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Douglas Lilburn, "Complete Electro-Acoustic Works"

Douglas Lilburn was already an award-winning composer when he turned from conventional music to focus on electronic music, founding New Zealand’s first electronic music studio at Victoria University of Wellington in the late 1960s. The three CDs and the DVD comprising this collection contain many valuable pieces that highlight Lilburn’s contributions to the electronic form.

 

Atoll

Lilburn was particularly interested in evoking New Zealand’s natural environment, which he does through meditative drones. Using electronics to replicate concrete elements like ocean waves and birds, he also adds conceptual touches like the stretched tones mimicking bird flight in “Sounds and Distances.” Although he doesn’t often use voices in his work, when he does they are among his better pieces. One of the best tracks is “The Return,” which uses a Maori woman’s voice as a compositional element before turning to a man’s recitation of Alistair Campbell’s poem of the same name.

In addition to his more formal works, included here are his studies documenting his experimentation with singular ideas or techniques, such as the two separate groups each collectively entitled “Five Toronto Pieces,” which were recorded six years apart, as well as a soundtrack for a dance sequence. The DVD contains a few all-too-short excerpts from films that find Lilburn demonstrating his techniques and talking about his ideas, two songs reproduced in four channels as he originally intended, and an illuminating audio interview.

One commonality among these different musical projects is the meticulousness with which they were created. Lilburn struggled with the primitive equipment he had at his disposal and his poise and patience are evidenced in every recording. Rather than settling for unpredictable effects, he took the time to study the technology in depth and harness it to his own end. There are a few places in the collection that hit an introspective plateau and lose some momentum, but for the most part each disc is arranged non-chronologically in a way that balances the different dynamic levels found in Lilburn’s works. I found the third disc to be the most consistently rewarding, yet the other two discs hit peaks just as high.

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Cristina, "Sleep It Off"

Ze
For her 1984 follow-up, Cristina enlisted the production genius of Don Was, who brings to Cristina's vocals a musical backdrop every bit as bizarre and infectious as his own Ze Records project Was (Not Was). Forgoing the extended disco excursions of her debut, Cristina and Was instead created ten radio-ready pop songs, trying to outdo Madonna at her own game, perhaps. Along with originals penned by the singer herself in conjunction with Was, Doug Fieger (of The Kinks) and Robert Palmer (!), Cristina also performs distinctive covers of songs by Van Morrison, Prince and obscure country singer John Conlee. The album features excellent guest contributions from contorted punk saxophonist James Chance and jazz legend Marcus Belgrave. With all this star power, I partially expected Sleep It Off to sound like smooth, competent 1980s new wave pop. Well, it doesn't sound like that at all, but what it does sound like is harder to nail down. Producer Was adds stacks of keyboards and synthesizers, wacky loops and sound effects, creating a densely populated architecture of sound that at times threatens to steal the show from Cristina's vocals. Perhaps in order to cement the Brecht comparison, Cristina and collaborator Ben Brierly perform a gothic-y cover of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil's classic ode to purchased love "Ballad of Immoral Earnings." With some of the tracks recalling the sophisticated disco of her early singles, and some taking utterly bizarre tangents into electro-Country ("She Can't Say That Anymore") and cheesy 1980s pop balladry ("The Lie of Love"), the overall effect of Sleep It Off is pure eclecticism. As such, it never becomes boring, although it does lack a certain focus, which probably explains the public's indifference to the album at the time of its release. The lack of any obvious single normal enough for radio airplay probably also contributed. "Don't Mutilate My Mink" gleefully rips off the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK," for one of the album's funniest, most confrontational tracks. Bonus tracks include horrible session outtakes, a bizarre Christmas song, and a really nifty cover of Prince's classic "When You Were Mine." Sleep It Off is an interesting mess, one I don't think I'll be returning to any time soon, but that I am nonetheless glad has received the deluxe reissue treatment from Ze.

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