AUGUST 12 1996

A Boy and His Mac

American composers come in two flavors: East (cerebral, aggressive, theory-besotted, whether of the Uptown or Downtown subspecies) and West. Carl Stone is West as they get.

Stone was born in LA (still lives there) and studied with electronic-music pioneer Morton Subotnick at California Institute of the Arts (aka Disney U). Long before most musicians, pop or serious, knew the difference between a Kurzweil and a DX-7, Stone was making real music through totally electronic means. When Apple created the Macintosh computer in the early 80s, it was love at first sight for Stone: He not only wrote pieces on the Mac, he performed them on the Mac, live, blending and looping the computer's output back into the mix. Any sound at all is grist for Stone's musical mill: One of his classic numbers, Hop Ken, turns the striding trumpet fanfare from Ravel's orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition into a dazzling swirl of sound shifting from Gothic-cathedral swing to Celtic clog dance to stereophonic steel-band to Deep Purple haze. But he's just as likely to start with a demo file from a music- software sampler, a karaoke track, the piping drawl of a Japanese department-store elevator-girl.

I agree with the Village Voice music-critic Kyle Gann that Stone is one of the best composers of our era, but until recently I haven't had much luck convincing anybody else. The music's hard to describe, different from anybody else's, different from piece to piece: sometimes verging on Brian Eno-ambient, sometimes drifting toward the imaginary-soundtrack John Zorn end of the spectrum. It doesn't help that most of Stone's recordings have been issued on labels for which the adjective "obscure" is an understatement, and that he insists on naming most of his pieces after favorite LA oriental restaurants.

Fortunately Stone, ever on the electronic cutting edge, now has his own Web site, ( complete with downloadable audio samples of his current work. Check out particularly his gorgeous, atmospheric audio portrait of Tokyo, Kamiya Bar and the extraordinary Nyala, originally composed to accompany a solo performance by a Japanese dancer but fully capable on its audio own of putting you into the most refreshing trance state currently available without a prescription.

-- Roger Downey
Seattle Weekly
August 12 1996 Issue