Monday, June 8, 2009

J.D. Emmanuel - Solid Dawn: Electronic Works 1979-1982 (KVIST CD)

Also in from Brainwashed:

A basement pioneer in his own right, J.D. Emmanuel has had a resurgence of sorts in recent years, making his a real synth Cinderella story. Spurred by a record collector who suggested he post his work on the internet, Emmanuel's 1982 Wizards was soon reissued by Bread and Animals' Lieven Martens, whose own Dolphins into the Future project is among many currently drawing inspiration from the meditative arpeggiations practiced by Emmanuel over 25 years ago.

This collection draws on a number of unreleased tracks from Emmanuel's most fertile period, offering an array of examples of his distinctive stylistic mastery. Ordered more or less sequentially, the disc offers a fine demonstration of the artist's trajectory. Opening with the placid and gentle drones of "Movement into Lightspeed," played on an organ with an Echoplex and reel deck, the work soon grows in complexity until the closing 22-minute track, "Changeling," featuring four synths at work. In between lies a body of work whose importance is far greater than its notoriety.

Emmanuel's main cue and most obvious influences lie in the minimalist composers. Much of his work has the distinct feel of greats like Steve Reich and Philip Glass as arpeggiated tones are gently modified through the consistent warmth of his synth tones. Yet it is likely Terry Riley's shadow which looms largest here, as Emmanuel displays a penchant for conjuring the spiritual strength in repetition. Swaying effortlessly, "Sunrise Over Galveston Bay" has synth lines drifting atop field recordings of waves, a tactic whose overuse is rendered obsolete here due to the piece's humble simplicity.

"7 Note Trance" is, as suspected, a pulsing body of arpeggiated tones (seven of them, I would believe...) that ebb and flow ceaselessly forward while the aptly titled "Grandioso" finds a medium tempo urging along a regal space age procession. Each use a highly different in approach but the feel is of a fully realized and unified musical voice. The stoned pitch modulations of "Through Inner Planes" may well be the least tangible work here, but it still manages to fit comfortably into the bigger picture presented here.

While some of Emmanuel's earliest experiments are present on Solid Dawn, they sound right at home next to more constructed works like "March of the Colossus," a patient and brooding space filled with austere lines that would find themselves fitting snuggly between Reich's "Four Organs" and Paul Bley's electronic keyboard work. "Whirlwind" takes off even further, pulsing outward in continuous lines of sensual colors.

Emmanuel's recent rediscovery has proved to be an important factor in the emergence of a burgeoning New Age aesthetic practiced by units such as Oneohtrix Point Never, Steve Hauschildt and countless others. His influence may yet reach its height and works such as these serve as important reminders of the links between much basement drone and minimalist composition. Emmanuel himself may well come to resurface as one of the most important bridges between them if albums of this quality continue to emerge.

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