the debut of états-unis – five incredible reissues from the depths of the underground

Note: This is a modified and expanded version of a review, originally published by SoundOhm.

The era we live in is remarkable and unique. While the quality of releases emerging in the hands of desperate and wounded major label industry sink to new lows, new forces have emerged – listener lead love affairs, pluming lost histories and amending the sins of the past. Countless independent labels have sprung up – feeding the desire for great art. Among them, Superior Viaduct has risen as a distinct and singular voice – dismissing the presumptions of taste and genre, offering an endless stream of adventurous sound.

With a growing catalog which spans Punk – Suicide, The Fall, The Germs, etc, the diverse ends of Experimental Music – Gruppo D’Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, Henry Flynt, Tony Conrad, Phill Niblock, Ellen Fullman, Steve Reich, Jon Gibson, etc, Dub – Scientist, Jazz – Charles Mingus, Alice Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Bill Dixon, Folk – Bert Jansch, and the genre defying efforts of Glenn Branca, Brigitte Fontaine, Craig Leon and Harry Pussy, Superior Viaduct is an incredible window into the character of contemporary taste – one which is defined by quality over proximity, association, point of origin, or period. Their catalog is an image of listener desire – records where originally pressings are usually incredibly sought and rare. With the debut of their new series États-Unis, the high bar and diversity continues, but finds the label shifting toward uncharted waters – plunging further afield and digging deep, featuring five releases from the obscure depths of the underground – as all great labels do, leading the listener, rather than being led.

États-Units is an open challenge to how connections are formed – to presumption and the ear. Each of the label’s first five LPs – the Highlights Of Vortex compilation, Tod Dockstader’s Eight Electronic Pieces, Die Tödliche Doris’ ” “ LP, Le Forte Four’s Bikini Tennis Shoes, and Joe Jones’ In Performance, present radically divergent positions in the history of organized sound  – unconventional gestures, made by a singular artists, during different periods, with radically divergent contexts and intents. Together they present layering of diverse ideas, which, even decades after first appearing, continue to unfold – alternate conceptions of the avant-garde – schisms with history, joined with startling effect.

It’s a strange and marvelous collection – each album singular, unique, and historically significant – masterworks and multidimensional challenges. Standing on their own or placed side by side, they are snapshots into the many rewards of setting taste and presumption aside – of adventurous listening and sonic exploration – of being led by the heart and the ear.

 

Various Artists – Highlights Of Vortex (1959 / 2017)

A series of events staged between 1957 and 1960 by Jordan Belson and Henry Jacobs in San Francisco, the Vortex Experiments are seminal gestures in the history of experimental practice. They attempted a total sensory experience – a living theater of sound and light – defying the historic narrative, offering hints of the coming psychedelic era nearly a decade before its time. Highlights Of Vortex – originally released in 1959 by Folkways, gathers recordings from the most noteworthy sonic experiments from the program’s tenure – including efforts by Jacobs, as well as others by David Talcott, William Loughborough and Gordon Longfellow. It is a landmark recording in the history of electronic tape music – drawing on the sounds of free improvisation, field recording, classical Indian instrumentation, and West African polyrhythms. Falling somewhere between musique concrète and extended electroacoustic practice, Highlights Of Vortex presents a wild shimmering sonic world – spaces drenched in reverb and delay –  presenting one of the most neglected and important moments in the history of the American avant-garde.

 

Henry Jacobs – Chan, from Highlights Of Vortex (1959)

Gordon Longfellow – Notes On The History Of A World, Part 3, from Highlights Of Vortex (1959)

 


Tod Dockstader – Eight Electronic Pieces (1961 / 2017)
Tod Dockstader’s Eight Electronic Pieces is seminal document of American electronic music. Originally self-released in 1961, it appearing later the same year on Folkways – representing the premier of one of the era’s most important avant-garde composers. A long coveted masterwork – hunted furiously by collectors and fans and commanding a hefty price tag, Eight Electronic Pieces took Dockstader three years of extensive labor to record. From moments stolen after-hours at the New York radio station where he worked, emerged a wild totemic work – a singular hybrid – musique concrète, electronic, and electroacoustic music, joined as a single force. Immersing the ear in sonic beauty, ambience, and ideas, Eight Electronic Pieces is an idiosyncratic effort of towering importance – a window into the past, looking forward – laying the groundwork for so much of what was to come.

 

Tod Dockstader – Piece #1, from Eight Electronic Pieces (1961)

Tod Dockstader – Piece #2, from Eight Electronic Pieces (1961)

 

 

Die Tödliche Doris – ” “ (1982 / 2017)
Within the collective body of Etats Units’ debut releases, Die Tödliche Doris’ second LP ” “  is conspicuous. Among the most important documents of early 1980’s German Post-Punk, it opens a lens into the label’s wider position and concerns – a challenge to how connections, association, and definition are formed. Though entirely a part of the body of social concern from which it grew, it presents important threads binding generations of sonic countercultural activity – as much Punk, as experimental and avant-garde. The group, founded by Wolfgang Müller and Nikolaus Utermöhlen in 1980, was part of the movement Geniale Dilletanten – Ingenious Dilettantes – a cross disciplinary challenge to both Western capitalism and GDR socialism – also counted Albert Oehlen, Martin Kippenberger, and Einstürzende Neubauten as members. Geniale Dilletanten fought to snatch cultural production from the hands of increasing industrialisation – attempting to democratize it. This is the current bubbling below ” “ –  wild, wonderful, and playful, falls somewhere between outright conceptualism, early industrial music, minimalism, art-rock, and straight up Post-Punk. Produced by Einstürzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld, its thirteen songs present a casual of clattering beauty, filled with energy, anger and joy. A revelation for any fan of avant-garde music and Punk.

 

Die Tödliche Doris – Über-Mutti, from “” (1982)

Die Tödliche Doris – Robert, from “” (1982)

 

 


Le Forte Four – Bikini Tennis Shoes (1975 / 2017)
Le Forte Four grew from the wonderful anarchic movement of the Los Angeles Free Music Society. Formed by Chip Chapman and Rick Potts in 1974 – joined shortly after by Tom and Joe Potts, the band was an effort in sonic joy – bridging avant-garde classical music and Free-Jazz – hinting at the coming movement of Punk. As and album and a document, Bikini Tennis Shoes is as important as they come – rewriting history in a series of blows – entirely undermining our understanding of musical approach during the 1970’s. It’s decades ahead of it’s time – far closer to bedroom experiments made during the late 90’s than anything of its own era – a scattered irreverent synthesizer record, straying into free-improvisation and musique concrète. A cultural collage, attempting to distill the whole – the breakdown of a cluttered and broken America in sonic form. If you ever wondered where the outsider ethos and DIY came from, this is it – the beginning of it all.

 

 Le Forte Four – Bikini Tennis Shoes (One Pair), from Bikini Tennis Shoes (1975)

 

Le Forte Four – Steven, Steven, from Bikini Tennis Shoes (1975)

Le Forte Four – They are asleep, from Bikini Tennis Shoes (1975)

 

 

Joe Jones – In Performance (1977)
Joe Jones is central to the history of Fluxus, and to the legacy of sound practice within the context of fine art. Like many of his peers, his name has been largely lost to the shadows of time. An inconvenient iconoclast. An artist who cut his own path and never fit in. His album In Performance is a startling gem – long coveted by collectors of artist records, but known to few beyond that small circle of fans. A student of Cage and Brown, Jones was early to sidestep the constraints of musical categorization – attempting to free himself through the use of machines. In 1961 he began a practice to creating orchestras of self playing instruments. Called the Tone Deaf Music Company, this assembly generates the sounds on In Performance – originally issued in 1977 on the Harlequin Art imprint in a tiny run of 500 signed and numbered copies. It is astounding piece of work – bridging conceptual practice, a world slipping out of control, and the rising wonders of sound. Undermining authorship and standing ideas of the the performer, a reverberate cacophony, laced with shimmering conflict. In Performance is a work of profound importance, missed by almost everyone when if first appeared, it’s reemergence offers a chance to rectify that mistake, allowing it to reach the ears it’s always deserved.

 

Joe Jones – Untitled, from In Performance (1977)

Unfortunately this review is late to appear. All five LPs (limited to 500 numbered copies) almost immediately sold out at source before they were officially released. Three are still available individually through SoundOhm, and all are available within a bargain bundle. Highly recommenced before they’re gone again for good.

-Bradford Bailey

 

 

 

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