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, (http://www.sukothai.com) 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
August 12 1996 Issue