Saturday, July 11, 2020
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Artist: Thomas Dimuzio (@)
Title: Sutro Transmissions
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Resipiscent Records (@)
Rated: *****
If you're into modern experimental electronic music, there is one name in the genre you can't help but be familiar with, and that's Thomas Dimuzio. This San Francisco based artist is one of those unsung artistic figures whose influence and abilities have substantially outstripped his visibility. Composer, collaborator, experimental electronic musician, multi-instrumentalist, improviser, sound designer and mastering engineer, not to mention a major influence on other experimental electronic musicians. As a collaborator, Dimuzio has worked with numerous artists and ensembles such as Dimmer (with Joseph Hammer), Chris Cutler, Fred Frith, Dan Burke/Illusion of Safety, Nick Didkovsky, ISIS, Negativland, David Lee Myers, Matmos, Wobbly, Poptastic, Due Process, 5uu's, Tom Cora, Mickey Hart, and Paul Haslinger. I have even mentioned Dimuzio in the past for mastering some artists’ projects I have reviewed here. All this is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Dimuzio's credits sand credentials, and this is the first Dimuzio release I've had the pleasure of reviewing.

"'Sutro Transmissions' is Dimuzio's first all Buchla-synthesizer album. Custom algorithmic crossfades of complex sound synthesis fuel this metabolism of mind and machine in real-time with no overdubs. His Buchla 272e module incorporates a polyphonic FM tuner introducing chance-factors snatched from live transmissions and steered via algorithmic mixing through oscillator arrays and envelope generators before spilling into the ears of blood-pumping audiences huddled in the slanting five thousand foot shadow of SF's iconic Sutro Tower. Each track is a site specific improvisation blooming in the dark of two underground venues on opposite ends of Haight Street just blocks from where Buchla invented the world's first synthesizer." {Label text, not mine.) The album is divided into two parts or sides - Lower Haight” and “Upper Haight”, in reference to Dimuzio’s resident San Francisco, and also the iconic stomping grounds of mid-late 1960s hippiedom. For those unfamiliar with the areas, Lower Haight has a more diverse population and a smaller number of retail businesses, which includes restaurants, small nightclubs, cafes, drinking establishments, galleries, and hair salons, but primarily, lots of residences. The more touristy Upper Haight (aka Haight-Ashbury) has been well-documented as the hippie haven of the past, and retains an ersatz commercial atmosphere from that era in its shops and houses.

That this album was recorded live with no overdubbing (or any other players) is truly astonishing because there is just so much going on. To describe what I'm hearing is extremely challenging because nothing really stays the same for very long. "Lower Haight" begins like some kind of extraterrestrial radio transmission, not only tuning in frequencies, but also some kind of arcane capture device that modulates the coded transmission into something only alien machinery can comprehend. Varying types of noise, jittery voice fragments and sampled sonic effluvia are combed over, swirled around and expelled with vigor from the darkness into the light. A drone tone sine wave (or is that feedback??) takes over for a spell, eventually joined and enriched with other tones simmering and morphing into something completely different when other sonic events come into play. There comes a point about nearly fourteen minutes into this twenty minute piece when a sort of shuffling-sluicing sound creeps in, then something vaguely tapping/dripping giving the impression of adding secret ingredients to the mix while the harmonic drone continues. More choppy transmissions occur, nearly threatening to manifest fully, but never do. Also, LFO oscillated tones emerge now and then. It is all resolved in the lower frequencies.

"Upper Haight" begins with what sounds like a sampled and sliced train whistle sent down the wireless in a not quite tuned in manner while a room full of clueless broadcast engineers try and figure out what's wrong with the signal. The knob fiddling only makes it worse and more cacophonic as channels begin to blend into each other. Dialogue (broadcast?) snippets appear and disappear frequently amidst the staticky noise. When things finally begin to calm down a bit you're left with cycling static noise that eventually dies down as other random thunks and thuds emerge like someone muddling through a room full of junk equipment, and maybe even instruments in the dark, while a hidden live mic records it all. That's not actually what's happening; these are just some of my imaginative impressions. This continues almost until the end.

Hard to say what the overall effect of these two pieces are; often jarring and inscrutable, sometimes minimal and isolationist, "Lower Haight" is a lot easier to digest than "Upper Haight," but the latter has much more going on in it. Perhaps that's a reflection of these two Frisco areas, or maybe it just ended up that way. After all, this album was improvised live, and who knows what thoughts went through the artist's mind as he was creating it. In any case, this is fascinating stuff for who like experimental electronic noise, and especially the Buchla synthesizer. The release on 160g vinyl (+ download) is limited to 300 copies, the first 30 of which include original letterpress prints created by Planetary Magnetics. I wouldn't be surprised if those were already sold out, so you might not want to delay and get the album before the other 270 are sold out as well.


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