Exposé Online banner

Wendy Carlos — Sonic Seasonings
(East Side Digital ESD 81372, 1972/1998, 2CD)

by Mike McLatchey, Published 1999-04-01

Sonic Seasonings Cover art

Proving that you have to go back before Brian Eno to find the roots of ambient electronic music, we now finally have the reissue of one of the field’s first classics, Wendy Carlos’ Sonic Seasonings. The story of Carlos’ influence on electronic music dates to the beginnings of analog synthesizers, yet of all her works, this is one of her finest, a double album of side-long portraits that has been long overdue for reissue and has been remastered for incredible sonic clarity. East Side Digital has done fine work in rescuing this relic, adding another unreleased album from 1986 to make the set a great buy, the additions of equal quality to the whole. “Spring” is full of thunderstorms and natural ambiance, blended with the electronics, it speaks of birth from disorder. The rainstorms that dominate the first half find resolution in bird voices, the analog synths both play strange melodies and create an atmosphere full of potential. “Summer” is a strange analog soundscape. Carlos' atmospheres contain a great number of tones and frequencies, and this reminds me of some of the early work of Necropolis / Peter Frohmader. Buzzing, steely sounds rise barely above the soundpool, the results dissonant and unearthly. “Fall” closes the first CD, and is another piece that incorporates natural recordings; the sounds of waves predominate here, but there are many others including what sounds like the crackling of an open fire. The electronics are incorporated seamlessly, still used in abstract and unusual fashion. Sonic Seasonings finishes with “Winter,” which is the first track on CD 2. Of all four pieces, this resembles the closest to what we generally refer to as ambient today. It speaks of an arctic climate with howling wolves and windy electronics, icy and frigid northern landscapes. Its strange analogs remind me of parts of Tangerine Dream’s Zeit recorded the same year. The fade out is a choir of human voices (producer Rachel Elkind), wolves, and more; an eery sound more than reminiscent of the dissonant vocal finale of Il Balletto di Bronzo’s Ys. Accompanying “Winter” on CD is a five-minute alternate ending, a strange and much different one with lots of sound effects, creaking doors, animal sounds, and more. The entire album still sounds fresh today, a groundbreaking work that belongs on the list of classics by Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and Brian Eno.

Land of the Midnight Sun is a revelation. Moving forward 14 years into the 80s, we are treated to the type of opus Michael Stearns could have written with “Aurora Borealis.” The shimmering sounds and beautiful synths are squarely in the vein of albums like Jewel or Planetary Unfolding, the richness and beauty act as a counterpoint to the more abstract visions of Sonic Seasonings. “Midnight Sun” itself ties up the set nicely, being quite analogous to “Sonic Seasonings.” While 1986 brings us squarely to the digital age, Carlos’ choice of tones and sounds are equally as rich, it sounds like there are still a lot of analogs at work. Spacious, dynamic, and full of both warm and icy tones, it is a truly mysterious and beautiful work. Well over two hours of excellent music, this is one of the best reissues of the year, Land of the Midnight Sun of high enough quality that it could have stood on its own. We have ESD to thank for giving us our money’s worth.


Filed under: New releases, Issue 17, 1998 releases, 1972 recordings

Related artist(s): Wendy Carlos

More info
http://www.wendycarlos.com/+sslms.html

Latest news

2019-04-10
The Pineapple Thief to Tour North America – November and December of 2019 will see The Pineapple Thief bringing their music to Canada, Mexico, and the US, and famed drummer Gavin Harrison will be on board. The band has been touring extensively in Europe, but North America will be new territory for them. » Read more

2019-03-25
Scott Walker RIP – Noel Scott Engel, better known as Scott Walker, was one of the most intriguing and enigmatic musical figures in the second half of the 20th Century. His strange career started with The Walker Brothers, an American pop group that featured no one named Walker and no brothers. After moving to England in 1965, they had a series of hit singles. Scott's solo work started with Scott in 1967. Starting in the 80s, his work took an increasingly avant-garde turn. » Read more

2019-03-20
Freedom to Spend Unearths June Chikuma's Archives – Jun (June) Chikuma is well known for her video game and anime soundtracks, but she also released an album of experimental electronic music back in 1986 called Divertimento where she indulged the kind of spontaneity that wouldn't work in a soundtrack. RVNG Int'l label Freedom to Spend is bringing this overlooked item to broader attention with a deluxe reissue. » Read more

2019-03-03
Seaprog 2019 Lineup Almost Complete – The Seaprog festival in Seattle is scheduled for June 7-9 this year, and they've announced their lineup of performers. The revitalized Trettioåriga Kriget will cap Friday night, perennial favorites Marbin are on Saturday, and District 97 will finish off the fest on Sunday night. In support, they've booked a stellar variety of artists from the Northwest and around the world, including EchoTest, Markus Reuter and Trey Gunn, and the live debut of the amazing Troot project. » Read more

2019-02-21
You Can Be Part of an Ambient Electronic Project – The Gesture of History is a new electronic project put together by Sam Rosenthal of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Steve Roach, and violist Sam Shadow. The music started as an instrumental track Rosenthal was working on for a Black Tape album, but took on a life of its own and demanded further enhancements. The majority of the funds raised will go to manufacturing costs for LP and CD editions, as well as other items as detailed on the Kickstarter page. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Ivanhoe - Polarized – Can't get enough of that Iron Maiden? Check out Polarized. There is no doubt, as musicians, Ivanhoe are first rate. The singer, Andy B. Frank is very good, if he's a German singing in English,...  (1999) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues