Thursday, 8 May 2014

John Cage Early Electronic & Tape Music - Langham Research Centre (Sub Rosa) / Sound Houses - Walls/Oram (Ecstatic)

Two legends from The Tape Head Hall of Fame. What do you mean you've never heard of it? It's a wonderful place, complete with waxwork models of John Cage, Daphne Oram, Pierre Schaeffer etc, t-shirts, badges, loads of old reels and a man in the ticket booth who claimed to have been the cleaner at the Columbia-Princeton studio. He had some tales to tell about what Milton Babbitt got up to under a mixing desk with one of the secretaries but I'm sworn to secrecy.

Legends, yes, but far from untouchable, or rather, unremixable, as these two albums prove. On John Cage Early Electronic & Tape Music Langham Research Centre set about the task with laudable rigour, going as far as to source and restore moving iron phonograph pickups. You know what they are, surely. They could have called the album Zen And The Art of Improved Playback Fidelity, perhaps. Perhaps not. It's all splendid, especially the Old/New World symphonic splicing on Imaginary Landscape No.5 and an extended Fontana Mix With Aria. Although a staple of many avant-turntablists since Cage and Schaeffer, the sound of operatics and Classical music being scorched by a stylus and screwed up on tape is still a joy when done as well as this. Cartridge Music brilliantly portrays the nightmares had by a stylus being dragged across the run-out grooves of a Miley Cyrus record when its previous owner was a Charles Mingus fan.

Remember Us3? (How could you forget?). They were allowed to plunder the Blue Note label's vaults in order to sample anything that would make them sound good. Yes, it was that easy. For this album, Walls were given access to Daphne Oram's library. Imagine that? I'd never reappear, let alone record anything. Less puritanical in approach than Langham Research Centre, but no less enjoyable, Sound Houses reboots the sound of Daphne's oast house for the, er, modern listener. But as you know, Oram was modern all along, predicting as she did every electronic/tape genre from Ambient to Hauntology (RIP) and some would say Techno, but that's stretching it. What I mean is she already created templates for the Sound of Now, so Walls had no problem making it even more Now. They do a great job. Some Shriller And Some Deeper proves that from the essence of Daphne (that should be a perfume) it's possible to mix up something modern, dark and meaty. A Very Large Metal Box comes with a beat, just for The Kids, but it's still good. Beats do creep in elsewhere, but thankfully without selling the project out totally. Well, if that's what it takes to gain some folk entrance to the house of Daphne Oram, fine.


  1. thanks for reviewing our Cage album (alongside the estimable Walls/Oram disc). Love your map too, must look up the museum next time we're in Cleveland raising a glass to Pere Ubu...

    1. You do that...but don't be surprised to find it's been replaced by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...huh...


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