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Tod Dockstader - Aerial #1

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Artist: Tod Dockstader

Album: Aerial #1

Label: Sub Rosa

Review date: May. 31, 2005

Along with Stockhausen, Henry and Varese, Tod Dockstader should be recognized, not merely regarded, as one of the great figures of musique concrete composition. His 'organized sound' pieces from the 1960s are undoubtedly among the most radical and important ever conceived. Yet Dockstader's contributions have been constantly overlooked by his peers and the more snobbish elements of the academic establishment, and were neglected by record companies and reviewers alike. As he became increasingly marginalized, he retreated further from music-making to concentrate on other aspects of the art world.

Recent years have seen a change of fortune. Fed by a clutch of CD reissues and the appreciative efforts of former Henry Cow/Art Bears member Chris Cutler - and his label ReR - a renewal of interest in his work has taken place. The Aerial project is a long overdue return for a man ready to take his rightful place at the head of the table.

As a very young child, Dockstader would spend hours listening to his radio set. At a time when the medium served as a home's main source of entertainment, listeners would often make reference to 'playing the radio,' imbuing it with the same properties as any musical instrument. It is this idea which lies at the center of the Aerial project (this volume being the first in a proposed three-part series). His raw materials are the sounds inhabiting those regions between the stations - the audio wastelands. Back in 1994, he embarked upon a series of nocturnal trawls - a quest for shortwave spirits. These, he found, emitted something which Dockstader himself has described as "cosmic breathing." The process left him with 90 hours of potentially usable archive.

Years later he would return to the material, using a computer (a new experience for him) to further edit and mix his recordings, selecting the best 59 mixes for inclusion on these CDs. The results are a revelation. Ethereal broadcasts from heaven's own channel (and no advertisements, either). Each track retains an individuality all too rare in this field, the descriptive titles ("Rumble," "Trembler," and the particularly mesmeric "Myst") accurately indicating pace and mood. But each retains the distinctive mark of its architect, a master of his craft whose work should be heard and cherished. Dockstader has performed an act of sonic alchemy, siphoning off the ether to produce nuggets of pure sonic gold.

By Spencer Grady

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