electronic Music From The 70s and 80s certainly didn’t let me down as it features some incredible and memorable work.

For those who don’t know him, Stone is a celebrated sample-based composer who is a rock star of the genre. While he’s played in ‘Very Serious Academic Settings’, he’s also pulled all-nighters in club settings. While Stone’s work is very serious in content and execution, it lacks the po-faced rigidity of similar composers: for example, each composition is named after his favorite Asian food restaurants. The best way to appreciate the sprawl of this album is to tackle it on a track-by-track basis. All but one of these works is over 10 minutes in length, with some taking up entire record sides. That’s why a triple-vinyl set has only eight works on it, but those who purchase the digital-edition (like I did) get a half-hour bonus track, bringing this sucker up to nearly three hours of prime experimental music.

This track, generated in 77, is quite a start. Stone takes a sample of a harpsichord part from who knows where and lets it play out in all its classical splendor. Then, he starts layering it on top of itself slowly, but surely, to let a complexity of interconnected lines build.
By the middle of the piece, it sounds like an orchestra: by the end, a pure wash of haunting sound. True to his sense of humor, Stone kills the buzz and ends the piece with an orchestrated version of the theme.

Shing Kee
The second track comes from 86 and is based around slowly uncovering a single sample and elongating it. Everything starts in total silence as Stone gently allows more of the sample to come to the fore with each pass. Eventually, a female singer and her melodic line get more defined with each repetition. Then the sample is ‘phased’ ala Reich and sounds like taking an extended deep breath.

Dong II Jang
Things get indescribable here. Unlike the slowly building crescendo Stone achieved in the first piece or the gentle sigh of the second, nearly every second of ‘Dong II Jang’ is filled with sampled, layered, and repeated voices and noises. Stone creates a lengthy and nightmarish collage of sounds that mimics the harsher tendencies of Negativland or John Oswald as early as 1982.

A similar pattern to ‘Shing Kee’ is followed here, though this was released first in 1984. It starts with a single sample: the opening guitar riff to ‘My Girl’. Unlike Oswald, Stone allows this sample to develop for an extended period before he plays with a Jackson 5 sample. Chaos is everywhere.

Kuk II Kwan
The longest piece on the album is one of the most frightening pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s built on nothing but samples of a burning fire and other industrial noises that could have came from the darkest nightmares of Genesis P Orridge. No dynamics here: just one claustrophobic fight for life.

LIM and Chao Praya
The concluding compositions are the two earliest and simplest piece on the set (74 and 73 respectively). As a result, there’s no sampling here but focused on tone generators and oscillators. True minimalism on both. These two pieces end the vinyl-set and might seem anti-climactic, but they are a nice palate cleaner after the epic pieces on the rest of the set.

Unthaitled (Digital Only)
Basically just Sukothai extended a year after the original to even wilder depths of sonic density. I love every second of it.

Final Thoughts

For anyone who loves minimalism and early experiments in electronic music, this is an absolute must. It showcases the varieties of sound that a clever and skilled artist and composer can create out of just one or two elements. Available on Unseen Records, a label that focuses on re-releasing classic and out-of-print “accessible electronic” music. Their best release so far has been the release of Laurie Spiegel‘s sprawling masterpiece The Expanding Universe, but this is at least second place and one of the best re-releases for “accessible avant-guard” fans in 2016. Honestly, anything on Unseen Worlds is worth a listen.