Sunday, February 20, 2011
Stuart Dempster - On the Boards
Stuart Dempster first came to my attention as a member of The Deep Listening Band along with Pauline Oliveros. As a performer, he played trombone on the original LP of Terry Riley's In C, as well as countless other new music albums, and is a master of circular breathing. Looking at his short bio on Wikipedia, he is also apparently credited with introducing the Didgeridoo to North America.
His own first album In the Great Abbey of Clement VI was originally released in 1977 and is still available on CD on New Albion records, along with a more recent CD from the mid-1990s, Underground Overlays From the Cistern Chapel. Both are fantastic albums of improvised drone music, based around droning trombones, didgeridoos and conchs (on a couple of tracks on Underground Overlays) interacting with the extremely reverberant spaces they were recorded in.
This album was recorded in 1983, and has a similar sound to his other albums, though a rather different approach. The music here is not about an interaction between Dempster and the space he's in, as it was recorded in a fairly ordinary sounding concert hall, but is rather about interactions between himself and the audience.
The first track, "Didjeridervish", was also recorded for In the Great Abbey of Clement VI, in a much longer version. It's performed, as you might guess, on a didgeridoo, and the name comes from the fact that during parts of the piece Dempster spins around, whirling dervish style, while playing the didgeridoo.
The second track, "Roulette", features some audience interaction, as they are instructed to sing an Eb drone. Over this, Dempster plays around with the harmonics of the drone on a trombone, creating a swirling, subtly changing mass of sound.
"Don't Worry, it Will Come" is a strange piece to listen to. It's a recording of a sound installation, the nature of which I can't quite figure out. In the liner notes for the CD Dempster writes, "With hoses hidden under the theater seats, the audience is, indeed, surprised." I think that means Dempster was blowing through hoses, with the other end under the seats of the audience, but I don't know. The sound of the piece ends up being comprised of random horn blasts followed by the audience laughing. Divorced from its installation context, it makes for confusing listening, but it's a short piece, and it gives the album some sonic variety.
The final piece is the lengthiest, the nearly 20-minute long "JDBBBDJ (John Diamond's Big Beautiful Brass Didjeridu)". This piece is named for the instrument which Dempster uses, a custom-made brass didgeridoo with a bugle bell at the end. This exceptional instrument creates strong, unusual overtones, and the audience was instructed to sing along with the low drone or the overtones, creating a beautiful choral sound, with fantastic harmonies and sudden swells. It's incredibly beautiful, and is well-worth the download alone.
This recording was originally released on cassette in 1986, self-released by Dempster, and was re-released on CD in 2001 on Anomalous Records, a great label which released some great experimental and noise music before sadly shutting down in 2004.