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La Monte Young / Marian Zazeela — 1 VII 69 10:26 - 10:49 PM / 23 VIII 64 2:50:45 - 3:11 AM The Volga Delta (The Black Album)
(Superior Viaduct SV198, 1969/2023, LP/CD)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2023-04-12

1 VII 69 10:26 - 10:49 PM / 23 VIII 64 2:50:45 - 3:11 AM The Volga Delta (The Black Album) Cover art

Often considered one of the pioneers of minimalism, composer and musician La Monte Young (born in 1935) has a lot of name recognition but for all his pioneering work, he hasn’t produced a large bounty of recordings over his lifetime, and what recordings he has produced are next to impossible to find, all having gone out of print very quickly. The reissue at hand (sometimes referred to as The Black Album due to the album cover art designed by his wife, visual artist, calligrapher and musician Mariam Zazeela, who also plays on both sides of this album) is often considered the holy grail of Young’s works. It first appeared in 1969, and this reissue too will probably disappear very quickly until it’s reissued again; fortunately this time out it was reissued on both LP and CD. The cryptic album title refers to the date and beginning and end times of the recordings on the A and B side of the original LP. The first side consists of a 23-minute two-part vocal drone that seems to be constantly shifting pitches, also joined by a sine wave oscillator that at times seems to be an otherworldly element in the mix, as if the sound is radiating from the walls. The overall droning sound may recall Indian raga music, where one dronimg voice maintains a steady pitch while the other navigates around it, higher and lower, bending and stretching, while the electronics encircle the voices, completely disappearing at times. The second side of the album has Young and Zazeela playing bowed gongs, and the resulting sound is ultimately a work of industrial noise. The piece was recorded a few years earlier in 1964, and apparently (if one opts for the LP) can be played at 33 RPM or any number of slower speeds. At any rate, it’s good to have this available again.

Filed under: Reissues, 2023 releases, 1969 recordings

Related artist(s): La Monte Young

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