Boomkat Product Review:
Important and long overdue retrospective album compiling work by Ruth Anderson - a pioneering American electronic music composer, conductor and flautist - effectively her first album in a career that spans almost 70 years. Anderson was born and worked during the same era as Daphne Oram, albeit on the other side of the pond, and is sadly another groundbreaking composer and musician whose work had been sorely overlooked during their lifetime. As the excellent liner notes point out - Anderson was composing in a world that was "heavily gendered against her”. Anderson sadly passed away last year, just before this album was released - kudos and respect to Arc Light Editions for attempting to right almost a century of wrongs.
"Jennifer Lucy Allan’s Arc Light Editions releases the debut album by little known electronic and tape music composer Ruth Anderson (1928-2019) who died just before she was able to see her first solo release out in the world. ‘Here' reinserts Ruth Anderson as a trailblazer in the history of electronic music in the USA, as one of the first women to set up an electronic music studio, gathering microtonal electronics, drone and meditative long-form works and a mischievous plunderphonic collage into an album that is playful and bold in its minimalist approach to sound.
Anderson was born in Montana in 1928, and originally trained as a flautist and composer, studying with Darius Mil- haud and Nadia Boulanger in Paris on Fulbright scholarships, and was the first woman to be admitted to Princeton University Graduate School in the early 1960s. She also worked as an orchestrator for NBC-TV and the Lincoln Center Theater production of Annie Get Your Gun with Ethel Merman (1966). After joining the faculty of Hunter College, CUNY, in 1966, created its Electronic Music Studio. She was engaged in studies of psychoacoustics, Zen Buddhism, and was a committed teacher. She remained at Hunter teaching composition and music theory until her retirement in 1989. As Louise Gray writes in her sleevenotes to ‘Here’: “That it is released now, in 2020, to a musician born in 1928 and who has had an active musical and compositional life, certainly since the 1950s, is a cause for celebration as well as for some dismay.”
The works compiled on ‘Here’ display a consistently innovative approach to electro-acoustic composition and its uses. “Pregnant Dream” is a collaboration with poet May Swenson (whose poem of the same name is reproduced on the inner sleeve). “Points” is constructed from pure sine waves, a veil of microtonal sound intended as a healing piece that generates quiet energy. “So What” hovers in electroacoustic space, and crescendos in oscillations and phasing. The playful proto-plunderphonics of “SUM (State of the Union Message)” is constructed from sounds sampled from TV commercials, made one January while Anderson was waiting for a studio to become free, offers tongue-in-cheek resistance to politics and communication as pertinent today as then. She wrote that her intention with "SUM" became “to say as little, and by omission, as much as the President (Nixon) would in his address.”
The whole of Side B is taken up entirely with the restful and meditative “I Come Out Of Your Sleep”, constructed from the speech vowels in Louise Bogan’s poem Little Lobelia. It is a deeply calming and mindful piece, intended to be played at low volume. Anderson intended the shape of the vowels to become breathy melodic arcs and tones, which be- comes the core of a stylised meditation. As Gray writes, it is “both intimate – a breathing, gentle entity – and simulta neously vast – the wind whistling around a mountain, the slow unfolding of something that only an attentive listening will reveal.”