I thought I was done writing about Carl Stone. Last fall, with a massive archival release of his seminal electronic music compositions from the 70s and 80s on the horizon, I tried to situate Stone within a history from which he has been repeatedly excluded. What a difference a few months can make; from The Wire naming the compilation its reissue of the year to the record's label, Unseen Worlds, selling out at source within a matter of months and, oh yeah, Björk giving a prime cut of Stone's a very public play, it made sense that Stone would play the Brooklyn Music School venue after a tiny in-store appearance at Lower East Side bastion of chill Commend last fall, which I regrettably missed. This show was presented by Blank Forms.
Having not really listened to much of Stone's recent output after doing such a deep dive on the previously unreleased material from the start of his career, I had very few expectations upon seeing Stone that Thursday night in Brooklyn, other than that I would hopefully hear something I'd never heard before. So when the four-channel speaker system soon began launching nearly-untillegible ryhthmic clusters upon the audience seconds after Stone had taken his seat behind his stylized teddy bear sticker-adorned laptop, it was clear that anything was possible. While those who have heard earlier pieces like "Kuk II Kwan" are familiar with Stone's sprawling sample collages, what he's doing in 2017 is unlike any other musician I know, laptop or no laptop. For those who remain opposed to the hidden machinations of the laptop performer, Stone offered no rejoinder outside of his music, sitting quietly throughout the performance as his occasional smirk would be lit by the LED screen that his eyes remained affixed to until a piece would reach its often sudden but always obvious stopping point.
Comprised of three largely improvised pieces that totaled close to an hour in run time, the set's structure and narrative flow resembled that of a play. Where the first piece introduced Stone's general MO, the second piece amped up thematic tension that was ultimately put into relief by the set's bucolic and jaw-dropping final third, a collaboration with the Japanese singer Akaihirume. And following opening composer Ilan Volkov's uninspired pointillist violin meditations that resembled the agony one could likely expect from the third and fourth circles of hell, we in the audience were left a bit unprepared for the detailed and hyper-modern creations of Stone. Gray hair and beard aside, Stone was in no way here to play the hits as he's lived a lifetime fiercely committed to utilizing contemporary technology and sound equipment, ranging from his early adoption and primary usage of the Max software to the four-channel speaker system that added an inimitable degree of intimacy to the familiar-yet-alien soundscapes being realized onstage.
In terms of the music being performed by Stone, it was far more expansive and focused than some of his more trad fare that has seen physical release on CD and seemed to thumb its nose at the latent pomposity lingering over the crowd of experimental music afficionados. Nonetheless, those immaculately spliced-together rhyhtmic clusters kept the first piece in a somewhat more academic lane. Unlike Volkov's solipsistic brand of pointillism or Mark Fell's similarly dense drum programming, the seemingly unrelated sheets of hyper-concentrated jazz drumming soon quit their own navel gazing and began to interlock just as the textural elements that Stone had already taken to interweaving amongst the clatter gave way to what can best be described as a theremin that had been chopped, screwed, and then browbeaten. From there Stone took hold of his lead line and rode it steady over the next five to seven minutes until the bucking broncos behind the drum kits tuckered out and Stone swiftly shut the whole thing down with a perfunctory smirk. It was this moment that I couldn't help but call to mind besides Fell's rhythmic Gordian knots the likes of young gun Beatrice Dillon and veteran samplehead Jan Jelinek, but car commercial-ready electronica this wasn't as Stone kept the instrumentation sparse enough and made the details even richer to place it solely in a class unto itself.
In fact, it began to make sense that contemporary electronic musicians like Dillon and even Theo Parrish would come to mind as so many of the techniques that Stone pioneered on his trusty DHM 89, even if they weren't necessarily attributed to him. After all, as I discussed in my earlier piece, while Stone's pioneering of micro-sampling and usage of popular music would place him on a parallel course to the godfathers of hip-hop, Stone has always seemed intent on doing his own thing with the inevitable overlaps coming as they may. And it was truly hard for me not to think of masters of the edit like Parrish and Mark E once the Roky Erikson-lite guitar stylings that propelled his second piece of the evening into even stranger territory, which was centered around several prominent samples from The Byrds' Flatland-in-a-jam "Stranger In A Strange Land." Though his timeless interspersing of difference and repetition at first evoked the algorithmic poetry of "Shing Kee," as Stone continued to gradually extend the flamenco-accented motorik chug that tied together the composition's different melodic motifs and changes, the exotica of classic rock crept into the fold. From a droning sitar-like sound that recalled the Beatle's acid-taking glory days to a gloriously mutated Hammond organ, Stone was not just stretching out pieces of sonic history but commenting upon them. Perhaps it was a treatise on the ubiquitous presence of sampling in music history or a making-other of an already "foreign" element that have also become rock n' roll cliches.
Either way, it was positively mind-bogging yet somewhat of a piece with the first composition that seemed to pose similar questions towards the history of Jazz. And it left almost the entire audience completely unprepared for Stone's most daring move: a live collaboration with the astonishing Japanese vocalist and musician Akaihirume. If the earlier pieces placed Stone aside some of electronic music's most exciting talents, the show's last piece would be the one that solidified Stone as a master of the craft. What unfolded onstage was both sonically accessible and temporally exhaustive as the singer and the composer entered into what could be described as an esoteric and aural courting dance that entranced the entire audience, both artists exercising a breathtaking degree of restraint. Soon after Akaihirume would sing a tone or melody, echoes of it would come flossing over the speakers' four channels, enveloping the audience in a euphoric and celestial meditation. This was far more complex than a call-and-response between the two musicians as they entered into an extended dual mimesis of the sounds being created by the other. Whether the piece has pre-planned elements or not proved ultimately irrelevant as the two moved at a slow enough speed and repeated enough ideas to both signal an ongoing exchange of ideas and reveal an already existing but hidden template, a near-impossible balance that musical improv often seeks to achieve. And while Stone at first appeared to be the sorcerer conjuring our the spirits contained within his partner's voice, she slowly but steadily began to draw out a distinctive bass line from her Korg keyboard that seemed to serve as a closing harmony of sorts. Or it at least seemed that way before suddenly the room was full of unmistakable dolphin sounds let forth by Akaihirume, fusing nature and technology in a tight and well-fitting bond. I've never been moved to jump out of my seat at the end of the performance but I'll be damned if I didn't even realize I was standing until I had been clapping rapturously along with the rest of the crowd for a couple minutes.
Above all else, tonight's performance was a window into an artist consumed by the eternal recurrence of sound, endlessly recontexualizing and redefining such seemingly straightforward musical tropes like the rock guitar riff, jazz drums, and the human voice as embodied by Akaihirume. By submerging a largely new audience into the world of sound he is always reshaping, Stone's performance at the Brooklyn Music School served as almost something of a coda and a new beginning for sonic explorers still plumbing the artists earliest works as compiled by Worlds' Tommy McCutchon. No matter how old or new the sounds he is working with, Stone's practice is one of constant refinement and evolution and his embracing of rhythmically accessible loops provided each piece with a centrifugal force that was accentuated by the Max-produced signals ping-ponging out of the four speakers placed surrounding the audience that seemed to create a vortex into which the entirety, or at least the Cliffs Notes, of music history was sucked into and spat back out in some radically new form. Rereading my above words, I even have to take a moment to ask myself if the show was truly that good as the goosebumps have long receded and the countless details merge into a few highlights. But as I stood outside with a number of characters that have animated my decade-long trip through experimental music in the city, each of us either talking a mile a minute or adrift in our own personal recollections, it was clear that it wasn't just I whose spirit had just been electrified, but every other single person's who walked into that theatre tonight. I've never been one to really romanticize the idea of traveling with a band around the country, but if Carl Stone ever gets the mainstream recognition that elder statesmen like Steve Reich and Philip Glass enjoy, then I might find myself on some strange trip to have my preconceptions about music challenged at every chance.
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