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    Laurie Spiegel – The Expanding Universe

    Laurie Spiegel - The Expanding Universe

    Laurie Spiegel (born 1945) is primarily a composer of electronic music best-known for the pieces she created in the 1970s at Bell Labs, which was also the home of James Tenney’s groundbreaking computer music of the ’60s. Originally released as a single LP in 1980, The Expanding Universe contains some of the work Laurie made in that time period, and has since been, uh, expanded into a double CD with a bunch of bonus tracks tacked on. Employing such archaic equipment as a room-sized Control Data Corporation DDP-224 computer console / keyboard, GROOVE (Generating Real-time Operations on Voltage-Controlled Equipment), a magnetic tape drive, a music keyboard, a 3-D joystick, a touch tone keypad, punch cards, three 1/4″ reel-to-reel two-track tape machines, analog synths, a washing machine-sized disk drive, sawtooth oscillators, voltage controlled amps, a plate reverb unit and a mixer, Laurie really had her work cut out for her. Yeah, I know you could do the same thing so easy on your iPhone now, but Laurie accomplished it all back in the days when it was a very labor intensive process. These pieces were composed then stitched together over a period of weeks or months in a situation that required Laurie to repeatedly walk up and down a long hallway and flights of stairs between the computer room and the analog equipment room to make the gear talk to each other. It’s safe to say the results paid off, as Laurie’s hard work birthed a music of such mesmerizing beauty,

    Laurie Spiegel, 1970s. Dig that long hair and bell bottoms!

    Boasting two CDs that are crammed chock-full past the 78 minute mark, this set is truly exhausting in the best way possible. Opening the first disc, “Patchwork” presents four short melodic motives and four rhythmic patterns for the listener to peruse. We’re talking layers of pleasantly peppy and percolating synth melodies that end in a dissonant drone that I wish would go on forever. With its playful, bouncy vibe, this piece was a reaction to the overly academic-sounding contemporary music of the time. Although still melodic, “Pentachrome” exhibits much more subdued and flowing tones while “Old Wave,” which was composed for a ballet, adds deep cave drips and long, held tones to the proceedings, and the African and Indian-inspired “Drums,” true to its name, layers up a bunch of minimal drumming sounds. The remaining works flow along in a similar vein, except for the title track, which ends the disc. At nearly a half-hour long, it splays out an array of deep and expansive space synth drones of a very tall order. The composer herself states that this music is not minimal or ambient, but slow change concentrated attention music. I simply think of it as a meditation, a floatation device, a ceaseless conduit to the center of my own calm mind.

    The second disc opens up with “East River Dawn,” in which stately layers of pleasantly rolling morning melodies ease you into the day. “The Unquestioned Answer” continues with a super slow, mellow and meditative state, followed by “The Orient Express,” which turns all dark and menacing. This piece was inspired by a random train ride from Paris, France to Istanbul, Turkey. Similar to “Drums,” the mechanical clock-inspired “Clockworks” marches forward with more synthetic drumming and pinging, this time with a little more reverb, while “Dirge” takes you on a dark and menacing waltz inside a haunted house, a feeling which is continued in “Music For Dance,” which was–you guessed it–commissioned for a dance. An emergency unfolds as “Kepler’s Harmony of the Worlds,” which was included in the gold record on the Voyager spacecraft, offers up layers of shrill, microtonal sirens. This work was Laurie’s realization of Johannes Kepler’s vision back in 1618-1619 “to make audible to humans, as music, the frequencies of our solar system’s planetary motions.” The set finally draws to a close with “Wandering in Our Times,” which bellows out some ultra subdued deep sleep drones that rise and fall in the most microtonal way. For synth, minimal and drone freaks, The Expanding Universe is highly recommended and comes complete with a thick booklet full of detailed liner notes, interesting period photos and a wry self-interview conducted by Laurie that you’ll need a magnifying glass to read.

    Label: Unseen Worlds Catalog Number: UW09 Format: 2-CD Packaging: Jewel Case Tracks: Disc 1: 9, Disc 2: 10 Total Time: Disc 1: 78:14, Disc 2: 78:27 Country: United States Released: 2012 More: Discogs, Official, Twitter

    Text ©2014 Arcane Candy

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