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1980-1990 Review

by Paul Simpson

1980-1990 is a colossal box set containing everything Cyrnai (Carolyn Fok) officially released during those years as well as previously unissued material. While Fok might be an obscure name to all but the most devoted fans of D.I.Y. cassette culture, she is a visionary artist who has been writing, illustrating, and making countless recordings since childhood. Thanks to her father, she grew up surrounded by instruments and recording gear, and she began buying more equipment and recording her music to cassette and reel-to-reel tapes. Without knowing the ins and outs of mixing and engineering, she came up with her own unorthodox recording techniques. Charred Blossoms, a 1985 12" EP, was her first official release following several years' worth of private cassettes, and it's a dense, dreamy collage of flange-heavy drum machines, introverted poetry, and dubby post-punk/industrial rhythms. At times claustrophobic and heavy, there's also something undeniably free and unencumbered about these strange tunes. It also sounds remarkably ahead of its time and easily could have come out on Not Not Fun circa 2010, alongside releases by Peaking Lights and LA Vampires. Included with the disc is a reprint of the 48-page zine that came with the original release, as well as a bonus 7" containing instrumental covers of songs by the Cure and Gang of Four recorded by Fok during the early '80s (when she was about 15). Parts of the Insomnic Wheel appeared in 1986 and was issued on cassette rather than an LP due to its length. Recorded after she had moved from her parents' house to an office building in San Francisco adjacent to the art school she was attending, the music is darker, noisier, and more haunting, reflecting a more isolated time of her life. Hypno-Seizure contains Cyrnai's side of a 1988 split tape with composer/dulcimer player Dan Joseph, and while it maintains the sleepwalking sensation of past recordings, it features tighter rhythms and even some strangely proto-trance keyboard sounds at one point. To Subtle-Drive was originally released in 1988, but following a jump to digital technology, she released an updated version in 1990. The cover art describes its contents as "Old-soul beat tracks on cassette with time and techno-guillotine songs," and it's certainly much clearer and more beat-driven -- even coming close to danceable -- than Fok's prior work. Still, it maintains an otherworldly sound reflecting her travels across the globe as well as her interest in exploring the rapidly advancing technology of the era. The entire box set is a fascinating chronology of a truly unique artist, and what's even more astounding is that it's only the tip of the iceberg -- she's been archiving all of her recordings on her Memoir of Sound website. In addition to this box set (which is limited to 333 copies), Dark Entries has also issued all of the albums individually, so if it's too much of a commitment to track down the entire thing, start with the brilliant Charred Blossoms and progress from there.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
Cyrnai Amazon
Cyrnai Amazon
Cyrnai Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick