It is my impression that over the past several years there has been an increased interest in the history of electronic and computer music. Books have been written (Electric Sound, [End Page 98] The Computer Music Tutorial, Electronic and Computer Music), films have been made (Modulations, Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, Moog), Web sites created (www.obsolete.com/120_years/, www.phinnweb.com/history/, www.ishkur.com/music/), organizations incorporated (Electronic Music Foundation), and audio anthologies released, both general-historic and location-specific. Guy Marc Hinant, of the Belgium-based sub rosa record label, has recently weighed in with a major collection of "a-chronological" recordings of electronic music. Issued in three volumes of two discs each (to date), this production represents a major contribution to the field of historical documentation. It also represents a major challenge to that field in Mr. Hinant's refusal to follow a chronological, geographical, or technological line in putting together his set.
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It is important to take note of the title of this collection: An Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music. Although one may perhaps debate what exactly constitutes "electronic music," the term "noise" is definitely a loaded one, from the significance given it by Jacques Attali in his socio-musicological book Noise: The Political Economy of Music to the stylistically wide-ranging musicians and performance artists who have explored the sonic realms of complex sounds, often at high-decibel levels. As Mr. Hinant points out in his liner notes, "We live today in a world of clamour and noise, so bruitiste elements logically took their place in music composed under those specific historical conditions. This concept of noise is usually associated with revolt or at least with an idea of destructive (or jubilatory) power." Clearly, the producer is signaling that he has sought works he considers revolutionary (politically "noisy"), in one way or another, and not necessarily in terms of sonic content.
One could certainly take issue with this curatorial approach, and the textual "asides" inserted into the liner notes between the bios and work notes are intended to provoke debate, or at least thoughtful engagement [End Page 99] with the issues. This is, in any case, one person's anthology, intentionally subjective, and there is much to appreciate in the care with which it has been produced and presented. Here is how Mr. Hinant introduces his "a-chronological" anthology:
Given that most new music today is electronic, the term electronic music has lost its meaning . . . But there have always been individuals able to overcome such difficulties or obstacles and produce something unexpected . . . So that is what we shall explore . . . Our quest will be made more beautiful by the impossibility of including everything . . . But this project also aims to show how the cutting edge interacts with experiments conducted years ago, so the past will be explored with the same sense of wonder as the avant-garde of today . . . Our method is not purely historical—the field can be regarded as a plateau (a structure that produces enough connections to generate some meaning) . . . By drawing a line—curved not straight—and by choosing a specific aspect (e.g., the concept of noise in music), we can establish links between more or less well-known artists . . . History needs constant re-evaluating because, like music, history cannot be read as a fixed entity . . . If we consider musical history retrospectively we can detect things that have been left undone and we can try other junctions, other lines of reading or comprehension . . . So this rich abundance will be presented a-chronologically, as if it were filmed architecture for listening to (liner notes, volume #1).
In spite of the producer's stated aim of avoiding historical sequencing of tracks, the first volume begins with a chronological line, leading off with the...