Completely astounding stuff here for ANY curious electro-acoustic fiends: Seven (!) albums of transformative hybrid music that rake through the under-the-surface US scene, collecting up the most mind-boggling experiments from occult-influenced composer Jerry Hunt's short-lived Irida imprint.
If you caught Blank Forms' Jerry Hunt reissue "Ground: Five Mechanic Convention Streams" in July, hopefully your interest was piqued. The Texan composer operated in a unique space, using his interest in magic and the occult - particularly the Enochian magic methods of Elizabethan philosopher John Dee - to inform his electro-acoustic compositions, made using DIY electro-mechanical instruments and computer-aided devices. For a short time, Hunt ran a record label where he released music from a few carefully-picked collaborators that consistently bucked expectations and logic. Hunt proudly boasted that Irida was a "vanity project" and told friends that when it went wrong he could use a tax loophole to rescue his finances. Thankfully, it continued for long enough that Hunt could release some astonishing records: from 1979 to 1986 he put out seven non-sequentially numbered LPs and pressed an unknown amount. They're all collected here in surely one of the most impressively sprawling, eye-opening box sets we've heard this year.
Fittingly, the first disc begins with Hunt's own 'Lattice', a long-form composition the composer developed using the one acoustic instrument that truly inspired his imagination - the piano. It's one of Hunt's core pieces that serves as a key to unraveling many of his later works, assembled from jagged non-harmonic phrases and repetitions that form a "stream", in his own words. It isn't the most exciting of Hunt's compositions included in the set but it's a perfect entry point: elsewhere we're treated to the intense whistling and humming of 'Transform (Stream)' and sub-aquatic electro-acoustic scraping of 'Cantegral Segment 18.17', that's as gruesomely expressive and ahead of its time as anything that emerged from GRM in the same period. Alvin Lucier and Philip Corner collaborator James Fulkerson's first solo LP was released on Irida and is included here in full, offering the best introduction to his extended trombone techniques. Fulkerson's music is as varied as it is deep, with opening piece 'Co-Ordinative Systems' displaying the abrasive versatility of his electro-acoustic processes as he bounces grizzly mouth sounds off gurgling electronics, and 'Music for Brass Instruments' highlighting a more disquieting application, with subtle tonal shifts and sustained notes that create bluesy, orchestral spirals.
Computer music pioneer and David Tudor collaborator Larry Austin deconstructs operatic gestures on 'Maroon Bells' and 'Catalogo Voce', contorting voices and splicing them with evocative field recordings and expressive, cracked electronics. If that's a bit too much, "microsynthesis" creator Dary John Mizelle's contributions are more solidly rooted in experimental electronics: the 20-minute 'Polyphonies I' is among the set's most astonishing pieces, all mangled breath sounds, white noise blasts and Radiophonic howls. Texan experimental free improv group BL Lacerta (woodwind player Robert Price, percussionist David Anderson, brass player Les Gay and violinist Maurice Hood) shift the energy on their only album, 1981's "Music Of BL Lacerta", that crosses their jazz-inspired skronk with delicate electronic processes. And Rodney Waschka II plays us out with the final disc in the set, a split with Gene DeLisa and Robert Michael Keefe that shows the power of the Synclavier II, an early polyphonic digital synthesizer that used a digital sampling system. Waschka's compositions are the most recognizably conventional, mirroring the FM experiments happening across the pond in the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop, while Keefe dispenses with harmony altogether on the brilliant 'Fractalis Balinesus', using the synthesizer to create unruly, lysergic rhythms.
From beginning to end this collection of fringe American experimental music broadcasts the unchecked ambition and genius of Hunt, and unearths some of the most invigorating electro-acoustic music we've come across in recent years. It's not easy listening, but it's a gift that keeps on giving - you'll be unraveling it for years.