Off the Record! A Hyper-History of American Independent New Music Record Labels

Based in Boulder, Colorado, the Starkland label is dedicated to releasing, in the words of founder Thomas Steenland, “compelling, engaging recordings of electroacoustic, post-minimalist, alternative classical music.” On the face of it, that would seem to be a terribly broad statement. But the music contained on the label’s releases bears out the simple claim in elegant and original ways.

First and foremost among the releases from Starkland are the two volumes of electronic music by Tod Dockstader, one of the most advanced and important of all American composers working in the field of musique concrète, or, to borrow a term from Edgard Varèse, “organized sound.” These two CDs have led to the affirmation of Dockstader’s status as among the most significant composers in the history of electronic music. The first disc includes his 45-minute epic Quartermass, as well as the delightful Water Music and the premiere recording of Two Moons, a pair of brief segments that emerged from Quatermass. The second CD, Apolocalypse, collects shorter works: Luna Park, Traveling Music, Drone, the title composition, Two Fragments and Four Telemetry Tapes. Each disc contains worlds of sound in unique conjunctions, seemingly unimaginable before hearing and seemingly inevitable afterward.

Another important electro-acoustic composer is represented on the CD Walking Tune, a collection of music by Bay Area composer Charles Amirkhanian. Amirkhanian is a master in the art of musical and spoken word collage, and the CD includes the premiere recording of one of his most oddly charming compositions, Walking Tune (A Room-Music for Percy Grainger), as well as the shorter pieces Chu Lu Lu, Bajanoom, Vers Les Anges, and Gold and Spirit. Laurie Anderson stated of the disc, “The art of audio collage has been reinvented here.”

The well-known post-minimalist composer Paul Dresher wrote his Casa Vecchia for the Kronos Quartet, and the work forms the centerpiece of the Starkland disc dedicated to his music. Composer Phillip Kent Bimstein, a less familiar name, employs sampler technology alongside acoustic musicians such as the Modern Mandolin Quartet and the Turtle Island String Quartet for the music in his delightful and surprising collection Garland Hirschi’s Cows. The label sampler From A to Z presents a collection of short, appealing works by a variety of electroacoustic composers ranging literally from Amirkhanian to Pamela Z (and including Dockstader, Dresher and Bimstein, among others). And the latest release on Starkland is a welcome reissue of accordion virtuoso Guy Klucevsek’s long out of print CD Transylvanian Softwear, which includes works by the performer as well as pieces by John Zorn, Fred Frith and William Duckworth.

Each release on Starkland is further marked by outstanding recording quality, detailed and incisive liner notes, and simple, elegant packaging. Added together, it is evident that a label need not be large or pump out vast numbers of releases to attain a position of pride and importance in the world of new music… Starkland, with a mere seven releases in the last seven years, has proven that point.

From Off the Record! A Hyper-History of American Independent New Music Record Labels
by Steve Smith
© 1999 NewMusicBox

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