David Lee Myer's late 1980s feedback experiments get a welcome airing on CD...
Peter Marsh 2003-10-29
At the end of BBC 4's recent tribute to the Radiophonic Workshop, composer David Cain made the observation that creativity exists in the gap between what a musician hears in his/her head and what's actually technically possible. Now that music technology seems to have made pretty much anything possible, it's little wonder that some musicians are stripping away their digital trappings and engaging with sound at its most essential.
This downsizing has been most noticeable in recent Japanese music (think Ryoji Ikeda's sinewave surfs, Sachiko M and Toshimaru Nakamura's no-input mixer improvs, etc) and has been accompanied by a rigorously minimal aesthetic. Back in 1988 though, David Myers (aka Arcane Device)was mapping out a rather different direction.
I remember hearing this album at the time and being utterly bewildered that such sounds could be coaxed from electronic feedback (Myers simply connected his mixer's output to its input and attempted to control the somewhat unstable results). As ReR label boss Chris Cutler suggests, this is the sound of electricity singing to itself. Sometimes it screams, grumbles or whistles too; this is noise that's constantly on the move, morphing into strange new shapes.
Myers suggests that Engines of Mythis close to50's electronic music. There's a similar complexity to the sounds on offer, but Myers' approach is essentially an improvisational one; with such unpredictable sound sources, there's little that can be done to mould them in the way a composer might want. This is genuinely experimental music (in John Cage's definition at any rate).
Whatever Myers' methods, it's a fact that some 15 years on, his music has lost none of its power. Alternatively cerebral and visceral, it's not easy listening, but is posessed of a restless, elemental energy. One minute we're in what sounds like a deranged dentist's surgery smack in the middle of the Grand Canyon, the next we're trying to tune a shortwave radio in deep space. Cosmic bleeps, grinding, throbbing pulses, deranged heavy metal oscillation and insectoid buzzes; they're all here and waiting to give your ears a good cleanout. Lovely stuff.