- The first of three retrospective albums due out this autumn, The Middle Distance collects the recently unearthed recordings of Charles Cohen. Though he was profiled in the October issue of The Wire, the Philadelphia artist has spent the last four decades flying under the radar while making electronic music with his Buchla Music Easel (a type of semi-modular synthesizer). Until now, these creations had gone mostly unreleased. Outside a limited-run cassette from '89 and a short list of collaborative releases, his work has been restricted to live improvisation and theater/gallery events. But thanks to Rabih Beaini's Morphine Records, a significantly larger portion of his oeuvre is now available.
What's immediately notable about these recordings, which date back to the late '70s, is how similar they are to Beaini's own output as Morphosis. The two artists share an interest in skeletal compositions, brittle textures and dense analog tones. Both incorporate Stockhausen-informed spatialization into outré manifestations of jazz-funk fusion and world music. If it weren't for the fact that Beaini learned of Cohen only within the last two years, you'd think he'd been a formative influence on him.
These qualities are strongest on the album's opener, "Club Revival Performance," and the pugnacious "Camera Dance." Equally prescient are "Sonomona" and "Dance Of The Spiritcatchers," the latter of which was recently reworked by Beani. Their robust percussion and pinprick clusters of melody evoke Balinese gamelan and kosmische (Cluster and Hans-Joachim Roedelius in particular). Then there's the arresting title track, which is the most idiosyncratic of the lot, with its thick ambient lurch, musique concrète clatter and a solitary piano that emerges, drifts and dissolves.
There has been an exhausting number of reissues and archival releases in recent years. But if you're committed to investigating the myriad nooks and crannies of electronic music's history, then Charles Cohen is a musician that deserves your attention.
01. Club Revival Performance
02. The Middle Distance
04. Dance Of The Spiritcatchers
05. Camera Dance