Various Artists
Sub Rosa Anthology Volume 2 DCD

This is part 2 of Belgian label Sub Rosa's anthologies of noise and electronic music, and again it has been compiled with love and care for the detail. It comes in a luxurious gatefold-digipack with an abundance of sleeve notes on the history of electronic music and the artists featured.

Sub Rosa is a very busy label. Over the years, they have come up with copious quality releases from spoken word to the most challenging of contemporary music. Given their dedication to art forms way off the beaten track of the mainstream (and these days that includes a considerable part of the so-called "independent" culture), Sub Rosa releases always have something special about them.

Now here we have part 2 of the Anthology Of Noise And Electronic Music (as the full title goes), and this compilation features music and sound experiments from the 1930ies right through to the 21st century. While it is a welcome departure from the common belief that electronic music is a phenomenon of the past few decades, I have to say that the title is a trifle misleading. It feels a bit strange to subsume Captain Beefheart and Sun Ra (both featured on this compilation) under anything like "electronic" or "noise". I would tend to think that including these musicians is mostly due to the personal taste of the album's compilers.

On the other hand, both acts have had considerable influence on experimental musicians and they are placed at the very end of the album's second CD, so it almost feels as if those tracks were meant to be an epilogue to the compilation. Oh well, and Captain Beefheart is represented visually, too: CD 2 is a mixed-mode CD and features a video showing a live concert by Beefheart and the Magic Band way back in 1969.

Not surprisingly, the anthology stays true to the Sub Rosa tradition of focussing on artists outside the public spotlight. Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Schaeffer and John Cage are well known (and the latter two have been included on part 1 of the anthology series), but how about American tape-music pioneers Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky? Both are featured here with their eerie piece "Incantation For Tape" from 1953. Luc Ferrari represents Musique Concrète with "Visage V", composed in 1958 and 1959, while Tod Dockstader brings us to present days: "Aerial > Song", a 13 minutes long dark and shifting soundscape, is part of Dockstader's "Aerial" cycle and was recorded only last year.

Women tend to be completely neglected in the history of electronic music, so it's good to see Johanna M. Beyer's most impressive piece "Music Of The Spheres" (1938) and Daphne Oram's almost ambient "Four Aspects" (1960) included in this compilation. Further artists featured on CD1: Morton Subotnick, Hugh Davies, Alan R. Splet, Kim Cascone and Robin Rimbaud.

CD2 continues with an undogmatic approach: the elegant "Bronchus 1" by Autechre - never released before - opens the album, followed by Yoshihiro Hanno's challenging "On/Off Edit" and Meira Asher/Guy Harries' harsh piece "Torture - Bodyparts". Lasse Sten and Woody McBride represent the Techno branch of electronic music, while David Lee Meyers brings us a very bleak piece made up of unforgiving guitar feedback.

Industrial Music has always been closely related to electronic music, so it is not very surprising that two of the second-generation bands of that genre have been included: Laibach and SPK. Oh, and one of the early electronic instruments has not been mentioned yet: the Thereminvox. Percy Grainger's "Free Music #1" (written in 1936 and performed by Lydia Kavina) pays tribute to that simple, yet outstanding instrument, before Sun Ra's Free Jazz and Captain Beefheart's Experimental Rock close CD 2.

The second part of Anthology Of Noise And Electronic Music is definitely an intriguing compilation. While the concept is not completely straightforward, it excels in showing the great diversity of non-acoustic music. After all, electronic music is not a style by itself, it is mainly characterized by the technical equipment involved.

(rh 08/MMIII)

Label: Sub Rosa

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Captain Beefheart live in 1969: featured on CD 2 of the compilation