Sonic Arts Union Electric Sound (1972)
Someone on the Whitehouse list said that this once belonged to Steven Stapleton / Nurse With Wound and ended up in William Bennett’s hands as he sampled “Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon” for Dedicated To Peter Kurten’s “Ripper Territory” (1981). That alone had me curious. Recorded in 1972, Electric Sound is experimental sounds in electronic music’s youth compared to the genre’s conception in the late Fifties and early Sixties. It’s a four-track four-artist compilation recorded at the Rose Art Museum in Brandeis University by Alvin Lucier, Robert Ashley, David Behrman, and Gordon Mumma; all who had toured and recorded together from 1966-1976. Electric Sound would be a means of either exploring electronic sounds and boundaries through experimentation or replicating them. For an l.p. created in 1972, I found everything produced to be fascinating compared to the sounds and progress made today.
For starters, Behrman’s “Runthrough” could easily be seen where Whitehouse was influenced to create its’ alarming high-frequency sounds for their earlier releases. Here, Behrman had a different vision using low-cost circuitry to run sound generators and modulators along with flashlights in tandem to create sound. With a set-up of four or eight speakers surrounding performers and listeners with all or zero experience at all turning knobs and flipping switches, Behrman favored location and output, writing off direction and dictated composition; all in hopes of finding the right moment of harmony through simultaneous frequencies. We also have something quite unusual and startling: Ashley’s “Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon”, a very odd listen for its time. It opened The Wolfman Motorcity Revue, a theater-work for amplified voice and tape. Here is Cynthia Liddell up-front and center detailing an account of oral sex at an early Seventie’s dance club, her swirling sequence of events detailing eating, chewing, and sucking through the linguistic use of the mouth, teeth, and saliva authenticated with hard syllables, words, and the clicks that the mouth creates. There are also three back-up female vocalists. Where are they? Contributing to an altogether low queasy hum that keeps it going no matter how stretched out “Purposeful…” is. But that’s not all.
Lucier’s “Vespers” is his admiration to bats and the replication of their sounds in their closed environment. Lucier chose to perform “Vespers” in the dark with other performers whom were supplied with Sondol clicking devices to mimic the way bats communicate their personal location and sense nearby objects for flight. Gordon Mumma’s “Hornpipe” resulted in horns connecting to small console boxes that alter the acoustics and resonances of their sound and wavelengths in some sort of a game to balance and unbalance the circuits once again through action-reaction. Yes, Electric Sounds gets your full attention. Forty-five minutes constructed minimally with no unnecessary noise so that one would absolutely focus on the entire piece, if not, the entire record with no interruption of mind. Hearing this, you could wonder how these four sound artists created their works (providing you’re going in blind) and help pave the way for today’s experimenters.
An original vinyl pressing is more expensive than its’ disc reprint or 2014’s Earle Brown Contemporary Sound Series Vol. 5 which includes the whole Electric Sound as one of three works in the boxset. The sounds are more available than ever. Again, decide on just having it or having the original kinesthetic.