- In an episode of the TV series True Detective, Rustin Cohle describes time as "a flat circle." The idea, which echoes Nietzsche's theory of eternal recurrence, was that "everything we have done, or will do, we will do over and over and over again—forever." The music of the Bay Area artist Pauline Anna Strom seems to reveal time's rigid and linear properties as being more malleable. Her debut album, 1982's Trans-Millenia Consort, suggested as much, its name literally meaning "crossing time companion." Through the '80s, Strom self-released a string of albums and cassettes, though they fell through the cracks at the time. She then sold all her gear, and seemed to vanish. Every once in a while, her music turned up on mixes from acts like MGMT and Legowelt, but only now is she being properly heard, over 30 years later, resonating loudly in the present.
It would have been easy to label Strom, a musician living in the West Coast in the '80s, as a new age artist, given that she composed her music on synths while listening to Klaus Schulze and the Hearts Of Space radio program. But now divorced from era and region, RVNG Intl.'s 13-track collection, Trans-Millenia Music, reveals that Strom's recordings were unlike anything else of that period.
Strom always envisioned her music coming from long ago. "'Rain On Ancient Quays' I imagined the harbor at Alexandria, centuries and centuries ago, the way the water would lap against the shore," she says in the liner notes. "Like at Lake Pontchartrain outside New Orleans, near where I grew up." For Strom, Ancient Egypt and mid-'50s Louisiana coexist. Owing to complications from being born prematurely, Strom has been blind throughout her life. Judging by the singular nature of these compositions, it seems she was acutely sensitive to the sounds of the world around her. "Energies," for example, is full of fluttering high frequencies that suggest an alien aviary, all manner of chirps, chortles and tweets in conversation, swooping in and around each other.
Strom's first love was classical music and, later, the sound of the '60s. She became a "hell-raising flower child" and went to San Francisco a year after the Summer Of Love. She fell under the sway of kosmische music, from Tangerine Dream to Kitaro, and soon acquired a synthesizer and four-track recorder. In the late '70s and early '80s, any number of musicians began making new age music, and the tranquil "Freedom At The 45th Floor" might give you cause to think of Strom along that axis. The sprite-like notes of "Morning Splendor" dance against an iridescent backdrop, each element rippling outwards. "Rain On Ancient Quays" utilizes water sounds and gently chiming keys—not unlike what might appear on a meditation cassette—but Strom's use of deep bass tones and strange noises disrupts things just enough.
As calming as the music can be, Strom also traverses darker realms. "Spatial Spectre" is a stunning anticipation of dark ambient, Strom's chords seeming to sound from deepest space. When her wordless cries arise midway through, they have the eerie feel of a séance. "Mushroom Trip" creates as bewildering a headspace as the title suggests, full of frequencies that sound less like synth squiggles and more like transmissions from a distant star. Trans-Millenia Music presents Strom as a singular artist. She wasn't trying to lull her listeners into a relaxed state so much as transport them somewhere else entirely.
01. Freedom At The 45th Floor
02. Virgin Ice
03. In Flight Suspension
04. Bonsai Terrace
06. Mushroom Trip
07. Cruising Altitude 36,000 Feet
08. Spatial Spectre
09. Warriors Of The Sun
10. Rain On Ancient Quays
11. Morning Splendor
12. The Unveiling
13. Gossamer Silk