Various Artists

Ohm: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music, 1948-1980

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This three-CD, 42-track compilation, spanning 1937-1982 (though largely comprised of performances from the '60s and '70s), includes pieces by many of the big names in experimental electronic music: John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Milton Babbitt, Laurie Spiegel, Robert Ashley, LaMonte Young, Morton Subotnick, and Iannis Xenakis. That alone would make this anthology impressive, but there are also contributions from composers who have made some impact with rock and pop recordings (Brian Eno, Klaus Schulze, Holger Czukay of Can, Jon Hassell), along with some names that are not commonly discussed in highbrow serious music circles (Raymond Scott), some composers not always associated with electronic music (Olivier Messiaen, Edgard Varese), and a host of names that aren't too well known beyond the avant-garde community. What is most impressive about this set, however, is that is not only serves as a reasonable overview of pre-1980 electronic music, but also is much more accessible in content to non-experts than many such compilations would have been. Contrary to the stereotype of serious electronic music as being difficult to listen to, many of the pieces are quite engaging for novices and electronic specialists alike. That's not to say there aren't plenty of more jarring or abstract pieces with minimal ambience or cut-up assemblages, or even occasional tracks that most listeners might find downright annoying (such as MEV's cacophonous "Spacecraft," mercifully placed at the very end of the first disc). On the whole, however, the set achieves the effect of both educating and entertaining, and is likely to expand the audience for a music that is too often unwilling to offer inviting introductions that might incite listeners to explore further. The 98-page booklet includes detailed track descriptions and comments, usually by the composers/performers themselves.

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