Composer Carl Stone‘s website, sukothai.com, features a dozen or so clips, dating back to 1982. For a musician today largely synonymous with multi-dimensional laptop play, it’s fascinating to set the wayback machine to a pre-Macintosh era. Listen to what constituted electronic music toward the start of the Reagan administration — and by that I don’t mean Billboard-charting singles like Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby,” Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and Vangelis’ theme to Chariots of Fire.
The earliest entry on Stone’s hit parade is “Dong Il Jang” (MP3), a 20-minute exercise in crosstalk and slipped beats. It opens with tones that come slowly to be discerned as overlapping spoken bits, bringing to mind Steve Reich’s early phase-work and Alvin Lucier’s fascination with recursive loops. The rendition here is leavened with a bit of humor, as what’s heard is a sound check (“Testing one, two”). But it’s more than a schematic, soon blossoming into something more immediately recognizable as a musical performance. Percussion, both sampled and that which results from split-second soundbites set on repeat, join in, as do female voices that seem to be of ethnomusicological origin but are truncated and layered until they sound like the Roaches at their least folkie. Operatic voices flitter by like Philip Glass on fast forward, drums bouncing between speakers with a touch of pop? Who said the early ’80s were boring?