Contes de la mémoire (Memory’s tales): a very appropriate title, considering the eclectic content of this compilation of tape works by Jon Appleton. San Francisco Airport Rock (1996) depicts spontaneous answers to the question posed by the composer: (Q) “What do you think about the new electronic music?” (A) “Yes, I met Robert Moog…” Oh, it is nice, I like this music…” “No, I don’t know…” “I listen to it on the radio….” The accompaniment consists of drones and gentle washes of light “techno” music with soft voices looping in the background. In a way, the piece criticizes itself. E-mu and Roland synthesizers and the Vision sequencer were used for this piece, partially realized at MlT, then mixed down at the Bregman Electronic Music Studio at Dartmouth College (of which Mr. Appleton is the director). The companion piece, Newark Airport Rock (1969), composed more than a quarter of a century earlier, is a more striking and sonically rich documentary. Newark Airport Rock, already a memory from the distant past, rings more true with answers to the same question recorded at the New Jersey airport. This piece has an atmospheric accompaniment, prepared using a Moog Mark lll synthesizer at the Bregman Studio.
Dima Dobralsa Domoy sings a completely different tune: Realized in 1993, it includes recordings of speech sounds in a declamatory style with distinct Russian echoes. These very light rhythmical phrases transmute themselves into train noises, sharing the stage with some background ethnic dances and a concertina moment. The title means “Dmitri returns home after a long journey,” and refers to the composer’s friend, Russian singer and choral director Dmitri Pokrovsky, from whom Mr.Appleton absorbed knowledge of politics, music, and his own Russian heritage.
In Media Res (1978), from the Latin “in the middle of things,” is set into a cryptic context in the liner notes: “known in Brazil as ‘Sudden Death’.” Analog multitrack tape recorders were used to store sequences performed on the Synclavier digital synthesizer. The sequences mostly sweep up and down the tessitura, or remain half frozen in static layers. There are citations of Irish folk music as well, used as a basis for the abundant . drones heard throughout this composition. The bagpipe insert contributes to a feeling of fragmentation (evident elsewhere on the disc). The technical display is not too impressive, as Mr. Appleton limits himself to shifting the speeded-up materials to the left or right channels, at times centering the acoustic image.
Times Square Times Ten (1969), at 9:02 is one of only two pieces of significant length in this collection. Sounds extracted from Edison cylinders were recorded and mixed down at the Bregman Studio. According to the composer, “…the piece moves from the street level to the levels below 42nd Street and Broadway, in the subway tunnels.” This is a good “paleo-sonic” trip through time, reflecting the soundscape of Manhattan from the 1890s to almost a century later and back. You can even read the title as x1 x 10 (times square times ten). Entertaining and impressive, with some spelunking audio intriguingly shifting the animal-like voice quality to an almost human one, then to a mechanical, nocturnal ambiance. I truly enjoyed this one.
From the same year comes CCCP (In Memoriam: Anatoly Kuznetsov), another very interesting radiophonic docurnentary, utilizing the voices of Tolstoy, Stalin, and Kuznetsov recorded from Radio Moscow and the BBC, as well as synthetic sounds from a Moog synthesizer. The defection to the west of writer Anatoly Kuzuetsov brings this piece into the realm of political storytelling. Using techniques like electronic switching, filtering, and speed variation, Mr. Appleton is at his best here.
Spuyten Duyvil (1967) is the first of three short analog pieces Mr. Appleton produced in the mid-1960 using the tape studio procedures then in vogue. In the accompanying booklet, the composer states, “I can no longer recapture the musical vision I had then.” For this listener, Spuyten Duyvil is engaging in its discovery of timbral nuances, the use of slowly evolving envelopes, and the intense sense of remoteness invoked by the music.
Georganna’s Fancy, (1966) is more ioyful, agile, and incisive, with sudden contrasting turns sounding very much like tape reversal. The disc closes with Chef d’œuvre (1967), pop-ish, almost Warholian. It is based on the sounds of a commercial for Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee (pizzas) as sung by the Andrews Sisters. The quote goes through a number of intriguing and imaginative transformatlons, spanning canonlc imitations and cartoon-like speededup moments.
In short, Contes de la mémoire is indeed a trip down memory lane — sonic snapshots from throughout the career of a well-known American composer. The style evolves from early tape music a la musique concrète to voltage-controlled synthesizers. It also exemplifies Mr. Appleton’s brilliant contribution to the development of one of the earliest computer-based digital synthesizers, the Synclavier, which he performed real-time during concerts as well.
This disc has all the traits of high quality production present in the empreintes DIGITALes releases from DIFFUSION i MéDIA. The sound is marvelous, the liner notes good, the layout excellent. The cover photo is of the painting Heliotrope (1993), by American artist Esmé Thompson.