Boomkat Product Review:
Amazing CD volume of unreleased work by Martin Bartlett; a British emigre based in Canada for most of his life, where he established Vancouver’s first Gamelan orchestra, and cultivated a singularly beautiful, even prescient style of electronic composition that worked within, around, and against its conventions and restrictions. This CD containing four durational works, is more sprawling than its sibling LP, running raga seemingly play on electronic bagpipes, thru to vast generative noise tracts, and grand orchestral composition somewhere between Webern and Alice Coltrane. A Real find, especially RIYL Roland Kayn, Pauline Oliveros, David Behrman
“Bartlett was a prolific writer, and he expresses himself in fresh, lucid, and wonderfully descriptive prose, offering clear thinking on social aspects of electronic music performance; on the barriers between the performer and the 'black box' and on possibilities for organic systems in electronic music. He also wrote accounts of his sailing trips, treatise on performance practices, and technical academic articles on the systems he built, along with the incandescent manifesto-like piece Electronic Recalcitrant, in which he hoped that electronic music would be imbued with “organic codes of growth and metamorphosis” so that he could “pluck elegant and fleshy electronic sound fish from the frothy algorithmic sea of possibilities”.
Key influences were Pauline Oliveros, John Cage and David Tudor, all whom he studied under. Like many of his generation, he became interested in non-Western compositional and philosophical practices, and in 1981 he travelled to India to study Carnatic vocal music with V. Lakshminarayana Iyer in Madras and then on to Burma, Thailand and Indonesia where he studied shadow theatre. He studied South Asian music with Pandit Pran Nath, gamelan with K.R.T. Wasitidipuro, and closely collaborated with Don Buchla on live performances and synthesiser design. He was particularly interested in the Javanese gamelan, which led to him founding the Vancouver Community Gamelan in 1986. On his travels to Indonesia he made hours of field recordings, many of which are accompanied by vivid narrations on the rituals and ceremonies he was documenting.
It is unclear why Bartlett’s work remains unknown. Perhaps it is because it remained largely inside the academy. Perhaps his commitment to live performance and community activity means it was more transient than the work of others. Perhaps his openness about his sexuality played a part in his music not receiving much recognition – one can only speculate. But correspondence in his archive shows that rejection and general lack of interest from labels was a source of great personal discontent, leading to Bartlett working again with the Western Front to release his final opus Pythagoras’ Ghost shortly before his death.
Bartlett died young, of AIDS-related causes, in 1993, but his music remains a rich source of inspiration, and is characterised by an irresistible and unselfconscious charm that renders his sound unique. These selections, along with the companion LP Anecdotal Electronics, and Luke Fowler’s film Electro-Pythagoras, aim to redress this prior neglect, shedding light on this little known personality from electronic music history, who still has so much to say.”