Boomkat Product Review:
Unmissable, pioneering material from Bay Area original Pamela Z, a composer and performance artist who developed an operatic and percussive looping vocal technique using echo pedals that pre-empted sounds from Grouper, Maja Ratkje, Klein and even "Medúlla"-era Björk. Expressive and still completely singular music that connects Breadwoman with Moor Mother.
Pete Swanson and Jed Bindeman's Freedom To Spend label unearths another goldmine here with a debut reissue of Pamela Z's 1988 cassette "Echolocation". The album showcased a technique that Z had been masterminding for a minute, while she was assembling events in the Bay and using the Ibanez DM1000 digital delay to modify - and almost loop - her voice. Z had spent her life up until that point studying music, performing covers and hosting a radio show in Boulder, Colorado, where she came across the late-1970s DIY experimental scene.
When she arrived in the Bay Area, she wanted to figure out a way to perform vocal music on her own without sacrificing the density or texture present in ensemble work. This path lead her to "Echolocation", the lone recorded document of her '80s material and an exploration of the limits of her voice. Most of the tracks express the techniques that Z used in her live performances: 'Badagada' for example finds Z looping utterances and garbled syllables to create chattering rhythms before adding a siren's call, dislocated wails and lower-register breaths.
It's physical music that feels urgent and alive - mere moments from the brink of collapse. But Z's control gives the recordings a central balance; they could fly off the rails, but they don't. On 'Pop Titles "You"', Z rhymes deadpan over chattering voices blankly rapping "you" - it's a smart, studied deconstruction of pop music that gives us the sense that Z is operating in a universe outside of our own, peeking in at the cultural chaos. She doesn't stop at avant experimentation either, there are fully orchestrated DIY rawk songs - engineered and performed completely by Z of course - and two brilliantly spannered collaborations - mathematician and synthesist Donald Swearingen adds FM rubber to the spiky 'I Know' and Funk Dub Division's Bill Stefanacci garnishes Z's swirling coos with freeform beatbox electricity on 'As In'.
'Echolocation' is a collection of sounds that feels historic: Z was years ahead of her time, with a voice and artistic process that still feels pioneering. Essential music that joins the dots between theater, rap, post-punk, folk and ambient music.