Boomkat Product Review:
Extraordinary tape works by a crucial yet little-known pioneer of ‘70s electronics, sister to the dream-like abstractions of Daphne Oram, Annea Lockwood or Pauline Oliveros but with a truly singular hypnotic appeal certain to pique interest from all avant garde explorers.
Making a first introduction to NYC’s Ann McMillan for many listeners, 1979’s ‘Gateway Summer Sound: Abstracted Animal And Other Sounds’ for Smithsonian Folkways reveals a visionary artist who worked with magnetic tape to create phantasmic soundscapes that smudged and bent boundaries between natural sounds.
As a student of radical composer Edgard Varèse - one of the godfathers of concrète music - McMillan made recordings at the legendary Princeton-Columbia Electronic Music Center which elided myriad sounds from the natural world, such as frogs, insects and field recordings, with a palette of gongs, bells, and harpsichord to shape vibrant, imaginative parallel dimensions of sound. Where her former teacher’s work was austere and angular, McMIllan’s music is detectably lusher, and contoured with a logic that feels more dreamlike in its abstracted depictions of nature’s sound sphere.
While comparison with Varèse is perhaps as inevitable as nods to Cage’s aleatoric music tekkers, it’s much fairer to place McMIllan’s work in light of Daphne Oram’s sorely overlooked but genuinely pioneering oeuvre or the textural sensitivities of Annea Lockwood, both of whom make eminently listenable rather than unforgiving strains of an avant garde more often associated with blokes of that period. As such there’s a much more welcoming sort of experimentalism at play between her trek around alien swamp terrain on ‘Amber ’75’, and also to the dizzying murmurations of ’Syrinx’, while the fractious ‘Episode’ and 12 minutes of deeply otherworldly sounds in ‘Gateway Summer Sound’ come off like a deeply uncanny pre-echo of computer sounds that would later be birthed by Laurie Spiegel, or a more sensuous adjunct to Beatriz Ferreyra’s unearthed GRM works.