Bend It, Stretch It

Unseen Worlds re-discovers Carl Stone's 1983 classic

Last week, Austin’s avant-garde reissue label, Unseen Worlds, unearthed Carl Stone’s 1983 composition Woo Lae Oak, a droning, 54-minute suite of string and wind samples. Along with an appearance Monday, March 10 at Scholz Garten in conjunction with SXSW Interactive, the California-based composer performs this Wednesday, March 5, at Ballet Austin (3002 Guadalupe), re-imagining his piece “Guelaguetza.”

Off the Record: Were you surprised when Unseen Worlds approached you about reissuing Woo Lae Oak?
Carl Stone: I was certainly very pleased. It’s nice to know that people remember the work. I’m not sure how the folks first encountered the LP. It came out in 1983, so it’s been a quarter of a century. It turns out that it has an underground status among DJs. I wasn’t so much surprised as I was glad they found it of enough interest to want to bring it back out.

OTR: Where did the idea for the piece originally come from?
CS: The California Institute of the Arts had a new music festival and they wanted to broaden it into radio. I had a career as a composer, mostly working with tape music at that time, though I was breaking into a live music a little bit, and I was also working in radio as the music director of KPFK in Los Angeles. I was in touch with an extended network of stations around the country that were interested in new music so we came up with the idea of a commissioned work that would fit into an hour time slot. This was before there was really a satellite network in place. We had to actually pass around the tapes from station to station. The idea was to broaden the impact of the festival by having the piece travel to different parts of the country and Europe.

OTR: How do you think the piece would be received on radio today?
CS: Radio has changed a lot since 1983. Generally speaking, attention spans have gotten shorter. There are very few times when you can listen to music for an hour uninterrupted. This piece was created really for a listening mode where you could tune in for an hour or only for five or ten minutes until you got to the grocery store or whatever. It could also work as ambient music, both in stereo or on a mono clock radio. I think people would be surprised to hear an hour-long piece like that on the air today, but there are some stations that still like to broadcast ambient works.

OTR: How did this particular piece change when performed live?
CS: I only did it a few a few times. I did come up with a live version where I took the individual elements that made the recording and I would mix them live. It didn’t change radically. The sonic footprint of the piece was the same every time, but the timing and the flow might change.

OTR: What are you going to be performing in Austin?
CS: I’ve been working on live performance of computer music for 20 years, and I’m bringing some new pieces. At Ballet Austin, I’ll be doing a more extended work, a number of different pieces tied together into an evening-length work, about an hour and 15 minutes of so, called "Guelaguetza." It’s kind of an inner journey that takes place in a quadraphonic environment.

OTR: What are some of the elements involved with the composition you’ll be mixing at Ballet Austin?
CS: One of the hallmarks of my style is that for a long time I’ve been using found sound as a starting point for my music and I do radical remixing, re-synthesizing, and re-sampling. I take a sound and bend it, stretch it, warp it, cut it into fragments, and reassemble it, making something new. The elements might be anything from Norwegian fiddle music to Euro-disco-trash from the 1990s. I don’t care. I draw freely and mash it all together.

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SXSW, Carl Stone, Unseen Worlds

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