Once dead, an artist is quickly reborn, replayed, reactivated by fans. So it was when I heard that Tod Dockstader passed away yesterday (Feb 27th). Gone. First thought: 'He wasn't old, was he?' Dammit, I fell into the camera time trap. Most shots I've seen of him are old, from the 60s, when he was in his 30's. Looking like this...
Tod Dockstader was 82 when he died...suffering from Alzheimer's. In Justin Brierley's film, Unlocking Dockstader (below), we see him reacting to a piece of music, saying he wish he'd made it himself. Brierley informs him that he did. So his condition mirrors ours, which is to forget. Drowning in sounds, we can do nothing but forget what lies on our hard drives, or in the cloud. Yes, even before the file storm, those of us who collected vinyl could forget what we had but today the forgetting is deeper. We would flick through album covers packed into a limited space, whilst today's music library seems infinite.
Dockstader wasn't forgotten by 'the music world'; it never knew him. It knows Dylan, The Beatles, Miles Davis...and will never forget them...never let people forget them. It (critics, judges, music biz pros) was the regulator of taste, appointee of legends and curator of musical memory. It told people who was worthy of canonisation and remembrance. Yet even in his prime, Dockstader was left outside. Fêted by a few in the know, he was still refused entry by electronic music institutions...rejected by such luminaries as Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky, apparently, though it's hard to believe.
Those old photos of the pioneers in studios such as the Columbia-Princeton Center and Cologne's Studio for Electronic Music...nostalgia for time we did not know...the idealised image...the futuristic fantasy of far ahead sonic creations...most of which still diminish modern efforts by post-Techno artists who are inspired by them. The camera captures a moment that stretches to forever...fooling me into thinking, briefly, that Dockstader was too young to die. Cameras did not record his ageing process they way they do for music legends...because for most of the time he did not exist.
The Starkland label set about reviving his track record in the early 90s, releasing Apocalypse (1961), Luna Park (1961), Drone (1962), Water Music (1963), Quatermass (1964), Two Moons of Quatermass (1964) and Four Telemetry Tapes (1965). All classics. Well, I've never heard a poor recording by Dockstader. ReR Megacorp released two new recordings he made with David Myers, Pond (2004) and Bijou (2005). Both prove he was still very much alive and capable of making brilliant music. Mordant Music put out his library records, Electronic Volume 1 & 2, from '79 and '78, whilst Sub Rosa released the three-part Aerial (2003) sessions.
Whilst his final years seem tragic, painful, cruel...at least, thanks to the efforts of those record labels, we can remember what he could not...when we choose to do so...and that's exactly what I'm doing for most of the day.
Unlocking Dockstader (short) from Justin H Brierley on Vimeo.
Great site about him here.