Boomkat Product Review:
Two classic pieces of electronic music from the early '70s composed by MEV (Musica Elettronica Viva) founder Alvin Curran.
The first piece, 'Under The Fig Tree', dates back to 1972 and was originally conceived as a monophonic piece as part of Curran's Music For Every Occasion collection. The recording presented here had been made as a kind of backing track for a performance by trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini, though it serves as a beautifully self-contained soundscape in its own right. Curran plays a Putney VCS3 - one of the earliest widely available portable synthesizers - dubbing his tracks across multiple Revox tape machines all channelled into a custom-made mixer. Although Curran points out that his array of electronic sounds was designed to mimic the timbres of various woodwind and brass instruments the outcome is altogether more other-worldly; a gloriously fluent and comprehensively musical example of analogue synthesis, dating back to an age when these sounds would have been truly alien and new. While this music is bound to conjure up references to Curran's European contemporaries (Popol Vuh and Cluster were just starting to emerge around this time) 'Under The Fig Tree' leans toward more abstract climes, exhibiting a more academic and experimental character. Nevertheless, it's a commanding and accessible work that should be considered indispensable listening for any devotees of early synthesizer music.
'The Magic Carpet' (from 1970) is a very different piece, documenting Curran's first ever sound installation. A friend of Curran's, American sculptor Paul Klerr had the idea of converting a gallery space into a kind of abstract labyrinth, filled with steel and gut wires. Curran then suggested modifying this environment as a giant interactive sound-making device, amplifying the wires with contact mics whilst attaching chimes, and aluminium and brass tubing from the ceiling. The amplification of ductile metals was to become something of a well-known theme in Curran's music, and to some extent the concept here might be considered as an anticipation of what's arguably Curran's most famous piece: 'Music On A Long Thin Wire' (1977). 'The Magic Carpet' effectively makes a kind of untuned "walk-through harp" whose range of sonorities span from the delicate, dissonant interplay between tones right up to a foundation-shaking cacophony.