For all the Raymond Scotts, Delia Derbyshires, and Daphne Orams — "electronic" composers who are only in the last decade gaining newfound attention beyond fetishist devotion — there is a Malcolm Pointon, or an F.C. Judd. Or a Terry Rusling (1931-74), whose work, albeit in the parlance of the aforementioned artists, is scarcely promoted. Though he once toured an "Audio-Kinetic Environment" installation across eleven cities* (the results were touted by Andy Warhol), his output remains relegated to his East Canadian post and CBC incidental music catalog. Try to find some of it on Discogs — try!
Active in the mid-1960s time of synthetic sound and the noise boxes who make them, Rusling was a devotee of the graphical score (two of Rusling's scores have the published John Cage stamp of approval), and the sonic choices on The Machine Is Broken reflect the ambiguous, suggestive maps eccentric with Musique concrète. When discussing Rusling one must also mention his mentor, inventor/physicist/composer Hugh Le Caine, whose Special Purpose Tape Recorder, a precursor to the multi-track recorder created more for sound creation than capturing music, purportedly plays a crucial role in Rusling's compositional process.
Presented here are seventeen works, some of which are only titled according to the tape reel on which they were found. As alluded to, the pieces would fit evenly in the subversive, forward-thinking library music of the BBC Radiophonic experimental cadre as well as on a playlist with Louis and Bebe Barron — or any number of concrète folks with a ring modulator and patience. "Reel 1G" is animated and reversed Martian voices from a cockpit about to smack into a mountain range. "Radio England" is a mangled harpsichord with penetrating, cooing interference and pitch-shifted piano depth charges hitting just outside the recital hall. On "They Marry, They Meet", a whimsical Theremin-like performance changes colors throughout; faint, breathy whistles turn into a couple of churlish bees who transform into flute-like/reed-possessed characters who argue over a meal; a calliope interjects with a harmonically narrow cluster that is further manipulated with LFO's and splices. Both "In Which Non-Being Is Absolution" and "If I Could Find a Thing to Hate" delight in Fantastic Planet imaginary landscapes of wasteland and danger with soaring sound forged from self-sustaining feedback and delay just pulled back from the point of feeling unpleasant. On "Title", a man and woman mysteriously blurt "I find candy repulsive/ I find Snow White obscene" before Rusling fills the space with loads of springing squeals, hammering, high-pitched ringing, and metallic clangs
Fostering the ongoing suspicion that the composer might not have authorized the printing of all this material, "Collection of Short Pieces" is exactly that: A dozen or so sketches that range from short series' of blips and partially developed ideas in line with Stockhausen's Étude and Studie I, II. One can imagine, though, Spool label owner/musical curator Daniel Kernohan sifting and soaking in something not immediate but gems none the less (The Machine Is Broken is part of Spool's "Spurn" releases, something Kernohan describes as irreverent and "most personal and least-classifiable output").
*...Audio-Kinetic Environment, seen at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, last year (January 19 — February 2, 1966) consisted of about twenty-two panels and several moving pieces constructed of wood and plastic. All were coated with fluorescent and phosphorescent paints. Their colors were activated by the continuous play of a lighting system synchronized to taped electronic music patterns."
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