Wendy Carlos — Sonic Seasonings
(East Side Digital ESD 81372, 1972/1998, 2CD)
by Mike McLatchey, Published 1999-04-01
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.
Related artist(s): Wendy Carlos
Legendary Co-Founder of The 13th Floor Elevators Passes Away at Age 71 – Sadly, Roky Erickson passed away on May 31, 2019. Known as the father of psychedelic music and co-founder of the ground breaking 13th Floor Elevators, Roky had a profound influence on music from the 60s to today. Plagued by his own personal demons, Roky had a difficult life and is now free of these burdens. » Read more
Help MoonJune Bring Great Music to Life – Like many music lovers around the world, we’ve been thrilled and amazed to hear the recordings that have been released by MoonJune from sessions at La Casa Murada in Spain. Such label stalwarts as Mark Wingfield, Markus Reuter, Asaf Sirkis, Tony Levin, Dusan Jevtovic, Vasil Hadzimanov, and many more have gathered in various combinations at the studio to produce some of the most creative music in recent years. Now, label head Leonardo Pavkovic is offering a compilation, La Casa Murada - MoonJune Sessions, Volume One, as a fundraiser for upcoming sessions. » Read more
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
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
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